Arthur Zhang Interview (CEO of AYANEO) & The Future Of Handheld Gaming

arthur zhang

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We have been big fans of AYANEO for well over a year now, testing and reviewing many of their devices within that time.

They are becoming a very well known player in the handheld space thanks to their incredible specs and premium build quality, competing directly with the popular Steam Deck.

With their announcement of the Pocket DMG, a Game Boy Inspired android handheld we got the opportunity to interview Arthur Zhang, the CEO and Product Manager of AYANEO to talk about all things handhelds.

He even gives us a scoop on some exclusive news at the end, so make sure to read the whole interview.

It’s obvious he is obsessed with creating gaming products, so we dived deep into his history, what AYANEO are working on, and what the future of handheld gaming looks like.

Table of Contents

Give us an introduction to yourself and your history within the gaming industry.

arthur zhang ayaneo

I’m Arthur Zhang, CEO of AYANEO. I’ve been a gaming and tech enthusiast since my student days, immersing myself in handheld gaming-related activities such as co founding a handheld gaming magazine and establishing gaming communities.

This involvement brought a wealth of Nintendo handheld and gaming-related content to gamers in China. 

Throughout the years, I’ve remained in the digital and gaming industry. In 2010 and 2015, I founded “Digital Tail” and “XCX” respectively, creating leading digital lifestyle and new energy vehicle communities.

I’ve also invested in various software and hardware projects, accumulating years of experience in brand positioning, IDdesign, manufacturing, and marketing, along with a substantial network in the supply chain. 

From my childhood, handheld gaming consoles and games have been integral to my life. I’ve practically owned every handheld console in the market, gaining insights and reflections on numerous products.

Identifying pain points and issues that persist across different handhelds, and fuelled by a passion for the handheld gaming industry, I decided to return to the familiar territory of handhelds when the time was right.

That’s when I founded AYANEO, aiming to craft the purest Windows handheld for gamers worldwide. 

AYANEO was born in 2020, and it has been over three years since. From the outset, I positioned AYANEO as a comprehensive gaming brand, aspiring to provide playerswith diverse gaming-related products. Our brand’s development has been gradual, focusing on innovative Windows handhelds, and steadily gaining recognition as aformidable player in the handheld gaming industry. 

What console and/or video game ignited your passion for games?

best nintendo gifts

My answer should be similar to many retro gamers, which is Nintendo. I bought the classic Game Boy Advance when I was very young, not only immersing myself in various games but also exploring different ways to play.

Later, I shared tutorials and my experiences in handheld magazines and gameing communities. 

As a gamer, I prioritised gameplay and excelled in action, fighting, and racing games. Playing these games on a small handheld is both simple and endlessly enjoyable.

Therefore, Nintendo’s handhelds and games suit my taste perfectly, such as the”FireEmblem” and “Mario” series.

Since then, I couldn’t stop and fell completely in love with handhelds and games. Even now, I still collect many Nintendo and other classic handhelds. 

On any average work trip or vacation, what gaming device MUST you have with you, that’s not made by AYANEO? 

I think I would choose to bring the Switch OLED because I love Nintendo games, and the screen of the Switch OLED is quite good. 

Of course, in reality, I would bring our own gaming devices, such as the AYANEO AIR series and the Pocket AIR for playing retro games, or flagship handhelds like the AYANEO 2S. Although I love each of our products, for holiday travel, I still prefer lightweight and portable handhelds. 

What does retro gaming mean to you? 

Retro games have accompanied me throughout my growth, bringing infinite joy to my childhood and student days.

As I ventured into entrepreneurship during college, even in busy times, I’d carve out moments to revisit these classic games. For me, it’s perhaps the best solace for the soul, making retro games an essential part of my life. 

Simultaneously, I believe there are many players like me. So, with a like-minded team, we’ve deeply embedded retro culture into the DNA of the AYANEO brand. We strive to infuse retro elements into AYANEO products, experimenting extensively with color schemes.

From these efforts to the latest AYANEO REMAKE concept, everything is geared toward paying homage to classics for players who share our passion for retro culture, collectively reminiscing about the good old times.

What sets the new REMAKE product line apart from its competitors? 

Currently, there are indeed many products on the market with a focus on retro themes, especially retro handheld consoles, which I also purchase to experience.

