08 Sep Asia, Leading the way in Digital Innovation and Technology
China is well known as one of the world leaders in science and technology, long-gone is the times when the western world thought China were copying platforms and formats from the West.
After the ‘The Great Firewall’, aptly named, banned the popular western sites Facebook and Twitter from China, similar Chinese platforms were created and were quickly improved and have been since innovated to now stand alone as some of the most advanced innovation in the digital world. Through competition in China alone, various social networking sites and have been constantly adapting and have become more than just social networking platforms.
The rapid growth of digital accessibility has enabled countries to to be constantly on the web and use platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to access a range of information and connect with other around the world. Asia is well enveloped by this digital sensation and Chinese technology corporations have been rapidly expanding and gaining success by releasing some of the most advanced platforms for users.
Tech giants Alibaba have been well documented in leading the tech-race, but the last decade has seen a rival by the name of Tencent, and have recently been tagged as China’s most powerful Internet company. Tencent have prevailed since their launch of WeChat, as well as other platforms such as QQ (an instant messaging platform) and QZone (a social networking facility similar to Facebook). The social networking platform allows users to a range of features that were previously unheard of. Primarily acting as a text, voice, picture and video messaging platform, popular favourite WeChat has quickly adopted features such as blogging and mobile wallets, that have enabled the platform to grow in size and popularity.
Social media is infinitely apparent around the world, Asian countries, (especially China) are leading the usage race of ranging social media platforms, but these platforms are starkly different to those seen in the western culture. The concept of micro-blogging in Asia is worth taking note of, China was said to a fundamental figure in the ‘micro-blogging revolution’, and microblogging has since been integrated into nearly all social media platforms in Asia. Due to tech pioneers, Alibaba and Tencent, China have been leading the way in all things digital in Asia, including social media. The way in which the Chinese use social media is hugely different, but that said, Facebook and other western tech giants Apple Inc. have been learning from their Chinese counterparts who have been constantly changing the digital landscape.
We’ve listed a few of the most innovative platforms that have swept through Asia:
WeChat – Since its release in 2011 has become the most used app in China with 24% of the entire population showing activity on the social networking tool. Originally released as a text, picture, voice and video messaging platform, innovation from founders Tencent has led to WeChat becoming so much more. Innovative features and ideas have been incorporated throughout the application and currently acts as everything anyone could need or want from a social media platform.
One of the most notable piece of innovation to come from WeChat is the mobile wallet; users can bind bank cards with their profile and use WeChat as a payment method for multiple transactions. It’s led to increased companies and brands wanting to build a presence on the social networking platform, which in-turn has attributed to larger and larger user numbers.
Furthermore, using a third-party party payment system, TenPay (another one of Tencent’s companies), users are able to deposit and store money into savings account that have remarkably better interest rates than that of other savings accounts, effectively acting as a bank. Facebook have latched onto the pocket-payment-system, integrating Facebook Pay to their list of features, though not as advanced as WeChat Payment, a clear sign that Facebook are playing catch-up.
Coinciding with Chinese tradition Hongbao (red envelope), in which family members donate and give money to other family members or friends, WeChat incorporated a system by which users could send money virtually, on the 1st of January 2016 alone, a reported 2.3 billion transactions were reported. A nice touch from Tencent, that reaped its rewards. China’s population was once seemingly shy in combining digital technology with money, skeptical towards the premise using a social networking site. But WeChat completely changed the perspective, no easy feat but after the Red Envelope incorporation, an element of trust was created between WeChat and mobile banking that no doubt helped WeChat to arrive to its current status in Chinese society.
What’s impressive about WeChat is the diversity that can be achieved on the platform, with micro-blogging and instant-messaging being the fundamentals behind the app, WeChat has adapted to become everything in one place. WeChat enables people to build spaces to buy and sell goods and services as well video call others, all without leaving the app. Compare this to the likes of Facebook, where if shops market themselves on the app, if users want to buy an item they will, at some point, be redirected to the respective website to complete the transaction. WeChat seemingly encompasses the likes of Instagram, Facebook, twitter, ecommerce, video messaging all into one super-platform that can be utilised by each and everyone.
