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Lenovo builds global brand as it preps U.S. smartphone entry

Planned purchase of Motorola 'is very strategic' in overall Lenovo plans

February 25, 2014 07:18 AM ET

Computerworld - BARCELONA -- What do actor Ashton Kutcher, basketball legend Kobe Bryant, Yoga tablets, Vibe Z smartphones and Motorola all have in common? The answer is Lenovo.

It's the Lenovo that is No. 1 globally in laptops with the ThinkPad line. The same Lenovo that announced in January it is buying the Motorola handset division from Google for $2.91 billion.

This is also the same Lenovo that announced plans earlier in January to buy IBM's X86 server business for $2.3 billion.

The Beijing-based company is on a roll, heading toward becoming a globally recognized brand in nearly all shapes and sizes of computing hardware.

"In 2009, we started with just two netbooks. Now we're trying to cover all market segments. Our aim is to be more global," said Thilo Huys, manager of corporate communications for Lenovo in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. He spoke in an interview at Lenovo's show booth, which is several times larger than the ones in previous years -- at Mobile World Congress.

One big hurdle Lenovo faces in that mission is selling smartphones in the highly competitive U.S. market. Lenovo has 15 smartphone models and is No. 2 in China's smartphone market.

On Monday, Lenovo announced three S-series smartphones at mid-range prices of $229 to $349 and without the faster wireless service, indicating a focus on developing markets where LTE isn't widely available.

The S phones probably won't be important for the U.S. market where LTE is offered by all the major carriers, but Lenovo's high-end Vibe Z with its 5.5-in. display, LTE and $549 price tag announced in early January could be a U.S. contender, Huys said. "We want to be more of a brand in the U.S.," he said. Two years before Lenovo announced it would buy Motorola, the company was assessing ways to introduce smartphones in the U.S.

In wearable computing, Lenovo is "not yet" a contender, Huys conceded. "But we should have all the products." Smartwatches and smart bands caused a stir at MWC, including the Gear Fit from Samsung and Sony's new SmartBand.

Samsung also announced two Tizen-based smartwatches.

In tablets, Lenovo makes eight models, including the hip Yoga line, which is pitched by actor Ashton Kutcher in TV ads. Kobe Bryant became Lenovo's official ambassador for smartphones in China and Southeast Asia last year, an agreement that was recently extended for two more years.

When first announced, Lenovo said that Bryant "will help Lenovo smartphones shift its mature, sober brand image toward a symbol of youth and consumption. The alliance with Kobe Bryant is an important measure in deepening Lenovo's internationalization strategy and helping Lenovo become the leading brand of the PC+Era."

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