The MSI Wind has been the netbook to reckon with. Its release back in June put big-name manufacturers on notice that a little known manufacturer could churn out a quality product. Turns out that was only MSI striking the match. MSI’s Director of U.S. Sales Andy Tung certainly thinks his company isn’t done shaking up the netbook pot. He has plans to keep the Wind flying ahead of the competition. In our hour-long interview, Tung shared that:
Tung left few details out in our chat about the future of the Wind. Check out the full interview below and stay tuned for our review and images of the MSI Wind U120. The Wind U100 has been a global hit. Can you share anything about its success? Netbooks have become a really huge category, and even bigger than we thought. The launch was great and demand was strong at the time. But we are seeing the demand grow even more month by month. And I think right now it’s also being fueled by the economy. People want to buy something good but cheap enough. I only expect the number to go up because, with the Wind, we are going to be able to reach national and regional retailers. We will announce availability at a major U.S. retailer next week. As for numbers, I can tell you that we sell about 150,000 to 250,000 MSI Winds a month. That doesn’t include the rebranded MSI Winds. However, our sales have been capped by the supplier of the Atom CPU. It seems as though brick-and-mortar retailers have been hesitant to stock netbooks or have even ignored them, at least until now. Why do you think that is? Retailers have been hesitant to bring netbooks into stores because at that moment they were afraid that the netbook category would eat at their notebook sales. They were also only selling the only available product from ASUS, and sales were only okay, and they struggled with return rates, especially of Linux systems. But now it has become more of a trend and these retailers just have to be in this business. You mention the return rates being high. Has that been the case with the Wind as well? We have done a lot of studies on the return rates and haven’t really talked about it much until now. Our internal research has shown that the return of netbooks is higher than regular notebooks, but the main cause of that is Linux. People would love to pay $299 or $399 but they don’t know what they get until they open the box. They start playing around with Linux and start realizing that it’s not what they are used to. They don’t want to spend time to learn it so they bring it back to the store. The return rate is at least four times higher for Linux netbooks than Windows XP netbooks. Interestingly enough, we struggled with the Linux version of the Wind U90. Are there plans to tailor a Linux OS for the Wind? We plan to bring the Linux version to the U.S by the end of the year. But we are working on some of the issues with the SUSE Linux and even continue to explore other flavors of Linux. We have discussed Ubuntu with a Mac OS type of look and feel. We are talking to different suppliers to figure out the best user experience. Part of MSI’s business plan has been to team up with other OEMs and let them rebrand the Wind under there name. What is the business model there? Part of MSI’s business has always been the manufacturing/OEM business so we have opened the doors for our partners to take the Wind under their brand. The Wind is a very popular product so, as a manufacturing company, we benefit by the more companies that bring the Wind hardware to market and their orders. On the shelves then, what will differentiate the MSI Wind from the rebranded models? There might not be much differentiating them. However, we are hoping the MSI brand and our marketing will set it apart. Our industrial design will also be a bit different, but also the package around it will prove it, including reviews by the media and customers. Some individuals still struggle to buy a Wind U100 with a six cell battery through e-tailers such as Amazon.com. Have you caught up on production of the system and the batteries? The battery problem has been almost completely resolved. And by the end of October we should be completely caught up with the battery problem. The six-cell battery is now available for purchase. And the allocation from Intel [of Atom] should be a lot better heading into October. There have been rumors of a nine-cell battery. How much runtime do you expect that to bring to the Wind? Actually the 9-cell battery is coming from a third party supplier and not from MSI. And we expect it provide 7 plus hours of power. Like the iPod, we are starting to see a lot of companies create accessories for this product. Customers will be able to buy lots of different accessories soon, including special carrying bags and peripherals, like mice. Is there anything about the original Wind you wish you could improve? Starting this month we will deliver the U100 with some upgrades. We have a six-cell battery version now where we have upped the hard drive to 160GB, the wireless to 802.11 b/g/n. That version will be $479. Heading into the holiday season, we will offer all the U100s in a red color as well. We are also continuing to drive the price down. Next week, the Wind with a 3-cell battery and Windows XP will be available at a national retailer for $399. Are the plans then moving forward to expand the Wind product line? We are focusing right now on keeping the original model the same as I mentioned since it’s been a hit, but we are also working on a Wind 2. The difference will be in the customer segment. The incoming product is being called the Wind U120. It is an extended model of the U100. The U100 is perfect for consumers like teenagers and families, but we think it’s too cute for business users. The U120 looks more like a business type of solution: it doesn’t include the round corners but more a square-like look. We were thinking more of a ThinkPad type of a design. I can say that the industrial design is totally different than the original Wind. What types of specifications will the U120 or Wind 2 have? At first it will be available with a hard drive, but we will offer a solid state option at a later date. Some people love a larger 120GB hard drive, but others like a 20GB to 40GB SSD option. It will have a 10-inch display, and also expect it to also have 1GB of RAM. We really think the 10-inch is perfect for this category and the keyboard is the same size as the one on the current Wind, if not a bit bigger. We expect to release it by the end of November or early December. Any plans for a dual-core Atom processor in this version? Or mobile broadband? No Intel is holding off on the mobile version of the dual core Atom processor. I don’t think we will see availability of that processor until the second half of 2009. The U120 will have 3.5G connectivity. Here in the U.S., we are in the process of talking to the cellular carriers. The original design had WiMax but WiMax implementation isn’t as fast as we would like it to be. Any idea of the pricing of the U120? It is still a netbook so we plan to keep it in a competitive price range. I would say no more than $600 dollars. Any plans to release the Wind Desktop in the U.S.? Yes, I do plan to release it here soon. With Lenovo and Samsung entering the market with 10-inch netbooks, how do you differentiate the Wind? Well you would be surprised who makes those notebooks. But we have a really good start and we have been endorsed by the media and the press, so we have a really solid starting point. The next job for us is enlarging our awareness. We are also continuing to improve our industrial design. People are buying by features but the looks seem to be even more important. The Wind in some ways has made MSI more of a household name. Has the success of the Wind impacted MSIs core notebook business in any way? If you look at MSI, our brand has always been an in-the-box brand. People don’t recognize the company that makes the laptop. So we have had a lot of benefits from releasing the Wind and getting our name out there. We now are going to show people about the Wind and beyond. Starting in October we are going to be releasing a 12-inch notebook at $699. We are also really improving our gaming notebooks. The Wind is great, but you will see more and more from the MSI brand.