• Justin Sun wins record setting bid for iconic Zodiac NFT collection

    Justin Sun wins record setting bid for iconic Zodiac NFT collection
    (12 Digital Zodiac Heads auction poster/ Photo from TRON)

    Justin Sun, founder of the world’s leading blockchain ecosystem TRON, purchased a highly symbolic NFT collection of 12 Digital Zodiac Heads for a record price of USD1.55 million (RMB 9,832,500) last week. 

    The 12 Digital Zodiac Heads, auctioned by Metapoly XM, a brand under Poly Auction (Xiamen), is the NFT art collection that draws inspiration from the legendary Chinese Zodiac animals. 

    Traditional vs. digital: why the 12 zodiac animals matter

    The twelve zodiac animals are well-known symbols of Chinese culture and philosophy.  As a tradition dating back more than 2000 years, Chinese families assign their newborns a zodiac animal matching the lunar calendar year of their birth. These zodiac animals are supposed to represent and influence one’s personality, character and fortunes through life. Countless artworks have been created based on the twelve zodiac animals. Among them, the twelve bronze animal heads of the Old Summer Palace, lost during the Second Opium War of 1860, are the best known worldwide.

    Poly Auctions’ parent company, state-owned Poly Corp., had previously purchased three of the animal heads for repatriation, and now displays four of them, along with replicas of the remaining ones, in a Beijing museum.  

    To many observers, Sun’s collaboration with Metapoly XM to reunite the venerated national symbols in the digital world not only cements his stature as a world-leading NFT collector, but also indicates his grander ambitions in the world of digital art and philanthropy. 

    (12 Digital Zodiac Heads/ Photo from TRON)

    Justine Sun has his eyes on the NFT market 

    The NFT art market has seen explosive growth in recent years. Public data showed that NFT art transactions hit USD17 billion in 2021, a whopping 200-fold increase from just a year ago. 

    Global tech giants including Meta, Microsoft, Disney, and Tencent,  as well many international celebrities, have made big moves in the NFT market. But how do sellers and buyers benchmark the prices of NFT artworks properly? What are the true values of  NFT artworks? 

    Afterall, blockchain-based ecosystems are helping to build a bridge between the traditional art world and the evolving digital world. Sun has predicted that half of the world’s top 100 artists and artworks will be turned into NFTs in the coming decade.

    Sun is a visionary in his field. At the age of 26, he founded TRON in 2017, a blockchain-based operating system. Today, TRON has become one of the world’s largest blockchain and crypto ecosystems, boasting over 84 million users worldwide and average daily trading volume of USD1.5 billion on its networks.

    With a history degree from the prestigious Peking University, and a master’s degree in Social Sciences from the University of Pennsylvania, Sun is no stranger to the world of arts and culture. In recent years, he has purchased some of the world’s most famous masterpieces of art for his personal collection. The latest additions to this impressive ensemble include: the Nose (Le Nez),  purchased for USD78 million at Sotheby’s New York Fall Auction in 2021, Pablo Picasso’s Femme nue couchée au collier (Marie-Thérèse) purchased for USD20 million, and Three Self-Portraits by Andy Warhol for USD2 million, at Christie’s 20th Century Art Evening Sale. 

    Sun has since tokenized most of these artworks and launched the NFT artworks publicly. 

    APENFT Marketplace is coming

    Last March, the APENFT Foundation was established with a mission to turn the world’s top artworks into NFTs. The foundation has received world-class technological support from TRON, the world’s largest blockchain ecosystem, and Bittorrent File System (BTFS), which provides the most advanced decentralized file storage system. 

    As the biggest supporter of APENFT, Sun has donated unique tokenized versions of the above-mentioned masterpieces, as well his USD6 million NFT artwork OCEAN FRONT , by the renowned crypto artist Beeple, to the foundation. 

    The foundation aims to create and promote more high-quality digital assets through financial and technology support, helping more people to understand and get access to NFTs. In time, APENFT plans to expand its exploration and expertise into digital entertainment, culture preservation, and other fields.

    (Screenshot of the APENFT website)

    The foundation is currently testing its NFT platform, APENFT Marketplace, and plans to launch it soon. Industry insiders expect that one of the animal heads in the 12 Digital Zodiac Heads collection will be listed on APENFT Marketplace. 

    OpenSea, the world’s largest NFT marketplace today, is valued at USD13.3 billion after a latest funding round in January, the same month its trading volume topped USD 5 billion. Is the upcoming APENFT Marketplace going to become a strong challenger to OpenSea? Anybody who knows Sun’s passion and ambition would have little doubt of the question. But that may only be a start. 

  • Future Battlefield meets the Metaverse: STEPVR is landing on China’s OASIS 

    Future Battlefield meets the Metaverse: STEPVR is landing on China’s OASIS 

    The post-COVID era brings new opportunities for virtual reality companies as global consumer demand surges for upgraded hardware and enhanced user experience. STEPVR , a leading Chinese virtual reality company, is continuing to feed growing market demand, and their large-space VR arena Future Battlefield is expanding at a rapid rate. 

    Founded in 2013 in Beijing, STEPVR has set its sights on leading tens of millions of Chinese families into era of Metaverse with their VR products. Despite the spread of the Omicron variant across China leading to lockdowns in multiple cities, STEPVR says it has opened more than 140 franchise stores nationwide, with plans for another 200 in the near future. 

    Guo Cheng, founder and president of STEPVR, told AllTechAsia that the first big step for the commercialization of Metaverse depends on the development of VR esports. 

    VR business can be profitable

    The global metaverse market size was US$ 63.83 billion, and projected to grow from US$ 100.27 billion in 2022 to USD 1.5 trillion by 2029, according to the latest estimates by market research company Fortune Business Insights. 

