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Acer opens new fronts in tech wars

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A partnership with Intel may help give Acer an edge in bringing educational technology to Africa, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Amid rumours of a possible merger with close rival Asus, the world’s third largest laptop computer maker, Acer, this week opened two new battlefronts in its campaign to remain a market leader.

At a media event in Amsterdam, the Taiwan-based company announced a partnership with chip-maker Intel to bring educational software to notebooks and laptops, reinforcing existing educational initiatives. At the same time, it will roll-out a new strategy for winning business clients.

‚”It will take us a couple of years: we don’t want to do it overnight,‚” acknowledges Jakob Olsen, vice president for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) of Acer’s commercial division. ‚”We do small and medium business very well, we’re strong in government and education. But I don’t think Acer can take over the enterprise market immediately.‚”

There is a distinct difference between the approach being taken to each of these markets.

For the enterprise, Acer hopes to convince customers with a vision-based approach comprising two pillars: brand relevance and value creation. The former is about having the widest possible range of products and the broadest possible channel presence. Acer has made a good start. In the EMEA region, it has more than 60 000 resellers.

Ironically, this approach is almost precisely the same as the one taken by Samsung to take a dominant position in the smartphone market: ‚”When I have a new product, I want to sell it,‚” says Olsen. ‚”We can’t afford to stagger launches. We’re not a large organisation. If I can launch one product in 70 Countries, that’s easier for me.

Samsung uses its vast supply chain and local relationships to allow for near-simultaneous global launches. Acer has to focus on efficiency.

‚”For us it goes back to the supply chain, the ability to bring product to market. When you run a consumer business like Acer, you must respond fast. My marketing and resellers are different in EMEA, but in how I bring it to market, there is no difference.‚”

The opposite is true for smartphones. Acer has almost no presence in this market in Africa.

‚”The phone is a different animal,‚” says Olsen. ‚”We don’t have a strategy not to sell it there, but we’re very dependent on the telcos for distribution. Our strategy is very simple to take a product to market. If someone wants to sell it, we will supply it.‚”

The educational market has fewer barriers, but offers no standard approach either. Tablet pioneer Apple has successful positioned itself as a leader in educational software, while Samsung has won praise for its solar-powered container classrooms.

Acer offers a free teaching tool called the Acer Classroom Manager, which can be downloaded from the Acer website. It can be used to manage activity by children using a wide range of devices in the same classroom. While it has gained wide use and acclaim, it hasn’t given Acer thought leadership in this area.

The company hopes to change that with its partnership with Intel Education Software (IES), which includes a hardware component.

‚”These products are designed to withstand the rigors of the education environment by offering dependability, security, and a long battery life,‚” says Acer. ‚”The IES suite helps students to foster 21st century skills, such as communication, collaboration, problem solving, critical thinking, and digital literacy.‚”

IES applications include Kno Textbooks, an interactive e-Reader designed specifically for education: Lab Camera, a camera-based science exploration application: SPARKvue, a data analysis application that collects data from internal and external sensors: and Media Camera, a multi-media application that enables students to capture and edit pictures and video.

If these kinds of tools take off in education on this continent, both Acer and Africa will be winners.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee

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