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Ahead of the Game: An Interview with AYANEO’s CEO Arthur Zhang

Published Jun 4, 2024

Since AYANEO’s inception in 2020, CEO Arthur Zhang has been at the helm of a talented team that consistently brings innovative ideas and unique gaming devices to the market.

From the high-end handhelds that first put them on the map to recent expansions into Mini PCs and gaming accessories, AYANEO has a track record of releasing new products at a staggering pace, always exploring new possibilities in the gaming industry.

In this conversation with Arthur, we talk about the company’s design-centric approach, delve into their product development process, and discuss how nostalgia can be a powerful tool for creativity and innovation.

AYANEO’s CEO Arthur Zhang.

IG: Could you start by telling us about your background and what inspired you to start the company back in 2020?

Arthur: I’m a digital enthusiast and a gaming aficionado. I’ve purchased numerous classic handheld consoles and digital products, not only enjoying the joy brought by these innovative digital devices but also accumulating a lot of thoughts about the products. 

As a gamer who has played many handheld consoles and games, fueled by my love for handheld gaming and contemplation about Windows handheld products, I ventured into the Windows handheld industry. I assembled a team of like-minded gamers to create the AYANEO handheld brand, aiming to bring revolutionary Windows handheld gaming experiences to gamers. “Real Gamers Know Gamers”, I firmly believe that only real gamers can create the purest gaming consoles.

Image: AYANEO

IG: Innovation seems to be a key aspect in your product releases, with each new device bringing something new and interesting to the table. Some recent examples that come to mind are the Flip DS, the first dual-screen Windows handheld, and the AM02, a Mini PC with an integrated touchscreen. What is your approach to maintaining this level of innovation and continuously delivering fresh, groundbreaking ideas to the market?

Arthur: This would not be possible without our entire team. Our core team is a group of experienced handheld gamers and digital enthusiasts similar to me, who are familiar with the classic handheld and digital products in history, as well as the handheld and PC industries. Therefore, we understand the users’ needs and strive to bring AYANEO’s distinctive products to categories like handhelds and Mini PCs.

Our design team is also exceptional, possessing remarkable aesthetic and design capabilities along with a strong spirit of innovation. We frequently brainstorm new product ideas together, which is why AYANEO has consistently led the industry in product design and innovation. Our team relentlessly pursues the utmost perfection in our products, sparing no effort to realize our imaginative ideas and deliver the best products to gamers.

The AYANEO AM02 Mini PC has a built-in display with touchscreen capabilities. Image: AYANEO
Image: AYANEO

IG: Being innovative can also be quite challenging. Was there a specific product or feature that proved to be particularly difficult to develop?

Arthur: A prime example is the recently launched FLIP DS, the world’s first dual-screen Windows handheld. As such, without any similar products to reference, practically every design and feature required our own exploration.

On the hardware side, ensuring 28W performance output and solving the structural issues of the dual screens posed significant challenges in both exterior design and internal structure stacking. Ultimately, we resolved this issue by introducing a large-area VC heat plate combined with a large-sized fan. 

On the software side, although the secondary screen of the FLIP DS is essentially a native Windows extension, we still developed many interesting and practical features for it through AYASpace, including performance monitoring and quick applications. Recently, we even developed a secondary screen touch keyboard function, allowing the secondary screen to be used as a virtual keyboard.

Due to the complexity of the Windows system, our software team is continually working on a series of challenges to optimize the features and experience to help make it easier for gamers to use this unique dual-screen Windows handheld.

The AYANEO Flip DS is the world’s first Windows handheld with a dual-screen setup. Image: AYANEO

IG: How do you balance the use of premium components and advanced, high performance architecture in your devices, all while trying to keep your prices competitive in a crowded market?

Arthur: Every time we discuss pricing, we do have a very difficult time because the innovative designs, materials and craftsmanship used in our products are unparalleled in the industry, resulting in relatively higher costs. However, we are very fortunate to have a group of fans who are very passionate and supportive of us. We are always grateful for their support. Therefore, adhering to the brand philosophy of “Real Gamers Know Gamers”, we can always manage to offer highly competitive product value to give back to the gamers.

The internals of the AYANEO KUN, one of the company’s flagship products. Image: AYANEO
The touchpad interface on the AYANEO KUN. Image: AYANEO

IG: Having tested some of AYANEO’s products in the past, one thing that always stands out is how well designed and polished these devices are. Can you tell us more about the company’s approach to design and the core principles that drive your product development?

Arthur: In terms of design style, our products will adhere to exploration and innovation, aiming to lead in creative design and quality among similar products while also providing better user experience, in the design, functionality and other levels to meet the actual needs of the target users, to achieve the unity of the form and content, which is the principle that we abide by in the process of development of many new products.

