China's aspirations to become a far bigger player in the world of technology were on display last week when Beijing hosted the three-day Global Mobile Internet Conference.
The country is already the world's biggest smartphone consumer market and the world's leading high-tech manufacturer. Local companies are now eager to sell Chinese-designed products to consumers abroad.
A big part of that effort is focused on mobile, Internet-connected devices, which are expected to number 25 billion by 2020.
At top political meetings in March, the Chinese government announced what it calls its "Internet Plus" program, aimed at boosting online commerce and helping traditional companies raise profits through innovations in mobile technology.
Last week’s Global Mobile Internet Conference arrived in Beijing as Chinese companies introduced innovations in operating systems, low-cost smartphones and advanced robotics.
Smartphone operating system
Chinese Internet company Tencent Holdings launched an operating system for smartphones and smartwatches. The system aims to target nearly a half-billion mobile Internet users in China and many more in other countries.
Like Internet giant Google, the company said it wants to primarily focus on designing the software.
"We will not get involved in manufacturing smart hardware. Rather, we only want to build an open platform by teaming up with different manufacturers on the basis of TencentOS," company CEO Reb Yuxin said.
Huawei Technologies unveiled a new low-cost smartphone, Honor 4C, to compete with Chinese rival phone maker, Xiaomi. Huawei is offering the five-inch display phone for $129, which is nearly half the price of Xiaomi’s Mi4, which costs $250, and far removed from the iPhone6 price of $750.
The Honor 4C will be sold exclusively over the Internet in order to cut marketing costs, said George Zhao, president of Huawei's Honor brand.
Visitors to the conference were also given a chance to meet Yangyang, a robot that can talk, move its head and even give hugs, albeit with the help a human behind the scenes.
The robot is modeled on Chinese researcher Song Yang, who works with Shanghai Shenqing Industry. Some also felt she had a striking resemblance to former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.
SSI worked together with Japanese robotics expert Hiroshi Ishiguro to create Yangyang.
Although the commercial applications for the use of humanoid robots is still a long way off, China is already the world’s biggest market for robots.
Robotics industry analysts say that the global average for industrial robots is about 60 robots for every 10,000 workers. Advanced economies have more than 300 robots per 10,000 workers.
“Although China is the biggest market for robots, the number of robots used in manufacturing industries is still lower, about 30 per 10,000 workers,” said Xu Fang, director of the research institute at Siasun Robot and Automation Co.
“And because of this, the Chinese market will see rapid growth in the number of robots over the next five to 10 years,” Xu said.
Despite China's huge anticipated growth as a technology consumer market and as a manufacturer, the country still struggles with the speed of its Internet, in part because of the “Great Firewall.”
Recent surveys indicate the country's average speed for broadband Internet ranks 40th in the world, just ahead of Indonesia, but behind Malaysia, Mexico and Turkey.
Senior Chinese leaders have spoken up about the problem but have not addressed what many believe is its main cause: the country’s vast, government-run censorship technology known as the “Great Firewall.”
By comparison, China-controlled Hong Kong, which does not have the same Internet controls as the mainland, has the fourth-fastest Internet speeds in the world.
“Censorship is obviously not helping China’s Internet business. It is not a killer, but it has a deep impact on the business,” Jacob Cooke, director of consulting firm, Web Presence in China, told VOA.
Chinese smartphone-makers may find is more difficult to sell their products compared to their foreign competitors because of the implicit control on the distribution of apps, Cooke said.
The government controls also mean that websites and app publishers earn much less in China because of tight restrictions over content involving political issues, or sites that may carry obscenities.
"This is reducing the advertising revenue and hence the money that can be spent on development," Cooke said.