Asus mulls its future

Apple is killing netbook sales

LAST FRIDAY, ASUS held an investors conference at its headquarters in Taipei, Taiwan and the CEO Jerry Shen shared some details of what Asus is working on. It’s clear that Asus considers Apple to be one of its major competitors, especially with regards to the iPad, a device that has caused no end of headaches for Asus, especially as it’s stealing netbook sales from Asus.

Taipei Times has a few choice quotes from the conference and more specifically from Jerry Shen. We found the follow quote particularly interesting “We have to create a model that differs from the iPad in terms of features … We can’t just compete solely on pricing strategy”. It talks about Asus tablet strategy and it underlines the typical Taiwanese mentality in this market space, if you can’t beat your competitor on price, throw in everything but the kitchen sink and people will buy it.

It’s really quite sad that the CEO of a large company like Asus doesn’t understand it’s customers better than that. Features in all honour, but if a device isn’t easy to use, you’ll never gain mass market appeal, something Apple has proven to be close to master. Most people don’t buy an iPad – or even an iPhone for that matter – based solely on the specifications, instead these devices sell by the million because they’re easy to use.

Having chatted to a friend over at VIA a couple of days ago, yours truly had a conversation about tablets and why the iPad had proven to be such a huge success. To consensus was the OS and how easy it is to use, as it doesn’t require a lot of prior knowledge on how to operate a computer. Android is about the only challenger out there, but the OS wasn’t designed to work on large screen tablet devices and is unlike to work well on this type of device until version 3.0 which is set to be released towards the end of this year.

VIA is doing well in the entry level $100 price bracket when it comes to tablets thanks to its Wondermedia division and its low cost ARM based SoC solutions. However, these being ultra-low cost devices versus the iPad, there are very few successful devices in the market today. Asus is obviously gunning for this market with its new Eee Pad devices, yet we can’t see any of the devices announced so far have the least chance of succeeding.

Asus’ 12-inch Eee Pad – which is powered by an Intel CULV processor and running Windows 7 – is expected to cost in excess of $1,000. Yes, it does come with a keyboard attachment that turns it in to a fully functional notebook, but at the asking price we can’t see a lot of takers. Even Asus’ planned Android tablet which should launch in March next year (most likely at CeBIT) with an estimated retail price of $399 or less is unlikely to put much of a dent in Apple’s iPad sales.

That said, if Asus can work out the kinks in Android, tune up the UI and make a fantastic device in terms of look and feel, well, then maybe, just maybe, Asus has a chance to compete. That said, Asus won’t be the only player in the market with an Android tablet as, with the exception of HP and RIM, most of its competitors are planning Android tablets. The Dell Streak has gained quite some attention from the media, but it still seems to be a little bit too unpolished to be a real iPad contender.

Software is more important than the hardware in many cases, especially when you’re targeting consumers. This is something that just about every single Asian technology company seems to miss. If you’ve ever tried to use a piece of software developed in-house from one of the large Taiwanese companies you’ll know what we’re talking about. UI design isn’t one of the strong points and neither is consistency. It doesn’t matter how good your hardware is if the software lets it down, as no-one is going to buy a device that doesn’t allow the user to take advantage of all the hardware features in an easily accessible way these days and that requires a great UI. This is a huge challenge for many Asia technology companies and we don’t see it being resolved any time soon.

As to Asus’ future, well, we don’t have any high hopes that its tablet devices will wow consumers away from Apple’s iPad, but they might satisfy the needs for those that are looking for a larger, more powerful tablet device and that don’t mind using Windows 7 as the OS of choice. We just can’t see a huge demand for this type of device and the competition is going to be fierce in the Android market space and we can’t but feel that Asus is going to be late to the game with its Android tablet. Then again, it’s always about the right product at the right time and not everyone wants an Apple product.S|A

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