Here at Ritchie’s Room, we plan to have a monthly spotlight on a mover and shaker in the consumer electronics industry, to provide readers an insight into some of the challenges and opportunities faced by businesses in our sector, and hopefully a glimpse into the future technologies we may see. These will be honest chats with people I know and work with in the retail CE industry.
Our first featured interview is with the Australian and New Zealand Country Manager of AMD, Brian Slattery, who actually jumped at the chance to be our debut interviewee – which was surprising and humbling! AMD, along with their competitor Intel, produce the majority of the processors that are used in today’s notebooks, netbooks and desktops. Brian was gracious enough to spend some time discussing AMD’s customer segmentation, the battle against the marketing behemoth that is Intel, and how their message is communicated to potential customers.
One of the big take-outs from this session was the emphasis AMD is putting on graphics and leveraging the ATI acquisition in both production and marketing. The other clear direction from AMD is the strategy to “demystify” their proprietary technology in an effort to be understood and attractive to mainstream customers.
Full transcript is below. Thanks goes out again to Brian for his detailed and open responses.
Ritchie’s Room: Brian, thanks for taking the time to chat today. You’ve settled into the Australian market now for a little while – how do you see it differing to other international markets you’re familiar with?
Brian Slattery: Hi Ritchie, thanks for your time as well. For your readers, a bit of background on myself – I was born and raised in the U.S. and lived and worked there until moving to Tokyo in 2003 to take advantage of my university degrees in Japanese and marketing. I worked in Japan for a few years before joining AMD in 2006, took on an Asia Pacific role in 2007, and moved to Sydney to take on my current role as Country Manager of Australia/New Zealand in late 2009.
The thing I love about the Australian market is the eager consumption of the latest technology, and the value Australian consumers recognize in new tech in our ever-changing market. The strong emphasis Australians place on graphics in particular was a welcome sight for me. With social media and what I call “digital memories” (digital photos, videos, even blogs and social media updates) becoming such a huge part of our lives, it is encouraging to see consumers pick up on the natural tie-in with graphics.
RR: Change is a huge driver of our industry – technology progression, end user behaviour, and the prominence of social media (to name a few) all intersect at the manufacturer’s ability to provide products that suit the market’s evolving needs. How do you see the PC market changing (or staying the same) in the next 12 months, and how does AMD intend to position itself in this market?
BS: We’re well past the phase where having a PC is “nice” – now it’s essential. Since PCs have become an everyday part of our lives, I think we’ll continue to see the need to not only provide the tech part of the solution, but the need for those of us in the industry to be “translators of technology.” It’s not enough to have the latest and greatest specs; we need to be able to clearly explain if a PC fits the unique needs of each consumer. We have developed Vision Technology with that in mind.
We are able to leverage AMD’s distinction of being the only company that provides both x86 processors and discrete graphics cards to ensure that the combination of those two technologies specifically meets customer needs, whether that be an entry level PC for someone who wants to simply check email, cruise the Internet, and handle some productivity tasks all the way up to consumers who want nothing but the best in gaming, video rendering, music editing, and mega tasking. I think the companies that can best articulate how to meet the needs of consumers without getting too deep into technical discussions will be best suited to keep consumers happy, and AMD is in a great position to do exactly that.
RR: The iPad has shown that users have embraced the portable touchscreen concept, and the overall tablet category is gearing up to explode with most big brand vendors preparing to make an offering either late this year or early next year. Do you see this new category eating into the existing market or creating new market opportunities? What’s AMD’s strategy in the tablet space?
BS: I think the success of the iPad cannot be denied, and is a pleasant surprise as it has opened up a new segment. Personally, I see that particular spin on the tablet form factor as being very much a “consumption device.” People are hungry for the ability to quickly browse the Internet for some quick facts, read a few news articles, play a five minute game to kill some time, and then return to whatever they were doing.
I think tablets today do have some limitations in being used as a “creativity device” so I think the existing PC market will remain strong. As a secondary or even tertiary device, however, there are a lot of merits tablets can bring to the table. While I cannot comment on specific products, we do have solutions at AMD that can address this exciting new space and I hope we will see them in the hands of Australian consumers soon.
