Chitika banner

Monday, October 30, 2006

Number 2

So Acer makes it to number 2 in EMEA.

This is a habit I could get used to. Well I am used to it really. You see every day I am given the enviable task of finding out what makes Acer's products tick and transferring that to the brochures or descriptive paragraphs you probably read several times online before you buy.

There is a problem with this task though, and it's something I'm working on. No, it's not a defect of the product, more like a limitation to the amount of information I am allowed to write. That is often left to the lucky journalists but even they sometimes overlook the reason a notebook, or PC is specced like it is.

The truth is that what you read only scratches the surface of what these products can do.

But obviously it's more than enough to wet some serious appetites.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Gearing up for even more innovation

It's been a slow week from my desk as far as Acer is concerned. Don't get me wrong there are an awful lot of new and exciting products on the way, and things are definitely on the boil, but this week everyone has been focussing on the 30th anniversary celebrations in Taiwan.

There were several reports I read over the event and, as you see from the comments, it was very much a business celebration. This one from Forbes, and another from Techworld show just where the emphasis was.

Business may look good, but I'm all pumped up for the new products. The end of the year is always an exciting moment, as the next-generation solutions due for launch at the beginning of the year start to show.

There's so much same-ness about IT today, it's great when the mould gets broken and Acer's usually pretty fast at getting things to market.

I'm also glad to see that Acer's desktop PCs are beginning to make their presence felt. There have been some pretty good innovations and ideas over the years but unfortunately these haven't been getting the attention they deserve. Now things are changing and the ultra compact Veriton 1000, Aspire iDea and integrated Media Gateway in some of the LCD televisions are a perfect demonstration of the jump in quality innovation in this segment.

The Veriton 1000 is not only a technological work of art, it's also drop dead gorgeous, while the Aspire iDea really has taken digital convergency several generations forward.

So here's to next year. Can't wait to see what's in store.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The indirect conversation

I'm slowly coming round to the fact that it's not always about the product.

I grew up in this field promoting the product. At first I would look long and hard at it, see what it did and didn't do, and draw my own conclusions.

That works for a lot of copywriters and just as many products, but in this business, you soon learn that the product is only half of the equation. IT is a solutions provider and the product sits in the middle of two very powerful forces that interact constantly with one another, pulling and pushing almost until they break.

On the one hand, you have the buying public, real people looking for solutions to very real problems. On the other, you have the sales channel that carefully monitors market trends, listens to feedback, and actively seeks out the most advanced and cost-effective technologies to satisfy an increasingly-demanding market.

When the product and sales channel are separated, each an individual business responding to its own, specific business agenda, the two work together naturally and symbiotically for the greater benefit of both. The result is, to use an age-old expression, bigger than sum of its parts.

It goes without saying that one cannot exist without the other, yet the relationship goes deeper than that. The more the sales channels listen to their customers, the more feedback they give IT vendors, and the more feedback IT vendors receive from the sales channel, the more rapidly and efficiently they can evolve to meet the market's needs.

The shelf life of "advanced" technology today is only as long as the wait for the next leap forward. Just look at how fast integrated webcams appeared on Acer notebooks after Skype made VoIP calls child's play, or how fast wireless connectivity was adopted by both business and home users.

Today's innovation is tomorrow's minimum system requirement.

When you're marketing someone else's product (i.e. not one you dreamt up at night), you inevitably join the conversation at some point in the middle of that tug of war. You have the job of promoting something users have been crying out for while at the same time fuelling the market's desire to pursue innovation.

At Acer, my job is made particularly easy. You see, every time someone purchases an Acer product, they buy it from that same sales channel. This indirect business model gives Acer priceless feedback and a simply unrivalled way to get closer to its customers' needs, and into their thoughts.

Those thoughts go a long way towards shaping the next product, which takes Acer on another significant step in the right direction.

Easy job? Hardly, but the conversation is truly stimulating.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

30 years young!

Not many people know this, but Acer is about to celebrate 30 years in business.

It's a sobering thought when you think about it. Acer was there at the very beginning of the PC revolution. It was a pioneering force behind Taiwan's IT evolution and is still there today, ranked as the world's fourth-largest PC vendor.

Technology has moved on so far since 1976, with so many unexpected developments and evolutions, it's almost completely unrecognizable today.

Breaking down the barriers between people and technology has been Acer's mission from the outset and its stubborn refusal to accept comprimises on this promise has allowed it to stay at the forefront of the IT world throughout its many transformations.

Celebrations kick off in Taiwan some time next week, but not just for what Acer has achieved, its market share or operating results, but to celebrate what the Acer brand stands for, the value it brings to each of its customers and continued research into making technology simple.

