Ina Fried

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Acer CEO on Why He’s Waiting on Android Tablets

Acer CEO Gianfranco Lanci thinks there’s plenty of room to take on the iPad with an Android tablet. Just not yet.

Although Lanci is talking tough about the opportunity to rival Apple’s hit, he’s also the one who announced–then delayed–an Android tablet originally slated to be released this year.

“We could have an Android tablet already with Froyo,” Lanci said during a sit-down chat with Mobilized in New York last week. “We took the decision to wait for Honeycomb when it is available….Now you can have Gingerbread on a tablet, but we are not convinced it is the right solution.”

That was one of many insights Lanci shared during the interview, held ahead of the company’s big press conference where it showed off, among other things, a new dual-screen tablet based on Windows 7. Lanci said that, when it comes to productivity, he still sees full-blown Windows as the best option, even on tablets.

Lanci also chatted about plans for a Windows Phone 7 device, why he sees room for so many mobile operating systems and the company’s plans to bring 3-D screens to the phone and other mobile devices.

Here’s an edited transcript of the conversation:

Mobillized: Acer has a broad range of mobile products globally, but in the U.S. you are mainly thought of as a PC company with Gateway, eMachines, etc. What’s Acer’s strategy when it comes to mobile devices?

Lanci: We have a very simple strategy. We look at mobile as the biggest opportunity in terms of growth. We introduced a smartphone 18 months ago. We are working on tablets. What we want to be is a global provider of mobile solutions–smartphone, tablet, netbook, notebook–any kind of mobile, going from content creation to content consumption.

Q: In particular, at least in America, I’m not sure Acer means something in phones. Do you plan to change that?

A: We started with smartphones and we mainly focused on Europe. But we started also with some U.S. operators and we started working with some Chinese operators. Smartphones–we want them to become big. Today we are mainly Android, but we are also working on Windows Phone 7

Q: You guys had done Windows Mobile devices in your first batch of phones?

A: At the beginning we were mainly Windows Mobile devices, yes.

Q: What prompted you guys at first to shift most of your energy to Android and then what is bringing you back to consider Windows Phone 7?

A: We saw a lot of limitations on Windows Phone a couple of years ago and we moved to Android because of user experience, and even the possibility to be a little more creative from a content offering and so forth is better than on the Windows phone. If we look at Windows Phone 7, today, I think we see the same opportunity you can see on Android in terms of customization.

Q: In terms of Android, you look at it for phones, but also for tablets. You showed an Android tablet in May and said originally that you would have one in the fourth quarter.

A: We could have an Android tablet already with Froyo. We took the decision to wait for Honeycomb when it is available. I think it is going to be probably in Q1 (before we have an Android tablet). Now you can have Gingerbread on a tablet, but we are not convinced it is the right solution.

Q: There are a lot of operating systems out there. How do you see Windows vs. Android vs. some of the others?

A: We are also working on Meego but this is going to be second half of next year. When you think about a Windows tablet and you think about productivity, I think that a Windows tablet is still the best solution. When you think about media content and so on, Android today is a great solution and we think Meego will also be a good solution in the future.

Q; You also said a while back that Acer would be first with a Chrome OS netbook and originally that was going to be later this year. It sounds like that’s also a 2011 thing?

A: We are still working on a Chrome OS netbook, but you know probably better than us there are some delays from Google. We need to wait and see.

Q: You wouldn’t even put a time on it at this point?

A: I think today it’s almost unpredictable.

Q: Was the problem mainly technical?

A: I think it is a combination of things–better user interface, better integration with other Google applications

Q: How much is the mobile market influenced these days by Apple and the iPad?

A: Apple for sure is influencing the market. I also believe that if I look at Apple, they influence the market on one side, but there is always room for improvement on the other side. Take iPad–when they came out it was without Flash and with certain limitations. With Android products we will fix that. Talking about screen resolution and even in terms of touch, view angles–there are a lot of things where you still have big room for differentiation or improvement compared to Apple.

We also believe that 10 inches is going to be one of the standard (tablet) screen sizes, but also seven inches can be a good offer for the user

Q: But you decided it is better to wait until next year for a new version of Android?

A: Yes, we decided to wait.

Q: How important is battery life?

A: We think battery life is one of the most important factors when you think about mobile devices. It is important on netbooks and notebooks, but also on tablets. A tablet without good battery life really doesn’t make any sense. I think we started to work on battery life almost three years ago. Now we have a full range of notebooks, even netbooks, with more than eight hours of battery life. We are already looking how we can reach 10, 12 hours. We believe 12 hours is probably the optimal solution from a user’s point of view

Q: What about some of the other technologies we hear about, like 3-D screens? You have brought that pretty aggressively to notebooks. How has that paid off and do you see bringing it to phones?

A: I think we are going to do the same on phone, even on tablets. If you think about gaming, 3-D gaming has becoming quite popular. If you think about a 3-D tablet, you can play games. We are working on 3-D on a lot of things.

Are you surprised that others haven’t gone more aggressively. You came out with a 3-D notebook a while ago and we haven’t heard a lot from your competitors?

A: Yes, more than one year ago. When I look at notebooks or hardware, the number of companies doing innovation are not too many. I think we are one of the few companies left focused on innovation. This is maybe the reason why you don’t see it.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus