Acer teams with BMW on latest consumer laptop design

Laptops with curvy design and sleek black case

Acer Inc. worked with a design subsidiary of BMW AG on its latest revamp of the Aspire, its mass-market consumer notebook PC, in an effort to win users over to the idea that fashion laptops don't have to be more expensive.

The curvy design of the sleek black casing is reminiscent of the curves automobiles have taken on in recent years. But extra effort on the exterior doesn't mean Acer has skimped under the hood.

The new Aspire design will launch globally in June using Intel Corp.'s latest Santa Rosa set of chips, which includes upgrades of Intel's notebook microprocessors and wireless technology. The new Aspire is also packed with multimedia features, including Dolby surround sound, an HDMI slot and more.

Acer plans to offer as many as 40 different models, including ones for different market segments and ones that meet certain customer specifications, as well as mainstream and value models. The laptops will a range of Intel and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. microprocessors and a variety of features. Some models will have built-in HD DVD players and 17-in. screens. Company officials said that pricing will be competitive and that there will be no premium for the extra design work that has gone into the machines.

"End users won't see a difference in price," Acer Chairman J.T. Wang said in an interview. The company plans to spread its $10 million to $20 million in design and marketing expenditures across the next few years, pouring that money into millions of laptop PCs.

Acer will sell 10 million of the Aspire consumer laptop PCs next year, Wang predicted, though he declined a forecast for this year because the product hasn't launched yet.

The last major design Acer put out was its Ferrari line of laptops, and it sells 200,000 to 300,000 units of that model per year. The Ferrari is a specialty laptop aimed at the premium price segment. But the new design for the Aspire is different: It's aimed at the average user.

"We welcome design competition from our rivals. It will be good for users," said Wang.

The last time Acer launched a major design upgrade on the Aspire was three years ago, when its Folio design was released. The design spurred strong sales of the model, but some customers complained that it was too similar to Acer's business laptop, the TravelMate.

The new line of Aspire notebooks, called "Gemstone", is far different from the TravelMate, which has also had a design refresh. The new ProFile TravelMate laptops come in gray magnesium-alloy casings, which are far stronger and lighter than plastic, Acer says. They will also be based on Intel's forthcoming Santa Rosa chips. One unique feature of the TravelMate is its Xpress Bluetooth VoIP handset, which fits into a slot on the side of the laptop and can be used for Internet phone calls and conference calls.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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