Category: Analysis

A REALITY CHECK FOR AUGMENTED AND VIRTUAL REALITY IN ASIA

Imagine entering into a house that is to be built in the next 5 years. Or looking to your left and seeing the Eiffel Tower, which you will visit on your trip to Paris next month. Such scenarios are among the visions promised by Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR) – and it’s easy to see why the hype surrounding the industry has extended over the decade.

However, since then, we’ve witnessed the quiet failure of Google Glass, the passing fad of Pokemon Go, and the somewhat controversial Magic Leap. Augmented and Virtual reality tech, despite that still hasn’t become mainstream.

While multinationals and venture capitals are still interested in the potential of AR/VR which stretches beyond industries, it has slowed down since its heights in 2016.

The decline for AR/VR begin at the start of 2017 and has been on the drop since then. According to Crunchbase, in the first quarter of 2017, only 26 companies with AR or VR-focused businesses raised a disclosed funding round. Together, the firms raised just over US$200 million.

Moving on to 2018, it has been a quiet start for the VR/AR technology. But that’s not to say there hasn’t been progressing in the field – the technology is gradually gaining ground in Asia, with China consumers leading the region.

In the Philippines, Zipmatch, an online real estate platform is one of the first companies in Southeast Asia to implement VR technology on a massive scale. Their 360 virtual reality service, accessible via both the website and mobile, showcases more than 300 properties. This allows brokers to show potential buyers the property in a more experiential and immersive way while forsaking the need for an actual visit.

The new technology makes it easier for home buyers to check out real estate projects they are interested in, with or without a pair of 360 Virtual Reality goggles.

Virtual Reality Cinema

Source: techinasia.com

In a small cafe at Beijing, there’s also a development towards the next phase of cinema through the implementation of virtual reality. Yue Cheng Technology’s cafe is a tiny one-seater, and customers who buys a drink can try its VR set for free. It also has a second cinema, where customers can pay US$5 to US$12 to watch VR movies inside a big-box electronics retailer.

While the idea of virtual reality cinema is natural and complementary, the experience is still in the beginning stages and generating profit continues to be a struggle. Nevertheless, this constitutes a new channel for filmmakers and marketers, opening up diversity in the design and layout of immersive storytelling.

On the other hand, Chinese media giant Tencent has also been investing in VR entertainment, having invested in live-streamed VR concerts for music artists as well as purchasing the rights to 300 Japanese anime franchises.

The thing is compared to other countries in Asia, China is especially good at pushing VR to the mass market. Nationwide, VR cafes and experience zones are springing up, and taking the lead in this tech adoption is ecommerce giant Alibaba.

Alibaba and VR

Source: CNN

In 2016, the ecommerce featured its virtual reality shopping platform over Singles Day, reshaping the retail industry. The integration of AR/VR into retail models transformed the way people shop and influence how retailers can design their stores and user experience.

It can be effective in gaining customer loyalty through adding personalization and enhancing customer experiences. With shoppers being able to experience full retail environments via their smart devices, Southeast Asia is one of the world’s most mobile-centric region, pose a massive potential for brands to win customers at the point of sale with VR/AR.

Augmented reality has also found its way into Asia’s fashion retail space. Metail, a fashion startup has made an impact in the fashion retail industry, through a virtual fitting room technology which can show shoppers how a dress would look on them without the need to physically try them on.

When it comes to buying clothes, this ability for size visualization discovered by Metail fills the space where customers want to see how clothes look and fit their own personal shape.

Then there’s the fun and games, which is the most closely associated industry with this tech. From virtual reality theme parks like EXA Global to the nostalgic augmented reality Pokemon Go, AR/VR technology is pervasive in gaming.

EXA Global

Source: Gamehubs.com

There’s The Void in New York and then there’s EXA Global in Southeast Asia. Melding real-world environments with hyperreality, the startup is a hype reality theme park that allows players to enter into a world to save the planet from aliens.

Besides immersive gaming, the startup also pioneers its hardware and gaming content in-house. The startup’s sister company Mediasoft is responsible for VR gaming content and has produced more than 50 original titles.