    A pioneer of the Chinese VR scene, STEPVR has raised millions of dollars in funding from known investors and VCs such as Sequoia China’s former founder Zhang Fan and Shanghai Guosheng Group.  With a doctor’s degree from Netherlands STEPVR’s founder Guo Cheng has personally won industrial design prizes and is keen to lead the company with more technology innovations. 

    In the Chinese domestic market, it’s difficult for VR companies to make profits or to achieve fast growth. STEPVR has overtaken its opponents. To date, its Future Battlefield arena has established more than 200 cooperative franchise stores, across 80 cities in China, with millions of users with a steady growth. 

    Not only owning the highest number of VR sports stores, Future Battlefield has also set a world record of a single VR esports space with over 1,000 square meters. It is very rare that the arena allows users to play CS and MOBA tactical competitive games in its space. 

    The store space of Future Battlefield is expandable – it can be 50 square meters, 100 square meters, or 1,000 square meters, with the advantages of multiple people and multiple props. In the virtual world of the Future Battlefield, up to 40 players can compete in the same field, and they can touch and move around the spaces by touching door handles and elevator buttons to compete in a fully immersed state and enjoy the thrill of automatic running. This kind of excitement and realism is not found in traditional VR experiences, some players said.

    Photo from STEPVR

    Why Future Battlefield is different 

    In Future Battlefield, VR peripherals such as karts, tanks, and robotic arms can also be introduced to create diverse experiences such as driving, flying, and exploration in the virtual world for users. Industry experts in the VR esports business say that the challenge for the traditional VR products is that they often run out of content, and users easily get bored. 

    Future Battlefield’s themes can be continuously updated, and users can gain quick access to more themes such as escape room, script killing, theme park, and even more. Its ambition is to reshape the industry.

     “Why can’t VR products achieve the great success of video games such as PUBG or ‘Honor of Kings’? It’s because no one dared to challenge the most difficult things.” Guo Cheng, CEO of STEPVR said, ” We want to make a new history.”

    STEPVR core technology has been fueling its ambitious plans. Ever since its establishment nine years ago, STEPVR has developed a set of large space ultra-stable laser positioning technology and a motion capture technology sufficient enough to restore and match every movement of the user, to achieve millimeter-level accuracy and a 1:1 restoration of the virtual world. And there is no dizziness and distortion at all. 

    The third-generation product introduces robotic force feedback technology, which returns the real sense of the users. In the virtual world, using computers to help users restore vision, hearing, touch, smell and vestibular sensation is the goal that the company has tried to achieve from the beginning.  

    VR Gates – a gateway to OASIS

    The next big step is to achieve infinite movement from large space VR competition to small space. Technically, an infinite virtual space can be mapped onto a confined real space.

    “This month we will release a watershed product, VR Gates, as a gateway to Metaverse. It will be the world’s first product to commercialize the Metaverse with a one-step login into an immersive experience.” Guo said. 

    The product is equipped with the latest omnidirectional system, which allows users to run, move, touch and feel objects in an infinite space in a small space. It is equivalent to ‘moving’ the VR competitive experience of a large space to the home under the scene of VR Gates, he revealed. 

    Many may have seen the hit film, Ready Player One. In the immersive virtual universe, OASIS, you can go anywhere, do anything, be anyone. That’s what STEPVR has the ambition to bring their users to OASIS through their innovative products. 

  • 5 ways blockchain helps to decentralize the education sector

    5 ways blockchain helps to decentralize the education sector

    The co-founders of the biggest online programming websites–Ryan Bubinski, co-founder of Codecademy, and Michael Karnjanaprakorn, co-founder of Skillshare–have become consultants for IOST, an enterprise providing a decentralized ecosystem for service providers and users based on blockchain technology. This cooperation signals their aims to construct a new type of education based on blockchain.

    Since blockchain has shown its value, its application in various areas has sparked hot discussion. Blockchain was first applied in financial sectors to make transactions safe and transparent, but how would it change education?

    Blockchain builds a completely new technological world. Information held on a blockchain exists as a shared database. The blockchain database is not stored in any single location, meaning the records it keeps are truly public and easily verifiable. Hosted by millions of computers simultaneously, its data is accessible to anyone on the internet.

    In fact, the application of blockchain needs to satisfy at least three requirements: more than one participant’s operation in the transaction needs to be recorded; participants are required to record their behaviors; the program requires the participation of agencies, adding cost and complexity; the transaction is time-sensitive and time delays can potentially affect it; the transaction needs interaction.

    Here we have compiled five new directions in which blockchain is expected to lead education:


    1.Blockchain helps protect intellectual property.

    People can get access to digital information for free thanks to the internet. However, copyright holders have lost control over their intellectual property. It is commonly believed that plagiarism does harm to a teacher’s creation. In fact, educational resources can be easily plagiarized without protection. One can find many educational resources and electronic books sold online at a pretty cheap price or free of charge.  

    It is possible that blockchain-based platforms can help to solve these problems. If teachers upload their articles on this platform, their stamp of originality can be tracked and protected. Blockchain is able to provide unchangeable and unique electronic identification for users, eliminating the risk of file copying and redistribution.


    2. Collecting objective assessments from students can improve educational quality.

    In February, EduCoin, a virtual currency for online education, opened to the public for use. This platform provides educational resources and products, and assessment of educational quality.

    Educational institutions often find it hard, in reality, to collect objective assessments from students. Whether the course is popular with students is difficult to calculate accurately. Without objective assessments, both students and teachers cannot make use of the assessment. In fact, teachers and educational institutions who benefit from authentic assessment call for an objective platform.

    Blockchain is a good way to form an objective assessment system in which teachers and students can put forward their needs. After finishing teaching, students can give teachers their assessment and suggestions.


