Samsung, Blackberry and Apple Gear Up for Big Mobile Year

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Tech is about to come out of winter hibernation. This week: the U.S. gets to pre-order the BlackBerry Z10, and Samsung unveils the Galaxy S4.

Both products will be fascinating, but for vastly different reasons. BlackBerry's Z10 offers the smartphone maker's last chance to survive in its current form as an integrated smartphone company that makes its own hardware and software, and runs its own network.

(Read More: What to Expect From New Samsung Galaxy S4 Smartphone )

For Samsung? Over the past year, its growth and marketing have positioned it as the name to beat in phones.

First, Samsung's Galaxy S4: The Galaxy line has been formidable for a while now, with the Galaxy SII and SIII both helping the company gain smartphone share. But it's just in the past year or so that Samsung has achieved a front-runner aura in popular consciousness, as it has amped up its marketing just as Apple's stock price peaked and plummeted.

(Read More: Apple Chart Looks 'So Bad That It's Good' )

Now the Galaxy S4 will have to show it can truly deliver and take attention away from the iPhone 5 — which, despite the anti-Apple doom and gloom lately, still dominated the U.S. holiday season. The iPhone 5 outsold all Android phones combined at Verizon Communications, for example. And according to ComScore, Apple had 37.8 percent of smartphone subscribers in the three months that ended in January, to Samsung's 21.4 percent.

(Read More: Blackberry Buyout: Could Lenovo Be Interested?)

At the same time, BlackBerry's Z10 will have to try to claw back the mountain of market share the company has lost over the past couple of years. In the holiday quarter its share slipped to 3.2 percent worldwide according to IDC, with shipments down 43 percent from the year before.

But the big shift for mobile titans in 2013 won't be so much about hardware, but software.

We've heard rumors about the S4 having a software feature that will have the phone automatically scroll based on your eye movements. To me, that sounds like the most useless — and potentially annoying — feature I've heard of in a while. (Isn't your thumb right there?) So I'll bet Samsung has much better ideas than that, probably centering on camera and photo editing features, voice command and near-field communication, which are areas where we've seen them focus lately.

(Read More: Next Apple iPhone May Have NFC Technology: Report)

For Apple I'm expecting a particularly big software year, especially with uber-designer Jony Ive now in charge of user interface design. (CEO Tim Cook gave Ive the expanded role in October.) By the time iOS 7 comes out, Ive will have had eight or nine months to overhaul the look and feel. (Usually Apple gives a peek at OS updates in the Summer.)

I'm curious to see whether Ive axes much of the skeuomorphic design in iOS — the idea that digital apps like Notes should copy the look of actual notepads to look familiar. If he ditches ideas like that (and the somewhat cheesy bookshelves in iBooks and Newsstand), that alone could dramatically change the look of the software.