Interview: Anuraj Gambhir, BenQ


Anuraj Gambhir is the Head of Technology Marketing & Industry Relations for BenQ Mobile, the Taiwanese handset manufacturer which acquired Siemens’ mobile business. He is one of the industry’s most experienced visionaries, with a career spanning roles in the operator community, the GSM Association, Logica, Sharp and Siemens. Anuraj is also a senior member of IEE & IEEE and has been actively involved with standards bodies such as ETSI & 3GPP.

How did you become involved in the mobile business and what’s your role at the moment?

I have been involved in the mobile business from the beginning of my career spanning over 15 years. It has been a real pleasure to work in this dynamic industry and witness the tremendous growth we have seen globally.

The growth from nil to over 2 billion GSM subscribers has been quite an exciting ride. Approximately 18 users are signing up every second; it took 12 years to reach the first billion whereas the second billion was achieved in under two and half years – the fastest growth seen by any telecoms technology. All eyes out for the third billion now.

We know the landscape of the industry and its subscribers is changing rapidly as the majority of the growth will come from emerging markets such as the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India China) countries, Latin America, Africa and Eastern Europe. I think the biggest impact is touching the lives of people to connect the unconnected in helping bridge the digital divide.

My role has grown from devising technology vision, analysing technology and consumer trends, strategy development, driving innovation to technology marketing and industry relations.

What does the term ‘mobile user experience’ mean to you?

I refer to the term as part of a total user and product experience. It is an expression of completeness, staring with the idea and extending to practical usage.

The experience starts for an end user right from the point of sale, where the first introduction is made to the choice of devices. It is their first contact with the product offering, followed by a comprehension of its capability and functionality along with USPs and ESPs (Unique and Emotional Selling Propositions).

Next is when they hold the device, when the sensoric perceptions come into play. Then it’s the design, the look and feel and touch. Subsequently the overall value proposition is derived as part of the out of box experience, competitive differentiation, cost positioning, mapping of functionality and benefit awareness.

The constituents of the total experience include the access (with and from the device), applications and services, accessories, content, customer service… The industrial design: form factor, material, styling, ergonomics, colour – all of these are strong contributors to the user experience and closely linked to the emotional appeal. Just look at the iPod phenomenon.

The building blocks of usability, such as the iconography, menu tree structure, soft and hard buttons, ought to be influenced by the various factors that make the entire product story. The right combination of hardware and software customisation is always required.

User experience is one of the most effective ways to differentiate in today’s mobile device environment. It is the packaged solution that needs to be considered and not the stand-alone product.

In general we note that the 80/20 rule applies also to mobile functionality usage: more than 80% of the people use less than 20% of the features and capabilities on a mobile device. I had introduced the term ‘SIMPLEXITY’ a few years ago. This refers to the need for providing simplicity in an increasingly complex device and environment. Convenience is the highly sought after attribute within the horizontal theme of simplicity. In fact, the challenge is managing complexity to deliver convenience. Quite often less is more!

The handset plays a pivot role in the value web, as it is the only extension of the network in the hands of the end user. It provides not only the delivery mechanism, but is also the tangible hardware which reveals the personality of the user through the brand image.

It is most important to understand the user expectation and be driven by use cases and user scenarios to design the right product. As an example, when you look at fundamental consumer cameraphone requirements, one of the key elements is the simple to use form factor design that depicts the theme via its adaptable functionality. We call this 1on1 convergence: in this case it must look, feel and be used like a traditional camera. Familiarity with conventional usage is important.

I think the 3 factors that the MEX conference explored of Understanding, Context and Delight are integral to developing the right user experience.

‘Good experience’ is almost self-referential and could better be replaced with this mouthful: an experience that results in loyalty, warm feelings and often word of mouth.

To bring the best user experience we need to hide the technology and use it as an enabler so the benefits jump out. A delightful experience will exploit the embedded innovations to present the true essence of the packaged, hence enhancing its value proposition. Its all about what technology can do for you and what you can do with technology. To quote Leo Tolstoy: “… and where there is no simplicity, goodness & truth, there can be no greatness.”

I see a lot of new technologies in the adaptive user interface, new touch paradigms and multi-modalities that we should look forward to in utilising to improve and leap-frog current user experiences. This along with co- and multi-branded opportunities will bring new players into our eco-system and our mobile devices will in many ways be quite different to what we see today.

How important do you think it is to have direct exposure to end customers when developing new mobile services? Is this something you do when you’re building your own products?

The end users are central and key to the idea and providing an understanding crucial for developing new mobile services. We involve end user thinking right from the beginning, taking into account relevant market trends and carry it along the product creation process with focus group testing as the product concept is built. We nurture it along the way, following a funnel approach.

