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One of the key themes that underpins the effective impact of any ecosystem, is the essential connectivity of complimentary components; elements that enhance and improve the livelihood of its co-inhabitants. No greater example of this could be seen than at the recent MEF Connects China event in Beijing last week.

Co-located with GMIC Beijing 2016 and sponsored by MEF member Syniverse, the event brought together some of country’s biggest tech companies and MEF members to discuss the intricacies of the Chinese mobile opportunity and included a keynote from Wei Jiang, Chief Marketing Officer of Google, Greater China on ‘The lure of the China Kingdom: Why foreign Internet and tech companies succeed/fail in China.’

Colin JG Miles, Chair Emeritus, Mobile Ecosystem Forum (MEF Asia) was at the event.  Here are his thoughts…

    …but the QR code is more-or-less mandatory in China for any form of interactivity or real-world payment. It is just simply there, actually everywhere, and provides your personal ticket to convenient options.

For my part, I have been fortunate to see the growth of GMIC (now in its tenth year) mirror that of the Chinese (as well as global) smartphone industry. Indeed, GMIC was a fledgling organism that first came to Singapore (in 2005) to make industry connections. Since that time, it has evolved into a full-fledged industry icon, with conferences in four major cities – and calling on some of the best speakers the industry has to offer.

GMIC in 2016 though, is a different animal to its pioneering early format – and the scale of the event is much bigger and more diverse than ever. Some 300,000 visitors anticipated across multiple venues, including the visually famous “Nest” Stadium, in which Beijing proudly hosted its Olympics in 2008.

The Exhibition of Things

Somewhat upping the ante on Barcelona’s motif ‘Mobile is Everything”, the resonant GMIC theme of “Mobile Infinity” had more of a Toy Story rendition than visitors might imagine. Literally everything was connected and seemed to come alive around us. Central to this, and the digital lifeblood of the ecosystem that always-on broadband networks provide — was probably the Mi “Smart Home” exhibit in which the agglomeration of this brash billion-dollar startup’s thirty acquisitions and investments; pulsed through and empowered, everyday household objects.

The key driver in this case not just smart devices or the network (yes, they do routers too) but sensors. Sensors connected to Apps that can control most all the things you might like to manage remotely – or at least toggle, with the wave of a hand as you are slumped on our seat.

This localized list of household items included (of course) the infamous connected rice cooker, a water purifying under sink filter kit, ambient lighting that becalms itself as the Mi-band (like a FitBit) reflects your resting heart beat – as well as bicycles that monitor their own (and consequentially your own) physical achievements – plus map progress back to the owner in multiple ways on a 60” Mi-smart TV.

As I walked away from the smart home thinking that I actually wouldn’t have to “think” about my daily lifestyle management tasks in the very near future, or at least I could control them all from my device; I walked straight into an intelligent robot that could serve me drinks and his little pal who was programmed entertain and potentially protect a young child. Providing conference calls to the parent through its onboard camera.

Turning left, and moving forward, not only did I get to see the significant impact of the Tesla on the Chinese buyer (a great environmental option in the conspicuous land of smog!). But also a small parade of self-driving vehicles, even one on the web giant Baidu’s stand. Personally speaking, having seen the problematic result of at least three car accidents, en route to both initiating and completing this trip, it started to make real sense somehow!

One of the more interesting connected devices that popped-up, quite literally, was the intriguing hover-camera, a Sino-American invention that captured a lot of visitor interest, as well as 4K video both on demand and in flight! Self-stabilizing tech allowing the picture to remain of a high enough quality to impress many of the delegates.

The WeChat (App) Imperative

Probably the most connected part of the whole experience was actually unseen. The remarkable and ubiquitous nature of WeChat, an IM App nee ecosystem, that does just about everything in a person’s daily life; from ordering taxis, to sending gifts, to buying retail items – and grabbing international contacts at conferences, all with the instantaneous snap of a QR code.

