TAIPEI -- There is a behind-the-scenes architect responsible for the rising popularity of the smartphones that are selling for next to nothing in China. The architect is MediaTek, a leading Taiwanese chipmaker led by Chairman Tsai Ming-kai that has been introducing one low-cost chip after another.
Tsai started his career as a chip engineer and founded MediaTek in 1997. His company is able to make cheap chips because it sticks to development and design and leaves production to factories-for-hire.
Tsai is a thinker with unique corporate strategies. His mantra that a boxer can remain champion only for so long has always motivated him to explore new markets. That came in handy when demand for chips used in conventional mobile phones ran out of steam, sapping MediaTek's earnings. In 2012, MediaTek struck gold in the market for chips to power low-end smartphones.
MediaTek shipped 200 million smartphone chips in 2013, up 80% from a year earlier. In 2014, it plans to tap the chip market associated with mid-range smartphones with an eight-core processor. It appears certain that MediaTek will encroach further on the market share of Qualcomm Inc., the world's largest chipmaker.
MediaTek in February will merge with MStar Semiconductor, Taiwan's second largest chipmaker. Tsai realizes that MediaTek must improve its global competitiveness and hopes the tie-up will point it in the right direction.