Teeing up for Taipei: Why Computex matters

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June is right around the corner. You know what that means!

Er, wait. You might not, actually. It means Computex is coming next week.

Every year, in early June, tech movers and shakers converge in Taipei, Taiwan, for Computex, a five-day trade show celebrating all things computing-related. Computex is big—it’s often the biggest expo of the year for PC manufacturers such as Acer, AMD, and Asus. Computex is revelatory. Computex is important.

One of the biggest reasons for that: Computex keeps it real.

Boots on the ground, not pie in the sky

Computex file photo (1)James Niccolai

Let's be honest: The gadgets unveiled at CES and CeBIT may be killer, but they’re usually prototypes or reference designs that surface for that particular show and then disappear for months on end. Ultra-high-res 4K displays, flexible smartphone screens, vibrating forks, and their ilk are cool, but they’re experimental, big-picture things that show what might one day be. They’re not real-world products destined to appear in stores anytime soon. Tellingly, most of the standouts at CES 2013 have yet to hit the streets, more than six months later.

But things are different at Computex.

“The time of the year is perfect to show what the holiday season has in store for us,” says Carolina Milanesi, Gartner’s research vice president for consumer technologies. “In a way, CES is the promise of what could be, and Computex is the execution of that promise.”

Patrick Moorhead, founder and principal analyst for Moor Insights and Strategy, has been to Computex 15 times, and he echoes Milanesi’s sentiment almost word for word.

“Computex’s timing in June makes it a very good time to go showcase the real products that will be assorted during the back-to-school and holiday timeframe,” he says. “CES and CeBIT aren’t optimal for this because the shows are too early.”

What is dreamed at CES is delivered at Computex. At CES, Intel showed off a pie-in-the-sky reference design for a hybrid laptop powered by its long-promised Haswell processor. At Computex, Intel is actually launching Haswell.

A flood of Windows 8 devices, including Acer's W510 hybrid tablet, appeared at Computex 2012.

Likewise, last year’s Computex was a parade of live tiles, hybrids, and touchscreens, as Asian manufacturers gave physical-hardware form to the promises of Windows 8’s software.

What gadgets will companies unveil at the show this year? We can only guess for now, but one thing is certain: What you see at Computex, you’ll get by the holidays.

Location, location, location

If Computex is so critical to the crucial holiday push, why don't its organizers move the show stateside, where it would be bound to garner more American attention? Well, Computex is produced by the Taiwan External Trade Development Council, and that alone cancels out any thoughts of transferring the show to the United States.

But beyond that, Computex’s location makes it vitally important to the entire technology industry.

“Computex is a key show for its location, right in the middle of where everything comes to life: Taiwan,” says Milanesi. “I always think of Taiwan as the manufacturing arm of Silicon Valley. [Manufacturers] that matter in the computing-devices business all have a presence there.”

Major manufacturers such as Foxconn and Pegatron indeed call Taiwan home. Holding Computex in their backyard not only gives the show a cultural vibe you won't find in the West, but also grants big-name Western companies (such as Intel and AMD) access to a rising star in the world of consumer technology.

Apple's Tim Cook at a Chinese manufacturing facility.

“Computex is a very important show for non-Asian tech companies,” says Moorhead. “Taiwan is a major tech gateway to China, the fastest-growing technology market. Chinese come to the show, and also the press stories are covered in China out of Taiwan.”

Chinese contacts and Chinese press are worth their weight in gold in the technology world.

“If Computex moved to Vegas, attendance would be huge, but you would lose an important part of the show—the culture,” Milanesi says. “Companies like Asus, HTC, and Mediatek have a distinct culture that would just get lost overseas.”

Time out of mind

Computex file photo (2)

That’s why Computex matters to you and me, and why it matters more to the rest of the world—even if it doesn’t garner quite as much mainstream attention as CES or E3.

“Sadly, I feel that Computex suffers like every other show that happens in Asia,” Milanesi says. “A mix of time difference and local coverage lowers its impact [on] the U.S. media and public.” Reports out of Taipei often come live. For North Americans, that means they occur in the middle of the night.

That the show is usually held near the same time as Apple’s WWDC gathering and the video game extravaganza known as E3—two major events, both held on the American West Coast—only underscores Computex’s tendency to fly somewhat under the radar in the United States.

It’s not as though Computex goes ignored stateside, however. Even if they come in the wee hours, the reports still flow from Taipei, and the most important gadgets are highlighted in roundups that publish at times more reasonable for the North American audience. We’ll be shining a spotlight on the biggest news out of Taipei all next week, in fact. (Expect to see a lot of laptops carrying Windows 8.1 and Intel processors, tablets rocking Nvidia Tegra 4 or AMD Temash chips, and maybe even a Firefox OS phone or two.)

If you want to see what the true tech of tomorrow will be, rather than vague promises and smoky vaporware, you need to keep an eye on Taipei.

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