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Computex Taipei    2002

by Andrew Shuttleworth

Computex is the world's third biggest IT trade show after Comdex in Las Vegas and CeBIT in Germany. Perhaps unlike these shows though the vast majority of products are from the host country and there is a stronger focus on trade.

The show is important to us here in Japan as Taiwan is the world's fourth largest hardware manufacturer and many of the products we use will be manufactured and increasingly designed there. It was my first time to the show and my second time to Taiwan. I spent the first couple of days strolling the city with another couple of TPC members, one who had lived there for four years and knew the city very well. Our first stop was at 'Taipei's Akihabara', at least that's what we were calling it. After the excitement of all the gadgets had worn off I began to realize that there wasn't a great deal that you couldn't already find in Japan and that the prices were very similar to Japan and, not surprisingly, more expensive for products produced by Japanese manufacturers. And this was the bargain area. The prices in the more obvious touristy areas were up to about 40% more expensive for some of the items I was looking at.

The show featured a huge range of products at different stages of development. Product concepts demonstrating items that might practically be in production within a few years, new items that were just on the market or due to be released very soon and products copying other successful products that have been on the market a while. The last two groups formed the majority although in many cases the copycat manufacturers were not producing at the time but claiming they could produce if you were prepared to place a large enough order. Speaking to people at the show I began to realize some of the reasons why consumer prices in Japan were similar or lower to the prices in Taiwan itself. All the manufacturers told me how very price competitive and difficult to sell into Japan it is. I'm sure competition would force them to produce and sell more cheaply if they could do so and still make a profit, so I'll be a bit more grateful for the products that I do see and the prices I pay when I am next shopping in Japan.

The best products at the show are sure to make it to Japan. Here are a few of the products that caught my eye. It's very much a personal selection but if you want to find out more about the other range of products that were there you can check the Computex web site which includes the full database of companies.

PDAs and Peripherals

The first thing I really noticed was the huge range of new Pocket PC PDAs available. There were devices by at least five different manufacturers at the show and in fact two or three reasonably priced Pocket PC models I'd never heard of before already in the stores, although they only had Chinese language operating systems. The Pocket PCs at the show were in many ways very similar to most of the other devices out there, at least partly as a result of Microsoft's licensing restrictions for these devices. They featured the Pocket PC 2002 operating system and the devices planned for later this year will have the latest XScale processors. The minor distinguishing features among the devices included lighter weight, more compact and flashier designs, Memory Card slots (instead of Compact Flash or Secure Digital), inbuilt Bluetooth, and combination phone-PDA devices. There was though no one killer device that stood out above all the rest or was necessarily any better than the current products on the market. When I asked about the price they seemed to be targeting a similar price range to the current devices so it will be interesting to see how many of these actually make the shelves of the US, Japan or Europe and if they do how well they compete. I can only imagine them competing with the global manufacturers on price in this tough market segment with the products they had to offer. On the other hand China and neighboring markets may have a growing demand for these products so they may not sell into the above markets at all.

Palm OS devices did not feature strongly at the event. Penbex Data Sytems was showing off their Penbex OS targeted at niche business markets and there was a Penbex OS device on show manufactured by Aplux. You could freely rent one of the devices for the duration of the show with show guide information installed. Luckily I had downloaded the impressive Pocket PC version before I left Japan. It will be interesting to see how this OS competes against Palm and Microsoft's Pocket PC are who also targeting business markets.

As for PDA peripherals. Compact Flash 802.11b wireless LAN, Bluetooth, camera, GPS and display adapter cards proliferated and there was even a world first SD card camera on show. PDA keyboards were also in abundance although none in my opinion as well designed as the Targus foldable keyboard that has been around for some time. There were also some original iPAQ jackets on show and a system which transferred handwriting to PDAs in real time using electromagnetic signals from the special pen. The signals were received through the paper by a board below which then interpreted them and transferred the information to the device via an infrared connection.

Unlike a Seiko system currently available this device made use of the PDA's hand writing recognition functions to save the input as real text rather than a graphic. The real drawback was that the text could only be input this way into a special application rather than into any of the other installed applications you may want to use. If this type of device takes off I'm sure they will improve over time. Real pen based input for computers has been in the pipeline for years and it will be interesting to see whether the concept it ever reaches the market in a big way.