What sets us apart is that AYANEO has distinct advantages in industrial design, craftsmanship, and materials, providing players with a superior overall experience, asdemonstrated by our previous products. 

Therefore, the REMAKE product series will continue our ultimate pursuit of elegant aesthetics, high-end quality, and comprehensive experiences.

Building upon classic reproductions, we’ll integrate modern technology and innovative design. Coupled with uncompromising performance and a refined software experience, players will immerse themselves in a rich product culture and encounter a novel experience that many competing products find challenging to deliver. 

Moreover, the REMAKE product series spans various categories, including handheld consoles, Mini PCs, peripheral accessories, and more.

Players with different preferences will find exquisite products they love within the REMAKE product series. 

What are your opinions on emulation? Is it good/bad for the industry? Mandatory for preservation etc? 

Many players have experienced emulators, which provide an easy way to play retro games. This is especially true for classic games from our childhood.

The communities that arise around emulators contribute to the development of tools and software enhancing the gaming experience, such as increasing resolution, adding mods, or enabling multiplayer functionality. 

Of course, it’s well-known that the use of emulators is not without controversy and may pose legal issues, particularly when it involves the unauthorized reproduction of copyright-protected games.

This could even have negative effects on the sales of certain retro games. Additionally, emulators don’t always accurately replicate the experience of classic retro games.

The topic of emulators always sparks interest among players, leading to various view points and opinions.

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. It’s undeniable that emulators play a role in preserving classic retro games and extending their gaming life. However, challenges exist concerning legality and the potential impact on the gaming industry.

I believe we should objectively consider both sides of this issue. 

What have been the biggest challenges to bring the Pocket DMG to life? 

AYANEO Pocket DMG
Image Source: AYANEO

The most significant challenge, I believe, lies in fitting better hardware into its very limited body.

We aim to ensure it delivers an outstanding experience consistent with other AYANEO handheld consoles, featuring superior design, screen quality, and controls compared to competitors. 

Moreover, the Pocket DMG is a retro vertical handheld, while our previous products were conventional horizontal handhelds.

This required a redesign of the internal structure to meet our standards for screen quality, cooling, and control hardware.

We’ve also blended elements of retro and modern handhelds, adapting it uniquely for AYASpace software, and introducing new features. These are all new endeavours for us as we strive to guarantee the best comprehensive experience. 

Currently, we are diligently progressing with its development, and overall, the progress has been quite smooth. Stay tuned for more updates. 

Will there be limited edition variants of the Pocket DMG? 

I can’t answer this question right now. You can take a guess, considering our traditions; who knows, there might be something.

Why did you device to forego the ability to play original cartridges with the Pocket DMG? (Seeing as its one of the biggest selling points of the very popular Analogue Pocket) 

Pocket DMG is essentially an Android handheld, and as we did with Pocket AIR, we ported our proprietary management software, AYASpace, to the Android platform, providing players with convenient handheld and game management features.

Unlike the Analogue Pocket, our retro handheld series will have products with different definitions. Leveraging the Android system allows us to develop different features for products with various purposes, making adaptations and deployment more rapid. 

On the other hand, Pocket DMG is aimed at a more mainstream player base.

These players might be retro handheld fans looking for a convenient and enjoyable device, without necessarily insisting on a 100% authentic gaming experience.

Alternatively, some players might be drawn to the exquisite appearance of Pocket DMG without being avid retro handheld fans. These player categories often don’t have collections of native game cartridges.

Hence, Pocket DMG doesn’t adopt a design that supports game cartridges but serves as an Android handheld catering to the needs of the general gaming audience. 

How will the Pocket DMG compete with the Analogue Pocket? 

analogue pocket yellow

Analogue Pocket is indeed an excellent product, and the design supporting native cartridges excites me as a handheld enthusiast.

However, as mentioned earlier, Pocket DMG and Analogue Pocket differ in design philosophy, underlying technology, and target player demographics. Therefore, I believe there won’t be intense competition between Pocket DMG and Analogue Pocket. 

Of course, the two products share a striking similarity in form, but in comparison, Pocket DMG offers a better gaming experience, richer retro gaming resources, and, based on the Android system and AYASpace APP, it provides more extensive and convenient management features.

