Are Lenovo's laptops beating Acer and Apple to the punch?

By unveiling a new line of stylish laptops ahead of both CES and Macworld, Lenovo stands alone in the limelight today. But is there still room for another large player in the laptop space?

In unveiling a trio of design-conscious "IdeaPad" laptops for the consumer market, Lenovo today beat newfound competitors such as Dell and Acer to the punch by at least three days, and Apple by a couple of weeks.

Lenovo -- a Chinese-based company which purchased IBM's PC business in 2005 -- is officially announcing its first three laptop models for the international consumer market at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) show in Las Vegas.

But as of today, the new 15.4-inch IdeaPad Y510 and 17-inch IdeaPad Y710 are being prominently promoted on Lenovo's Web site, where mention is also made of an upcoming 11-inch ultramobile model.

Also reportedly in the works at Lenovo is a consumer desktop model dubbed the IdeaCentre.

Although known internationally only for its business PCs, Lenovo has previously experimented with some consumer models inside of China.

Lenovo's new consumer laptops for the international market will come with Intel Core 2 Duo Processor technology; Vista Home Edition; a Dolby Home Theater audio sound system with quad speakers and a subwoofer; touch-sensitive controls; GameZone keys with secondary display; and VeriFace facial recognition.

Aimed at eliminating the need for password security, the VeriFace facial recognition software will work with an integrated 1.3-megapixel camera.

On the design side, Lenovo will try to differentiate by making its laptops availabile in a range of colors and textures, and by providing the units with a super-thin bezel, to give the screen a frameless appearance, and a special hinged cover, for easier viewing. The hinge and logo areas will be illuminated by halo lighting.

Geared to Web browsing and mobile entertainment, the Y510 is set for availability on January 6, the day before CES opens its doors. The 15.4-inch unit will include a multi-light battery indicator; six-in-one card reader; CD/DVD writer; integrated wireless LAN; and a hard drive of up to 250GB.

Slated to ship on January 10, the larger Y710 is touted as a desktop replacement model with discrete graphics for multimedia performance. A secondary hard drive will be optionally available.

Starting pricing has been estimated at about $800 USD for the IdeaPad Y510 and $1,200 USD for the Y710.

Lenovo is taking on a big challenge in tackling established consumer laptop industry leaders such as Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and Acer, a Taiwan-based vendor that recently acquired Gateway, some observers say.

Meanwhile, Apple -- another competitor that's been gaining ground, especially with the slow takeoff rate for Vista -- is gearing up for the MacWorld show in San Francisco, set to start in mid-January.

So is there any room left on the planet for yet another big player in the international PC space? Well, maybe -- since many industry analysts are predicting that the consumer segment of that space is poised for continued growth for at least the next couple of years.

Specifically, worldwide PC shipments are now on track to grown 12.3 percent in 2007 and 11 percent in 2008, according to a report issued by the Garther Group in September.

Opportunities will be strong for desktop PCs in emerging international markets, and for laptop PCs just about everywhere, said Mikako Kitagawa, principal analyst for Gartner's Client Computing Markets Group.

As drivers behind laptop growth, the analyst pointed to falling prices, improved performance, and the continuing rise of wireless access.

HP, another business computing vendor that's heeded the call of the consumer dollar, starting pouring more energy into home desktops and consumer laptops a couple of years ago.

In the overall international arena, Acer is widely regarded as the dominant force. Dell, however, recently rolled out plans to expand its activities in China from 45 cities to over 1,000, after its sales in US consumer PC sales felt a drop in the middle of last year.

For its part, Lenovo is announcing intentions around initial sales of its consumer laptop PCs in more than a dozen countries -- ranging from France to Russia, South Africa, India, and Australia, and Vietman, for example -- on several different continents.

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