RR: Intel is fairly dominant in the Australian market, particularly in the mainstream retailers. How does AMD cut through the noise generated by your competitor’s mass marketing activities?
BS: There are many price points and product ranges where AMD based solutions are significantly outselling our competitor’s products, and we are able to manage this by providing the best price-performance possible to consumers — not television commercial campaigns that end up being paid for by consumers. We take pride in working with retail sales staff that end up wholeheartedly recommending AMD products to customers in their stores because they recognize the outstanding products and value we can bring to consumers.
RR: Regarding customer decision-making, there seems to be much less reliance on “speeds and feeds” as opposed to the practical benefits of computer features these days. How does AMD address this as a company that produces one of the main “speed” factors in PC hardware?
BS: We divide our consumer audience into two segments: The “processor aware” and the “processor unaware”. Historically, this industry focused on a very small percentage of the population that could tell you about the benefits of a 2.8 GHz dual-core processor vs a 2.3 GHz quad-core processor. We can have that discussion with the processor-aware. But for the average person looking to purchase a PC today, they will tell you exactly what they expect to DO with their computer. They want to stream HD videos from YouTube, or edit photos from their latest collection. Maybe they want to have a video chat with a relative living abroad, or play the latest games. Those are real world usage scenarios.
With Vision Technology from AMD, we can map those usage needs to the right processor and graphic combinations –the platforms – that will enable consumers to get the experience they want from their PC. The magic is that we can do it without someone needing to study all of those speeds and feeds or do hours of research on what specs their computer needs. For people who want to know the tech, sure we can talk about it, but we feel our Vision levels (Vision, Vision Premium, Vision Ultimate, and Vision Black) create a “seal of approval” to comfort the non-technical consumers out there that a PC with the appropriate level of Vision Technology will do exactly what the consumer wants it to do.
RR: It looks like one of the holy grails for the ATI acquisition will be realised with the world’s first APU (accelerated processing unit) being released. When do you see these being integrated into consumer PCs, and what improvements will end users experience with the fusion of the CPU and GPU?
BS: I was working at the AMD Japan office in Tokyo the day our company announced that it was acquiring ATI, and you could feel the excitement surrounding the potential of the two companies combined surge through the room. Putting the CPU and GPU together on one piece of silicon will bring a higher level of performance, lower power, and a fantastic end user experience. More and more applications today are dependent on GPU technology, such as exploring the globe with Google Earth to converting videos to a format for use with a handheld mobile device. The first APU products have already shipped to our OEM partners, and we fully expect to see products on shelf in Q1 2011. Keep your eyes peeled.
RR: For some time now, whitegoods and audio-visual manufacturers have been communicating the “environmentally friendly” message and making changes to products as part of their “green” initiatives. Do you work with the PC manufacturers on power consumption and other “green” issues? Does the shift from being a processor-driven company to platform-driven assist in tackling climate change and other top-of-mind customer concerns?
BS: AMD has been a leading innovator in addressing the need to be environmentally conscious while producing great technology. We brought worldwide attention towards green IT with our first generation of Opteron processors several years ago, and continue to be an industry leader with every product line released. Those interested in reading more can learn about some of our more surprising activities at: http://www.amd.com/us/aboutamd/corporate-responsibility/environmental-performance/Pages/enviromental-performance.aspx
RR: Thanks for your time today, Brian. As a final question, can you give an insight into AMD as an employer, and how innovation is encouraged to produce market winning ideas and products?
BS: I’ve been working with AMD for the past four and a half years, and am a fan of the company for many reasons beyond the fact they sign my pay check. I truly feel AMD brings choice to customers, and choice brings innovation. That drive to innovate flows through the entire company, and we are all encouraged to be creative on how to best serve our customers, produce technology customers need, and now more than ever make certain customers can easily match their wants and needs to the appropriate products based on Vision technology.. Thank you for your time, and thank you to all of the readers of your blog in their support for AMD.
One thing is certain: if everyone at AMD shares the same passion and enthusaism as Brian for their product, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with.
Thanks for reading and see you again soon!