Meanwhile, in Indonesia, another multimedia company, Octagon Studio also produces VR and AR products and solutions for mobile and wearable devices. They’re known for their 4D AR educational flash cards, which images pop up when viewed a mobile app, in addition to games, AR wearable clothing, and 3D animation for engineering,

From computer gaming to real estate tourism, education, and even health, the innovations of virtual and augmented reality can be seen. So why is the tech still not a widespread reality?

Many said its an egg and chicken standoff – that even though the technology of headsets has developed, the industry generally still lacks the content needed to supply. But without a large enough audience to appeal to, media companies wouldn’t produce VR content.

And although the pervasive use of mobile in Asia can be the solution to the hardware problem, but still there are challenges that need to be overcome. According to Apple’s Tim Cook, that’s all-day battery life, mobile connectivity, and telco cross-subsidization.

While it would take time for technology to catch up and for the tech to immerse into everyday life, but undeniably the gap between virtual and reality is definitely getting closer.

FROM MADE IN CHINA TO SELLING IN CHINA: THE INNOVATIONS THAT TRANSFORMED CHINA INTO THE PLATFORM FOR ECOMMERCE

It’s all in the past. The days when China was associated with sweatshops and cheaply manufactured labels. Although journalists are still reporting cases of child labor and unsatisfactory workplaces in China, the three words – Made in China no longer represents the country

The negative connotations which represent the exploitation of its high population demographics and low-wage advantage have brought forth the country rapid development and now the country is sitting on the laurels of high growth.

Though we may still laugh at the labels of misspelled or wrongly translated English, it no longer bears the same weight. China now represents one of the largest ecommerce markets, rivaling the United States.

In fact, Emarketer.com evaluated the total retail sales of different countries and discovered that both United States and China’s online business take one-fifth of the world’s digital sales share.

And despite the fact how American giants like eBay and Amazon technically built the ecommerce industry, the Chinese ecommerce players are gradually taking over.

E-COMMERCE IN CHINA IS A HUGE BUSINESS

China ecommerce brand

Source: amnaymag.com

Over the past five years, e-commerce growth in China has exploded – accounting for an average of 43 percent growth, with online sales now representing one-fifth of the total retail. This is just products. Consumers are also increasingly buying experiences and services online.

The development of ecommerce also extends to export as statistics from JD.com shows that Chinese-made products, including popular smartphones like XiaoMi, sports equipment like Li-Ning, and household appliances like Midea are sold to more than 200 countries and regions in the world.

In fact, according to a report by China’s Ministry of Commerce, the export transaction for China’s cross-border ecommerce has reached an amount of 2.75 trillion yuan, that is about US$415.3 billion in just the first half of 2017.

Chinese electronics giant Hisense also disclosed that 520,000 of its televisions were sold out in less than 24 hours during Black Friday in the United States.

Although this growth is partly attributed to China’s population size and the rise of urban middle class. A key characteristic to this strong ecommerce market in China is still due to the innovations are seen in Chinese ecommerce startups.

LIVESTREAM CAMPAIGNS AND BRANDING PLATFORM

Tmall, livestream in China

Source: jingdaily.com

While Amazon may have invented our online shopping addiction. China is where it is taken to the next level. Take China’s online retail giant Alibaba and its online platform Tmall for example.

Tmall is a virtual shopping mall and every brand has an official store page, complete with videos and interactive content. There is usually a standard format, but the page can be customized to fit every retailer’s unique needs.

Cosmetic brands, for instance, can livestream their makeup tutorials along with their products.This makes shopping online as engaging as shopping in person while educating users about their product without the need to leave the comfort of their home.

This serves not just as a point-of-sale, but also a key branding platform through real-time engagement and an extra layer of interaction.

EXPANDING TO PHYSICAL STORES

alibaba more mall

Source: China Plus

While ecommerce sales are on the rise, majority been pouring are still made in real life, Knowing this, Alibaba and its smaller rival JD.com despite making about 80 percent of ecommerce sale, have both been pouring billions into physical retail.

In the last two years, Alibaba has spent billions of dollar in establishing a physical footprint that includes a grocery store chain, a luxury shopping center, as well as their own branded mall in Jack Ma’s hometown of Hangzhou. Recently, Alibaba has even made a single US$29 billion investment in hypermart operator Sun Art.

