Razer to focus on mobile gadgets

Mr Hahn (far left) with staff and game developers who use Razer's OSVR open-source virtual reality platform. Others in the photo are (from left) Mr Aurol, Mr Tandon, Mr Ng and Mr Chong Lai, CEO of Rock Nano Global.
Mr Hahn (far left) with staff and game developers who use Razer's OSVR open-source virtual reality platform. Others in the photo are (from left) Mr Tandon, Mr Aurol, Mr Ng and Mr Chong Lai, CEO of Rock Nano Global.ST PHOTO: LISABEL TING

Move prompted by the success of the company's R&D division

Gaming peripherals manufacturer Razer has long been known for its computer accessories, such as mice, keyboards and headsets.

But buoyed by the success of its Singapore research arm, the company is now eyeing the mobile space.

On the cards could be products such as Razer wireless earbuds, designed by the company's research and deveopment team here, said Mr Hilmar Hahn, associate director of product marketing.

"Generally, mobile is going to be a big thing for Razer, and we're thinking about hardware that plays in the mobile space," he explained. "We are looking at products like wireless earbuds, but anything that goes into the mobile ecosystem will be a focus for us here."

The American company, which is headquartered in California, has a longstanding tradition of focusing on R&D.

It has three research labs in China, the United States and Singapore. Just yesterday, it announced its majority acquisition of THX Sound, which will add the audio-visual company's know-how to its stable.

Of the three R&D labs, the Singapore branch has been the most prolific - 84 out of 116, or over 70 per cent, of the patent families that Razer holds were developed here.

The Singapore R&D team has also been growing steadily. The office has 350 people, of which 143, or about 40 per cent, are involved in R&D. This has grown by about 60 per cent from three years ago, when the R&D team had 85 people.

Mr Hahn added that having a large R&D base here is a strategic decision: "Singapore has good infrastructure, phenomenal talent and proximity to our production lines in Taiwan and China."

Notable products that the Singapore team has worked on include the Nabu and Nabu X wearables, as well as RazerGo, a location-based chat application. This month, another Singapore-born product, the Razer Ornata, will be making its mark on the market.

It is the world's first keyboard to use the patent-pending "mecha- membrane" technology. This fuses two distinct categories of keyboard - membrane and mechanical - and draws on the strengths of both, by combining a mechanical keyboard's "clicky" feel with the soft landing of a membrane keyboard.

Before Razer developed its own switch in 2014, all gaming keyboard manufacturers were using switches from third-party manufacturers, such as Cherry.

However, none of these switches were specifically made for gaming. Mr Kushal Tandon, manager of product marketing (global), said: "We always felt that this switch was great for typing, but it wasn't really good for the needs and demands of hardcore gaming."

After numerous prototypes, a team of eight to 10 people in 2014 released the Razer mechanical switch, which is more durable than the average switch and can be pressed multiple times more quickly.

Mr Tandon said the Singapore R&D team's foray into developing its own mechanical switch several years ago laid the groundwork for current innovation. He explained: "Once we did R&D, and understood and redesigned every single component of the keyboard switch, we could think out of the box.

"The Razer team in Singapore is also on the forefront of technology such as virtual reality (VR). Product marketing manager Jeevan Aurol said: The VR industry is so big, there isn't one single platform that everyone can put their hardware on. Because of that, there's a lot of fragmentation."

Two years ago, the team launched OSVR, an open-source virtual reality platform that aims to be a common denominator for all VR hardware and software. It has also created its own VR headset, the HDK2, which has specs comparable to those of the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

Mr Justin Ng, the head of design and business at game developer Gattai Games, said that Razer's VR efforts have made it easier to develop games for a wide variety of hardware. He said: "It's more efficient, as if something works on the OSVR, it will work for some other headsets that we want to work with as well."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2016, with the headline 'Razer to focus on mobile gadgets'. Print Edition | Subscribe