Is Taiwan’s last chance at tech survival the connected home?

taiwanI’ve just finished another piece for IDG Connect taking apart the Taiwanese technology industry – it seemed like as good a time as any on the back of Computex 2014.

If you haven’t heard of the show it’s the second largest IT event in the world and is held every year in Taipei as it has been for 34 years.

Well, the island formerly known as Formosa has been punching well above its weight on the tech scene for decades now, thanks to lots of government investment, a booming chip industry and a steady stream of bright young engineers and designers pouring from its universities.

But as I found out, many of its major firms are facing an unprecedented set of challenges which could threaten its long term future.

Firstly the PC market is in decline – which is bad news for 4th and 5th placed global brands Acer and Asus. Whether terminal decline we still don’t know but it has certainly meant Taiwan’s major ODM/OEM firms have had to adapt to a new mobile-centric output.

The two big brands mentioned above, however, haven’t done a very convincing job so far.

“The whole shift to mobility including smartphones and tablets is the new growth curve for the whole industry,” Forrester analyst Bryan Wang told me from Computex. “What I have seen is that Taiwanese companies are losing in this space.”

Gartner’s Amy Teng was not much more optimistic.

“These manufacturers have to rely on brand vendors to consume their production outcome. This business relationship is weak because today’s PC supply chain is advanced and standardised enough to transplant from vendor to vendor easily,” she argued.

Teng added that the move from high volume, low customisation products to low volume, highly customised products is a big challenge – especially when these manufacturers are being asked to be more cost effective and quicker to market.

All is not lost, though. The country’s semiconductor firms are still well placed and there are opportunities in other areas for those ODM/OEM giants like Wistron, Foxconn, Quanta and Pegatron.

“Regarding how to overcome, or thrive in the coming decade, I do not see any opportunity in the smartphone/tablet space now. However, Taiwanese companies still stand a chance in the connected home space, which is set to evolve in the next couple of years,” said Wang.

“Home/smart gateways, set-top-boxes and smart routers – these could be the angles. At Computex here, I do see home grid, smart plugs, smart home solutions are evolving as an interesting area.”

Nokia takes the wraps of the Lumia 920

nokia eventI’d almost forgotten what product launch press conferences were like in Asia, but got a nice little reminder at Nokia’s grand unveiling of the Lumia 920 and 820 in Hong Kong last Thursday.

I have less than pleasant memories of the rugby scrum at Computex that formed after master showman, Asus chairman Jonney Shih, took the wraps of the Padfone.

“Is it a laptop? Is it a phone?” he teased, unaware that the vast majority of the audience couldn’t make an informed decision because of being unable to see anything past all the sweaty fanboys standing on their chairs.

It all came flooding back at the French Window, a swanky restaurant venue in the IFC Mall, on Thursday night. To describe the scene for you: lots of people talking over Nokia’s spokesperson and the over-exuberant local media star roped in to present the devices, no-body drinking.

After some barely audible back and forth and a play around with the new Windows 8 Phones, it was time for the money shot, namely the part when three attractive, scantily clad female models come on stage to hold the devices for the cameras … at perfect boob-height.

So does Nokia have much of a chance with the Lumias? Well I gave up trying to fight may way to the demo area, but smartphone fondlers in the media regard it as one of Nokia’s best for years: great build quality, blisteringly fast processor and superb camera, if a little bulky.

Wireless charging, which was demoed at the event, will also be a bonus and, of course, it comes with Windows Phone 8.

I like Nokia, I really do, and would love the European tech giant to get back on track with this one, it’s just that with so much competition, and with so many smartphones these days offering specs which are so similar, I wonder if it will be enough, especially in the hyper competitive China market.

If you’re a Windows Phone fan, happy days, if not, you may well be minded to stick with what you know.