Asustek's Android Eee PC remains in deep freeze

The CEO of netbook pioneer Asustek Computer said today that he still sees no clear market for mini-laptops known as smartbooks, the reason the company isn't moving forward in that product segment.

The company raised hopes it would soon launch an Eee PC smartbook based on chips made by Qualcomm and running Google's Android mobile operating system when such a device was displayed at the Computex Taipei electronics show in June. But the company quickly put the project on the back burner, refusing to discuss it days later at a press event that featured Asustek's chairman alongside executives from microprocessor maker Intel and OS giant Microsoft.

It appears the Android device remains in deep freeze.

"Currently, I still don't see a clear market for smartbooks," said Jerry Shen, CEO of Asustek Computer, during an investors' conference in Taipei.

The company's backing isn't essential for smartbooks, but it would lend weight to the credibility of such devices, which use mobile phone chips and components to offer far greater battery life than existing netbooks, and potentially ubiquitous wireless connectivity. Smartbooks appear almost identical to the netbooks Asustek pioneered, mini-laptops with 8-inch to 10-inch screens.

Asustek executives have said the reason the Android smartbook was shifted to low priority was because the company's engineering resources were limited and would be used elsewhere. But Asustek could use some of the smartbooks made by contract manufacturer Pegatron, the company's subsidiary.

Several smartbooks from Pegatron were on display at Computex. The estimated retail price of the devices was about $199, compared to between $300 and $400 for a comparable netbook.

Asustek has used Intel microprocessors in all of its netbooks so far, and mainly Microsoft Windows XP as the OS, though it has sold netbooks with Linux OSs. The advantage of netbooks is that since they use Intel x86 architecture microprocessors, they can take software used on regular PCs, while smartbooks can only use software designed for or ported to RISC (reduced instruction set computer) processors, made by Arm Holdings. Arm processors are mainly found in mobile phones.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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