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Acer hopes tablet will heal its image

TravelMate 100 takes centre stage in brand makeover

First unveiled last November at the Comdex show in Las Vegas, the TravelMate 100 turned heads with its sleek design and swivel display, which could convert from a Tablet PC into a notebook. Since then, the TravelMate has made repeated appearances to promote the November launch of Tablet PC, including demos by Bill Gates.

Now Acer is gearing up for a global advertising blitz, to be built in part around the TravelMate 100, with the goal of re-establishing its position as a top PC vendor, according to Stan Shih, Acer's chairman and cofounder.

Shih said Acer is willing to spend what it takes to rebuild its brand, which has been diminished since the company's heady days in the mid-90s when its Aspire PC proved that home computers didn't have to be sold in unsightly beige boxes. But the company has set conservative sales forecasts for the TravelMate 100, with up to 10,000 units expected to ship during the fourth quarter.

It will cost $1,999 (£1,288) in the US and will be equipped with an 800MHz ultra low-voltage Pentium III processor, 256MB of RAM, integrated 802.11b wireless support, and a 10in TFT screen that can swivel 180 degrees, converting the device from a notebook into a Tablet PC.

The UK specification has yet to be confirmed but Acer anticipates that the TravelMate 100 will cost quite a bit more over here, at around the £2,000 mark — that old dollars-to-pounds conversion trick. The launch is planned for sometime towards the end of the year, but the date has not been set.

By tapping the TravelMate 100 as the centre of its brand-building efforts in markets like the US, Acer is taking a gamble with an unproven product. But Shih believes that the TravelMate 100's dual-purpose design mitigates the risk that the Tablet PC won't find favour with end users.

"Our Tablet PC design is convertible from a Tablet PC to a notebook, so we have some downside risk protection," Shih said. "Microsoft is also going to promote this new platform, the Tablet PC, and they have got a lot of resources."

Shih said Acer's conservative sales forecasts for the TravelMate 100 are the result of hard lessons learned by the company in the past. Citing the example of inventory problems with the Aspire PC in 1995, Shih said Acer wanted to avoid the mistake of overestimating sales and finding itself stuck with a large amount of inventory.

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