Will the Venue Pro help Dell's smartphone presence?

New Windows Phone 7 handset features Gorilla Glass, vertical slider keyboard

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It's too early to judge how customers might react to the Venue Pro, which will be available in November through T-Mobile.

Dell has posted a blog by Bill Gorden, its smartphone general manager, that notes the Gorilla Glass ruggedness but then describes the device as designed for "everyday people with a diverse range of full and busy lives." He went on to say that "Dell designed the Venue Pro to be a multi-purpose always-connected device to help people be more efficient, always connected and entertained."

Dell seems to have opted to customize the hardware of its WP7 device because Microsoft has limited how it or any other vendor can add enhancements or overlays to the WP7 user interface, analysts noted. Indeed, with limited software options, it makes sense that device makers would turn to hardware distinctions to try to give one WP7 device an edge over the others.

"Dell is still trying to get into the smartphone market, so they are experimenting with form factors and such things as Gorilla Glass," noted Ramon Llamas, an analyst at IDC.

So, what is Gorilla Glass?

Gorilla Glass is an ultrahard glass substance that was invented by Corning about 40 years ago. It should eventually find its way into numerous smartphones because it's scratch-resistant, durable and sensitive to touch -- which makes it a natural candidate for use in touchscreens, Llamas noted.

Corning has already supplied Gorilla Glass to other manufacturers for use in computing devices, including Samsung's Galaxy S series of smartphones, according to the Corning Web site.

Dell currently has less than a 1% share of the U.S. smartphone market, and it's trying to gain attention by taking advantage of the release of the WP7 operating system and unveiling unusual hardware offerings, Llamas added.

Dell also recently began selling a 3.5-in. touchscreen smartphone called Aero, which uses Google's Android operating system. The Aero runs on AT&T's network and costs $99.99 with a two-year contract. "Dell doesn't want to be an also-ran in the smartphone space, so the way to make a strike is to lead with something really compelling," said Llamas.

It helps Dell, as a smartphone newcomer, that it has landed AT&T as a wireless carrier with the Aero and that it will soon offer T-Mobile service with the Venue Pro. But how Dell and the carriers market those devices will make the difference in sales, Llamas said.

"It's a crowded smartphone market out there," Llamas noted.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at  @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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