Subway supermarket shopping comes to Shanghai

Undoubtedly, many ad agency execs from the West may laugh at this, but the QR code is more-or-less mandatory in China for any form of interactivity or real-world payment. It is just simply there, actually everywhere, and provides your personal ticket to convenient options. Even the vending machines dispensing various cans of soda. China has categorically cracked the usability and adoption code, which those of us in West have ignored, often with high disdain. My contacts list increased sizably – and business cards actually (finally) seemed passé for once. Don’t speak English? No matter, just WeChat.

‘Mobile Infinity’ as a compelling theme, had been fully realized in this mass of humanity, primarily due to the amazing power of viable, instantaneous connectedness through an ecosystem of devices, beacons and sensors that now inhabit all hardware. The potential is indeed infinite and number of connected services unlimited, or at least, limited only by an innovators’ imagination, and no longer by any physical barriers to adoption. MEF highlighted that China now has the biggest Mobile Internet market globally.

The Lure of the Kingdom

The MEF Connects China keynote subtly interwove the underlying interests of what I shall call ‘the West’ with the overwhelming scale, commercially creative and ultimately, fiscally rewarding ‘coding’ drive emanating from what could be termed ‘the East’.

Entitled: ‘The Lure of the Kingdom’, Google China’s CMO Wei Jiang carefully plotted the brief history of a US internet giant’s, in this case eBay’s business travails in China. With a laid back narrative, Jiang humorously highlighted the key learnings made, in particular by his then boss Meg Whitman, who at the time was a noted Sinophile and explorer.

The Chinese copycat companies that soon out-ran her – and eventually turned Jack Ma into the legendary leader of the pack, gave MEF members and guests some cool insight into what to do right – and equally, the likely pitfalls to be aware of; in short, what can go wrong in the China market.

This uniquely personal sharing was followed by a lively and impassioned panel discussion on “Doing Business in China”. Indeed, the simplified subtext, ‘Think Global, Act Local, Be Mobile!’ enabled all areas of the keynote to be expounded upon, with some excellent jousting from the experienced panelists.

Indeed, the very nature of the panel’s providence embellished the organic positioning of the classically rendered ‘East meets West’ event. Outside of our esteemed moderator, Cate Cadell, an Aussie from TechCrunch China; Jiang Wei (Google), William Bao Bean (SOSV), Alvin Ng (Omnicom) and George Guo (Syniverse) are all successful, senior Chinese executives in their respective companies (three of which are American), having had extensive exposure to both the US and Chinese markets.

Thus the expertise on display was significant and the insights occasionally provocative, but entirely grounded in empirical fact. Whilst the elephant would always be in the room when it came to offering advice on dealing with regulatory matters in China, the free flow of advice continued to reinforce the theme of partnerships making all things possible in China. Work with the local guys, and select senior people who can get things done – in what remains one of the World’s most complex and challenging economies. Oh, and if you don’t have anything unique or clearly different to bring in, don’t bother coming in the first place!

The Ecosystem in Action

China is almost beyond any description I can articulate when it comes to trying to explain the sheer scale of internal business that can massively sustain itself — and further, much like the scion that is Alibaba; eventually support dramatic international expansion at warp speeds the West could only really produce two decades ago.

Colin MilesColin Miles

Chair Emeritus

MEF (Asia)

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And where they could (e.g. Facebook) they are stymied (albeit not stopped as evidenced by the sizable presence at GMIC this year) by local regulation. The local hunger to succeed in the digital ecosystem is intense and total.

The level of competition drives business to extremes of creativity and invention, but ultimately all based upon positive commercial outcomes. Who will pay for these services? The device of choice is currently the smartphone (more-and-more of which are self-produced and self-branded). China is commercially complex and heavily cultural – and yet the upside proves to be a lure which (still somehow) remains irresistible to the West.

Were you at MEF Connects China?  Check out the event photos here.