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ITPP in Taiwan (day one): AAEON planning 5in Android ICS 'phablets' for 2013/14 & hands-on with Thermaltake's Level 10M mouse

As well as keeping you up-to-date with the latest news, reviews, and analysis from the world of technology, ITProPortal is currently enjoying an exclusive TAITRA-led ICT industry media tour of Taiwan, and it's been a fascinating first day on the ground over here in Taipei.

There's plenty of future-glimpsing to come over the next week, and today we got started with two of the giants of the region, Thermaltake and AAEON. These particular firms are like e-stylus and noodles - that's very different from one and other, in square-talk - with the former being highly consumer-slanted and the latter focused largely on meeting industry-needs. Here are some initial impressions and reflections from ITPP's first day in Taiwan.

The two firms are like e-stylus and noodles – with the former being highly consumer-slanted and the latter focused largely on meeting industry-needs.

That's phabulous, darling

In many ways, my first 24 hours in Taiwan have roughly corresponded with my naïve pre-conceptions of the Far East: the people are overwhelmingly courteous and many wear bird flu masks, there are lots of large signs adorned with flashing fairy lights, and the food is cheap and almost universally excellent.

Something marginally more insightful I gleamed is that the "phablet" – much maligned in the West for looking like a repurposed Star Trek prop when held to your head in the traditional manner – is a seriously hot commodity. As in the UK and much of Europe, the iPhone is probably the most popular handset you see on the streets, but after that it's the distinctive shape of Galaxy Note-line gadgets (and others like them) that catch the eye as you stroll along Guangzhou Street en route to the Huaxi Street night market.

It's little wonder, therefore, that the next big device sector AAEON is looking to penetrate is the 5in category. Of course, we're not just talking any old hybrid toy with a ridiculous conflated name here. The motherboard expert is looking to carve out a further niche for itself by specialising in fully ruggedised tablets - like the (convertible) Panasonic Toughbook CF-19 we reviewed earlier in the year - and has already gotten started on the 7in and 10in segments.

We got a sneak peek at a product flow chart, and 2013 was pegged as the "planning stage" for the RTC-500R series of 5in durable tablets featuring the same anti-scratch screen and drop resistant features as the recently launched 7in RTC-700T - which ships with Windows 7 but is Windows 8 compatible - and the 7in Android 3.2 Honeycomb RTC-700R (both pictured, below). The RTC range is aimed at specific enterprise sectors, with AAEON eventually proffering that the military is probably it's biggest buyer, with the retail and medical markets also well accounted for on its client spreadsheets.

As you'd expect for something that hasn't even entered development, there wasn't a lot of spec floating about, but we do know that the next-generation 5in RTC tablets are being geared up to run Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and sport Nvidia Tegra 3 processors in the engine room. We also should mention that AAEON ruled itself out of branching off into the consumer segment, but did offer a bit of a teaser by way of its new partnership with Asus - AAEON has been a member of the Asus family since last year.

"Maybe one day you will consumer ruggedised tablets from Asus," a representative hinted during the Q&A session that ended our HQ visit earlier today.

Game on

The first thing I found out about gaming in the Far East is that it's not gaming as we know it in the UK - at least, not in the sense that a great many people across Europe and in the US happily while away their free time crafting alternative identities via World of Warcraft, or gunning it out for bragging rights with their mates over all-night FIFA sessions. No, this is the part of the world where it seems the 'e-Sports' moniker must have been born, and it's a sub-industry and obsession all its own.

Like elite footballers and tennis brats, talented gamers from across the world are scouted from a relatively young age with a view to becoming part of a corporate sponsored competition team - Thermaltake's in Taiwan is the Tt e-Sport Apollos, and they have units across the rest of Asia, Europe, and the Americas as well. The firm houses the young prodigies academy-style in dormitories, as well as furnishing a state-of-the-art practice facility at its headquarters in Taipei (see top image). In turn, Thermaltake's Tt e-Sports division benefits from a hardcore group of gamers who don't just enjoy pop idol-style public adulation (see photo, below) and regular weekend television appearances, but are also on hand to help test out the companies latest products.

One of the most recent is the new Level 10M gaming mouse which, like the Level 10 tower, is produced in partnership with BMW. As a result, it's a very visually arresting bit of peripheral kit and one that was seriously fun to get hands-on with earlier today. The Level 10M (see image, below) is designed with an open structure between its top and base segments, which allow the mouse's height and angle to be adjusted according to personal preference. Jimmy, a Tt e-Sports (corporate) team member, hinted that the range was looking to expand further in the immediate future, with Level 10 branded gaming headsets and keyboards possibly available in time for CES 2013 this coming February.

Corporate culture

The promotion of progressive work environments was a subject that came up at both Thermaltake and AAEON - in fact, I have a feeling it's going to be an overriding theme of my trip. There's a lot of talk in the industry these days about how Silicon Valley – in the broad, symbolic sense of an innovation hub – is starting to migrate to countries like Taiwan and its "big neighbour," China. If that's true, it seems to be taking a fair bit of the famous, Google-style Californian corporate culture with it.

The kind of casual, employee-centred workspaces popularised by the Internet search giant and many others was much in evidence on both of our visits today. In line with its general promotion of a youthful, hip image, Thermaltake would hardly have been out of place in East London's trendy 'Tech City', featuring a bold red office colour scheme, foosball tables (see photo, below), and a lot of banter about last Friday's ritual staff happy hour. AAEON was more restrained - the dignified Jeeves to Thermaltake's slightly brash young Bertram, if you like - boasting a communal staff library and rotating in-house art exhibition.

As Thermaltake CEO Kenny Lin put it: "It's an environment in which change and innovation permeates everything. We recognise that our most important asset is our team."

And that's that's absolutely what it looked like - at least on a managed press tour.

Stay tuned for more from Taiwan: ITPP is heading off to visit Asus, Gigabyte, Aiptek, and many more established and rising stars of the technology world in the coming days, and will be offering our reflections and any good scoops we get hold of on a regular basis.