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Ghosh says one big priority for her is to make technology transformation a national agenda. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint (Ramesh Pathania/Mint)
Ghosh says one big priority for her is to make technology transformation a national agenda. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
(Ramesh Pathania/Mint)

Everytime you call the PC dead, it evolves, says Debjani Ghosh

Intel India MD talks about the research at Intel aimed at making devices more intuitive, evolution of computers

New Delhi: Starting with Intel in the public relations department 17 years ago, Debjani Ghosh rose to become managing director of Intel India in December. She spoke in an interview about Ultrabooks becoming more affordable, the research under way at Intel aimed at making devices more intuitive and the evolution of computers. Edited excerpts:

The Ultrabook has been one of Intel’s biggest launches in the recent past. How is it doing?

It is aimed to be that ultimate device that combines the functionality of a full-form laptop with the features that you are so used to now in a tablet—such as touch, instant on, etc., along with the enhanced features that Intel will be able to bring, such as enhanced security and good looks, so that it becomes that one device that everybody must have. We are very happy with the progress till date.

We launched it a year back, and just a few months back we launched the second generation. We have got a fantastic response and a lot of manufacturers have signed up to come out with their designs and with every single new launch it gets even more sleeker—it has more features and it is more stylish. We are very excited by the innovation behind the product, and by the end of this year, you will have touch-enabled Ultrabooks and the different form factors coming out such as convertibles, etc. So it’s going to get even more exciting.

The high price of Ultrabooks seems to be an inhibiting factor.

Everybody asks about the price—when it was launched, it was pretty high end. But in technology, it’s all about component pricing. Today, we have three-four manufacturers which are selling Ultrabooks below 50,000 in India, and at the end of the year, we expect it to come down even more. It will hit mainstream pricing by the end of this year. I look forward to Ultrabooks becoming mainstream by the end of this year.

There has been some cricisism that Ultrabook specifications on size aren’t being met.

There are different categories that are coming out. They are called various different things. Yes, there has been some confusion with some of the products being wrongly termed as Ultrabooks, be it at retail level or elsewhere. Wherever we find it out, both the manufacturers and us, we quickly correct it. I don’t think anybody is wilfully going out there to confuse the customer. A lot of features in the Ultrabooks will be what normal notebooks won’t have. I think it will sort itself out. Consumers know what they are paying for.

There are so many form factors, there are so many people accessing the Internet for the first time through their mobiles—how do they all fit in the picture?

I won’t bet my money on the fact that these are going to be the devices (that will survive) over the next 5-10 years, because this is just the beginning. We have no clue in terms of what is going to come next. Don’t obsess or worry about how it will fit in or what is going to be the device of the future, because there will never be one device, at any given point of time. It is going to continously evolve. Innovation in this industry is guaranteed. You remember an old IBM quote which said nobody is going to buy a PC? And then everybody proved them wrong. How many times have our industry leaders stood up and declared the PC to be dead? PC is the most Darwinian creature that you can think of. Everytime you call the PC dead, it evolves.

The common mistake we make is that the PC is a laptop or a desktop; it is, in fact, personal computing, which can be across any kind of device. And it will continue to adapt.

Broadly, which devices can we expect to be survive?

Trust me, (there’s) going to be a lot more happening in this space. I am not concerned about which of these forms will be around five years from now. We should instead be thinking about how will the usage change five years from now. That’s going to determine what kind of devices will be available. Today, the usage is mostly social networking and a few other things; hopefully, five years down, it will be a little more than that. Today, it’s mostly about Facebook, Twitter and that’s it—for a nation, it is very dangerous. Because if that’s all its consumers are doing, you are not contributing a lot to your growth or your economy or even to your personal growth. So, if we have to really compete with China and all the other developing economies, it’s not about how many devices are there, it’s about what kind of usage are you making on those devices and how is that contributing back to the country. Because if you grow, your country will grow.

I think we will see a lot more deeper usage in India as broadband improves. The national fibre optic plan, that’s very ambitious. (I’m) really hoping it works out because that will get quality broadband across villages. I am sure you will have more and more people going to the Internet to get job skills, to look for facilities and education. And that is going to shape demand a bit more differently than it is today. The most important thing which is going on in our labs is about devices of the future which can respond to your senses—how you think, feel, speak, touch, everything. That’s going to give rise to a plethora of devices.

