According to the flight map, as I finish this blog post, I’m somewhere west of Ulan Bator, on my home from Computex 2010 in Taipei. It started with me lying awake with jetlag late one night and early one morning, passing the time making a list of the companies I thought had a good show, and who didn’t.
While some people – inevitably – complained that the show wasn’t as busy as in previous years, I think that’s probably because there weren’t many (if any) amazing, ready-to-ship products to catch people’s attention on the show floor. However, thinking about the companies that came out well (and those that faired poorly) from Computex, what struck me this year was that how the list illustrates how rapidly the traditional power structures in the tech industry are changing.
Before I run down the winners and losers, I ought to say I was looking for companies that had either an unexpectedly good or bad show. I’m not going to list those that performed pretty much as expected. I should also say this is very much my personal list; I’ve batted a few emails back and forth with Rich and Harry, and their views are quite different – when they get a free moment, they’ll also post their thoughts.
What was it that tipped me off to the fact ARM was having a good show? Was it the fact that within a minute of sitting down to interview Bob Morris, Director of Mobile Computing, ARM, he’d told me ARM's partners are shipping 1.3 billion ARM cores per quarter? Or that the hotel suite where he gave the interview was full of a huge range of devices, from laptops to TVs to iPads to Android tablets to photo frames - that all ran ARM chips?
Well, all that certainly helped, but what struck me most was the suitability of the company’s approach and business model to the way technology is going. We’re heading for a world where there will be a small amount of computing power in almost all of the devices in our homes – and by devices, I mean almost anything that’s electrical or even mechanical, from TVs to light switches – backed up, for most people, by real power that’s on tap from giant server farms.
That trend is ideal for ARM. Its architecture prioritises power management, and it takes an open approach, licensing its design to numerous partners, who can all take a basic chip and add what they need to it. Needless to say, it also works well for ARM commercially – it collects a fee when a company signs on, and then a royalty for chip sales. Right now, it’s a bulletproof business model.
Things haven’t seemed brilliant for MSI recently, as it’s struggled to keep up with Asus and Gigabyte when it comes to motherboards. It’s often seemed lacking in ideas, or simply prone to latching onto the wrong bandwagon – such as Lucid Hydra. I’m happy to say that at Computex, things couldn’t gave seemed more different. For starters, it wasn’t the only company being positive about Lucid’s Hydra (see also the Asus Immensity and Powercolor’s graphics cards), so getting there first looks like it might be a smart call. It also had a well diversified range of products, with strong components (including graphics cards with custom coolers), decent looking laptops, and a range of smart looking all-in-one touchscreen PCs.
According to MSI, you’ll be able to pick up a machine similar to the one pictured above, complete with a 24in 1080p panel, Blu-Ray drive and quad-core CPU for £800 or so – to me, they looked ideal for use in a kitchen or family room. As enthusiasts, you might not get excited about all of these products, but a strong range of products in multiple categories is good business, and that means more cash for R&D and investment. You want more?
Fine. MSI had robots.
” the UK PR guy said to me as we walked round the stand. “We have quite a big robotics department out in Taipei.
Who knew, hey?
Both Rich and I have been on the trail of VIA and at Computex, I think it looked like a really exciting company once more. There’s too much to fit in this blog post (which, like all of my posts, starts off with me thinking it will be short…), but here’s a few things to consider. VIA makes its own x86 CPUs and also licenses ARM technology; its experience with small and efficient chips has put it into a great place for helping computerise products (not just the obvious like TVs, but things like electricity meters).
It also seems to really understand the importance of China, both as a source of products and technology, and as a market. This means it has strong links with a host of small upstart Chinese companies churning out all manner of weird and wonderful mobile internet devices. Which leads me neatly onto my next, and final winner;
Of course the Jobs mob weren’t at the show (although Apple uses a lot of Taiwanese manufacturers to manufacture its stuff), but the iPad’s presence was clearly felt. Whereas ten, or even five years ago, Apple could safely be ignored by the PC industry, that’s simply not the case any more – even when it’s a non-PC product that we’re talking about.
If you visited a stand with a tablet on it, you could bet it was the product everyone was congregated around. Whether it’s to do with how good the iPad is, how popular it’s been or simply Apple’s recent track record, tablets were the talk of Taipei, and the manufacturers are scrabbling to respond.
Unless Nvidia had employed the BNP to hand out flyers at the show, it’s hard to see how it could have been worse. They weren’t at the show itself, instead chosing to erect a big black “3D experience” tent several blocks away on the other side of a shopping mall. However, despite putting it in the path of the public, they actually tore it down on the Thursday night – and Friday is the day the public actually come to the show.
It did hold a press conference but failed to invite half the journalists at the show – bit-tech
included. We didn’t miss much, thanks to their bizarre decision to focus on 3D PCs, not Tegra, their well regarded mobile chip that would be perfect for all the tablets everyone wants to make at the moment. That’s not even to mention the launch of the GTX 465, which limped out to little fanfare.
When an Intel spokesperson stood up at a press event at Computex and declared that “the desktop PC’s best 30 years are ahead of it,
” it just didn't sound credible.
Yes, enthusiasts are always going to want the latest and greatest performance - which means a big desktop unit - it's clear that for mainstream users, tablets and laptops with creditable performance are increasingly viable alternatives to a desktop PC. As a result, desktops won’t drive or define computing in the way they have in the past.
It wasn't just this remark that made Intel seems slightly at sea, either. The x86 based tablets
on show were deeply disappointing, and it's clear that the race is on for Intel (and AMD) to get x86 CPU power consumption down to get into more mobile devices.
Add in Microsoft showing off an ARM version of Windows 7 Embedded, and the lack of presence for Intel's own mobile OS, Meego, and you have a recipe for a disappointing show for Intel.
Not so much a loser as a company missing a huge opportunity. There are a huge range of people who want to make internet enabled computing devices with ARM CPUs and they want an OS. However, many of these big Taiwanese firms are to support and partnership from the software guys and still have a very strong relationship with Microsoft – hence why we still saw lots of Atom powered Windows 7 tablets, even thought pretty much everyone involved acknowledges they’re distinctly sub-standard.
However, if Google want manufacturers to start embracing Android, they need to be more proactive. Its light presence at the show just smacked of “could do better.”
That’s my list; stay tuned for Richard and Harry’s thoughts. In the meantime, let me know who you thought had a good or bad show in the comments