Friday, July 24, 2009

Is Asus losing it?

Asus really took the world by storm with the eee PC 701. Everyone was talking about them. They piqued everyone's interest in offices and coffee shops. I have one. The netbook is something I've been desiring for a long time, long before they existed. I think the desire started back as a kid watching the cartoon "Inspector Gadget." Penny had a computer book, a portable computer mostly used to hack into any electronic device in the area. Imagine my disappointment when I asked for one some Christmas, and was told by my mom that they don't exist. Despite the fact that it was imaginary, the idea was still planted in my head of how cool it would be to have a computer--smaller than a laptop, bigger than a PDA, that I could take everywhere with me.

I bought a laptop, I think it was 13-15 inches. Bulky and heavy, not something I was ever comfortable carrying around with me all the time. I tried a PDA and an internet tablet, but those were lacking in functionality. Going through all these devices did help me to realize what I really wanted in a mobile computer, though. I wanted to write, so that meant a keyboard--a real keyboard, not buttons on each side of a screen, or a touchscreen's on-screen keyboard. A few USB ports, so I could plug in a bigger keyboard or a mouse if needed. Wifi. The larger hard drive the better. The more battery life the better. A touch screen would be optimal, but not necessary. I expected such a device to run on a mobile OS, not realizing how powerful mobile processors were becoming.

When I first saw the eee 701, I must have felt something akin to what Arthur Pendragon did when he first saw Excaliber. Yeah, I'm being dramatic, but I mean it. Regardless of the small screen, the tiny keyboard (not too tiny for me), it was my dream portable device. I worked my ass off, working lots of overtime in order to scrape together enough money for the 701. I got used to the keyboard fast--I can type 60 wpm on it, probably more, I last tested it within a few months of owning it. It really did open a new world for me. I could take it anywhere. I could write anywhere, without lugging a backpack full of files and papers around with me (my previous method), and it ran Windows XP--most any program I was currently using I could run on this, just smaller and maybe slower.

Luckily I saw the 701 after it was released, so I didn't have to wait for it, nor did I experience the letdown when it ended up costing twice as much as originally advertised. Regardless, I knew Asus were onto something. I thought they knew that, too.

Then the 901 came out. Not as pretty as the 701. I hate glossy finishes on hand held devices. Cars get away with it, because you rarely touch their glossy exteriors. A laptop should have a flat finish. It's not a big deal, just something that I think should be common practice. I also liked the 701's sharper, angular design better than the rounded look of the 901, but I knew the 901's larger screen would be worth it's 'inferior' look. Once again, I didn't have to worry about delays or prices, because I was happy enough with my 701 at the time. I knew I would buy a 901 eventually, but I wasn't in any rush.

Well, I eventually fried my 701. I tried to run it on a third-party car charger. Usually I just charged an external battery and used that to charge my 701, but one day I decided to try charging it directly. Big mistake. Smoke came out of it. I was heartbroken. Once again I worked overtime to earn enough money, this time for a 901. The 901 is great. I use it all the time. The bigger screen helps a lot, and the multi-touch pad comes in handy a lot more than I expected it to.

I love the 9" netbook form. It's the biggest I need for most daily activities. I am looking forward to see how it grows, with higher resolution screens, bigger SSDs, national wireless plans, and the eventual projection glasses that renders screen size obsolete. I look forward to the day that something nearly identical to my 901 sits in my bag, communicating wirelessly with my OLED glasses and bluetooth earphones, using who knows what for input (Fingertip sensors? Wired jeans I "type" on). For troubleshooting, you could pull it out, open it up and use it's keyboard and built-in screen. This will be a ways off though. For now it looks like the next step is the T91.

The T91 is a sleek-looking netbook/tablet from Asus. 9", even though Asus has said many times they want to move away from 9" netbooks, making 10" their smallest (way to drive away your new user base, Asus). It opens like a standard laptop, but the screen swivels around and folds down over the keyboard so it can be used solely as a tablet. One of the biggest downsides is that it's got an internal, non-removable battery, but it has a broad enough feature set for that to be overlooked. It's got a multi-touch interface, digital tv tuner, GPS reciever, and 3G wireless connectivity. Oh no wait, that's not exactly right.

The first released model of the T91 has single touch interface, and none of the other aforementioned features (tablet form factor is the same). They may be made available later. Ok, so I'll wait for the model with all the features I want, right? Wrong. You see, Asus has decided that if they don't sell enough of the first model, then they won't bother releasing the later, beefed-up models. This puts the consumer in an awkward position.

I don't want the crappy watered-down version. I want the 3G, TV tuning, GPS receiving, multi-touch powerhouse. It feels to me like if I don't buy the only currently offered T91, they'll never release the one I really want. And isn't that crappy logic on their part? Hey Asus! The fact that the current T91 may not sell very well has less to do with how many people want it, and more to do with the fact that you've been boasting a much better version of it, only to refuse to sell it at the last minute. While still saying you might eventually decide to sell it. This device is already much more expensive than the average netbook. If I'm going to pay a lot more, I'm going to want the really premium model, right?

I know it's expensive to release a new product, much less 3, because there were/are 3 models of the T91 planned. And it's even more risky the more time passes, because technology is improving so quickly now that almost as soon as you buy a device it becomes obsolete (8 months, give or take, between the 701 and 901's release in the US, for example). Asus is causing it's users to feel more and more jerked around. They said they would never release a touch screen device (probably due to XP's eventually recanted restriction). Then they said they would release one with all these cool features. Now they release it with significantly less features.

Luckily I'm not in the market for a new netbook just yet, although if the top-line T91 were released I probably would have made an exception. Asus has some time to win me and many other fans back. They could start by just being dependable. They've had problems in the past with advertising one thing far in advance only to deliver something else, differences ranging from the overall price range of a line to the battery capacity of a particular model. This has happened since the beginning of the eeePC line, which is as long as they've been on my radar. I know a lot of companies do this, believe me I know, but Asus was "my" brand (I even built my last desktop using Asus components), so I'm more sensitive to it from them.

They could keep updating their current lines. How about an update to the 901, same price or slightly more expensive, with updated components? It's been 14 months since the 901's release in the US, almost twice as long than the time between the 701 and 901. SSDs have gotten faster and cheaper, better mobile processors have probably come out, as well as higher capacity batteries, etc. I've heard rumors about an OLED netbook, circulating around both you and Apple. That would be awesome, as my third most frequent use of my 901, after writing and web surfing, is watching videos.

Asus literally helped me realize a long-held dream--a fully functional PC I could carry around with me, and one I could easily afford. It pains me to see their prices go up as they simultaneously seem to lose touch with their eeePC user base. More and more other companies are releasing competing netbooks. I want to stick with Asus, but I won't if they keep giving me reasons not to.


PS - I do go on, don't I?

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