Dell’s Smartphone Seems Real This Time!

Dell Computer, (s DELL) a Round Rock, Texas–based computer maker, is looking to enter the smartphone market and is currently toying with phones based on Google’s (s goog) Android and Microsoft’s (s msft) Windows Mobile operating systems, reports the Wall Street Journal. The news confirms rumors first reported last January. Michael Dell, the CEO and founder of Dell, went on to drop some mobile-related hints in an interview with me in July 2008.

When I asked him about the possibility of his company going after the smartphone market — commodity hardware platforms married to industry standard operating systems are Dell’s business -– he danced around the issue. “What you’ve got [are] industry-standard platforms upon which applications are being built and ecosystems are being created, and that kind of building-block architecture gives us all sorts of opportunities,” he said. Given the sharp growth in non-PC devices like smartphones and netbooks, I’m not at all surprised that Dell is chasing both those markets.

The Journal says that of the two models under development, one is a touchscreen phone, while another phone will have a slider that hides beneath the screen. Normally I would dismiss Dell’s entry into the business, mostly because it has a botched history of diversification into new categories. It released digital music players and personal digital assistants, for example, but failed to make any real impact in either of those markets.

Dell bought Zing with grand ambitions that are still unrealized. The company, which has been losing market share in the PC business, isn’t quite consumer-friendly and responds to shrinking profits by shuffling the proverbial chairs. It has serious challenges and given that the phone is not likely to show up for a few quarters, Dell’s troubles are far from being over.

Still, the presence of Ron Garriques, former head of the mobile phone business at Motorola (s MOT), is a good enough reason to believe that Dell might actually be able to pull it off. Motorola released RAZR during his tenure, but has since failed to come up with more winners. Garriques had a non-compete clause with Motorola that ends next month. John Thode, another Motorola executive, has been leading the mobile handset efforts, the WSJ reports.

Some are speculating that the new Dell phone(s) will be called the MePhones. Not very likely…but I would settle for that moniker as long the device(s) are anything but me-too phone(s).