Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Asus reads beyond netbook at CES

AsusTek Computer Inc. rolled out a line of new notebooks, netbooks and consumer appliances at the Consumer Electronics Show in the wake of its success establishing the netbook concept with its EeePC. The company is expected to debut an Eee-branded phone using the Google Android software, probably at the 3GSM conference in Barcelona.

Following the lead of Apple, Inc., the Taiwan motherboard powerhouse is expanding its software engineering teams in Taiwan and especially in China. The company showed a handful of new consumer user interfaces it is developing for a range of touch-screen products.

"Asus has remained a very engineering oriented company since its founding in a caf some 15 years ago," said Jonney Shih, chairman of Asus in a presentation here.

"Today we have more and more software engineers," Shih said. "Previously Asus was more of a hardware company, but we now have a big software team including a big team in China to drive this kind of touch-based software," he said.

"Apple is our model. We have a lot of intensive study on [the iPhone]," he added.

Shih did not disclose any details of the Android phone Asus is expected to release shortly. However, he did say the company is planning to extend its Eee band for netbooks to consumer appliances and phones.

For the digital home, Asus showed a keyboard with a built in PC that could link to PC monitors or TV displays via a built in ultrawideband chip from Taiwan's RealTek supporting wireless HDMI. The device weighs less than two pounds, has a built in five-inch display, microphone and speaker and supports Wi-Fi. The company also showed a tabletop PC for consumers that sported a touch screen and an Opera browser geared for a touch interface.

Asus also showed a notebook that used a 4.3-inch touch-screen display in place of a mouse pad. An ARM processor ran software widgets on the touch display driving a variety of functions such as checking email or playing a movie on the laptop's main display.

Using the ARM processor, the system could get as much as 12 hours of battery life. That compares to about eight hours when using the built in x86/Windows electronics.

Shih would not say whether the company plans to sell systems using ARM processors and Linux. Freescale recently launched an ARM Cortex A8 processor geared for $199 netbooks running Linux.

"To drive costs to extremes that approach is an important alternative," Shih said. "In the lab we try to do everything."

Asus did show a new netbook with a convertible screen that could be turned into a tablet PC, portable TV player, global positioning system or digital picture frame. The EeePC T91 sports an 8.9-inch touch screen display and uses an Intel Atom Z520 processor, TV tuner and GPS chip.

At the high end, the company demonstrated its S121, a full notebook but measuring just 11.7x8.3.0.9 inches and weighing three pounds. It comes standard with a 512 Gbyte solid state drive using a controller developed by Asus which it claims doubles performance of existing drives.

The Atom based system is expected to sell for a whopping $1649, in part due to the cost of the flash drive.

International Data Corp. now ranks Asus as the world's fifth largest portable computer maker, in part due to its success in netbooks. The company got its start as a motherboard maker and shipped a whopping 60 million motherboards in 2007, Shih said.

Source :