As the holiday-shopping season approaches, Microsoft and Apple have scheduled major events this week to unveil new gadgets and software.
The Microsoft event Thursday will focus on Windows 8, a major update to its lucrative operating system. The new software will go on sale Friday, and PC manufacturers have a slew of desktops, laptops and tablet computers designed for it.
Apple, meanwhile, is expected to unveil a smaller iPad at an event in San Jose, Calif., on Tuesday. It comes just weeks after the launch of a new iPhone.
These are some of the gadgets to expect for the holidays:
— APPLE DEVICES:
Apple has done well selling its full-sized tablet computer, which has a screen that measures nearly 10 inches diagonally. But companies such as Amazon.com Inc. and Google Inc. have made in-roads selling tablets with smaller, 7-inch screens and lower price tags.
Apple isn't commenting on its plans. Tech bloggers and analysts expect that an "iPad Mini" — the name isn't confirmed — will have a 7.85-inch screen. Estimates on prices vary.
Last month, Apple began selling its iPhone 5. The new phone is bigger, but thinner than previous models and works with faster cellular networks known as 4G.
Apple also updated its phone software and replaced Google Inc.'s mapping service for its own. Apple's maps app has been derided for inaccuracies and lack of features, prompting CEO Tim Cook to apologize.
Apple's leading rival, Samsung Electronics Co., came out with a new version of its flagship phone, the Galaxy S III, months ago. But Samsung is known for releasing products throughout the year, each targeted at a different base of consumers. For those who like to work with a stylus, the Galaxy Note II smartphone is coming soon.
— TABLET RIVALS
Amazon's 7-inch Kindle Fire is one of the smaller tablets with decent sales. Last month, it started shipping an updated version with a faster processor, more memory and longer battery life. It also cut the price to $159, from $199, making it far cheaper than the iPad, which starts at $399.
Amazon is also releasing higher-end models under the Kindle Fire HD line. A 7-inch one goes for $199 and an 8.9-inch one for $299. There's also a $499 model that can use the 4G cellular networks that phone companies have been building. A data plan will cost an extra $50 a year. The smaller HD model is already available, while the larger ones will be available Nov. 20.
Barnes and Noble Inc. is also updating its Nook tablets. The new Nook HD will come in two sizes, one at 7 inches (starting at $199) and one at 9 inches (starting at $269). They will be out Nov. 1.
In addition to the new HD screen and a lighter body, Barnes & Noble is increasing the services the Nook offers. It's adding a video purchase and rental service, allowing users to maintain different profiles and making it easier to browse titles in its book and magazine stores.
Google has an event in New York next week. All the company is saying is that it has to do with its Android operating system for mobile devices. Google started selling the Nexus 7 over the summer and could use the event to announce an update.
Toys R Us, meanwhile, is making a 7-inch tablet aimed at children. The Tabeo went on sale this week for $149.99.
— CALLING ON WINDOWS
Microsoft Corp. will release a new version of the Windows operating system on Friday, one that's designed to work on both traditional computers and tablet devices.
Several PC manufacturers including Lenovo Group Ltd., Hewlett-Packard Co., Samsung Electronics Co. and Dell Inc. already have announced details about new desktops, laptops and tablet computers.
Microsoft plans its own tablet computer, too. It's new territory for Microsoft, which typically leaves it to others to make devices using its software. Now, it will be competing against its partners.
The Surface tablet will come in two versions, both with 10.6-inch screens, slightly larger than the iPad's.
One model will run on the same type of lower-energy chips used in the iPad. It will start at $499, also like the newest, full-sized iPads. A keyboard cover will cost another $100. That will go on sale Friday.
A heavier, more expensive version will run on Intel chips and be capable of running standard Windows applications. Microsoft hasn't announced the date or price for that yet.
A new version of the Windows Phone system is coming out this fall as well. Once-dominant phone maker Nokia Corp. has been struggling in the shadow of Apple and Android, and it's counting on the new Windows system for a revival. Nokia and Microsoft have unveiled two new devices, but few details are available on when and where they would go on sale.
— NEW BLACKBERRYS
A year ago, Research In Motion Ltd. disclosed that it was working on a next-generation phone system for the BlackBerry, which now looks ancient next to the iPhone and Android devices. It was supposed to be out in time for this year's holiday season. That won't happen.
In June, RIM pushed the release of BlackBerry 10 devices into early next year, saying it wasn't ready. That means RIM will not only compete with the new iPhone and Android devices out this fall, but it will also have to contend with the new Windows devices.
— PLAYING GAMES
Nintendo's new Wii U game machine will go on sale in the U.S. on Nov. 18. A basic, white model will cost $300. A deluxe black version for another $50 comes with an extra game and more accessories. The GamePad touch-screen controller for it will offer new ways to play.
In "New Super Mario Bros. U.," for example, players holding the old Wii controllers control Mario, Luigi and other characters. The person with the GamePad can help them along by using a stylus to create stepping stones for the characters or stun enemies.
Players can also turn off the TV entirely and play on the GamePad.
Nintendo Co. has been trying to drum up excitement for the Wii U, the first major gaming console to launch since 2006.
The company also announced new entertainment features for the console. Called Nintendo TVii, the service collects all the ways users have to watch movies, TV shows and sports. This includes pay-TV accounts along with services such as Hulu and Netflix. The GamePad works as a fancy remote controller and will let viewers comment on what they are watching.
TVii will be available Nov. 18 as well, at no extra cost.