Next month sees Acer's $199 Switch One 10 Windows 10-powered 2-in-1 go on sale, and it has all the hallmarks of being a game changer. Whether being "game changing" is a good thing though remains to be seen.
It's common knowledge in the PC industry that price is king. Sure, people love to fantasize about a owning a big-bucks system packed with the latest in high-performance silicon, reality then comes along and makes them reconsider their hedonistic ways.
Acer's Switch One 10 is a 2-in-1 that's been scaled back to what you'd expect from a $200 system. It features a 10-inch multitouch display (there's no spec on the resolution, so I expect it to be a 1366 x 768 panel), a quad-core Intel Atom processor, and 2GB of RAM (this has undoubtedly been chosen because if the system had 4GB of RAM, Microsoft would charge Acer a bigger license fee for Windows 10).
As far as cost-conscious buyers are concerned, here's a system that checks all the boxes. It runs Windows 10, it has a quad-core "Intel inside," and it does the transforming thing from a laptop into a tablet. And the fact that it runs Windows gives it a real advantage over those who might be considering buying a Chromebook, but who are worried as to whether they could live without Windows.
It's a game changer, right? One way or another, you bet it will be.
One of my biggest concerns is that this strategy feels an awful lot like the netbook strategy that OEMs tried almost a decade ago. Debuting in 2007, the idea behind the netbook was simple - it was meant to be a smaller, cheaper laptop. And people loved these things because they were small, and more importantly, cheap. Buyers - consumers and enterprise - loved them so much that by 2009, many of the big OEMs got worried that netbooks were cannibalizing sales of higher-end laptops and started to impose cripplingly low system requirements on them. Attracted by the low price, people kept buying them, but they were disappointed by the performance they offered.
By the end of 2012, most OEMs had pulled the plug on netbooks.
Now, we won't find out how good - or bad - these tablets are until they're released in July, but the problems that some Surface Pro 4 owners have had to deal with suggests that it's difficult enough to build a good tablet when the OEM isn't constrained by having to sell it for $199.
But good or not, that $199 price tag is going to be attractive to buyers.
The flipside is that this tablet could be great, but even that doesn't bode well for the PC industry as a whole. 2-in-1s and convertibles are the only part of the PC market that's showing any signs of growth, and if Acer's $199 is a success, that will put pressure on other OEMs to follow suit, and we have another race to the bottom on our hands.
And that is the last thing that the OEMs want to happen.
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