The global pandemic is changing the ways we view and use technology. Temperature monitoring is fast-becoming standard practice for many businesses. Office-collaboration software is now vital commercial infrastructure. Meanwhile, growing demand for contactless services is fast-tracking innovations in drones, robots and supply chains. In December 2019, no one could have forecast that these technologies would be so vitally critical by the end of Q1. Amazon is even building in-house virus-testing facilities.
When COVID initially hit China, technology companies had to adapt fast to support the changing health and lifestyle needs of their newly house-bound users. Given China’s head-start on the recovery, their use of various technologies forms a valuable reference point for the western world. It many respects, China’s tech giants are emerging as natural leaders in the fight against COVID19.
However, for western businesses, it is important to recognise how different China’s digital landscape is. The industry has developed almost in parallel to the west. Where we use search engines and social media sites, China uses eCommerce platforms and super-apps. Over the past decade, the differences have grown as innovations continually compound on vastly different foundations. The implication here is that your China business requires a vastly different IT strategy. For most companies, this entails partnering with a locally grounded expert.
All of this said, it could be argued that COVID19 is seeing to the convergence our vastly different industries. Last week, Facebook invested $5.7 billion into Indian giant Reliance Industries; with the aim of developing a super-app comparable to WeChat. Three days after securing the investment, the online shopping portal is already in testing. Meanwhile, Google is investing $550 million into JD.com to collaborate on the development of joint-retail solutions.
Last Wednesday, JD joined the growing number of internet giants enabling mini-program functionality. Since WeChat’s launch of Mini-programs in January 2017, they have become an integral component of China’s eCommerce and omnichannel retail environments. As we explored in our Retail and eCommerce exposé: China’s internet giants are primarily supporting SMEs through the current downturn by supporting them to set up mini-programs.
Livestreaming in China is forecast to hit USD$129 billion in 2020, up from $61 billion in 2019. In China, Taobao/Tmall is leading the charge. Driven largely by necessity, it appears that commercial livestreaming is now also taking off in the west.
In Australia, consumer demand for eCommerce is skyrocketing. While the growth has been stinted by supply chain blockages, major players are finally making headway. Coles and Woolworths are finally relaunching their online and delivery options. Meanwhile, eBay is expanding payment-management services to Australia. The move aims to remove payment ‘friction’; which is one of the key principles of China’s ‘New Retail’ movement.
As global demand for eCommerce skyrockets, we’re seeing a rise in industry innovation. For example, you can now list your products on Google Shopping for free. Instagram is adding gift-cards, eCommerce ordering functionality and fundraising tools. Amazon is currently testing video calls to verify third-party sellers. Meanwhile, Bytedance’s Tik-Tok is testing a ‘Small gestures’ eCommerce function.
Amazon is in hot water amidst employee claims that the giant is leveraging data from independent sellers to develop and launch competing products.
The list of eCommerce companies using drones to cut delivery costs and minimise human contact is growing. Businesses like JD, Tmall, Alphabet (Google), Amazon, SF Holdings and even Dominos Pizza are now utilising drones. According to Gartner, nearly 25,000 eCommerce-enterprise drones will be deployed in 2020.
The Alibaba-Cloud based conferencing product supports 1080p video, ‘beautification’ functions and allows up to 500 people to join a conference. The move comes as a rising number of Chinese work-collaboration softwares launch ‘global’ versions.
ByteDance have released a ‘lite’ version of Feishu, only two months after the original platform was released. The company is also reportedly developing their own version of Google’s G-Suite. Last month, it was speculated that Bytedance may now be worth $100 billion.
The world’s largest gaming company has partnered with the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker. Their cloud-based joint project will significantly lower gamers’ hardware requirements.
In China, the explosive growth of ‘Animal Crossing’ recently has drawn strong media attention. On top of being removed from China’s major online marketplaces, it is now proving to be a melting pot for branding and eCommerce activity. Using games for marketing and branding is now commonplace for businesses in China.
