PCR speaks with Asus' Iain Bristow about the success of its Eee brand

Widening the net

The netbook sector has obviously kicked off massively. They are cheaper, which could be attractive to many in a time of less disposable income. Has the recession helped the whole sector, in this way?
When the original Eee PC 701 launched, it was the very first of its kind. It was the definition of netbook at the time. There have been a lot of competitors who have seen that idea and developed their own route, which is great, and I think it’s good we have such a netbook market right now.

Has the recession helped? Possibly. People aren’t willing to spend extravagant amounts of money on a new performance desktop PC just to browse the internet. They might want something slightly cheaper when they’re out on the move, and because of the weight, battery life and the portability of netbooks, they’re the perfect companion to your home PC.

But are they seen like that? A lot of people will look at a netbook and simply think how cheap computers are these days compared to ten years ago. Are they being seen as companions to ‘home’ PCs by consumers, or as replacements for more expensive rigs?
I think it depends very much on the user. There seems to be this idea that people see them and think, ‘look, a cheap laptop, I’ll buy it.’ For some people, yes I understand where that idea comes from. But some people might just want a laptop for their nine or ten year-old to do their school homework on. Would you want to give them a £1,200 laptop? I don’t think I would, whereas some people might have a desktop at home but are looking for something else to take around with them.

I think the joy of the netbook and how that has evolved is that it’s suitable for absolutely everyone. They are so easy to use. I gave one to my young cousin and to my grandmother. Each of them could use it straight out of the box which is really important – people shouldn’t be afraid of new technologies.

That seems to have been one of the chief reasons for their success. The mass market won’t necessarily know what they’re asking for when they walk into a shop to buy a PC. But it is widening, and now more and more people are using PCs. Has the netbook market pushed that development, or followed it?
I think netbooks have helped to develop it. As you say, not too long ago you’d look around a store and you’d be told a machine has an XYZ processor, XYZ hard drive, and if you didn’t know what you were talking about, it was easy to get very confused.

It’s fine for us in the industry, we recognise the figures. But for someone who’s not tech savvy and looking for a laptop for university or college use, who needs it to do a few things but they don’t want to pay the earth for it. You can go into a store now and see ten-inch, nine-inch sizes, and find one which is ideal for their individual requirements. I think the way in which we can experience and try out the products in stores now is also very important for their success.

Another category, the all-in-one PCs: do you think they’re on the rise? They’re still a niche market, do you think we’re going to see more and more of those coming out?

It’s a similar idea to where mobile phones were a couple of years ago, before touch screen phones reached the market. If someone had said to me I’ve got a new touch screen phone, I’d have thought that was cool, but wonder how easy it would be to use.

The same way you’d have a keyboard on the screen on the phone, why not have them both on a PC? If you just want something in the kitchen to browse the internet while you’re cooking, for example, it’s an ideal solution.

There are so many different functions for our Eee Top, for example. You can use them as a simplistic media centre to play music or movies, or browse the internet in a bedroom, living room or kitchen.

Having wall mounted PCs with touch screen capabilities is quite a significant leap from the way we’re mainly using PCs now. As this sort of technology becomes more available, is there going to be a rise in products like that?

Certainly. Look at all the people who are using touch screen phones who wouldn’t have dreamed of doing it two years ago. The technology is available, it’s getting better and we’re able to do much more with it. Yes, I definitely think we’ll start seeing more of them. We’ve actually got some interesting developments planned for these technologies, so keep an eye on upcoming developments.

You launched a number of new products recently at Computex. Could you tell us some more about this new portfolio?

The biggest launch has to be the Mars VGA. That’s two GTX 285s as a single graphics card. So what that does is actually give us the world’s fastest VGA in production. It’s a 25 per cent increase in performance from a GTX 295, and it’s going to be a limited edition unit, so there will only be a thousand made. It’s very important to us as a demonstration of our engineering ability and where we come from as an OEM. It’s also a good example of how we can take ideas, improve upon them, and turn them into our own product.

The second item that we’re pushing really strongly at the moment is the Xonar Soundcard range. We started this about a year ago now with the D2 and the D2X. We then released the Xonar DX, a cut down Xonar D2X to cater for the mainstream market at a competitive price point. We’ve also recently launched the Xonar DS, which sits around the £40 price point and offers soundcards to those who don’t want to go out and spend £200 on a super high end soundcard, but want to get a bit more sound clarity in their movies, games and music.

The third thing was the demonstration of our new P7P55 Series of motherboards, which are due to launch later this year. These boards all feature our new Xtreme Design concept, which is the culmination of numerous technologies found on Asus boards that allow greater stability and reliability as well as overclocking potential. That’s going to be accompanied by our current X58 range, which is seeing some improvements with the addition of SATA 6G and our Xtreme Design concept too.

Do any of these represent a change in direction for Asus?

The Xonar as a soundcard wasn’t something that we’d really done before. So that’s an example of where we’ve looked at the needs of the market and identified a good solution for our consumers who might not want an onboard sound solution, but something better. So we looked at how we could do that and decided on the Xonar range. The addition of soundcards to our portfolio is just another demonstration of our aim to be a total solution provider. The Mars VGA adheres quite strictly to our roots as a business.

What would you say separates Asus from the crowd?

We’ve been around a very, very long time now and have just celebrated our 20th birthday a few months ago. I suppose the thing that separates us from the crowd is the design and the innovation that keeps occurring with our products. A few years ago you’d never have dreamed of being able to boot up your home PC in under 10 seconds, to a Splashtop OS to view your pictures and browse the internet.

Instead of trying to have the most powerful PC on the planet all the time, we’ve given a lot of attention to developing a system that delivers great power efficiency, reliability and a high quality experience that ultimately will save the end user money.

So reliability would be your ethos?
Yes. Starting from conception, our products go through an extremely vigorous testing process. We aim to make them the most reliable and highest quality products on the market, and to offer the best possible quality for the price.

What’s the wider plan for the year ahead for Asus?
As a business our core focus is going to remain on developing the channel, not only helping our sales to grow but also our retail and reseller partners. Our product line-up has been expanding rapidly over the last two years. So from the initial 701 Eee PCs, we’ve now got an advanced range of Eee PCs with solutions for absolutely everyone. The plan is to offer every possibility, for everybody, in every walk of life. That’s part of becoming a whole solutions provider.

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