REVOLUTIONIZING OFFLINE RETAIL

The thing is Chinese ecommerce are not just expanding to physical retails but rather revolutionizing the way it works. In last year’s Taobao Maker Festival, Alibaba featured two new technologies to disrupt the offline retail space.

First, it was embracing the new retail strategy where big data technology connects and optimizes offline outlets and online stores to enhance customer experience. Second, the ecommerce giant released an experimental cashierless store called Tao Cafe and smart speaker Tmall Genie.

Competitor JD.com also sees the future growth is offline given their release of Take, a new technology tool for physical retailers. By combining online shopping trends with sensors in-store, the tech aims to provide better insights into offline shopping behavior.

REINVENTING CULTURE THRU 11.11

11.11

Source: alizila.com

While there’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the United States, China has Single’s Day, otherwise known as the Double 11 shopping festival with big deals and promotions. The founder of the holiday was Tmall’s CEO Daniel Zhang, as a way to make single people less lonely.

But soon the holiday has blossomed into the world’s largest single shopping date exponentially. For comparison, Alibaba’s 2017 total sale was RMB 162.8 billion, which translate to roughly US$25.3 billion, and is more than Cyber Monday and Black Friday combined.

Another significance for Double 11 is not just its sales, but rather the date has morphed into an important multi-day shopping festival complete with a live stream gala event featuring Jack Ma dancing to Michael Jackson, an interactive runway show, and a new retail dream. It’s not just another day of sales.

CO-BRANDED PARTNERSHIPS

Mattel,, Alibaba

Source: cnbc.com

A newer trend that has crept up in China is the symbiotic partnerships between e-commerce platforms and brands in terms of distribution and design.

Especially on big shopping occasions, it is not uncommon for e-commerce platforms to set up pop-up shops in high traffic locations — usually with brands that do not have physical locations of their own. The goal is to provide a hands-on shopping experience and then purchase online.

For example, the collaboration between Beats by Dre and Tmall has popped up that lets users experience the power of the new Beats noise-canceling headphones by simulating what they would feel like on an airplane. There is no cash register in the store, just tablets to place your order via Tmall and have them delivered to your home.

Another example of partnership is in the form of exchanging data for intellectual property. Mattel, whose brands include Barbie and Hot Wheels has inked a deal with Alibaba, to exchanging browsing behavior to inform new product designs, as well as selling its products to Chinese consumers on Tmall.

ECOMMERCE SITES FOR EXPLORATION

Ultimately, the design of ecommerce sites in China has made their shoppers treat e-commerce platforms as more than just another purchase platform, they do not just visit it during sales day.

Chinese consumers head on to ecommerce site for exploration and discovery, it’s just like going to the mall but just at the comfort of your home. At times, they even go online just to see what’s new or trending, not just when there’s a need to purchase.

In the years ahead, with the innovative streak presented by China’s ecommerce platforms, it is most likely that one day a change of dynasty will arrive.

Bubble Or Not, Cryptocurrency Is Panning Out In Southeast Asia

2017 has ended, but it will always be remembered as the year of the bitcoin.

It can be hard to forget with the rates of cryptocurrency surging more than 400% since January or the amusing name change of the ice tea company inspired by blockchain.

Still, there remain many rhetorics about bitcoin and its backbone technology blockchain. Some experts speculate it as another dot.com bubble, while others are predicting that its value will continue to rise.

Nevertheless, cryptocurrency has definitely driven a lot of attention and awareness, from interested investors to head-scratching audiences who are still unclear of the trend.

What is Cryptocurrency?

Bitcoin, blockchain, and cryptocurrencies – to date some might have used them interchangeably but cryptocurrency at its very core dictates the facilitation of peer-to-peer transaction.

Bitcoin

Source: Lifehack.com

Few people are aware, but cryptocurrencies emerged as a side product of another invention. Satoshi Nakamoto, the unknown inventor of Bitcoin, the first and still most important cryptocurrency, never intended to invent a currency.

At first, he was looking to develop a peer-to-peer electronic cash system. It’d be decentralized with no server or central authority but still be able to prevent double spending.

