Razer CEO: PC market rewards mediocrity, not innovation

Min-Liang Tan wants to reinvent the desktop with the company's Project Christine concept, but says he faces resistance from manufacturers.


After starting out as one of many companies creating controllers and other accessories for PC gamers, Razer has thought bigger -- much bigger -- in recent years. Most notably, it introduced the pricey, but super-sexy, Razer Blade gaming laptops , and, at this year's CES, presented what may be its wildest concept yet: Project Christine (pictured above), a modular PC that would allow users to swap out self-contained components with ease.

While elements of Project Christine had been seen before (there are some computer chassis with the same open-air, modular design), the overall vision of Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan was radical: Consumers would no longer have to purchase a new "PC"; instead, they could purchase new components and slot them in, or even subscribe to a service that would provide upgraded components over time.

Tan's next task in order to turn his project into something tangible was to persuade manufacturers to buy into his vision. After all, having other companies partner with Razer would move Project Christine from a niche product into something that could shake up the moribund PC industry.

So how has Tan fared in his task? According to a new interview with the gaming site Polygon, he hasn't had much luck. This should probably come as no surprise given how disruptive his model is to an industry that has a longstanding pattern of selling new systems to people every few years, but Tan did have some choice words for the manufacturers, who aren't exactly making out like gangbusters in recent years as smartphones and tablets chip away at their earnings.

"The problem is the PC market, at this point of time, just doesn't reward innovation. It rewards commoditization. It rewards mediocre, sh*tty project[s] because it's become this vicious cycle of sorts. Anyone who tries to innovate, like for Christine, everybody wants it, but they all want it to be immediately at commodity pricing."

Tan says OEMs are fixated on margins and units shipped to the point where they have no interest in innovation, which is ultimately why Razer had to sell the Blade laptops itself. He claims that his company is willing to forego any profits on Project Christine's design schematics in order to establish the ecosystem. His hope is that Razer could work on the high-end modules, leaving the mass market to other partners.

While Project Christine is seemingly no different than a million other grand visions that could revolutionize an industry if immediate bottom-line considerations didn't snuff it out, the industry it seeks to upend is troubled. Desktop PCs won't go away anytime soon, but they will continue to decline in importance and sales as mobile devices keep surging. Perhaps the traditional sales model the market has been using for 30 years will no longer be viable, and a "subscription" PC is a better way forward. Perhaps that requires the type of innovation that Tan is propsing with Project Christine.

Just don't expect it anytime soon, if Tan is to be believed: "All they ask about is, 'How much money can I make out of this?' They're not interested in innovation at all."

What do you think of the Project Christine concept? Should PC manufacturers embrace this new way of building a computer, based on upgradeable components instead of brand-new boxes? Or is this just a pipe dream? Let us know your thoughts in the Talkback section below.