SAR vendors still at the starting gate in big race
With its traditional dependence on low-cost manufacturing and the hazy distinction between trading and manufacturing businesses, regulars on the trade-show circuit occasionally mistake Hong Kong for a low-tech reseller.
The Hong Kong pavilion at Comdex did little to dispel that image.
David Chan, a salesman with peripherals maker Chun Hing Technology, said Hong Kong had some way to go to win recognition at a show as big as Comdex.
'If you are talking about extraordinary technology, of course Taiwan and South Korea are much, much more advanced than us. We still have to try a little bit harder to catch up with them,' he said.
Flanked by the imposing Taiwanese and Korean pavilions, the 16 Hong Kong booths were easy to miss. Despite its low profile, however, the pavilion offered sufficient product range to convince sceptics that Hong Kong's technology producers were beginning to mature.
Since VTech successfully broke into the US market with the hand-held Helio, the manufacturer has its own stand in the main arena at the Las Vegas Convention Centre.
In its absence, the leading brand in the home pavilion is Group Sense, which has been showing its digital translation and recording products at Comdex for the past nine years.
Davy Fung, district manager for Group Sense USA said the Hong Kong pavilion used to be a confusing crowd of trading firms, most of whom were determined to offer the widest range of products. Today, he said, the number of exhibitors has thinned, and the new generation had more focus, offering a smaller range of higher-quality products.
'It is not like before, when they would sell anything,' he said. 'There were too many small companies selling quite a lot of different things. Sometimes they even sell unrelated products, but this time they are more [specialised]. So this will help the small companies who have unique products.'
With more appealing neighbours, Group Sense has seen its visitor numbers improve, and has won OEM contracts with global vendors such as Sony and Seiko.
'If you have a good product, it does not matter what country you are from,' Mr Fung said. 'You can sell anywhere. In the United States there is no barrier to outsiders.'
Tony Wong, Los Angeles director for the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, which organised the pavilion, said that for most SAR manufacturers, Comdex still came a distant second to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES).
'We see more electronics companies in the consumer products field as opposed to the computer/information technology industry,' he said.
While Group Sense and case-maker Karrie Industrial were regulars at the show, he said most Hong Kong exhibitors were young companies which lacked the logistics and financial backing to make it to Comdex alone.
'We put them together in the Hong Kong pavilion so that they have critical mass,' said Mr Wong. 'If they add in all the expenses and the cost of building, this show is expensive. We are talking about US$54 per square foot.'
Besides financial subsidies, the TDC helps design and build the booths, and advises exhibitors on staffing, presentation and sales techniques.
Home and educational software developer Kam-Tronic Cyber Tech was at Comdex for the first time last week. According to IT manager Vincent Chan, the Hong Kong pavilion showed the city could have a future in IT services.
'Most people are talking about the United States and Taiwan, but in Hong Kong there is a lot of useful software,' he said.
Shatin software firm Armadillo Technology attended the pavilion for the third year, looking for distribution deals for its desktop security software.
'I think we are just scratching the surface,' said Armadillo president and chief executive Philip Jen. 'We get to have a presence here at a very good price, otherwise, we would have to spend a lot more money to set up a booth, transportation, design and everything.'
One partner Armadillo has met through the show is US security vendor Vanguard Security Technologies.
At least one Hong Kong start-up has chosen to go it alone. Perception Digital, a start-up formed last year at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, is marketing a pair of digital music players that were developed to showcase the firm's digital signal processing chip.
The two products are a portable MP3 recorder and a Digital Jukebox with storage for up to 20,000 minutes of music.
Jack Lau, the company's founder, chairman and chief executive, and an associate professor in the department of electronic engineering at HKUST, said he felt sharing the Hong Kong pavilion would send the wrong message.
'We believe that our technology is not indigenous to Hong Kong. It is actually a global technology that should be useful to a wide variety of users,' he said.
The Digital Jukebox will be launched in Hong Kong early next month.
The firm also produces a multimedia chat-room application which it has licensed to a Nasdaq-listed toy company, and an Internet product that analyses which tune its user is humming, and then searches and recovers the original recording.