updated 10:25 am EST, Fri January 28, 2011
Lenovo tablet needed to avoid 'phase out' by iPad
Lenovo chairman Liu Chuanzhi in an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland cast the new LePad tablet and LePhone as key to his company's survival against Apple. He viewed tablets and smartphones as essential since they would be the future of the computing business. Without a good offering, any company that couldn't stand up to the iPad and iPhone would be virtually non-existent, he explained to Bloomberg.
"Anyone who loses this battle will be phased out from the history of this industry," he said.
Chuanzhi noted that Apple had a "significant share" in China but didn't have the same kind of clear leadership it has in other countries. Apple at last check had led smartphones in China in the first half of 2010 with 900,000 iPhones sold, but that lead is no longer absolute. Native Chinese companies such as ZTE have kept Apple back by offering cheap Android devices and thriving on their basic phone lineups. Apple has a better edge in tablets as the Wi-Fi iPad mostly has to face relatively small if significant contenders like Hanvon as well as tiny white-box companies, some of whom are actively cloning the iPad.
Lenovo could possibly get an edge simply because, as a China-born company, it "know[s] this market better," the chairman said.
The prospects of countering Apple in the short term are currently slim. Lenovo launched the LePhone in May but only expects to have shipped a million of the Android device in its first year, or a sixteenth of what Apple sold just in the fall. The LePad was originally to have launched as part of the IdeaPad U1 a year ago but faced numerous delays and eventually a switch from an in-house Linux OS to a customized version of Android. It should now ship before the end of March.
Apple, meanwhile, has said it's putting an increasing emphasis on China and highlighted rapid Chinese growth during its latest fiscal results call. The company has been willing to make unusual concessions for the Chinese market, such as temporarily shipping an iPhone without Wi-Fi. It's now rumored to be getting the 3G iPad by the end of March through a tie-in with China Unicom.