Mobile imaging and image experience have always been a major battleground for worldwide smartphone brands. Innovations such as the ultra-wide-angle camera, telephoto camera and Time of Flight (ToF) camera represent the microcosm of the ever-intensifying competition.

As one of the leading brands in the mobile imaging front, vivo believes that the imaging innovation illustrates a new beginning – a future where state-of-the-art technologies strengthen Joy of Humanity. The leading smartphone manufacturer then embarked on a global (R&D) Research & Development strategy to materialise the marriage and to continue winning over its users’ hearts.

Just recently, vivo shared relevant content about its R&D centre in Tokyo, Japan, and unveiled its strategic layout on the future development of mobile imaging from an insider executive’s perspective.

Introducing vivo Tokyo R&D Centre

Established in Shimbashi, Tokyo, back in 2019, the vivo Tokyo R&D centre set its sights on the pre-research and development of future-proof technologies.

One might be curious why was Tokyo chosen for the establishment and why does the centre conducted pre-research in such early days? The answers can be traced back to 2017.

Back then, the mobile phone market was growing rapidly with intense competition between brands. The battlefields would change in a blink of an eye.

When competition evolved from marketing stunts to core technologies, “globalisation” – a term frequently used by the trade and manufacturing sector – began to surface in the R&D sector. It was then vivo decided to take a step ahead by announcing the launch of its global R&D layout.

The vision behind the strategy is to make full use of valuable resources in different parts of the world to conduct different R&D work. The establishment of the vivo Tokyo R&D centre was also based on this strategy.

“Japan has more than 100 years of history in mobile imaging development and has undergone huge transitions from film to digital imaging, including lenses, sensors, and motors,” added Masazumi. He believes that mobile camera technology can only be developed on the foundation of a robust and mature imaging industry, which is precisely the biggest advantage of Tokyo as the location of the Tokyo R&D centre.

However, R&D centres in different parts of the world also face some challenges. For instance, while transitioning from R&D to mass production, prototypes need to fit into products manufactured in China, which are subject to continuous testing and improvement. The physical distance between the two places makes this process time-consuming.

Another challenge is that Japan and China follow different hardware specifications, which poses great difficulties for the R&D team. In response, experts from the Tokyo R&D centre recommend utilising locally unique resources for R&D.

“Japan has many excellent suppliers, manufacturers, partners and universities. It is much better to tap on local resources,” explained Masazumi. Leveraging domestic resources is one of the strategies that help the Centre in solving various future challenges.

As the Tokyo R&D centre grows, it has moved from Shimbashi to Gochome, Chuo-ku, the central area of Tokyo, and its focus has gradually expanded from mobile phone imaging to more niche areas such as car cameras, sports cameras, and industrial cameras.

While these technologies have not fully emerged in the China market, the launch of the vivo signature gimbal camera and the completion of vivo’s global manufacturing bases indicate that the successful application of the above technologies is worth anticipating.

vivo’s Blueprint for The Future with Consumer Needs at Its Core

The culture of being user-oriented has been deeply rooted in vivo and act as the main principle for its R&D efforts. The innovation over the years – from gimbal cameras to V1 imaging chips – is the realisation of consumers’ needs.

While the geographical barrier makes it hard for R&D centres in different markets to access the latest insights and consumer demand from the other markets, the R&D centres in China and Tokyo managed to exchange valuable insights through online discussions.

Masazumi elaborated that the planning/product team in China will first analyse the future research trends of smartphone imaging based on user feedback, before sharing the relevant insights with the Tokyo R&D team. After frequent exchanges, Masazumi realised that both Chinese and Japanese consumers, sometimes, share similar demands.

“Chinese, as well as global consumers, have higher expectations of High Definition (HD) imaging but the physical space for the lens module within the phone is getting lesser,” he added.

Given this contradiction, Masazumi believes that ‘miniaturised and integrated’ would be a major direction of imaging hardware development in the future. He further explained: “camera lenses now are generally assembled. In future, they might all be integrated into one piece, with sensors that are more sensitive and faster.”

The establishment of the Tokyo R&D centre is the epitome of vivo’s global R&D strategy. In 2017, vivo proposed that its technological research would no longer focus on single aspect but would focus on the innovation of the smartphone as a whole.

To achieve this goal, vivo has 10 R&D centres in Shenzhen, Dongguan, Nanjing, Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Xi’an, Taipei, San Diego and Tokyo, which are devoted to the development of cutting-edge consumer electronics technologies and services, including 5G, artificial intelligence, industrial design, imaging system and other up-and-coming technologies.

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