Through this Satoshi came up with the idea of a decentralized network – one where every single entity of the network is to hold the list with all transactions to check.

In other words, a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin consists a network of peers. Every peer holds a record of the complete history of all transaction and thus the balance of an account.

If a transaction is confirmed, made permissible by the user public key cryptography, then it’s set in stone and no longer reversible, becoming part of an immutable record of historical transactions of the so-called blockchain.

This makes sending money as easy as sending an email. It doesn’t matter where you are, or where you are sending to but the effect of cryptocurrency is to save money.

It’s Not Just Cryptocurrency Startups

luno bitcoin

Source: Ventureburn

The invention of cryptocurrency didn’t just benefit business transactions, it opened up an industry and also many possibilities.

Of course, one being the financial business we are all so familiar of, which uses cryptocurrencies because of its low or close to none fee, as well as its instant ability to move any amount of money around.

On the other hand, there are those that utilize it for its blockchain technology, the decentralized network that allows every entity on the network to receive the same message at the same time.

Shiraz Malik, a regional expert even foresees it being implemented in the systems of airline companies through blockchain-powered loyalty programs and user-friendly mobile services. According to the expert, the technology would allow for streamlined authentication, data distribution, and security protocol.

“Blockchain can ensure that everyone involved in travel – airline crew, airport staff, ground services crew and passengers – have access to the same, up-to-date, verified information about arrivals, departures, and delays,” said Malik, who is vice president of sales APAC for CellPoint Mobile.

“This can help to avoid situations where airline and airport websites, mobile apps, text messages, passengers and staff members have outdated or conflicting information about flight statuses.”

Southeast Asia is Embracing Cryptocurrency

Despite the speculations surrounding bitcoin, the frenzy, however, is proving to be essential in the developing markets of Southeast Asia.

In fact, most Southeast Asian startups are embracing cryptocurrencies both as investment products, as well as cost-effective methods for offering services.
So much that the remittance economy in the Philippines is the highest in the world – contributing to US$26 billion in a single year alone.

According to Forbes, approximately 10 million Filipinos have employed abroad, and this statistics does not include workers who are taking jobs in the cities, so they can send money home to their families in the more remote area.

That’s an arduous process when overseas domestic workers try to send money back home. They face steep fees relying on traditional cash transfer services. Even then, there are no guarantees that the beneficiary will be able to receive it, nevertheless receiving it immediately.

According to Mikko Perez, the founder, and CEO of Ayannah, it’s also not uncommon for agents to run out of money and force receivers to return the next day. It is generally time-consuming for people who have to travel hours just to pick up their money.

Cryptocurrencies as a Solution

Bitcoin

Source: Business Insider

Stepping in to solve these issues, startups, and services like BloomSolutions Inc or coin.ph are using cryptocurrencies as a solution to reduce remittance fees, in addition to driving financial inclusion.

This is through creating crypto-powered services, accepting bitcoins from overseas and converting them into pesos, dinars or any desire currency, then deliver those funds to the final beneficiary through domestic transfer methods.

There’s no volatility risk and the beneficiary does not even need to know that those funds have been transmitted via bitcoin. Less money is spent doing so, and this makes it both affordable and accessible to a wide range of customers.

This is just the first mile. The service also renders the need for a physical agent or remittance outlets and traveling altogether. In Singapore for instance, migrant workers can use applications like Toast to do a peer-to-peer money transfer through their smartphones.

However, though some may argue that if you put it into the context that it is simply impossible for small bitcoin startups to overthrow the Western Union or Remitly at this stage.

Still, bitcoin and blockchain provide a compelling alternative for a small subsection of their customers, and unarguably startups are always best at focusing to solve the smallest possible problem.

In Southeast Asia, it’s not just remittance. Bitcoin and blockchain open up a world of possibilities from salary payments to business incorporation. This is just the beginning.

Philippines’ First Unicorn Revolution Precrafted brings an expensive taste to prefab homes

There has always been an appeal for designer homes. Like when Patrick Cox was moving to Ibiza, the Canadian-British shoe designer managed to sell his London home for US$3.62 million despite the uncertainty surrounding Brexit. Truth is, designer homes can be hard to come by, and if there are any other options – it would mean you have to go to the designer itself.

