Mon, May 30, 2011 - Page 12 News List

Computex to feature tablet challengers

PLAYING CATCH-UP:Apple’s iPad has cut into PC sales, forcing many high-tech firms to jump into the mobile device fray, often selling at a loss to be competitive

By Annie Huang  /  AP, TAIPEI

Computer manufacturers of all sizes and descriptions have been pushing to get a piece of the ever-expanding tablet market created by the launch of Apple’s iPad in April last year.

The obsession with tablet computing will be on full display tomorrow as Computex, the world’s second-largest computer show, begins its annual five-day run in Taipei.

Computex will feature more than 50 tablet models, organizer Taipei Computer Association (台北市電腦公會) said.

Researchers have predicted slower growth in PC sales this year because of the rising consumer interest in tablets. Gartner Research recently cut its sales growth forecast for global PC sales this year from 15.9 percent to 10.5 percent.

According to IHS iSuppli, world PC shipments declined 0.3 percent year-on-year to 8.1 million units in the first quarter of this year, with sales by No. 3-ranked Acer plunging 20 percent.

Besides tablets, Computex will also feature corporate and home servers and other cloud-based computing equipment and services, a sector Taiwanese firms have recently entered to make up for shortfalls in PC sales.

The world’s top contract laptop manufacturer, Quanta Computer Co (廣達), is among those producing servers for global firms such as Google Inc.

At least 10 of the tablet models to be shown at Computex are powered by Intel Corp’s new Atom chip, the US technology giant’s first microprocessor designed for tablets. Intel has moved into the fast growing market now dominated by chips using designs by UK-based ARM Holdings.

There is “a tremendous amount of experimentation going on in the industry,” Navin Shenoy, general manager of Intel’s Asia-Pacific region, said in an e-mailed statement.

Tablets, which are more popular in mature markets, will not replace PCs, he said, citing the strong PC demand in Asia and emerging markets.

Taiwanese high-tech firms are also entering the mobile device market under pressure from Apple, whose market dominance — extending to the second--generation iPad2 — has cut into their PC sales and dented the profits of some.

Taiwan’s top two PC makers, Acer Inc (宏碁) and AsusTek Computer Inc (華碩), are among those using Computex to display a range of touch-screen tablet computers. Their tablets run on the Android operating system that Google distributes free to allow quick Web browsing or film viewing, or on Microsoft Corp’s mobile software that mostly targets the commercial market.

Acer and AsusTek have promoted their tablets — Iconia Tab and Transformer among others — as having expandable memory slots, hoping to lure consumers with more storage needs. The iPads don’t have built-in USB ports.

In addition, the companies say their sleek devices can become full-fledged laptops when plugging them into a keyboard docking station for easy typing.

In terms of tablet prices, Apple’s big orders give it a huge edge, while South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co is able to bring costs down by making key components in house — an advantage denied local makers, said Simon Yang (楊勝帆), an analyst with -Taipei-based Topology Research Institute (拓墣產業研究所).

So far, the Taiwanese company with the most success in selling mobile devices is HTC Corp (宏達電).

The company’s sales jumped to 9.7 million handsets in the first quarter, up from 3.3 million a year earlier.

HTC’s first tablet, the 7-inch Flyer, sold well in pre-orders in Taiwan this month, retailers say. Its 16 gigabyte Wi-Fi version is priced at US$499, the same as the 9.7-inch iPad.

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