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Intel/AMD nowhere to be seen as Acer/Asus ramp up tablets

It’s not often that a company can say that they made an entire class of products viable, single handedly. IBM did it with the PC, Apple with the tablet and Asus with the netbook. Sometimes the new class is defined by features and functionality (as is the case with the iPad) and other times it’s more to do with price (as with the EeePC). Acer and Asus and definitely focused on price when it comes to tablets in 2013. KitGuru checks the numbers coming out of China.

The first tablet PCs were hugely expensive affairs. When Microsoft told the world that the future would be tablets and surface computing – somewhere close to 10 years ago – the initial Toshiba models had price tags close to $2,000.

Roll the clock back two years and local vendors, like CMS Peripherals in West London, were importing a very cheap tablet under the brand name DISGO. It was an intensely unsatisfying experience. According to one of KitGuru’s associates, even using a dedicated stylus, you struggled to write simple messages on the screen – and its Android 2.1 OS meant that it could not even stream YouTube.

But, as with all things electrical and electronic – if you wait long enough – the price will eventually tumble as the quality/usability for the entry level stuff rises to a level that we can all accept.

For brand giants Asus and Acer, the year of affordable tablet computing will be 2013 – with both companies keen to push a ~$100 tablet into the market by the time CeBIT kicks off in Hanover in March.

For Western countries, this kind of price point could well prove appealing for schools, colleges, hospitals and governments. But that’s not really where they are aimed. The $100 tablet will be a killer for the much larger developing markets in South America, India, China and the like.

What both of these companies have lacked, in the past, is a popular/coherent apps strategy. Acer has had its own Touch Portal now for several years, but we asked several people if they’d ever used it and the reply was ‘Sorry, what?’. All of the people asked are regular technology users and one of them even has an Acer touch screen desktop PC. So much for penetration.

For developing markets, it might be enough that the new devices can access Android apps, as the after-market spend will be much smaller than in the West, so the incentive for each brand to push its own costly software platform is minimised.

Compal is expected to deliver the Acer unit, while Asus is likely to use sister company Pegatron. Both are expected to ship in huge volume, possibly cementing the number 2 spot in the worldwide mobile market for Asus (bear in mind how many Nexus 7 units it shipped with Google in 2012).

Effectively, the launch of the $99 tablet will see Asus almost double its 6 million tablet tally for 2012.

So now we pause, step back and consider the headline again. Two of the world’s most successful computer companies will pioneer the $99 class of tablet in 2013 – and there is no Intel, AMD or Microsoft in sight. Whoops.

If Acer and Asus successfully establish themselves as vendors with ‘sensible, working $99 tablets’, then surely Samsung and Lenovo must follow.

That will create price pressure on HP, Dell and – ultimately – Apple.

Will Tim Cook be able to shrug off the attack of generic, low cost tablets – or will the post-Jobs Apple finally fall to the never ending price assault of the Far East players?

Android 5: Key Lime Pie will be an OS that has 'come of age'. Watch out Apple (market share) pie.

While no mention has been made of the specific OS that Asus and Acer will choose to run with, it seems that Google is happy that Android 5: Key Lime Pie will be ready for the world early in 2013. The new OS offers use options for balancing performance Vs battery life, app synch across multiple devices that one customer might own, greater social networking capability and a Facetime-like video feature.

We were pleasantly shocked at the quality Asus was able to deliver in the Nexus 7 for Google. Roll the clock forward a year and will we be seeing something similar at $99 for 2013?

KitGuru says: While not an entirely new class – or price point – this kind of war between two of the industry’s heavyweights will help define the tablet market over the next 2 years. Which will, in turn, help define part of the processor market. Intel and AMD would normally consider Asus and Acer staunch allies, but 2013 won’t kick off that way in the sub $100 tablet zone. ARM, in one flavour or another, looks set to dictate the fastest growing markets. How long will it take Intel and AMD to catch up?

Comment below or in the KitGuru forums.

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