But what if owning a designer house is as easy as a trip to IKEA? This is the vision Revolution Precrafted is aiming for being the world’s only branding house startup.

The startup is mixing prefab homes and luxury branding to revolutionize the real estate industry not just in the Philippines but around the world. Although it will only be two years old this December, the startup has already reached the unicorn status with its funding last week from Singapore’s K2.

Different from most startups, Revolution Precrafted hasn’t really been looking to raise capital. The startup has been profitable from the start. However, venture capitals and investment firms just couldn’t miss out the chance.

Khailee Ng, the managing partner of 500 Startups said, “the company didn’t need to raise. I had to convince them to take my money for value-add, not cash.”

On the other hand, K2 is founded by venture capitalist Ozi Amanat which has been known for his investments in Alibaba and Twitter before their public offering. The investment firm also counts several other unicorns in its portfolio including Spotify, Magic Leap, and Paytm.

Revolution Prcrafted Unicorn

Source: Business Insider

However as excited as I was on the emergence of a new unicorn from Southeast Asia. After the initial thrill, I can’t help but wonder about the volatility of technological startups that has all aimed to disrupt the real estate industry. Will Revolution Precrafted purvey?

The startup is founded by Robbie Antonio who is one of the four sons of Century properties Group Inc. founder Jose E.B. Antonio. He is a voracious art collector and the brains behind family projects in collaboration with big names including Paris Hilton and the Trump Group.

Having grown up in the ever-dynamic real estate industry, Antonio knows the pain points and the massive opportunities that Revolution Precrafted can take advantage of. That is for real estate developers to deliver projects as quickly and as cost-efficiently possible.

The startup supplies the market with prefabricated homes which components has already been manufactured and pre-assembled before the on-site build. This include modular homes, condominium, pop-up retail stores, and fitness centers.

But unlike other prefab manufacturers such as Blu Homes or Acre Design, buildings designed by Revolution Precrafted all bear the names of some of the world’s top names in design and architecture.

Zaha Hadid, Revolution Precrafted

Image Source: Inhabitat.com

From award-winning famous architects like Zaha Hadid and Jean Nouvel to celebrities like Tom Dixon and Lenny Kravitz, Revolution Precrafted provides ready designs which interested home buyers can choose from. This helps free time from the designing phases as well as the high price charged in unique designs.

Client can boast of living in a home designed by actor and singer Lenny Kravitz without having to pay the full cost but getting all of the benefits, in term of speed, quality, and branding.

But ultimately, Antonio’s greatest assets are also ownership of the intellectual property of world-class designers, the global network of fabricators and his invaluable relationships with developers and landowners. Through his ties with quality fabricators, the founder can complete the developments faster.

A 50-square-meter home can be done in as fast as three months as opposed to the usual two years since most of the components had already been fabricated, ready for assembly at the job site.

With this access to branded design of living spaces by combining world-renowned designers and latest advances in construction technology, Revolution Precrafted is able to democratize this area in the real estate industry.

Prefab Pavilion by Zaha Hadid

Image Source: Revolution Precrafted

Prefabricated Homes and Gucci Bags

Buying a luxury handbag these days seems to be no more uncommon than buying salmon for dinner at Walmart. The physical appeal of luxury goods is undeniable – the leather is softer, the shoes are more comfortable – the question is will it be the same – when it come to a designer home?

With a branded house strategy, Revolution Precrafted has to build a strong brand. One that is both easily recognizable and memorable, as well as desirable. As prefabricated homes has all along been advertised as easy, convenient, and cheap.

In fact, you can buy an entire house from Amazon.com at one-tenth of the price charged by Revolution Precrafted for $36,000 plus shipping. It’s a one-bedroom abode with a shower, toilet, sink, kitchenette, all hooked up to external sewer, electric, and water connection.

In this case, Revolution Precrafted has to build a taste for luxury designer home for the mass market. But I do think that once prefabricated homes has hit a certain tipping point, it will cause us – or at least a sizable cohort of us – to reevaluate a lot of the fundamentals of modern society which are so essential

Revolution Precrafted may have marked the unicorn status, still most of the concern over its future is to build its reputation among the mass market. And only then will the startup become the biggest home supplier in the world.

