THE war between the Microsoft and Apple operating systems
intensified last week. Heads rolled at Apple and Acer unveiled a compelling
answer to the MacBook Air.
Any lingering doubts that Apple could carry on with business
as usual in the face of Microsoft’s launch of Windows 8 evaporated last week
as the war of the operating systems heated up.
This time, it was one of Microsoft’s hardware partners,
Acer, that stepped onto the field of battle. Last Tuesday it unveiled a
dazzling display of weaponry, designed both to re-stake its claim to hardware
leadership and to challenge Apple directly.
Hours earlier, Apple had tacitly admitted it needed a new
battle plan as it announced one of the biggest shakeups yet of its management
structure. It merged the teams that designed the Mac OS operating system that
runs on Apple computers and the iOS mobile operating system that runs on iPads,
iPhones and iPods.
That suggests it aims to work towards a unified operating
system, addressing one of the main gaps in the Apple offering – lack of a
unified experience across all devices.
Equally significantly, it gave Apple’s head of industrial design Jony Ive, the British design genius who is credited with the design of
the iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad, control
over its human interface division.
At the same time, Apple fired its heads of retail and of the
iOS division, the latter presumably as the scapegoat for disappointing
The Siri voice-assistant on the iPhone 4S was derided as an
underperformer and the Maps app on the iPhone 5 was so poor, Apple had to
advise its customers to use alternatives from competitors. Heads were sure to
Apple is by no means in trouble. It still reported record
revenue of $36bn for the last quarter and a jaw-dropping $8.2bn profit. But it
will no longer have things its own way. Among many other adversaries, Acer made
that abundantly clear last week.
At the “Acer Tactile” event in London – a theme chosen to
emphasise its embrace of the touchscreen revolution – it launched 14 new
Windows 8 devices, all sporting touchscreens. These included tablets,
notebooks, all-in-one computers, and monitors.
Apple will contend that it kickstarted the touch screen era
with the iPhone and perfected it with the iPad. But the truth is, the concept
does not yet extend to the rest of Apple’s devices.
With Windows 8 specifically designed for touch, Microsoft
partners like Dell, Toshiba, HP and Asus have initially focused on tablets and
touch-screen notebooks. Acer, however, has shown how far the tactile notion can
The standard-bearer for Acer is its new approach to the
Ultrabook – a computer standard developed by chip-maker Intel to allow for
super-thin laptops that boot up instantly and provide battery life for a full
Acer unveiled its new version, the Aspire S7, in 11.6” and 13.3”
formats, both with high-definition 1920x1080 resolution, and running on Intel’s
fastest chips, the i5 or i7.
The unstated killer app for these two devices is not on the
machines. It’s called competition.
They represent the first Ultrabooks that truly compete with
the Apple equivalent that inspired the Ultrabook concept: the MacBook Air.
Until the arrival of the S7, Intel’s partners had failed to match the design
elegance, performance and experience of
Aside from being thinner – the 11.6” and 13.3” S7 Ultrabooks
are, respectively, 0.48” (12,2mm) and 0.47” (11,9mm) thick and weigh 1.04 and
1.3kg – they also offer elegance in design and experience. A new cooling
technology called, ironically, TwinAir, disperses heat more efficiently, and
keeps the device cooler both to the touch and on the lap.
And then there is the trackpad. It introduces Acer’s own
“10-point touch” technology, which makes all other touchpads seem clumsy. It
recognises up to 10 separate points of simultaneous touch – i e all 10
fingers separately, at the same time – allowing for a level of tactile
versatility never previously seen on a computing device.
Jim Wong, corporate president of Acer, put it simply at the
launch: “We are transforming ourselves from device manufacturer to experience
For South Africans, that experience arrives this month.
According to Oliver Ahrens, Acer president for Europe,
Middle East and Africa (EMEA), this is one of its best performing markets, with
30% share in both notebooks and desktop PCs.
As a result, the company will invest more heavily in South Africa, as
well as in the rest of Africa, where it will set up more sales offices.
Ahrens says Acer no longer works exclusively though its
distributors, but now also interacts closely with both retailers and consumers.
“It’s the way the industry is transitioning – you have to
interact directly with consumers, and make sure their experience is the right
*Arthur Goldstuck is managing director of World Wide Worx
and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter or Pinterest on