By Paul Sandle
LONDON (Reuters) - Acer, the world's fourth largest PC maker, has dismissed Microsoft's chances of becoming a rival to Apple by building its own devices and urged its software partner to focus on its new operating system instead.
Microsoft announced on Monday that it would design and sell its own "Surface" tablets to showcase Windows 8 and take on Apple and Google in devices that are capturing more and more of the computing market.
It kept PC makers largely in the dark about its plans, according to sources, marking a radical departure from its previous close collaboration with its hardware partners.
Oliver Ahrens, Acer's senior VP and president for Europe, Middle East and Africa, said Microsoft was trying to copy some of Apple's strategy, but he was doubtful it would succeed.
"I don't think it will be successful because you cannot be a hardware player with two products," he said in an interview, adding that the former darling of the tech sector would also have to adapt its brand to compete with Apple.
"Microsoft is working with two dozen PC vendors worldwide, including the local guys, whereas Apple is alone, it can more or less do what it wants," he said. "Microsoft is a component of a PC system. A very important component but still a component."
He was also worried that Microsoft would shift resources to building a consumer hardware brand and retail operation, and in the process take its eye off the ball in making sure Windows 8 was a success for the PC industry.
"Instead of enhancing the user experience for Win 8 (...) they open a new battlefield," he said.
"I worry that this will lead into a defocus internally for Microsoft, and then we have to suffer because we are working with their products."
Taiwan-based Acer, which ranked fourth in PC shipments in the first quarter, has had its own problems after failing to adapt to changes in the market including in particular the rise of Apple's iPad last year, but Ahrens said the group was now getting back on track.
He said Windows 8, which does not yet have a launch date, was "extremely important" for Acer, and it would have four or five devices tied in with its launch, including tablets and a high-definition slimline "Ultrabook" notebook.
Ahrens said the new products would be supported by an advertising campaign focused on the user experience rather than the specifications of the machines, which has been the traditional approach of PC makers.
"Acer wants to be more about value than volume," he said, adding that the company needed to do higher end products to lift the status of the whole brand.
Acer, an Olympics sponsor, will also be in the spotlight next month as the PC provider to the London games.
"Everything is run by Acer - the scoring systems, the internal IT," said Acer UK managing director Neil Marshall. "It will demonstrate that we have the commercial ability to deliver this type of project."
Ahrens said the second quarter, which ends in nine days, would see about a 50 percent rise in revenue in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region, as the group continued its recovery from the lows of a year ago.
The region accounted for 37 pct of revenue in the first quarter, according to a company presentation.
"Q3 will be more challenging because it's a transition quarter from Windows 7 to Windows 8," he said.
(Editing by Anthony Barker)
Typing on tablet computers can be a struggle for those accustomed to PC's physical keyboards. Microsoft Surface offers a solution with a lightweight keyboard attachment that clicks into place and doubles as a cover for the device. <a href="http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/news/press/2012/jun12/06-18announce.aspx" target="_hplink">According to a Microsoft press release</a>, the 3mm detachable Touch Cover unfolds into a "unique pressure-sensitive" keypad that offers an alternative to the device's on-screen virtual keyboard. For those who crave the feel of physical keys, a 5mm-thin version, called the Type Cover, features moving keys and a <a href="http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2012/06/microsoft-dives-head-first-into-mobile-hardware-with-a-pair-of-10-6-inch-tablets/" target="_hplink">multi-touch track pad</a>.
