Acer blasts into smartphone business with handset blitz

Acer has thrown its hat into the smartphone ring with seven new handsets and a strategy that aims to transform the PC maker into one of the top five smartphone players by 2014.

Acer has made no secret of its ambitions to enter the smartphone sector, having purchased Taiwanese smartphone maker E-Ten in March 2008. Now Acer has its own dedicated business unit for smartphones, which it sees as a natural extension of its notebook and netbook business.

Four of the new Acer Tempo Series handsets - the M900, F900, X960 and DX900 - will be available in the first half of 2009, while three more handsets are on deck for the second half. Acer said it plans to announce more smartphone models in Q4.

The M900 is aimed at business users with a sliding QWERTY keypad, Office Mobile and a fingerprint sensor. The F900 is optimized for Web-browsing with IE 6, web apps and Wi-Fi. The X960 focuses on location-based apps, and the DX900 sports dual SIM slots - one supporting HSPA and the other supporting EDGE - for users that want to separate personal and business communications.

In the second half of the year, Acer has three more smartphones planned - code-named F1, L1 and C1 - that will range from a high-end iPhone-like device running on a Qualcomm chip to lower-end smartphones designed to migrate feature-phone users to smartphones at a price point they're used to.

Aymar de Lencquesaing, senior corporate VP and SHBG president for Acer, said that higher-end phones would retail for as much as 500 euros without subsidies, while its lower-tier smartphones could be priced as low as 49 euros, or even free with operator subsidies.

All eight smartphones are touch-screen models running Windows Mobile. The 1H09 handsets will run Windows Mobile 6.1, while models after that will run Windows 6.5.

de Lencquesaing said that Acer was starting with Windows Mobile partly because "it's a good, reliable OS", and partly because E-Ten also used Windows Mobile. He refused to be drawn into whether Acer would produce an Android phone, saying only that "we do have plans" to support other OSs, possibly before the end of the year.

de Lencquesaing said that carrier agreements would be announced soon, and that operator response to the Acer line-up has been strong.

"They like that we're not just coming out with just one smartphone, and they agree with the customer segmentation we've designed them for," de Lencquesaing said at the Acer phone launch on the sidelines of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona Monday.

As for the obvious question of whether a PC vendor can break into the hyper-competitive handset sector, de Lencquesaing said that the smartphone segment was still "a wide open game", and that it was better to be right than to be first.

"In the PC business, we've always seen these technology cycles where companies come into the market first, but ten years later, who's left standing‾ It's not always the guys who got there first," said de Lencquesaing, who previously headed up Packard-Bell.


de Lencquesaing also said the smartphone business was nascent enough that Acer could fulfill its ambition of becoming one of the top five smartphone vendors in five years with double-digit market share.

"My smartphone unit feels like a start-up, except that it's a start-up with a profitable $17 billion company at my back that knows how to efficiently manage its costs and its supply chain to hit the price points we need to hit," he said.

Acer is the second PC-based maker in a week to enter the smartphone business. Last Thursday, Garmin-Asus - an alliance between ASUSTeK Computer and PND maker Garmin - unveiled two new smartphones designed around location-based apps.