Five ways the coronavirus is changing how China uses tech
From contactless food delivery to gaming overload, here's how tech is changing because of the viral epidemic
The outbreak of the deadly coronavirus in China has left millions stranded at home, wreaked havoc on many industries, and could impact China’s economy for a long time.
For those stuck at home and trying to avoid infection, it’s also changed how people use technology. Tech companies have been forced to get creative in how they provide their services. Those that previously relied on physical gatherings, such as gyms, are now trying out virtual offerings.
Here are some of the biggest changes in China tech over the last month.
Food delivery without seeing the delivery driver
With people stuck at home and food supplies being rapidly snatched up from stores, brave food delivery personnel have stepped up to feed the hungry and the lazy alike.
But like everyone else, couriers have to protect themselves from the coronavirus. Meituan was among the first to introduce “contactless” food delivery, which basically means leaving the meals at a designated area for the customer to pick up. The company also installed meal retrieval cupboards around hospitals for Wuhan medical staff.
Last week KFC and Pizza Hut started offering the same service, and the measures are going beyond food delivery. Several ecommerce companies will also offer contactless delivery to avoid infections, according to announcements from the Chinese Ministry of Commerce.
Classes go online
Imagine taking your school classes through YouTube. This is basically what’s happening in China, where video site Youku has started offering classes for primary and secondary school students after classes were suspended because of the virus.
Other online education companies have also offered free classes during the epidemic, including New Oriental Group, China’s largest private education company, and English-learning-focused platform VIPKid.
More unusual, though, is that gyms are also going virtual to help customers stay fit. After fitness clubs were forced to close shop, local media reported on a surge of gyms offering live fitness classes on video platforms like Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok.
Movies skip cinemas for video platforms
The coronavirus has been merciless to cinemas, and video platforms are capitalizing on it by vying for the latest hit titles.
Family-friendly flick Lost in Russia skipped theaters over the Lunar New Year holiday, the prime season for moviegoers in China. Instead, ByteDance struck a deal to premiere the film on its apps, including Douyin. Huanxi Media, the film’s production company, is also showing the movie on its own platforms.
Another movie skipping theaters is the Hong Kong remake Enter the Fat Dragon, which is streaming on Baidu’s video platform iQiyi and Tencent Video.
Video platforms are being used for more than just killing time, too. Residents of Wuhan, where the virus first spread and which is currently under lockdown, have taken to short video apps like Douyin and Kuaishou to share the latest news or share videos of how much “fun” they’re having during their mandatory staycations.
VR house buying
Virtual reality house viewing has been around for a while, but with more potential buyers staying indoors, real estate companies are hoping to finally make the tech popular. China’s largest classifieds site 58.com and real estate platform Anjuke offered limited-time VR and live streaming services to allow buyers to select a house without ever visiting in person.
Most people probably wouldn’t be brave enough to buy a house just based on a VR rendering, especially since you can’t zoom in on the grimy details. But other services are also switching to online, including doctor appointments. You can now check whether you have coronavirus symptoms with a doctor through social platform WeChat or through a medical consultation platform set up by Baidu and the Beijing Medical Association.
Players flock to games to escape boredom
If you’re wondering what else bored people are doing while locked up at home, the answer might not be that shocking: Gaming. Lots of gaming. Online games have become so popular, in fact, that they overwhelmed the servers of Game for Peace, China’s rebranded version of PUBG Mobile and one of Tencent’s biggest games.
As movies, get-togethers and other events were canceled over the past few weeks, including China’s biggest esports tournament, Chinese gamers have been spending more time on their favorite hobby. And one game in particular has sparked a lot of interest: Strategy game Plague Inc. The 8-year-old game became the top paid app on iOS in China because of its depiction of a deadly virus that spreads across the world. People have also started to reexamine an epidemic in World of Warcraft that also killed a lot of players -- but only virtually.
And while the gaming industry has been a beneficiary of the coronavirus outbreak, both gaming companies and gamers themselves have been donating to help efforts to stop it. Local tech companies have pledged millions of yuan and donated medical supplies and even AI computing power and genomic research algorithms.