APAC tech trends that will radically impact customer-centricity

CES Asia, held in Shanghai, is only in its third year and is still by far the little brother of the original Las Vegas event. Here are some key takeaways

Published: 21, Aug 2017

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A man tests a virtual reality product, VIVE from Intel at CES (Consumer Electronics Show) Asia 2016 in Shanghai, China (Image: Reuters/Aly Song)
A man tests a virtual reality product, VIVE from Intel at CES (Consumer Electronics Show) Asia 2016 in Shanghai, China (Image: Reuters/Aly Song)

APAC is fast becoming the world’s epicentre of innovation. India is an advanced technology centre of excellence for many global companies and China is making its mark as a destination-of-choice for AI innovation. It seems our region continues to leap-frog the West and lead in many areas of tech.

And so, this year’s CES Asia was attended by tech industry execs with heightened interest.  CES Asia, held in Shanghai, is only in its third year and is still by far the little brother of the original Las Vegas event. However, it is gaining momentum and is exceedingly worth the attention of Asian business leaders.

It serves a very important purpose - as a glimpse into the future of consumer behaviour. Why is this? Because Chinese consumers are credited with pioneering eCommerce, social commerce, mobile payments and more of the consumer technology innovations that have played a significant role in the disruption of businesses. This consumer technology show opens to consumers on the last day, so business leaders across the region, and in fact across the globe, should be taking notes about what was hot with the event’s tech-tenacious Chinese audience.

This year, four consumer trends dominated the show:

Safe is the new smart A few years ago Smart was the buzz term of consumer tech shows, but that has now evolved to be safe. Smart was always about utility, making things more convenient and accessible. Now, connected homes in China are no longer fitted with mere Smart goods – the focus is on a serious utility: Safety.

This evolution meant the dominant offering on show from local brands like OOMI and Ezviz were smart Safe homes. Innovations on show included security features such as biometric locks with enhanced security settings, allowing frightened consumers to have the option of scanning an alternative finger to trigger an automatic alarm notification to police.

Traditional housekeeping white goods, like robotic vacuum cleaners, have been upgraded to now detect gas leaks. Tom Zuo, the CEO of smart-home vendor Wellgreen Technologies, shared that safety was his brand’s strongest sales point and his consumers requested a single app to control their entire Safe smart home through a single touchpoint.

The robots are coming (but they’re very cute)
Robots are definitely on the rise but they’re so very cute, it’s hard to imagine they’re going to be any trouble to humans. Many start-ups had human-looking robot companions on display that acted as avatars to AI we’re already familiar with in non-humanoid forms like Amazon Alexa. In China, this technology is applied to a more friendly format in robots with ‘faces’ and human-like movements.

The hardware’s audio is also more human-like, couple this sweet voice with doe eyes and long eyelashes and you have the very engaging Qihan Sanbot or Little Boat happily monitoring your home, health and safety. These robots are also being used as external communication tools, with those offering family health propositions like heart rate and temperature monitoring, also offering a direct line to video calls with (human) doctors when family members’ symptoms trigger an alarm.

My colleague at SapientRazorfish China, Hannah Chen, warned us recently that while robots are being adopted in many scenarios – from restaurants to house care – we need to bear in mind that consumers are looking for emotional engagement as well as convenience. Home could quickly become a cold place without real human interaction.

Verging on a new reality
AR & VR were ubiquitous at CES Asia. There were people wearing masks at every turn. The hardware is plentiful, completely portable and comes with great battery life. VR was being used to demonstrate the latest driverless car technology and by countless other vendors. The Chinese B2B story for VR and AR is already strong.

What’s interesting is the B2C evolution. In China, leading AR/VR brand Shadow Creator use portable VR headsets on tour buses to show 3D movies to travellers. With 5 hours+ battery life, these headsets are breaking boundaries in watching on the go. VR headset manufacturer Pico shared that their primary customers have been using the headsets for B2B communications. They’d worked with the likes of Toyota, insurance companies and even the agricultural sector.

VR content for consumers is a looming opportunity for brands. With so much hardware around, it’s difficult not to predict some consolidation in this area. This means hardware manufactures will be ripe for content partnerships that drive consumer interest.

AR content was more prevalent, that’s likely because it’s a natural partner for payments apps. One execution was for KFC, using Alipay’s AR camera option to deliver brand messaging and coupons. Kohler were helping renovators create their dream bathrooms using this technology too.

The war over ecosystems and data
There’s a battle on the horizon in China, one that brands across the world should be watching. Owned ecosystems are at the heart of more and more brand propositions.

This year we saw an important evolution from Chinese ecommerce company JD.com. Last year they debuted LingLong DingDong – the brand’s AI and Smart Home concept – and in 2017 it was back in a powerful evolution that connecting its ecommerce platform, AI and Smart Home appliances to self-driving eCommerce logistics.

What does that mean? It means that Chinese consumers can use their LingLongDingDong AI system (think Alexa) to order food, turn the lights on and off, start the washing machine, and more. All the while, in the background, their JD powered Smart Fridge has ordered more milk for tomorrow’s breakfast.

It goes beyond the home; these purchases are then dispatched at JD’s AI-powered warehousing complex and bundled into a driverless vehicle for immediate delivery. It’s efficiency and convenience on an unrivaled level. For consumers, this type of service experience becomes something we don’t want to turn our backs on.

Brands in all shapes and sizes are expanding their ecosystems, Haier has its U+ Smartlife, Changhong now has ChiQ-Life and even auto manufacturer Mercedez Benz now has Mercedez Me – a data butler to manage your health.

With so many companies offering connected homes and IoT, there is a huge opportunity for data collection. What China Mobile has started doing is refreshing. They’re utilizing their advantage to become a data collection partner for existing ecosystems by providing eSIM card implantation coupled with a cloud service. They’re also developing smart devices for traditional industries in China’s rural cities, such as agriculture.

Although their focus is on being an IoT data collection partner for now, it is not difficult to imagine their ambition of connecting this data with their mobile user data to form a powerful big data pool.

Chinese brands are working hard to meet the ever-growing expectations of consumers.  For business leaders and brands in APAC, there’s a lot of inspiration to be sourced from the consumer technology landscape in China.

- By Joyce Ling, VP of Strategy at Publicis.Sapient China

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