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In Search of a Smartphone With a Difference

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Smartphone makers aren't turning out any category-killers these days, but they're still trying to differentiate themselves from the competition.

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The news came yesterday that the next generation of the Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone will come in gold. Not real gold, mind you, or even vermeil or gold plate like cheap costume jewelry. That's gold color, in addition to the now-classic silver and slate.

Because this is Apple, it won't be just any gold color. It won't be a vulgar shade of gold like, well, real gold. It will be a more subtle shade, more like "champagne colored," according to TechCrunch.

In which case, it could probably be more accurately described as "platinum colored" than gold.

The fact that this news has been leaked to TechCrunch and other popular tech sites probably tells you all you need to know about the coming product that is expected to be called the Apple iPhone 5S.

It might also tell you more than you wanted to know about the state of the smartphone industry in 2013.

That is, it's out of ideas, out of energy, and out of gas. It's reduced to putting lipstick on that pig... or gold color on that case.

Unless -- and this is a long shot -- the new iPhone also has a fingerprint recognition feature, as has been rumored but is by no means certain. The combination of that new capability and a gold-colored case really would be extremely attractive and, as TechCrunch points out, it also would create an irresistible Goldfinger analogy.

The gold iPhone, if it happens, is not the only less-than-earth-shattering recent advance in smartphone design. Here are a few more from other smartphone makers. They may not be category-killers, but their oddball status may move some units.

The Personalized Motorola Moto X: The first device to be developed entirely under the guidance of Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) since it bought Motorola will come with an appealing perk: the Moto Maker site.

Available initially for AT&T (NYSE:T) customers only, Moto Maker will permit the buyer to personalize the appearance of the device. The choices are all cosmetic tweaks, but at least they go well beyond the usual black or gray, with options for the colors of the case, accents, buttons, and accessories. Users also will be able to enter a "signature," or custom message that will appear on the device and at startup.

Initial choices for the device shell include a frankly hideous fake wood grain that is reminiscent of an old microwave.

Still, Moto Maker may have real appeal to some consumers. Moto Maker Director John Renaldi told DigitalTrends.com that the concept is known as "the Ikea effect." That is, if a buyer is able to customize a product, "[their] affinity for that product goes through the roof."

It also serves as a reminder that the Moto X is built in the USA, a choice which made the production process fast and flexible enough for Moto Maker to work.

The device and the site are expected to be available as early as Friday, although some sources say that some features of Moto Maker may not be ready by the launch date.

The Monster Samsung Galaxy Mega: Korean electronics maker Samsung (OTCMKTS:SSNLF) announced Monday that it is bringing its monster-sized Samsung Galaxy Mega smartphone to the US.

It's basically a Galaxy S4 with a screen that is swollen to 6.3 inches, definitely qualifying it for the hybrid name "phablet."

This phone is bigger than the Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) Kindle e-reader, at six inches, and not much smaller than the ASUS Nexus tablet, at seven inches.

Samsung may be on to something here. Smartphones have been getting larger as they've gotten lighter and slimmer. Voice calling increasingly is the last and least important function of a phone. It may be smart to maximize the usability of all of those other functions, like texting, searching for information, messaging, watching videos, and viewing images.

On the other hand, Samsung is not the only company out there stretching phones. Sony (NYSE:SNE) has produced the (slightly) larger Sony Xperia Z Ultra. Nokia (NYSE:NOK) is reportedly working on a jumbo model for release later this year.

The Nokia Lumia 1020's Super Camera: The headline number is a stupefying but essentially meaningless number: 41. That's how many megapixels the camera in the Nokia Lumia 1020 has.

For comparison, the current best-selling digital camera on Amazon is a Sony Cyber-Shot model that has 18.2 megapixels.

Camera-savvy reviewers who have tested the Nokia Lumia 1020 say its camera has more than just that headline number to brag about; it also has a high-quality sensor and a real flash.

In any case, its specs add up to pictures that are far better than the usual smartphone images, even in poor lighting conditions, as some sample pictures in the New York Times demonstrate.

So, in this case at least, a smartphone maker might have sprung a real innovation on the public.

See also:

Apple Inc. Sales Abroad, Cisco's Slump Prove Tech Investors Need Nuanced View of Global Stocks

Tech News: In Past Year, 20% of iPhone Buyers Switched From Android

Does Big Data Have Us 'Fooled by Randomness'?
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No positions in stocks mentioned.
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