Acer unveils tablets to run Windows, Android

Acer guns for a share of the fledgling tablet market

The dual screen Acer Iconia

The dual screen Acer Iconia

Acer executives on Tuesday previewed tablet computers planned for release next year, including three Android-based devices and one that runs Windows. They also detailed plans to introduce a portable computer that has the form factor of a laptop but replaces the keyboard with a second touchscreen, allowing users to use a virtual keyboard or some other form of touch-based interface.

One of the upcoming tablets has a 10-inch screen and runs a Qualcomm dual-core 1 Ghz processor. This unit will feature the ability to show 1080p high-definition video and have full support for Flash. Configurations running Windows and Android will be offered. For customers seeking Android tablet options, the company will offer a 7-inch model, as well as a 5-inch "mini-tablet." All are expected to be ready in the early part of next year, depending on when Google finishes the Android 3.0 operating system.

The portable computer, called Iconia, will be available in the early part of next year. It will feature two 14-inch screens and will run Windows 7, along with Acer software for recognizing touch commands. The primary screen can show content, while the bottom screen can be used for navigation -- or, a single application, such as a browser showing a Web page, can be extended across both screens.

At a press event in New York, the company also previewed some new software services for users of Acer hardware. In particular, the Clear.Fi service will allow home users to share content across different Acer and non-Acer devices. This service will be available within the next six months.

Acer also previewed Alive, a media service that allows users to download or stream videos, music, books, games and applications from a single console. Alive will be introduced in December in the U.K. and Italy, and in the U.S and other countries in the beginning part of next year. Initially, it will offer 8 million songs, 2,000 movies and 1,500 music videos, as well as some games and applications.

With these devices, Acer is seeking to take a bite out of the tablet market pioneered by Apple. One analyst expects Apple to sell 28 million iPads in 2011.

Acer president and CEO Gianfranco Lanci predicted that, within three years, the world will have over a billion mobile devices, across a wide range of form factors.

"I think the most important thing we want to communicate is that we want to be a global player in mobile solutions, be it with mobile smartphones, tablets, notebooks and other mobiles; and we want to be a player not only on content aggregation but content consumption," said Lanci, on the sidelines of the launch event.

In comments to IDG News Service, Lanci praised Microsoft's Windows Phone 7, noting that he has "started to see a lot of improvement. [It has a ] very good user interface, and [Microsoft has] started to leverage other assets like Windows Live and Xbox. I think Windows Phone 7 is already much better than before, and [it] will continue to improve."

"If you think of a billion devices three years from now there will be enough space for much more than one or two operating systems," he added.

Clearly Acer is grappling with an ever-wider array of operating systems for portable devices, some more finished than others. Acer's Android releases trail the Windows ones because "Android is less under our control, so it depends when the Android tablet operating system will be released," Lanci said. During the question-and-answer session following the presentation, Jim Wong, Acer senior corporate vice president, also noted that Acer will participate in the launch of Google's ChromeOS operating system, which should take place sometime next year.

(IDG News Service news editor Marc Ferranti contributed to this report.)

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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