When the world is de-globalizing, it is the best time for Taiwan to re-connect to the global market. When a Taiwan-based IC distributor is moving toward the European and American markets via acquisition, how can Taiwanese fabless companies not gauge the pulse of this important trend?
With a population of 1.4 billion and an annual demand for more than 200 million smartphones, Africa is a big market. However, few have asked why it is that Transsion, a Chinese brand, enjoys a near monopoly in this market. Why did the Taiwanese companies miss out on the opportunity?
In 2022, Taiwan's IC design industry boasted an annual output value of approximately US$40 billion. This sector, known for its intellectual prowess and technical intensity, contributes a substantial portion of added value to Taiwan's economy. When considering Taiwan's total GDP of US$800 billion, the IC design industry's contribution to Taiwan's GDP is estimated to hover around 4%.
Even software engineers earning over US$200,000 annually harbor concerns about potential technological displacement. With the emergence of ChatGPT, giants like British Telecom and Vodafone promptly announced sweeping layoffs, illustrating that software engineers aren't merely challenged by their peers from other companies but by software and emerging technologies.
As internet giants shift their focus towards developing their own chips, their interactions with Nvidia and AMD are expected to introduce new dynamics. Many of these fresh variables will originate in Taiwan, which will remain a pivotal vantage point for observing global technological industry transformations.
Electrical vehicles (EV) and autonomous vehicles (AV) will be the two largest semiconductor applications in the future. However, there is still no unified specification for EV/AV semiconductor components so far.
In April 2023, the United Nations declared that India had officially surpassed China in total population, making it the world's most populous country. This milestone has captured global attention, directing a spotlight onto India's market potential.
Semiconductor industry is extremely capital-intensive and technology-driven. Those players who hold dominant positions define the market. To illustrate this, I'll use the analogy of "World Baseball Classic."
US former President Donald Trump, in a Fox News interview, accused Taiwan of taking away American's semiconductor business. Despite this criticism, Taiwan ought to justify its standing by drawing upon historical precedents with dignity, virtue, and confidence.
Which jobs will not be replaced by artificial intelligence (AI)? Jobs that require complex decision-making and reasoning are difficult to replace in the short term. Kai-Fu Lee says that it is difficult to replace columnists for The New Yorker, but the same cannot be said for news compilation. Similarly, within the medical field, radiologists are more likely to be replaced compared to general practitioners. Jobs such as matchmaking transactions on internet systems and customer service for telecommunications providers are easily replaceable. This is evident from the significant layoffs at companies like British Telecom (BT) and Vodafone.
In the era of globalization, economic scale and efficiency are crucial factors in production and manufacturing, and Taiwan, with its limited land and dense population, has maximized the benefits of industry clustering. Around 2000, Taiwanese businesses flocked to China for development, expanding their production bases from the Pearl River Delta to the Yangtze River Delta, and even settling in Chengdu, Chongqing, and Zhengzhou. China's experience represents the extreme development of vertical specialization.
The cost of machine learning applications will come down as a result of semiconductors improving computing power. The lower cost will naturally result in a sharp rise in the number of users. Using AI will become a daily routine in work and private life. The commercialization of AI will really lead to the arrival of the "iPhone moment for AI." Once OpenAI becomes the norm, various kinds of applications will need the support of Nvidia's datacenter and dedicated chips. We can imagine how much the industry will benefit from this.
Judging from India, Vietnam, and Thailand's present import-export structures for semiconductors and electronics, we can imagine what the future ecosystem will be like. Major ASEAN countries import semiconductors mostly through the logistics services providers in China and Hong Kong. But neither China nor Hong Kong has its home-grown distributors who can handle international sales. It's Taiwanese companies that are playing the key role behind the scene.
I've been monitoring the industry since 1985. An industry leader has said that AI is eating software, and software is replacing hardware. But everyone understands that following the rise of ChatGPT, those in AI research or startup businesses are entering an age of "extinction," as the software sector is characterized by the reality that the winner takes all. The leader in the race will run away with almost all profits, with the rest subsisting on leftovers and most of the startups drowning. But the hardware industry is still strong because their customers are keen to diversify their sources of supplies, and individual companies can seldom take all the profits. And the hardware industry creates huge demand for technical workers. In terms of international coopetition and social justice, the value of hardware manufacturing is being reestablished. The US government's bid to rebuild meaningful control of the supply chain is recasting Taiwan into a more important role.
Generally speaking, distributors categorize their customers into TBMs (Taiwan-based manufacturers), CBMs (China-based manufacturers) and MBMs (multination-based manufacturers). Production bases are being moved to ASEAN and South Asia, with large parts of their components supplies still coming from China and Hong Kong. But the major manufacturers remain Taiwanese. Semiconductors seemingly imported from China and Hong Kong actually come from Taiwanese makers. The OEMs still play an important role in determining how the components are distributed.