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Windows 8 vs Apple: Acer joins battle

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The war between the Microsoft and Apple operating systems intensified last week. Heads rolled at Apple and Acer unveiled a compelling answer to the MacBook Air, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Any lingering doubts that Apple could carry on with business as usual, in the face of Microsoft’s launch of Windows 8, evaporated last week as the war of the operating systems heated up.

This time, it was one of Microsoft’s hardware partners, Acer, that stepped onto the field of battle. Last Tuesday it unveiled a dazzling display of weaponry, designed both to re-stake its claim to hardware leadership and to challenge Apple directly.

Hours earlier, Apple had tacitly admitted it needed a new battle plan as it announced one of the biggest shakeups yet of its management structure. It merged the teams that designed the Mac OS operating system that runs on Apple computers and the iOS mobile operating system that runs on iPads, iPhones and iPods. That suggests it aims to work towards a unified operating system, addressing one of the main gaps in the Apple offering lack of a unified experience across all devices.

Equally significantly, it gave Apple’s head of Industrial Design, Jony Ive, the British design genius who is credited with the design of the iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad, control over its Human Interface division.

At the same time, Apple fired its heads of Retail and of the iOS division, the latter presumably as the scapegoat for disappointing applications. The Siri voice-assistant on the iPhone 4S was derided as an underperformer and the Maps app on the iPhone 5 was so poor, Apple had to advise its customers to use alternatives from competitors. Heads were sure to roll.

Apple is by no means in trouble. It still reported record revenue of $36-billion for the last quarter and a jaw-dropping $8.2-billion profit. But it will no longer have things its own way. Among many other adversaries, Acer made that abundantly clear last week.

At the ‚”Acer Tactile‚” event in London a theme chosen to emphasise its embrace of the touchscreen revolution it launched 14 new Windows 8 devices, all sporting touchscreens. These included tablets, notebooks, all-in-one computers, and monitors.

Apple will contend that it kick-started the touch screen era with the iPhone and perfected it with the iPad. But the truth is, the concept does not yet extend to the rest of Apple’s devices.

With Windows 8 specifically designed for touch, Microsoft partners like Dell, Toshiba, HP and Asus have initially focused on tablets and touch-screen notebooks. Acer, however, has shown how far the tactile notion can go.

The standard-bearer for Acer is its new approach to the Ultrabook a computer standard developed by chip-maker Intel to allow for super-thin laptops that boot up instantly and provide battery life for a full working day. Acer unveiled its new version, the Aspire S7, in 11.6‚” and 13.3‚” formats, both with high-definition 1920×1080 resolution, and running on Intel’s fastest chips, the i5 or i7.

The unstated killer app for these two devices is not on the machines. It’s called competition.

They represent the first Ultrabooks that truly compete with the Apple equivalent that inspired the Ultrabook concept: the MacBook Air. Until the arrival of the S7, Intel’s partners had failed to match the design elegance, performance and experience of the Air.

Aside from being thinner the 11.6‚” and 13.3‚” S7 Ultrabooks are, respectively, 0.48‚” (12,2mm) and 0.47‚” (11,9mm) thick and weigh 1.04 and 1.3kg they also offer elegance in design and experience. A new cooling technology called, ironically, TwinAir, disperses heat more efficiently, and keeps the device cooler both to the touch and on the lap.

And then there is the trackpad. It introduces Acer’s own ‚”10-point touch‚” technology, which makes all other touchpads seem clumsy. It recognises up to ten separate points of simultaneous touch i.e. all ten fingers separately, at the same time allowing for a level of tactile versatility never previously seen on a computing device.

Jim Wong, corporate president of Acer, put it simply at the launch: ‚”We are transforming ourselves from device manufacturer to experience designers.‚”

For South Africans, that experience arrives this month.

According to Oliver Ahrens, Acer president for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), this is one of its best performing markets, with 30% share in both notebooks and desktop PCs. As a result, the company will invest more heavily in South Africa, as well as in the rest of Africa, where it will set up more sales offices.

Ahrens says Acer no longer works exclusively though its distributors, but now also interacts closely with both retailers and consumers.

‚”It’s the way the industry is transitioning you have to interact directly with consumers, and make sure their experience is the right one.‚”

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

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