This allows unified management of games across different platforms, lowering the entry barrier for players, which constitutes our advantages. 

Pocket DMG will also have a unique feature that distinguishes it from Analogue Pocket and other Android handhelds, something I believe most people wouldn’t expect. However, I can’t disclose specific information at the moment. Stay tuned for future updates. 

Do you think that AYANEO release too many products per year? 

No, we don’t believe so.

In fact, this is one of our competitive strategies. Currently, we still have a noticeable gap with some major brands in terms of brand recognition, supply chain resources, and more. Engaging in direct competition with them would be risky.

Major brand handhelds, however, have their limitations. They often focus more on the mainstream market, resulting in a limited number of SKUs.

Handhelds represent a niche market, and consumers have diverse needs. Given the multitude of consumer demands, major brands with a single SKU cannot fully satisfy them. This is where our advantage lies. 

We have a unique perspective and understanding of handhelds and player needs. Our accumulated R&D capabilities allow us to introduce a variety of innovative products that cater to different definitions.

We will continue to develop new products based on robust software and hardware, ensuring that diverse players can find products that meet their needs and experiences.

This also helps stimulate new demand in the handheld market, enrich our player community, and contributes to the positive development of both the handheld market and players themselves. 

How did the Flip DS come to fruition? 

AYANEO Flip DS
Image source: AYANEO

The FLIP series is crafted based on the REMAKE concept, presenting a flip Windows handheld that undoubtedly pays homage to certain classic gaming devices.

Recognising the appeal of full keyboard and dual-screen designs among retro gamers, we established both full keyboard and dual-screen versions during the project’s initiation. 

Moreover, the product philosophies of both versions are fundamentally similar.

For instance, they feature a flip-screen design with multi-angle hovering. Compared to some competitors, the FLIP series maintains a controller-centric layout, ensuring a comfortable and intuitive gaming experience, whether in the dual-screen or full keyboard variant. 

In terms of technical complexity, the FLIP DS does pose greater challenges.

Given our experience with full keyboard designs from the SLIDE, the difficulty was somewhat alleviated.

For the dual-screen design, especially with the additional heat dissipation required, we conducted a comprehensive redesign of the motherboard and internal structure. This involved meticulous adjustments to the overall heat dissipation structure to ensure comparable thermal efficiency to the FLIP KB version. This process wasn’t straightforward, requiring extensive debugging. 

Furthermore, the secondary screen, besides having a natural advantage for dual- screen retro gaming, prompted us to develop more diverse shortcut functions. This ensures convenient operations for players even under the Windows system.

FLIP DS is currently in the optimisation stage, with some designs or features yet to be finalized. However, the overall progress is relatively smooth. I understand the anticipation and fondness for the FLIP series, and I’ll share more technical details on social platforms and during the upcoming launch event. 

Does AYANEO ever say “no” to big broad ideas?

As the CEO and Product Manager of AYANEO, I don’t have overly fanciful ideas about product definitions. Most of the time, we prioritize technical feasibility. If an idea is particularly adventurous, we conduct technical validation first before proceeding with development. 

Let me illustrate with a successful and a regretful example. First, the success story: AYANEO 2 is the industry’s first handheld gaming device featuring a borderless full- screen design.

Initially, it didn’t have this borderless full-screen concept. After a thorough experience with the first CNC appearance prototype, I wasn’t satisfied withits aesthetics. Inspired by mainstream smartphones with full screens, I suggested implementing a full-screen design to maximise the screen-to-body ratio. 

We replaced AYANEO 2 with a high-quality borderless full screen, where the front is a single piece of glass. Additionally, separate plastic modules were designed for the left and right joysticks, directional pad, and ABXY buttons, effectively isolating them from the glass to address structural strength issues.

This innovation in material application and structural design resulted in the industry’s first borderless full-screen Windows handheld gaming device. 

Now, for the regretful example: the “Transparent Purple” color scheme planned for the GEEK Generation.

We envisioned a unique transparent effect reminiscent of classic handheld consoles, combined with the material strength of other colored shells.

Unlike some semi-transparent designs in other handhelds, achieving “Transparent Purple” for GEEK Generation required coordination with the metal body, ensuring it didn’t compromise the RGB lighting of the joysticks or the overall shell’s strength.

