Tech Industry

An early letdown: Acer unveils ultrabooks, cloud, and little else

The first press conference of CES kicks off with a whimper as Acer wades further into the ultrabook fray and a proprietary cloud service. Disappointingly, it only teases a new tablet.

Acer's products on display at its CES press conference.
Josh Lowensohn/CNET

LAS VEGAS--Well, it can only get better from here, right?

Acer informally kicked off the Consumer Electronics Show's wave of press conferences today with the unveiling of the Timeline Ultra and Aspire S5, along with a look at its cloud services.

Missing were any concrete details of its tablet, as well as any information on its planned Windows 8 products.

With its laptop announcements, Acer is doubling down on the ultrabook segment. The products underscore the company's need to find a hot new category to spark revenue, particularly with its key Netbook business cratering. The trouble is, the company is one of many looking to push the ultrabook segment, making for an already crowded, yet nascent, sector.

The company is also trying to compete in the tablet business, which hasn't fared so great for companies not named Apple. Acer only briefly teased a tablet boasting a super-high resolution screen, although the teaser video was frustratingly short. The Iconia Tab will be powered by a quad-core processor (it didn't say which chip it would be using), and will run at a resolution of 1,280 by 800. Other tablets with these specs are expected to trickle out during the show.

"Acer is back on the right track," said Acer Chairman J.T. Wang during the conference.

Acer showed off the Timeline Ultra, the second ultrabook in its lineup after the company took an early stab in September. Unusual for an ultrabook, the device comes packed with a CD drive. The device will ship in the first quarter.

It also unveiled the Aspire S5, which the company boasted was the world's thinnest ultrabook. It's unclear how long Acer will keep that claim given the intense pressure for companies to shave off millimeters from their devices.

Both the Timeline Ultra and Aspire S5 boast instant-on capabilities (really 1.5 seconds), eight hours of battery life, and weeks of life in sleep mode.

Acer's Wang said he expects to have four models of ultrabooks by the second quarter. He also said there will be another wave of ultrabooks in the second half with Windows 8.

The devices, as well as many other ultrabooks from the show, are a direct response to Apple's hit MacBook Air. The ultrabook name is part of a campaign by Intel to maintain its dominance in laptops at a time when more mobile devices are turning to more power-efficient processors using a design from ARM Holdings. Despite Intel's insistence that ultrabooks make up a new product category, industry analysts are skeptical that the market can support so many such devices.

Acer hopes to set its products apart through its proprietary AcerCloud service, which is designed to let customers sync files across multiple Acer products. In doing so, Acer is trying to emulate other major technology players such as Google, Apple, and Amazon, which rely heavily on cloud services themselves.

Acer demonstrated the three services that will initially be available on AcerCloud when it launches in the second quarter: PicStream, a photo-sharing service, AcerCloud docs for documents, and Media for music. For PicStream and AcerCloud, the files will be stored online for 30 days. The service is expected to run on future Windows devices down the line.

AcerCloud came out of the company's $325 million acquisition of iGware, announced in July. The company plans to use AcerCloud to link all of its different products, including PCs, tablets, and laptops.

The service will go up against a number of cloud services that already sync files between different devices. These services--which include DropBox for files and Evernote for Web sites, notes and other documents--can work on nearly any device.

Acer was unsurprisingly upbeat.

"We're determined to make it very successful and sustainable," Wang said.