Voodoo’s Rahul Sood Talks Envy 133, HP Integration, and Economic Downturn

No, the rumors aren’t true. As confirmed earlier today, Voodoo is not being shut down by HP. In fact, according to Rahul Sood, Chief Technology Officer for the Hewlett Packard Global Voodoo Business Unit, HP is pumping more money into the brand—even if layoffs may be occurring in the background. The goal is to ramp up production of sweet-looking machines like the Envy 133 (we just received today) in order to get them to market faster and to take Voodoo global. But Sood had a lot more to say to LAPTOP on a wide variety of other subjects, ranging from how the Envy 133 stacks up against the Macbook Air to whether consumers want to plop down more than two grand for an ultraportable at all given the state of the economy. As it turns out, though, you can use this system to look for jobs!

Some customers have complained about delays with the Voodoo Envy. Was there ever a promised ship date?

We never gave a specific ship date. We just said that we’re announcing the product and pre-launching it, and then we’re going to start shipping sometime in the fall. It slipped between two and three weeks in September. We actually did start telling customers in September that they should start seeing their products early September or in October. But the challenge for us was that we’re using carbon fiber material which is very fine material and getting the yield up and getting it to a point where we were able to produce enough volume was a challenge, but we’re all good to go now.

Do you feel like you’re able to meet demand now, or is it a wait-and-see kind of situation?

So far, we’re able to meet demand. The thing that we’re doing now — thanks to overwhelming success is integrating Voodoo into the larger HP engine.

There were some rumors floating around recently that HP was shutting down Voodoo. Can you set the record straight?

That’s just not the case. The Envy was received overwhelmingly positively in Berlin. And because we’re not able to produce the volume we need to scale it into an extremely large global SKU, one of the things that we’re doing that will benefit us in the future is integrating the Voodoo business into the larger execution engine of HP.  So, for example, there’ll be Voodoo people sitting on the notebook team of HP and creating not only notebooks for Voodoo, but also helping with notebooks for HP and Compaq.

The idea is that it will be managed by a larger team who is already set up for global scale and global growth, and they’re going to help us scale out a lot quicker than we were able to do it before.

Do you feel that Voodoo will be able to remain autonomous, or do you feel that the brand might be compromised?

Autonomy is not necessarily a good thing in this case. We’ve learned over the past two years that we’re a much stronger company working together than we are apart. And as far as the design or our flexibility, I think that what you will see is a lot of influence from Voodoo on the HP portfolio and our overall portfolio will become a lot nicer. So it’s definitely not a negative.

It’s a really good thing for us. And integrating into the HP engine, not only in the notebook business but in the desktop business as well, is a huge deal for us.

Why didn’t you say anything publicly sooner?

I broke my hand and I’ve just kind of been recovering, but yeah, it’s going to be good man. Our next launch is a very cool notebook; very unique that will be coming out down the road. It’s going to take everything that we’ve learned and put it up to a much greater scale.

Will your next notebook sport a larger display and function more like an entertainment notebook than an ultraportable?

It’ll be fair to say that it’ll be badass.

Because the Envy 133 was announced months ago, other ultraportables have surpassed it on the specs front, namely with Centrino 2 and larger-sized SSDs. How soon can you refresh the Envy in order to catch up?

This notebook is not really just about the specs. It’s not about the processing power and stuff like that. The innovations that we have in there are designed for a really specific user. Quite frankly, there are people out there who love the style, love the design, and love the feature set that comes with it. The specifications of a competing product, even though they may put a faster processor in there, [that product] is thicker, it’s not as nice, it doesn’t use the same materials as ours. This notebook was designed with a very specific user in mind. Going forward, I imagine that you’ll see a refresh and we’ll update our portfolio as we go along. I can’t be specific about that. But what I can tell you is the people that are buying this notebook don’t look at the most recent specs.

What is the target audience of the Envy 133 then?