    3. Blockchain makes educational transactions transparent.

    Some educational institutions assure students that they can pass the exams after they take some courses. Sometimes educational institutions write the agreement in their contracts but they do not keep the promise. In some cases, if students do not pass the exams, students won’t be given compensation by educational institutions as they claim.

    Blockchain can build a nation-wide system and a new contractual system. The new contracts can be accessed by students and teachers publicly. Blockchain will operate without significant disruptions by others. The blockchain network lives in a state of consensus, one that automatically checks in with itself every ten minutes. Once one party cannot fulfill his or her duty, the blockchain network will do whatever they promise to do at the very beginning.

    In Bitcoin transactions, a global network of computers use blockchain technology to jointly manage the database that records Bitcoin transactions. This mechanism can also be used in education to supervise the process of transaction and guarantee the rights and responsibilities of every single person.

    Apart from this, there is no need to use a third party to take part in money transactions. In Bitcoin transactions, users can transact directly with one another — Bitcoin transactions in 2016 averaged over 200,000 USD per day. Without the participation of a third party such as WeChat pay and Alipay, it will improve the efficiency and reduce the cost of the transactions.


    4. Educational donations can be tracked by blockchain.

    Donations to charities are hard to supervise. Some organizations try to design a system based on blockchain technology to supervise the transfer of money. For example, Ant Financial, a technology company that offers inclusive financial services, designed a blockchain system to track the donations to children in deprived areas. No matter where the money is, it can be recorded by the system, which helps it to be transparent to the public.


    5. Blockchain can conduct educational authentication and talent management.

    HireRight found that 86% of companies have faced problems related to employees’ fabrication of academic credentials. It does not only increase the cost to companies but also harms the reputation of universities. For example, University of London has applied blockchain to verify the authentication of students’ educational experiences.

    In addition, employees’ documents are mainly in hard copy versions, which are not easy to take and use. The application of blockchain offers opportunities for good management of employee’s documents.

    Both artificial intelligence and blockchain can be applied to the field of education, and their different characters can supply education with various functions. The former contributes to the smartness of education while the latter is great for the transparency of educational transactions. We look forward to their benefits for education.

  • Big trends living through COVID-19 pandemic

    Big trends living through COVID-19 pandemic

    I recently met with a friend for dinner. The last time we saw each other face to face was months ago. Because of the strict self-isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, we had mostly been communicating via social network chatting apps. I have to say the meeting was a bit odd considering the vibe around us. 

    Starting with myself, I postponed taking off my mask as late as I could. Even when I was ordering food I had my mask on. The waitress who took my order was also wearing a mask. My friend and I took ours off when we started eating, but we noticed that people who were waiting for their food or paying their bills all had their masks on. To be honest, I’m not looking forward to another eating-with-masks experience. I’d rather invite friends to my home so that we can relax with no masks necessary. 

    What I’m most concerned about is that our lifestyle will experience big, permanent changes after the pandemic. Here are some trends that I see coming. 

    1 More home cooking and less deliveries 

    During the pandemic, home cooking has never been so important; this will likely continue even after the pandemic, considering the safety regulations that will remain in place. I myself started baking from scratch after a bakery near my house was shut down. The result is rewarding not only because I have more than enough fresh bread to consume, but also baking is absolutely therapeutic. I am filled with joy seeing yeast making bubbles in the dough that I prepare, slowly swelling like a balloon. Rubbing the dough is an exercise. More than that, it reminded me of some of my best memories as a child, playing with a piece of dough and making them into different jewelries being with my mom in her regular baking routines.

    Photo by Wu Nan

    It got me to think about how many skills we’ve lost and how many memories we’ve buried because of the way that fast food and delivery apps have come to dominate our modern life. I can recall all those times my family and I were making canned tomatoes, pickles, and roasted nuts. The food was so delicious and we were so happy.  I’m recreating these precious experiences by making pickles first, and I hope I can keep it up as long as possible. 

    One of my friends now cleans any delivered food package like it is a religious ceremony, by spraying the bag with medical alcohol first, wiping all the boxes, and then heating up the food before eating it. I’ve stopped ordering food deliveries to avoid the burden of a religious cleansing process, and thoughts about who touched the food and whether that person is healthy. 

    I’ll stick with home cooking.

    2 Working from home and remote conferences

    When social media apps became trendy, communication was made through texts, emails, and audio calls without meeting face-to-face.  Remote working will become dominant after the pandemic because it is the safest and most efficient method. That’s why large companies such as Google, Twitter and Facebook have already started making changes, telling many of their workers that they would now work from home permanently. Basically, before an effective vaccine can be distributed, the risk and the cost of daily commutes and business travels will continue to be high, and very real. But, because of our ability to quickly create and adapt to more advanced technologies, it doesn’t have to mean that we’ll work any less or less efficiently. 

    What could really pose a challenge is the type of business models that co-share an office and living space, or those that rely on meetings and gatherings with a large quantity of people. It puts modern education under a real test. In China, most primary and middle schools instructed students to switch  to online-learning at home for 2-3 months during the pandemic. Video classes continue to be welcomed for either younger groups of students in preschool, as well as the older group of students, e.g. graduate students. I have young parent friends around the world who started homeschooling their kids during lock-downs. This might become a new norm. We never know what might come next after the COVID-19 pandemic, or how long it will last. 

    A photo of a girl from Hubei taking online classes under her parents’ street vendor shelf went viral online in China.

    Many conferences and forums have been canceled or moved online, but it’s easy to shift to a smaller scale conference involving a singular or just a few speakers. It will be difficult to organize a political parliament gathering or concerts and shows which involve hundreds of and thousands of people. China has postponed the Two Sessions meetings twice and TV broadcast showed politicians who were not giving a speech all wore masks. Large concerts and show business will change. It is unclear whether everything may become AR or VR, or maybe a sort of image projection just like science fiction. We need to prepare for the future. 