This enables the product story to be carefully built with key differentiation and innovative aspects being appropriately highlighted.

User know-how provides the foundation for the most successful innovation management processes. I think user involvement in some form, be it directly or via trends analysis, strongly contributes for evolutionary or incremental innovations, although for coming up with disruptive and radical innovations, one has to often go beyond that, translating visionary ideas and mapping entirely new requirements with high potential.

Who do you think has overall responsibility for user experience in the mobile telecoms industry – operators, handset manufacturers, application developers..?

I think we all have the responsibility for building the most compelling user experience for the end user. We cannot afford to work in seclusion or isolation and create walled gardens. We need to partner and collaborate within a mobile eco-system which has transformed itself from a value chain to a complex value web. There certainly needs to be a lead player, depending on the specific topic and core competencies.

What was your first mobile handset and what do you use these days?

My first handset was an Audiovox analog AMPS phone in Australia from my company Optus Communications. My first 2nd generation (i.e. digital) phone was a Motorola 1000 GSM transportable which I carried in early 1993 and this was followed by a true handset (so called Class 4 handportable then) – a Nokia 1011 – the very first GSM handheld.

Despite its size it was very compelling. I even had a student write a BASIC program which used SMS to send a time stamp with latitude and longitude data from a PC, which also had a GPS unit connected to it. This became a basic mobile navigation system.

Another interesting application for SMS we launched internally in our company during 1993/94 was an Optus directory – an interactive database query service. Although we could see the potential but we never imagined the success SMS would bring after it took off exponentially from around 1996 onwards. As we know, it is still a big contributor to the data revenues for most MNOs.

In my current company I usually carry a competitor product to keep our folks on their toes and constantly looking for comparative differentiation.

Which services do you use most often on your mobile?

Depends on which device as I tend to change and swap devices quite often based on context and situation. Accordingly the value-added service and content consumption is optimised.

I sometimes carry a two-piece solution with my voice-centric ultra-slim device (a BenQ-Siemens S68) as a PMG (Personal Mobile Gateway), with a Pocketsurfer internet message pad which has a VGA width display, and optimised full HTML browser. This is a good example of a distributed device architecture.

Sometimes, when I am commuting, I carry a music themed device – our Q-Fi EF51. With its hybrid form-factor and several music add-ons, it provides a compelling digital music player. Incidentally, Q-Fi is a sub-brand we recently launched for our core music device offerings.

Other times I carry our swiss-army knife P51 Windows Mobile 5 smartphone. I use it for business applications, along with Skype VoIP calling over Wi-Fi. I also use the Wayfinder navigation service with its built-in GPS. Some of the device’s fixed mobile convergence prospects carry forward to the connected or smart home experience.

I used the Blackberry service until recently to keep up with emails and am now in the process of trialing another push email solution. I was using our Siemens SK65, which was the first voice-centric device with the full Blackberry push email client.

For 3G services I use our EF81, as a stylish ultra-thin UMTS device. On this I use the imaging functionality with its 2 mega-pixel camera and Google Maps for some early LBS type applications.

I am often experimenting with new devices, especially testing multimedia convergent applications, trialing home networking scenarios with the aim of enjoying content seamlessly through the most appropriate device at any given moment. All of this is emphasising the changing landscape within our industry as the mobile device evolves into a connected lifestyle experience.

Do you think the industry should be moving towards a business model which enables each user to feel as if their handset has been designed for them as an individual?

This would be a great approach to take but it needs to be carefully realised. Realistically a micro-segmentation model could be effective where the clustering leads to an adaptive solution with the right combination of device, service customisation and user-driven personalisation.

What combination of handset design, mobile services and customer support would represent your ideal user experience?

This would depend very much on the application and content that one would consume using the device. They all are important contributors to the compelling solution.

On a device level, convergence coming from the computing and consumer electronics worlds determines the degree of trade-offs or compromises. Based on this, one can cluster the range from a simple device that can be used as a personal mobile gateway (PMG) to a theme-oriented one, such as music, sports, broadcasting and gaming. Or you have all-in-one, Swiss Army-type packaged solutions. Each of these would need individual tailoring of the above building blocks to produce the ‘killer combination’.

What’s the most bizarre use of a mobile device you’ve discovered recently?

Many of us have seen phones being used as paper weights, flash lights, stand-alone radios and alarm clocks…

During a recent trip to India I saw fishermen in Kerala use SMS and voice for negotiating the price of their fresh catch. This was like share trading at the stock exchange. I could foresee they could well exploit IM with mobile positioning and presence functionality.

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2 Comments

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  1. 2
    Simran

    An excellent interview with good questions and insightful answers.

    Anuraj, the mobile industry is lucky to have you as a pioneer and such a visionary.

    Keep up your excellent work in this space.

    simran.

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