In China, drones are being deployed for quarantine surveillance, public broadcasts, temperature checks and spraying disinfectants. Importantly, they are also proving vital in the delivery of medical supplies and groceries. Meanwhile, autonomous robots are being deployed in hospitals to perform many of the same functions.
If you search for testing on Tmall or Taobao, you’re navigated to a dedicated booking page to arrange a nearby test. A test will set you back 180 RMB.
This week, the Australian government launched its own COVID19 trace app. There is scepticism in Australia that the minimum 40% population-use threshold may not be achieved. This is largely due to data and privacy concerns of the general public, as well as push-back from digital rights activists. Much of the concern rests in Amazon Web Service (AWS) Key Management System. In a rare display of concern over personal data, some Chinese citizens are expressing similar concerns.
Flashing your health rating (via Alipay/WeChat mini programs) is now a pre-requisite for entering any commercial or public premises in China. In other words, you quite simply cannot leave your phone at home. For Chinese students returning to school, Tencent is also rolling out a specialised QR-code system. Meanwhile, municipal governments across China are leveraging fitness trackers to monitor the health of COVID survivors.
Similarly, the Australian government is rolling out a WhatsApp chat feature to support COVID19 queries.
President Xi Jinping has renewed China’s commitment to becoming a world-leader in 5G technologies. In China, 5G networks will comprise 90% of the US$180 billion investment forecast for 2020-25. By contrast, Australia’s recent 70% boost in NBN activity is causing congestion slowing internet speeds across the country.
The Australian government is forcing Google and Facebook to pay Australian media outlets to use their content. The move aims to level the competitive playing field in Australia, where the giants comprise two thirds of total online advertising spend. When Spain introduced comparable copyright legislation in 2014, Google simply closed their Spanish News services.
The system will be able to create accurate simulations to optimise supply-chain synergies.
Alibaba’s home-city Hangzhou recently transformed from one of China’s most congested cities to number 57 on the list. How? Alibaba’s City Brain: an AI-powered monitoring and GPS tracking system. The system which cuts commutes by on average 15-20% is now live in at least 23 cities across Asia.
The US has passed a law devoted exclusively to setting boundaries for the use of facial recognition technology. It’s important to recognise that the debate over privacy and personal data is vastly different between the east and west. Last year, San Francisco banned facial recognition technology. At the same time, Alipay added ‘beauty’ filters to their broad network of facial payment machines.
The University of Sydney has its’ sights set on saving Australia’s endangered species using AWS services. The Amazon platform will be used to accelerate genomics research.
Last week, we explored the rise of C2M ‘group buying’ models in China. With Pinduoduo outperforming Taobao by monthly active users, Alibaba are adapting. Last month, we saw Alibaba launch their own C2M platform. Following this, they unveiled plans to ‘groom’ 100 manufacturers in Zhejiang province to support their new model.
Human-to human disease transmissions are a double-edged sword: blocking supply chains and hindering retail operations. It’s no wonder global retailers are accelerating their adoption of robots to automate operations.
Wuhan-based firm Yangtze Memory Technologies announced recently that they have developed a 128-layer NAND flash memory chip in-house. Mass-production is set to commence sometime in the next 18 months.
The Monash University-led ‘Securing Antarctica’s Environmental Future’ (SAEF) Project will integrate robotics and machine learning to forecast environmental changes.
Alibaba is further cementing their role in China’s payment infrastructure. Many Chinese bank employees are already setting up their ‘digital wallets’. They can expect to receive half of their monthly transport subsidies in the national digital currency as early as May. The move comes as Bank of China recently announced that the digital Renminbi will not result in inflation.
The ‘Wanbao’ Blockchain zone in Loudi is the first designated blockchain zone in China. Several weeks ago, a government-backed alliance dubbed the ‘Chongqing Swiftchain’ was launched. The alliance already includes over 100 companies.