    3 Less social or no social at all 

    Like I said at the beginning, my friend and I did not set another date for dining out again. Pretty much everyone I know is cutting down on social outings and travels these days. To be fair China seems to have done as much as they can to assure the mobility and social activities of one billion people are done in a safe environment. The restaurant I dined at had a thermometer to automatically check everyone’s temperatures; such equipment is almost everywhere, malls, subways, trains, airports, office buildings. Despite the privacy issue, pretty much every Chinese with a smartphone can get access to a so-called health code, or Jiangkangbao in Chinese, which is a location-based track record of a person’s travel and quarantine history. If you are healthy, your code will be green. Red could mean that you were still under quarantine or were recently in a Covid-19 epicenter. The ones with green code can move around. 

    The green code is like a mark on you, I don’t know how long we need to rely on it. I surely hope that our fear over the virus won’t tame us into becoming domesticated animals. Then we’ll have no social life at all. 

    (Top photo by Jan Vašek from Pixabay)

  • How will online medical services develop in China after the coronavirus outbreak?

    How will online medical services develop in China after the coronavirus outbreak?

    During the coronavirus outbreak in China, most medical facilities had to focus their limited resources on screening and treating patients. Many hospitals maintained only essential services, such as emergency medicine and dialysis. People with minor discomfort or chronic diseases were afraid of visiting medical facilities due to the outbreak, and they turned to internet-powered medical services, thereby driving up demand as the crisis has evolved. 

    Online medical services, which originated around 2000, can provide users with consultations and prescriptions. Many experts say they could revolutionize medical treatment. Frost & Sullivan researchers believe the industry will be worth RMB 198 billion in China by 2026, about 20 times its 2016 size. The development of online medical services has been relatively slow compared to that of other internet-based businesses. Though many investors have pumped money into the industry, Chinese consumers seem rather lukewarm on it. A Bain & Company survey found only 24% of Chinese respondents had used telemedicine. 

    Chinese consumers have joked the coronavirus is like an online celebrity influencer, able to change consumer behaviors in days. In mid-February, there were 191 public healthcare institutions and nearly 100 private medical platforms in China offering free online diagnoses during the coronavirus outbreak. According to Qianfan Analysys, there were 6.71 million daily active users (DAUs) of online healthcare apps, a 31.28% increase over several weeks. In mid-February, Good Doctor, one of the leading apps, reported that it had received 1.11 billion unique visits since the start of the outbreak, gaining 10 times the number of users.

    Photo: Bain & Capital consolidated and illustrated

    Good Doctor is a one-stop, patient-facing, online medical service provider offering consultations as well prescriptions. The company hires veteran physicians from hospitals, offering decent compensation to provide their services via the internet. According to Good Doctor COO Bai Xue, there are more than 1,000 physicians on the medical team. The app focuses on providing primary care services along with drug and other medical sales, such as annual physical checkup packages. The one-stop model mimics that of traditional hospitals but uses the internet to drastically reduce wait times for appointments.

    WeDoctor, backed by Tencent, works somewhat differently, constructing a massive network connecting physicians and patients. WeDoctor was founded in 2010 as a Chinese version of Zocdoc, an American online medical services provider, which allows people to schedule appointments with their preferred physicians. Later on, WeDoctor added online consultations to its list of services. As of May 2018, WeDoctor had a large pool of around 240,000 physicians. 

    When the coronavirus outbreak halted many outpatient services in hospitals, physicians with some free time offered free online consultations on these and other apps, helping patients receive the best treatments. When the coronavirus spread widely overseas, WeDoctor quickly launched a free English platform for foreign users. 

    Yet another Chinese online medical platform is Ding Xiang Yuan (DXY), a virtual community of healthcare professionals. Doctors can use the platform to continue their education and prepare for licensing examinations, among other services. DXY also offers the general public access to its doctors, though it’s only a small part of its operation. During the coronavirus, the company leveraged its professional network to contribute to educational handbooks and online posts. DXY has been one of the most reliable sources of information on how to prevent coronavirus infections. Furthermore, the company developed a visual dashboard to show cumulative case numbers and mortality rates in different regions. When the outbreak worsened, Johns Hopkins was unable to manually update its information, so it began using  DXY’s near real-time China data.

    Due to online healthcare services’ critical role in providing consultations, many people believe the crisis may accelerate their development in China. On February 28, Beijing announced that approved online medical treatments for common and chronic diseases will be reimbursed by public insurance. That’s a big deal, as Bain & Company found that 97% of Chinese people would be interested in online medical services if the costs were covered by employers or insurance providers. The same study survey found that 64% of Chinese consumers expect to use online medical services within the next 5 years. The government’s greenlight may further speed up the industry’s development. 

    Photo: Bain Frontline of Healthcare APAC Survey 2019

    Online consultations can neither replace in-person visits nor the need to visit hospitals for medical tests. However, online medical services can be useful in many scenarios. First, people with chronic diseases, such as diabetes or hypertension, can benefit from online medical care by quickly and easily receiving prescriptions. Second, busy people who have symptoms but no underlying medical conditions can receive medical advice and avoid going to hospitals. Third, online consultations break physical distance barriers; patients can solicit second or third opinions from different experts across the nation. Last but not least, patients with special conditions who are afraid or ashamed of visiting doctors in person can consult them online.

    (Top photo by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay)

  • How Chinese are buying fresh food during the coronavirus outbreak

    How Chinese are buying fresh food during the coronavirus outbreak

    Chinese consumers usually buy fresh food from physical farmers’ markets, grocery stores, or supermarkets. With the development of cold supply-chain logistics and changes in customer behavior, fresh food e-commerce companies started to replace physical in-store shopping as the prefered mode of some Chinese consumers. 198 fresh food e-commerce companies were established in 2014 and drew the attention of investors to the sector. After a short peak, the sector cooled down and left only a few top players in 2016.