Image: AYANEO

IG: The upcoming AYANEO Pocket S is a perfect example of this, with a striking minimalist aesthetic. Certain aspects of its design seem influenced by the iconic style of the PS Vita. Was that a source of inspiration for this device?

Arthur: The PS Vita is undoubtedly a classic product, and I also admire its design. However, the overall style of the Pocket S is our original design. In fact, the design inspiration for the Pocket S comes from flagship smartphones. We drew inspiration from numerous classic flagship smartphone products, such as ultra-thin bodies, borderless mirrored screens, and CNC aluminum alloy frames, giving the whole device the appearance of a flagship smartphone.

The AYANEO Pocket S is the company’s flagship Android gaming handheld. Image: AYANEO

The shoulder buttons, triggers, power button, and other buttons on the body frame of the Pocket S are all treated with UV technology, perfectly matching and integrating with the handheld style. In contrast, the PS Vita has a more rounded shape, with unique transparent crystal designs on all four corners of the body. Only the D-pad and ABXY buttons of the Pocket S adopt transparent crystal designs, specifically to complement the mirrored screen, presenting a more cohesive visual and showcasing superior quality and exquisite craftsmanship. The pressing sensation is also top-notch. Perhaps this can only be described as a beautiful coincidence. As a Chinese idiom aptly puts it, “great minds think alike.”

Image: AYANEO

IG: You are known for being a customer-facing CEO who takes pride in introducing new products to customers while openly sharing the creative process and vision behind your latest innovations. Are there any companies or tech visionaries who have served as a source of inspiration for you in your journey?

Arthur: Certainly, for example, figures like Steve Jobs have deeply influenced me in terms of product design and philosophy, which is one of the reasons AYANEO places such importance on design and user experience. Similarly, Nintendo, of which I’m a big fan, has inspired me on how to approach product definition, particularly regarding gaming and handheld consoles.

In fact, during my entrepreneurial journey, I’ve developed great relationships with many partners, including big companies and well-known brands, and I’ve gained a lot of knowledge and inspiration from these industry colleagues. As CEO, I am always learning and improving to make the AYANEO brand better and to give better products back to the gamers.

IG: An important aspect of AYANEO’s success is its ongoing engagement and collaboration with gamers. What strategies do you use to actively involve and interact with customers, and how do you integrate their input into your product development process?

Arthur: We have established communities both domestically and internationally, where my team and I answer gamers’ questions and gather their feedback. In the future, we plan to create communities for more new products and software ecosystems, allowing gamers to provide feedback, opinions, and suggestions within these communities.

For gamers’ feedback, if it is interesting ideas and suggestions, we will first evaluate whether it can be realized, how difficult it is to realize, how long it will take to schedule if we have to do it, and whether it will affect our existing plan and so on. On the basis of the existing product development plan, we will get to know whether these feedbacks meet the real needs of the majority of gamers through research and other means, and then study the feasibility of the hardware and software, and in this process, we will integrate the feedbacks of the gamers into a certain product or some products, and optimize and improve our services.

The AYANEO REMAKE collection. Image: AYANEO

IG: Let’s talk about the AYANEO REMAKE collection, which features a range of retro-inspired gaming devices and accessories. We all know nostalgia can be a very powerful thing. How has the gaming community reacted to this new lineup?

Arthur: The AYANEO REMAKE series of products is very popular among domestic and overseas gamers. For example, the popularity of products such as the AM01, AM02 and FLIP series has been remarkable. Gamers have praised the overall design quality and experience of these innovative products upon receiving them.

The AYANEO AM01 is a retro Mini PC inspired by the iconic Macintosh computer. Image: AYANEO

In addition, after the release of Pocket S, there are already many gamers who can’t wait to learn more information about the retro handheld Pocket DMG, which also shows that everyone’s enthusiasm for the AYANEO REMAKE series of products is very high. At the latest AYANEO REMAKE product sharing session, we brought to gamers a lot of retro products such as Pocket DMG, Pocket MICRO, AYANEO AG01 and Mini PC AM01S, which have been widely noticed by the global media and gamers, and this series of new products will be released one after another, so that gamers can experience the charm and fun of retro gaming devices with their own hands.

The AYANEO Pocket Micro, a new retro handheld inspired by the Game Boy Micro. Image: AYANEO
The Retro Mini PC AM01S. Image: AYANEO

IG: This collection also represents a number of firsts for AYANEO, expanding beyond gaming handhelds and into the Mini PC and accessories space. What drove you to venture into these new areas, and are there any other uncharted territories you would like to explore in the future?

Arthur: In fact, I had plans related to the Mini PC field early on in AYANEO’s development. After developing a series of Windows and Android handheld consoles, we accumulated significant expertise in software and hardware development. Therefore, last year, we introduced two Mini PCs, AM01 and AM02. Similar to our entry into the Windows handheld console market, we aim to bring more creative designs and gameplay to Mini PCs, breaking industry norms and providing gamers with refreshing experiences.

