Shenzhen, China, site of the first CE China trade show last month, has a population of nearly 11 million people and is best known as the place that Foxconn and other factories build consumer products, including the Apple iPhone and iPad. But in addition to all the factories in the surrounding areas, the city has a skyline dominated by skyscrapers where people live and work.
It’s had remarkable growth for a city that’s only 36 years old. It was established in 1980 as China’s first “special economic zone.” The area was mostly farmland back then, said Tim Bajarin, a San Jose market researcher and frequent visitor to the area.
But now Shenzhen, like all the other urban areas of China, is far more than a factory town. There are also research and development and lots of people with well-paying jobs who are forming China’s emerging middle class. In addition to making tech products, the Chinese are buying them in massive numbers, which is not lost on Apple and other U.S. tech companies who view China as a vast and growing market. In the third quarter of 2015, Apple earned $23 billion from China. Recent downturns are affecting consumer demand somewhat, but long term, the outlook remains bullish for the Chinese consumer market.
With about 150 exhibitors, the inaugural CE China exhibition was tiny compared to the giant trade shows like CES or IFA. In addition to the usual products I’m used to seeing at trade shows, several companies were showing virtual reality headsets.
One problem with most VR headsets is that they are relatively large, pretty heavy and sometimes uncomfortable to wear. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently said to be patient. In time, they will be smaller. Dlodlo Technologies isn’t waiting 10 years. The Shenzhen-based company displayed what could be the first iteration toward Zuckerberg’s dream. It’s a lightweight VR headset that looks and feels like a large pair of regular sunglasses. It’s not clear whether Dlodlo will ever ship this cool-looking headset or how well it will work because it was only a demo model.
Still, the point is that any U.S. politician who thinks that the U.S. can innovate without help from China should hop on a plane to Hong Kong and drive over to Shenzhen to realize that China’s role in the world economy is not just about cheap labor, but about innovation, manufacturing smarts and a growing and sophisticated technology infrastructure along with plenty of well-educated and innovative researchers, engineers and entrepreneurs. We really do live in a global village.
LARRY MAGID, SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS