Q&A: Acer Chief Sets Careful Digital Course

Acer Group Chairman and CEO J.T. Wang sheds light on how the Taiwan computer and electronics giant aims to attack the digital convergence market.
Acer, one of the top PC brands worldwide, has released a menagerie of digital convergence products, including LCD TVs, digital projectors and media gateways. The Taiwan-based company, however, has yet to try the U.S. market for such products. Acer Group Chairman and CEO J.T. Wang talked with Digital Connect's Joseph F. Kovar in Taipei, Taiwan, about how Acer plans to attack the digital convergence space, including the U.S. market, going forward.

DC: In the digital convergence space, is Acer looking at ways to be a leader in the market, or is Acer waiting to see how the market develops first before figuring out its place?

WANG: It depends on how you define leadership. We consider that, in order to make this new digital convergence really benefit the user, the whole industry needs a good standard and a good platform. Acer is not the kind of company to define that standard and platform. We would like to support and participate in Intel's East Fork [home entertainment desktop PC platform] task force. It is a good, defined platform. We are part of the task force. Acer would like to be a player that is recognized as the most realistic and innovative implementation. We support the platform. All the companies that support the platform have their own implementations. Acer wants to have the most realistic and innovative implementation of that platform.

DC: Does Acer have any type of implementation you can talk about now, or is it still too early?

WANG: The platform is a new thing. We're just working on it. I think it will take some effort to implement it. I just mentioned that, when I talk about being realistic, I mean when considering the existing investment in every home, no matter if it's in advanced countries or in underdeveloped countries. Acer would like to be realistic and help users in a cost-effective way to enjoy new technology.

Something we are working on is user experience specification. We do a lot of marketing studies. We want to make a computer work not only in a study room but also in a living room. We want to make an LCD TV not just display digital content but also display data and browsing. The user experience with consumer electronics is well-defined. The user experience with computers is well-defined. When those converge, which experience do you want to give to the user? That's a big difference. If you want to insist on only a user experience from consumer electronics, it will be difficult. If you want to insist only on the computer experience, it will be difficult.

So we put a lot effort to study what the users' real requirements are. For instance, if you switch the content in their device, how many seconds do you want the user to wait without feeling bored or frustrated? What's the real user experience? This should be studied, defined and enhanced, step by step. In short, we don't try to be a leader to define the standard platform. We want to support the well-designed, industrial standard platform. However, we want to do the most realistic and cost-effective implementation, focus on the user experience spec, and study the definition and enhancement.

DC: Is there anybody out there already that's doing a good job with that?

WANG: Digital convergence is happening. So far, I feel no one is clearly successful. It's just at the very beginning stage. There are a lot of possibilities for different developments. I see so many players that want to influence and define the platforms, specs and standards, and try to be the leader: Japanese manufacturers, Korean manufacturers, European companies, U.S. companies. Some companies come from the home appliance market, some from computers, some from mobile communications. And they try to influence and try to compete.

I think Acer's strategy is to stick with something we are good at. This means from the IT or computer approach. We consider the technology and the computing power from the IT approach as the best and will attack the other approaches. I mean, the consumer electronics approach or the mobile communications approach is not as good as the IT approach. The IT approach will put big pressure on the other approaches in the future.

DC: Why is the IT approach best?

WANG: Because the IT industry is all the time killing the old specs and creating new specs, and always keeping the costs at the same level while the speed, capacity and functions always double or triple. It never stops. So the advantage of the speed of this progress, no other field can match for so many years. That's why people will find the IT approach is the best. The good thing is we are good at the IT approach, so we will stick with it. And we think we have a good possibility to attack the other approaches in the long run.

DC: For example?

WANG: Like the LCD TV. We consider that as a multimedia display. We don't do a pure TV replacement. It's good for mobile communication displays, audio/video displays, computer displays, data displays, etc. Eventually, that's the final standard. People will look at it and say, 'That's what we need.' So anyone who takes an LCD TV as a replacement for a TV is going to be attracted to the multimedia display approach. In the future, mobile communications, computing and digital A/V is going to be done by computing, storage and input/output through the IT approach.

So we consider [the LCD TV] an extension of IT products. And we are going to have a smart communicator that can have broadband like GPS and 3G communication capabilities for handling data and voice. And then our approach is also IT-centric, an expansion of IT products. Gradually, we will be able to start to penetrate other peoples' market spaces.

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