April Flowers? New Tech Gadgets Are in Bloom


The last couple of days have been good for gadget junkies. Microsoft (MSFT) unveiled the Kin, a smartish phone; Nokia (NOK) announced a trio of new so-called "messaging" phones; and Apple (AAPL) updated its MacBook Pro line of laptops to include faster processors.

The timing of the releases may seem odd. April has never been especially good for launching anything excitement-worthy, mainly because the month lacks a holiday or seasonal shopping rush. Important product releases are typically held off for the winter holidays or the summer. Motorola (MOT), for example, announced its highly anticipated Droid phone last October, and it was on Verizon's (VZ) shelves by early November for the Christmas sales push.

"Historically, the second quarter has been pretty boring. It's a quarter that nobody really cares about," says Carolina Milanes, a mobile analyst at Gartner Group. "But now the market has become so competitive you've got [phone makers] trying to address different product segments and spreading their bets throughout the year."

Apple Fans Don't Care

Apple has the luxury of launching its flashy flagship products whenever it feels like it, although they're often timed for the holiday feeding frenzy or released just ahead of the back-to-school shopping season. The last three iPhones, for example, were launched in June and July, and Apple is expected to release its newest models on the same time frame this year.

It's a strategy that works well for the company, since most die-hard Apple fans hold off on buying new electronics so they can get its latest and greatest gadget, regardless of when that device is released. Witness the iPad, which managed to sell a few hundred thousand units fairly quickly, despite its unconventional April 3 launch date.

But while Apple can afford to set its own release schedule, other cell phone makers have to cater to the whims of carriers, whose customers' contracts expire throughout the year.

"There is a concentration of contract renewals around Christmas and back-to-school, but they're fairly evenly spread throughout the year," says Charlie Golvin, an analyst at Forrester.

Furthermore, cell phone makers that have exclusive arrangements with carriers have even less say about when their products are launched. "The push is whenever the operator wants it," says Gartner's Milanes. "In the North American market, the operators call the shots. It's whenever they have the marketing [budget] available for a campaign."