Makers of digital lifestyle gear are caught in a Catch 22, according to BenQ Chairman and CEO K.Y. Lee. With the majority of consumers wanting to be 'pioneers', manufacturers have to jam-pack their products with all the latest gee-whiz functionality, despite those functions being rarely, if ever, used.
Take mobile phones, Lee says. His own company's research shows that despite all the technology available in a modern mobile, users will typically use only 30 per cent of a phone's functionality. "But without the other 70 per cent you cannot sell this mobile phone," Lee says. "In the old days, these technologies were very expensive and customers had to pay extra to buy it. Nowadays, all these extra functions are almost free. So it's nice to have these extra functions, but we won't necessarily use them frequently."
And we don't necessarily have to understand exactly what we're getting, the Taiwanese exec says. Lee readily admits consumers are confused by what new technologies have to offer them today, but it's a price that consumers are happy to pay in exchange for more choice. "Maybe consumers will be confused, but at least we'll have more choice of functions within their digital lifestyle technologies," he said.
BenQ CEO K.Y. Lee
Coming from Lee, the head of a company which prides itself on its products' design, these comments may seem odd. After all, BenQ readily crows about its global design award wins in televisions, LCD monitors and MP3 players. And the market has certainly seen recent hit products that have proved that looking good and being easy to use can overcome tech spec limitations (iPod, anyone?). But despite BenQ's strong design focus, Lee says technology will always be its main source for innovation.
"The differentiation has to come from technology first. Not from the marketing side - everybody can do similar campaigns or events. But when it comes to the product itself the innovation must come from the technology," he said. "Design has been important for a long time. With traditional IT technology products moving more towards the consumer market, the importance of design grows more and more. But design itself cannot deliver too much. The technology combined with design can generate something really excellent."
Lee's focus on high tech wrapped in stylish design (while still aiming to be "affordable"), certainly seems to be winning BenQ customers globally. The company, which was spun off from parent company Acer in 2001, makes LCD TVs and monitors, rear projection TVs, mobile phones, projectors, digital cameras, MP3 players, DVD recorders and drives, and more, and had a global revenue of US$5 billion last year.
Lee, who spoke to CNET.com.au on a recent visit to Sydney to open the company's Australian headquarters, says consumers should expect more 'converged' devices to come from BenQ. In an attempt to keep a technological edge, Lee says BenQ was now busy working behind the scenes incorporating wireless technology into its future products, which will allow consumers to seamlessly stream all their media around the house and while out and about.
We'd like to hear from you about the topic of convergence - do you like products that are packed with functions, even if you may not necessarily use them? Do you like prefer single-function products? Tell us more by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org@cnet.com.au.