    A spike in fresh food e-commerce activity occurred during the coronavirus outbreak in China. To effectively contain the spread of the coronavirus and minimize the opportunities for cross-transmission, Chinese authorities halted operations of some businesses and services and suggested people stay inside. The brick and mortar farmers’ markets, grocery stores and supermarkets are thus unsuitable for containing the virus, as they are packed with people coming in close contact with one another. As a result, ordering fresh food online and then making home-cooked meals has grown in popularity during the coronavirus outbreak. Xiachufang, a recipe-sharing app, increased its daily active users by 27.3% from January 24 to February 2 according to Analysys Qianfan. 

    Baidu index also shows an increase in search queries of Xiachufang since January 27

    How fresh food e-commerce companies adapted to the coronavirus outbreak depends on which industry model the company subscribes to. Here are how three of the top models responded to the outbreak.

    1. Warehouse model

    The warehouse model is represented by Dingdong Maicai and MissFresh, companies similar to FreshDirect, a US-based food e-commerce company. The companies own warehouses to store the fresh food, and operate logistical operations to distribute it. The food quality is managed by the operators and usually proves consistent. 

    Dingdong Maicai, backed by Sequoia Capital, mostly serves Southern Chinese cities. According to Dingdong, order amounts tripled on Chinese New Year’s eve this year, in the midst of the outbreak, compared to the year prior. One Dingdong customer reportedly buys fresh food 3 to 4 times a week today compared to her previous once-a-week frequency. The increase in orders forced Dingdong to temporarily waive its timely delivery commitment, and the lockdown of some labor-export cities made staff shortages a problem for most businesses. Dingdong announced plans to temporarily halt services in Ningbo, a smaller city near Hangzhou and Shanghai, to fully concentrate its resources and capacities on Shanghai, Hangzhou and Shenzhen. MissFresh’s sales also increased by 4 times during the first 5 days of the Chinese New Year versus last year. Normally, the company takes at least 3 days to run out of all its stock, but during the first week of this Chinese New Year holiday the entire vegetable stock would be gone by around 4pm everyday.

    The warehouse model in China works slightly differently from the US-based FreshDirect. FreshDirect owns a massive food hive in New York City’s South Bronx, whereas its Chinese counterparts have a network of smaller warehouses located in closer proximity to the communities they serve. This enables faster delivery times compared to that offered by FreshDirect, which is typically next-day. Operators like DingDong and FreshDirect source the food from vendors at a large volume, making their fresh food often the most affordable among all three models presented in this article. 

    Image by Christine Sponchia from Pixabay

    2. Platform-based vendor utilization model 

    The second is the platform-based vendor utilization model represented by JD Dao Jia and Meituan Maicai. Vendors list products on JD Dao Jia’s platform, including fresh food and daily groceries. Due to the increase in demand for fresh food during the Coronavirus outbreak, Walmart’s sales on JD Dao Jia are 6 to 7 times higher this year compared to those prior. The platform essentially offers a one-stop online shopping solution, sourced from customers’ preferred local stores such as Walmat or Carrefour. It is similar to Instacart, where busy customers can shop from the comfort of their home from local Whole Foods, Costco, or Kroger stores. The platform owners utilize their existing logistic networks and capacities rather than operating independent warehouses, thus allowing the service to be more flexible. The food quality depends on which vendor customers order from, with the platform only able to control the delivery logistics. 

    As the platform owners tend to operate a very mature delivery network, the advantage of this model is that customers can get almost everything they need, including fresh food, groceries, or even drugs, from one site. The waiting time from JD Dao Jia is guaranteed to be within 2 hours under normal circumstances. However, the platforms are not liable for any of the products sold through them.

    Similarly, Instacart customers can also get themselves fresh food, daily groceries, alcoholic beverages, and prescription drugs through Instacard Rx. However, a scheduled delivery, something that Chinese customers now take for granted, requires a paid Instacart Express membership.

    3. Store + Community model

    The third model is a combination that I would call a “store + community” model, represented by Hema. The operators have physical stores but also serve a large customer base online. Online sales are 60% of Hema’s total sales, with the food available online sourced from the same stock as that available in physical Hema stores. Food is delivered from nearby physical stores to the community by delivery persons assigned to each of the stores. On normal days, Hema is able to deliver food to customers in a 3km radius within 30 minutes. Over the past month, Hema has operated nonstop in China, including in Wuhan, the center of the epidemic. The dramatic increase in online orders caused staff shortages for sorting and delivery. To address the shortage, Hema hired temporary staff from local restaurants whose dine-in service is suspended during the outbreak.

    This is an ambitious business model to capture both online and offline traffic, requiring a reliable logistic network and supply chain. The need to operate physical stores in addition to delivery and logistical services makes this the heaviest and least adaptable of all three models. It assures a better customer experience but at a higher cost, with the prices of Hema products tending to be among the highest. 

    After Amazon acquired Whole Foods in 2017, the company adopted a model that has been the closest to Hema’s. It relies on operating its own delivery network to ensure fresh food delivery. Just like JD, Amazon is working to expand its network, realizing that a stronger network opens up opportunities for customers not served by the current ecosystem. In 2019, Amazon started to offer select customers the opportunity to use Amazon Shipping as an alternative for FedEx or UPS.


