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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Sim Wong Woo 2.0

Since Creative Technology CEO Sim Wong Hoo emerged from years of self-imposed hibernation, he has unveiled two key new products the Sound BlasterAxx and the Hanzpad - and is sounding increasingly confident.

The renascent Mr Sim is bullish about his new babies and is focusing on a few things.

No longer is quantity and choice as important.

He is paying more attention to design.

He is also keeping things simple instead of stuffing his products with features almost for the sake of stuffing them with features which, it must be said, buyers might never use.

Most significantly, he is admitting that he learnt these lessons from Apple and its visionary, obsessively perfectionist co-founder Steve Jobs.

In last week's media briefing on the Sound BlasterAxx, Mr Sim revealed that learning these three key lessons from Apple influenced his strategy for Creative's turnaround: stay focused, keep products simple and design elegant gizmos.

Learn from Apple? How bizarre. I would never have thought this possible.
Last week was the first time in memory that Mr Sim actually made not a single snide remark about his giant American competitor.

Step back a few years - quite a few years.

Remember this: It was not Apple that unveiled the world's first MP3 player. Creative's Nomad Jukebox made that debut in 1999.

Apple launched the iPod only in 2001. It killed the Nomad and all other MP3 players.
At product launch after product launch in succeeding years, Mr Sim never passed up a chance to sneer at the iPod.

Why, he asked, would anyone want an iPod when it doesn't even have an FM radio?
Most of Creative's music players had radios built in.
It was not until last November a full decade after the first iPod appeared - that an iPod featured a radio.

Apple would release one or two new iPod models a year. They would be snapped up.
Creative would unveil several models in different sizes, shapes and colours.

Customers ended up confused.

The escalating hostility culminated in a lawsuit in March 2006. Creative sued Apple for infringing its patent on the user interface design in its MP3 players. Apple paid Creative US$lOO million and let Creative make iPod accessories.

But it was Apple that went on to own 80 per cent of the market for music players.
Recently, Mr Sim revealed to The Sunday Times that at least part of his sniping at Apple was pure posturing, because Apple was a competitor.

In an interview at midnight timed before his nightly run - he admitted that he did respect Apple and its ability to design beautiful. and elegant products with just enough features to appeal to consumers.

He also told me that he has become authoritarian. No work on any product he is focused on goes on without his approval.

He understands engineering and product development. He has an eye for detail. So, he said, he just cannot let someone else make the final decision, especially if he wants to ensure that the three lessons are followed.

Pursuing this strategy, he discovered Creative's curse. It is hard being Creative Technology, he said.

It is hard because people expect the company to be creative. His engineers wanted to be creative by adding new features to existing products.

He had to avoid being distracted by proposals for devices, invitations to invest in tech start-ups, and requests to meet scientists and business people.

Driving his turnaround plan, he had to maintain his focus.

Looking back, he thinks the MP3 business declined because they did not do a good enough job at marketing.

"We were in such a hurry to release new products (that) we didn't do a good job of ensuring that every single product was perfect before it went out the door," he said.

Now, he is taking his time. Having unveiled the Sound BlasterAxx, Creative will make it available only from the end ofjuly. No journalist was allowed to review a prototype - lest the experience be less than perfect.

"I told my engineers it is okay to move a little slowly. More important to get it right," he said.

Creative's turnaround remains a work in progress.

His top priority is to build great products, build sales and help the company to improve its bottom line.

Then, he wants to reward shareholders for their patience.

Between 1998 and last year, he has returned $1.1 billion in the form of dividends and share buybacks. The company has paid a dividend every year except in 2008. He wants to be able to continue to do this.

Meanwhile, having taken another leaf from Mr Steve Jobs' book, Mr Sim has received just $1 a year in salary since July 2007.

He still owns a third of the company, so he receives about $9.3 million annually in dividends based on the average dividend rate of 40 cents a share.

He continues to run - a five-year habit that helps clear his mind. He runs two marathons a year: the Sundown Marathon in May, and the Standard Chartered Marathon in December. His last, on May 26, was completed in 7hr 2Omin.

And what of his relationship with Apple?

It is friendly. Some mocked him for inserting a full-page tribute in The Straits Times when Mr Steve Jobs died last October; sarcastic, they called it.

No, it was out of respect and admiration for Mr Jobs. He paid for the $33,000 ad with his own money.

It's plausible. Many were eager to write Mr Jobs' corporate obituary before his remarkable second coming at Apple.

Perhaps, now that Mr Sim is prepared to say publicly what he learnt from a master, he may be able to write the script for his own successful second act.

Torch Bearer for Future
The Sound BlasterAxx combines Creative Technology's best audio technology with built-in speakers to give clear and powerful sound.

Priced from $129, it is the torch bearer for Creative's future products because all of them will be like it: portable, easy to use and set up.

Said Creative chief executive and co-founder Sim Wong Hoo: "A lot of thought went into the device. For example, I wanted stereo sound. Usually, you would need two speakers, linked via wires. This is messy.

"With our box, the speakers are positioned in two different angles on top of each other so that music or any audio playback will be in stereo."

A patent has been filed for this method of arranging the stereo speakers in one box.

He also cut many features to keep the device easy to use.

The product looks elegant. About the height of a stool, the black hexagonal-shaped device has a touchscreen panel that glows a faint blue when it is switched on.

It is light and easily portable. There is no software to install. To get it to work, just plug in a USB cable or Bluetooth device to a phone, tablet or computer.

It is for use with phones, tablets, PCs and Macintosh computers. There are three models and they will be available from the end of next month.

This is the 11th generation of the original Sound Blaster built by Creative. Unveiled in 1981, the original gave sound to computers for the first time.
via Straits Times

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Anonymous said...

Hope it sounds better than what he preached. Quality of product is the major reason why Apple can repeately kill or punish its competitors. Wonder what's their next target?

Anonymous said...

Sound blastet Axx in stock. How's the sales?

Anonymous said...

this is the only creative/zii fansite left. please quickly order sb axx 8 and do a review for us. show everyone that this is hot, this is a must get gadget.

Anonymous said...

this site is dead? is zii dead? is sb axx dead beore debut?

Jimmy Loh said...

we used to get review units from creative but after the previous internet marketing guy from creative resigned, we are not getting the latest review units :( the last one we got is the zen x-fi3. we hope to get the SBX review unit too

Anonymous said...

if they continue to lose several tens of millions till christmas quarter, they are likely to quit altogether, maybe they can still offer S$2 a share exit offer. their tens of patents are pretty much worthless. nokia has tens of thousands.

Anonymous said...

no benefit to customers no benefit to stakeholders . wonder why they run this company?

Anonymous said...

Wrong! share price still holding well at 3.5+ despite weak market. selling has dry out. SHAREHOLDERS RULE!

Anonymous said...

3.57 up up up. even with all the bad news, it still goes up. SHAREHOLDERS RULE!

Anonymous said...

Latest review by cnetasia gave Hanzpad rather good review!Though Nvidia chip in Aus's tablet runs faster! So when will hanzpad debut?

Anonymous said...

I think hanzpad specs is outdated.

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Title as Woo instead of Hoo??

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CREATIVE share price has been soo quite . . . CALM BEFORE A STORM ?????
Lets wait and see !

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Anonymous jimmy trolling to increase site hits. Look at the number of ads and tracking cookies in this so called fansite.

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Anonymous said...

hope sim also look into maketing and creating the momenteum for sale. he who makes the best mouse trap does not get the world attention. sales got to be build market segment by market segment

Anonymous said...

hope hope

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