EXA Global Unlocks New Hyper-Reality Experience in Malaysia at SetiaWalk Outpost

EXA Global, under the umbrella of digital entertainment and technology company Havson Group is unveiling Malaysia’s first ever Hyper Reality Experience at Setiawalk EXA Outpost.

Referred by EXA Global as South-East Asia’s first ever Hyper-Reality Family Entertainment Center, players will be able to experience a fully immersive, wireless, free-roaming gaming experience at EXA Outpost. This is made possible thanks to the combination of highly advanced virtual reality technologies like untethered backpack setup and multi-user motion capture system employed by EXA Global.

Richard Lee, the CEO of EXA Global explained that engagement is core to the project designed by the team. The focus is to get players involved in the technology to become part of the story.

“Getting the right module, enhancing the formula, experience and content are key components when creating and building an immersive advanced technology to have people sharing their hyper-reality experience with others,” said Lee.

Richard Lee, the CEO of EXA Global

Richard Lee, the CEO of EXA Global

Upon its launching, EXA Outpost will be featuring an exclusive VR multiplayer sci-fi shooter and space exploration mission, named EXA Dimension 12. Imagine role-playing Starship Troopers or Mass Effect in a fully immersive space dimension, that’s what the EXA Dimension 12 is all about. In the mission, players known as Troopers will first be transported to the Ingress room, where they will receive their EXA gears (guns, backpacks, and other wearables) for the upcoming exploration. Once geared up, players will then be dispatched and transported to the Dimension 12, it is here that the players will ride along a thrilling storyline, receive instructions to investigate unexplored regions, and fight off vicious extra-dimensional monsters with a diversified profile of advanced weaponries.

“Being that part of the story for our players is important to us, as we know experience is something valuable we at EXA Global can offer,” said Lee.

EXA Dimension 12, being fully developed in-house by EXA Global, is a respectable feat demonstrated by the talents of the team. For EXA Global, being able to develop content in-house also means they are not reliant on 3rd party developers for their future VR content. This opens a door to a promising future for EXA Global as they are free to develop any content that falls inline with their business strategy. In fact, this advantageous edge can already be observed as EXA Global has already started working on additional VR contents that revolve around horror and kids-friendly themes to expand their content portfolio.

EXA Outpost houses spacious room to allow a free roaming VR experience.

Moving forward, the company notes that it is planning to open future locations around the world, targeting North America, Europe, Middle East, South Asia, East Asia, Australia, and the neighboring countries surrounding Malaysia. Bigger flagship centers ranging from 10,000 square feet to football size venue will also be opened in future to house a bigger crowd, according to Lee.

Other than looking for rapid market expansion, the company is also looking to upgrade its VR hardware to further improve its hyper-reality experience. In the upcoming future, EXA Global will be developing a full body suit with haptic feedback that is mapped according to traditional Chinese acupuncture points to improve the surrealism of the game. Other wearables like VR gloves and augmented reality (AR) wristband will also be developed alongside the full body suit.

EXA gears in action.

Another noteworthy future expansion for EXA Global is the development of VR eSport. With the rise of eSport in recent years, it is also part of EXA Global’s strategy to tap into this trend and pioneer the VR eSport scene. To achieve this, offering player-vs-player (PvP) experience at its VR centers will be one of the upcoming focuses for EXA Global. Seeing the success of eSports giants like Dota 2 (offering a prize pool of whopping $20,770,460 USD for its tournament) and League of Legend (having an active monthly user base of 100 millions players), the potential of VR as the future mainstream eSport is definitely a huge one.

“As part of the creative and innovative pioneer in digital entertainment and technology Havson Group, between ourselves we aim to create the ultimate immersive Hyper-Reality Studio experience within this region,” said Lee.

Located at SetiaWalk, Puchong, EXA Outpost consists of two rooms whereby one is dedicated to the games while the other is a Hyper Reality Arcade Entertainment Center where players can play VR arcade games. Open for public starting from 3rd of June, for those who wants to take a deep dive into the hyper-reality experience, players can now book for a pair of ticket at a promotional pricing of RM65 on their official website: https://www.exa-global.com/booking.php

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