Touching down in London Sunday morning and experiencing the familiar chill of a bleak October morning once again, it wasn't difficult to yearn for a swift return to sunny Taiwan. My time representing ITProPortal as part of an exclusive TAITRA-led (opens in new tab) ICT industry media tour of the island last week was one of the highlights of the year to date, with a steady stream of great scoops complementing the amicable climate.
In addition to meeting with intriguing young firms like Apple accessory maker Just Mobile, we furnished Europe with a full picture of Asus' PadFone 2 smartphone-cum-tablet hours before full details were revealed in Milan, and also brought you exclusive information regarding the UK arrival of the world's thinnest swivel-screen DC, BenQ's G1.
Of course, meeting with more than 10 of Taiwan's leading technology firms in just five days, we didn't get round to reporting everything in real-time. With that in mind, it's time for a retrospective look at one of the unsung heroes of our time in Taiwan - as well as a chopstick-in-cheek take on why this humble island nation has emerged as a world technology leader.
Back to the future?
Avision (opens in new tab) isn't sexy. Founded back in 1991 by a group of engineers and located in the sprawling surroundings of Hsinchu Science Park, it doesn't slip into a little black dress very tidily and its range of scanners – barring a few multi-function peripherals, it manufactures nothing else – aren't likely to be the cause of widespread consumer riots on the high street this Christmas. In the fully digitalised age, the once-mighty document reader has become a niche bit of enterprise kit of use largely to lawyers, accountants, academics, and other professions where physical documents are still a necessary nuisance.
Yet despite lacking any palpable 'wow' factor and making me feel a bit long-toothed for remembering a time (the early-90s) when scanning was the height of tech cool, Avision's newer products looked more than competent during out demonstration session in Taiwan last week. Particularly noteworthy was the MiWand 2, a handheld "smart scanner" that runs on standard AA batteries instead of relying on a central power supply, storing captures on a microSD card (up to 32GB) for easy content transference, whilst also featuring the ability to link up directly with a range of devices (see image, below) via its microUSB port.
Measuring 258 x 41 x 34 mm and weighing in at 250g – that's not much more than handsets like the Nokia Lumia 920 (185g) and Samsung Galaxy Note 2 (180g) - the successor to the original MiWand is capable of clocking documents at 300dpi in 0.6 seconds and 1.6 seconds, for black-and-white and colour, respectively. Content at 600dpi is read in 2.4 seconds (B&W) and 6.5 seconds (colour), with previews shown on an embedded 1.8in LCD screen. As for the future, Avision hinted that the next iteration of the MiWand, expected in 2013, would feature Wi-Fi capability.
Taiwan enjoys an enviable reputation in international technology circles. Amongst other things, it's famous for efficiency, consistency, and ingenuity, with the World Economic Forum ranking the Far East nation second in its 2012 technology and innovation index. So why does such an otherwise humble island morph Transformer-style into a world-beater as soon as the letters 'R&D' are uttered? For one, the versatility of its dining culture helps to enable flexible work lifestyles.
Whilst out in the Far East, I was consistently drawn to the charm of the night market, one of Asia's most famous foodie exports. The cultural phenomenon is currently spreading across the globe, with sanitised versions of night markets emerging as one of über-trendy East London's latest hipster stomping grounds. But in Taiwan, snacking in the street around the clock is the real deal, a past-time borne not out of a surplus of leisure time, but a lack of it.
Take the case of the time-constrained Western hack who only recently returned home. Rather than remaining tied to the rigid hours of the the hotel buffet and potentially compromising his writing initiative, he instead filed his reports in due course, knowing that a plethora of exotic, tasty treats awaited him whenever his work was done, whether it was 20:00, 22:00, or 00:00 - it's not just innovation that operates around the clock in these parts.
I visited three night markets during my time in Taiwan – including the infamous Huaxi Street (aka Snake Alley) destination in Taipei – with Taiwanese fatty sausage (see image, below) coming particularly highly recommended. It's a relatively entry-level street food snack that resembles a very plump hot dog, though it has a sweeter taste and a chewier texture.
For the more adventurous, there's the infamous stinky tofu (opens in new tab), which really does make a London pub toilet smell like jasmine tea. It's also undeniably delicious: the steamed version has a nutty flavour and spongy texture, while the deep-fried iteration is crisper and pairs very well with lashings of chilli sauce. In other words, it's perfect after a few beers at a bar in the burgeoning Red House district - you'll never yearn for a dodgy kebab again.
Moreover, a 24 hour street food culture fits into the schedule of the dedicated employee as opposed to effectively dictating work patterns in the manner of traditional Western dining habits, something forward-thinking enterprises will want to take note of heading into 2013. In addition to contemplating Windows 8 deployment, perhaps SMBs should also be trying to track down a quality noodle vendor to station outside of their office, while larger corporations may want to go all-out and cordon off a nearby street. In reality, it probably won't be a priority matter at the next Google board meeting - but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be.