Matthew Miller
Oct 8, 2018

Tech leapfrogging: three ways APAC is set to keep besting the west

Three world-changing tech areas where Asia (mainly China) is set to lead the way (plus 6 bonus technologies).

Ready or not: A robotic teaching assistant made by Xiamen-based Keeko Robot Technology is helping out at around 700 nursery schools in China.
Ready or not: A robotic teaching assistant made by Xiamen-based Keeko Robot Technology is helping out at around 700 nursery schools in China.

Asia largely skipped over desktop PCs, landlines and wired broadband, and went straight to mobile. That fact about leapfrogging technology is so well-worn it hardly bears repeating. So we won’t bore you with statistics showing how much faster the penetration of mobile subscriptions in Asian markets grew compared to western markets over the last decade. 

Instead, let’s look ahead three world-changing tech areas where Asia (mainly China) is set to lead the way in development and adoption of key technologies that will impact consumers.

Mobile payments

Mobile payments are increasingly the oil that helps the engines of commerce run smoothly, and they took off (and continue to grow) faster in Asia than elsewhere. Mobile payments have already come to account for the majority of ecommerce transactions in the region, eclipsing credit cards and other methods in Q1 2018, according to GlobalData. Some forecasters have predicted that mobile payments will overtake cash and credit cards for all types of transactions as early as 2030. 

Mobile transactions in China reached a record US$12.8 trillion in the first 10 months of 2017, according to figures from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. By 2021, 79.3% of smartphone users in China will be using mobile payments, compared with just 23% in the US and 15% in Germany, according to eMarketer. 

Allied Market Research says global mobile payments amounted to US$601.3 billion in 2016, and are expected to reach US$4.57 trillion by 2023—a CAGR of 33.8% from 2017 to 2023. Asia’s CAGR during that period will be an even steeper 35.5%, the researcher reports.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Western countries have pole position, and countries around Asia will be involved in the race, but China is the favourite to dominate artificial intelligence. As former Google chief Eric Schmidt has put it (speaking from a US point of view): “By 2020, they will have caught up. By 2025, they will be better than us. By 2030, they will dominate the industries of AI.”

China’s AI market was worth US$3.5 billion in 2017, and an influx of funding is expected to nearly double that this year. Nearly 19,000 scientists and technicians were actively involved in AI research in 2017. China’s State Council expects the sector to grow into a US$148 billion industry by 2030.

PricewaterhouseCoopers recently projected AI will add US$15.7 trillion to the global GDP by 2030, with China taking US$7 trillion of that total and North America ‘only’ US$3.7 trillion. In 2017, China accounted for 48% of the world’s total AI startup funding, compared to America’s 38%. Beijing plans to invest US$2 billion in an AI development park that would be home to 400 AI enterprises and a national AI lab, driving R&D, patents and societal innovation.


Japanese pop culture has long had affinity for robots, who are often portrayed as helpful and heroic. Now the demographic aging that’s affecting Japan and many other Asian nations (see page 26) is creating a need for the fictional to become real. The aging population translates to more people needing care than people providing care — a shortfall of 370,000 by 2025 according to the Japanese government, which has an official robot strategy and has been encouraging investment for some years. The government hopes four in five care recipients will accept having some support provided by robots by 2020. 

China will be a force here too. Around 700 kindergartens across the country already have robots from Keeko Robot (Xiamen) Technology Company acting as teaching assistants. 

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