5G gets a boost

5G is already in China, with the country launching the world’s largest 5G mobile network in late 2019. Initial coverage is still sparse, with 4G stations far outstripping 5G in some major cities. But things are poised to get better in 2020. 

A China Mobile advertisement for 5G internet at the railway station in Hangzhou on December 3, 2019. (Picture: Hector Retamal/AFP)

Chinese consumers can expect more choices and cheaper prices for 5G handsets. Around one in five 5G phones will cost less than 2,000 yuan (US$286), according to research firm IDC. Later in the year, Apple is expected to launch its first 5G iPhone, kicking off another wave of device upgrades. As more people sign up for 5G network plans, carriers will likely respond to market needs by turning on more 5G base stations. - Karen Chiu


Console games in China

The Nintendo Switch finally arrived in China in December… but with only one game approved for sale so far thanks to China’s strict media regulations. But that doesn’t seem to have doused the scorching excitement some people have for the popular mobile console. On launch day, market researcher Niko Partners estimated that more than 50,000 units of the device might have been sold.

The console gaming space in China is worth watching in 2020. Tencent and Nintendo said that they are working to bring 10 to 20 titles to the Chinese Switch over the course of the year. The total number of games that will actually get released is anyone’s guess, but they say some games are already pending approval. Together, Tencent and Nintendo have a war chest of games that could do well in China.

The Nintendo Switch has come to China thanks to a tie-up with Tencent. (Picture: Tencent/Weibo)

Nintendo is the last of the three major console makers to get an official release in China. Sony and Microsoft are already there with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Sony has been investing in local developers, too. While two games from Sony’s China Hero Project were released in 2019, more are slated for release in 2020. This could boost the development of console games in China. - Josh Ye


Can we have our privacy back now?

The US has had plenty of scary revelations about how technology affects privacy this year. Amazon Alexa’s eavesdropping and Ring cameras getting hacked are just a couple examples. The days when Chinese consumers were thought to attach little value to privacy are also going away.

The trend has already started. Data leaks have gotten so bad within the last few years that the Chinese government has started punishing apps for collecting too much data. But facial recognition might be the area where the most interesting pushback could happen. 

Caption: Data such as phone numbers, ID card numbers and even images for facial recognition often end up online in China for just a few dollars. (Picture: Simon Song/SCMP)

China ranks as the worst country at collecting, using and storing biometric data. Nearly 80 percent of people worry that their facial recognition data will be exposed online. Both the government and private companies have been introducing facial recognition at a rapid pace, often with little oversight. 

In response, China saw its first facial recognition lawsuit when a zoo suddenly decided to check tickets with the technology. And one Tsinghua University legal scholar has criticized the Chinese government’s “hysterical pursuit of security.” Expect more of that in the coming year. - Masha Borak

Video streaming gets pricier in China

Right now, Chinese internet users can get video streaming plans for less than one third of the price of a Netflix subscription. But 2020 might be the year that starts to change. 

Intense competition and rising content costs mean that video streaming platforms in China, none of which are profitable, need to adjust their pricing at some point. Platforms are already trying to diversify their pricing plans by charging for additional services on top of subscriptions, but it’s triggered an online backlash. An iQiyi executive said in December that they’re considering raising subscription fees.

Story of Yanxi Palace, produced by China’s iQiyi, is the most googled show of 2018. (Picture: Handout)

Experts also say that technologies that are improved by the arrival of 5G, such as VR and AR, will enable better user experiences, which could allow platforms to raise or diversify their pricing plans. - Xinmei Shen

Music isn’t just for listening

Yinyue Qiuqiu is one of China’s hottest music game apps this year. (Picture: Apple)

How often do you look at the screen when you listen to music on your phone? If you’re like me, very rarely. It seems to be a missed opportunity, and we’re already seeing attempts in China to change that.

There’s a popular category of music apps that aren’t made for traditional streaming. Instead, they’re games in which you compete with others to guess the name of a song, sing the next line of a pop hit, or belt out your favorite tune for everyone to vote on. It’s online music with an interactive spin. Examples include Yinyu (“Sound Rendezvous”), from TikTok maker ByteDance, and the rising Yinyue Qiuqiu (“Music Ball”).

Meanwhile, video platforms are turning themselves into talent incubators. Kuaishou and Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, both run programs to promote new artists on their respective platforms. Some of this year’s biggest music hits first went viral on Douyin. It’s also happening in the West on TikTok. Ever heard of “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X? - Karen Chiu