    The spread of the Coronavirus is slowing down in most cities in China this week.  I have seen more customers visit physical stores to purchase food. From my own experience, the waiting time on Dingdong was half a day in Shanghai during the Chinese New Year holiday, but only about 1 hour this week. This poses challenges to all fresh food e-commerce players to retain their newly acquired customer base after the crisis subsides. According to MissFresh’s CFO Wang Jun, the panicked customers not only bought fresh food, but also cooking oil and grains. Wang believes this stocking might not be a type of purchasing behavior that can be sustained. 

    However, the coronavirus epidemic posed an unexpected opportunity for new customer acquisition and education. The epidemic has provided important lessons to the fresh food e-commerce industry on how to build a system that is more reliable and responsive to market changes. Figuring out how to consolidate their market gains during the crisis, by transforming the short-term increase in demand into long-term customer habits, will be the focus for all the fresh food e-commerce players going forward.

    (Top photo by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay)

  • Why China is at the forefront of 5G technology

    Why China is at the forefront of 5G technology

    According to former White House Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon, “China will in fact be a hegemonic power” if the US does not thwart these five things; and the rollout of fifth generation mobile technology—known as “5G” is on the top of that list.

    Chinese telecommunication equipment providers, especially those involved in developing the 5G technology, such as Huawei and ZTE, have become the casualties in the recent US-China trade war. Meanwhile, how well has the 5G technology been developed in China so far? Will Bannon’s prediction come true sooner rather than later? Let’s have a look.

    5G is expected to usher in an Internet revolution, since the peak rate of communication speed can be more than 10 times faster than that of a 4G network, making next-generation mobile communication technology fast enough for applications like AR, VR, the Internet of Things and smart driving.

    China started the third phase of 5G technology research and development tests as early as last November, as the country accelerated steps to gain a lead in the race towards commercialization of this next-generation communication technology.

    In February, Huawei launched its full range of 5G end-to-end product solutions at the 2018 World Mobile World Congress; and two months later, China’s three major telecom operators— China Unicom, China Mobile and China Telecom, have won government approval to pilot 5G networks in multiple cities across the country.

    China Unicom will pilot 5G-technology in 16 cities including Beijing, Tianjin, Qingdao, Guiyang and Zhengzhou. China Mobile will launch offline testing in five cities in eastern and southern China, with each city installed with more than 100 5G stations, as well as 5G application demonstrations in 12 cities. China Telecom has confirmed it will pilot 5G-technology in Xiong’an, Shanghai, Suzhou, Shenzhen, Chengdu and Lanzhou, and plans to expand the network to 6 more cities.

    Meanwhile, China Unicom also confirmed its 2G services were being streamlined with a dwindling number of base stations so as to provide better, faster Internet access.

    Despite the co-existence of 2G, 3G and 4G networks in China, an insider said 2G networks are fading, and 3G networks are also set to decline, while 4G networks are the present norm and 5G, the future.

    On April 23, the first 5G test network was launched in Chongqing, as another step towards 5G commercialization in China.

    Moreover, China is expected to release its first 5G mobile phone during the second half of 2019, said Wen Ku, director of the telecom development department at China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

    At the First Digital China Summit in Fuzhou on April 22, Wen noted that China was home to 1.03 billion 4G net users in 2017, and a universal standard of 5G technology will be established in the future.

    Wen said China is one of the leading countries of 5G development, and it has established cooperation structures with Europe, the US, Japan and South Korea on both government and industry levels.

    The 5G technology, which might be a new turning point for the smartphone industry, is already a strategic highland that many mobile phone manufacturers are fighting for. The major mobile phone brands in China are stepping up their efforts in the development of 5G mobile phones, and are looking forward to seizing the opportunities in the new era.

    For example, Huawei announced that it will release the first mobile phone, which supports the 5G network, in the second half of 2019. OPPO and vivo plan to launch its 5G smartphones in 2020. However, the recent US ban on the sale of components and software to ZTE could affect the survival of the company, said ZTE.

    At this industry turning point, having the core technologies of core components and leading technology development are crucial for phone makers. Only the strong capacity of research and development and independent intellectual property rights can place those Chinese brands in an invincible position.

    (Top photo from Flickr by janitors)

  • Zepp Z launched: a health smartwatch with a classic design

    On November 18th, Zepp, a digital health management wearable brand, officially released its Zepp Z flagship smartwatch. Zepp Z includes a professional health management system, as well as scientific exercise and efficiency tools to help users comprehensively manage their schedules and fitness needs. 

    The Zepp brand was established in 2010 in Silicon Valley. Many world-class athletes wear the watch due to its real-time, quantitative fitness analysis that helps improve their competitive performance. 

    In July 2018, Huami Technology (NYSE:HMI) acquired Zepp’s core assets. In August 2020, Zepp completed its brand upgrade. The company is committed to building a professional digital health management platform for global users and further improving its professional health management products. Also in August, the company introduced Zepp E to Chinese consumers.

    The art of classic design 

    Zepp believes that even technology-packed smart watches should maintain an elegant style and sophisticated design. Zepp Z boasts the finest craftsmanship and a fashionable design, making the whole watch more humane and artsy. The watch body is made of titanium alloy, which is light, strong, and skin-friendly. The detailed design of the crown, dial, and strap make the watch very comfortable to wear.

    Zepp Z is equipped with a 1.39-inch AMOLED high-definition color display, 454×454 retina-level high resolution, pixel density of 326 ppi, 550 nits of maximum brightness, and wide color, NTSC standard gamut. Zepp Z provides dozens of displays that feature various functions such as health, sports, art, photos, and more. It has special business dials that allow users to customize their watches and present their own personal styles.

    A professional health assistant 

    Using Zepp’s top physical sign monitoring technology and data analysis capabilities, Zepp Z’s health management system can accurately analyze various physiological data such as heart rate, electrocardiograms, blood oxygen levels, and sleep patterns. It can then use the information to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the wearer’s health. 

