The holiday shopping season for tech will feature a renewed battle between Amazon and brick and mortar retailers, more personalized deals and analytics as well as a make-or-break period for platforms and products. Toss in some macroeconomic uncertainty and gadget fatigue and questions abound.
Here's a look at the biggest questions as the tech industry dukes it out for consumer wallets.
Windows 8.1 devices.The most interesting aspect of Microsoft's Windows 8.1 effort boils down to a word: Price. To me, the real Windows 8 launch is this year. Why? The hardware has caught up to the operating system, the devices are more compelling and Microsoft has fixed a lot of issues that plagued last year's launch. In other words, the Windows 8 products are simply better and the ecosystem has compelling designs. The other wrinkle here is that Microsoft Windows 8 price points are also compelling. The Dell Venue Pro 8 starts at $299 and has received strong reviews. The Dell Venue 11 Pro could be a laptop replacement in many cases and starts at $499. Despite all the hubbub over Chromebooks, Windows 8.1 laptops are competitive and have touchscreens. In other words, Microsoft has a decent value proposition for Windows 8.1 devices. If these devices, led by designs from Lenovo, don't sell Microsoft is going to have to rename Windows and revamp to woo consumers to the platform. Ed Bott: Windows laptop, MacBook, or Chromebook? Let's ask Amazon
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Showrooming. Every holiday season one key storyline is Amazon vs. brick and mortar retailers. This shopping season has a few equalizers. First, Amazon is collecting sales taxes in many states. And then, brick and mortar players such as Best Buy are working to take price out of the equation. Many retailers are matching Amazon's prices. Those moves change the discussion along with sales taxes. Simply put, the economic argument that a consumer should browse a physical and shop online doesn't hold up as much. Meanwhile, physical retailers have been among the most innovative when it comes to technology. Why? Retailers have to innovate or die. Obviously, the latter is less fun. Apple vs. low cost options.
It's highly likely that'll be a iPad mini and iPad Air Christmas, but the competition has never been better. Android tablets can be priced lower and woo more than a few consumers. Apple will have a juggernaut on the tablet front, but dominance isn't the slam dunk it used to be.
Will smartwatches sell? Samsung has said that it has shipped a ton of Galaxy Gear smartwatches? But what about sell-through? Wearable tech in the fitness category should do well this holiday season. We'll soon find out if smartwatches are too 1.0 for holiday 2013.
Mobile shopping. According to IBM's Digital Analytics Holiday Benchmark, mobile sales were 13 percent of all online sales Nov. 26 and up 54 percent from a year ago. Retailers are focused on sales via multiple screens, but tablets are still used over smartphones to make actual purchases. Apple's iOS platform accounted for 11.06 percent of total online sales compared to 2.5 percent for Android. The influence of mobile shopping will be important to monitor and may decide how retailers fare. To date, mobile has been more of an information vehicle than a real sales channel.
The game console war. With XBox One and PlayStation 4 hitting the market at the same time during the holiday shopping season, the battle between the platforms will be fun to watch. My take: Enjoy it now because it's quite possible this is the last real console battle. It's highly likely that these standalone game consoles will be replaced by services and cloud delivery in another five years.