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Laptop design challenges – exclusive interview with Alex Lin from MSI

As MSI prepares to launch a brand new, top of the range gaming laptop, KitGuru took the opportunity to spend time with Alex Lin, the Product Manager for notebooks. We were interested to know what kind of challenges he and his team face when trying to bring a new product to market.

It’s clear to industry insiders like KitGuru, that MSI has seen 2 large changes in direction when it comes to notebooks. Around 10 years ago, the company decided that notebooks were the market to be in and a huge amount of resource was pushed into achieving ‘Global Top 10 Status’ with research organisations like IDC.

The problem is that in order to register on an IDC chart, you need to be making a vast number of units – and pushing them through a global channel – regardless of whether or not you actually sell them.

In simple terms, it becomes a channel management business – not a design & innovation business. We asked Alex for the inside track.

“There will always be brilliant ideas”, he told us. “But if you want to succeed with your design, then there are 3 elements that must be addressed right at the start”.

“The first is always thermal design”, he said. “Sure, a company as big as MSI can order custom designed components, but there is a hard deck when it comes to wattage and you cannot go below it”.

“You know the power going in, you know which components are involved, so straightaway you can see if there will be a major issue”, he explained.

At MSI HQ, our young lady guide wasn’t sure how close our lens could get to the thermal testing equipment, so we leaned in and asked her to keep a look out. You can get an idea of the ovens-n-fridges room from this shot. Products are constantly tested – even after sale (returned product gets tested the most) – to see what the engineering teams can learn and improve upon for the next spin.

MSI-Thermal-Testing-Centre-Beat-IT-2014-KitGuru

“Next you need to know which technologies you will be using”, said Alex. “That means getting all of the most up to date roadmap information together, then speaking with your design and engineering teams to see when they will be ready for MP [Mass Production – Ed]”.

“Around 5 or 6 years ago, we were following a mass-market strategy, but that changed”, he told us.

Eric Kau (VP for MSI’s notebook division) and his team, came to the conclusion that it was not possible to compete with cheap designs built from the lowest quality components.

Strangely, Samsung and Sony seem to have hit issues of their own – and subsequently landed on the same conclusion. But it has taken them 5 years longer than MSI to realise the challenge.

Next, we asked Alex why market positioning is so important.

“Well, we have dedicated ourselves to constant innovation – to be first to market with the latest technologies – and to try and sell out of stock before that technology becomes old”, he told KitGuru. “That way, we can avoid having a channel over-stocking problem”.

Sounds like paradise – so it can’t be easy. How do you go around achieving a complete sell-through?

“Achieving a complete sell-through means accurately predicting when we will launch – and what technologies will be available at that time”, said Alex. “If you can get the latest technology to market first, with an attractive feature set and competitive price – then selling out is possible”.

“That ability to sell out all of your stock is the 3rd guidance in our business process”, said Alex.

Given the way that MSI’s GT72 sold out – solely based on pre-orders, even though it was priced at £2,300 –  seems to show the strategy working. Here’s a shot of Sam Chern with Alex Lin (right). They seem very happy with the results of the new strategy.

Discuss on our Facebook page, over HERE.

Sm-Chern-Alex-Lin-MSI-HQ-Beat-IT-2014-KitGuru

.KitGuru says: MSI would not be drawn on which of their competitors make money in the notebook space, but they believe that – with their new strategy – they are one of the only profitable players in the market.

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