Over the years, China has picked up an image of being a copycat in technology, creating knock-off products already produced in the U.S or elsewhere. That image is quickly disappearing.
I took my first trip to China last week for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which took place in Shanghai and aims to become as big as its annual sister event that takes place in Las Vegas every January.
On display at CES was everything from smart clothing to drones and the latest innovations from China’s biggest technology companies such as Baidu, Huawei, and JD.Com. What stood out, not just from CES, but from hanging around in Shanghai for a few days, was how far advanced many of China’s technology platforms and their consumers are.
“They are creating and innovating in many different ways,” Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, told CNBC last week in an interview, speaking about Chinese tech companies.
A big deal was made about Apple recently integrating payments into iMessage, or contactless payments via the likes of Apple Pay or Samsung Pay. But China has been leading the way in payments for a long time. Alipay, the service owned by Alibaba affiliate Ant Financial, boasts about 450 million users, is so wide-spread that it was easier to pay via that in many places than card or cash.
Tencent, which owns popular messaging app WeChat, has been running payments in-app for a while, but has many other features including integration with ride-hailing service Didi Chuxing. It’s a one-stop shop for many consumers.
Given the wide-spread use of all these services, I didn’t even notice life without the likes of Google or Facebook, which of course are blocked by China’s so-called “Great Firewall” censorship policy.
Even in the gadget space, Chinese firms are challenging U.S. titans. Huawei , which is a fairly young entrant into smartphones, now is the third-largest player in the world and is right on the heels of Apple and Samsung.
The innovation out of China has prompted some to even say the U.S. is now taking a leaf out of China’s book with the new payments systems integrated into messaging platforms for example. Connie Chan, a partner at Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, said the meaning of “China copycat”, can now even refer to a “U.S. company copying China.”
With Chinese tech firms expanding faster than ever beyond their home market, it’s time for their rivals across the world to take note.
By Arjun Kharpal