Taiwan strives to create international brand names

Over the past decade, Taiwanese businesses have actively sought to upgrade themselves by moving from being labor-intensive industries towards technology-intensive and high value-added industries. With this strategy in mind, Taiwan has sought core patent technologies in areas such as solar energy, light emitting diodes (LED) and flat panel displays. The result has been very positive for Taiwan’s ability to create recognizable international brand names.

Recently, Global View monthly focused on almost 40 business areas where  Taiwan has remained within the top three in terms of global market share, covering the pioneering wafer foundry industry, LEDs, smart phones and computer hardware. Taiwan Insights has chosen six core sectors from the magazine’s cover story to review these well-known sectors.

Smart phones

In February of this year, Taiwan’s smart phone maker HTC Corporation won the highest honor in the global mobile communications industry when it was named the “Device Manufacturer of the Year” by the GSM Association. HTC beat two other finalists, Apple and Samsung Electronics, to take the top honor in the device manufacturer category at the 2011 Global Mobile Awards in Barcelona, Spain. Peter Chou, HTC’s CEO and president, attended the ceremony and proudly accepted the award.

According to the information released by market researcher IHS iSuppli in May 2011, HTC ranked 5th in terms of global market share for smart phones, behind Nokia, Apple, RIM and Samsung. Its first quarter growth rate of 6.2 percent only lags behind Apple’s phenomenal 14.9 percent.

Established in 1997, HTC was originally an OEM maker of personal digital assistants (PDA). Later when Google acquired Android mobile operating system in 2005, HTC jumped on the bandwagon to partner with Android with a solid R&D and manufacturing ability. It developed the first Google smart phones based on Android’s platform.

In 2006, HTC made an important decision to promote its own brand name. At the time, most people did not think it was a wise move, but HTC understood that branding was the only way to upgrade its value and services.

Now, most of the global telecommunication giants, like France Telecom’s Orange, the UK’s O2 and Vodafone, and the US’s Verizon, Sprint and AT&T, are all partners of HTC. This kind of cooperative model is astonishing in the vastly competitive mobile device industry.

Solar cells

Occupying about 20 percent of the global market, Taiwan’s solar cell industry is ranked No. 2 by worldwide production value, reaching NT$128.4 billion (US$4.3 billion) in 2010. Taiwan has surpassed Germany and Japan, two leaders in the global solar energy industry, for many years, and only lags behind China. Despite this, Taiwan is technically more advanced than China in solar energy manufacturing.

Taiwan’s Solar Industry has a longer history than China with solar cell makers Motech and E-Ton Solar entering the industry in 1998 and 2001, respectively. Due to the similarity between the manufacturing of semiconductors and solar cells, Taiwan’s businesses have  jumped headlong into this expanding industry and successfully taken a solid chunk of the global market.

In the early 1980s, Taiwan’s Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) entered the solar industry by developing and training many professionals who have continued to be competitive forces in the global solar energy market.

Due to the world’s declining crude oil reserves and concerns about the safety of nuclear energy, the solar industry is expecting healthy growth.

Digital cameras

According to information compiled by the Institute of Information Industry in 2010, Taiwan is the second largest digital camera producer in the world, after Japan. Taiwanese makers such as Altek Corp., Hon Hai Precision, and Canon (Taiwan), are important original design manufacturers (ODM) or original equipment manufacturers (OEM) of digital cameras for brands like Canon, Kodak, and others. Taiwan produced 60 million units in 2010, over half of the world’s supply.

As the first Taiwanese company to enter the R&D of middle to high-end digital cameras and to develop a mega-pixel camera, Altek has been making the core chips for digital cameras for over a decade. Its chips have been used in over 40 million cameras globally. Altek is a long-time partner of well-known brands like Japan’s Fuji and America’ s Kodak, and is the largest ODM maker in the world. It accounts for over 10 percent of the global ODM market share, with annual revenues of NT$28.8 billion (US$990 million) in 2010.

No longer limited to making digital cameras, Altek is combining digital cameras with global positioning systems (GPS), creating its own brand, Altek Leo. On display at the Singapore Telecommunications Show in 2010, it has three times the optical zoom and uses an Android-based mobile operating system.


It is a little-known fact that over 40 percent of the backlighting illuminations for notebook computers, and 40 percent of the LED displays in the world are made in Taiwan.  According to ITRI, Taiwan is the largest LED producer in the world in terms of output, retaining a quarter of the global market share. However, in terms of value, Taiwan comes  second, after Japan, with an annual production value of NT$80 billion (US$2.7 billion).

Epistar is the largest red LED supplier, and one of the three leading blue LED makers in the world. The other two are Japan’s Nichia and the American firm Cree.

The advantage of Taiwan’s LED technology over that of other countries is that ITRI has developed the alternating current LED, which does not need inverters as in a traditional direct current LED, thus requiring less power consumption and a smaller unit size. Also, one of the characteristics of LED is its ability to maintain illumination at a low temperature, making LEDs perfect for medical applications in a sterile and low temperature environment.

Portable navigation devices (PND)

According to the Department of Industrial Technology, the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Taiwan is the largest PND producer in the world, with almost 90 percent of the global market share at a total annual production value of NT$122.2 billion (US$4.2 billion) last year. Major PND makers include Garmin (Asia), Tomtom (founded in Amsterdam), and Mio, ranking No.1, 2 and 3 in the world market, respectively.

Garmin was established in 1989 by Gary Burrel and Taiwan-born Min H. Kao (hence the company named GarMin) to produce global positioning systems (GPS). At the time, the US was engaged in the First Gulf War in the Middle East. Using his experience of developing military GPS applications, Kao led a team of engineers to redesign a huge GPS. Initially, it was so big; it took two people to carry. It was a far cry from something which now fits easily in the palm of your hand.

Today, seven out of every ten GPS devices in the world are made by Garmin. Their GPS devices help American soldiers locate their position in wartime and guide civilian drivers to their destinations. It is the modern re-envisionment of the ancient Chinese compass invented several thousand years ago.

E-Book readers

With the worldwide popularity of e-Books and tablet personal computers, there are many brands to choose from. They range from Apple’s iPad, Amazon’s Kindle to the European 7-inch Flyer by HTC Corp. Buyers can also try the ASUS 12-inch ePad Transformer, if they are willing to wait, since it’s currently out-of-stock due to its popularity.  

Regardless of the brand, 90 percent of these devices are either made in Taiwan or are made by Taiwanese companies. Kindle, which has taken 70 percent of the global e-reader market, are mostly assembled by Hon Hai Precision and the remaining 10 to 20 percent are manufactured by other Taiwanese companies. iPads, which accounted for 90 percent of the global tablet computer market in 2010, are also produced by Hon Hai.

Even though some core components are still controlled by international giants, Taiwanese makers supply many of the important components of e-Book readers, including iPad’s touch screen sensor modules (accounting for 13% of manufacturing costs), battery cells (7%), cases (5%) and printed circuit boards (5%). 

The key to the continued success of Taiwanese manufacturers has much to do with having the shortest lead time coupled with the most competitive prices. These conditions are also fertile ground for generating some of today’s most successful and recognizable electronics  brands.

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