After having set the stage with not one, not two, not three, but seven entry-level options (priced between Rs 17,999 to Rs 23,999) in a short span of six months, Asus is set to give Chromebooks another big shot in the arm come 2022, through an even more diversified portfolio of Chrome OS-powered machines, including higher-spec models, that it believes would help cater to much better—demanding—use cases that it wants to target in India.
“There are consumers who prefer Chrome OS as a platform and some are also looking out for higher spec products,” Asus India’s Dinesh Sharma told Financial Express Online’s Saurabh Singh on the sidelines of Chromebook CX1101 launch on Monday.
“So, there is a market out there and we clearly want to be the leaders in the Chromebook space and we want to cater to the needs of all segments that exist in the market.”
About the changing landscape with more and more Chinese brands foraying into India’s burgeoning laptop/PC space lately and obvious comparisons with smartphone side of things, Sharma said, “to say that because something happened in mobile might also happen in this category is not going to be that simple and that straightforward,” and that the two “battlegrounds” were completely different.
Excerpts from the interview.
FE: What is your go-to market strategy with Chromebooks? Why get into it? What are your expansion plans?
Dinesh Sharma: We are here to make a big difference in the lives of consumers. We want to democratise education and to do that, you need access to a very good device at a very affordable price point. We (also) want to make computing ubiquitous and easy (to use). We brought Chromebooks (earlier in the year) with these two clear cut objectives, and we are going to continue to expand the range in India.
So far, we’ve got seven models below the Rs 30,000 price point, but soon, we’ll expand the range above Rs 30,000 price point because we are also seeing that Chromebooks would make sense for a certain segment of customers in India, even with higher core, higher processing power. That’s going to be the broad direction. We are going to have a much larger range and better form factors to be able to cater to much better use cases that we want to target in India. As we speak, we’re working on products which can be launched in 2022.
FE: How has the response been so far?
Dinesh Sharma: The reception has been excellent, not just in terms of trends increase on Google but also in terms of sales. Most of the models were out of stock in just about 10 to 15 days of launch. The growth that we want to get from Chromebooks as a category as well as within our company as a part of our portfolio is very significant. In the consumer space, with whatever we’ve done (with Chromebooks), we have become a leading brand in India already.
FE: What are some of the observations/learnings you’ve made specifically with regards to the Indian market?
Dinesh Sharma: If you look at it from a long-term perspective, typically the commercial PC market was bigger than the consumer PC market. But a paradigm shift has happened, post the pandemic, in that the consumer PC market today is almost equal to commercial PC market because of the increased consumption of PCs (at home). With the one-on-one requirement also, a couple of things have changed. One is that you need a lot more PCs (now) in homes, so consumers would also need to ultimately budget their expenses. Second, the way we are consuming the PC has (also) changed. Earlier, offline applications were dominant. Post the pandemic, applications like Zoom, which we probably would not have heard of before, have become one of the most used products globally. Whether it be browsing the Internet or attending video conferencing calls, or shopping online, or doing banking work, all these activities are (now) online applications.
So, there is a need for products which can meet bulk of the use cases or customers at an affordable price point. That is where Chromebooks become an ideal fit for the market because they give you this capability of getting a lighter Chrome OS at a reasonable price point wherein you can conduct all the kind of application processing work that is really required by you. Another good thing that we see is that over 95% of India uses an Android phone today. They are already into the app ecosystem which is there on the Play Store. They understand the user interface of an Android smartphone much better, so when they’re switching to a Chromebook, the switch from a UX perspective and ease of understanding is very simple. Chromebooks meet a significant need in the Indian market, and they’re quite well suited for the market here.
FE: Who is the main target audience for one of the Chromebooks in your current portfolio?
Dinesh Sharma: Students, at least till K12, and the elderly people are a big target audience. We see a lot of schools opting for Chromebooks because it is so easy for them in the future when schools will resume, and more hybrid education will come into the play. Children don’t need to carry a laptop like this back home and get it back to school every day. We see a lot of scope for expanding (into) the EdTech space. A lot of enterprises today are also cloud focused. They don’t have any applications residing on the laptop and they don’t allow their employees to store any information on the laptop. They would prefer Chromebooks.
FE: Will you be open to taking cues from rivals like Apple to make your products (Chromebooks in this case) more affordable and accessible to schools and students?
Dinesh Sharma: We believe that our products are already priced fairly. Having said that, are we working with educational institutes to make Chromebooks accessible to more students? The answer is yes. Most of the institutions are not operational yet. Hopefully by 2022, they will be, and at that point of time, we will see the momentum buildup to figure out what kind of a business model could work best to meet the needs of students. We are very open and want to work with schools and educational institutions to figure out what would be the right approach of making it easier for consumers to buy these products.
FE: How does a Chromebook stack up against an equivalently specced Windows machine? More importantly, can an entry-level Chromebook be your primary device?
Dinesh Sharma: We give both options to the consumers. We have very affordable Windows machines available at price points similar to our Chromebooks. There are certain use cases where a Chromebook would perform better. Chrome OS has certain advantages especially when it comes to entry-level price points because of the way the product is structured. Say for instance, both Chrome OS and Windows entry-level machines come with eMMC storage. Windows operating system occupies more space. Chrome OS occupies less space, so these machines would give you more available storage. The speed of the OS is also different, with the same level of processor (Chrome OS would be faster). If somebody feels that their use cases are primarily going to be online driven, a Chromebook could really be a good option, but if somebody feels that they have a budget, but still want all the benefits of the Windows operating system, including having the capability to use a full-fledged Microsoft Office without going in for Office 365, then in that scenario, they could probably opt for a Windows option.
Yes, an entry-level Chromebook can be your primary machine.
FE: India’s laptop market is changing. With more and more Chinese brands foraying into the space (with high-end specs like fast SSDs at rock-bottom prices), do you see a landscape similar to what happened on the smartphone side of things in the future?
Dinesh Sharma: The PC market is very different from the smartphone market. It is not the same type of battleground. It’s a very different type of battleground which will have very different dynamics. To say that because something happened in mobile might also happen in this category is not going to be that simple and that straightforward. One of the biggest things that consumers need to keep in mind is that laptop service is very different from mobile phone service. Mobile phone services are carry-in services. Laptop services are on-site. So, when you’re getting swayed by a certain proposition, you need to look at it end to end. You need to look at it not only from a product (feature) and price point of view, you need to also keep in mind that your laptop is not a phone which you’re going to replace in one or two years. You’re going to use it for five years maybe and then you’ll need the brand to stand with you for five years and give you the support which is required.
We have 220 plus service centres and we can reach majority of PIN codes with our service and it’s a very robust service which has been built over a long period of time. This is true for us on the commercial PC side as well. As a commercial PC customer, you can ask for extended warranty packs for up to five years, you can ask for accidental damage protection packs for five years. The default warranty on our commercial PCs is international. We provide battery warranty extension up to five years, hard disk retention up to five years. The same thing applies to our desktops.
More importantly, an Asus laptop that costs Rs 17,999 gets the same level of support (as any of the premium, more expensive offerings).