MSI has gained a significant chunk of the netbook market thanks to its 10-inch Wind. But can the company keep up in the now crowded space that is saturated with products from the top notebook manufactures? It sure plans on it. With next month’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) approaching, we thought to check in with MSI’s Director of U.S. Sales Andy Tung. Tung was very forth coming about the company’s plans for the show and the first quarter of 2009. He revealed that:
Tung left few details out in our chat about the future of the Wind and MSI’s notebook line. The interview should tide you over until our hands-on with all the products at next month’s CES in Las Vegas. MSI ranked #4 on DisplaySearch’s list of top netbook vendors. What is MSI’s plan to move ahead on that list? Andy Tung: Originally we did two things right: the first one is keyboard size; the second one is screen size. While our competition is targeting 7-inch or 8.9-inch displays, MSI is focused on 10-inch displays for netbooks and we know that people like bigger keyboards. Based on that, there are three things I think we need to do. First, we need to be even closer in our relationship with media which will in turn give us feedback to make the products right. That kind of marketing and word-of-mouth discussion is going to help MSI take off. The second one is customer service. That’s the part we definitely need to do even better than the competitors. The third is to continue to make solid products in the netbook category that consumers are really happy with. When we spoke last the MSI WInd had broken into Best Buy. Has the Best Buy relationship helped elevate the MSI brand name? Can you share anything about sales at Best Buy or other retailers? Best Buy has helped a lot. For the past 20 years, MSI’s always an “In the Box” brand. We do motherboards, we do cards — people don’t really know about the “In the Box” brand. Best Buy helped us bring the name to the end user. In terms of sale numbers, if you look at Best Buy’s netbooks there are three players. One is ASUS, one is HP, and one is MSI. Best Buy has told us that MSI does have a fair percentage of the monthly sales in the netbook category. I think the current rate is less than 10K per month. I think that we could do better because we are only in around 20 percent of the actual stores. So number wise we can improve by Best Buy’s expansion and getting MSI in more stores. The original Wind, the U100, has been dropping in price this holiday season. There was a special the other day where you could get it for as low as $300. How low do you think the original Wind can go? I think the price will be very stable in 2009. From our current economic point of view — even though the economy is not that promising — people are still buying products. That’s why we made the decision around the end of October that we need to adjust our price right away and keep it around $399. There won’t be any dramatic price cuts in the near future. One of the things we talked about the last time we spoke was return rates of Linux netbooks. What is the evolving strategy for MSI and Linux, are you planning on a new Linux OS, or are you steering away from it? Linux is a focus but it depends on the market. In the U.S market people are well-educated and people have experience in terms of operating computers. And people are very much close to the Windows look and feel. But in some regions, people don’t have the same experience. In emerging markets, Linux will play an important role because of price point. Also, people there don’t really have any preference or experience with Windows. We are working with some of the Linux companies like Novell and Ubuntu but for other markets, but not for the U.S. Are you planning on phasing out the original Wind U100? What’s the future for the original Wind? The MSI Wind U100 and the U120 will be parallel products. They will have the same specs but different designs – the U100 is more for kids and teenagers, the U120 has a sharper look for more mature segments. There will be no replacement right now to the U100. When will the U120 hit the U.S. Market, what are the specs and pricing? The Wind U120 will hit the U.S. at the end of January. It will have the same specs as the U100 with the Intel Atom N270, 160GB hard drive, 1GB of RAM, and 802.11 b/g/n. It will also have a WiMax and mobile broadband option. I anticipate it being associated with one carrier. The price will be about the same as the U100, but the 3G/WiMax may raise the overall price. Where do the Wind U110 and the U115 fit into the product line? I admit the naming has gotten a bit confusing. Think about it as two groups of products. One group is the U120 and U100. Those have the same specs and have the Intel Atom N270 processor. Now we are going to come out with the U110 and the U115. These are similar to the past systems in size and will look like the original Wind but they utilize the Intel Atom “Menlow” processor – the Atom Z530. The U110 and the U115 will be out in late January. The biggest difference between these two models is their battery life. With the U110, we will deliver 8 hours of computing time; and 10 hours with the U115. Both will use a 6-cell battery. Here are the specs of each of them: Wind U110: Z530 Atom Processor 1GB (expandable to 2GB) 10-inch LED backlight 160GB or 250 GB hard drive 6-cell battery (there will be a 3-cell option) 802.11 b/g/n 1.3 MP or 2MP webcam Wind U115: Z530 Atom Processor 1GB (expandable to 2GB) 10-inch LED backlight Split SSD/HDD options (16, 32, 64 GB SSD, 160GB or 250GB HDD) 6-cell battery (there will be a 3-cell option) 802.11 b/g/n 1.3 MP or 2MP webcam How can you achieve that battery life? We are using 6-cell batteries on both systems, but Menlow’s architecture has better power consumption. The previous experience of working on the Wind has given us the expertise to improve the future products. The 10-hour time on the U115 is based on SSD-only times. What is the benefit of having the hybrid storage of a SSD and hard drive? We think this brings the best of both worlds since sometimes SSD storage is too limited in size for netbooks to keep the cost down. For this model, the SSD helps bring good battery life and fast boot times. But the hard drive gives you the storage for video, pictures, and other files. You will be able to activate the SATA drive when you want to store data. You can then disable the hard drive power if you want to just surf the Web and it won’t consumer any power. That will save a considerable amount of battery life too. It is like plug and play or like switchable graphics. Any idea of the pricing on this? I cannot confirm the pricing yet but I do not expect it to be above $699. We will be showing it at CES and then bringing it to market later. Is 10-inches the only form factor we’ll see in the U.S. or will 8.9-inch screens come here? Will there ever be an 11-inch or 12-inch netbook? We think people really want the 10-inch display in a netbook. It has been the most popular by far. We will be launching the 13-inch MSI U300 at CES. This isn’t a Wind but it’s part of our U line which refers to “ultraportables.” I think we will cut the Wind branding off at 10-inches but I am not positive about that just yet. The U300 is a 13.3-inch device and it is very, very slim and light. I think when you see it you will be really surprised by the aluminum design and the price. We have put a lot of focus on it. I cannot comment on the price yet but it will definitely not be priced like a $2,000 typical ultraportable. I think it will just be a big shock for everybody. What type of processor are you using in the U300? I don’t want to comment just yet on the processor. But we are looking for a processor that can give 6 to 7 hours of battery life. I will say the Atom Z530 is one of the options. We have had prototypes with Centino 2 and Atom. But there are more options in this space and we have considered AMD as well and NVIDIA’s GeForce Atom platform. We have plans to deliver the latter but we can discuss that at a later date. Are the MSI Wind Nettops/All-In-Ones planned to hit the U.S.? Yes, we plan to sell these here. Notebooks are obviously taking off and the desktop market is going to grow a bit soft. All-in-ones is a direction for us and we are going to use the mobile products and we have 17, 19 and a 22-inch models. These will be available with touch screen options. Is touch something you have looked at in the notebook space? Yes, during CES we will display a 10-inch touch notebook and a 16-inch touch notebook. The Wind with the touch screen is something we are demoing at CES but we are not sure this will come to market. We will be gathering feedback on this, because we are not sure a 10-inch display is large enough for a tablet. What is the deal with the upgrade/warranty policy? We’ve heard rumors that it has been changed so users can upgrade their RAM without voiding the warranty. That is not true. Upgrading the RAM from 1GB to 2GB will not void the warranty.