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Asus and the art of catching the eye

Eric Chen, global vice president of the Systems Business Group at Asus, talks to CNET Australia about the end of Eee, the rise of tablets and the mission to be admired.

Eric Chen, global vice president of the Systems Business Group at Asus, spoke to CNET Australia about the end of Eee, the rise of tablets and the mission to be admired.

Eric Chen.(Credit: Asus)

Asus is in a strong position in 2013. 2012 saw the company launch a wide range of well received products that showed real creativity in design and innovation in user experience. The Transformer and Tai Chi products, in particular, stood out from the pack as eye-catching and exemplary concepts in the effort to define what a notebook can be in the post-PC era.

It isn't all just good looks either. While the Windows 8 transition has been off to a slow start, Asus has taken the greatest share of sales in the touch-centric world of Microsoft's new offering. According to its own tracking, Asus is currently number one in Windows 8 touch devices, with a 37 per cent share worldwide and a 43 per cent share in Australia.

Eric Chen has a simple plan in the short-term future for Asus.

"Tablets have cannibalised the notebook and netbook," said Chen. "The general public has changed its behaviour as computing has changed our lives, and these kinds of usage are going to proliferate. So what is our plan for coming years? Basically, it is to be the major player in tablets. And in 2013, we are committed to target being the number one in Android and Windows 8 tablets."

Asus hasn't just been developing new products. It has been actively redefining itself and its place in such a rapidly shifting market.

"In the past two to three years internally, we have been thinking about what we would like to let the public know and what Asus should stand for," said Chen. "We have a clear goal — we would like to become the most admired enterprise in the digital era. In order to reach this, there is a lot for us to implement. Not only just products, but the company and its philosophy. Social responsibility and those kinds of things."

"To reach that whole goal, we are still brainstorming internally," says Chen. "If you look at Apple — we respect Apple internally, and also study them and how they grow — in the past, they debated their ideas a lot and were not absolute. They have been through different stages. We believe Asus now is similar like that. We try to evolve ourselves."

Asus said goodbye to the Eee PC line of products at the end of 2012. The Eee PC triggered the netbook era of computers, but by the end, may have also distracted laptop development just as tablets were about to emerge and take users in a different direction. Does Chen see Eee PC as ultimately having played an important role for the development of Asus as a company?

"If you look today, our market share worldwide is probably 11 or 12 per cent," says Chen. "When Eee PC launched, we were still probably five to six per cent worldwide, so we really increased over that time."

"When we launched the Eee PC in the beginning, we were targeting the elderly and children. Our concept was the 'easy' PC. But when we started to deliver the goods to the market, suddenly, we were surprised. Many treated this as a second device for entertainment. Later, we also found this helped in developing countries where this was treated as a first device. I think people really appreciated that product, and I think this helped the Asus image a lot."

The Asus Tai Chi. (Credit: Asus)

Now, Asus is best defined by the Transformer, Zenbook and Tai Chi; the Tai Chi, in particular with its unique dual-screen design. It may not be perfect and may not suit many buyers, but Chen suggested that designs like this are as much about catching the eye as selling computers.

"When you are the nobody in the market, if you want to get noticed, you can spend money to do the advertising. Even if you do that, it will take time," said Chen. "But really, if you can be eye-catching with the product itself … what we insist is that we must innovate with our products. You look back at 2012, only one year, and we have the Transformer, the Zenbook, the Tai Chi. Many different kinds of product and that helps our increasing [brand] awareness. This is always our strategy."

So what does Chen personally think about the future of computers? Interestingly, he instead reflected on the past and his own journey in the industry.

"The future will be interesting. We always have a chat with each other and often ask: 'If you could have this life again, would you choose the IT industry again?' Most of us say yes because it is so exciting. It is a challenge; always new things come up."