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'Small Apple' plan launched to boost ICT industry

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- With the participation of the country's academia and businesses, the Cabinet's National Science Council (國科會, NSC) is launching a grand project to enhance the competitiveness of Taiwan's information and communication technology (ICT) industry.

The new project is termed "Small Apple Cultivation Plan," signifying small mobile devices that will be tailor-made to address niche demand, as opposed to Apple products such as iPhones and iPads, which provide a full range of functionalities. While a number of functionalities are offered on iPhones or iPads, not all of them may not be useful to the average person, said NSC Minister Cyrus Chu (朱敬一).

"Small Apples" provides just enough functionalities. For instance, a medical instrument worn by an elderly person does not require a microphone, camera or other functionalities; however, it does require sensors to monitor pulse and health conditions, as well as the capability to connect to the Internet 24 hours a day. This is an example of a "Small Apple" device that provides just enough functionality, instead of a full range of functionalities available on today's iPhones, iPads and other popular hand-held devices.

Participation from the Best

The NSC has teamed up with the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI, 工研院) as well as four local listed corporations — TSMC (台積電), Chunghwa Telecom (中華電信) MediaTek Inc. (聯發科) and Ruentex Group (潤泰集團) — to form a new venture company, which will aim to integrate various resources in Taiwan to develop different types of "Small Apples." The government has also invited technology professionals from the Silicon Valley in the U.S. back to Taiwan for this development effort. ITRI President Shyu Jyuo-min (徐爵民) will serve as the CEO of the new company.

Through this new venture, the government hopes to establish a new industrial development model in Taiwan. For this project, the government plans to invest NT$1 billion in a 2-3 year time frame. The project aims to invent many "Small Apples" that can be applied to vehicles, health care, logistic management, etc.

'Agility' is Taiwan's Competitive Advantage

Taiwan used to be a contract manufacturing hub, producing devices such as keyboards, mouses, CD-ROMs, monitors, chips, etc. However, Taiwan has over the years lost its edge to manufacturing powerhouses such as Vietnam and mainland China. Taiwan's ICT industry is facing fierce competition from South Korea's Samsung, which has developed its edge through vertical integration.

As such, Taiwan must make use of its "agility" advantage, instead of throwing in tens of billions of dollars, trying to compete head on with major brands, and this is where the "Small Apple" project comes in, Chu said.

Chu used a cafeteria as an analogy for the project. Whereas a person can pick and choose dishes he wants in a cafeteria, a "Small Apple" mobile device provides only the needed functions a user requires. The joint venture is set up to carry out software development, system integration, prototyping and testing, etc, to realize this goal.

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