Arnold Su, Vice President, Consumer and Gaming PC, System Business Group, Asus India, is preparing for a Triathlon in March and so these days he’s jogging, cycling and swimming intensely. The marketer who loves marathons says his most memorable run was in Bordeaux where every two kilometres or so there is a chateau. So in the 42 km race he found himself stopping to drink wine and running — of course, he hurriedly stopped drinking when he realised he would not be able to finish the race.
Asus, he says, is jogging along nicely in India and is the number two in consumer notebook segment and numero uno in the gaming PC segment.
Excerpts from a conversation on what is making the brand tick:
CES is top of the mind right now. So, tell us what are the trends from there we are likely to see introduced in India?
The biggest thing for the PC industry this year is the AI-PC concept. India is one of the most important countries for Asus. So, whatever product we announce globally, it will also be available in India. For example, in CES, we launched the new Intel core Ultra processor laptop and simultaneously in India the pre-order has already started. To highlight some key products, the Zenbook 14 OLED is coming to India — and the pre-booking for this device has started. And, one of the key products announced at CES is the dual screen, an enhanced productivity device. We are also very proud of the new gaming laptops announced at CES. Those will also come to India in a short time.
What are the functionalities of an AI PC?
I’ll start with a very simple example, a few years back, Nvidia announced their RTX graphic cards. And from a hardware solution point of view, they brought technologies like Nvidia RTX, which is the ray tracing part of it and DLSS, which is deep learning, super sampling. It’s a core architecture based on AI, and what we have seen is that they’ve enhanced the gaming performance overall. The end customer may not feel that “Oh, I’ve done work on AI, and this is better”, they just get a better experience. And on the software side of things, Adobe is a very good example, they have put features like generative images, where you can add stuff to the images, or you can just remove stuff. That is just an example on the current state of technology. Once we bring AI chips within our ecosystem as a hardware, physically inside the machine, a lot of the workload which we were able to do on the cloud will partially come back to the system and you will be able to share that workload.
But if workload moves back to from the cloud to the system, will the storage be a problem? Won’t it require more memory?
You’re correct, but the thing is, the system is not gathering or storing data. It is just processing the data live. And intelligent systems are built in such a way that they will use a certain set of instructions you gave to the system; they will use, utilise and eat up all that instruction set, give out your solution and then erase that data completely from memory.
Is the refresh cycle of a PC coming down? How often do consumers change?
In every country, there is different pattern. India is more than five years, but depends on person to person, but average is around five years. And some countries such as in the US or in Europe, the PC for them is already kind of a commodity. So, in US the cycle is only around three years.
Has the smartphone cannibalised the PC market?
This is a question that everybody was talking about before Covid. Then the PC market looked stagnant and mobile market was growing. Before 2020, India’s PC market was less than 10 million units a year. And if we look at only the consumer segment till 2019, the market size in a year was around 3.7 million units. Between 2010 to 2019, the market size was 3.5 to 4million and quite stagnant. But in 2020 itself, it went up to 4.6 or about 4.7, and then in 2021 it was more than 5 million, and then 2022 it slightly declined but still was more than 5 million units. Last year it again declined to 4.8 million. But even then it is much higher than pre-Covid.
Simultaneously, the smartphone mobile phone market is declining. Coming to cannibalisation, the fundamental difference is that mobile phones are still used for content consumption. And PC is used for content creation. Content creation on smartphone is still not that easy. For the PC market, the new segment coming up very fast is the creator segment.
So how big would the creator segment be?
At this moment, it is very small occupying around two per cent of the total PC market. But it is very tricky to put a figure because within the 20 per cent gaming device segment — we feel 30-40 per cent of the users are not using the devices for gaming.
What is the gaming population in India?
In 2016, only 40,000 units of gaming PCs were sold, but last year the numbers reached almost one million units. So, from 40k to one million units, there has been 25 times growth.
On the consumer side, which segment is seeing growth in India?
If we look at consumption data of the past few years, 2021 was the peak for India market size. In 2021, India’s market size for consumer notebooks went up to 5.2 million units, and then in 2022, it dropped to 5 million units. In 2023, it dropped further to 4.8 million units. But at Asus, we have continued to grow from 6,70,000 to 8,30,000 and to 8,70,000. Our market share in India has risen from 13 per cent last year to more than 18 per cent this year. So, we are performing quite well, and we are increasing our share, because even when the market is declining, we are still growing.
What are the factors? Is it the price? How are you gaining market share?
There are a few different angles to it. First is the price. Most people, including myself, saw India as a price-sensitive market when I first came here. But, the entry-level segment is very small in India. The sub-₹30,000 laptop is less than 5 per cent in India, whereas if we look at a similar GDP country, say Indonesia, the entry-level market there is around 40 per cent. So, we found that Indian customers are ready to pay more to get a better laptop.
If we look at India’s market now, the mainstream segment is already around ₹50,000. And then if you take the premium segment (₹50k to ₹80k), which is around 30 per cent of the market, that is also quite big. Gaming is around 20 per cent of the Indian market already. In spite of the overall decline in consumer market, gaming segment continues to see an increase.
In terms of product segmentation, at Asus, we try to cover almost every segment. Our strategy is that, from a product point of view we aim to give the latest technology at affordable price points. For example, in the past two years, Asus is the first company to bring the OLED display to the sub-₹40,000 segment. This is why we are growing in this product.
Another reason is our product coverage. Our goal is to make our product easily available. So, initially we worked with online players, because it’s very easy for them to serve to all the pin codes across India. But then as a company our job is not just to sell. We also want to make our products accessible. Online is not going to be able to do that. In the stores, till you pay, you will never physically touch the machine. We feel this is wrong. So, right now we are insisting all our dealers to open that machine for the customer before they buy it. The customer should be able to touch, feel, play on it, and then make a decision to buy the device. This is a big difference.
What percentage of your sales is online now?
Around 30 per cent. The remaining will be offline, which is the key. We have more than 250 stores in India. We are also working with more than 3,500 dealers across India.
Coming to the brand perspective, you know, there’s rising nationalism, how do you see that?
We are manufacturing in India. We are already the No 2 brand in the consumer segment.
Another survey by GFK of the top five PC brands in India has shown Asus to have the highest number of young generation consumers. Fifty per cent of consumers in the age group of 16-24 are our consumers. So, our customers are very young, who are also the future of India.