Creative bets big on Zii technology

CREATIVE Technology’s US$1 billion technology bet, Zii, could show up in TV set-top boxes, digital signage systems and mobile phones from other manufacturers next year.

In an interview with BT, ZiiLabs president Hock Leow offered the clearest directions yet for the local tech group’s latest computing chip technology foray, which was launched in January this year.

The US-based executive, who was in Singapore last week, said that over the next 12 months ‘you will definitely see some form of set-top box from somebody, and some customers embracing it in the digital signage area, while the mobile phone is definitely a possibility’.

He hinted that future Zii-powered devices could include those that run on Internet search giant Google’s upcoming Chrome computer operating system, which could bring Zii into the realm of netbooks.

‘A Zii set-top box can be built for, I am guessing, in the neighbourhood of US$50’, making such devices significantly cheaper than those in the market today, he said. Its low-cost appeal should also make Zii a hit with makers of digital signage systems found in shopping malls, which typically comprise big screen TVs displaying advertisements or informercials fed by PCs or laptops.

As for upcoming Zii mobile phones, they could look like the Zii EGG, a handset Creative launched last month, which runs the Google mobile phone operating system, Android.

Mr Hock said ZiiLabs has been talking with companies and partners from a number of countries including Singapore, about adopting this technology.

He added that Creative is also mulling the possibility of using this technology in the future for its own line of products, such as video conferencing systems and speakers.

Targeted at developers and manufacturers, Creative’s Zii is a low-powered, low-cost computing platform aimed at a broad range of manufacturers as building blocks for mobile phones and other electronic devices. Developed by Creative unit 3DLabs, now renamed ZiiLabs, it features ‘ready-made technologies that can be put together almost like a Lego set, allowing companies to get to the market as fast as possible’, Mr Hock said.

Zii is the latest revenue-diversification effort by Creative, which saw revenues plunge 37 per cent to US$466.1 million for its FY2009. The company last year launched a video conferencing system called inPerson, but that has yet to become a hit. Now, with Zii, market watchers are once again talking it up as Creative’s next big thing.

With Zii, Creative is trying to emulate the business model of chip-makers like Intel Corp, which not only makes chips but designs chipsets, as well as works with software vendors to ensure their applications run well on the hardware.

Mr Hock added, however, that Creative is going one step further by making near-complete products, such as the Zii EGG, which manufacturers can use to churn out their own finished products faster than they can with just starting out from a chipset.

‘Doing something like the Zii EGG really connected what an end product can be to the silicon. This is because the silicon is one end of the spectrum and the end product like the Zii EGG is another end of the spectrum, and between that there is so much work that has to get done – and not every company possesses all levels of engineering to bring it together,’ he said.

‘For some companies, the time savings (by adopting the Zii platform) can be as much as 12 months.’

Mr Hock said this platform can earn ‘significant’ revenue for Creative in future but declined to give a forecast. He did, however, predict that Zii’s biggest market in the near term will be China, because manufacturers there ‘are willing to try and eager to catch up’.

The Business Times, Singapore


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