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Gaggle Of New Gadgets Wow Tech Lovers


And in the tech world, dueling press conferences and competing corporate unveilings, this week and next, are putting the focus on new and improved gadgets.

NPR's Steve Henn joined us this morning from Silicon Valley to tell us about what's on the high tech horizon.

Good morning.

STEVE HENN, BYLINE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: So there are a host of companies rolling out shiny new toys this week. What's catching your eye?

HENN: Well, the coolest thing I've seen so far in this spate of product announcements actually hasn't been a phone or a tablet - it's a set of speakers that are being marketed with Nokia's new phone the Lumia 920. So if you are listening to a song on this phone, you can tap the phone to these speakers and then the speakers will start playing the song - without you touching a button. And then you can just set the phone on top of the speakers and the phone will start charging - without you plugging it in.



HENN: Yeah. Pretty cool.

MONTAGNE: That makes things seem easier and they were not so hard before. How does this work exactly?

HENN: Well, the song is sent via something called a NFC chip - that stands for near field communication - and basically it's a short distance wireless connection. The charging uses something being marketed as Qi.

MONTAGNE: Like tai chi, Qi?

HENN: Well, exactly. You know, sometimes that word is translated as life force or energy. It's also the trade name of a technology called inductive charging. Now inductive charging as been around for a while. It was first demonstrated in the 90s - the 1890s. But recent advances have made it more efficient. And this is one feature that Apple and the iPhone are pretty unlikely to match - Qi is an industry standard that lots of companies have agreed to use but Apple is the one big hold out.

MONTAGNE: And Nokia isn't the only company unveiling gadgets - Amazon is expected to unveil a tablet today. Apple has its own announcement next week, so what's going on here? Why this sort of rush to unveil new things?

HENN: Well, I think there are a couple of things driving this. Part of it is just the calendar - if a company unveils a new product now and they're able to deliver it in a month or two, then that product will be there waiting for you on store shelves come, you know, Thanksgiving weekend. But there's also a rush of companies that are trying to get out in front of Apple. As you said, Apple has an event next week, and every time Apple releases a new product it tends to command a huge amount of attention from the press and the public. And I think initially, at least, some of these firms were hoping they might have a moment - maybe two - a moment or two on their own to shine.

MONTAGNE: You mean before Apple unveils what it's going to unveil, inevitably?

HENN: Yeah, and sucks all the oxygen out of the room.

MONTAGNE: So is this market getting more crowded?

HENN: Yeah you know, actually I think it is, and I think that's one of the bigger business stories here. Right now, four of the largest consumer technology companies in the United States, really are going at it against each other in mobile - Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft. And none of these companies started out making mobile phones or tablets. But today, they're all committed to creating your own sort of mobile computing ecosystems.

MONTAGNE: Well, what's happening to the companies that started out selling mobile phones - that don't have their own system of apps, games and music?

HENN: Well, they are getting crushed. Rim, which makes the Blackberry, is losing money. Motorola Mobility, which invented the mobile phone - and was bought by Google - still managed to lose close to a quarter of a billion dollars last quarter. But it was topped by Nokia, which lost more than a billion euros last quarter.

You know, Nokia has faced a wrenching transition in the last 18 months. The company decided to abandon its own smartphone platform and go with Microsoft's software instead. At the time, the CEO of the company compared the decision to an oil worker standing on a burning platform in the North Sea and deciding to jump into the ocean. And so today, really, many analysts are asking if Nokia can survive. And many believe for that to be the case, these phones, or phones very soon that it makes, will have to catch on.

MONTAGNE: Steve, thanks very much.

HENN: My pleasure.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Steve Henn, speaking to us from Silicon Valley. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Renee Montagne
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
Steve Henn is NPR's technology correspondent based in Menlo Park, California, who is currently on assignment with Planet Money. An award winning journalist, he now covers the intersection of technology and modern life - exploring how digital innovations are changing the way we interact with people we love, the institutions we depend on and the world around us. In 2012 he came frighteningly close to crashing one of the first Tesla sedans ever made. He has taken a ride in a self-driving car, and flown a drone around Stanford's campus with a legal expert on privacy and robotics.