On Tuesday, ASUS unloaded the first round of ammo at the Apple iPad, which promises to be the favorite target of the big tech vendors at CES 2011. As the first major company to host a CES press conference, ASUS dedicated nearly the entire hour to announcing its line of four tablets -- three Android and one Windows -- aimed squarely at stealing market share away from the iPad in 2011.
The biggest takeaway of the event was that ASUS has a different strategy than most of the PC and device makers trotting out tablets at CES. It's not just about launching cheap iPad clones that can detach users from the draconian Apple ecosystem. ASUS is betting that it can pull more users into the tablet market by providing a choice of four tablets aimed at users with different proclivities and by turning tablets into productivity devices that can also create content (perhaps the iPad's biggest weakness).
Whether the ASUS strategy succeeds or not will depend heavily on whether Microsoft Windows 7 and Google Android can successfully adapt their software for multi-touch tablets in the months ahead. Android still has big questions to answer and Windows 7 may simply be too heavy and battery hungry for tablets. Nevertheless, I like that ASUS isn't just playing "me, too" in the tablet market and actually has a viable strategy that targets some of the iPad's genuine weak spots.
ASUS Chairman Jonney Shih shows off one of the four new ASUS tablets at the company's CES 2011 press conference. Photo credit: Jason Hiner | TechRepublic
The fact that the rising computer maker spent 75% of its biggest press conference of the year talking about iPad competitors speaks volumes. Four years ago at CES 2008, the newly-launched ASUS Eee PC -- a 7-inch netbook -- was one of the buzz products of the show and its surprising sales essentially launched the netbook phenomenon.
The Eee PC launched ASUS into mainstream consciousness and the company has since expanded nicely into laptops and desktops of all sizes and shown that it is one of the few PC makers that really cares about product design. In the ecosystem of Windows PCs, I'd rank ASUS with Sony as the two companies that consistently produce the most attractive designs, and ASUS does it without the big price premium that you pay for with Sony and Apple.
ASUS clearly watches a lot of what Apple does -- Apple's name came up at least half a dozen times in its press conference -- and has decided that the iPad is a serious threat to its laptop business, otherwise it would not have dedicated so much of its resources and marketing to its new tablets.
Here is a quick summary of the four ASUS tablets:
Eee Pad MeMo
The MeMo is a 7-inch Android 3.0 tablet that will compete with the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the plethora of other 7-inch Android tablets about to hit the market, as well as the BlackBerry PlayBook. This is definitely aimed at media consumption with a Micro HDMI port and 1080p video playback. It has a capacitive touch-screen and includes a stylus for note-taking, so it also has the productivity element in mind.
Eee Slate EP121
The EP121 is the one Windows tablet in the ASUS lineup. This is a 12-inch tablet running the same Intel Core i5 processor that runs a lot of powerful desktops and laptops. It offers 1280x800 screen resolution, two USB ports, a 32GB or 64GB SSD hard drive, 4GB of RAM, and a 2 megapixel camera. It has both multi-touch and pen input. In the demo, ASUS was watching a full 1080p video while editing a picture in Photoshop and this thing didn't flinch. Battery life could be an issue though.
Eee Pad Transformer
Here's a slim 10-inch tablet that will compete more directly with the iPad. It features the dual core NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor and will run Android 3.0. It has a 5 megapixel camera on the back and a 1.2 megapixel camera on the front. The Transformer also offers an optional keyboard dock (see below) that essentially turns it into a laptop. The dock has has added battery capacity that can extend the battery life of this tablet up to 16 hours. I consider this the most interesting of the ASUS tablets and the one with the greatest potential, if Google gets the Android tablet software right.
Eee Pad Slider
The Slider is very similar to the Transformer. It is a 10-inch Android 3.0 tablet running on an NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor and has the same 5.0 and 1.2 megapixel cameras as the Transformer. Instead of a keyboard dock, the slider features a slide-out qwerty keyboard. Again, ASUS is betting on turning the 10-inch tablet into a productivity device so that people don't need to carry both a tablet and laptop, but can do all of their content creation on this device. It will be very interesting to see if Android can cut it as a light laptop OS.
Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).