RealTime IT News

ViewSonic Dials Into Smartphone Market

ViewSonic this week announced plans to expand into the 3G smartphone industry, with China the first region to carry the phones, followed by Europe and the Americas, but they may need partners on the software side to make the venture successful, according to one analyst.

The news marks ViewSonic's first product line in the smartphone market, and follows plans by other vendors traditionally associated with PC hardware to try to tap into the lucrative space. Acer this week also released two of its smartphones in the Tempo line while Dell has hinted that it may also roll out smartphones by the end of the year.

Hardware makers apparently are keen on trying to cash in on the mobile market at a time when industry watchers are issuing positive numbers for smartphone growth, despite the recession. According to a March 2009 report from iSuppli, the forecast for global smartphone unit shipments is 192 million in 2009, up 11 percent from 173.6 million in 2008. Furthermore, the report cites a unit shipment Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 21 percent from 2008 to 2013. Also, in September 2008 comScore reported the number of U.S. subscribers with 3G enabled devices grew 80 percent to 64.2 million during the past year.

ViewSonic believes the company is positioned to do well in the smartphone sector given its experience in making displays.

"With 20 years of display experience this is a natural extension of our product expertise," James Chu, ViewSonic chairman and chief executive officer, said in a statement. "This is an important strategic step for ViewSonic, as it allows us to apply our display technology to an even larger and rapidly growing worldwide market."

For now, the company has not decided on potential carriers or a timeframe for a release in the US, a ViewSonic spokesperson told InternetNews.com. "It's certainly an exciting, and logical, move for ViewSonic. However, we're not releasing any further information about the products at this point. We'll provide more specifics when we launch the product itself, first in China and then later in the Americas."

And, while it may make sense for hardware makers to try to capitalize on the booming mobile market, one analyst warned that hardware is only half the battle.

"ViewSonic might get a minuscule slice of the pie, but will it be a big revenue driver for them? In a word: No. The smartphone market is no longer a hardware business," Charles Golvin, principal analyst at Forrester Research, told InternetNews.com.

"Aside from having an innovative design, it's really all about the software -- that's how you differentiate. ViewSonic has nothing in their area of expertise that would allow them to create a compelling software experience on the device."

He said the need for a strong software component is especially critical given the burgeoning smartphone app market and rising customer expectations that a smartphone will have a wide variety of apps from which to choose.

"You need to attract developers by providing evidence of a significant install base [and] have an attractive revenue-sharing plan, naturally, but you need a compelling app developer environment that allows developers to quickly and creatively construct new apps to provide experiences for the device," he added. "I don't see any evidence that ViewSonic has that."

Meanwhile, Acer, the world's third-largest PC vendor, announced its first family of smartphones, called Tempo, in February at the Mobile World Congress conference in Barcelona. The Tempo family is comprised of the M900, F900, X960 and DX900 and all of them use Microsoft's Windows Mobile OS.

This week Acer officially began selling the DX900 and X960. The Acer X960, has a 2.8-inch VGA touchscreen, Wi-Fi, GPS, 3.2-megapixel camera and five-way navigation button. The DX900 is being billed as a "Dual-SIM Smartphone" that supports both 3.5G (HSDPA) and 2.75G (EDGE) SIM cards. They are available in Europe, Russia and the Middle East and in most Asian markets, according to Acer.