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Computex 2014 falls short in product innovation

10 Jun 2014  | Jim McGregor

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The recently concluded Computex 2014 in Taiwan, despite being the largest tradeshow in Asia, was found wanting. Most of the exhibits centred on solutions that improved on existing technology, while innovations or new technologies seemed to have been nicked by industry players. There is an apparent slowing in the invention of new platforms, as well as in the IoT generation. Although there were plenty of new devices, most fell short of expectations.

There were new PCs, peripherals, a few mobile devices, and plenty of wearable and home automation solutions. However, the buzz around the show was dominated by news elsewhere. The announcement by Broadcom to sell or close its cellular base band group caught everyone's attention and left most wondering who would be next in this extended trend of industry consolidation. In addition, the earlier agreement between Intel and Rockchip was hotly debated with opinions ranging from the agreement being a strategic marvel to an act of desperation.

However, there were a few technology announcements that were worthy of attention. The first was the launch of the ThunderX family of server SoCs by Cavium Networks. This is good sign of progress for the ARM server ecosystem that is ramping for product launches, especially after the apparent disbanding of similar efforts at Samsung a few weeks ago. AMD's reintroduction of the mobile FX processors and Intel's launch of the Core-M indicated a reinvigorated competition between the two companies going forward, marking a positive sign for the PC market. There were also a number of new PCs announced especially from the local powerhouses, ASUS and Acer.

However, the focus appears to be on the traditional laptop form factor rather on the more exotic convertibles and 2-in-1s. The one exception would be the new ASUS transformer V that combines a convertible laptop/tablet with a smartphone and capable of running both Windows and Android. In other words, they are putting every trick that has failed to gain interest thus far into a single platform. While technically interesting, it's unlikely to find a large fan base. In its barrage of new product introductions, ASUS also upped the ante in the phablet battle with the 7in Fonepad 7. Like the other phablets, this is sure to garner some interest.

While the topic of wearables and IoT is still hot, the question is how long will it be for many of these applications to reach high volumes and who will survive. Most of the wearables violate what should be the most critical rule—make it fashionable or invisible. The only fashionable devices at Computex were new smartwatches from Martin. On the invisible front, the new flexible ceramic lithium batteries from Protogium hold promise, especially for use in clothing. However, there are so many vendors developing wearables ranging from start-ups to tech powerhouses to fashion designers, it is difficult to determine if anyone will make a profit as the competitive pressures build.

Despite efforts to shift Computex to mobile and smart devices, the majority of the show remained focused on the PC market, the heritage of Computex. The rest of the event was filled with vendors focused on building a better device through features, forum, or function. With innovation in PCs, tablets, and smartphones slowing or just failing to garner interest, the industry appears to be in a bit of a lull and searching for that next breakout application.

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