Alicia Keys has been the creative director of BlackBerry. Shakira was named T-Mobile collaborator last month. And now the latest celebrity tech hire? Ashton Kutcher is now a product engineer at Lenovo.
Kutcher announced his new role Tuesday evening and also unveiled Lenovo's latest Android tablet, the Yoga, which has a unique hinge and 18 hours of battery life.
Kutcher, a longtime technology investor and self-professed techie, said this is more than just a celebrity marketing move. Of course, it is partially that -- Lenovo would not divulge the financial terms of the partnership -- but Kutcher was very clear that he plans to do more at Lenovo than just pose in advertisements. In fact, he heads to China today to meet with their teams. He said he has become an Android convert and is already testing an unreleased Lenovo phone.
Congrats on the new position. Can you tell me a bit about how you were hired?
A: I was looking for a company that was building mobile devices that I could work with. I was also looking for a company that was willing to take risks and wasn't making 'me too' devices. It's a dual faceted role, I will be helping do some marketing with the company but also working with the R&D teams.
Have you actually spent any time with the R&D teams?
I'm actually heading to Beijing tonight and I am going to be working for the rest of the week with the R&D team there. It is a relatively new relationship, we have been working with each other for a couple of weeks. My first job is to learn as much as I can and to really spend a lot of time with the products. I am going to gain insight and then try and apply some of the things I know about consumer software and technology to the hardware devices.
What is your first order of business?
My first order is to learn. It is easy to come in and say we need to do this and that. I have a list of probably 50 wishes that are like my dream wish -- where I go if the next-gen tablet should have these things and that would be awesome. But for me to start talking about the notion that we can apply those things would be really naive. Because to assume that the team is already there that has been building and working on the product roadmap that's probably longer than my vision would be silly.
Celebrity executive roles have become a bit of joke in the tech industry. Is this a bigger role than, let's say, Alicia Keys had as the creative director at BlackBerry?
I am sure there will be people that have that speculation and think that's what it is. Time will tell, people will see. I can say one of the big differences is that I went to school for engineering -- albeit I didn't graduate, but I learned to program when I was 19 years old. I work on a daily basis with engineers that are building some of the finest software products in the world today. I bet if you asked a lot of these people what a MySQL database is they would probably run the other way and not even know what that is.
I've had the benefit to work with guys like Daniel Ek [CEO of Spotify], Jack Dorsey, Shawn Parker, Shawn Fanning [founders of Napster] -- some of the greatest product minds -- and I hope some of their brilliance has rubbed off.
"I already feel my day-to-day devices shifting over to Android-based products."
You recently played Steve Jobs and said you have been an Apple fan. Will you be giving up your iPad for a Lenovo Yoga?
I already have. And I actually replaced my mobile phone today with a product that I actually think is better than the iPhone I was using. As a tech investor, I will still use Apple devices to some degree on behalf of my investments. Some of the applications I work with launch on iOS first, so I will still use those devices. But I already feel my day-to-day devices shifting over to Android-based products. I am just having a better experience on them now.
What's the Android phone you are using?
It's a Lenovo phone. I can't really talk too much about that right now but it is a Lenovo phone.
Note: Lenovo has not yet released a smartphone in the U.S. It has been rumored to do so this year.