What do you get when one of the leading LCD HDTV manufacturers gets into the smartphone and tablet business? That's yet to be seen, but Vizio is getting ready to find out. The company is the latest technology vendor to build mobile devices.
Dubbed Via Phone and Via Tablet, the mobile devices will soon be part of the Via Plus ecosystem, described as the next generation of Vizio Internet apps that feature a single user experience across multiple consumer electronics devices, including Vizio HDTVs, Blu-ray players, smartphones and tablets.
"Both the Via phone and tablet feature the highest performance coupled with innovative features that tie them into the media-consumption experience," said Matthew McRae, CTO at Vizio. "And by integrating the Via Plus user experience also found on our next-generation TVs and Blu-ray devices, Vizio is delivering the multiscreen, unified ecosystem others have talked about for years and never delivered."
Speccing the Via
That's the value proposition in theory. What the new devices are in reality remains to be seen. For now Vizio is offering specs. The Via Phone features a one-gigahertz processor, a four-inch high-resolution touchscreen, 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, GPS, a microSD card slot for memory expansion, and HDMI output with HD video playback. It also features a front-facing camera for video chats and a five-megapixel rear camera for photos and HD video capture.
The Via Tablet also features a one-gigahertz processor with an eight-inch high-resolution capacitive touchscreen, 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, GPS, a microSD card slot for additional memory, HDMI output with HD video playback, and a front-facing camera for video chats. It also boasts a unique three-speaker design for stereo audio in both portrait and landscape modes.
Both devices include a built-in IR blaster with universal remote control for quick access to a home theater or nearly any electronics device in the home. Both run on Google's Android operating system, which will allow users access to thousands of apps through the Android Market. Vizio will demonstrate the new devices at the Consumer Electronics Show, which begins later this week.
The Value Proposition
"The open question that I have is how Vizio expects to succeed, particularly in the cell-phone business. There are an awful lot of people crowding into that space from other places, especially PC vendors trying to become phone vendors as the PC goes mobile," said Avi Greengart, an analyst at Current Analysis. "But they are finding that the cell-phone business, particularly in the U.S., is controlled by carrier shelf space. If you don't have relationships with carriers, you are not going to get volume sales. I haven't seen anything from Vizio about carriers."
Greengart suspects Vizio may be planning to sell its devices through existing retail outlets that carry its HDTVs, like Best Buy and Costco. But he's not sure yet how the company plans to convince customers to buy a Via product over an iPad or the new Motorola tablet.
"I assume there is going to be some software layer that gives you a better experience if you have a Vizio television or Vizio phone or tablet. That could be a powerful story," Greengart said. "The reason you buy a Vizio TV at retail is because it's cheaper. It's hard to get cheaper than LG or Samsung on phones."