The outlook for consumer PC sales for the rest of the year is getting murkier and murkier. A drop-off in US sales in July, followed by continued weakness in early August despite the traditionally bountiful back-to-school season, has already started ringing alarm bells among analysts.

 

Now there’s additional evidence, from the world’s biggest notebook casing manufacturer, that any quick uplift in end demand is unlikely . Ju Teng makes the outer shell of a notebook – a manufacturing process that involves more than 300 steps and 400 different materials – for all the world’s top PC brands.

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Google’s momentum in smartphones is not likely to stop at just overtaking Apple’s iPhone in terms of global sales, according to analysts from Taipei-based Digitimes Research, who are predicting that Android sales will jump to number two above Research In Motion’s BlackBerry before the end of the year.

Gartner, the research group, last week said Android’s global share in smartphones had jumped from 1.8 per cent a year ago to 17.2 per cent in the second quarter of 2010.  This put it ahead of Apple’s iOS operating system, which had a 14.2 per cent share, but still behind RIM’s 18.2 per cent global market share.  Read more

Part of the charm of HTC, the fast-growing Taiwanese smartphone company, is that it strives to maintain an air of eager-to-please humbleness – or as its marketing tagline goes, of being “quietly brilliant” – even as it climbs through the ranks of the world’s biggest smartphone makers.
So it was a bit of a surprise when Cheng Hui-ming, chief financial officer, bawled out an analyst during the quarterly results conference call on Thursday for asking what seemed a rather innocuous question. Read more

MediaTek is going decidedly upscale. The Taiwanese company, the biggest supplier of mobile phone chips to China, was until a year ago still best known as the enabler of gray market ‘bandit phones’ that flooded Chinese and other emerging markets.Within the past year, however, MediaTek has increasingly sold its chips to top-tier international phone brands such as Samsung and LG, and expanded its repertoire to include an advanced third-generation chip for smartphones. On Tuesday it announced its next step – licensing fourth-generation LTE technology from Japan’s NTT Docomo.

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Are the seeds already being sown for the next technology down cycle?  Prospects of a downturn seem remote, given how strong demand for consumer electronics, PCs, and smartphones remain, and how major tech manufacturers are looking forward to a second wave of demand from long-suppressed corporate IT spending.

A new report by Standard and Poors, however, warns that profitability of Taiwanese technology companies may weaken after this year given their aggressive capacity expansion plans.  Read more

The way is finally clear for the first formal tie-up between a Taiwanese and a Chinese chipmaker. Taiwan’s government on Monday gave approval for Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing, the world’s biggest contract chipmaker, to take a 7.4 per cent stake in China’s Semiconductor Manufacturing International, China’s biggest chipmaker by capacity.

The story of how SMIC was founded a decade ago by Richard Chang, a former senior TSMC executive, and how the two companies later became embroiled in a long-running trade secrets battle, is an interesting and revealing tale about China’s (largely failed) efforts to create a domestic chipmaking industry.

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Another day, another raft of new patent infringement lawsuits. Thursday saw Apple file new claims against Taiwan’s HTC, this time alleging that the smartphone maker infringed patents including the technology for the “slide to unlock” start screen. Read more

How much capacity does Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company need?  The world’s biggest contract chipmaker is, after all, already planning to spend $4.8bn this year alone on capacity expansion. 

The answer, according to Morris Chang, chairman and chief executive, is a lot more still.  Addressing an audience of TSMC clients yesterday, Mr Chang laid out for the first time his approach towards capacity-building.  The chip making industry, he said, often oscillates between two states of imbalance – either demand outstrips supply, or vice versa.  Read more

Dadi Perlmutter, executive vice president of the Intel Architecture group, used a curious turn of phrase during his presentation at Computex on Tuesday when describing Intel’s role in the future world of computing.
Besides highlighting Intel’s traditional strengths in designing and manufacturing advanced processors, Mr Perlmutter (pictured) said Intel sought to be the “port of choice” for various operating environments. Read more

Even for people who keep more of an eye out on upstream chip companies rather than downstream device makers, the focus for this year’s Computex has been very much on tablet PCs. This is because of the general consensus that while Intel will find it difficult to break into the Arm-dominated mobile phone and smartphone markets, Arm, too, will struggle to break into Intel’s stronghold in personal computers.

This leaves the tablet as just ambiguous enough a category – is it an oversized mobile device? Or a keyboard-less netbook? – for the two to fight over. This is certainly happening – Intel unveiled Canoe Lake (pictured), a new ultrathin platform that can support both single and dual-core atom processors for tablets and netbooks – at its Computex keynote on Tuesday.