A bit more briefly, here are some of the other types of products that were conspicuous at the show.
-   Web Boards and Tablet PCs such as a device from Aplux which won a show award. Microsoft is pushing Tablet PCs and these are definitely going to be the big computing product next year.
-   Portable hard drives/smart storage for storing large amounts of data in a palm size unit. This could be used to store large amounts of music or photograph's for example. Often they were combined with ...
-   Flash memory reader/writers. With a number of formats of flash memory available the manufacturers believe there is a market for devices that can read the media and often multiple varieties of media. If the number of these products already on the shelves in Japan is anything to go buy they are right. For consumers hopefully this will eventually lead to falling prices. Even now I would shop around carefully before buying such a product as prices vary greatly among even though the functions do not. Look for something that reads the greatest variety of media and/or the smallest size or go for PC card adapters if you only use a laptop or have a PC card reader in your desktop PC.
-   Low end digital camera and web cams. Expect to be seeing more and more sub 10,000 yen digital cameras. Resolution and quality will slowly increase and I believe there is already a sub 10,000 yen digital camera with LCD screen on the market. For me a digital camera without LCD only offers half the benefit of a digital camera. For many people being able to review pictures taken on the LCD is more important than the fact that you have the pictures in bits and bytes.
-   Bluetooth USB dongles. Just a small product area but Bluetooth products are (still) slowly pushing their way on to the market. Will we ever see this technology reach a critical mass?
-   A one man booth at the far end of one of the halls was showing a technology that allowed operating systems to be shrunk down and saved on read only flash memory. Potential applications include in educational establishments and less affluent markets were price and easy roll out are the key selling points.
-   One company introduced a very simple e-book device. With a simple monochrome screen which maintained the display even when the one pencil battery was taken out. These devices were designed to be cheap to produce, consume very little power and use books could be stored on low capacity compact flash memory. Currently their main market is schools in China and although we may not see this product hitting Japan in a big way I definitely think it has potential in other markets were it is not possible to have large numbers of desktop computers in schools.

By far the greatest number of products on the show was hardware, but there was a small software section and one product deserves special mention. Ulead has a popular range of photo and video related products on the market worldwide. Video Studio is an excellently designed video editing software suite that I have bought and used, but I had always assumed that it came from the US and not Taiwan as indeed it does. Their new product DVD Workshop won a Best of Show award. Ulead's products are available in both English (in Akihabara) and Japanese off the shelf in Japan or can be bought and downloaded on the internet. They are very user friendly and are well worth the investment if you do anything with digital photos or videos.

Computex computer Back for a final word on the show itself. The overall theme of the show was very much of Taiwan transforming itself from a manufacturing only country to an innovative country that can also design good products. To put that into jargon - from OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) to ODM (Original Design Manufacturing). I'd forgotten a lot about what I'd learnt about Taiwan 5 years before and was impressed by the strengths and diversity of a country I now found in many ways similar to Japan. There was even a trendy downtown area named using the kanji for Harajuku. I'd certainly recommend that anyone who can take a two or three days off work and pay for the flights consider visiting the show next year to see what might be appearing on your shelves over the next few months and years. Throw in a game of golf and a bit of sightseeing and you'll have a great, early summer break.

Andrew Shuttleworth is currently Programs Officer for the Tokyo PC Users Group and went to Computex Taiwan on a whim after being (justifiably) persuaded of the benefits by another TPC member. He'd like to thank his two companion travelers for an enjoyable and educational experience.
He can be contacted via his web site at:
http://www.andrewshuttleworth.com



© Algorithmica Japonica Copyright Notice: Copyright of material rests with the individual author. Articles may be reprinted by other user groups if the author and original publication are credited. Any other reproduction or use of material herein is prohibited without prior written permission from TPC. The mention of names of products without indication of Trademark or Registered Trademark status in no way implies that these products are not so protected by law.

Algorithmica Japonica

July , 2002

The Newsletter of the Tokyo PC Users Group

Submissions : Editor


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