During the debut of its new line of thin, lightweight very portable laptops on Wednesday, Asustek Computer chief executive Jerry Shen (沈振來) spent more than 30 minutes on stage trying to persuade reporters in Taipei that the company’s new Zenbook series outperforms its rivals, such as Apple’s MacBook Air. While maintaining the same ultrathin profile as its rivals, Shen said the Zenbook boasts longer battery life and an instant on feature.
However, his dull presentation and monotonous tone almost sent the audience to sleep. The deafening claps that came during the launch of the firm’s Eee PC netbook in 2007 were not heard this time. No wows and no shouts of excitement were heard either, and the press room was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.
The silence speaks volumes about the difficulties that lie ahead for ultrabooks — the name Intel has bestowed on this new breed of notebooks.
Taipei-based market researcher Trendforce Technology forecasts ultrabooks will account for 2 percent of overall notebook computer shipments this year and expects them to grow to 10 percent next year. This pales in comparison with Intel’s ambitious target of a 40 percent market share next year.
With 20 years of experience in the personal computer (PC) industry, Asustek is undoubtedly capable of offering a notebook computer that performs well. However, it did not make any mention of what content, music, video or entertainment services would be available on the Zenbook series. Cloud-computing services received no mention at all.
Granted, Asustek is just selling the hardware, but its new offering fails to deliver the stylistic design that it needs if it really wants to challenge Apple.
Asustek represents a microcosm of the PC industry, holding on tightly to the myth of prioritizing performance over everything else.
This mindset is what caused the lack of wow during Asustek’s launch. People were left not knowing what, if anything, new things they would be able to do with this machine or how it could make their lives better. Technology excites people when it offers clearly defined improvements to life.
It is true that PC companies, including Hewlett-Packard (HP) and Acer, are not as good at offering software and must-have content as their competitors Google and Amazon. PC companies are too slow to respond to changes and they are not identifying industry trends and boosting their abilities to provide software services.
PC firms tend to remain comfortable and conservative, happy to make slim profits by selling hardware. They do not even bother to design their own products. That is left to contract PC makers — and the result is that rival products often turn out looking the same.
As Google and Amazon aggressively expand their cloud services to the hardware arena through mergers, acquisitions and strategic partnerships with hardware suppliers, PC companies can no longer make easy profits.
Asustek’s net profit margin was 5.05 percent in the first half of this year, while Acer fell to minus 2.24 percent. HP, the world’s biggest PC company, is considering selling its PC division.
PC companies, Taiwanese brands in particular, should heed the warning signs and quickly devise countermeasures because Wintel’s (Microsoft and Intel) dominance is showing major cracks. They can start by asking: Are ultrabooks a new breed of PC that can really appeal to consumers? Or are they just a last ditch effort by PC firms likely to crumple in the face of competition from tablets and smartphones?
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