Why Is Dell’s Mini3i Smartphone China-Only?

The long-awaited entry of the venerable PC maker into the smartphone business is almost here. But only in China. The specter of the iPhone casts a global shadow.

Dell’s launching a smartphone! It’s Android-powered! It’s going to be called the Mini3i! And it’ll be hitting the streets soon! Only one hitch here: You’ll need to be in China to get it. There can only be one reason for this. It’s Apple’s iPhone, soon to be China-bound itself.

Dell Mini3i is reporting the news and has a source telling it that the launch is imminent, “in the middle of this month.” Though details on the phone itself are sparse apart from the fuzzy leaked shot above, here’s what we know. It’ll run on China’s proprietary 3G standard TD-SCDMA, and it’ll be a founding member of the OPhone platform, the specialized version of Android that China Mobile is hoping to establish as a major new player in the smartphone marketplace. Unlike Palm’s slow efforts to jumpstart a developer community for WebOS, the OPhone’s Software Development Kit and Software Developer Network are already up and running, ready to drive the brand forward with dedicated apps.

Why is Dell launching only in China? One reason, and yes, it’s the obvious one–the iPhone. Apple hasn’t managed to launch in China yet. Numerous press reports have popped up detailing negotiations that suggest China Mobile was Apple’s network of choice. But CM was placing so many stringent and controlling demands on the deal that Apple balked. That’s why the most recent news has centered on Apple offering a Wi-fi free iPhone with China Unicom.

We can ridicule the impenetrability of China Mobile’s business thinking about the iPhone, point and laugh at the feeble iPhone parody in the OPhone branding, and even snigger that the idea plays totally into the stereotypical picture of Chinese cell-phone tech ripping off other people’s designs. But there remains one truth that’s hard to ignore: Dell may have chosen a China-only route for its product, piggybacking off China Mobile, because it’s decided it can’t compete with the iPhone elsewhere in the world. Just look at Palm Pre’s issues.

This alliance between network and manufacturer is likely to be a potent one. Dell’s OPhone product, along with Lenovo’s and HTCs–both upcoming–are likely to be big sellers in China. It may even beat the iPhone there.

[ via MobileCrunch]

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