    The BioTracker™ 2 PPG optical sensor, a core technology developed by Huami, is the key to Zepp Z’s accurate health monitoring capabilities. With the RealBeats™ heart rate engine, Zepp Z can not only perform real-time heart rate monitoring and send high heart rate warnings, but also automatically screen for arrhythmias, including atrial fibrillations.

    Zepp Z can also analyze variations in heart rate, which allows it to determine the wearer’s stress level. Finally, the smart watch is equipped with a blood oxygen detection function, an important health indicator.

    Extensive scientific and intelligent experiences 

    Zepp believes in deeply understanding wearers’ usage habits and improving the user experience as much as possible. Zepp has optimized the watch by including dozens of functions such as exercise routine recording, voice assistant, and schedule and commute management, ensuring that the smartwatch is easy to use and helps wearers reach their fitness goals.

    Zepp Z has 12 built-in professional sports modes and has 50-meter deep water resistance. Available modes include running, swimming, mountaineering, and skiing. Zepp Z is also equipped with a GPS+GLONASS independent positioning system, which can record motion trajectories without linking to a mobile phone. It can also generate analysis reports post-exercise, combining rich data records to help users continue to improve their fitness routines. 

    When wearing Zepp Z, users can use the voice assistant at any time, and don’t even have to touch the screen. Zepp Z can receive and execute more than 60 voice operation commands even when there is no Internet or Bluetooth connection.

    In addition, Zepp Z can perform efficient schedule management functions. The Zepp app is compatible with both iOS and Android, making it easy for wearers to use the watch to easily plan their days. With the NFC function, Zepp Z also supports subway and bus travel and access e-cards. 

    With its cutting-edge design and optimized power management system, Zepp Z’s battery can last up to 15 days with daily use. It can, however, last more than 30 days when in long-term usage mode. 

    Zepp Z is priced at RMB 2699 in China and is currently available for presale on the Zepp official website, as well as on Tmall and JD. The watch will officially launch for domestic sales on November 25.

  • Interview with Huami CEO Huang Wang on global market strategy and Covid-19

    Interview with Huami CEO Huang Wang on global market strategy and Covid-19

    Huami (NYSE: HMI), a leading cloud-based healthcare services provider, has made significant progress in fulfilling its mission “connecting heath with technology” according to an open letter by CEO Huang Wang late last year. AllTechAsia interviewed Huang last week to talk about Huami’s recent moves, operations, and global collaborations, including news about its newly appointed CFO from Philips, their projects with insurance giant Prudential, and the establishment of a joint lab with Dr. Zhong Nanshan, China’s Anthony Fauci. The discussion also explores how the Covid-19 pandemic has offered the company an opportunity to understand the core value of health in its mission. 

    AllTechAsia: What does the European market mean to Huami?

    Huang: The European market has been the most important one for Huami. Our smart watches are top sellers in Italy and Spain, and we are also among the top 4 in Russia and popular in many Eastern European countries. Though Covid-19 hit Europe hard, many of our suppliers have begun moving their operations online, so the market has recovered relatively quickly. 

    More important is that in the past few years, we have conducted a lot of research and development in Europe. For example, we work with the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in a project called the HUNT Fitness Study, which was crucial for developing our PAI algorithm.  We also acquired a series of assets and teams related to the PAI algorithm. Over the years, we have done a lot of in-depth operations in Europe.  

    For the important European market, the most significant task of our sales team is to strengthen communication with EU regulators so we can be more in line with local laws and regulations. We also have to be able to respond quickly to future changes, as well as to strengthen investments with many chip suppliers in Europe. We’re working on building more partnerships, expanding sales channels, and then continuing to increase relevant R&D resources in Europe with universities and research institutions. The ability to link these activities smoothly is critical, as we’re trying to solidify or expand our position in the United States, Europe, China, Southeast Asia, Japan, South Korea, and other markets. Because we have continuously established a series of bases and made investments in Europe in the past few years, we have a strong foundation today and can do good business there. I believe that in the future, we will not rule out more joint projects in Europe. 

    Our new CFO Leon Cheng Deng, who came from Philips in Netherlands, brings an extensive finance background, strong knowledge of the European and many other key international markets, and strategic transaction experience that I believe will help Huami accelerate its next phase of growth. After he arrives in Beijing this September, he will work closely with our China-based teams. He will also fly regularly to the Netherlands to deal with our European business. 

    AllTechAsia: What do you think about the American market?

    Huang: We started a team in the United States at the end of 2014. Our industrial design team has always been based in Silicon Valley. We also have our artificial intelligence team in San Francisco and our North America sales team for local services in Vancouver, Canada. So our operations in North America are robust. In addition, our COO Mike Yan Yeung moved back to San Francisco from Beijing at the end of last year, which has been helpful in expanding our North American operations. But we can do more.

    For example, we need to further cooperate with North American insurance companies. We’ve made some progress in that direction; this year, we formed a cooperative relationship with global insurance company Prudential’s Asia division. What’s the significance of this? It’s very important for the industry and for Huami, as Prudential, a large insurance company, is willing to adopt a complete set of the PAI algorithm to help its customers improve their health. Whether consumers buy life insurance or health insurance, the insurance company starts to lose money if  the customers make a lot of claims. Huami’s algorithms and products can help Prudential’s customers stay healthy, which is better for them and for the company. This is indeed a breakthrough collaboration for Huami and our industry.

    Huami hopes to grow as a global company that serves consumers across the world. This is why we are listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). Being listed helps us standardize our entire operation, much as we had to with regard to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe. The strict rules of the NYSE have helped our potential global partners as well. They can read the materials we submitted to the SEC, which helps them understand what kind of company we are. This is very important because many of our services are health-related, which requires our partners and users to trust us deeply before they invest in any of our products.

