Think your smartphone is the hottest thing on the planet? Are you a slave to the AT&T and Cspire wars? It appears Chinese smartphones are way ahead of what we can do with our smartphones in America and are leaving us in the dust. The Wall Street Journal reported last week:
We’re not using our phones to their full potential....
Sure, Americans get the best new handsets from Apple first. But in China, there are ways of living your life through a smartphone that left us jealous. China has even figured out a business model to legitimately stream the current season “Game of Thrones” on your phone, free.
What’s China’s edge? Technology is often just cheaper, allowing for more frequent phone swaps. Then there’s the world’s largest Internet culture—some 649 million wired people, 86% on phones—who make an incredible test base for new ideas. Many young people leapfrogged over laptops right to smartphones as their main computing device, so phones have evolved to do more....
Of course, we can’t ignore China’s problems with Internet freedoms. The Great Firewall means there’s very limited access to international services like Facebook and Google. The government embeds police in Internet companies ostensibly to prevent crime, but also to keep control over its citizens.
But as with many of the other contradictions in China, there’s so much good with the bad. Here are five lessons the Chinese can teach Americans about smartphones:
In China, a messaging app is much more than a way to text someone that you’re running late for a meeting. It’s a social network for keeping up with friends and celebrities.
But it isn’t just social. It taps into your phone’s GPS, microphone and camera to let you play games, check in to a flight, identify a song, book an appointment, call a cab, pay bills, you name it.
Messaging services like WeChat do so much, they’re kind of like operating systems for your life, as venture-capital firm Andreessen-Horowitz’s Connie Chan recently noted. WeChat hosts millions (yes, millions) of other apps inside its platform, so you can really live your whole life inside WeChat.
It’s convenient to have so much in one app, and the identity verification that WeChat provides makes it easier to use payment services.
The best part? Our colleague Li Yuan says everyone who matters in her life is on the same messaging platform. Since WeChat is fully functional across many phones, you don’t get sucked into the ecosystem of a particular one, like with Apple’s iMessage or Google’s Hangouts. You’d think Facebook would be able to accomplish the same in the U.S.
Phones really are wallets
In China, the tech elite are much more likely to pay for goods and services with their phones because it’s widely accepted, and doesn’t rely on merchants updating clunky old terminals with special technology like Apple Pay.
Apps like WeChat allow you to pay from a mobile wallet (linked to a bank or credit card) without waving your phone over anything. Just pull up the account of the merchant you want to pay, millions of whom live inside WeChat with their own accounts. The equivalent to this in the U.S. would be paying for dinner with Facebook Messenger (a service it’s entirely possible Facebook is working on).
And WeChat has giant competition. Alipay, which started as a PayPal -like system to ensure transactions on giant online marketplace Alibaba, has grown into a flexible replacement for cash in all kinds of settings—paying landlords, bills, friends and so forth. You can earn better interest with it than at a bank or get a loan, stimulating parts of the economy underserved by banks.
A new phone without waiting
Forget not upgrading until your contract is up, or worse, until your phone is broken or on its last legs. The tech savvy in greater China, like our colleague Carlos Tejada, get a new phone nearly every year. Cheaper Android handsets from Xiaomi, Huawei and LeTV (sold often online and without pricey American marketing budgets) combined with contract-free mobile service enable people to always have the latest technology—better screens, processors and cameras.
Even iPhone owners, a colleague told us, sell their phones on the giant secondary market as soon as the new iPhone is announced.
Customization is also part of the upgrade culture. During our visit, Xiaomi had a special on for its omnipresent Mi Note phablets where you could come into its showroom and swap out the glass back for bamboo at no cost.
You don’t have to wait around for the latest software in China, either.
In the U.S., updates to Android phones like the Samsung Galaxy can come as a trickle because the phone maker has to push them first to carriers. In China, Samsung rival Xiaomi bypasses the carrier and pushes out free updates to its MIUI flavor of Android as often as once a week. Avid fans sign up for these frequent updates, beta software that they happily test for Xiaomi. (Regular Xiaomi customers see an update once a month or so.) (KF note: Tell me about it. AT&T takes forever to push out updates).
Xiaomi’s system allows superfans to be more involved with generating ideas, and for improvements to come regularly. This includes features like a flashlight you can turn on from the lock screen just by holding the home button.
Could you imagine Apple crowdsourcing ways to improve the iPhone?
Phones are TVs
In China, phones aren’t second-class citizens when it comes to watching shows and movies.
The best stuff is mostly available to stream online. China’s historic challenges with protecting intellectual property have helped the market invent new business models for media. Services like Youku Tudou, iQiyi and Tencent Video convinced many piracy-stricken content owners to join, rather than fight, the demand for online video by making it legitimate and getting paid for it through video advertisements. If you pay, you watch without ads.
Chinese can legally watch recent episodes of “Game of Thrones” free on a video site owned by Tencent, though censors make it considerably less exciting than what Americans see on HBO.
Now China’s online video services are even producing 360-degree virtual reality shows designed for the mobile world. We’re not holding our breath for U.S. TV producers to invest in a VR version of “The Big Bang Theory” anytime soon. Rest of Article