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Acer: Alive, and thirsty for Apple juice

Lanci levels lance at iTunes

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The idea of a virtual keyboard that can be replaced at the sweep of a single user-programmable gesture by a straightforward second screen, or a device control console or pretty well anything else that will fit into 14 inches of LCD real estate sounds appealing - until you try it. With no haptic feedback the virtual keyboard is a dead thing beneath your fingers, and if you're any kind of a typist you'll quickly pine for the feel of real travelling keys.

I'm betting that the Iconia won't find a market, but its fate is a diversion from the real message emerging from this New York event. While others in the IT and media business are loudly asserting that Content is King, Acer, the hardware manufacturer, has discovered the ultimate truth: that the user wants to become King of Content.

Says Lanci: "Users want to control the flow of the media. They don't want to be told what to do." With an evident dig at Apple he goes on: "And we see companies in this industry with a tendency to tell people what they need to do, rather than helping people to do what they want to do."

Lanci's Law is: "People want the media they want, when they want it and where they want it." This democratic spirit, he told the 100 or so assembled journalists from around the world, is the principle behind the new Alive store. Democratic, that is, as long as the punter votes Acer.

Lanci sees the Alive store as a natural extension of Acer's "Clear.fi" strategy, a content-sharing system based on DLNA intended to guarantee that any digital content stored on an Acer device can be shared seamlessly with the other Acer devices through a common media interface. Because of its DLNA underpinnings, media on compliant devices from other manufacturers can also join in, although without the convenience of the Clear.fi interface.

The Alive store - a melange of music, videos, news, ebooks and casual games - dares to take this exclusivity a step further. The store will only be available through a client application; the client application will only run on Acer devices.

It's a strategy that may rebound on Acer, or one that Acer will quickly have to abandon. Apple customers buy into Apple; Acer customers merely buy Acer. And while Apple's "closed shop" philosophy operates mostly within the Mac/iPhone/iPad ecosystem, the iTunes client at least runs cross-platform, offering all Windows users a welcoming bridge over to the Apple world.

Acer seems to have no such plans for Alive. And in its first incarnation, available here in the UK shortly before Christmas, the store won't even accommodate the whole Acer range. Machines older than a few years, it emerged after close questioning, won't be supported. And the newer non-Windows devices are similarly excluded from this first wave, although a cross-platform implementation is promised for early next year.

Clearly Acer has taken a deep breath and is readying itself for a sporting run at the new opportunities. Lanci, less inspirational as a presenter than Apple's Steve Jobs, is nonetheless a smart operator, and I suppose it is just about on the cards that he may manage to upgrade the brand from great-for-the-price to lifestyle choice. But I hope he has a Plan B. ®

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