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Dell's Smartphone Better Be Spectacular

Analysts agree that Dell would have to go beyond the Apple iPhone, the RIM BlackBerry, and the upcoming Palm Pre.

Dell is reportedly working on a smartphone that the computer maker could introduce as early as this month, but if the company has any hope for success in the fiercely competitive market, its phone will have to go beyond good. It will have to be "spectacular," analysts say.

The Wall Street Journal on Jan. 30 reported that Dell engineers have been working for more than a year on the device and have built prototypes on Google's Android operating system and Microsoft's Windows Mobile software. Quoting people familiar with the matter, the newspaper said one model would include a touch screen, but no physical keyboard, like Apple's iPhone; while the other would have a keypad that slides from beneath the screen.

Contacted Friday by InformationWeek, a Dell spokesman declined comment, saying in an e-mail, "As a rule we do not comment on rumors and speculation."

Dell's plans aren't final, and the company could decide to abandon the project, the Journal said. But Dell executives have discussed a possible smartphone launch next month at the GSMA Mobile World Congress, a communications conference in Barcelona, Spain. If that happens, then Dell will be setting off on a difficult journey.

"It would be one of the riskiest moves Dell has ever made," Ken Dulaney, analyst for Gartner, told InformationWeek. So risky that Dulaney found it hard to believe the company would even try to slug it out with the likes of Apple and Research In Motion, given that Dell would be a newcomer in such a highly competitive market. "They can't be that stupid," he said.

Indeed, the one thing analysts agree that Dell would need is a smartphone that wows consumers and analysts, which means it would have to go beyond the Apple iPhone, the RIM BlackBerry, and the upcoming Palm Pre.

"If they don't have something that's spectacular, than it's going to be a problem," Dulaney said.

John Spooner, analyst for Technology Business Research, agrees that the Dell phone would have to be "really, really good," and said the company would have better luck on the Android platform than Windows Mobile, which he called "clunky."

"If they want to compete with the iPhone versus other Windows Mobile phones, which is less lofty of a goal, then they're going to have to make it really simple and easy to use, and that's a real challenge," Spooner said.

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