ASUS CEO, execs talk about Zenfone 5’s AI, notch
A day before ASUS launched the Zenfone 5 line-up at MWC 2018, we went to ASUS’ office in Barcelona to sit down with ASUS CEO Jerry Shen, global marketing head Marcel Campos, and GM of Mobile Business Unit Brian Chang to talk about their latest smartphones.
What has ASUS learned from the past Zenfone releases and how did it affect the new Zenfone 5 series?
Shen: I think the most important philosophy is that we still try to deliver power and luxury for everyone to enjoy. We think that for a smartphone, the experience is the king. So, we improved a lot – the user experience, but at the same time, we want to make beautiful devices that are also affordable and attractive to everyone. This is what we call ‘power and luxury for everyone to enjoy’, and this is our promise, and I think these are the smartphones we have.
You’ve clearly updated the hardware, but what can we expect from the Zenfone 5 series on the software side?
Campos: The most important thing is AI, or artificial intelligence. I think there are two kinds of AI that everybody is talking about, but I don’t think anyone puts it this way. How do we define AI? There are so many levels. AI is actually the outer layer of machine learning, deep learning, and neural networks, which are all connected somehow. We have ‘big things AI’, which uses the cloud, does a lot of deep learning, and making the machine understand patterns, and how to deploy something back after a lot of analysis of the end user. But there is also ‘small things AI’ that can be implemented right away, that we can leverage with the Qualcomm processor’s neural engine, all on the device. You can do some things that are personalized for that person using the device. You don’t need to do all this work behind the scenes, some stuff can be done right away on the product. So, AI is the biggest topic inside ZenUI 5.0.
How is ASUS’ AI beneficial to a user, in a day-to-day sense?
Campos: We’ve discussed this a lot. With AI right now, everybody is saying that they have AI, but they don’t explain what is AI, or how it works in their devices. The ones that can show something, show the camera recognizing scenes, and this is AI. It’s a very good example, but it is limited to just one part of the product. Smartphones are broad in terms of things they can do. One example I can share with you now is on ‘small things AI’. We call it AI ringtone. Ringtone; a very small thing in a phone, but very important. Because everybody has it, and it tells you that you should pick up the call. What we are doing, is we are analyzing the sound in the environment. If it’s too noisy, the ringtone will be louder, and even the pattern of vibration will change. If it’s calm, the sound of the ringtone will automatically be lower. This is the type of small implementation of AI that we don’t see other brands doing because they never think through how to deploy AI in a practical way for the end user.
How is the Zenfone 5 series going to disrupt the market?
Shen: We’ve done a lot about the camera, especially with the AI. The camera is still a very important experience for us. Another one, the big one this time, is that we focused on the beauty; especially the screen-to-body ratio. It’s much higher now. My team tells me it’s 90%, and I remember that two years ago, a good screen-to-body ratio would be 71-72%, but now it’s 90%.
Chang: The (top) area is very compact, and we put a nice camera with a good optical sensor over there, but more importantly, we put a second speaker. Even if we have an excellent screen-to-body ratio, we are still able to provide an excellent user experience, not only for the camera but also the speakers.
How does ASUS plan to compete in the Philippine market with other brands (OPPO, Vivo, Huawei, etc.) currently dominating?
Shen: The three key elements that are very important for us to design a smartphone are beautiful design, excellent photography, and unrivaled performance. Our in-house engineers and R&D, at each stage, make sure that each model can deliver that. At the same time, we also want to keep our costs competitive. I actually like the Philippines very much. We try to keep our prices competitive at every segment. I’m confident that this time, we will have big momentum.
What can you say about consumer feedback regarding ASUS copying the iPhone X’s notch with the Zenfone 5?
Campos: If we’re going in this direction, then I guess the right question would be, are you coping the Essential Phone? Because if we’re talking about the notch, they are the first one, and Apple copied them. Apple didn’t do a good job in copying the Essential Phone, we did a better job with that. We have a proximity sensor, a light sensor, a speaker that is 40% bigger than before because of the stereo setup, and we have the camera that we had to make so compact to make the notch even smaller. Compared to Apple, that is just one sensorless, but our notch is much smaller than theirs. We give you more screen. The intention of having a notch in the screen is to give end users more screen – It’s not to put a 3D sensor, and that is our main goal. That’s what we are pursuing.
So if it’s not about who copied who, is it about doing the notch correctly?
Campos: It’s not about doing the notch correctly or wrongly, I think this doesn’t exist, to be honest. Each of the players in the market will choose their own way of doing it, and I have no problem to deliver what end users want. Actually, this is the balance that any company should pursue – what end users want. I’ll talk about two companies. One said they will never give up physical keyboards, while the other said they will never put Android on their phones. What happened to them? If we don’t follow what people want, you might just end up like them.
And that’s it for our exclusive interview with ASUS’ CEO and key executives. It’s always interesting to hear insights from the people behind the brand to learn why their products are the way they are.