New Delhi: Taiwan-based ASUSTeK Computer Inc. (which used the ASUS brand), manufacturer of computer motherboards (or the innards of the computer, in which ASUSTeK is the global market leader), graphics cards, notebooks, personal digital assistants and computer components, is looking at emerging markets such as India to push its Eee PC, an inexpensive, low power-consuming laptop with a small form factor often dubbed a “Netbook.”
Since its launch in 2007, the Eee PC is estimated to have shipped nearly three million units, and other laptop manufacturers, including HP, Lenovo, Acer, HCL have jumped onto the netbook bandwagon.
ASUSTeK Global chief executive officer Jerry Shen and vice-chairman Jonathan Tsang spoke to Mint about the Eee PC’s evolution and their road map for India. Edited excerpts.
Consumer friendly: ASUSTeK Global chief executive officer Jerry Shen (left) and vice-chairman Jonathan Tsang with the Eee PC in New Delhi. Shen and Tsang say the combination of low price point and features could make the Eee PC a primary computer in an emerging market such as India. Photograph: Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
What is your product strategy for India? What will be your key focus areas?
Tsang: We have a significant lead in motherboards worldwide. In notebooks, we are No. 5 by volume sales in Asia-Pacific, our notebooks division, including the Eee PC, contributes 65-70% of our total, global revenues. But in India, we’re still very small. In Asia, people know ASUS—but here, people think ASUS is nobody. We need to work harder to improve our image in this market.
Shen: Our primary focus areas... one is, of course, is motherboards, but we’re really bullish on the Eee PC. And at the same time, we’re introducing new products into our lineup, like the Eee Box, which is this compact little desktop CPU (central processing unit)—it can even fit in your pocket.
Tsang: We’ll be introducing it in September, and since it’s a CPU box, without a monitor and keyboard, it’ll be approximately priced between Rs14,000-17,000—but that’s a very rough estimate. That’ll be a 160GB hard drive with Intel’s Atom processor (a line of Intel processors designed for low power consumption and portability), Wi-Fi-enabled.
Shen: In the second generation, which will be introduced a little later in October-November, it will also have a battery inbuilt. So, imagine a desktop computer with a battery inside, especially in a place where power is a little unreliable.
Tsang: The Box...when we demonstrated this to customers, and we said, it consumes around 10W of power, and a desktop, a desktop system and it consumes only 10W—that sounds almost impossible, right? But we managed to achieve that.
Shen: We’re also releasing an all-in-one PC (towards the end of the year), the E-Monitor, which is only one monitor, large size—with variants in 16, 19 and 22 inches, and everything is built in. It is also a touch screen—so if you wanted to, say, find out your address on Google Earth, all you’d have to do was use your fingers. It’ll be priced under $500 (Rs21,850) (making it nearly half the price of Apple’s $1299 iMac, which it resembles).
How are you positioning the Eee PC in India? And how do you see the market for ‘netbooks’ evolving?
Shen: The Eee PC has sold nearly three million units so far in 2008—and we’re on track for our target of five million units this year. There was a slight hiccup in deliveries because of issues with stocks of battery units, but those problems will be resolved.
We have nearly 25 variants of the Eee PC in the US—which we’ll reduce and consolidate to at least below 20…right now, I think we have too many variants with very slight differentiation. In other markets, like India, we will probably introduce around four-five models overall.
The netbook market...we’re expecting to see it stretching both ways, becoming more powerful with greater mobility at higher price points, and downwards—cheaper but with good functionality—and we’re focusing on both.
The first Eee PC was $299, and we’re working on introducing a $200-250 model sometime in the second half of 2009, something that’s very exciting for us. We also have options working upwards, towards $400-600, approaching the price point of the traditional laptop. For an emerging market like India, we want to introduce the Eee PC as a first PC—in the US and Europe, in contrast, we are positioning it as someone’s second or third PC—not their primary computer. But here, we feel that the combination of low price point and features could make the Eee PC a primary computer—hence we’ve expanded hard disc capability to 80GB or 160GB, higher battery life with six cell batteries. We’re also pushing Windows XP bundled (The first generation Eee PC came with a distribution of Linux, called Xandros, bundled). Our major focus will be on the 9-inch and 10-inch model, not the 7-inch first-gen variant. In India, it’s just the beginning for us, and we have very optimistic internal targets for the market. We’re working on improving our service backbone, with the opening of service centres in the metros.
So, will the 7-inch Linux models be phased out?
Tsang: It will be predominantly Windows XP, unless there is a special requirement for Linux, we will be providing only the XP option.
Shen: Narrowing the digital gap is what we’re looking at. We’ll be pushing the Eee PC through retail channels, both directly through ASUS and other vendors, and we’re also looking at distribution through government programmes, or for educational purposes.
With most major laptop manufacturers entering the netbook segment, how do you plan to differentiate the Eee Pc?
Tsang: Have you compared the products? How many hours does the battery work? Nearly six-seven hours, with six-cell batteries. That’s the flight from here to…London! How is the inbuilt camera? 1.3 megapixels. The competitors? 0.3 megapixels. Also, the Eee PC uses the 802.11n wireless standard—which is much faster, more efficient than the 0.11g standard, which most other laptops use. Also, the build— very sturdy, rugged. It may look delicate, but look at this... (Tsang drops the laptop from a few inches above the table) Nothing happens…just don’t do that when the computer is running, though.
Shen: We use a number of different metrics to ensure that our products are relevant and customer-friendly. It’s three-fold—we first ensure that everything designed at ASUS is easy, in the sense, easy to use and pick up.
Second, “excitement” is a key element for ASUS. Exciting like…something unexpected, something that works behind the scenes to provide an experience. We ensure, for example, that the noise level does not exceed 25Db, or that the temperature at the place where you keep your palms does not cross 26 degrees.
We optimize boot up time—we’ve managed to cut it to nearly 20 seconds. The camera, 1.3 megapixels. We call this “exciting”—a combination of features and elements inside a small machine, while at the same time, we keep it affordable—which is our third mission. We use these to review how our customers respond to our products—not just specifications and processor speeds. We look at our machines from this viewpoint.
We’re also perfecting what we call super hybrid engine, which balances battery-life and power saving with performance. So, you have battery life on one end, and performance improvements on the other. So, for example, you’re working on powerpoint—and the system automatically adjusts, giving you greater battery life. But if you’re gaming, then it amps up—giving you a performance boost. Its almost like power-on-demand.