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'Innovation without perfection isn't innovation,' Asus CEO says

CNET sits down with Asus head honcho Jerry Shen to find out just how the Taiwanese electronics manufacturer plans to dominate Windows products despite slowing PC and tablet sales.

Aloysius Low/CNET

Fresh off a big Computex press conference in Taipei, Asus CEO Jerry Shen sat down with CNET for a chat. He was all business, determined to get the new products perfect.

Shen quickly addressed the issue of stiff keys for the ZenBook 3 that I had pointed out in my hands-on. The Asus CEO, who took over from then-CEO and current chairman Jonney Shih in 2008, immediately made a note of the issue, promising he'll look at it closely.

Ever since taking over the reigns from Shih, Shen has carefully nurtured the company's nascent industrial design product team and has since expanded Asus' design labs in 2011 to include more expert teams.

"We have a key user experience team, a camera team, a keyboard team, a touchpad team, a display team, a power team and even a hinge team and stylus team," said Shen. "With expert teams, we have the deep insight and maturity to innovate. Innovation without perfection isn't innovation."


While Asus was originally very engineering-driven, the company's philosophy has changed -- technology, says Shen, isn't the priority, instead it is now "design done properly". He points to the ZenBook 3 as an example of how that has changed. Shen says that if the company can't improve on the design, it won't launch a ZenBook 4 with just a hardware refresh.

"Every generation we try to improve a lot, and we're also migrating our way of doing smartphones to the PC," said Shen, pointing out that the ZenFone 3 line got a complete refresh with premium materials and competitive pricing.

"The ZenBook 4 will be much better than the 3, that's how we'll have the chance to be the leader in the Windows camp."

Shen admits that he has his work cut out for him thanks to a slowdown in both the PC and tablet market. But, as the new ZenFone 3 line shows, the company isn't afraid of criticism, and works hard at fixing and improving its products.

IDC analyst Bryan Ma, who attended the Asus press conference earlier on Monday, was positive about the company's prospects.

"Asus has never been afraid to take chances, leveraging its engineering and design strengths in the process," said Ma. "And these announcements still reflect that."

Asus CEO Jerry Shen's loves the glass used in the ZenFone 3, and says he plays with the phone like this when he holds one.

Aloysius Low/CNET

One robot to rule them all?

Zenbo, the cute talking robot announced at Computex, will launch in the next 9 to 12 months according to Shen. It's a long time for sure, but announcing the product early is deliberate on Asus' end. It hopes to attract developers to work on apps for Zenbo, to have a robust ecoystem before the robot becomes available.

"If we didn't announce Zenbo, we wouldn't be able to get enough people interested. It's a chicken and egg situation," he said.

"The announcement timing's really tough, but when I spoke to Jonney, he thinks that if we have the momentum from the show, we will have more people join the program."

Similarly, IDC's Ma told CNET that Zenbo would only do well if it can get the software to make the robot viable.

"The first thought that came to mind when Zenbo rolled on stage is what kind of applications would be available. It may be cute, but the cuteness can only go so far without apps," said Ma.

Now playing: Watch this: Asus' adorable robot assistant Zenbo wants to take over...
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Augmented reality...soon?

The bad news is Asus' mysterious augmented reality product has been pushed back, but the good news is that it will appear at the next CES, says Shen. This was done at the request of a "very big player", though Shen declined to name names.

"I guarantee that at the next CES next year, we will launch together," he added. "The big player asks us not to do anything in this period, but we have a product."

Given that Microsoft is one of the big names for AR thanks to its HoloLens, and Asus has been talking to the company about building an AR device, it's pretty easy to put two and two together. Whatever Asus is announcing though, we'll have to wait till CES to find out.

As for virtual reality, the key theme of Computex 2016, Asus isn't in a hurry to release its own headset.

"Our [Republic of Gamers branded gaming computers] already support VR, and as for a head-mounted device, we've decided to wait 'till we have a top team and good talent before we do VR," he said.

"We are thinking about it, and we have to do our design thinking first on how to make it better. It's not just the industrial design, but the weight, everything, even the materials used. The schedule is the same as AR, we're looking at CES."

"Assuming that the AR project is with Microsoft," IDC's Ma says, "then one thing to keep in mind is that HoloLens is more likely to be adopted by businesses first rather than consumers [due to both price points and applications].

Asus' strengths tend to be more on the consumer side though, so it'll be interesting to see how they position it."

Be sure to check CNET's Computex hub for all the coverage from the show floors.