Apple will soon have an aggressive new competitor in low-priced television maker Vizio. On Jan. 3, in advance of the Consumer Electronics Show, the company is expected to announce its entrance into the mobile-device market with the introduction of an Android-running smartphone and tablet, according to multiple reports.
In a television ad during the broadcast of the Rose Bowl Jan. 1, Randy Waynick, Vizio chief sales officer, said that America's No. 1 LCD HDTV company plans to offer entertainment freedom for all. Sitting in an empty Rose Bowl stadium, Waynick is shown holding a black-framed tablet with a very Apple iPad-like appearance.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the device, called the Via Tablet, will have an 8-inch, high-resolution display; offer WiFi connectivity; and have a front-facing camera for video conferencing and three speakers.
The smartphone, called the Via Phone, will have a 4-inch display, a rear-facing, 5-megapixel camera with video capabilities and a front-facing camera for video calls. Both devices will also have HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) ports, run Android and arrive this summer.
The company didn't share pricing details, wanting to save some surprises for its Jan 3 announcement, but it has made clear its intentions to be a sort of poor-man's Apple, offering somewhat comparable devices at significantly lower prices, just as it has in the television world, battling against-and sometimes besting-electronics giant Samsung. As a company with fewer than 500 employees and shipping more LCD TVs worldwide than its competitors, Vizio, said Pund-IT analyst Charles King, qualifies as a powerful example of what can be accomplished by a small but forward-thinking vendor.
According to the Journal, Vizio developed the products with a team of fewer than 10 people and specialists it hired from Nokia.
By kicking out its product introduction to this summer, Vizio should be able to get a solid feeling for how the market is shaping up and avoid other vendors' mistakes, King told eWEEK. "The company has already proven that it can take on some of the world's biggest, baddest technology players and come out at or near the top. With that record of success, I expect the company's tablet and smartphone efforts to be equally interesting to consumers and discomforting to competitors," he said.
In entering the space, Vizio considered how it could provide the best that's out there to your typical Wal-Mart shopper, Matthew McRae, the company's CTO, told the Journal.
The devices will sell at Wal-Mart and Costco stores, with a carrier partner being announced closer to their debut, according to Bloomberg. There's a huge gap in the market for people who can't afford the iPad or whatever else, McRae told Bloomberg, adding that the devices will be aggressively priced.
Vizio also has plans this week to introduce a lineup of three-dimensional televisions with price tags starting below $300. McRae added, according to Bloomberg, that the company's plan is for all of its devices to easily interact. "We're going to make sure all of this stuff works well together," he said, according to the report. "You'll see a nearly identical interface on the phone, tablet, TVs and Blu-ray players, hooked to the same application store."
The Journal reported that the Via Tablet and Via Phone will be able to act as remote controls for other consumer-electronics devices, including all Vizio products. They'll also offer access to Vizio's Via Plus Internet service, which will offer access to applications such as Netflix, the Android Market and Facebook. Additionally, when CES kicks off Jan. 5, Vizio plans to announce details about Vizio on Demand, a new service that will enable users to start watching a movie on one device and continue watching on another.
Pund-IT's King says that Vizio can absolutely shake up the smartphone and tablet markets, which are both still in a Wild West phase, with opportunities, riches and gun fights to spare.
"More than the smartphone market, the tablet space is the most intriguing," King told eWEEK. "Last year's 18 million units shipped remains a tiny fraction of the 350-million-plus PCs sold during the same period. I'm not sure we'll see the 3X+ increase in tablet sales that iSuppli is predicting, but I expect tablets from multiple vendors to be big news at CES."