Meet an old friend
Meet MediaTek, arguably the most successful, influential, and important technology company you've never heard of. Simply speaking, MediaTek is a supplier of the chips that power the devices we use day to day; smartphones, tablets, wearable technology, smart TVs and newly emerging technologies around Internet of Things to name a few.
You can be forgiven for not knowing much about the chip-maker, but there's a high chance you will have used its products. MediaTek technology features in 1 in 3 smartphones sold worldwide, placing it at number two in smartphone sales globally. It's number one in optical drives, number 1 in digital TV, and second only to Apple in the tablet space.
Its technology features heavily in high-profile products as Microsoft's Xbox, HTC's flagship One M9+ and Sony's M5 smartphone, Amazon's Fire HD tablets and Fire TV set top boxes, the FitBit and more. Regardless of where you live, or what tech you buy, there's a very good chance you're a MediaTek customer without even realising.
Influencing the world
The company is a runaway success then, but its biggest victory is its ability to influence the wider industry, and us as consumers. MediaTek has a knack for democratising technology, breaking down barriers to ownership and catering for everyone.
MediaTek's general manager of global branding, Patrik Persson, explains that, while the company can cater for those at the high-end of the market, and indeed those with the least to spend, its highest priority now are users in the sweet spot.
"They are a growing middle class," Persson says. "It currently measures between 1.2-1.9 billion customers, but there'll be another 5 billion users in this segment by 2030. Those people cant afford the super high-end but they want really good high-end products at a reasonable price. That's where we come in handy."
Its track record in delivering the best tech to a wide audience is well proven. Cast your mind back to a time when CD-ROM drives were hugely expensive, hyper-exclusive additions to your big, beige PC. Very few people could afford such devices, but MediaTek found a way to make them mainstream. The company built affordable high-end reference designs - essentially complete products that could be rebadged by manufacturers - that were snapped up by well-known brands including Toshiba, Samsung and Lite-on, leading to optical drives becoming the norm.
MediaTek has repeated this success in the world of phones. Recognising the demand for high spec, low price handsets, the company shipped 10 million smartphone reference designs in 2011, rising to 110 million in 2012. Fast forward to 2015 and MediaTek is shipping an astonishing 400 million designs.
Power to the people
It would be simple for MediaTek to rest on its laurels, reacting to the market's demands, but the company has a very proactive approach to developing new technology. Towards the end of 2014, the company released its MediaTek Helio line of processors, which became not only the highest-performing smartphone chip in the industry, but also the most efficient in the high-end segment.
With MediaTek Helio, it brought high-end smartphone features to the masses, allowing for affordable smartphones with 480 frames per second slow-mo, 120hz display technology and H.265 Ultra HD 4K video playback at 30 frames per second.
Importantly, MediaTek Helio allows developers to flex their creative muscles. The power of the platform has, for example, allowed the development of visionary products such as a contactless heart rate monitor app that detects a user's heart rate simply by analysing their skin from an image on the phone's front-facing camera.
The next step
MediaTek is busy envisaging the next frontier of technology, calculating users' needs and developing the role it will play in the development of future tech. The company invested $1.4bn in research and development last year alone and is hard at work creating innovative new technologies for products such as personal fitness devices and smart watches (even a smart watch for kids that allows young children to call their parents)
In September 2014, it launched MediaTek Labs, a global initiative that allows developers of any walk of life or skill level to create wearable and IoT devices. With its Aster (MT2502) chipset, the world's smallest commercial system on chip for wearables, it's given hobbyists, students, as well as companies large and small, to raw materials they need to dream up the next big thing.
Beyond this, the company looks set to pioneer a host of gadgets connected to the Internet of Things (IoT), heralding a world where a user can message their own refrigerator to ask what might be on the menu based on the ingredients inside; a world where cars talk to each other to avoid accidents, or drive themselves without user intervention.
Chet Babla, Senior Director of Corporate Sales, EMEA at MediaTek, sums it up well: "We have this tagline, "Everyday Genius." That's the ambition that we have; to create everyday geniuses, to enhance and enrich peoples lives. We believe we can do that given our heritage, our knowledge, our investment in R&D, and the determination of everyone we employ.
Based on past history, it would be foolish to bet against them.