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It’s only been a few weeks, but Liu Yingjian, founder and chairman of Hanwang technology, already appears to be one step closer to his goal of making China’s biggest e-reader company a Fortune 500 company.

Mr Liu told the FT about this ambitious plan at the end of April, and we were a bit sceptical given the challenges Hanwang would face in order to achieve it, especially as consumers’ attention have clearly shifted from e-readers to tablet PCs in recent months.

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Well that didn’t take long.  Just a few days after Apple’s iPad hit international markets, both Asus and MSI, the Taiwanese PC brands best known for their netbooks, on Monday unveiled their respective versions of the tablet PC ahead of Computex

They weren’t the only ones, either.  Gianfranco Lanci, Acer chief executive, beat both his competitors to the mark by showing a glimpse of Acer’s tablet PC at a Beijing press conference last week.  So what to make of all these competing devices?  Several things stood out, after the jump: Read more

At some point tech executives will come to realise that just because Apple succeeded on the back of its applications store, it does not necessarily mean the same formula will work for everyone else.

That day, however, has certainly yet to come in Taiwan.  Not only do all three of the island’s mobile operators have their own, separate app store (two of which opened shop within the past month), but Asus, the netbook pioneer, on Monday also announced it would set up its own app store. Read more

Computex, the world’s second-biggest IT trade fair, does not officially start until Tuesday but already the hype about which tablet personal computer will challenge the iPad as the hottest product of the year is in full swing.

The chief executive of Nvidia, the specialist graphics card company that is also a big supplier of chips for tablet PCs, kicked things off by making the prediction that within five years “tablets will be the world’s biggest computing category”. Jen-hsun Huang said tablets could even surpass netbooks and notebook PCs in terms of volume. Read more

Acer clear.fi user interface

Speed has long been one of the secrets behind the success of Acer, the Taiwanese company that is now the world’s biggest seller of notebook PCs. 

Last April, they moved aggressively into the so-called ‘ultra thin’ notebook category by announcing plans for 30 models within the year.  At last year’s Computex trade fair, Acer became the first to unveil a prototype notebook running on Google’s Android operating system.

Now, within days after Google announced its grand plans for taking over our living rooms with Google TV, Acer said Thursday it plans to perform a similar feat using something it calls the ‘clear.fi’.  Apparently this year they couldn’t even wait for Computex, which opens next week, to make the announcement. Read more

Augmented reality may no longer be the science fiction concept it was even just a few years ago – the Financial Times tried its hands at using augmented reality for one of its features last year – but it is certainly still a long way from being a part of everyday life.

That will all change within the next five years, according to Hon Hsiao-Wuen, managing director of Microsoft Research Asia, the company’s Beijing-based fundamental research lab. “My prediction is that in five years any object you meet in the real world that matters to you, you can go onto the cloud to find more information about,” Mr Hon said. Read more

There just still seems to be no clear consensus on whether netbooks – cheaper, simpler notebooks that were one of the fastest-growing tech segments last year – are starting to lose steam.

Paul Otellini, Intel chief executive, insists the tablet PC won’t “eat the notebooks’ and netbooks’ lunch”, while others suggest the netbook’s breakneck growth is running up against other barriers such as rising manufacturing costs . The latest numbers from Taiwan’s Market Intelligence & Consulting Institute, a government-backed research institute, hardly help clear up the issue.

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Over the last few months, AU Optronics, the world’s third-biggest flat-panel maker, had the dubious honour of being the last major independent flat-panel maker in the world. The Taiwanese company Thursday, however, made it clear that it agrees with its rivals: vertical integration is the way to go.

Unlike its rivals who are each allied to just one brand, however, AUO is casting its net wide by partnering with a number of Chinese TV brands. On Thursday AUO said it would add two more of its clients to this list by establishing TV assembly joint ventures in China with both Haier and TCL Multimedia.

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The US International Trade Commission on Monday decided to investigate patent infringement claims made by Taiwan’s Elan Microelectronics against Apple.

The ITC “has voted to institute an investigation of certain electronic devices with multi-touch enabled touchpads and touchscreens. The products at issue in this investigation are electronic devices such as mobile telephones and computers that have multi-touch user interfaces,” it said on its websiteRead more

It is not often that a results conference comes complete with a lecture on the future path of semiconductor development should Moore’s Law reach its limits, but then Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing is not like many other companies – few other chipmaker produce as many different types of chips for as many different applications.

Among the highlights of the 20-minute talk by Chiang Shang-yi, TSMC vice president of research and development:

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