Acer, sensing the end of the netbook phenomenon, is to release its own tablet PC, app store, and e-reader sometime this year. Leaping aboard these crowded tech bandwagons will certainly diversify Acer’s business, but might be a bad move.
The app store will arrive sometime around mid-2010, according to Acer’s president of IT products Jim Wong, and it’ll be populated with “hundreds” of apps else “you can’t call it an app store.” It’s not clear where these apps will be coming from–whether Acer is merely hoping developers will leap aboard, or whether the company is sponsoring their creation. The apps will be low cost or even free, and they’ll support a number of different OS platforms.
Wong also noted that Acer’s first e-book will debut by the end of June in up to five European nations. It’ll have a 6-inch monochrome screen, making it pretty much like any of the cheap smallish e-readers that’ve been hitting the news this year. But it might benefit from Acer’s recent prowess at making successful low-cost netbooks, and if it came at the right price it might stand a chance of gaining some market traction. Wong also is sensitive to a criticism we’ve often leveled at the self-styled king of e-readers, the Amazon Kindle: U.S.-centricity (also an issue for Barnes and Noble’s Nook.) This explains the decision to tackle the E.U. market first, and Acer’s apparently been chasing down book publishers and newspapers and magazines to supply it with content.
There was also a tiny bit of excitement stirred up by the company’s chairman J.T. Wang, who remarked that his company will seek inspiration for its own tablet PC after seeing what Apple turns up this week. “We’re developing something and we will see what happens” is how he described his company’s plans in an interview, before noting it might either be a Windows or Google-based system.
Clearly the netbook boom was key to driving the PC industry over the last couple of years and Acer, as a leading light in this market and the world’s second largest PC vendor, definitely profited as consumers flocked to buy a cheap and affordable machine. But this gold rush is almost certainly coming to an end now: The netbook boom is over, and the machines are just another regular class of computer that many makers sell. Though Acer is definitely going to keep making money from netbooks, it needs to ensure future revenue streams and these pieces of news all suggest that’s exactly what Acer’s planning on doing.
There’s just one problem with all this, though: Apple. If the crew at Cupertino really do release a successful game-changing tablet PC this week, it will potentially eat-up most of the e-reader market and rule the tablet PC game. Even if Acer’s tablet is cheaper, it will lack the iSlate’s app store ecosystem and design cachet–and it’s worth noting that Apple’s iPods have sewn up the MP3 player market even though there are cheaper (and in some ways more capable) media players out there…which is the same sort of playing field that Acer will find itself in with a tablet and e-reader. And we know the app store business model may be a non-starter too.