updated 08:30 am EST, Mon November 23, 2009
Dell Mini 3i ships with unfair edge
Dell's Mini 3i is shipping to China with a possible unfair competitive advantage against the iPhone. The Android phone should be available by the end of the month through China Mobile's retail partners and later through Dell's own site. As expected, it will drop 3G and Wi-Fi due to the government-backed carrier's preferences but will still have a 640x360 capacitive touchscreen, GPS, Bluetooth and microSDHC storage.
The handset will be based on China Mobile's OPhone interface for Android and will have China-specific features, including preset 139Mail access and Fetion instant messaging. An American release is believed due through both AT&T and Verizon early into 2010 with both 3G and Wi-Fi intact as well as a different build of Android.
Dell's launch comes amidst potential intimidation of some iPhone resellers. A report from Sina alleges that China Mobile is threatening some China Unicom resellers with retaliation if they carry the iPhone. Citing an alleged exclusivity deal that bans China Mobile resellers from selling competitors' products, letters from the provider either make vague references that selling the iPhone is "not recommended" or outright warns that China Mobile will "fine you or stop cooperation with you."
While it's not clear whether the exclusivity deal is authentic or legal, the arrangement is likely to hurt iPhone sales while helping all devices based on the OPhone platform, including not just the Mini 3i but also devices from Lenovo and other local handset makers. It effectively blocks the iPhone from major stores like Suning while limiting it both to Apple stores and to those stores that don't have a restrictive deal, like Best Buy or Carrefour.
China Mobile isn't known to have responded to the accusations.