Air conditioners are more than cool - they are hip and subjected to the same kind of product design and branding invested in mobile phones, says Chaim Eldar, finance and IT director of Electra HK Technologies. For the man at the helm of one of the world's only electronic firms dedicated to the development of remote-control units for consumer and industrial air conditioners, this is both a problem and an opportunity. It is an opportunity because almost all of the stylish design work is embedded in the remote control unit. Mr Eldar points out that the core technology behind air conditioners does not change very much from year to year, leaving the remote control as one of the few areas that manufacturers can differentiate their products. The problem is this places Mr Eldar's 35-member research and design team under tremendous pressure to cope with a short product life cycle. Every year the team has to bring forward new designs, incorporate new electronic components, and even pioneer new features. 'In our market you must develop new control systems every year,' he says. 'This is because air conditioners are almost all the same. The only thing you can present to the customer that is different is the remote control and the control system.' In recent years, Electra has pioneered the development of numerous features. These include 'I Feel', a climate control feature whereby the room temperature is set to match that indicated by sensors on the remote control. This means the air conditioner will cool the room until the remote control is happy, a set-up which is more intuitive and more likely to suit the needs of people sitting in corners of the room. Additional features include the introduction of an ionizer, and new controls specially adapted for the next generation of inverter air conditioners. 'When you see advertising for air conditioners, you can see how much they promote the remote control,' Mr Eldar says. 'Of course the competition [among air conditioner manufacturers] is very high, so every company needs to redesign every year.' Research and development work is carried out in Hong Kong by a staff of locally-hired electronic and mechanical engineers, while production is centred in a Dongguan factory employing 700. Electra established operations in Hong Kong in 1995, where it employs 55 people. Electra is a subsidiary of the Israel based Elco Holdings, a large conglomerate with investments in consumer-products, building control and automation, real estate, retail, and power transformers. Electra established itself as the first Israeli firm to open a wholly foreign-owned enterprise when it opened its Dongguan factory in 2000. About half of Electra's US$25 million turnover is through sales of air conditioner control units to the parent company.