    AllTechAsia: Is the Covid-19 pandemic an opportunity or a challenge for Huami? 

    Huang: We started talking about “connecting health with technology” as our mission, or redefining this concept, back in December last year. It doesn’t mean that we started to act on the mission at that time, as we’d already been discussing this mission for two or three years. We have already made investments and have gathered a lot of R&D resources to innovate our health monitoring data analysis. It all took time. 

    Cooperating with Dr. Zhong Nanshan, China’s Anthony Fauci, was a landmark achievement for Huami. Back in April, Dr. Zhong said that he was busy fighting the pandemic but that afterwards we could establish a joint laboratory with his team. In fact, this was not the first  that we reached out to Dr. Zhong. Two years ago, his team began to use our smart bracelets to do research on the respiratory system and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Their trust in us is very high, so it was natural to establish a joint laboratory to help China manage the follow-up care and full recovery of Covid-19 patients after they are discharged from hospitals. During the first half of the year, we not only built the joint laboratory with Dr. Zhong, but also established  health-related cooperative agreements with other Chinese and European partners. 

    Due to this year’s Covid-19 pandemic, I no longer have to explain to our team why we are focusing on health. Everyone recognizes that good health is an essential need of all human beings. Over the past several months, no one has asked me why I switched to the healthcare industry after starting with smartwatches. We undertook our mission because we saw how IoT can improve people’s health. 

    (Top photo from Huami/Huang Wang at CES)

  • Online communication tools are being repurposed during the COVID-19 pandemic

    Online communication tools are being repurposed during the COVID-19 pandemic

    COVID-19 is sweeping the globe. Social distancing and isolation have largely made face-to-face meetings impossible. After the extended Chinese New Year holiday in February, many Chinese companies implemented remote working policies, and meetings requiring only audio functions are being conducted on chat apps. Most conferences, however, require audio, video, and file sharing functions which most chat apps do not provide. 

    I work on a project that requires communication across offices in different countries and with external partners. Skype for Business, an app with which everyone is familiar, was the first tool we used. Skype was acquired by Microsoft in 2011 and connects to both Microsoft Outlook and Calendar, and such interoperability is its biggest advantage. Before the COVID-19 crisis, we joined Skype meetings via our company’s super-fast network without too much trouble. When the coronavirus spread in China, however, part of the team encountered connectivity issues while working from home. We decided to switch to other, more stable tools. 

    The IT team soon introduced Microsoft Teams, which was launched in 2017. Microsoft will be phasing out Skype and replacing it with Teams by July 31, 2021, making the latter the app of the future. Like Skype, Teams can easily connect to Microsoft Office tools and provides more reliable service than Skype. However, Skype and Teams share the disadvantage that users can only join meetings using their software or app. While software connections can be shaky, audio dial-ins provide uninterrupted communication. Unfortunately, Skype and Teams meeting hosts have to set up a separate dial-in conference call number to ensure smooth communication.

    The evolving pandemic eventually necessitated the entire project team stay home, and delayed responses to conference call requests drove people crazy. We then switched over to Zoom, a video conference app headquartered in San Jose, as well as Tencent Meeting. It is worth mentioning that large corporations usually have strict IT policies for communication tools due to cyber security concerns. This time, however, the IT team allowed us to use Zoom or Tencent Meeting apps on both company laptops and personal phones. Both tools are stable and easy to use. Furthermore, we are able to connect to meetings through dial-in numbers provided by Zoom and Tencent. Zoom works relatively well with cross-country communication, while Tencent Meeting is better for meetings with China-based colleagues who can connect to the app through WeChat Mini Programs.

    Later on, I discovered more creative uses for Zoom. As the coronavirus epidemic continued, I received dozens of emails notifying me of various yoga studio closures. Most of the classes would still be offered via Zoom, however, and I tried two classes with my former teacher. Physical distancing made taking in-person classes impossible for his students. Despite that the students were spread all over the world, Zoom allowed them to bridge the physical gap. I connected to the class and could see the teacher and other students on screen. The teacher provided essential verbal instructions or typed private messages in the chat box to address specific issues that I could then review after class. The teacher could not physically adjust students’ poses, but the typed messages allowed us to make our own improvements.

    My friend Shan, an experienced yoga teacher, is also busy holding classes on Zoom these days. She teaches offline in China and occasionally films videos for YogaLemon, an app that offers filmed yoga sessions. She partnered with YogaLemon and completed an online yoga video program during the COVID-19 crisis in China. Shan told me that before the outbreak, senior Chinese yoga instructors looked down on  live streamed classes. However, the crisis has made everyone rethink online teaching. In the traditional studio setting, teachers and students are unlikely to exchange contact information and limit their extracurricular communication. Now Shan spends less time commuting and takes more time to answer students’ questions online. She believes working with YogaLemon is a win-win situation. Shan brought her offline students to YogaLemon, and the app offered her a paid Zoom service and potential new students from its existing pool. She is launching a new session in April and plans to spend more time on online classes after the crisis.

    Photo provided by Shan

    The use of telecommunications tools has exploded during the COVID-19 outbreak.  While more and more businesses are holding their meetings online, many other industries and individuals are finding new uses for video conference tools. People are turning to these apps for school classes, musical instrument instruction and parties, among other activities. It seems many people are enjoying these virtual gatherings at a time when face-to-face meetings are unfeasible. Many events are also going online this year. The Shanghai Fashion Week, which will be held online, will give the general public a chance to see and buy the Fall 2020 collections on Alibaba Tmall. Furthermore, online conferences and seminars eliminate the costs of venues and catering, making tickets less expensive and attracting more people. Young people are discovering many creative ways to use telecommunications tools and say they will continue to hang out online if the tools gain more social functions.

    (Top photo by StockSnap from Pixabay)