Friday, October 14, 2011

Huawei's Springboard into U.S. tablet market. Will it throw water on the Kindle Fire?

Huawei's' 7" tablet for the T-Mobile network,
runs the Android Honeycomb operating system.
The CTIA Enterprise and Applications show (CTIAena), which was held in San Diego this week, is always a more subdued affair than the CTIA Wireless show held annually in the spring. However, there have been notable consumer devices announced at the fall event in the past, such as the first flurry of Android devices that were introduced in 2009.

The most anticipated announcement (at a very lackluster CTIAena) this year was to be a Samsung "Unpacked" event with Google, where the companies were expected to unveil the first devices running the converged smartphone/tablet Android Ice Cream Sandwich operating system. However, the companies postponed that event just one week before CTIAena, they said out of respect for Steve Jobs' death, and it is now scheduled for Hong Kong(?) on October 18th.

The Samsung-Google postponement opened the door for Huawei, a $15B Chinese company that is better known for their network infrastructure equipment business. The company had also invited the press and analysts to their event at CTIAena, while acknowledging scheduling at exactly the same time as the Samsung event.  While Huawei has been introducing Android smartphones in foreign markets for several months, they had no presence on a Tier-1 U.S. carrier. Until now. With many members of the press/analyst corps in attendance, Huawei announced their 1st first smartphone for the AT&T network (the Impulse 4G), and a 7" tablet running the Android Honeycomb operating system for T-Mobile's network, the Springboard.

In making the announcements, Executive VP of Product & Marketing in Huawei's Device Division - James Jiang, said that the company's strategy for the U.S. was to introduce a series of affordable devices based on Android. However, the Springboard - the U.S. incarnation of the 7" MediaPad which Huawei announced in June, actually exceeds the specifications of more well-known competitor's tablets, such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab.

The Huawei Springboard runs the latest version of Honeycomb (to the Galaxy Tab's Froyo), on a dual-core 1.2GHz Snapdragon processor (to the Tab's 1Ghz single core Hummingbird). The Springboard surpasses the Galaxy Tab in several other respects as well, with a higher resolution camera, T-Mobile "4G" connectivity, a higher resolution display, and HD video capture and output. Jiang told the EE Daily News that Huawei has been working closely with Google to develop their products with the latest versions of Android.

On September 28th, Amazon made a big splash with the announcement of a $199 color Kindle Fire, also a 7" tablet. The Kindle Fire is WiFi only, and is intended as a consumption device for content purchased from Amazon, hence a lack of any cameras. The Kindle Fire is more than one ounce heavier than the Springboard, with lower screen resolution that matches the Galaxy Tab, and only 8GB of storage.

Media and analysts at CTIAena pressed both Huawei and T-Mobile for pricing and release information, but the company would only say "Available in time for the holidays, no pricing details released yet". T-Mobile had been offering the 7" Galaxy Tab, now out of stock, for $199 with a $100 rebate. Sources have told the EE Daily News that they expect T-Mobile to offer the Springboard for "less than $200". While the downside of that pricing may be the requirement of a 2-year contract, the Huawei Springboard could definitely throw some water on Amazon's Fire in the coming holiday shopping season.

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