With the introduction of PDAs and smart phones, sophisticated handheld electronic devices have become mainstream. The popularity of these and other gadgets subsequently leads to product designs with more features and functions to cater for the various needs of different users.
Samson Tam, chairman of industry leader Group Sense (International) Ltd (GSL), says companies must continually innovate to stay competitive. For example, GSL has been using progressive digital techniques to open up the mobile computing market. Yet, despite the changing products and markets, the ultimate mission of the company remains the same. "Today's people are looking for products and services that can make their lives easier," Dr Tam points out. "We aim to provide exactly that."
The key to ensuring a new product can be widely utilised lies in "humanising" it, according to Dr Tam. To achieve this goal, GSL allocates vast resources to research and development (R&D). In a strategic move, the company relocated to Hong Kong Science Park in December 2005. Since then it has formed a broad network of partnerships that facilitates R&D in a highly effective manner. One such partnership is with Hong Kong Applied Science and Technology Research Institute Company Limited (ASTRI), to whom GSL outsources some of its R&D modules. "ASTRI has a team of excellent researchers. Many of our technical R&D projects are conducted using their expertise," Dr Tam says. "While attaining the same level of technological results, this leaves us with more resources to put into examining other ways of making our products better."
Dr Tam believes that the recent popularity of wireless interface technology will evolve and Wi-Fi will quickly become a common method of communication. One of the most exciting projects GSL is currently developing with ASTRI is a Wi-Fi phone. "Wi-Fi has numerous advantages and usage is going to go up in Hong Kong, especially as the number of hotspots is mounting," he says. "When people can make long distance calls free of charge using a Wi-Fi phone, the user population will multiply in no time."
This technology is already widespread in parts of Europe, where there are comparatively larger regions of access points, and audiences with Wi-Fi TVs can enjoy over 100 channels in their choice of locations. "Many people benefit from the portability, convenience and flexibility," Dr Tam says. "However, due to the lack of supporting infrastructure in Hong Kong, Wi-Fi TV will not get the green light until digital broadcasting is implemented."
As well as providing diverse products and services for education, and entertainment and communications locally, GSL is involved in business developments around the world. It has a presence in China where it manufactures the handheld hardware for Guangzhou Daily's online version. Using a small device, readers can now read the news while they are on the move. The technology is user friendly with "zoom-in" buttons to adjust font and picture size. It also includes other easy-to-use functions such as audio and video playback.
In Japan and Europe the company is in negotiations to produce a range of products including PDAs, electronic organisers, handheld e-mail devices and electronic dictionaries. "Our ODM business in Japan and Europe is growing as planned," Dr Tam says. "For the European market, where protection policies are strict, it will take longer for us to start our own trademark. But in Japan, where our customers are mainly SMEs, we have recently established an office which comprises a workforce of local professionals and expatriates from Hong Kong."
GSL's priority at the moment is building its brand in Asia, especially in the Chinese communities. As a pioneer of electronic dictionaries, the company is currently focusing on developing this area. Since the launch of the first English/Chinese electronic dictionary "Instant-Dict", GSL has taken a leading position in the Greater China market. It has extended its dictionary and translator series to more than 30 languages in over 25 countries and regions. The spotlight this year is on the new Wi-Fi dictionary in Hong Kong, Taiwan and China.
In the long term the company has greater aspirations and plans to be at the forefront of several major developments. "Multi-media and multi-function devices are the next big thing," Dr Tam says. "All you need is a handy terminal with simple built- in browsers. With this single tool, you are able to search data online, read the content of an e-book, check the meanings of the words if necessary and so much more."
To meet its continual expansion and to assist with service enhancement, GSL is seeking talented people, project managers in particular. Candidates are required to have at least three years of solid work experience. More importantly, Dr Tam says, they should have both consumer market sense and technical know-how, as they serve as the interface between product design and customer satisfaction.