Tech wars heat up for holiday season

It’s that time of year again! Holiday shoppers are on the hunt and technology companies are touting their latest wares in an effort to beat out the competition for your cash. Here are some of the top trends experts say are shaping this year’s offerings.

Good things come in smaller — and cheaper — packages

Size matters when it comes to portability, but a lower price tag on this year’s latest tablets and e-readers might just persuade stand-offish consumers to buy. Despite Steve Jobs’ now famous assertion that Apple would never offer a 7″ tablet, the company recently launched its 7.9″ display iPad mini. It’s thinner, smaller and cheaper than previous generations of iPads, but retains the functionality and display “real estate” of a larger iPad thanks to a high resolution display.

The price is also geared to compete with the other popular lines such as the Samsung Galaxy, Windows Surface and Kindle Fire family. The iPad mini retails for $329-$529 (for wi-fi) and $459-$659 (wi-fi and cellular access) compared to the full-sized and full price iPad (which runs $499-$699 and $629-$829 respectively). Still, the iPad mini’s price isn’t quite as low as entry level tablets such as the Blackberry Playbook (now retailing for $129-$149).

Apple isn’t the only one going small: this fall, Kobo launched the smallest e-reader ever — the Kobo Mini–weighing about five ounces with a 5″ screen. Equipped with a touch screen and able to carry up to 1000 books, this model will only set you back about $80. Amazon’s latest Kindle also promises to be “smaller, lighter and faster” for about $90 USD. (The previous model is now marked down to $69 USD).

Tablets and e-readers aren’t the only things that are getting smaller: computers continue to get smaller and lighter too, including Apple’s latest line of laptops and Samsung’s XE700T1C tablet-PC hybrid. However smaller size doesn’t always mean lower price, so be sure to do the math.

Resolution is in the eye of the beholder

HD isn’t just for TV: pristine, detailed displays are becoming a sought-after feature on everything from phones to computers. You’ve likely heard the term “retina display” in the media recently, and Apple now offers this “resolution so high you can’t see the pixels” on even more devices. You’ll now find this stunning display on the latest iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad — not to mention a whole new line of MacBook Pro laptops. Apple aims to keep pace with HD models such as Google’s Nexus 7 and the Kindle Fire HD in display if not in price.

Displays are also becoming increasingly important on e-readers. For instance, the Kobo Glo ($129.99) offers the same easy-on-the-eyes E Ink, touch screen but with a built-in light that lets you read in the dark. Without the glass found on tablets, you won’t have to worry about glare or fingerprints. Likewise, Amazon introduced its Kindle Paperwhite line ($119.99 USD and $199.99 USD) with built-in lights to compete with Barnes and Nobles’ NOOK Simple Touch with GlowLight ($119 USD).

Are the displays really that good? You’ll have to check them out in person to see if the they make enough difference to warrant a higher price tag. For instance, Apple’s 13″ MacBook Pro with retina display starts at $1699 compared to the regular MacBook Pro at $1199 (though other specifications also account for the price difference).  

And just in case good old HD is no longer good enough, meet the latest in screen technology: OLED (organic light-emitting diode) and Ultra High-Definition (Ultra HD), also known as 4K because if offers four times greater resolution that than today’s best sets.  OLEDs promises to offer higher contrast than LCD — imagine deeper blacks, for instance — all while being thinner and lighter and consuming less energy.  These TVs are still “coming soon”, so you may need to save your cash for next year.

E-readers turn into tablets

Remember when some experts predicted a quick death for e-readers when tablets came on the scene? Now high-end models are blurring the lines between e-reader and tablet. First it was touch screen functionality and colour screens so users could enjoy magazines and image-rich books. Then came music and video, followed by social media.

Now e-readers such as the Kindle Fire HD 4G ($499-$599 USD), Kobo Vox ($179), Kobo Arc ($199-$299), Nook Tablet ($159-$179 USD) and Nook HD+ ($269-$299 USD) come with an ever-increasing list of features such as email, internet browsing, streaming video, games and apps.

As you can see, the prices are in line with tablets too. Even if you opt for “just” an e-reader, you’re still getting more for your money than when these devices first hit the market.

Smart phones get smarter

Tech experts such as Gartner say mobile phones will be a top tech trend for 2013 with more people using these devices to go online than their computers. Android, Apple and Windows are predicted to take the top spots.

Currently, three phones getting a lot of attention: Apple’s iPhone 5, Samsung’s Galaxy S3 and Apollo (aka the Windows 8 phone which will be offered by a variety of manufacturers). Better displays, better cameras, an ever-growing number of apps, voice recognition and functionality such as Apple’s virtual assistant, Siri, are heating up the mobile phone market. 

The devices themselves won’t be the only things to watch in the months ahead: new apps will also hit the market. For example, CIBC and Rogers Communications recently launched suretap, a mobile credit card payment system. Expect future mobile phones to do more — though they likely won’t cost less.

And while you won’t be able to pick one up for Christmas, RIM’s Blackberry 10 is set to launch in January.


TVs are smartening up too

Not to be forgotten, TVs are always a popular splurge. This year experts say retailers are playing down 3D and promoting “smart TVs” instead. These TVs come with built-in wireless internet connections that let you watch videos online — from services like Netflix or YouTube or your favourite TV station’s website. The systems have additional perks such as interactive content, social networking and the ability to share content (such as photos or movies) from your computer to your TV. Some sets are even equipped with voice recognition software — handy if you lose your remote.

If you’re happy with your current TV or don’t want to pay extra for internet, you can still get in on this trend using a web-enabled game console or a device such as an Apple TV.

“Smart” isn’t just being applied to TVs and phones — it could apply to just about anything in our homes that is connected including stereo systems and home alarms. Still, smart appliances aren’t predicted to be a hot trend for at least another year or more.

Try before you buy

Regardless of what you’re looking to purchase, it’s easy to get lost in all the models and specifications.
Here are some questions to keep in mind:

– What do you want to do? For instance, if you mainly want to read books you might not want to upsize to a tablet. Likewise, if you only want to make phone calls, a smart phone may be overkill.

– What features do you need versus want — and are they worth the extra price?

– Where, when and how to you plan to use the device? If you’re looking for something to tuck in your pocket, chances are you’ll want a lighter, smaller model. If a larger screen is important, you’ll have to compromise on size.

– What is your budget? Don’t forget to factor in applicable taxes and electronics recycling fees, as applicable — not to mention extras like data plans and accessories.

– What operating system to you want to use? If you want your device to integrate seamlessly with your other tech, you’ll want to pay extra attention to the operating system. For instance, an Android-based phone won’t play nicely with Apple products. If you buy books in the Kindle store, you may not be able to use them on your Kobo reader.

All of the options may seem confusing, but bear in mind that choice — and competition — is a good thing! Do some research and ask some tough questions before hitting the stores this season.

Additional sources:, Business Insider,, Consumer Electronics Association,,