Netbook King Acer Sets Sights on Quality Tablets

acer tablet

With the launch of its A500 tablet--only the second to sport Google's tablet-centric Honeycomb OS--Acer reveals big plans. It's shedding its volume-over-value mission that served it so well in the netbook game, and aiming at quality.

Acer unveiled its A500 Iconia Tab back in January at CES, but gave away almost nothing about it. Today we know it's going on pre-order in Best Buy stores from April 14th at $449.99, and it's a 10.1-inch touchscreen tablet running a dual-core 1 GHz Nvidia Tegra 250 CPU, with a 1,280 by 800 pixel display, 1GB of RAM and twin cameras. It has an aluminum chassis, and has Wi-Fi but no 3G powers.

Most interestingly of all it's only the second tablet, after the Motorola Xoom, to feature Android 3.0 Honeycomb as its OS. This is the self-same code that has been the subject of speculation recently--with Google seeming to keep it corralled and protected (presumably in order to perfect some of its early flaws) until exec Andy Rubin stepped forward to say Google wasn't protecting the OS at all. Honeycomb is Google's effort at competing with the iPad on equal footing with Apple's iOS code, which has been optimized for both devices, since until version 3.0 Android was centered around the way smartphones operate. The Xoom was touted as the first serious challenger to the iPad (until its sales figures seemed to suggest it wasn't being bought by anyone) so we can imagine that the A500 may earn some of the same sort of attention.

Speaking at the company's investor conference in Switzerland this week Acer's chairman and CEO JT Wang faced questions about the future of the company and revealed a good piece of news, probably born of the recent executive reshuffle. Instead of concentrating on volume shipments of low-margin products to earn profits, Acer will be changing tack in the future toward shipping products that deliver more value to consumers and that consumers actually need. This is a marked change from the approach that Acer used during the netbook boom to capture the lion's share of the market.

The plan highlights that Acer is actually trying to be flexible to a changing market space, despite its size, and now that the short-lived netbook boom is all but over and the era of the tablet has arrived (although Wang cautioned it would be a slower transition than some people think). Acer could be planning a big assault on the Android and Windows-powered tablets--with some serious hardware, instead of aiming at the cheap end.

Should Apple be worried? Possibly, a little. Wang took time to mention that Android tablet makers could suffer less hardships sourcing components than Apple because they have alternative supply channels available to them whereas Apple has very precise component needs. This may affect Apple in the short term (although Apple's sales figures seem to suggest not very much). What Apple may need to be wary of is Acer attempting to undercut the iPad with a similar or slightly better-specced product at a slightly lower price--much like the A500--once Honeycomb is improved and Windows 8 arrives on the scene.

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