Acer to release new cloud apps in June, eyes partnerships in smart devices

Acer is betting on its cloud strategy to turn its business around

Acer executives promote the company's new BYOC strategy. Acer CEO Jason Chen is on far left. Acer Chairman Stan Shih is second to the left.

Acer executives promote the company's new BYOC strategy. Acer CEO Jason Chen is on far left. Acer Chairman Stan Shih is second to the left.

Acer's "Build Your Own Cloud" service will start rolling out to consumers in late June with a suite of updated apps that will work on mobile devices and PCs, including devices from other companies.

The struggling PC maker talked up the company's cloud strategy Thursday, showing off apps that it is marketing under the "ab" brand, which stands for "Acer" and "Build Your Own Cloud." The products are a major update to Acer's existing cloud-based apps, and let users synchronize files and multimedia on PCs and mobile devices.

Unlike other online storage services such as Dropbox or Google Drive, Acer will save all the data directly to the user's PC, which will function as a kind of private, mini data center.

The company's first four ab apps focus, respectively, on photos, music, files and Microsoft Office documents, allowing users to archive and share data. Acer also wants customers of other companies to download the apps as well, and is developing products to run on Android, iOS, and Windows.

"Before, only Acer device owners could use the apps. But from now on, you don't have to own an Acer device," said Maverick Shih, president of the company's Build Your Own Cloud and tablet business.

The software products represent Acer's latest effort to turn around its ailing fortunes as demand for PCs -- the company's core business -- continues to fall. In December, Acer hired a new CEO, Jason Chen, and said it would expand its software services as a way to lift its earnings. In the first calendar quarter of the year, Acer made only US$33,000 in profit after posting three consecutive quarters of net losses.

Although the new cloud apps are free, the company wants to include extra features users can choose to pay for. Acer's existing cloud apps are already pre-installed on company devices, giving it a sizeable user base to draw from. But to further popularize the apps, the company is creating affordable hardware with high-end specs, Shih said in an interview.

"The day we sell the device to the consumer is when we really start doing business with them," he said. "Before, the old Acer or other hardware companies would just sell the hardware and say 'bye-bye, don't find me again,'" he added.

Acer's big bet on cloud computing, however, goes beyond the consumer market. The company is also trying to raise its profile in back-end, cloud services.

The cloud computing market is filled with plenty of competitors such as Google, Microsoft and Amazon. But Acer's Shih believes the company can compete by targeting manufacturers in vertical markets such as connected home devices and smart cars.

Many such manufacturers "didn't have to deal with the cloud before. So they need to find a company that understands both hardware and software," Shih said.

During Acer's event in Taiwan Thursday, the PC maker announced it is already supporting products from more than a dozen partners. One of the partners includes Germany-based Advanced Telematic Systems, which is using Acer's cloud services to allow car owners to remotely set preferences for features such as music and car temperature.

The company also demonstrated how a tablet could be used to control household electronics, including a TV, fan, water boiler, and surveillance camera.

Although Acer is not known for its software and services, in 2001 the company completed its own data center in Taiwan to offer cloud computing to customers. In 2011, the PC maker bought U.S. cloud technology provider iGWare for $320 million.

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