Two weeks ago, I was in Beijing to attend the GMIC. With “The Next 5 Billion’ as the theme, discussions mostly revolved around the mobile revolution. If there are still doubts whether the smartphone has become the world’s biggest computing platform, this conference will sweep them all away.
Luminaries and CEOs from Chinese and international companies all pitched in with different takes on the impact of mobile. Facebook talked about connecting the world through internet.org. Coursera shared how MOOCs are having the biggest impact on self-learners and online learning is extending to mobile platforms. Messaging app Tango revealed their ambitions to link China and the West through its partnership with Alibaba. Mobile ad platform InMobi introduced a new native ad service that would do away with banner ads on mobile.
There was also a lot of speculation on the next big platform after mobile. No consensus has been made yet, but the strongest candidates so far are connected cars and smart wearables. Experts who were invited from top Japanese universities also surmised that consumer robots are just around the corner, while Leap Motion talked about completely new interaction mechanisms for virtual reality.
Our duties with BNP Paribas also meant we had to attend talks on the hottest tech sector in China right now - mobile finance. Now that consumers have already warmed up to the idea of moving around lots of money on mobile (mainly money market funds), industry insiders project that the offerings can now expand to more advanced financial products. They also admit that there are still a lot of question marks on security.
If there’s one thing to be sure of in this fast-changing sector, it’s that internet finance players in China are not lacking in boldness. One of the speakers predicted that in ten years, banks in China will be no different from telecoms today. They will still be the infrastructure on which services will be built, but all the value-added and consumer-facing services will be taken over by internet players. In short, traditional banking will be relegated to the back-end.
Since there were so many interesting talks happening in parallel, I had to make compromises. I flitted from one room to another to take in as broad a swathe of the conference as possible. I also tried to attend as many entrepreneurship-related talks as I could. VCs talked about the hot markets (mainly China and Southeast Asia) and the contrast between Silicon Valley and the Asian tech scene. The fireside chat with executives from Samsung and Qualcomm highlighted service partnerships as a way to build value on top of hardware. With the abundance of startup competitions in the conference, there were interesting debates on entrepreneurship and acquisition vs. intrapreneurship as a superior way to innovate.
Personally, the most important takeaway from the entrepreneurship talks came from Eric Feng, a startup veteran and CTO of Flipboard. Given how easy it is to build and launch products, he said, what matters is not anymore coming up with a Minimum Viable Product but a Minimum Delightful Product.
The GMIC definitely broadened my horizons on the tech sector in China and beyond. It was far from perfect, with very poor organization and a dearth of networking opportunities. Most talks were high-level PR-filtered stuff without any solid assertions. From what I see though, what matters here is not so much the contents but the discussion topics chosen by the industry insiders. In that light, the message is very clear. Mobile is eating the world.