Dell will sell its smartphone first in China and Brazil

Developing markets will be the first to get the Android-powered Mini 3

In a surprising move, Dell said Friday it will sell its first-ever smartphone in Brazil and China, which should land on shelves as soon as the end of this month. The device, called the Mini 3, will run the Android operating system, an open-source mobile operating system project nurtured by Google.

Dell didn't release pricing or further technical details on the phone.

Rumors have circulated for months that Dell -- traditionally a desktop and laptop PC manufacturer -- would step into the crowded smartphone area. Dell said its move into smartphones was a "logical extension" of its consumer product strategy.

By launching in Brazil and China first, Dell clearly has its eye on developing markets. Dell will partner with China Mobile, the world's largest carrier by number of subscribers at more than 500 million.

The Mini 3 should be available there by the end of the month.

In Brazil, Dell is partnering with Claro, where the device should debut by the end of the year. Claro has about 42 million subscribers.

Entering the highly competitive smartphone market will be an uphill battle for Dell, according to Pete Cunningham, senior analyst at market research company Canalys. PC vendors like Toshiba, Acer and Asus are have already found it difficult to succeed, he said.

The exception is Apple, which made entering the smartphone market look easy. But Apple is unique and Cunningham doesn't think another company can copy its success.

For Android it's a small victory. Dell's device shows it's possible for new vendors to develop smartphones based on the operating system, Cunningham said.

However, both operators and consumers increasingly prefer smartphones from vendors they're familiar with, according to Francisco Jeronimo, research manager for European Mobile Devices.

For example, in Western Europe 92 percent of all smartphones sold during the first half of 2009 came from Apple, HTC, Nokia and Research In Motion, compared to 83 percent during the same period in 2008.

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