At the massive Computex exhibition in Taipei this week, hundreds of vendors hawk shiny new tablets, phones and computers.
But if you can’t find something you like, you could always start building your own.
The show, Asia’s largest, highlights its big-name attendees, with keynote speeches and massive booths from the likes of Microsoft, Ford and Intel. The majority of the 1,800 exhibitors, however, are companies the average consumer has never heard of — component makers, highly specialized in their field.
“This is very important for Taiwanese companies,” says Vincent Liao, standing in his closet-sized booth behind a display case with dozens of power adaptors aligned in neat rows. “There are other events, but no foreigners come.”
As in the teeming street markets outside, the small vendors at the Computex showrooms are ready to deal. Liao, a salesman for Shining Fair Enterprises, says his company mainly does OEM (original equipment manufacturer) deals, where its products are packaged under a different brand name, and will take orders starting from 1,000 adaptors.
A few rows down, Webber Chung, a project manager at Mutto Optronics, will cut you a deal on the thin glass sheets that make capacitive touch screens work, a key component in any modern touch device. He quotes $15.50 each for a 10-inch version, but you have to buy at least 10,000 of them.
Mutto usually sells its sheets to manufacturers like Foxconn, the maker of Apple and Sony products. Chung says that while he’s always willing to talk business, there are fewer buyers on the show floor than in years past, as many clients now negotiate directly with manufacturers.
“Mainly this is promotion only, for us,” says Chung.
He feels that the focus of the show has gradually moved away from components, with local companies now plying more finished products. Mutto’s booth is in an area with a large group of firms offering touchscreen-related items, but few are component makers. Chung points to a booth nearby showing flashy software that runs on touchscreen monitors and says quietly, “we’re not like them.”
Still, the buyers are here.
One buyer from a large importer in Finland slowly makes his way down the rows of booths, a giveaway bag full of trinkets on one arm. He says he usually attends the exhibits in Europe, like CeBIT, the massive show in Germany, but he wanted to come to where the manufacturers are. He is shopping for cables and telecom-related equipment.
“There are a lot of interesting things here to see,” he says.
Computex still dedicates huge amounts of floor space to component makers, and everything from empty gadget chassis to flash memory chips are on display. In their various speeches to attendees, executives from companies like Microsoft, ARM and NTT DoCoMo made appeals to component makers, a crucial part of the electronics ecosystem, asking them for their support.
While the larger booths have the footprint of small buildings, with booming music, scantily clad models and even an aquarium with sharks in it, many of the parts salesmen have room just for a table and their displays.
Jason Liu is a salesman from Kurz, which sells the glossy finishings that are laid over laptops, phones, and other gadgets to give them colors or make them appear to be made out of treated metal. His booth shows plastic shells made for phones, laptops and other gadgets, coated in the glossy, multi-hued films from his firm. A dish with half a dozen business cards from passers-by sits on a small table.
With little foot traffic, he has time to patiently explain to a reporter how manufacturers use the films to make plastic look more expensive.
“This one makes the product appear like brushed aluminum,” he says. “Apple is different, they actually brush their aluminum.”
His company’s clients include Dell, Sony and Samsung, but the booth attracts little attention, located in a section slightly removed from the main show floor.
“Maybe some people just come to look at the show girls,” he says.