HTC Tempts iPhone Fans With 'Unlocked' Mobile Computer - InformationWeek

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HTC Tempts iPhone Fans With 'Unlocked' Mobile Computer

The Taiwanese firm will sell its expanded smartphone and ultra-mini notebook in the U.S. for $900 without being tethered to a specific carrier.

Extending the mobile handset category close to the $1000 price point, smartphone vendor HTC is now shipping the Advantage "mobile computer" in the United States.

A cross between an expanded smartphone and an ultra-mini notebook computer, the Advantage is being sold "unlocked" -- i.e. un-tethered to a specific carrier -- and is available directly from HTC or at CompUSA stores.

This is the first time that HTC, which began life as a Taiwanese original-equipment manufacturer, has offered an unlocked device in the United States. But that doesn't mean the company is planning to move beyond its close integration with the Big 4 wireless carriers, according to Jason Gordon, senior manager for HTC America.

"The Advantage is really our first step in broadening the market that HTC serves," Gordon said, "but our success has been built through our carrier customers and that absolutely remains our focus."

The Advantage, which runs Windows Mobile 6, and the Shift -- a Windows Vista-powered device with a full QWERTY keyboard that debuted at the CTIA conference earlier this year and will go on sale in the U.S. later in 2007 -- represent a new category of device that don't fit neatly into the carriers' product lines, Gordon adds. It joins an array of pricey, high-end converged devices that have appeared in 2007. Among the big tech companies betting heavily on the "ultra-mobile PC" is Intel, which has designed a a new line of chips specifically for these neither-fish-nor-fowl machines.

With a five-inch screen and an ingenious slide-out QWERTY keyboard that's also removable, the Advantage offers an array of connectivity choices including GSM/GPRS/EDGE, HSDPA/UMTS, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi. Offering an 8Gbyte hard drive, 256Mbyte ROM, and 128Mbyte RAM plus eight hour of battery life under normal use, it's designed as a laptop substitute for brief trips when mobile professionals don't wish to carry a laptop. Since it's a GSM device, it will run over the AT&T and T-Mobile networks in the U.S.

Founded in 1997 as High Tech Computer Corp., HTC has evolved from a "pure" OEM to a seller of both carrier-branded devices and handsets under its own logo. While sales of devices carrying the HTC marquee in the U.S. are still relatively small, the company has gained a reputation for innovative and feature-packed smartphones. The release of the Advantage follows by a month the launch of HTC's Mogul smartphone, available through Sprint Nextel. The Mogul is the first carrier-supported device in the U.S. that sports the HTC logo.

A $900 "third device" that's neither a smartphone nor a laptop probably has a limited market in the U.S., but HTC officials believe the company can thrive by producing unique, highly targeted products into niche markets. The advent of the $500 iPhone" has really opened up people's ideas about what a mobile device can do," said Gordon.

"The difference is, our goal is not to force one product down every customer's throat," said Gordon. "Our goal is to release a portfolio of devices that reach each individual customer and satisfies their unique needs."

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