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Asus content plans 'too ambitious'?

PC maker's plan to offer free online services sits well on paper, but it should focus on core competencies or risk spreading itself "too thin", says analyst.

Asus' plans to offer free Web-based services and content sounds grand in theory, but the Taiwanese PC maker could end up stretching its resources "too thin", says an industry analyst.

Bryan Ma, IDC's director for Asia-Pacific personal systems research, said in a phone interview Wednesday that attempting to provide online content such as music, could put Asus in the same league as Apple but it would not be an easy task to manage.

Ma explained: "Pursuing content providers and trying to negotiate all the various keys and fees involved, and [work around] the various artistes and licensing issues, is a huge challenge that can't be overstated--it was a huge thing for Apple to overcome."

Pursuing content providers and trying to negotiate all the various keys and fees involved…is a huge challenge that can't be overstated--it was a huge thing for Apple to overcome.
Bryan Ma, IDC

Asus earlier this month unveiled plans to offer Web services to its Eee PC customers. According to a report from ChinaTechNews.com, the PC maker will provide customers with free online services including Web-based storage, as well as content such as music and games.

When contacted by ZDNet Asia, an Asus spokesperson confirmed in an e-mail that it will offer Eee Storage and Eee Download services to Eee PC customers, and may eventually expand the services to all its customers. The Eee Download Service allows customers to download "thousands of free applications" via a Web site, she added.

Ma said Asus is "outstanding in product design and engineering", but whether it can succeed in becoming a content aggregator remains to be seen.

"If we look at Asus' core competencies today, I would argue that it makes more sense to focus on what their strengths are today, which is to build better products than the rest of the competition, rather than stretching themselves so thin in areas that are completely new to them," he said.

However, Lillian Tay, Gartner's principal analyst for client computing markets, noted that PC vendors "can and should" offer such services.

"PC vendors have to find innovative ways to sell up with content or services to differentiate from the competitors, as well as to provide continuous engagement with their users, potential buyers and the ecosystem," Tay told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview.

PC users, the analyst said, have also become more comfortable with Web-based services and software, and are also familiar with subscription-based models. Such acceptance makes it timely for PC makers to roll out such services, she noted.

Dell Computer, which recently launched its first Netbook, will also offer Dell Inspiron Mini 9 customers a free basic plan that includes remote storage space, said Francis Huan, the PC maker's Asia-Pacific communications manager. The service, a partnership between Dell and Box.net, also offers capabilities such as file-sharing.