It could also mean that there could be different things for different people.

Absolutely. Different things for different people. You are right—netbooks haven’t taken off in India. But in Indonesia and the Philippines, out of every two form factors of clamshells sold, one is a netbook and it’s growing. So, it depends on what people do with them. It is too soon for us to declare that this is it. I think we have seen nothing yet. Both from the usage model as well as the device innovation, it is just starting.

It’s getting increasingly difficult to predict what will work and what will not. How challenging is it to continously adapt and innovate?

You cannot predict the future with any surety, but you can create it. But that takes a lot of guts, self-confidence and belief, and that’s what we have done all through. We have never said that this is what it will be, but we have said that we believe this is where it is going and we have gone out innovated to those needs. Like the Ultrabook—if we would have come to you all and said that this going to be the future, everyone would have said no, it is not needed. But today, it has established itself as a new PC category. So, I don’t think that Intel is about predicting the future, but it is about creating the future.

It won’t be just about touch, we will have to look for other ways as well—for example, gesture recognition, speech recognition, and lots more. So the work at Intel labs is not stopping; we have always created the future, we will continue to create it. That’s a risk of being a market leader. Sometimes you will fail, but most of the times it pays off.

Mobile and tablet are two spaces where Intel was sort of caught off gaurd, so what’s the big catch-up plan there?

I think we were late; we were definitely late. I wouldn’t say that we missed the oppurtnity because it is just starting off, there is so much more growth to come. We have already launched the phone in several countries, we have already launched in India with Lava, and there is a lot more to come. The roadmap is gettting better and better with every year. Tablets— we already have a few around, but you will see a lot of focus with Windows 8. When Windows 8 gets launched, you will see a plethora of Intel tablets getting launched then.

It is too early to share those details, but the kind of innovation Intel does, no one else can do. It is fun, it is for the first time that we are playing in a segment where we are not the leaders. So, it’s not a race where you have to reach the finish line or you are dead. The race has just started.

Two of the biggest phone makers—Samsung and Apple—are not using Intel chips.

I won’t comment on individual companies or their plans. Our goal will be to work with as many players as we can. We have created a system which is horizontal; today everybody is going vertical. We are firm believers of the horizontal or the open system, where partners are able to take the technology further and come out with their own devices. We are in talks with most partners and are pretty pleased with the progress. No red flags at this time in terms of losing someone. But these things take time, because when we go into a new partnership, there is a lot of R&D (research and development) which goes into it to match the specifications. But we are very committed to bringing the best of Intel to the devices in terms of performance, battery life as well as the entire experience. So our partners trust us as we have been working with them for the past 30-40 years.

When is the Intel StudyBook coming? There’s much expected of it.

Is there? I am still looking at it. Because the StudyBook is not about the form factor, it has to be about what people can do with it. Whether we have the right local ecosystem of content, partners—that’s the challenge that I have given to the team, to bring a really compelling usage model. Then it makes sense. Even though I am Intel, I believe what will win the battle in the long term is the usage model. So StudyBooks, I am still evaluating the plans.

What is your biggest priority as chief of Intel India?

One big priority for me is that we have to make technology transformation a national agenda. If technology is not used right, forget about BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China), we are already lagging behind BRIC, the overall Indian economy (not just the PC market) is going to get significantly hurt if things continue the way it is. I am very passionate about the divide between education, healthcare and gender biases we have in India. And I do belive that these are basic rights—access to equal oppurtunity, access to education and health—every child should have them. And I am a firm believer that technology is the greatest enabler. When you are a market leader, you have certain obligations to the industry, it is not just about selling the product or celebrating a profit, and I this is where we have to pull everyone together.

How is it being a woman in an industry that has mostly men at the top?

It’s amusing. It’s amusing to watch the reactions when you walk into a room. I have been in this profession for 17 years now, I think it’s a little bit more in India than in other places. That’s why gender equality is a big passsion of mine because this country desperately needs it. But I have to give credit to our men—they may come in with a notion, but they are quick to change it. Somebody asked me—there are so many of these boys’ clubs in India, how do you handle that? And I say that I will not apologize and I don’t feel awkward gate-crashing into them. And once I am in, I’m in. I have a seat and I do well.

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