Acer Takes The Smartphone Plunge

Details on four of the 10 Tempo smartphones Acer plans to launch this year were released Monday at the GSMA Mobile World Congress.



Acer has introduced its first line of smartphones, diving into a highly competitive global market where it will have to grab market share from leaders Nokia and Samsung and upstarts such as Apple.

Acer unveiled its Tempo line late Monday at the GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The company plans to launch 10 smartphones this year, and released details on four that are scheduled to be delivered in March and April.

The Tempo line will run Windows Mobile and will be touch-enabled. Acer said it would add other operating systems, such as Android, but didn't say when.

Acer, which is known for netbooks and laptops, said smartphones were the logical next step in the company's strategy of delivering a wide range of mobile-computing devices. The latest products stem from Acer's acquisition last year of Taiwanese smartphone maker E-Ten Information Systems.

"The smartphone market is the natural direction of our long-term mobile strategy as our ambition is to offer compelling solutions to all the needs of mobile users," Gianfranco Lanci, president and chief executive of Acer, said in a statement.

Driving Acer's ambition is a market that the company said is expected to grow at 15% year over-year in the next three to five years. Currently, about 200 million smartphones are sold each year, according to Acer.

While Acer believes it has a shot, Charles Golvin, analyst for Forrester Research, said any new entrant faces a "very, very tough" challenge. Besides Acer, other computer makers, such as Asustek and possibly Dell, are also hoping to grab market share. Dell hasn't announced a smartphone, but is reportedly developing one.

"Many of these new entrants look at Apple's success and think they can get a piece of the pie," Golvin said. "But they're not Apple."

Apple's iPhone has become a leader in the U.S. smartphone market and a global player in two years because of the software in the device that makes Web browsing, e-mail, and other tasks painless. "Software is really going to be what differentiates devices going forward," Golvin said. "It's not the hardware. The hardware is really a commodity."

Therefore, the challenge for Acer and other computer makers will be in trying to learn something new while also trying to steal customers. "None of these companies have much skill in software," Golvin said. "It's going to be a big challenge."

Acer's strategy is to offer a variety of smartphones covering all market segments, from the low end to the high end.

Acer plans to deliver its first four smartphones in March and early April, with the others to follow later in the year. The four phones are the M900, F900, X960, and DX900.

The M900, which is targeted at business users, comes with a slide-out, full QWERTY keyboard, a 3.8-inch WVGA touch screen, and a fingerprint scanner for security. The device runs Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional and comes with Outlook e-mail and the Office suite of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. In addition, there's a 5-megapixel camera, a global positioning system, and support for HSDPA, or High-Speed Download Packet Access.

The F900 also comes with a 3.8-inch WVGA touch screen but no slide-out keyboard. Geared toward Web browsing, the device comes with Internet Explorer 6 and supports JavaScript and Adobe Flash Lite. For faster upload speeds, the F900 supports HSUPA, or High-Speed Uplink Packet Access, as well as HSDPA. It also supports Wi-Fi and includes a 3.2-megapixel camera.

The smaller Acer X960 has a widget-based user interface for quick access to contacts, e-mail, browser, bookmarks, calendar, music player, and other features. The device sports a 2.8-inch VGA touch screen, a 3.2-megapixel camera, and a GPS.

Finally, the DX900 is billed as "the world's first" dual-SIM smartphone, which means it can support two numbers for people who want to keep separate business and personal communications, or who need a second number for traveling overseas.

Prices for the smartphones will be released closer to launch. Acer didn't say which wireless carriers would have the devices or in which regions of the world the smartphones would be available.


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