Acer moves ahead with Windows RT tablet for this year

After an indefinite delay, plans are back on for a Windows RT tablet from Acer

Acer plans to release a Windows RT tablet this year as it looks to aggressively expand its lineup of mobile devices, including smartphones.

The PC maker will be releasing mobile products as the PC market stagnates, and Windows RT will be part of its product line, said Oliver Ahrens, president of Europe, Middle East and Africa operations, during an interview at Mobile World Congress.

Ahrens did not provide a specific release date for the Windows RT tablet, but said that work still needs to be done with the usability of the OS. Acer sees potential value, but Microsoft has to put in more effort on making the OS appealing to consumers.

"We will be happy if there is a strong value proposition, it will be good for us," Ahrens said.

There are many Windows RT tablets like Microsoft's Surface, but sales of the products have not been good so far. Many PC makers including Asus, Samsung and Lenovo rushed to create RT devices, but Acer decided to watch the market develop before releasing a product. In hindsight, it was a good decision as the company did not want to sell just 20 units a day, as happened with one competitor that sold a Windows RT tablet, according to Ahrens, who declined to name the company involved.

"It's not a rat race. We could have released it already," Ahrens said.

After announcing at Computex last year that it would release a Windows RT tablet, Acer put the launch on hold, but has since forged ahead with the plan. Acer has also been highly critical of Microsoft's decision to get into the hardware business with the Slate tablets.

Acer started offering Windows 8 in laptops, but early reception for the OS has been cold. That was partly due to a heavy inventory of Windows 7 laptops, which has now cleared, paving the way for better Windows 8 product sales.

"Surely and steadily the appreciation is growing, but it's not a boom," Ahrens said.

But Windows 8, along with Android, will remain the operating systems of choice for tablets going ahead.

"The perceived value of Windows 8 has not really [reached] ... users as the way we'd like to see it with Microsoft products," Ahrens said.

Microsoft's Windows 8 has failed to sell well partly because of the lack of touch hardware available, analysts said. The lack of hardware has been partly responsible for people failing to appreciate the OS.

Acer is trying to find its bearings as it readjusts its business strategy to include more mobile devices. The company became the world's second-largest PC maker in the third quarter of 2009, partly due to netbooks, a laptop category in which it achieved enormous success. The company's fortunes and market position fell with the emergence of tablets and smartphones as alternative computing devices, and now Acer is trying to retool operations to expand in the growth markets.

At the end of the fourth quarter of 2012, Acer was the world's fourth-largest PC maker, with its shipments falling by 28.2 percent compared to the same quarter the previous year, according to IDC. Shipments for rival companies in the region, including Lenovo and Asus, grew.

Acer will also be aggressive in the smartphone market and launch about four to six smartphones this year, Ahrens said. The company earlier this month announced two smartphones -- the Liquid E1 and Liquid Z2 -- which were also being shown at MWC. The company is trying to standardize on the user experience, while also trying to be competitive on price.

"In the past we were everywhere, we had all kinds of phones, but the time to market was not accurate," Ahrens said. "This has been fixed."

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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