The overall manufacturing difficulty was substantial. Despite our high standards for appearance and shell quality, after numerous attempts with various processes and materials, we couldn’t achieve the perfect balance of visual effect and material strength.

Regrettably, we had to cancel this color version.

From the first product to the present, AYANEO handhelds have faced numerous setbacks and tests.

To ensure a highly integrated design and texture, we are willing to spend a lot of time continually fine-tuning structures and materials. Regardless of the challenges encountered, we always strive to resolve them, aiming to provide users with the best possible experience. 

How much does user feedback influence your decisions on what products to develop next? 

Since its inception, AYANEO has been a brand closely engaged with players. We collect and listen to a considerable amount of user feedback, considering it a crucial foundation for crafting products that better satisfy our users. 

This feedback may influence specific features on our products, and we make targeted adjustments accordingly. However, as players ourselves, we understand the actual needs of gamers.

Through market research and validation, we have a clear understanding of market demands internally. Consequently, we have a well-defined product line plan, and we control the product release schedule.

Each product launch is orchestrated to effectively meet the diverse needs of different players. 

Will AYANEO ever create products that can use retro hardware? (Cartridges, accessories and discs?) 

AYANEO Retro Mini PC AM01
Image Source: AYANEO

Being able to use retro hardware is undoubtedly a very cool thing. However, this would require us to conduct thorough market research before reaching any conclusions.

If our research reveals a significant demand among players for this kind of product, then we would decide whether to proceed with development.

Currently, we don’t have plans in this direction. Our focus remains on conventional handhelds, Mini PCs, and peripheral accessories because, comparatively, these products align more closely with mainstream user demands. 

Will AYANEO ever create products within the $100 – $200 price range to compete with ANBERNIC, Miyoo, GoRetroid and Powkiddy?

Currently, we don’t have specific plans in this regard. As you can see, our previous products have consistently emphasised aesthetics and texture.

To meet our high standards, we opt for custom solutions rather than off-the-shelf designs. We use premium materials and craftsmanship to ensure quality and experience, leading to relatively higher BOM costs. 

Therefore, we approach the development of products in this price range cautiously, as we aim to deliver uncompromising quality and experience to players.

Pocket DMG is our first product in the retro handheld domain, adhering to AYANEO’s consistent style and offering an elevated experience. We will accumulate valuable insights in to the retro handheld market through this product.

When the timing is right, we might introduce products at lower price points. I believe we can innovate in this category and deliver products that redefine the player experience. 

Could we see upcoming AYANEO “Game Boy” focused handhelds? Perhaps the Game Boy Advance SP?

Yes, the Game Boy series, as a classic handheld console remembered by countless players in the history of gaming, holds a special place in our hearts. With the AYANEO REMAKE concept, we plan to launch several retro handheld consoles themed around the Game Boy series.

Pocket DMG is a tribute that recreates theGame Boy in a vertical format. 

For other models in the Game Boy series, we may undertake corresponding planning in the future.

The REMAKE concept involves revitalising classic products, so with each replicated classic product, we contemplate how to bring a fresh perspective, offering players a renewed experience.

Given that we are concurrently developing other handheld products, I can’t provide a specific timeline at the moment. However, you can still anticipate more retro handheld consoles from us with top-notch experiences. 

What does the future of handheld gaming look like to you? Where will this industry go? 

arthur zhang china

In the current era of mobility, people often rely on mobile devices to make use of fragmented time, and smartphones have become indispensable.

However, smartphones have their limitations. With the advancement of mobile chip performance, I believe handheld gaming devices with a richer gaming ecosystem and unleashed performance will become increasingly popular.

The entry of major brands into this space is also bringing attention to Windows-based handheld gaming. 

Moreover, there is still a considerable number of players who enjoy the experience of playing retro games on handheld consoles.

Modern-style Android handhelds and retro-themed handhelds that replicate classics offer excellent choices for these players. I see a lot of potential in the handheld gaming market, and I am optimistic about its future development. 

Finally, can you share any exclusive news of upcoming products/plans for Retro Dodo readers?

If everything goes smoothly, Pocket DMG is expected to be released between Q1and Q2 of next year. 

Meanwhile, we are also preparing another retro handheld with a completely different positioning from DMG. I can only reveal this much for now.

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