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How much would you spend on the Concept UFO? Read our full exclusive Alienware interview

We recently spoke to Eduardo Goyanes, global messaging and GTM lead for Alienware, and Kevin Turchin, engineering technologist in the advanced solutions team at Dell, to delve deep into the Alienware Concept UFO.

Our chat touched on the reception the concept received, the thought process behind its design and just who such a device would be aimed at.

You can read our individual pieces which highlight some interesting tidbits from the interview here:

But, if you are here for the full fat in-depth and detailed interview then read on. But, first, each of our Alienware pieces and related tweets including a poll asking: How much would you spend on the Alienware Concept UFO? Here are the results.

Alienware Concept UFO

On initial reading, the results don’t make the best reading for those hoping that the Alienware Concept UFO had more of a hopeful and eager following. However, while not looking to buy one wins out in the poll individually, the poll also indicates 65.6% of voters would be interested in forking out something for the handheld device.

We’ve reached out to Dell and Alienware with the results to let them know exactly what you thought. Kevin Turchin provided the following response:

“As we develop new concepts, gathering feedback has always been an essential element. Keeping close relationships with our fans and gaining their insight throughout the development process is, therefore, key in making sure we continue to develop the best possible products.

At any given time we can have multiple concepts in the making, and sharing some of them with the public shapes our approach to innovation. It’s fantastic to see such a positive response to Concept UFO – our teams have already invested thousands of hours in developing it, so seeing this feedback reassures us that we’re on the right track.

From the entire Concept UFO Team, we would like to thank everyone who took part in this – it’s invaluable to us! Thank you all and stay tuned for what is next!”

Now, on with the full interview.

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Alienware Concept UFO

TR: The Alienware Concept UFO is a very exciting device; it also quite resembles the Nintendo Switch. What was the thought process behind the design of a PC hybrid device like this? And, has it been in the pipeline for some time?

EG: We are always looking for new ways to deliver a PC gaming experience to gamers abroad and seeing as how the market has changed and the way gamers experience their favourite content, the way they are gaming and the means that they have from a digital perspective, we sought out to create an even more mobile gaming experience than ever before.

In the past, you’ve seen us deliver notebooks such as, we even had, an 11-inch gaming notebook … and that was received as a very innovative laptop. Won tons of awards at CES and so, as a team, we are just looking for new ways to deliver that immersive experience – regardless of where you are, how you like to game etc. 

And, this is a vision for how gamers could experience gaming in a more mobile fashion.

KT: With Alienware, we are leaders in desktop gaming, and we’ve leaders in notebook gaming. What we’ve heard from a lot of our customer base is they want to take that same … experience but anywhere on the go. And, that was really kinda the inspiration behind Concept UFO.

So, your Concept UFO is a handheld PC gaming experience. You can take all the game libraries that you have at home – all that blood, sweat, and tears that you’ve invested in those sagas and campaigns – you can now continue that with you wherever you are. That is the true differentiation with Concept UFO.

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Alienware Concept UFO

TR: Concept UFO isn’t currently on the market, who would you see buying a device like this? Is it a device that would have wide appeal?

EG: I think the appeal would be very much greater than anything we’ve seen before. Simply because of our understanding of how much people are consuming content on the go, more and more each year, that just continues to grow. 

I grew up, I had an analogue childhood and, now, [a] digital adulthood. I think gamers today are born into a digital childhood. That is absolutely growing … the potential, if you think about it … the way technology is going with … 5G, for example.

You may see, again this is all vision casting, gaming could happen anywhere and everywhere. We see it on our cellphones. Our expertise is the PC gaming experience … there’s definitely opportunity there, but it is a concept, so there are a lot of opportunities for us to learn even more from that mobile gaming market.

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TR: You mentioned 5G there. Offering a portable, AAA gaming experience would be an impressive feat for the Concept UFO to achieve from a hardware standpoint but is this already covered by things like Google Stadia and GeForce Now via streaming?

KT: I think what we’re seeing in the market is there’s not going to be one type of technology … What we have today is, we have a wide variety of technologies out there. You have a very thick, fat and heavy experience … and you have the very very thin [and] light streaming experience like you mentioned some of the other experiences that are available.

