The Round Rock, Texas-based computer vendor said it will release the Mini 3 through China Mobile later this month; the phone will be available through the Brazilian operator Claro by the end of the year. The announcement ends two years of rumors of a Dell smartphone. The company offered few details about the handset other than the fact that it rocks a three-and-a-half-inch high-definition screen and forgoes a physical keyboard in favor of a touchscreen.
While a move into mobile is overdue, Dell faces a daunting task in differentiating itself from the increasingly crowded Android bandwagon. But the company is wise to enter the difficult Chinese market with China Mobile, which claims 500 million subscribers and — more importantly — with which it already has an established relationship. Dell earlier this year became the first mobile PC manufacturer to embed China Mobile’s 3G technology and services into its netbooks and, according to the company, has become the leading seller of netbooks through retail outlets in China. Dell also has a longstanding presence in Brazil, where it opened a $100 million-plus plant two years ago.
The relationship with China Mobile will be particularly crucial as Dell enters the smartphone space. China’s position as the world’s largest mobile market is well documented, but the region is teaming with potential pitfalls, including an active gray market and heavy government regulation. Apple (s aapl) is quickly — and painfully — becoming familiar with such hurdles via the Chinese launch of the iPhone. If Dell can leverage its existing relationships in China, the company could quickly establish a foothold in a massive market. And that foothold could be the first step in building a global presence in the increasingly competitive smartphone segment.