Acer Channel Pushes Netbook Value in School Market

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Acer and its channel partners have recognised that the popularity of netbook PCs’ small form factor and low price extends into the primary and secondary education market, Acer says. To capitalise on netbooks’ popularity in education, Acer is offering a 30-day trial program to schools.

There’s no question but that the form factor and price of netbooks appeal to a broad range of businesses and consumers. And the primary and secondary education market is no exception to that, according to Acer, which saw that market’s uptake of the Acer Aspire One line of netbooks ramp up quickly when Acer first introduced the line in summer of 2008.

Acer’s subsequent interviews with school administrators pointed to a few reasons why the products were so popular at schools, the company says. First, the smaller form factor made netbooks more convenient to transport from one classroom to another. It also made them fit more easily on students’ desks. And the price point held great appeal for administrators with tight budgets.

The Acer Aspire One line of notebooks features an Intel Atom processor, standard hard drives, WLAN and a Webcam. All models are under 1.4 kg.

“When I’ve got £14,000 to spend, I might be able to get 10 MacBooks,” says Rich Black, a vice president of marketing at Acer. “Or I could get 60 netbooks and I still get the performance I need for a young learner.” That’s the message with which Acer is arming its channel partners. Because although Apple may have had a long-term stronghold in schools, budget-conscious school administrators simply get more value for the dollar going with a netbook, Black says.

Combining that message with information about school administrators’ needs and limitations, Acer in November 2008 launched a program offering a free 30-day trial of the Acer Aspire One netbooks for schools. At the end of the trial period, the schools can purchase the product at a deep discount—a starting price of £230. The offer runs through the 1st March, and at the end of March Acer will award to one participating school a free computer lab equipped with Acer products. The channel partner that worked with the school will receive a trip to the Bahamas.

Black says about 900 of the 1,200 USA schools participating in the offer so far have obtained the products through their Acer channel partners. Acer claims about 13,000 channel partners, although Black says he is unsure how many Acer channel partners specifically target the education market.

Acer has found that individual schools’ experiences with PCs vary widely. About 30 percent of schools in the United States have 30 PCs in them, and those are most often multigenerational products, creating a maintenance challenge for schools’ already strained IT resources.

“One of the examples I use is, right here in Silicon Valley, I was talking to a woman who runs education for Intel, and her kids go to the same school that Steve Wozniak’s kids went to 10 years ago. Her kids are still using the same systems that Steve Wozniak donated 10 years ago,” Black says.

At primary and secondary schools, if older products are replaced with newer ones, the older products are passed down to other classrooms or other schools.

“What netbooks are doing is affording schools [a way of giving] young learners a brand-new piece of equipment,” Black says. “In today’s market, how are you going to provide the most value for money? What a lot of IT administrators and procurement people are saying is … ‘Let’s provide the most we can for the budget.’ They absolutely are coming back to the netbooks.”