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Report: Dell to launch Android phone with AT&T

Rumors have built all year about Dell's plans for the smartphone market, and the company might finally be ready to show off what it has developed.

Updated 1:42 p.m. PDT with background details.

Dell and AT&T plan to launch a smartphone running Google's Android next year, according to a report, as Dell's years-long flirtation with the mobile industry appears ready for the next step.

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that Dell's smartphone will run Android, which would be another design win to emerge this year for Google's mobile operating system. AT&T's involvement would also mark the fourth major U.S. carrier with plans to support Android, and is particularly interesting given AT&T's status as the exclusive carrier of Apple's iPhone.

Rumors of Dell's involvement with smartphones date back years, but the Wall Street Journal has had a pretty steady stream of stories this year about Dell's evolving plans for the market. In August, Dell showed off in China what it called a "proof of concept" device with no keypad and a touchscreen. That matches the AT&T phone described in the report, but the report also said the expected phone would be somewhat different.

Dell and Google declined to comment on the report.

It's shaping up to be quite a year for Android, after a slow start. Google unveiled the project in the fall of 2007, with the first Android phone arriving late in 2008. But since then, nine phones have launched using the operating system, not counting the two unnamed phones destined for Verizon's network announced Tuesday by Verizon and Google.

It's rapidly becoming the operating system of choice for phone makers who don't want to follow Apple and Research in Motion's strategy of designing the entire device themselves. Wednesday's report arrived as Windows Mobile 6.5 phones were being shown off to lackluster reviews at the CTIA conference, and with a bigger overhaul for Windows Mobile not expected until next year, phone makers are turning to Android.

Motorola, HTC, and Samsung have all come out with Android handsets, and even Nokia has been rumored to be considering Android for either smartphones or Netbooks. Dell, of course, is not a phone maker. The company's involvement in the mobile computing has been on ice ever since it killed its Axim personal digital assistant in 2007, although this year it has dropped steady hints that it wants to get in on one of the fastest growing markets in the technology industry at the moment.

The potential problem for Dell will be one of differentiation, since relatively similar Android phones will all be hitting the market within several months of each other on multiple carriers. Motorola chose to layer a custom user interface over Android called Motoblur in hopes of attracting phone buyers, and it has not been clear from any of the reports whether Dell has made similar investments in software.