Tue, Nov 07, 2006 - Page 11 News List

Feature: Computer makers target art enthusiasts

NO LONGER LIFELESS BenQ and other computer makers have been attracting art-loving customers with innovative designs, but these tasteful gadgets come at a hefty price

By Jason Tan  /  STAFF REPORTER

General manager of BenQ in Taiwan Hank Horng, right, deputy director of the National Palace Museum Lin Po-ting, center, and BenQ Lifestyles Design Center director Manfred Wang Oct. 18 display a new series of limited-edition liquid-crystal monitors with back covers decorated with paintings from the museum.

PHOTO: WANG YI-HUNG, TAIPEI TIMES

By bundling brand-new elements such as leather covers and artwork with their gadgets, local technology firms have been injecting innovative ideas into their products in the hope of boosting their brand image.

But the high price tags of these flashy items could make them beyond the reach of average consumers, market watchers said.

BenQ Corp (明基), Taiwan's top handset maker, unveiled on Oct. 18 two models of its 17-inch liquid-crystal-display (LCD) monitor, the FP785+, with back cover designs featuring Chinese paintings by renowned Italian artist Guiseppe Castiglione.

In a bid to attract male and female customers, one model depicts a battlefield background showing spears and horses, while the other highlights the beauty of flowers.

"With the introduction of the FP785+, electronic products are no longer icy and lifeless," said Hank Horng (洪漢青), BenQ Taiwan's general manager.

The monitors are sold on a per-order basis, and each model has a limited quantity of 1,300 units worldwide. A total of 400 units has been allocated for the local market.

This is not BenQ's first attempt to fuse art and technology.

In 2003, the company launched a notebook series, the Joybook 8000, which depicted the profoundness of Chinese culture with laptop covers that included cursive calligraphy based on a masterpiece from the Tang Dynasty.

But these "crossover" products do not come cheap, as BenQ has to pay royalties to the National Palace Museum for the right to use the Castiglione paintings on its monitors.

People who want to put the FP785+ in their study rooms will have to spend NT$15,000 (US$454).

The price is nearly double that of a common high-end 17-inch LCD monitor, which generally sells for approximately NT$8,000.

Only computers with larger screens, such as 19 inches, sell above the NT$10,000 mark.

But BenQ believes that its esthetic monitors will have no trouble attracting art-loving customers.

"There is a serial number and a certificate for each unit. We are pushing them in limited volume to entice buyers," Horng said.

In fact, "crossover" and "fusion" elements for portable computer designs have become increasingly popular in recent years.

Acer Inc, the world's fourth-largest personal computer maker, debuted in 2003 its first notebook sporting a Ferrari schema with a logo of the famous Italian auto maker's leaping stallion near the keyboard.

Smaller rival Asustek Computer Inc (華碩電腦) is not missing out on the trend, with the introduction of two such products this year.

It signed a deal with Italian sports car maker Lamborghini SpA in January to design and sell notebooks bearing both the Asustek and Lamborghini names.

"The limited editions of Lamborghini notebooks are for individuals who are into tasteful collections," said Asustek sales director Kevin Lin (林福能).

He claimed that its stunning NT$108,000 price tag had not scared users away, and that instead the product had received rave reviews from luxury-car fans, top-level executives as well as individuals who are attracted by fine industrial designs.

All 5,000 limited units of the Lamborghini laptops were sold out shortly after being launched in July, he said.

Another model, the S6, is boasting a leather cover, jeweled hinge and polished keyboard.

Every piece of leather is handpicked and embellished onto the aluminum body, with final products subjected to rigorous quality tests such as heat, oil and sweat resistance, Asustek said.

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