Acer means business: why it should shed its consumer reputation to battle Dell, HP and Lenovo

This year brought a first. Rather than launch its business products as an add-on to its dozens of consumer launches at Computex, Acer held a separate briefing for a cross-section of European technology journalists. Its message: we mean business.

Naturally, Acer being Acer, this includes a bumper selection of new and aggressively priced hardware. It’s no coincidence that it also launched its own spin on business AI PCs, including models focused at business buyers, at the event.

But as an Acer-watcher across some 25 years, what came through from the speakers was something new. A note of aggression, a statement of intent, that spoke of Acer’s belief that its approach gave business, education and government buyers something different to Dell, HP and Lenovo.

Related: How will Intel’s AI PC help you work smarter?

Acer’s position vs the big boys

First of all, we need to put Acer’s position into perspective. It may be a household name, but if you compare its global shipments of PCs (here used as a generic term to include both desktop PCs and laptops) then it’s a minnow.

In terms of sheer sales, Acer is currently a minnow compared to Dell, HP and Lenovo (image generated by Copilot Designer)

To put that into precise numbers, in the last quarter for which we have sales figures, Lenovo shipped 13.7 million computers, HP Inc 12 million, Dell 9.3 million and Acer 3.7 million.

One of the reasons for this is that HP, Dell and Lenovo ship vast amounts of computers to businesses. While Acer does have a prospering commercial division, its sales figures dwindle in comparison to those of its consumer division.

Another big difference is that laptops account for 53% of Acer’s sales (or did in 2023 according to its latest report) while desktop PCs account for merely 10.6%. That feels like a missed opportunity.

Acer’s fighting talk

So that’s the status quo. However, Acer effectively fired a warning shot at Dell, HP and Lenovo at its first Commercial PCs European Press Conference, which took place at its European HQ in Lugano, Switzerland.

I’m putting words into Acer’s mouth here, but it basically told the Big Three: we’re coming for your business. Or more prosaically, that Acer intends to grow sales of its business products – and believes that it has the right mix of laptops, channel partners and service infrastructure.

When I pressed Acer on this after the event – particularly asking why Dell, HP and Lenovo should be scared of the new business-focused Acer – it refused to be drawn into a fight.

“We rarely compare our business with DHL [Dell, HP, Lenovo] because we have a different scale,” said Cristina Gualteri, Acer’s EMEA Channel Marketing Senior Manager.

But there are reasons why Acer feels now is the time to focus on its commercial division. “First of all we took the opportunity of the launch of AI PCs for B2B as well, but even more important we wanted to present our value proposition and refreshed Synergy partner program” said Gualteri.

“Our focus in business and education will be reinforced year on year with the objective to grow not only inside the company as a percentage but in our market share.”

The channel advantage?

There was one other message that Acer repeatedly mentioned during its press conference: that it only used the channel (that is, resellers of its hardware who often add their own consulting expertise when selling to organisations) whilst its rivals tried to mix and match.

“Acer is committed towards the channel with 100% indirect, so channel-only not channel-first, and this is for sure what is differentiating us from any other OEM,” Gualteri said.

OEM stands for original equipment manufacturer, so in this context anyone who makes computers and sells them under its own brand.

“Our main focus market as said [in the press conference] is SMB, public sector and cloud mid-size, and this is where we will do our best to serve customers’ needs bringing the needed technology and services.”

This channel-only approach is an interesting argument and does differentiate Acer from its competitors. While Acer is happy to sell direct to consumers, it wants to leave the deeper business relationships with its resellers. After all, even today, business comes down to people and trust, and Acer believes that its channel partners are the best people to build those long-term relationships.

Education, education, education

The best example of this relationship-building in action is in education. Acer doesn’t attempt to build direct relationships with schools or education authorities, leaving that to its partners.

Indeed, it involved one of its education specialist partners – Nicola Villa, Sales Manager at the Italian reseller ABS Computers – to the press conference. “Why Acer?” he asked rhetorically. “Probably for the people and relationships, for sure for your service.”

It was pretty obvious that he felt Acer not only offered the right hardware (including many, many Chromebooks) but also the right, listening approach.

In fact, in of its few overt snipes at its rivals, Acer listed the fact that it actually listens to what people want – via its partners – rather than just creating laptops and PCs and then trying to find the right market for them.

The AI PC factor

One final reason why I think Acer has reason to be bullish is that the quality of its business laptops has notably improved – to my eyes, as a independent reviewer of such things – in the past five years. While I would argue that a Lenovo ThinkPad, HP EliteBook or Dell Latitude laptop used to be demonstrably better built than an Acer TravelMate, any difference in quality is now much tougher to spot.

Acer has also upped the variety of its commercial range in recent years. While it used to focus on low-margin, high-volume business laptops (and to an extent still does), you can now find slimmer, executive Acer machines on offer – and most things in between.

A great example of this was on show in Lugano: its new TravelMate AI series of laptops. These include the executive TravelMate P6 14, the TravelMate P4 Spin 14 and the TravelMate P4 range (available in 14in and 16in sizes). You can see them in the gallery above.

I won’t go into details here, but they’re based on a mix of AMD and Intel chips with NPUs inside to handle AI tasks. And, from my brief time with the 14in TravelMate P6, can say it looks a match for most* anything that Dell, HP and Lenovo will offer. (The *most refers to Lenovo’s X1 Carbon, which stands alone.)

While Acer doesn’t want to start a fight with those big three rivals, I actually think it should. Sure, it’s the minnow. But any market needs strong competition, and organisations need choice. A one-off press conference to celebrate its business offerings is a good first move, but let’s see battle truly commence.

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Tim Danton

Tim has worked in IT publishing since the days when all PCs were beige, and is editor-in-chief of the UK's PC Pro magazine. He has been writing about hardware for TechFinitive since 2023.