And, we don’t know to be honest, who will win – if there is a winner –  I think you’ll see many players over time and that’s why we are offering the variety of products that we do and Concept UFO is one of those avenues where we can explore a lot of those realms.

We can explore handheld gaming [on premise], as we’ve demonstrated, and we can explore the idea of handheld gaming with streaming and offloading.

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Alienware Concept UFO

TR: There’s been a tremendous reception to the Concept UFO, including from our readers, what are you looking for in terms of feedback when it comes to bringing this device to market? Is it closer to being a realised device that consumers could get their hands on?

*PR representative interjects*: As this is a Concept device, we don’t have any timelines tied to them unfortunately so we are not able to comment on any kind of “bringing to market” information.

KT: Obviously, the more questions you ask, the more you write, the more positive things you say, it’s not going to hurt.

EG: We try to follow a philosophy that is customer-first, and that’s a dialogue between our customers and us. The hard questions are the best questions, and when we hear enough gamers asking for the same things, then we know that’s a priority. So, the more the discussion continues – like Kevin says – the more informed we will be on how to take the next round in our Concepts in general, not just UFO.

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TR: You mentioned there about what becomes a priority being impacted by what you hear from customers. With the Concept line, do you have any particular priorities at the moment that you are looking to explore further, via the UFO or otherwise?

KT: As we set out to establish Concept UFO, we had a set of KPIs (key performance indicators) that we wanted to achieve and that ranged across the board.

So, there’s obviously a big listing of ergonomics that we needed to better understand to make this device viable – that’s in terms of the controller design, the feel, the rumble motors. The controllers are detachable, which is something we haven’t talked about yet, and how that exchanges from the head to the bridge – to make sure that’s as seamless and as frictionless as possible.

In terms of engineering, there’s a lot of performance [engineering] that we had to do in terms of the battery life and the SoC performance – making sure that we delivered that right gaming experience on the go. Those are things that we are continuing to explore with Concept UFO.

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Alienware Concept UFO

TR: So, in relation to balancing performance and battery life, do you see the Concept UFO as a singular device or could there be a device without detachable controllers or, simply, models with different SKUs?

KT: Since it is still a Concept, there is still a tremendous amount of influence that can be done on the design. As far as detailed specifications, nothing is fixed for now. I can say we are considering a wide variety of options.

EG: What you guys saw at CES could be the first of many different iterations. It all depends on what the desire for Concept UFO is. The way it was specced and designed could be totally different in the next round.

KT: [For] Concept UFO, there’s a delicate balance between portability and performance. We have to make sure that we achieve that right balance in order to make the product viable.

The challenge is, from a design standpoint, those are often at tension with each other – you try to favour one, and it hurts the other.

That’s all part of what’s happening right now with Concept UFO. We’re trying to make sure we achieve that right balance. We as Dell and we as Alienware will not put out a product until it’s right.

EG: It should also consider the future of games as well. We have a separate team that is fully devoted to building relationships with different game developers. Understanding their requirements and their needs … is a part of this as well.

Claudina on the PG side, her whole team, is devoted to making those different connections with all the developers that exist. To make sure that – if and when we do productise Concept UFO – that the library of games where an Alienware experience can be delivered is going to be one that customers can appreciate. So, that’s a huge part of it as well.

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Alienware Concept UFO

TR: You’ve mentioned there about the future of gaming, something you probably think about on a daily basis with the Concept line, what excites you the most about the future of PC gaming?

EG: Personally?! We could spitball this all-day. I find it fascinating what an impact the whole eSports world has had in the gaming industry and the gaming community.

You have gamers that are really into eSports; they live and breathe and get really excited about it. And, then, you have other gamers that aren’t so much into eSports that are still very enthusiastic about the gaming experience.

I think over the last … five years, I’ve personally seen that whole area grow. I can tell you from a Dell perspective, there’s also these new teams we have which are building relationships with universities because those universities want to build their own eSports programme.

For me, that whole world is fascinating. [It’s] probably the one that I could learn the most from. So that’s my personal answer.

KT: Just to add on to what Eddie said: what’s truly different and special about the gaming community is that it really is [a] heartfelt, devoted, true community – unlike a lot of our other PC markets – which I would say are a little more fragmented than that.

You have a huge amount of devotion, a huge amount of passion, and we have engagements with a lot of, not only, strategic partners that really allow us to make these great products.

