Acer sees the future of smartphones as free

Acer thinks free is the right price for smart phones, and plans to release two models that operators can give away in September or October.

Acer wants to bring the wholesale cost of smartphones down so far that mobile network operators can afford to give them away. It aims to release two such phones by October, said Aymar de Lencquesaing, the head of Acer's Smart Handheld Business Group.

There are 4 billion mobile phone subscribers on the planet, but only 200 million of them use smartphones today, De Lencquesaing said at a news conference at the Cebit trade show in Hanover, Germany, on Wednesday.

Making smartphones available at much lower prices than today is the surest way to drive adoption above the 15 percent annual growth rate currently projected for the next five years, he said.

De Lencquesaing is aiming to shake up a market to which he is a relative newcomer: Acer unveiled its first smartphones only last month, at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

The M900 with its slide-out QWERTY keyboard and the touch-screen F900 shown there will go on sale this month or next, he said. Two other models will go on sale before the end of April: the X960, conceived as a personal navigation device, and the DX900, which can hold two SIM cards, allowing two phone subscriptions to be active at once, for example for work and personal use. All four run Windows Mobile 6.1, he said.

Acer will release a second wave of four smartphones, including those it hopes operators will give away, in September or October, "But there are more in the back room that we will ship before the end of 2009," De Lencquesaing promised.

The first, code-named F1, will have a large, high-resolution touch screen and a 5 megapixel camera, and a "widget" user interface, while another code-named L1 will have a GPS receiver, a sliding numeric keypad and a touchscreen with a virtual QWERTY keyboard. Both will run Windows Mobile 6.5.

De Lencquesaing had little to say about the specifications of the other two models, known for now as the C1 and the E1: They will be suitable for handling e-mail and surfing the Web, and they will be available in different colors, he said. If the devices he was holding, one black, one white, really were prototypes of the C1 and E1, then both will have a large, round, joypad-style control beneath a large screen.

"We want to put in front of the customer a smartphone that they can move up to ... for the same price as a feature phone," he said, adding that the C1 and E1 "will be free after subsidy by the operator."

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