I know, this all sounds like an uncontrollably exaggerated Acer hype. Well it is. It's a great company to work with and an honour to be a part of their future. Happy Birthday Acer. I wish you many more happy and succesful years to come.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Masked opportunities

It is not my intention to transform this blog into a political platform but I just wanted to share yesterday's experience with you.

There are, as you probably know, some very influential bloggers out there with very large audiences. Sneezers I believe Seth Godin calls them as just a few well chosen words can spread an ideavirus faster than the speed of light.

Yesterday, one of them noticed a blog by someone called the Masked Blogger, who wrote about his company. Apple.

Now Apple has a strict no-blog policy and so MB's comments stirred up quite a commotion. So much so that Dell's PR machine jumped straight in and posted a beatifully-worded declaration of how it alone was changing the face of customer support.

Why am I posting this here? Because I wanted to share with you an article that quotes Mr Accolla, Acer EMEA's Vice Chariman, and Acer's changing attitude towards customer support.

This is Accolla's part of the article:

Acer’s service levels have come under strong criticism from the channel over the past couple of years, however, at the global conference Acer revealed that it had made a significant investment in improving customer satisfaction.

Emanuele Accolla, Acer EMEA vice-president, admitted: “Our average repair time was very bad 18 months ago. We had a crisis and couldn’t provide the necessary support, but we have since put in a huge amount of investment to rectify this.”

Acer now has 15 direct repair centres in EMEA that can handle up to 5,000 repairs a day. It also has six direct call centres manned by 250 employees who can handle 18,000 calls a day; one spare parts hub with 150 employees and structured web site support that can handle 40,000 downloads a day.

“We care about customer satisfaction,” Accolla said. “We have in place a directly owned customer service structure to serve our customers. We interact directly with our customers on after-sale support for a better understanding of their needs.”

Acer has implemented a customer satisfaction rating system with a score of one being unsatisfactory and five being very satisfied.

“We were a score of three on average 18 months ago and now we are more than four,” Accolla claimed. “More than 900 completed customer satisfaction interviews a month are carried out to obtain these figures.”

Acer said its average repair turnaround time is now four days; its average call centre response is 80 per cent and the average response with no delay is 50 per cent.

“Our goal is that four out of five customers are given an answer to a problem within a couple of minutes,” Accolla said.

Basically the problem of customer support exists across the board. No manufacturer or vendor can escape the risk of product malfunction. They're all trying to address the problem and Acer is no exception.

Even the most well-oiled system is going to squeek every now and then but don't let that discourage you. Should you ever have a problem with an Acer product, give your local Acer customer support a ring and see for yourselves if Accolla was right.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Oops... Forgot one!

Earlier I mentioned the C510 PDA. In a rush of excitement I forgot the C530 which shares the same general specs but also features integrated 802.11b/1g WiFi capabilities.
That lapsus just made the choice a little harder...

Beta website

Anyone been to the Acer websites in the US or EMEA regions recently?

I say "sites" because each country has it's own, which, of course is all part of the same.

If you have you may have noticed the odd change here and there... Well, the old site was a little, emm... old wasn't it?

In a bold move towards making the site more customer-related (Thanks Kathy!) and to give Acer a chance to introduce the new horizontal split between private users, professionals, SMBs and large enterprises, Acer has shifted away from the old "stand-and-deliver!" style presentation to a much more "talk-to-me" site.

It was never going to be easy to modify the way so much information is presented but, like I mentioned in an earlier post, change happens and it's certainly happening at Acer.

A site designed to be translated into 14 languages and offering as many inter-related products and solutions is never going to be easy to implement, but I personally like the change because for the first time my mother narrowed her choice down to 5 notebooks before asking me what to look for.

There are gaps - we know only too well - and we're working as fast as we can to fill them so hang tight.

One more thing. If there's anything you'd really like to see on the site, let me know. You never know, they might even agree to put it up.

New GPS-equipped Pocket PCs on the way

It’s been a little quiet around here as I’ve been a little busy putting the final touches to the marketing material for the new PDAs. The N310, N311 and C510.

I saw them at the global press conference at Montecarlo and these babies are really neat. Their release date (sometime on November?) is pretty fortuitous too as I’m looking for a portable navigation device for my new car which should be arriving right around then. Before anyone mentions it, I did spec the thing with a navigator but apparently Ford can’t supply them… I’ve been using a Garmin Street Pilot III and it’s got me out of more than my fair share of pickles, but after four years of peerless service, it’s time to move on, and I’m looking for something that’ll help me out on the road yet will also take care of some other, memory-taxing chores.

That’s why I’m not going for any of the “standard” portable navigators, even though “GPS-capability” is 80% of my reason to purchase.