… it’s very, very exciting when you talk to an early customer and you start to get some of their insights, and then you show them a product that they help influence, and that makes the design team and the marketing team … feel very special and part of the journey.

I think the gaming community is probably the only community that we have that has that … intertwined self-fulfilling cycle.

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Alienware Concept UFO

TR: Moving back to the design of the Concept UFO, I’m sure there were a lot of ideas before we got to the device that we saw at CES 2020. Can you speak about the best and worst ideas that didn’t make it to the Alienware Concept UFO we saw? Any that you’d like to see crop up on a different Concept?

KT: From a design philosophy, we favour an approach of very iterative prototyping – where, [we have] kinda this whole fail fast mentality.

We’ve been working on Concept UFO for quite some time – working on various iterations of ergonomic design and how do we handle performance in that type of form factor and how do we handle the thermals.

So, what we had to do was basically dissect the whole project into very small … projects moving at their own pace and … , over time, put them back together again and inform what [you’ve seen] as Concept UFO today.

It’s the charter of our team to “prototype over PowerPoint” is kind of what we say. We just constantly build and learn and iterate over time.

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TR: Talking a bit about portable gaming and, especially, bringing PC gaming to a portable device – something which is quite a new idea – Could a device like this be the centre of a gamer’s world? Or merely an add-on – maybe alongside a PC gaming rig?

EG: I don’t think there’s a single answer. I think some gamers, some people use their technology more on a portable … level and some gamers are hardcore about maintaining a desktop-level experience.

What’s great about UFO is that there are different ways that you could experience it. We have the handheld mode – which I think is the [easiest] mode to understand – but then you also have the docked mode where you can attach all of your peripherals and an external display too, and that’s very, very convenient.

Again, because it’s a Concept, we’re able to visualise and think and dream up these different ways of using the product. As the technology advances and we’re able to get more battery life and more performance, … I think we are speculating, but it could shift where the answer to your question is “yes, this is the centre of your gaming experience” but, at the end of the day, it depends on what gamers want to do, what they want and what their gaming life looks like.

Would Concept UFO have the capability to be the centre of your gaming experience? Yeah, it would.

Now, it’s just up to the gamers to decide and what the gaming experience is like as well. … when you think about what a desktop can do with dual graphics across a 4K screen, that’s one type of experience. What you have in your hands could be more fun, or it could be more versatile where the desire is higher.

So, there’s a lot of variables that go into play when asking that question I would say.

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Alienware Concept UFO

TR: You’ve spoken about the feedback you get on products like this and how it can influence you, What’s some of the best and most interesting Concept UFO feedback you’ve had from customers?

KT: At CES, we had someone take out their wallet and try to offer some cash and take one away. So that was probably one of the most funny things that happened.

I think it’s just the demand of people letting us know we are headed in a good direction, that we’re onto something.

There’s definitely a lot of … comments of … “I want it”, “I want it now”, “I want it yesterday”, as a designer, that’s what you love to hear.

EG: I hear a lot of comments on Twitter as well. All people asking us: when is it coming out? And, there is definitely a huge desire for this – which is incredibly exciting.

For me, what I thought was a really interesting story that I learned after asking Kevin and the team, they put a lot of work behind the ergonomics performance of UFO – … the way it feels in your hands while your gaming, the way it feels when … your hand goes around the control and the weight of the machine. 

All of these things are taken into consideration so that the gamer can have the most fun because, at the end of the day, it’s about having fun, it’s about playing games. I love hearing that story from Kevin and everyone in his team. When I see gamers holding it and the degree of excitement and “wow” in their faces – they just instantly smile when they see it – that is incredibly exciting to be a part of that.

That whole piece is my personal greatest highlight of these customers and their experience.

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TR: Is there anything that we haven’t touched on about the Alienware Concept UFO that you would like to highlight?

EG: Remember it is a Concept and it is a vision. The Alienware team works on many concepts [and] many ideas, things that … may never come out, things that may come out.

If the community loves this and the community wants to see more of this kind of thing, I would invite them to be as vocal as possible and give us as much feedback as possible.

We want to know what you love about it; we want to know what you don’t love about it, we want to know how you would do it differently. Certainly, the feedback is key and know that we’re listening.

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