Taiwan Takes the Lead in PC+Gadget Innovation

Update July 1, 2009: The NYTimes confirms “in I told you so” fashion that indeed Taiwanese firms like Acer are now reaching up to the heights of market dominance in innovation markets. Now one of the pillars of the Obama recovery plan is that American innovation and manufacturing prowess will be unleashed with the huge subsidy sums for Manhattan-like projects such as Renewable Energy Incentives , A New Energy Grid, Health IT Reforms, a new domestic car industry, and many others. These subsidies will be aided and abated by new laws and regulations such as Cap and Trade which will drive consumers and organizations towards acquiring the new energy, car, and medical treatment innovations. Voila – prosperity returns.

Just to be a bit of a skeptic and contrarian … I am not so sure this grand plan will work.

First China, India, Korea, and much of Southeast Asia have 4 distinct competitive advantages:
1)Smart and well trained right up to the PhD level workforces[and continuing to leave the US way behind];
2)Access to a very low-cost labor supply for the next 15-30 years;
3)Access to manufacturing knowhow and engineering innovation that outdoes North America regularly;
4)Access to ideas and innovation trends are Web instantaneously available – so copying is a realistic fallback.
In contrast the US has proceeded to ruin its brands.
1)Manufacturing and engineering prowess has been deserted with the rise of the Services+Financial economy. The basic manufacturing drivers and expertise are rapidly going overseas – so any new green basic innovations will need overseas players, suppliers and manufacturers to co-operate and consent;
2)Fairness, a middle class working+consuming engine, and striving for competitive advantage
– each have been replaced respectively by: huge wealth inequality and obscene compensation by elites, let the middle class play a fast diminishing “steady” employment game of diminishing musical chairs, and monopoly control of markets as the way to go/succeed in business;
3)Americans govern themselves well and respond united in a crisis has given way to a savage partisanship as the “Party that knows how to govern” continues to fester in its politics of fear and intolerance. This will continues to cripple meaningful reform and re-invigoration of the US economy.

In sum, the New Normal will largely founder as the US copes with how to come to the new Global Business Plate with some semblance of “having game”.

Here is the original article from June 3, 2009:

The E3 and Computex shows just ended this past week in Taiwan .. and major innovations in games, screen technology and computing software and hardware were introduced here. In this era of globalisation, Taiwan with the help and heft of mainland Chinese electronic factories has become a major power in the merging of PC, mobile phones and consumer electronics. And as the NYTimes points out in this slideshow that leadership extends to design and innovations as well as high quality and low cost production. As devices start to merge and synch together their smarts and features (examples: video, photos, GPS, and Web connectivity on smartphones; high quality video and image processing on digital SLRs; Netbooks with huge battery life, video/webcams, Wifi, touchscreen operations; games with Web Connections, TV-set-top box control, video-delivery; etc], Taiwanese firms are no longer waiting on the traditional leaders such as Apple, Canon, Dell, Ericsson, HP, Nikon, Nokia, Panasonic, Sony and others to set the stage. Rather new designs and standards are emerging from Taiwan and taking leading market positions on the World stage.

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Nowhere is this more prominent than in the emergence and continuing rapid development of the fastest growing PC segment – Netbooks. From 1million in 2007 to 14 million sold in 2008, Taiwan’s  Asus was the pioneer of Netbooks (a $250 Linux based lightweight, long battery life laptop) slightly more than a year ago. US companies entered the market and in order to protect their laptop and notebook sales margins bumped up the screen size, added more disk space and CPU power+speed but at the costs of 50 to 70% increase in weight, shorter battery life and often more than double the cost. Microsoft got in by resurrecting Windows XP and proceeded to garner 90%++ market share but again pushing up costs. But instead of caving in, the E3+Computex show saw Taiwanese and Southeast Asian companies redoubling their electronic bets.

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For example at the E3 and Computex shows a new generation of Netbooks are being proposed – and their features and functions are being set by Taiwanese manufactures like Acer, Asus, MSI and a hoard of other South East Asian players. CNET describes the Taiwanese-lead trends towards touchscreen, Google Android powered, ARM processor(cheaper and longer life) and phone-enabled Netbooks. These are features being developed by Taiwanese companies but being adopted by big US and European telecoms like Verizon and T-Mobile. The inevitable conclusion is that in the demanding era of electronic design convergence and innovation, World companies are adopting World solutions and those are increasingly Taiwan+China in origin.

Just go down the way and see how ideas in  gaming and set-top TV boxes are being displayed first at the E3 show.  True Japan dominates hardware and a variety of players have strong presences in the software, but the innovative ideas are coming from the Taiwan+China quadrant. Globalization of production has meant globalization of design and innovation in the PC+Gadget arena. Still in doubt? Just  ask Dell or Sony.

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