The N310 and C510 both have GPS capabilities, standard on the C510 and available as a kit on the N310 and N311, yet the things are small enough to sit in your pocket. They have seriously powerful processors, run Microsoft’s latest Windows Mobile 5.0 for Pocket PC and take
SDIO capable expansion slots, meaning I’ll be able to plug in an endless list of goodies and accessories, wife permitting.
The N311 also includes Wi-Fi 802.11b connectivity, meaning I can get to where I’m going without any classic-Michael wrong ways AND, if there’s a network available, still have time to post a blog. Cool!

The other thing that caught my attention is that the N311 has a 3.7” screen. This may seem like a small point, but I’m one of those men who really can concentrate on only one thing at a time so the bigger the arrow, the more likely I am to see it when I’m driving!
Sold. I’ll post a review the moment it arrives.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Empowering Pareto's Principle

It has been mentioned more than a few times that 80% of the components of competing PCs are all the same.

Think about it: LCD screens, processors, hard disks, graphics cards (and dare I say it,
batteries)... they're all shipped in from one manufacturer or another and assembled in various combinations to offer optimum solutions at specific price points.

So what's the difference?

The difference lies in the remaining 20%. That's the part that contains all the added-value of one brand over the next. Sure, this part contains things like warranties and after-sales support, but even there companies compete on more or less the same level.

The one thing I have always liked about Acer is, quite simply, what you don't see. If you take a closer look at the spec sheets, the number of "AcerXYZ technologies" is really quite something. You've got Acer
SignalUp technology that conceals an extra-sensitive PIFA antenna on top of the LCD screens where they enjoy maximum signal strength as well as Acer InviLink™ Nplify™ wireless technology as featured on the latest Ferrari notebooks. That'll explain why all the Acer notebooks I've owned always seemed to suck a wireless signal out of nowhere.

Then, on some notebooks, you've got the massive Acer Video Conference package that includes a 1.3 Megapixel Acer Orbicam™ that in turn features Acer VisageON™ technology (a face tracking feature that keeps your face in the centre of the screen), and Acer PrimaLite™ technology that automatically adjusts the colour and definition for clearer pictures the really clever Acer Bluetooth® VoIP Phone that pops out of a slot and saves you yelling into the daft little built-in microphone.

What about the screen? They’re all the same aren’t they? Well. No. First Acer came up with
Acer CrystalBrite™ technology that took screen clarity to another level and then they introduced something called Acer GridVista™ which resizes the application windows and slots them into dual, triple or quadruple grid configurations so everything you have open is right there in front of you where you can see it (tip: if you really want to get the most out of this feature, hook up a second external monitor (which you’ll probably do through the Acer PCI Express® ezDock) and then tell me if having up to eight organized windows doesn’t speed you up a little bit).

How about protection? Well for starters there’s
Acer Gravisense that protects the hard disk by automatically retracting the disk heads if the notebook takes a fall and there’s even Acer Anti-Theft technology that sets off an alarm if the notebook is snatched away.

Then there’s the mother of all add-on applications:
Empowering Technology. I’ve only ever come across a couple of other blogs that talk about this software whose sole purpose is to make changing something “important” on your PC, notebook or whatever, simple. Apart from the one on The Acer Blog, which in turn links to a pretty cool explanation here, I also found a quick review of it on Tracy and Matt’s blog.

Empowering Technology shouldn’t be underestimated. I have seen it used in real situations and it makes as much difference as all the other trademarked technologies listed above put together. It’ll be interesting to see how it evolves with the Vista platform.

But that’s another argument. The fact is Acer has bundled almost its entire product range with a series of added-value technologies each designed to help you get more out of your product. Notebooks, Desktops, projectors and even their TVs have been given the Empowering treatment. If you don't believe me, then read this.

Acer doesn’t shout too loud about this added value, and I really think it should as I believe this particular take on Pareto’s 80:20 principle says a lot more about a PC vendors approach to its customers than any performance benchmark ever could.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Sudoku rocks.. but MusicMatch is food for thought..

OK. I'll admit it it's a pretty well-executed feature. And it does distract from some of the less-than-shiney features of this box of tricks.

I think when you take the MP340 for what it is (ultra-versatile portable storage device), rather than what the market probably thinks it is (MP3 player), it all gets rather interesting. It's very much a plug-and-play device and likes filling its large-capacity memory with good old, premium grade drag and drop. And the video conversion tool is neat too.

My point is this: wouldn't it be great if Acer bundled an MP340-spotting MusicMatch suite to help with the oh-so-dull Windows file swapping interface? I mean, Acer has just signed an agreement with Yahoo! to install it’s next-generation PCs with a co-branded toolbar and startup page as of, erm.. yesterday...

And with this agreement, Acer PC's will now come with Yahoo as the default search engine and will include the usual Yahoo services, such as links to music, sports, messenger, and e-mail. ..

And Yahoo owns MusicMatch....

Just a thought...