Dell Gets Android Phone OK Amid New iPhone Buzz

Dell may be inching closer to launching its own Android-based smartphone on AT&T early next year, now that its Mini 3iX has passed Federal Communications Commissions’ approval process.

The Mini 3iX will have Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and 3G mobile broadband, and appears to be a more advanced spin-off Dell’s Mini 3i, a basic handset launched in China earlier this year.

Details are scarce in the FCC filing due to Dell’s confidentiality pact with the FCC, but if reports are true, the Mini 3iX will have a 3.5-inch touchscreen, a 3.2-megapixel camera and GPS.

Reports of a Dell Android smartphone on AT&T have been circulating for some time, with CEO Michael Dell ultimately confirming the company’s plans for an Android handset only last month. However, he and the company have yet to disclose any specifics about the new device.

A Dell spokesman had not returned calls seeking comment by press time.

The move comes as major handset makers — including many who have built devices around the Google-backed Android mobile software — continue working to tap into the success of devices like the Apple iPhone.

New iPhone ahead?

Meanwhile, Apple’s juggernaut shows no sign of slowing down, and the company may be planning further moves to dominate the smartphone sector: Recent reports say that Apple may be planning a “worldmode” iPhone to go on sale in fall of 2010 on Verizon.

The news of an iPhone using a hybrid chip that would make it compatible with GSM 3G networks, such as AT&T’s, as well as CDMA networks, such as Verizon’s, come from an analyst note quoted by Apple Insider.

The topic of whether the iPhone would ever be offered by Verizon, the No. 1 U.S. carrier, is often discussed by the analyst community, with some concerned that the cost and technological complexity of an iPhone compatible with Verizon’s infrastructure might prove prohibitive.

Representatives from Apple did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Work cut out for Dell

If accurate, the rumors will only heighten the competition in an already brutal space — one in which Dell will be facing some sizable obstacles if it aims to enter.

In particular, Dell’s move to launch an Android phone also means the company will be entering a crowded landscape overshadowed by the iPhone and the Research In Motion BlackBerry lineup, while other players are similarly betting on Android, Google’s open source mobile platform.

Acer, for instance, has likewise unveiled plans for an Android handset, dubbed Liquid, though pricing and carrier details have not been disclosed. Samsung also entered the fray with the Behold II coming out later this year.

As Palm (NASDAQ: PALM) continues to nurture its own ecosystem built around its webOS software and its Pre and Pixi phones, and BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (NASDAQ: RIMM) rolls out the Storm2, Motorola just issued two new Android smartphones, the Cliq and Droid. HTC is also getting lots of attention with the HTC Hero and Droid Eris.

With the exception of AT&T, all the major U.S. carriers are likewise on board with Android-based devices. But if Dell’s Mini 3iX comes to pass, it will mark the first Android handset for the nation’s No. 2 wireless operator.

Dell’s Android continues efforts by hardware manufacturers to embrace the booming smartphone sector to help offset flagging computer sales. At the same time, the smartphone industry has proven relatively resistant to the economic downturn and incredibly popular: Witness the record-breaking numbers posted regularly by the Apple iPhone.

With the lines between mobile phone and portable PC beginning to blur — with more and more devices supporting downloadable apps, multimedia, Web browsing and PC-derived operating systems — hardware vendors see the trend as an opportunity to add a new revenue stream by leveraging their core backgrounds in computer hardware.

But analysts say they will face some obstacles.

“PC vendors should realize that while convergence of technologies offers an opportunity to enter into the smartphone arena, the business models, go to market and positioning of products is very different from the PC market,” Gartner analyst Roberta Cozza said in a statement. “PC vendors will find it difficult to simply use existing supply chains and channels to expand their presence in the smartphone market. The smartphone and notebook markets are governed by different rules when it comes to successfully marketing and selling products.”

Smartphone sales are slated to surge by 29 percent to 180 million units this year, surpassing notebook PCs, according to Gartner. And, while they now comprise 14 percent of all mobile device sales, by 2012 smartphones will account for 37 percent of worldwide handset purchases, the researcher has said.

Furthermore, starting this year spending on smartphones is expected to exceed that of consumer notebooks, according to Cozza, who also believes that all major PC vendors will unveil plans for smartphones by 2010.

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