The back story behind the recent announcement of Acer's purchase of Gateway's is interesting drama. It seems that Lenovo was going to buy Packard Bell in Europe as a cornerstone for moving into the European consumer market. To get there, it had to effectively out-bid Acer, which in the case of a Chinese versus a Taiwanese company, would have been very embarrassing. Acer found out, likely from the ex-Gateway CEO, that Gateway had the rights to buy Packard Bell. Acer has been signaling a stronger return to the United States for some time (I predicted it back in 2004) and was able to effectively kill two birds with one stone with this move.
More interesting for you folks is that Acer doesn't want Gateway's business lines. Margins in the business segment have been very low; corporations haven't been buying aggressively (and have indicated they plan to bypass Windows Vista and much of the hardware that ships with it).
If Acer is reading the market right, and it well may be, the corporate market is setting up to make a significant policy change -- one led by the education market, where Gateway traditionally has done very well. The business market also may be getting ready to switch to a new platform, which could include Linux, but likely will be as different on hardware as anything else. And different, for now, means bladed PCs, a new class of smartphones, and/or thin clients.
Acer Pushing the Employee-Owned PC Option
The only one of these that Acer will be in position to push is the employee-owned PC model. Acer will focus heavily on design and price, and is likely to use something like the Mojopac to address the corporation's need to control the business environment while allowing employees to purchase their own PCs.
This trend also could benefit Apple, which has avoided making a big business push, but has been positioning Leopard as providing a similar kind of solution to the Mojopac but on the Mac OS. HP, of course, has the strongest hedge with thin clients, blade PCs and the strongest three consumer lines in market.
I've brought this potential trend up previously, but didn't point out that the education market in the United States had started implementing it some time ago. In a number of U.S. locations, teachers, administrators and students buy their own school-related PCs and get limited support from school IT staff.
This has proven popular in an environment that is perennially underfunded and has a history of providing technology that is decades old. It suggests that as these students become employees and eventually managers, they will bring with them the idea of personal PC ownership and drive similar policies into their respective companies.
And Then There Were Four
Post-merger, this leaves us with only four major companies, one of which apparently isn't going to be going after the large business, government and enterprise markets directly. This puts Toshiba and Sony on notice of being trivialized, makes Fujitsu the likely buyer of Gateway's business lines, and validates Apple's existing strategy of focusing on the consumer.
In a strange way, this could benefit Dell, HP and Lenovo near-term because it -- at least for a time -- removes Gateway from the business mix and focuses that company on a merger. However, strategically, Acer is scary good, and this merger gives Acer the powerful channel in both the United States and Europe that could be used to accelerate its already impressive growth rates in those regions. Mergers are not a given, so there is some risk, but Gateway does have near-term experience doing one successfully, which should help.
In the end, the market is changed, the future is more closely aligned with individual PC ownership (or something even more dramatic), and we have four major PC vendors (plus a wild card in Apple) vastly simplifying the market and our choices in it.