It looks like Dell is ready to take a stab at the U.S. smartphone market. But while Dell will likely find the going rough, the phone will apparently land the Android operating system on yet another cellular network -- AT&T's. As if Google's blossoming mobile OS really needed more momentum.
Since early 2007, when Michael Dell returned to the company he founded to lift its sagging performance, there has been much talk of smartphones playing a part in Dell's future. All PC makers have been struggling, but Dell has suffered more than most. Smartphones offer a tempting opportunity, though the competition is increasingly fierce.
In a July 2008 interview with GigaOM, Michael Dell said that his company was working on its smartphone plans and that operating systems like Google's Android offer "industry-standard platforms upon which applications are being built and ecosystems are being created, and that kind of building-block architecture gives us all sorts of opportunities."
Several months later, the Wall Street Journal reported that Dell had built prototypes based on Android and Windows Mobile, and that a smartphone announcement could come as early as February 2009. But a Dell spokesperson told the paper that the company hadn't committed to anything yet.
And that's where things stood until August, when China Mobile, the country's biggest wireless carrier, said that it was partnering with Dell on a smartphone -- an announcement that Dell more or less confirmed. Reactions to a prototype that Dell showed off that month have been mixed.
Well, the other shoe dropped Thursday, with the Journal reporting that "people briefed on the plans" say Dell will launch an Android-based smartphone in the U.S. on the AT&T network. Reportedly, the touch-screen phone, which could be available as early as next year, will be similar to the one offered in China, but will include different features. Dell had no comment, nor did AT&T, but now that the news is out there, it's only a matter of time.
For Dell, it's a reasonable move -- after all, everybody else is doing it. But as Kaufman Bros. analyst Shaw Wu told the Telegraph, "It's going to be really hard for them to differentiate from what's already on the market."
For AT&T, here's the obvious question: Can their much-criticized network handle another data-hogging smartphone? Regardless, adding another smartphone to the company's lineup can't hurt, considering that the iPhone won't be exclusive forever.
But Google should really be the one doing a celebratory dance. On Tuesday, Google announced a deal with Verizon to produce Android-based phones. The first two phones, in what will eventually be an extended family, will be available later this year.
Now it looks like AT&T is getting an Android phone, which means Google's operating system will be represented on all four major U.S. carriers. And the good news is piling up for Google. On Tuesday, Computerworld previewed a report from Gartner predicting that Android -- currently installed on 2 percent of mobile devices -- will own 14 percent of the market by 2012, good for second place behind the Symbian OS, which is expected to fall from 49 percent to 39 percent, and ahead of the iPhone's 13.7 percent.So here come Dell and AT&T. "It's pretty natural that these other guys are going to jump on the Android bandwagon," Forrester Research analyst Charles Golvin told Reuters. "From AT&T's perspective, it's a gap that they're looking to fill. Get an Android phone, get one that's different than the one everybody else is offering."