Certainly, we also have a grand goal, which is to create a more diverse and enriching experience for AYANEO gamers. You could perhaps call it the “AYANEO Family Pack,” where gamers can enjoy the distinctive AYANEO experience across handheld consoles, Mini PCs, and the peripherals and accessories of these products, bringing AYANEO’s philosophy and style to a wider range of categories.

The AYANEO Retro Power Bank is inspired by the Super Famicom. Image: AYANEO
The Starship Graphics Dock AG01. Image: AYANEO

IG: One of the products from the REMAKE lineup we are particularly interested in is the Game Boy-inspired AYANEO Pocket DMG. This new handheld incorporates an interesting control scheme which combines an analog stick with a touchpad. Can you tell us more about this unique approach? How many iterations did you explore before settling on the final design?

Arthur: When designing the Pocket DMG, we wanted it to be a small-sized vertical handheld console with excellent grip feel. Therefore, we made multiple adjustments to its appearance and body design. We tried the common dual-joystick layout found in many vertical handheld consoles, but the dual joysticks not only made the front of the device look very crowded visually, but also caused conflicts with thumb control when holding it with both hands. To solve the problem of grip control under the dual-joystick layout, we would have to increase the size of the device, which clearly goes against our initial design philosophy. Therefore, we abandoned this traditional design.

The Pocket DMG is the company’s ’s first vertical retro handheld. Image: AYANEO

Later, we also tried the design of keeping only the left joystick, but considering that the Pocket DMG is equipped with the powerful second-generation Snapdragon G3x Gen 2 gaming platform, gamers may also use it to play games like FPS in addition to retro games. Clearly, having only the left joystick cannot meet the control needs of more games.

Finally, after discussion, we came up with the touchpad design used on the AYANEO KUN and verified it on the Pocket DMG engineering prototype. It effectively solved the issues of design and practicality, making the visual layout of the front of the device more balanced from a design perspective. In terms of experience, the touchpad has higher sensitivity, making it smoother to move the view, which undoubtedly brings a better experience for games like FPS. We will develop more functions for it in the future, making it more practical than a traditional right joystick.

The Pocket DMG features a unique control scheme that pairs an analog stick with a touchpad area. Image: AYANEO

The innovative design of the left joystick plus touchpad achieves a harmonious unity of balanced visual layout, smooth control, and better grip feel for the Pocket DMG. We believe it will provide gamers with a comfortable comprehensive experience that traditional vertical handheld consoles do not offer.

Image: AYANEO

IG: Nintendo has clearly been one of the main sources of inspiration for this collection, including devices that pay tribute to the NES, Nintendo DS and Super Famicom/SNES. Is there a chance we’ll see any future products from AYANEO that are inspired by Nintendo’s historic competitor, SEGA?

Arthur: It seems everyone enjoys stories about Nintendo and SEGA. Regarding plans in this regard, I can’t reveal much at the moment, but perhaps there might be something exciting in the works. Stay tuned for updates.

IG: Your genuine love for gaming is evident in your interactions with customers, as seen in every new product launch or presentation. What was your favorite gaming console or handheld growing up? 

Arthur: My favorite is the GBA. I used to freelance write during my student days, and I used my earnings to buy a GBA. It’s not only my first handheld console but also the first one I bought with my own money, making it incredibly meaningful to me.

IG: Are there any systems you missed out on when you were younger and only had the opportunity to experience for the first time as an adult?

Arthur: I think there are tons of retro PC computers I have yet to experience, and I’ll get to them in the future at the right time.

IG: Can you tell us what your top three favorite games of all time are?

Arthur: Of course, I enjoy games like “Fire Emblem,” the “Mario series,” and “Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade.” Occasionally, I also play other games.

Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade is one of Arthur’s all-time favorite games.

IG: What games are you playing at the moment and what is your go-to device?

Arthur: There’s a game called “Maniac,” similar to GTA, that I’ve been playing recently on my FLIP DS. It’s very convenient as I can see the game and device status through the secondary screen.

IG: What does the future hold for AYANEO? Can you provide a sneak peek into any upcoming or unannounced products that you’re excited about and eager to reveal?

Arthur: I hope that AYANEO will grow stronger in the future, creating more creative products that will be welcomed and loved by more gamers around the world, allowing gamers to enjoy the simplest and purest gaming fun on AYANEO products. 

Next, we will share the launch of the new AYANEO REMAKE series products, and there are also several heavy-hitting new products in development. We will bring good products to gamers as quickly as possible. Some gamers may already have guesses about which new products they are, so let’s look forward to it together.


If you’re interested in more AYANEO content, take a look at our reviews of the AYANEO Slide, and the Retro Mini PCs AM01 and AM02.

POSTED BY

IG Team

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