Does Acer need a dose of Ritalin?

The broad range of Acer's recent announcements seem to reveal a company with ADD or one desperate for a new strategy.

Acer is a pretty good company. Known mostly in the U.S. as a producer of desktop and notebook PCs (and more recently netbooks), the company also produces some smartphone lines in Europe (originally based on Windows Mobile and more recently on Android). Generally, Acer is known for low-cost but dependable solutions. Nothing too out there or too sexy – just solid devices. While that may be what Acer is known for, lately the company seems to be flailing a bit with its strategy, particularly when it comes to mobile devices. I'll grant that most tech companies didn't see the tablet trend coming and have been scrambling to adjust course after the success of the iPad, but Acer's approach seems like an extreme mad dash in every direction.

What strikes me about the recent reports of new Acer products (aside from the sudden turnaround when it comes to tablets) is that the company seems to be all over the map from its traditional basic desktops to some pretty out there tablet designs. The company is also planning on tackling virtually every desktop and mobile platform it can get its hands on. Here's a rundown of some of Acer's more recent moves:

  • Planning an Android tablet, but waiting to Honeycomb ships to make it a reality
  • Jumping into the Windows 7 tablet fray
  • Continuing development on a Chrome OS netbook (albeit with no time frame on shipment)
  • Developing a Windows Phone 7 handset (in addition to its previous Windows Mobile and current Android handset)
  • Hopping onto Nokia's MeeGo OS without any clear indication of what devices it will make
  • Creating the first mass market dual display tablet even though no one's sure a market for this type of device really exists
  • Creating its own app and music store similar in concept to Apple's iTunes

I understand trying to avoid putting all your eggs in one basket as well as the idea of throwing different ideas out into the market to see what sticks, but this seems to be overkill. The mix of different platforms, different types and classes of devices, and taking a completely untested tablet/notebook form fact to market seems scattered and unfocused. If you add this list to the company's existing lines of desktops, notebooks, netbooks, and Android smartphones, that a lot of ground to cover as far as things like R&D, manufacturing, updates, and user support. That's a lot of eggs in a whole lot of baskets.

Does that mean Acer can't handle this level of diversity and maintain quality? Probably not. Acer's a big company and it probably has the resources to pursue all these areas and then focus on the ones that generate a larger return while curtailing those that don't. But, if I was an investor in Acer, this would make me a bit nervous.

All things considered, Acer's attempt to stay relevant in so many markets effectively illustrates the quandary of many tech companies (and even IT departments) in the wake of the iPad creating the tablet market and the sudden growth (and seemingly constant upheaval) of the smartphone market. Acer just seems to be taking a bit broader approach (for better or worse) than most companies.

Ryan Faas writes about personal technology for ITworld. Learn more about Faas' published works and training and consulting services at www.ryanfaas.com. Follow him on Twitter @ryanfaas.

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