Does Dell’s Primordial Smartphone Have an Android Inside?

Computer manufacturer Dell on Monday confirmed that it’s making mobile devices for China Mobile, the world’s largest wireless carrier in terms of subscribers.

This followed China Mobile’s announcement in Beijing on Monday of its new mobile app store.

“We are developing devices for China Mobile, but we haven’t named them yet,” Dell spokesperson Matt Paretta told LinuxInsider.

At the China Mobile announcement, Dell showed a handheld device that Paretta described as a proof of concept. Though Dell has made no announcements about what changes might be made to the device before it’s mass-produced, the handset attracted a great deal of attention — and criticism — from bloggers and other observers.

China Mobile and China Unicom

With more than 493 million subscribers — enough to populate the entire United States and then some — China Mobile is the world’s largest wireless carrier in terms of customers.

That gives it a great deal of clout, so landing China Mobile as a customer would considerably boost Dell’s — or any device maker’s — fortunes.

If Dell is building a device, it will likely run on Android — China Mobile is planning to build a device similar to the iPhone called the “O-Phone.” This will run on the Open Mobile System (OMS).

OMS is a combination of Android and TD-SCDMA, China’s home-grown 3G standard. TD-SCDMA, or Time Division-Synchronous Code Division Multiple Access, was developed by the Chinese Academy of Telecommunications Technology, several mainland Chinese telecommunications companies, and Siemens AG.

China Unicom, China’s second-largest wireless carrier, recently confirmed that it’s in talks with Apple to be the country’s first official iPhone carrier; it’s unclear whether that news influenced the timing of China Mobile’s announcement. However, China Mobile reportedly began working on the O-Phone after it canceled talks with Apple to carry the iPhone.

Whispers About Dell’s Smartphone

The Dell device on show at the China Mobile announcement was called the “Mini 3i,” according to reports.

Dell’s Mini 3i is reportedly a GSM device with a screen resolution of 360 x 640 pixels.

Dell used to make the now-defunct Axim PDA years ago, and its spokesperson, Paretta, carefully worded his statement to LinuxInsider to talk about the generic term “devices,” seeming to avoid the term “smartphones.”

Rumors about Dell’s reviving the Axim or producing a smartphone have been making the rounds for years.

In February, AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega said that Dell had announced its entry into the smartphone market. He brought this up during a panel discussion at the Mobile World Congress, held in Barcelona, Spain.

In January, The Wall Street Journal said Dell was prepping to dive into the smartphone marketplace.

These weren’t just flights of fancy — in July of 2008, Om Malik ran the text of an interview with Dell founder and CEO Michael Dell on his GigaOm blog in which smartphones were mentioned. Dell was looking at the whole smartphone category, Michael Dell said.

In 2007, the Electronista blog said Dell was planning to invigorate its then-defunct Axim line with a new smart device. The Axim died around 2004, despite Dell’s plans in 2003 to develop a new generation of the device that would include both WiFi and triband radios.

Dell Smartphones? Bah! Humbug!

Despite the talk in past months, news about the Dell smartphone is just hot air as far as Ramon Llamas, a senior research analyst at IDC, is concerned.

“I’m not putting any faith in these reports until I see a good, hard announcement,” he told LinuxInsider.

“Right now, it’s all speculation and pictures from some people who can do Photoshop really well,” he added.

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