Will Eee PCs Upend the Portable Pricing Market?

asus21.jpgASUS Taiwan recently confirmed plans to deliver its eagerly awaited Eee PCs to the U.S. in November, and even though the company is targeting the devices squarely at the education market, they may end up challenging the pricing model for all portable computers.

When rumors began swirling in the blogosphere a few months back about the Eee PCs, they were equated with the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) systems, and were expected to sell for under $200. And much as the prices of the OLPC systems have risen to just under $200 from a previous target of $100, ASUS has said the Eee PCs will come in three different models, ranging from $299 to $399.

So ASUS didn’t hit what was purportedly its lowball price target, but still, a portable computer for under $300? In my book, that qualifies as an impulse buy. Compare that price to some of the other new miniature PCs, which Web Worker Daily rounded up recently. The much ballyhooed new Nokia n810 Internet Tablet, for example, is $479, while the OQO Model 02 starts at $1,299. Of course, those have features that the Eee PCs are unlikely to have.

Ahead of the PC’s launch, ASUS provided the following detail:

“The Eee PC is a 7-inch gadget designed for first-time mobile Internet gadget users including young students, children, housewives, the elderly, individual stock investors, and anyone who enjoys mobility as a part of their web surfing experience.”

Open-source fans will be pleased to hear that the Eee PCs will have Open Office, so users will be able to produce documents, spreadsheets and presentations compatible with other productivity applications. Photos of the systems confirm that they have a GUI OS, and they are described as ideal for movies, music, videogames and pictures. Videoconferencing, VoIP calls, and instant messaging will also apparently be doable.

Although the exact chips being used haven’t been confirmed, the ASUS systems have Intel (INTC) processors, as well as 7-inch LCD displays, and Ethernet and 802.11g Wi-Fi networking options. Local storage will be Flash-based and will top out at 8GB.

These may sound like kiddie PCs at this point, but miniature, inexpensive portable computers are a hot category right now, and it’s tough to buy anything for under $300 that will give you access to the most popular types of applications. Might the Eee PCs be holiday hits, or make it into the hands of kids who can’t afford computers? Those are possibilities, but one of the most interesting things to watch as these systems arrive will be the effect they have on pricing for other portable computers. At under $300, the low-end Eee PCs will be much cheaper than other Windows-based miniature computers.