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Lenovo has unit for tablets, phones

– Lenovo Group, the world’s fourth-largest personal computer maker, expects the market for tablet computers and other mobile and Internet-connected devices to expand so rapidly that it is creating a product group devoted solely to these products.

The company, which is based in Beijing and has U.S. headquarters in Raleigh, N.C., said last week that its new mobile Internet and digital home division will focus on creating tablets, smart phones and Web-connected home electronics, such as television sets.

Given the enormous popularity of Apple Inc.’s iPad, which was released last April, analysts expect tablet sales to jump this year. Technology research firm Gartner Inc. expects that 55 million tablet computers will be shipped this year, most of them still iPads, but there will be room for rivals to vie for sales of the remaining 10 million to 15 million devices.

The iPad wasn’t the first tablet to hit the market – Lenovo and others have long offered laptops with swiveling screens that can also function as tablets, for example. But with its sleek design, focus on multimedia and price tag that can be as low as $499, the iPad was the first that managed to catch on with consumers. Now, major names including Lenovo, Motorola Mobility Inc. and Toshiba Corp. are releasing their own tablets with expectations that the category will finally take off this year.

Plenty of these were on display earlier this month at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. They include one from Lenovo, called the LePad, that runs Google Inc.’s Android operating software. When combined with a keyboard dock, the tablet becomes a laptop computer running Microsoft Corp.’s Windows 7 PC software. The LePad and dock – the combo is called the IdeaPad U1 – are set to roll out in China during the first quarter; Lenovo has not said if and when the product will come to the U.S.