Lenovo showed off a tweaked version of Google’s Android operating system on its upcoming Lephone handset, as the company also launched an application download store for the phone and other products.
Lenovo also announced a service that will automatically push e-mail and other content to the Lephone, adding more services alongside hardware in the company’s new focus on mobile devices.
“We’re doubling down here into the mobile Internet space,” Rory Read, chief operating officer of Lenovo, told reporters at a Beijing event.
A large, onstage screen at the event displayed the phone’s “four-leaf clover” user interface, which centered on a circled picture of the user surrounded by four square icons used to open sections like e-mail, chat and calls. Lenovo designed the interface and runs it on top of the Android core, Read said.
The Lephone was also shown multitasking, or running multiple applications at once. A port on the side of the phone will allow a mini-keyboard to be attached, but third parties could also design devices like video-game controllers that use the port, Lenovo CTO He Zhiqiang said during a speech
Lenovo plans to start selling the first version of the Lephone, which will use the 3G standard WCDMA, in China next month. When asked about plans to sell the device abroad, Read said Lenovo would first try to “win” in China, and then look at emerging markets, followed by developed markets for future sales. He declined to give a timetable for sales abroad.
Lenovo is also working on versions of the Lephone that support the two other 3G standards being used in China, including the homegrown TD-SCDMA being promoted by China Mobile, a company spokesman said. He declined to say when the other versions would be available.
Lenovo has worked with over 500 content developers for its new application download store, including more than 200 who have tweaked their products specifically for Lenovo’s flavor of Android, Read said. The new Web site for the download store offers a software kit for developers and currently lists a few hundred applications.
Lenovo wants the apps in its store to work across a range of its mobile Internet products, including the company’s Skylight mini-laptop and its IdeaPad U1 hybrid notebook, which has a screen that can be detached and used as a touchscreen computer, Read said. Both devices will use Lenovo’s tweaked version of Android, Read said.
The Lephone does not come with embedded Google search or any pre-installed Google apps, which are common on other Android phones. But a list of Lenovo app partners for the phone included Baidu.com, Google’s main rival in the China search market.
Google recently angered Chinese authorities by shutting down its China-based search engine over censorship and hacking concerns, redirecting Chinese users instead to Google’s uncensored search engine in Hong Kong. Analysts have watched for any signs that the move could hurt Google’s search business by driving away local partners.
Lenovo chose its first batch of apps based on the preferences of Chinese users, Read said when asked about the lack of pre-loaded Google services.
The Lephone will be compatible with most Android apps, a company spokesman said. Lenovo declined to give pricing for the Lephone.
Lenovo will release new generations of the Lephone and expand its smartphone portfolio in the next one to two years, Read said. Lenovo previously said it would try to reach “other price points” with Android phones after the Lephone, which is a mid- to high-end device.
Mobile Internet hardware and services could become 10 percent to 20 percent of Lenovo’s business over five years, Read said.