Asus has prototype Android and Chrome OS smartbooks in its labs and is currently deciding whether to release an ARM-based device alongside its Intel-based Eee PC netbooks, the company's chairman has told ZDNet UK.
Jonney Shih, Asus's chairman, said in an interview on Wednesday that the manufacturer was still not sure how many people would sacrifice the application compatibility advantages of Windows and Intel for a lower-cost subnotebook running a Linux-based OS on an ARM chipset. He also said Asus was working on a tablet or slate device.
"With the current Wintel-based Eee PC, the advantage is you still enjoy the [application] compatibility," Shih said. "The smartbook is usually based on ARM — then you will have some advantage in the cost. This will further push the original direction of the netbook."
Shih said Asus — the manufacturer that kicked off the netbook phenomenon with the first Eee PC in 2007 — was "still not 100 percent sure" what proportion of its customers would go for a smartbook over a Windows netbook, adding that other considerations in putting out a smartbook included the choice between Google's two operating systems, Android and Chrome OS.
Android is Google's smartphone operating system, which has reached version 2.1 eighteen months aftern its first release. Google unveiled a prototype of its Chrome OS — a cloud-centric operating system based on the company's Chrome web browser — in November 2009, with products based on the new OS are expected towards the end of 2010.
"You still have some trade-off between Android and Chrome," Shih said. "With Android you might have the timing advantage, but Android is originally more for the smartphone, for the smaller screen. For Chrome, the original design objective is for a bigger screen — it has multi-windowing, and is ... maybe more suitable."
Shih said Asus had had a prototype Android device in its lab "for quite a while", but had not yet decided to launch it, and said the manufacturer was now working on Chrome prototypes. "For Chrome, we are trying to be ahead," he added.
The Asus chief also commented on the market for tablet or slate PCs, which are gaining increased attention due to speculation over a possible Apple slate.
"I think there is some good opportunity [but] on one hand you have the smartphone and on the other the [netbook]," he said. "Do you really need something in between? It's worth more thought."
Shih said the key to launching a successful slate would be a wealth of content such as ebooks, music, video on demand, social networking and touch-based gaming.
"I don't think that [the slate will replace the notebook]," Shih said. "The mainstream may still need to type. We already have that [the slate] in our lab too, but it's the same situation that I mentioned before — what's the right timing? If you do not provide all the content, you can't say you are ready."