Growing up as a gamer, my first interaction with high-end peripherals was, predictably, with Logitech. The company has been a stalwart in the PC peripherals market for over three decades and I’m certainly not the only gamer in the world who has fond memories of their stuff. I sat down with Robert Anderson, Logitech’s country sales manager for South Africa, to not only play a little with the brand-spanking-new G910 Orion Spark gaming keyboard, but also the increasingly popular G402 Hyperion gaming mouse.
Wesley: Hello Rob and thanks for chatting to us!
Rob: Thanks for having the interview.
W: So you’re here to show off some new products here today. Lets get started on the Orion.
R: The G910 Orion Spark is our brand new keyboard that we’ve recently launched in the United States and some European countries. Its a lot of “firsts” for us. We’ve done keyboards that have RGB backlighting before, but this is the first time we’ve done it for individual mechanical keys.
W: Its a big engineering expense to get individual keys lit up, isn’t it?
R: It is quite technically challenging. One of the problems our engineers had to figure out was where to put the LEDs. Under the keys is a natural place, but we had to build them into the switch itself to make it more robust. That gives you the option to still pop off the key caps and clean or wash them and there’s not much damage that a spill can do to it.
W: I heard that you had to design the switch from the ground-up for a number of reasons. Why is that?
R: Well, one of the reasons was quietness. You may know already that mechanical keyboards often have a switch design which gives you that “click” when you hit it, like the Cherry MX Blues…
W: Yeah, it’s a lot more pronounced when you bottom out the keys.
R: Yes, so when the time came to select a switch, designing our own really made the most sense in the end. The switch is called Romer-G and its also one of our toughest parts of the Orion Spark. We also test these keys for up to 70 million presses in our testing centre in our Swiss headquarters, so they’re always guaranteed to be of high quality. I don’t think any of our competitors can math that. The other main reason is that by the time we decided we wanted to build a RGB mechanical keyboard, Cherry hadn’t designed a switch that could fit in a LED, so we designed our own.
We also have this asymmetrical design to our key caps and it feels really nice even to experienced gamers. They are designed so that you never miss a key stroke, but there’s enough force to make sure you don’t make mistakes.
W: Is your RGB setup for real? A number of other companies are putting out RGB keyboards, but often they won’t allow custom lighting setups.
R: We can do that inside our driver software, you can customise the colour of every key on this keyboard. And it’s actually pretty neat to see what else people do with it besides just colour combinations. Some people are making these awesome custom scripts for other brand RGB keyboards to display images or text. We hope people do that with our solution as well!
W: I saw on the promotional material that you have this nifty holder for a phone using the G-series app?
R: Yes, it’s there and slides out from the top of the keyboard. You might recall we had a LCD in place of this in the G15 and G19 keyboards. The phone app on a touch screen device provides a lot more visual feedback, at least we think so, and there’s going to be lots of headroom for improvement in the future. With the G19 there wasn’t much place for it to expand in functionality as games and other applications became more complex.
W: I’ve been a fan of Logitech for ages, but the stickler for me has always been the price of these products. How much is this going to set me back when it arrives here?
R: That we haven’t worked on yet. The price will certainly be affordable, but remember that this keyboard in the US has a recommended cost of $180. Perhaps when it lands here it’ll be on the low side of two grand, but we haven’t nailed that down yet.
W: What’s the time frame for the launch?
R: December-ish 2014 is what we’re working on. Supply isn’t a problem, its getting them down here and marketing and pricing the Orion Spark properly.
W: Sweet. I guess there’s always a first time for anyone who hasn’t spent silly amounts of money on peripherals like this. Now you also have the G402 Hyperion here…
R: Yes, that’s one of our new products that is growing in popula-
W: I’m taking it home with me.
R: *laughs* Ah, no.
(I die a little inside at this. Damnit, I really want one!)
W: So this is not only one of your popular products, it’s also the most futuristic mouse I’ve seen in a long time since the R.A.T. line.
R: There’s a definite design shift and its our modern ideas that come to life in the G402. We’ve worked very hard to make this mouse as good as it is. It has one of our most advanced sensors, it feels precise and light in claw or palm grips, its all-round a great deal for gamers. The special feet we’ve designed for it also make it smooth and accurate on most surfaces and we’re using an optical sensor with our new Fusion Engine, so you can bet that it’ll be precise for most game types.
W: Its definitely smooth. Didn’t your engineers have to figure out new ways of testing this mouse to its limits with this long-arm machine?
R: Yeah, you saw that in the video? Its very cool how we had to do that. See, with these two new products we’re doing things that have never been done before. We’re marketing the Hyperion Fury as the world’s fastest mouse and that’s because we’ve chosen a sensor that’s capable of matching the fast reactions of gamers today. You know, the players that do long-arm sweeps and the Starcraft players who make so many movements in a minute, this is really for them. Having this high level of performance is also good for casual gamers and those who don’t push it to the limit, because they will always have great performance no matter what.
W: Can I buy it today?
R: There’s a small shipment of the G402 in the country at the moment and we’re working to get more. There are vendors down on the show floor selling these already, but the rollout to retailers country-wide is still something we’re working on.
R: We’re working on between the R700 to R900 price range. Stock will be limited for a while, but we’re going to try get this down as much as possible.
W: Now, on to a part of the interview that I’m personally interested in. Logitech’s been in the news recently for their decision to exit markets where they aren’t performing well and there’s some uncertainty among gamers that you’ll ever return to them. I know a few people who are looking out for new controllers for the PS4 and Xbox One, for instance and I’m also looking forward to new steering wheels for the console. What’s the general mood and thinking happening inside Logitech right now?
R: You’re the first to ask me this, so I’ll be frank. Its true that the company has been trying to identify which markets or products aren’t performing as well as they used to so that we can either innovate ourselves out of the lull or move our resources on to something that is currently more interesting or lucrative.
W: Like IP and video cameras, for instance?
R: Yeah, like those. There are some markets that are shrinking because of products coming together and becoming converged devices. Finding that balance is difficult and its something that our engineers and product designers have to tackle every day.
W: I know you probably can’t discuss specifics, but what’s happening to the speaker and driving wheel front? You’ve shrunk your speaker lineup considerably and there hasn’t been a new driving wheel set for a long time. I understand that the latter reason for the delay in new products is because you need a security chip in them?
R: Yeah, I’m not certain of the technical requirements, but our current wheels aren’t compatible with the new consoles. I can’t discuss what, if anything, Logitech is doing about it, but it is a problem they’re aware of. As for speakers, it is a slower-moving market than most others, but they still sell well.
W: I’ve also noticed a positive shift in the approach Logitech South Africa has to its fans. Are you responsible for that?
R: Yeah, partially. I’ve only been working as the country’s sales manager for the last nine months and it’s been a challenging time. When I took over, I was given the directive to improve relations and change up how things are done. We’re reinventing ourselves at a high level with the new G-series focus and we’re changing our message to gamers and our other customers. You know, consumers like supporting brands they feel they can trust and we’re trying to embody that.
W: I’d say that’s working. Thanks for your time Rob and enjoy the show! Will you be playing anything down there?
R: Uh, well… the last game I picked up and played extensively was Counter-Strike in university and that was a while back. I have’t gotten into it much since then, but I might have a go at something. Thanks!