Bitcoin, a virtual currency traded online, was not invented in China, yet China is where 80% of the virtual “coins” are minted and 90% of the transactions are made. Currently, the global bitcoin market amounts to some $14.5 billion, roughly the same amount of money as Apple’s European back taxes. If the virtual currency’s popularity continues to grow, decisions made by Chinese investors and regulators may determine whether bitcoin fades to a historical footnote, like Napster or the eight-track tape, or becomes the silicon cornerstone of a new global financial order. A combination of factors thrust China into this decisive role.
Baidu, China’s largest internet search engine, is having a hard time after a college student named Wei Zexi died after mistaking an advertisement on Baidu for an experimental cancer treatment for medically reliable information. Baidu was then accused of being “unethical”, failing to clearly delineate paid advertisements from search results. Months later, the Nasdaq listed company reported its worst quarterly earnings. With the increased competition from domestic players like Tencent and Alibaba and the downward pressure on online advertising, which contributes to over 90% of Baidu’s revenue, it is crucial for Baidu to diversify its business.
One could be forgiven for thinking that after purchasing Uber’s China operations, Didi Chuxing—which now boasts over 300 million users and over 80% of China’s market—would be on easy street. But things are never that simple in the Chinese market. Figures have shown Didi is losing users and drivers. Under strict Chinese local governments’ new policies, Didi may face bigger challenges than Uber China. Meanwhile more people cast doubts over its business model. Boasting a sharing economy model, car-pooling, the company now relies more on providing car-hailing services with prices lower than taxis to maintain its scale. Once the subsidies withdrew, users walk away.
China is keen to deploy self-driving cars for the same reasons as everyone else is: Autonomous vehicles may significantly improve traffic and environmental conditions. According to research figures, widespread adoption of automated vehicles could reduce automobiles on city streets by 60%, vehicle emissions by 80% and traffic accidents by 90%. While the West has superior technology, its governments lack the authority to swiftly implement massive infrastructure projects. Some experts believe Beijing’s top-down control capabilities could even give China an edge over the US and Europe in the race to develop self-driving cars.
Traffic in major cities around the world is deteriorating. Jerry Sanders, CEO of SkyTran, believes that the solution lies above the road, not on it. SkyTran, a NASA-backed company, has been developing a personal rapid transportation system with small, computer-controlled Maglev capsules running on elevated rails. The capsule-shaped car looks futuristic, but the company has already built a demonstration system in Tel Aviv and is currently building a commercial system in Abu Dhabi. Is elevated transit a practical solution for traffic jams? How will it fit into our cities and existing infrastructure? Will it replace traditional means of transportation?
When was the last time you listened to music on an actual CD? Or read the day’s headlines in a physical newspaper? Chances are it has been years. Digital technology has replaced a lot of things in our lives. According to media futurist Robert Tercek, going forward we’ll see more of ‘vaporization’, a term he has coined to refer to the process of replacing physical things with software that can be downloaded to any device. In this interview, Tercek, the former President of Digital Media at The Oprah Winfrey Network and author of the book Vaporized, talks about how software is disrupting society.
With humble beginnings in Hangzhou, Jack Ma went on to create an e-commerce titan that has grabbed the attention of China and the world. Today Jack Ma and Alibaba’s story has become the stuff that legends are made of. Duncan Clark has witnessed firsthand Jack Ma’s dizzying rise in China’s e-commerce firmament. A former investment banker at Morgan Stanley, Clark first got to know Jack Ma in 1999 when he met him in the small Hangzhou apartment where Ma and his friends famously founded Alibaba. In this interview, Clark, also the author of Alibaba, the House that Jack Ma Built, talks about Alibaba’s incredible story and its impact on China.
Xiaomi, once the most popular smartphone vendor in China, is showing signs of decline. Back in the day, Xiaomi broke the mold by offering a feature-rich phone at an impossibly low price point. Its unique marketing strategy and business model helped it to break online sales records. But soon others started copying Xiaomi’s strategy and the novelty wore off. The company has been slow to innovate. For phone buyers, Xiaomi ended up being a low-end phone: once they had enough money, they would upgrade to an Apple or Samsung. Today Xiaomi is quickly diversifying from phones to rice cookers and drones. But is that enough to come back to relevance?
Ten years from now, business historians will offer a number of reasons financial services had changed so radically since 2016, from general advances in technology to the regulatory reaction to the crash of 2008. But one factor appears likely to stand out above all the others: the blockchain, a distributed database that serves as the backend of the virtual currency Bitcoin. Today, financial services are investing billions in blockchain technology. Many believe it will lead to a radical simplification of banking and payment systems everywhere—a world where money and other assets take nanoseconds to transfer, cannot be lost or stolen, and require no intermediaries to process.
China’s DJI holds a commanding lead in the red-hot consumer drone market. Can it maintain that?