Acer smartphone up PC maker's sleeve

PC vendor Acer will launch its first smartphones in mid-February at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

"Now Acer enters the Smart Handheld market with an exciting range of easy to use devices designed to offer phone capability, simple one hand usability and complete connectivity," according to the company's exhibitor page on the Mobile World Congress Web site.

The notice suggests that Acer may unveil more than one model and that the phones may use multiple kinds of networks, such as Wi-Fi and mobile.

Acer declined to reveal additional details about the devices, such as what operating system the phones will run and when they'll become available, but said it will disclose that information on Feb. 16.

The leap into the smartphone market isn't a big one for Acer, which currently sells its Acer Aspire netbook for a subsidized price of US$100 when buyers sign up for a two-year contract with AT&T for mobile data connectivity. That makes the Aspire less expensive than some smartphones including the iPhone.

Acer might not be the only PC maker to soon enter the smartphone market. New rumors of a Dell smartphone have begun popping up again.

Both companies may hope that smartphone sales can help make up for slumping laptop and desktop sales. Recent IDC research showed that while the new netbook category is expected to record significant growth this year, it won't be enough to make up for slow or possibly declining PC sales.

Acer may be encouraged to enter the smartphone market based on its success in netbooks. IDC said that strong netbooks sales helped Acer record a 25.3 percent growth in PC shipments during the fourth quarter last year.

However, entering the mobile phone market is no easy task. The arena has grown increasingly crowded in the past few years with the entrance of Apple and a new operating system from Google. Even entrenched vendors like Research In Motion have struggled to keep pace with the fast evolving industry, as evidenced by the poor reception given to the Storm, the newest BlackBerry to hit the shelves.

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