Lenovo Details Tablet Roadmap After Launching LePad In China

Lenovo says it's bringing the new LePad tablet that came to market in China earlier this week to international customers in June, with a follow-up second generation LePad due in the fall -- but in the aftermath of the earthquake in Japan, Lenovo says the LePad’s availability could still be limited. The company made no specific mention of a release date for the U.S.

The Financial Times on Monday reported that Lenovo has officially entered the tablet market with the release of its LePad device to customers in China. According to the report, not only is the LePad -- which features a 10.1-inch screen and a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor -- available exclusively to Chinese consumers, the release event was only open to Chinese media.

Lenovo’s reportedly ’lavish party’ in Shanghai marked Lenovo’s full-force entry into the tablet market – which last year accounted for 18 million devices sold, according to IDC, with Apple’s iPad claiming an 83 percent share of the market. According to various news outlets in China on Wednesday Lenovo plans to release a follow-up LePad tablet product in either September or October.

The Marbridge Daily reports that Lenovo CEO Yang Yanqing says Lenovo’s second-generation tablet will be both lighter and thinner than the device that launched this week -- much like Apple’s iPad 2 compared to its predecessor. Unveiled earlier this month, Apple’s iPad 2 is 33 percent thinner than the original, and weighs 1.3 pounds compared to the iPad's 1.5 pounds.

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Yang reportedly said the LePad 2 requires about nine months’ development -- compared to Apple’s more-or-less yearly product cycle -- and that Lenovo is developing its follow-up tablet with a separate team, thus accelerating the process. He also said Lenovo’s 120-day, pre-order sales were positive and that Lenovo’s advantage over Apple in its domestic Chinese market involves branding as well as pricing. However, the LePad’s starts at Rmb 3,499, which converts to about $532, while the cheapest units of Apple’s iPad are priced at Rmb 2,888 in China, which is about $440. Furthermore, while Apple’s iPad 2 has not officially launched in China yet, imports of the iPad 2 are reportedly available on the grey market for Rmb 5,000.

Despite its ambitions entry into the market, a spokesperson for Lenovo on Tuesday said Lenovo’s tablets could be affected by supply restraints as a result of the earthquake in Japan , according to a report from The Wall Street Journal. The spokesperson was reportedly relaying comments Chen Xudong, Lenovo’s vice-president and general manager for China, made the previous day.

Next: Lenovo’s Prospects Against Apple

Components required for making the Apple iPad -- and, therefore, many of the tablets that have been developed to take advantage of a category that Apple revived last year -- include digital compasses and other devices supplied in Japan, according to market research firm IHS iSuppli. According to the study issued earlier this month, Apple's iPad 2 may suffer from supply shortages as a result of the earthquake in Japan , which has caused production delays and work stoppages throughout the PC industry. Lenovo, Toshiba, and Apple all may reportedly face supply shortages and price increases. However, there reportedly are no current disruptions to Lenovo’s supply chain as the company begins selling its LePad tablet domestically.

As is often the case when Lenovo launches a PC product, there are more models coming. Chen Xudong on Wednesday told The China Daily that Lenovo plans to launch a new enterprise-oriented tablet by the third quarter, and that the LePad would come to market in the fourth quarter. Xudong reportedly said Lenovo is looking to meet different users’ needs with a multi-model strategy.

Meanwhile, other manufacturers have taken aim at Apple and its tablet line by targeting enterprise users. In particular, Taiwanese OEM Asus last week launched its Eee Pad Transformer tablet, a device the company’s president referred to as a ’secret weapon’ against Apple.

Given its recent market momentum, Lenovo seems to be in a strong position to transition from the traditional PC market to the burgeoning mobile device segment with its LePad and LePhone devices. Lenovo in February reported financial results for the third quarter of 2010 ending on Dec. 31 that exceeded most analyst forecasts, including a 25 percent increase in total profit and a 25 percent increase in earnings.

Nevertheless Lenovo has pursued a cautious approach to the tablet market and has had no U.S. release schedule for its tablet products to this point.