Options For Casual And Power Users
Before picking up a Surface tablet, potential buyers should <a href="http://www.microsoft.com/global/surface/en/us/renderingassets/surfacespecsheet.pdf" target="_hplink">consider which version best fits their needs</a>: The Windows RT version, a more traditional tablet that's slim and light and performs basic tasks -- with a presumably iPad-like price tag; or the Windows 8 Pro configuration, a slightly beefier and slightly pricier tablet that's more closely related to a laptop and capable of running heavy-duty software. <br></br> <a href="http://www.microsoft.com/global/surface/en/us/renderingassets/surfacespecsheet.pdf" target="_hplink">Surface tablets running Windows RT</a> are built around an ARM processor. <a href="http://money.cnn.com/2012/03/09/technology/arm-ipad-intel/index.htm" target="_hplink">According to CNN,</a> chipsets made by ARM are found in 95 percent of other mobile devices, including the iPad. <a href="http://www.microsoft.com/global/surface/en/us/renderingassets/surfacespecsheet.pdf" target="_hplink">Windows 8 Pro models</a> are built around an Intel chip and will run applications that one would expect to find on traditional laptops: <a href="http://www.pcworld.com/article/257840/microsoft_announces_surface_tablet_pc.html" target="_hplink">Photoshop, Word, and Excel.</a> <br></br> "Those looking for a complete Windows experience in the form of a tablet will obviously need to pony up for the Windows 8 Pro model," <a href="http://www.engadget.com/2012/06/18/microsoft-surface-tablets-the-differences-between-rt-and-window/" target="_hplink"> Engadget writes.</a>
Microsoft is keen on packing convenience into its new devices. Each Surface comes with a built-in kickstand that pops out from the back panel and props the device at an angle, letting the user enjoy media or type comfortably on a flat surface. "No extra weight, no extra thickness, no separate add-on. It's integrated, just like the software and hardware are integrated into Surface," said Windows and Windows Live president Steven Sinofsky, <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jozTK-MqEXQ" target="_hplink">per the Verge's video of the Surface unveiling</a>.
Digital Ink And Stylus
Microsoft designed the <a href="http://www.microsoft.com/global/surface/en/us/renderingassets/surfacespecsheet.pdf" target="_hplink">Windows 8 Pro version</a> of the Surface tablet to accept stylus input. The company's demonstration of how the digital ink works gave the impression that writing, highlighting and underlining on the tablet is easy. <a href="http://www.slashgear.com/microsoft-surface-to-feature-digital-ink-stylus-support-18234493/" target="_hplink">Writes SlashGear</a>, "The distance between the screen (digitizer) and the stylus is only .7mm thick, and allows for it to be highly accurate, making you feel like the ballpoint of a pen is actually writing on the 'surface.'"
Both the RT and Win 8 Pro versions of Surface will run the Microsoft Office productivity suite, though the Windows RT version <a href="http://www.pcworld.com/article/257840/microsoft_announces_surface_tablet_pc.html" target="_hplink">will get a mobile-optimized app</a>, instead of the full program. Meanwhile, iPad owners must settle for <a href="http://www.engadget.com/2012/06/05/nyt-office-for-ipad-is-still-on/" target="_hplink">speculation of the long-rumored native iOS Office app.</a>.
Plenty of people weren't happy when the iPad launched <a href="http://store.apple.com/us/question/answers/ipad?tqid=QJ9CA7CXXFHDFUUU7PT47A24U4YAUH79K" target="_hplink">without USB ports back in 2010.</a> Microsoft seems to have taken that to heart. The <a href="http://www.microsoft.com/global/surface/en/us/renderingassets/surfacespecsheet.pdf" target="_hplink">width of the Surface</a> offers just enough space for a traditional USB. Both the RT and the Windows 8 Pro versions of Surface boast two USB ports. "These ports open up the possibility of extra storage, printing and other external capabilities that should be easier and quicker than the workarounds iPad users need involving cloud storage, Wi-Fi connections and the like," <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/19/tech/microsoft-surface-ipad/index.html" target="_hplink">CNN reports.</a>
An Angled Approach
Just like the iPad, the Surface tablet includes <a href="http://www.microsoft.com/hardware/en-us/webcams" target="_hplink">two built-in webcams</a> for snapping pictures or video chatting. The Surface's kickstand, however, angles the device at 22 degrees, pointing the front-facing camera up at the user's face. <a href="http://www.microsoft.com/surface/en/us/about.aspx" target="_hplink">Microsoft set the rear-facing camera into the device at 22 degrees</a>, so that the user's not shooting down at the table when filming a subject.