Baidu – Baidu is, in effect, China’s version of Google, although comparing the two is difficult as they’re used in very different ways. Google is constantly building more functionality for all who use the search engine, but if Google don’t create the next function, someone else would. Due to China’s less developed chinese internet eco-system, Baidu has to use innovative ideas to think ahead and create the newest functionality. Question answering sites, like Quora in the west, didn’t exist in China, so Baidu had to create them. Baidu’s innovation has continued into current times; search engines predominantly were made to connect people with information, but due to innovation from China’s technology corporations, and Baidu in particular, search engines now connect people with much more. Users of baidu now have the ability to buy movie tickets without leaving the app at all. Compared to google, where clicking on a link redirects you to outside sources. Other services included in Baidu Encyclopedia, Baidu Government information, Baidu Youa (an ecommerce platform), Qunar (a travel booking service) and many more. Looking towards the future, Baidu have been working on near-perfect voice recognition to further power the user interfaces for the next generation of mobile devices and services.
QQ – Created by Tencent, is one of the oldest social media platforms in Asia, released in 1999 has been and currently acts as one of the first and most popular instant messaging apps. Though not the newest, QQ has had to adapt and grow with current trends.
In 2005 QQ released the Q-Coin, similar to the BitCoin (although the BitCoin came later, in 2005), for QQ users to by in-app purchases using the currency. As QQ’s popularity has been steadily high over the years, there has been an increase in online stores and in-game purchases being exchanged using the virtual Q-Coin. Often heralded as ‘the currency of tomorrow’ no doubt we’ll hear more about the Q-coin in years to come as we steadily head to an increasingly digital world.
Line – A Japanese creation from 2011, by tech company Naver. In its first 18 months Line managed to reach over 100 million users and six months later over 200 million. Similar to the likes of Whatsapp and Facebook messenger, Line acts primarily as a messaging app, where user can freely send text, video and voice messages. Line made its prominence through animated pictures and ‘stickers’ that allow users to represent feelings and emotions in ways other than written words, maybe not so knew to us now, but think back 5 years ago to when we ‘emoji’s’ where the only graphics you could send, Stickers revolutionised the graphics we now send. Line then opened up their Sticker Shop so users could buy original stickers of characters. The rest of the world quickly latched onto this Japanese innovation as other apps such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp quickly started doing the same.
QZone – Created in 2005 by Tencent, a personal space where users can customise blogs, keep diaries, send photos, watch videos and listen to music.
Qzone is another platform created by innovative giants, Tencent. The platform acts primarily as a blogging host, where people can create profiles and share a wide range of information. The aspect that has grasped much of the interest is the free customisation that users can apply to their profiles. Similarly to Facebook, Qzone allows user to have a timeline which shows user’s’ posting history over their time on the platform. The innovation of Qzone comes not from the platform itself but from its accessibility; the app was architected to work on any phone within China, that include models that only elicit a 2G connection.
It’s evident from the platforms mentioned that our Asian counterparts are well ahead of us in the race for digital innovation, but that’s not all… There’s Alipay too, A third party platform with no transaction fees, a similar concept was launched in 2015 by Apple, Apple-Pay. Chinese tech group Alibaba launched Alipay back in 2004, 11 years before the likes of Apple mirrored the concept which once again goes to show how advanced technology corporations are in comparison to the Western world. Alibaba are in talks to progress Alibay in Europe to allow Chinese visitors to pay easily; Alipay has been quoted as being “deeply ingrained in the lives of Chinese consumers and is used to pay for items in-store and online for goods and services ranging from taxis to restaurants and clothing”.
Payment technology has become a an increased area of importance for all technology companies around the world and has swept across Asia. Sony in Japan created FeliCa, short for Felicity Card, a contactless payment system that uses NFC that is being used currently in ranging examples in countries including, Hong Kong (Octopus), China (Shenzhen Thong), UAE, Singapore, Thailand. The payment system is the de facto throughout Japan and has been incorporated in an huge amount of payment services. The innovative technology has also spread towards the west as well, with University Campuses in the United States taking the system and implementing them.
China is often referred to as a world leader in science and technology, and rightly so. These technologies have spread across Asia and has allowed countries like Indonesia and the Philippines to become subjective to these innovative technologies. Sites such as WeChat, Baidu and Qzone have changed the concept of the internet for Chinese, and are constantly adapting and evolving to keep up with trends. No doubt the likes of Facebook and Twitter will always have a presence within Asia, but it looks like they will always be playing second fiddle to the likes of Baidu and WeChat.
The innovation being churned out of Asia is scary, what we think is innovating, has more or less been already created over in the East. Those who thought China were ‘copycatting’ the western digital culture a few years ago, couldn’t be further from the truth now. It’s the west who are now looking to play catch up, that’s if Chinese and Asian platforms don’t integrate into the west first.