Acer announces the first Android netbook (others follow while Asus backpeddles)

The Android netbook market is changing faster than gossip in a small town, with Chinese manufacturers leading the way. Acer has thrown down the gauntlet and is the first to announce plans to ship a product -- aiming to have it to market this year, no less. Acer said a version of its Aspire One netbook (pictured) with Google's Android mobile operating system is planned for Q3 2009, a top executive at the company said Tuesday.

The device carries the same Intel Atom microprocessor as on any Aspire One, and it sports a 10-inch screen, reports IDG News Service. A similar Aspire One is currently available from Acer with Microsoft Windows XP. The executive would not comment on pricing, although did indicate it will likely be slightly less expensive than the XP version. Battery life is expected to be on par with the XP version.

At the same time, Acer announced plans to ship an Android smartphone sometime in 2010. (Acer had long ago said it will have an Android handset but is now being more forthcoming with its timeline.).

In the race to offer an Android netboook, Acer is joined by Elitegroup Computer Systems (ECS). ECS, which makes most of its money doing contract OEM PC manufacturing, showed off its first Android netbook at Computex Taipei 2009 on Tuesday. At that time it said that it plans to have it to market by 4Q 2009 and priced at under $500. The device, called the T800, has an 8.9-inch screen, a small keypad and weighs less than a kilogram (2.2 pounds) despite its metallic casing.

Industry observers say that ECS will likely sell the device to both mobile phone operators and big PC manufacturers. The T800 uses chips from Texas Instruments (TI) called OMAP3, which contain ARM processing cores. ECS will offer two devices, one with ARM processors that run at 800MHz and another at 1GHz.

But Asustek, which made headlines the world over when Qualcomm showed off a version of an Eee Android netbook on Tuesday, has already back peddled on the project, saying it has no real plans for a production version. (Did Microsoft put pressure on the netbook maker?). According to a report from international correspondents for IDG News Service, the device looked pretty far along in the development cycle:

"Qualcomm showed an Eee PC running Android on Monday as part of the company's display of new products with its Snapdragon chips inside. The netbook, with a 10-inch display, was thinner and lighter than current Asustek Eee PCs that use Intel Atom microprocessors and run Microsoft Windows XP because the Snapdragon chips require fewer cooling components, such as fans. ... It also appeared polished, not at all like an early prototype."

In the meantime, Asus announced its plans for an Android smartphone, developed in partnership with GPS-device maker Garmin (a partnership called, straightforwardly enough, Garmin-Asus). The partnership said its GPS-enabled Android handset will be available no later than Q1 2010.

Garmin's GPS technology will be used in the geotagging feature for photographs made using the handset, and will provide other location-based services. This means that it won't be using Google maps for such services (so won't help Google gain ad revenue on that count.)

The phone will compete with other smartphones Garmin-Asus offers: the Nuvifone G60, which sports a large 3.55-inch touchscreen and uses a Linux OS, and the Nuvifone M20, which has a 2.8-inch touchscreen and runs Microsoft's Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional.

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Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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