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PC makers eye smartphone market

25 августа 2009

Personal-computer makers are entering the smartphone market, a segment once dominated by traditional mobile handset makers as they look to boost sagging computers sales.

While the move will help them diversify their product lines, some challenges remain. Analysts say PC makers are unlikely to reap significant benefits in the near term as they need to develop better relationships with mobile operators to sell their products. It will also take time to develop differentiated products and market their own brands in a segment where consumers already have many choices. But many agree that longer-term, PC makers have a chance to gain share which would generate a new source of revenue growth and improve overall profitability.

Competition in the smartphone segment has been intensifying in recent years with the advent of Apple Inc.'s popular iPhone. Market leaders Research In Motion Ltd., Palm Inc. and Apple have been beefing up their product lines and traditional handset vendors including Samsung Electronics Co., Nokia Corp. and LG Electronics Inc. are also encroaching on their territory launching more high-end devices. Smartphones refer to cellular devices that offer multimedia functions such as Web browsing, e-mail and video conferencing.

While global PC and handset sales are expected to shrink this year, smartphone shipments are still growing.

Researcher Ovum forecasts smartphone shipments this year to grow 23% to 171.9 million units compared with a 9.1% overall decline for the global handset market. Gartner Inc. projects PC shipments to fall 6% to 274 million this year.

Dell Inc. became the latest PC maker last Monday to say it is looking at offering cellphones through an agreement with China's biggest telecom operator, China Mobile Ltd. The company joins Hewlett-Packard Co., Taiwan's Acer Inc. and Asustek Computer Inc. that have already moved to launch smartphones in recent years.

The companies say the move makes sense because increasingly smartphones are offering computing functions and margins are more than double that of traditional PCs.

Roger Yuen, Acer's vice president of Asia-Pacific smart handheld business group, said it is relatively easy for PC makers to make smartphones because the two devices share similar components and software.

Acer, the world's third-largest personal-computer vendor by shipments, launched its first lineup of smartphones in February at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona. Company Chairman J. T. Wang said at the time that the smartphone business could account for 10% of Acer's revenue within three years.

"As the smartphone market continues to grow and change, H-P is evolving and setting the stage to expand its audience beyond the enterprise customer to also include the small-medium-business and professional consumer markets," H-P Asia Pacific/Japan Mobile Business Unit Vice President Chua Hwee Koon said.

Chua said H-P has been working to improve its functional designs and actively work to grow relationships with operators as it is essential to gaining customers.

Since 2004, H-P has been working with Singapore Telecommunications Ltd., StarHub Ltd., SK Telecom Co., Vodafone Australia, SingTel's unit Optus in Australia, and Taiwan's Chunghwa Telecom Co. to launch smartphones.

Asustek Chairman Jonney Shih said the contract manufacturer of PCs aims to ship 1 million smartphones next year. The company launched its first smartphone in 2005 and last week launched two new smartphones with navigation capability.

But some analysts are skeptical on how beneficial the move will be at least in the near term.

"To boost their gross margin and profitability, companies need to generate at least 10% in revenue from smartphones but this is unlikely for at least the coming one to two years," said Calvin Huang, an analyst at Daiwa Securities.

Huang said initial shipments will likely be small and it will take time for companies to ramp up production.

Yuanta Securities analyst Vincent Chen said one way PC makers can build their relationships with mobile carriers is through the sale of netbooks - low-cost computers - that have become increasingly popular during the economic slump.

Mobile phone operators such as China Mobile, AT&T Inc. and Taiwan's Far EasTone Telecommunications Co. have been selling netbooks to boost their mobile broadband revenue.

For example, through its cooperation with China Unicom Ltd. on netbooks, Acer is working with the Chinese carrier to launch a third-generation smartphone based on Wide Code Division Multiple Access technology in China by year-end, said Acer's Yuen.

"PC makers have a chance to succeed in the smartphone market as customers want lower-priced products with better functions," said Chen."Just like computers, smartphones will eventually become a commodity.
PC makers are good at making commoditized goods."


Источник: Total Telecom

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