Interview: Acer

We sit down with UK general manager Bobby Watkins and retail account manager Linda Hassall
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Acer is arguably the company to have benefited most from the netbook revolution in the late 2000s. Prior to that, and the creation of its Acer Aspire line, it’s fair to say the firm was significantly less visible as a consumer brand in the West – despite its long history in the technology market. Now it is the largest PC vendor in EMEA, sitting on a whopping 22 per cent market share, according to Gartner figures for Q3 2010.

While netbooks have undoubtedly provided a huge boost to the firm’s operation, Acer has aggressively colonised other areas, most noticeably the all-in-one PC, though it is also investing heavily in the emerging internet-enabled TV sector.

However, many are predicting that tablets are going to start seriously eroding the netbook market, which is still a major part of its business. Acer looks relatively bolstered against damaging and sudden market shifts with this diversification, and its most recent move has been to expand into the retail space with a network of ownbranded stores.

Tasked with heading up the project is Linda Hassall, retail account manager at Acer. She told us: “Over the last six months I’ve been looking to find firms willing to join us in this joint business venture. “The two stores I’ve currently got signed up are PC Paramedics in Woking and Black Box in Preston. Those two stores have decided to go 100 per cent Acer, so it is the only computing brand in those stores – though the pre-requisite isn’t 100 per cent, it’s about 50 per cent of the store needs to be Acer-focused.

"Over the past few months we’ve worked on a total refit and refurbishment, from knocking own walls to laying carpets to putting in Acer-branded displays.

“Ongoing, we are looking to recruit another 12 to14 major cities for the next year in the UK, in all the major connections, all the major towns, and really I’m going on a big recruitment drive now trying to get these independents signed up.”

NEW FRONTIERS

Probably the most headline-grabbing example of Acer’s diversification is the mobile phone space. Like the rest of the industry, the firm is also investing in smartphones – though it’s not a term the firm uses itself.

“Our aim is to make sure we are a leader in mobile computing,” Bobby Watkins, general manager of Acer UK tells us. “It doesn’t matter to us whether it’s a one-hand device, i.e. a smart handheld, a netbook or some other type of device, or a notebook. Our aim is to be a leader of technology across all of those platforms, some with voice capability such as smart handheld, some without voice capability.”

With the long-anticipated mobile operating system Windows Phone 7 now out with the full economic might of Microsoft behind it, many will be looking for any shift in market alliances between hardware manufacturer and platform holder.

Acer has always been firmly in the Google Android camp and it doesn’t look like it is going to jump ship anytime soon. However, it has proven itself to be open to multiplatform approaches.

“For sure, [Microsoft has] made quite a lot of noise in the market. Currently we are supporting an Android base platform, and will continue to do so, and you’ll see pretty much all of our netbooks are dual boot between Android and Microsoft,” Watkins comments.

“If you want to get quickly on the web and internet-ready access then possibly you’ll choose to boot up with the Android OS. The recent Microsoft activity hasn’t changed our strategy in terms of OS. And in fact you’ll see an increased number of devices from Acer based on Android.”

Acer is also looking to hit the TV market hard – another area outside traditional IT. It might have seen a bit of a jump a few years ago, but with internet TVs becoming more and more of a realistic product category, Acer can be confident of piling in with some clout. “Our focus on the TV market is again around the glue of consuming content,” he continues.

“We’ll leverage our competency in computing in order to get content to the TV in the most seamless way possible. Our vision is that in some point not too far in the future we’ll lead the all-in-one TV market in the same way as we are half of the of the all-in-one PC market.”

TAKE YOUR TABLET

Acer hasn’t officially announced any plans for a tablet, possibly because of its strength in netbooks, which many think will be cannibalised by the new segment. However, the vendor is resistant to refer to the two devices as in conflict, or that the market is in any way fragmented. “We don’t see that the world is notebook, netbook, slate, smart handheld – we see it far more simply,” says Watkins.

“There are two types of mobile computer in our view. One that people use to produce stuff and another type on which people want to consume content on the move. Over the next three to five years, for sure we see the opportunity in the consumption area, in unit terms at least, to be far greater than the production part of the market, or the creation area. A consumption device can be a notebook in some cases, or a netbook or a slate. We see a massive, massive opportunity in the consumption world.

That said, we lead the creation world and it’s in our interests to add value and makes sure the channel has something really strong to sell. I don’t think we would necessarily defend netbook over slate or over another type of device. It’s actually just about the right solution.

“I can tell you our netbook sales are up – we’re selling more netbooks now than we ever have. There’s nothing like numbers to convince you of the reality, and our numbers are really positive. Some of the analysts are saying that we lead netbook market in EMEA, globally, and even in the UK.”

GROWING ASPIRATIONS

Despite gaining such global success, Acer has still been able to achieve further large-scale growth, and initiatives such as the retail drive seem sure to play a part going forward.

“We grew in EMEA something like 31 per cent in the first half of 2010 over 2009, and we expect to grow strongly for the rest of the year,” comments Watkins. “When you get to our size in the market, some of your growth aspirations have got to be linked to how the market itself performs. When you own a smaller part of the market you can gain share much quicker, and consequently your revenue growth would be outperforming the market constantly. So we have to look at it from the perspective of what do we think the market is going to do.”

He concludes: “We believe in the mobile computing market, and all of our strategies are around how to grow. None of us are wasting any energy thinking about anything other than how to grow.”

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