I remember the first time I flew into China. It must have been the early ‘90s. I landed in Beijing, and it was as if I entered a different world, like landing on another planet. Since that time, I have met many Chinese people and became friends with lots of them, and they told me that they had exactly the same impression landing in New York or Amsterdam…
In the 20 years since then, the distance between China and the Western world has significantly decreased, not just because Chinese people love technology and technology products, many of which come from the Western world, but because these products have helped China to spin forward in the stream of high-technology nations.
Starting from the ground up by becoming the key manufacturer for new technology products, China has broadly expanded in many areas from chip development to software and applications and has built a flourishing technology industry, not only by acquisitions (Lenovo), but via also producing new technology companies like Alibaba, Baidu, Weibo, and Renren. One can claim that they are more or less copies of their Western equivalents, but they are demonstrating a technical progress and prowess, creating the ground for Chinese culture to become truly creative and innovative about new technology products as well.
So, what is the next frontier of innovation that could play into the hands of the Chinese innovation and that would go beyond making smart phones and tablets cheaper and further commoditized?
The answer to this question could very well be the Smart Home. The Smart Home has many ingredients that could play into the hands of the Chinese technology community, in particular because of the fact that it is built up from multiple small devices (maybe 100 per household): motion sensors, door/window sensors, door locks, temperature sensors, thermostats, light switches, lamps, etc. — requiring low-cost and high-volume manufacturing capabilities. The smart home will also require good and inexpensive “dash boards”, control panels that will be found on the walls of each room in a house to control the atmosphere and comfort of that room. And finally, there is the application software required to control the devices from these dash boards, as well as from any generic smart phone or tablet. The Chinese community has developed capabilities in all these areas, while the communication standard for such smart home — ZigBee (a sort of low-power WiFi) — is already finding broad adoption worldwide.
The challenge for the Chinese technology community will be to become creative about new product design: styling, user friendliness, advanced algorithms, and other key factors that will help to adopt the smart home on a worldwide scale, and that could put the Chinese technology in a leadership role.
The distance between China and the Western world has significantly decreased over the last 20 years, as can be seen by looking at the technology products (from TVs to cars, from computers to smart phones and applications). The smart home will be the next big technology opportunity that will further reduce the gap between Chinese and Western culture and can be an avenue to further boost Chinese technology leadership in the world.