Well, the target audience is looking for mobile performance. They want decent battery life. They want it to be lightweight. They want it to look cool. It’s a lifestyle thing. It’s not just about the speed, it’s about the overall experience. The target audience that’s buying the Envy is buying it based on a number of factors.

But, as you say, there are new technologies coming out and you want to make sure that things are refreshed as quickly as possible. Those are they kind of things that we are working on. We’ll refresh when we feel that the technology is good enough to go into an ultra-thin product like this.

What can you tell us about the gesture support that’s built into the touchpad? What can you do with it?

They’re a couple of things. It’s a Synaptics touchpad and there is a driver in there that’s continually being updated. And what we’ve done is enable the touchpad to be used with two-finger touch. You can use the pinch gesture and take your fingers, put them together, then pull them apart to zoom in and out of documents. Other things, like scrolling, for instance, is a single finger gesture or a position gesture. So basically, to scroll, put your finger on the right-hand side of the touchpad, hold it there, and you’ll see a scroll icon. Then you can move [your finger] up and down to scroll. The same thing goes for a horizontal scroll. You hold your finger on the bottom of the touchpad. You can also adjust the area of scroll as well. With the Synaptics driver, it’s pretty flexible, and we’re continuing to work with them on making new gestures.

One of the other unique features is the instant-on OS, which is using Splashtop technology. Do you feel like your implementation is better than that of ASUS?

It’s completely different. Ours is completely custom from anyone else. Splashtop is just the enabler, but the actual interface is a much cooler design.

How would you say the Voodoo Envy 133 stacks up against the Macbook Air and the Lenovo X300?

Well, the closest competitor would be the Air. I look at the Lenovo and I think it’s a sort of completely different product. But looking at the Air, for example, the Envy is thinner, it uses material that is much nicer, it’s much more exotic looking, and it’s got a lot of features that you would think are perceived negatives but are actual positives. Like the Presentation Adapter. Like the E-SATA optical drive as opposed to a USB port. It’s got a very very bright display. The display is better than the Air. It’s better than the Lenovo.

The speaker system is really awesome. Believe it or not, we were able to tweak the audio so that it actually sounds pretty good for a notebook [of the Envy’s size]. That’s almost impossible to do, but we got some excellent audio out of it. We got a better microphone, too. We have audio-freaks working on our team so we got a better speaker/microphone system. Instead of having a mono speaker, it’s got stereo speakers. When you’re using Skype, for example, you don’t need a headset.

Given the state of the economy, do you feel that there’s more or less of an appetite for luxury notebooks than there was 6 to 12 months ago?

When you have a situation like the one we have now, which is a very unique situation, people won’t go out and buy cars or houses or that sort of thing, but this [a notebook] is a sort of feel-good thing. It’s a relatively inexpensive purchase to go out and buy a notebook.

It’s two things, really. One is if people are at home and they lost their job or something and they need to go out and look for another one, they obviously need a computer to do that.

There’s also a market of people out there where the economy doesn’t affect them, so they’re still out there buying things. It’s one of those things, where we haven’t really seen a huge impact yet, so I’m not really sure how it’ll affect us longterm. But we’re hoping that the global scale that HP is going to give us will allow us to go into markets that aren’t being affected. Markets like Russia, India, and Dubai, places where economies that are strong might balance out places where the economy isn’t so strong.

Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
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  1. david Says:

    LAPTOP. get your facts straight. this guy will tell you anything to make himself look good. “HP is pumping more money…” how much money? probe further and i’m sure you’ll find an amount of zero dollars given the state of the economy and HP’s focus on strengthening its core business. What ‘demand?’ Find out how many Voodoo machines are being sold. the answer will reflect the layoffs occuring and so-called ‘integration’ into the HP engine. The most idiotic statement by Sood (within this article) is that people who have lost jobs are going to job-surf on their new VoodooPCs. How delusional can you be given the current state of affairs? Russian/Indian economies balancing out the weaknesses at home…has Sood watched the news since last year about the state of world economies? LAPTOP, please don’t ridicule the intelligence of your readers by writing everything told to you by sources lacking credibility.

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