Lenovo enters smartphone fracas with "LePhone"

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Lenovo Group Ltd is wading into the smartphone market with a thin, touchscreen device based on Google Inc’s Android operating system, following the footsteps of PC rivals like Dell Inc and Acer Inc.

The world’s No. 4 personal computer maker on Wednesday announced LePhone, which will be launched this year in China, Lenovo’s home base, where it is the PC market leader.

LePhone has a 3.7-inch screen, is 12 millimeters thick and runs on Qualcomm Inc’s Snapdragon chip. Lenovo did not provide details on pricing.

Chief Executive Yang Yuanqing said mobile devices are a natural extension for PC makers.

“The next big opportunity is the mobile Internet,” he said at a news conference at the Consumer Electronics Shows in Las Vegas.

Dell recently launched its own Android smartphone, starting in China, as has Taiwan’s Acer, joining a growing cast of traditional handset makers using the Google platform.

Lenovo announced in November it would pay $200 million to reacquire the cellphone business it sold off a year and a half earlier. It had spun off its mobile phone unit in 2008, saying at the time that the move was designed to help the company return to its focus as a PC maker.

In an interview, Lenovo President and Chief Operating Officer Rory Read declined to put a target on Lenovo’s smartphone sales, but he said its expertise in China should allow it to hit the ground running and build momentum.

“Smartphones are just emerging in China, so we have an opportunity to very quickly gain share and grow very rapidly.”

Although its stronghold is in China, the company has been aggressively building its consumer PC business in the United States.

Lenovo has managed to generate buzz at CES, despite the crush of news from consumer electronics companies from around the world. It unveiled Skylight, an eye-catching new “smartbook” based on the low-power ARM chip architecture used in smartphones.

Lenovo also announced the IdeaPad U1, which it is calling the first “hybrid” notebook. It is a laptop that easily converts to a tablet by popping out the screen from the clamshell frame. The U1 boasts two separate central processing units and different operating systems for the modes of use.

Reporting by Gabriel Madway; Editing by Richard Chang