ASUS on new gear, working closer with indies and staying on the cutting edge of innovation

Whether it be new Chromebooks for entry-level users, innovative products that boost the capabilities of smart home assistants, or insanely powerful-yet-portable gaming machines, ASUS certainly had a lot to showcase at this year’s CES Show in Las Vegas.

We catch up with Nathaniel Ayling, PR specialist at ASUS, to find out more about the company’s latest products, why it’s important to stay on the cutting edge of innovation, and how it plans to work more closely with UK retailers of all sizes throughout 2019.

How was 2018 in general for ASUS?

It was a good year. There’s been a bit of a downturn across the market with regards to PC sales, but we’ve done well and maintained our position. We’ve brought out a lot of really interesting products that have shaken up what people think is the norm – especially for notebooks.

We did really well with our Chromebooks, we blew it out of the water there. In July, for the first time we knocked Acer off the top spot for Chromebooks in the UK. In term of developing our Chromebooks, we’ve worked closely with Google and Intel to get the best out of them.

We’ve also worked closely with Qualcomm to release the NovaGo device, which we sold exclusively through John Lewis. It’s an emerging tech that runs Windows on modified mobile phone architecture. We had a great launch event in October and sales have done well. A couple of other manufacturers have tried their luck with Windows on Snapdragon and I think we’ve proven it is viable, so we’ll see where that goes.

Talk us through some of the biggest announcements you made at CES.

We’ve covered a lot of the spectrum of consumer tech at CES. Everything from entry-level laptops to the Mothership, our convertible 2-in-1 style laptop. We also announced the VivoBook X512 in line with a renewed push towards entry- level devices with a lot of our premium features packed in. It’s got a really thin bezel, really slim design, and the ErgoLift hinge. These features come from our ZenBooks and have filtered down into products available to everyone.

Something else we’ve announced, which is actually a first for us, is the StudioBook S W700. This is a 17-inch workstation with those thin bezels and an incredible light chassis considering the specifications. We’re aiming this at professional users, the architects, designers and developers of the world. It’s great because a lot of other workstations are big, bulky, black business machines. The StudioBook has all of the ZenBook stylings and the visual appeal that we’re known for. It’s allowed us to take a really strong product and put our own unique spin on it to deliver a really solid device to customers.

Our sister brand, Republic of Gamers (ROG), had a couple of big announcements at CES in the form of the Mothership and the GX701, which is a great device. When it comes out, it will be the world’s thinnest 17-inch gaming laptop. It’s perfect for work and play and has a subdued ROG design. It’s not the traditional, big, shiny design. It’s a bit more subtle and grown up. It looks a lot more professional.

The Mothership is the very top of the range. That caters for a different audience of gamers. It’s got the latest components. There’s an Intel i9 and it will have an RTX 2080 – a fully powered GPU. This is for power gamers, those that want the biggest and the best they can get.

Again, we’ve delivered that to them whilst thinking about them as a user. We’ve made it 15mm thinner than our last premium high end device. It’s kickstand allows it to stay cooler and perform better for longer.

In everything we do, we don’t value style over substance. We make our devices look great and ensure they perform well.

We’ve seen a lot of ROG peripherals and components at the show, has that been ramped up this year?

We’ve always had a firm bedrock in components. ASUS started as a motherboard manufacturer, that’s how we got our break into tech. So things like motherboards, GPUs and networking are areas we’ll always be into.

We’re looking at how we diversify and keep everything on- brand. Everyone who is into gaming wants the accessories to go with their favourite products. If they’re a fan of the product and a fan of the brand, they want to keep everything tied in. So we’re trying to offer customers a larger breadth of choice in the market and showing that we can compete in these sectors.

Were there any new products that were a bit more different to what you usually do?

We had the new ROG Ranger gaming backpack for carrying your laptop. We’ve also released an RGB hard drive. What’s really cool is our Lyra Home networking solutions. That’s something we’ve been working on heavily from 2017 into 2018. A really cool device at CES was our smartspeaker, which essentially works as both a Lyra Mesh AI hostspot for WiFi as well as working with Amazon Alexa. We think about how to make everyone’s lives better with our tech products.

How is the company working with the channel to help retailers sell your latest products?

The team is growing. We have more account managers and directors to provide our retail partners with that one-on-one support. Last year, in gaming alone, we delivered over 1,500 hours of bespoke training to our retail partners, channel partners and everyone across the spectrum of the supply and sales chain to make sure they really understood our products and all the technology involved so that everyone is better informed.

Something else we’re look at doing more of, and something we’re building into in 2019, is expanding our work with small and medium business, as well as independent retailers. Despite all the talks about Brexit, we are entirely focused on this country. We are doing our best to work with everyone, whether that’s the John Lewis and Amazons of this world, right down to local independent hardware retailers.

What advancements are you looking forward to most in the technology space in the near future?

First up is everything Nvidia and AMD are doing in the GPU space. So Nvidia with the 20-series architecture and the latest AMD Ryzen with the 7nm architecture. That’s giving game developers and anyone that uses a graphical processor a million options that they didn’t have before the end of 2018.

We, as a vendor of computers and components, need to make sure that we stay on the cutting edge of that, whether that’s giving the best version of GPU we can, or looking at other technologies that can support those assets. The GPU is only one part of the equation. Like in a car, you can have an amazing engine and a crap exhaust and the thing isn’t going anywhere. So that means that these powerful components make our engineers think, and our product designers innovate solutions to make sure the products can keep up.

That’s going to be really positive in driving innovation across the whole industry.

Something else we’re seeing, particularly in the notebook sector is the battle of the bezel. Everyone is competing to have the largest screen in the smallest possible device. That’s something we’ve done really well in. Over the last 12 months we’ve had things like the ZenBook UX433. More recently at CES we had the ZenBook S13 with the world’s thinnest bezels. And it just shows that you can have a small premium device without compromises. You can have a great screen size and a great experience without having to compromise on what you can actually see.

Something else we’re going to see more of in 2019 is Chrome OS and the Chromebook itself. Obviously it’s already doing very well, but I think we’re now getting to that point where we’re breaking through the phase of needing to educate people on what Chromebook actually is, and it’s becoming much more mainstream.

I think in 12-18 months, the sales of Chromebooks will rise and we’ll start to see people doing some more interesting things with them. It’s no longer an emerging technology.

What can we expect to see from ASUS in 2019 and beyond?

From a business standpoint, linking back to working with independent retailers, in Q2 we’re looking at implementing a new partner programme whereby we won’t work at arms reach, we will work directly with them to help promote our products and get the best out of their business. It’s going to be really interesting to work with people directly up and down the country.

A lot of our new products have had the lid lifted at CES and so will come out during 2019. The two that are going to be really interesting are the Studiobook S W700 and the Mothership. Something else to look out for is the PA90 mini workstation, which is a great product that I think will shine.

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