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Computer Vendors Eyeing The Smartphone Market

The continued proliferation of smartphones may seriously challenge the laptop and netbook market for consumer dollars unless PC vendors can break into the handheld market.

This is according to Roberta Cozza, a principal research analyst with Gartner, who is forecasting a switch in consumer spending habits that, starting in 2010, will see more dollars being spent on smartphones than consumer notebooks.

Acer America, while a strong proponent of smartphones and other mobile devices, is not worried about losing sales.

“There has been minimal cannibalization of notebooks due to the growing popularity of netbooks, so we’re not concerned about smartphones impacting sales of notebooks or netbooks. We’re focused on creating seamless integration between all mobile devices,” said Dan Gralak, who heads Acer’s smartphones initiative in the U.S.

Cozza expects all the major PC vendors to announce plans to expand their smartphone presence by the end of 2009.

She believes it will become crucial for PC vendors to emulate Apple by making a big splash in the smartphone category. However, successfully making the switch will be incredibly difficult for the manufacturers due to the inherent differences between the categories.

Long accustomed to turning out high-quality hardware-centric computers, Cozza said, the computer companies will have to adjust to a world where the application, not feature set, is king.

“Apple is not a hardware company — it is a software and services company,” Cozza said.

Complicating the PC vendors’ efforts will be how picky the cellular carrier stores are when it comes to taking on new partners. One way to ingratiate themselves with the carriers will be to create a thoroughly differentiated product line, Cozza said.

However, the netbook angle may prove to be a double-edged sword for the computer makers as more smartphone companies, such as Nokia, enter the netbook space.

Another plus in the PC camp’s favor are the recent relationships many have developed surrounding their netbook products. In addition, the computer vendors have a proven track record of delivering a solid product to the carriers, thus eliminating one worry for the carriers.

“I think they can leverage their mini-note relationships, but they still might find it’s not that automatic to be accepted,” she added.

A few computer firms have already expressed a great deal of interest in the smartphone category.

Netbook maker Asus has teamed up with Garmin to produce the Nuvi smartphone, and Acer has introduced several models outside the U.S. market.

“The smartphone market is the natural direction of our long-term mobile strategy as our ambition is to offer compelling solutions to all the needs of mobile users. Our experience has given us the ability to listen to the market, but also the capacity to anticipate it. We’re not only spectators of consumer’s lives; we’re active participants in their desires and choices,” Gianfranco Lanci, president and CEO of Acer, said earlier this year.