Razer CEO talks Nabu, the Internet of Things and making products for gamers

20th Jan 2014 | 17:00

Razer CEO talks Nabu, the Internet of Things and making products for gamers

And whether we'll ever see a Razer smartwatch

When Razer announced its Nabu smartband at CES 2014, a puzzled head scratch skipped from scalp to scalp. Or was it a twitch from wrist to wrist?

Razer, best known for its gaming laptops and peripherals, has been working on Nabu for three and a half years. It may have come out of left field for some, but Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan sees Nabu as a natural progression for the company's product line.

We sat down with Tan at the Vegas show to get the low-down on the double-screened strap. He was running on two hours of sleep, but was as verbose and passionate about Razer's latest endeavor as ever.

Tan divulged that the prototype Nabu smartband will see some changes (as prototypes are wont to do) before public release. Namely, he wants it to rock a blockier, less sporty look - one that will mesh with someone wearing a suit, he said.

But there's much more to Nabu, and Razer, than an evolving sense of style. Tan laid out for TechRadar his thoughts on the world of wearables, where his band fits in and what it really means to make products for gamers.

TechRadar:Safe to say that Nabu surprised a lot of people. Why did Razer decide to get into wearables?

Min-Liang Tan: We've been working on it for quite some time, before wearables became [big]. Traditionally, we've always worked on crazy stuff, and we've launched them when they're good and ready. We've always been able to go into markets where people look at us and go, 'You guys really didn't think of that?' We thought it would be the same thing this year. The weirdest thing is that on the way here suddenly terms like Internet of Things and wearables just exploded.

To put things in perspective, you know Internet of Things, right? What is Internet of Things? It's connected devices, devices that connect back to the cloud and things like that. We've been shipping them since 2008, and we've probably got one of the largest Internet of Things platforms in the world. We've got at least a million users that log on a daily basis through their devices. So it wasn't so much thinking that we could get into this space. We thought we were - and we still think we are - pioneering this space.

TR:But when people think of you guys, they think of the gaming laptops, accessories, mice. You're saying Razer is also in the Internet of Things, and Nabu is a part of that?

Tan: When we heard of Internet of Things, somebody said, 'Dude, you are actually one of the biggest Internet of Things companies in the world right now.' We sell connected devices probably about one every four or five seconds at this point in time somewhere in the world. And we're truly global in the sense that we're in North America, Europe and Asia.

On top of that, most of our devices call back to the cloud. Over a million users will at least be active [on Razer's software platform] on a daily basis, and we think we will triple this number by the end of the year. Registered users is much, much larger, but daily actives has crossed a million users every day, which is pretty cool.

Today they're connecting through being on a PC, being on mobile devices. Nabu will be a great way where we will connect them 24/7. Even when they're sleeping, even when they're eating, working out, stuff like that. We think it's going to be a phenomenal experience for all of them.

Tan models Nabu

TR: You've clearly seen how wearables have gained momentum in recent months. What are your thoughts on the tech as a whole?

Tan: Where we see wearables [is] it's an incredibly difficult space. It looks easy from the outside, but it's intensely difficult if you delve deep into it. Wearables are very different from technology. What you wear, you don't consider it in terms of specs. You wear it because of comfort. You wear it because of aesthetics. That's what we're great at. In fact, something people don't know is that we ship a lot of clothing under the Razer brand. I can't think of a single technology company that sells more clothing than we do today. We sell shirts, hoodies and stuff like that. That, in itself, makes us on the forefront of everyone else.

[Wearable technology] was a perfect fit for us. And we think it's just the beginning. That's the fun part.

TR:T-shirts are one thing, but the wearables market is getting more crowded by the minute. Where does Nabu fit in against other wrist tech?

Tan: The Nabu is not a smartwatch. It's not a fitness band. I think we started coining the term 'smartband.' I think that alone, as a category, will be the largest category in the shortest term because most people who wear watches are comfortable with their watches. The real estate space over here [points to wrist] is usually not great for two-way interaction. Generally, you want a one-way interaction, just like a tablet.

That's why we intentionally created a band. The most significant thing is that we think we will create this entire new category of smartbands.

We took the time to think about even the name. We thought 'lifeband,' 'whatever-band.' And 'smartband' really resonated with us.

TR:You think smartbands will win out over smartwatches?

Tan: I think in the short term. In the much longer term, because of processing power and battery life ... the problem with smartwatches today is that batteries haven't progressed dramatically, so what happens is you need to have really low-powered screens which cannot give you a really good experience. Or you need to compromise in terms of battery life.

The way we see it is that smartbands will be the way to go, and it will probably be the largest category which will then segue into smartwatches.

TR:Will Razer make a smartwatch then?

Tan: [Smiles] I think when it's ready, it's ready. But rest assured, if we ever get into it, we will do it in our own flare and fashion.

TR:Fair enough. Back to Nabu - do you feel it will appeal to an audience Razer hasn't tapped into yet?

Tan: I think our audience has always been gamers. We're not a gaming company - we're a company that designs products for gamers.

I wrote this Facebook post when I was up at 4 a.m. and I just penned it because most people said, 'Nabu is so out of character.' And I said, 'No, it's always in character.'

When we did laptops, we were designing products that gamers wanted. I said in the post, 'Don't be surprised if at CES 2030, we'll be doing things like killer mech robots and stuff like that' because - of course, if I had the resources to do that, I'd definitely be working on that - that's what gamers want. That's cool, that's fun. Like an electric car. I would love to go design an electric, performance car because that is something that resonates with me. I like performance, I like speed.

Of course, there will be the guys who go, 'Eh, that's not a company.' If we were 'a real business' [the question would be], 'Is this core product?' but we're focused on the user, not on the business, so that's the difference.

Razer Nabu

TR: So while someone like Dell, for example, is focused on making desktops, Razer is thinking, 'This is our user community. What do they want?'

Tan: If I were to be running a Dell-kind of company, I would run it totally different. I would be looking at what would a business man want, and I would be designing anything for a business man, as opposed to, 'It's a computer company.' I think the difference for us is we are really focused on the gamer and everything that a gamer wants.

To be candid, I'm just designing stuff that I really like myself. Because I needed a laptop, and I travel like crazy, I did that. And I've been trying to work out and keep fit. At the same time, one thing I really hate is this [pulls phone from pocket and stares at it].

A couple of years ago, and I suffer from this too, during dinner I saw people were doing this. It was a round table, and 4 or 5 people were just looking at their phones. And I'm like, there is something wrong about that.

So that's why in our [Nabu] video we have this thing about connecting people. I thought, 'Wouldn't it be cool if I could choose to filter the kind of information I got?' And that's why we put it in real life. So yes, we design products for ourselves. For now.

TR:Alright, Min. You guys have a wearable now. You have Project Christine. What's next for Razer? Where can you go from here?

Tan: I think everybody knows. As long as you're a person passionate about gaming or technology, whatever you can dream about that your excited about, and you think, 'Holy sh*t that would be cool,' we're probably thinking about it at Razer.

It's one of those things that as long as there's cool stuff happening, there's probably one guy somewhere, somehow in Razer - even if I tell the guy not to - he's probably still going to do it.

Razer Nabu smartband Project Christine Internet of Things smartwatches CES CES 2014 newstrack computingcarousel-en-us
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