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Business trends

Digital tech tops list of Asian hits in 2018

Video streaming, e-sports and other lifestyle among Asian in-things

The video-sharing smartphone app TikTok is hugely popular in China, where it has won 400 million users. People can create and upload 15-second videos, or simply enjoy videos created by others.

BEIJING/BANGKOK/TOKYO -- State-of-the-art digital technologies designed to offer new lifestyle and entertainment choices captured the imagination of consumers in Asia in 2018.

A survey of the most popular products and services that took Asian markets by storm in 2018 showed that certain new video sharing apps drew hundreds of millions of users, while online food delivery services and e-sports created whole new markets.

Rising living standards in Asian countries are also leading to new consumer trends, such as valuing traditional cultures and greater health consciousness.

Nikkei Inc. conducted surveys in 11 Asian countries and areas to select products and services that most symbolize mainstream consumer and social trends in these markets. The candidates were limited to products and services that were launched or which caught on in 2018.

In China, video-sharing smartphone app TikTok won 400 million users. Users can create and upload 15-second videos set to music, often lip-syncing along, dancing or acting out short skits or simply enjoy clips created by others. The app, which contains templates and visual effects to jazz up the videos, has become hugely popular among teens and twenty-somethings not only in China but also in Japan and Southeast Asia. TikTok is emerging as a serious challenger to established social media as a main source of hits among young consumers.

Video-sharing platforms are claiming a rapidly growing share of consumer time in the region.

With China's economic outlook becoming murkier due to the country's trade spat with the U.S. and other factors, Chinese consumers are beginning to tighten their purse strings. This may be a factor behind the popularity of TikTok, which is free, and growth of Pinduoduo, an e-commerce platform that caters mainly to consumers looking for good bargains. It boasts  more than 200 million users.

In Asia, where many advanced technologies widely available in Western industrialized nations have not been available to a majority of consumers until relatively recently, there is more of a chance for brand-new, cutting-edge products and services to quickly gain popularity.

Progress in digital and communications technologies is driving growth in the popularity of e-sports. Sales of e-sports related goods have been strong. For instance, this year more than 100,000 computer mice specially designed for e-sports players, including high-performance devices priced at nearly 10,000 yen ($90), have been sold through PChome, a Taiwanese online shopping site, doubling from 2017.

Sales of e-sports-related goods, like this high-performance computer mouse for sale in a Taipei electronics shop, have been strong in the region.

Consumers in Southeast Asia spend more time on the Internet than their counterparts in other areas. This has made the region fertile ground for Internet-powered products and services.

Data provided by Britain's GlobalWebIndex shows that Thais spent an average nine hours and 38 minutes using the Internet per day in 2017, the longest in the world. Four of the top six countries in terms of hours spent on the Web were in Southeast Asia. 

In October, honestbee, a Singapore-based online grocery and food delivery service, opened its next-generation supermarket with a fully automated cashless checkout system named "habitat by honestbee." Shoppers enter the store by waving their smartphones with a downloaded app over a terminal, then check out by using their smartphones to scan items.

China's e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding is also building up a chain of cashless stores for smartphone payments.

In Singapore, "habitat by honestbee," a fully automated cashless checkout system, allows shoppers to pay for their purchases using their smartphones.

In India, startups Swiggy and Zomato Media are offering online food delivery services. Their delivery staff bring dishes from restaurants to houses and offices. Online food delivery services are also gaining ground in China and Southeast Asia.

The growing popularity of mobile ride-hailing and payment apps is likely to keep spawning various new services.

Asian travelers are visiting Japan in record numbers. The "Japan travel boom" is spreading from China and Thailand to Asian countries with lower income levels, such as the Philippines. One major driver of the boom is growth of low-cost airline services in the region.

The number of Philippine tourists who visited Japan in the first 11 months of this year grew 19% from a year earlier to 448,300.

Overseas travel is prompting a growing number of Southeast Asian consumers to take a fresh look at their countries' traditions and cultures.

In Thailand, the hit historical TV drama series Bupphesanniwat (Love Destiny) has inspired many young people to go out in folk costumes.

In Malaysia, rendang, a traditional spicy meat dish, has enjoyed renewed popularity after judges on a popular British TV cooking show blasted a Malaysian contestant's chicken rendang.

These episodes may turn out to be a harbinger of a new trend among Southeast Asian consumers toward placing greater value on their countries' traditional cultures.

As they become wealthier, Asian consumers are facing a host of new health problems, including obesity. In India, McDonald's restaurants offer more healthy items on the menu than ever before, while local beverage makers in Indonesia have launched sugarless tea drinks.

Nikkei's list of goods and services that may become hits in Asia in 2019 reflects the evolution of transportation and logistics. In Malaysia and Vietnam, expectations are high for their first homegrown cars. Deliveries and customer services incorporating artificial intelligence have begun in China, the regional leader in advanced technology. The new tech is likely to bring about changes in the way consumers spend money.

The new year will see a homegrown car boom in Southeast Asia. The auto unit of Vietnam's top real estate developer Vingroup will launch domestically developed models. Designed by an Italian company that has worked with Ferrari, the LUX series targets affluent consumers. 

Malaysian national car maker Proton's recently launched first sports utility vehicle, the X70, is drawing attention. It was produced in partnership with China's Zhejiang Geely Holding Group. With its affordable price, the SUV has attracted more than 10,000 advance orders. 

Urban railways and other mass transportation infrastructure being built in the region are expected to boost consumption. Indonesia's first full-scale urban transit system is due to start operations in Jakarta in March. E-money will be accepted for fares and purchases at commercial facilities inside the stations. The service will create a consumer culture that combines railways and shopping, which has until now been nonexistent in the country. 

Thailand has been extending urban railway lines in Bangkok. Two "underground" supermarkets opened at subway stations in 2018, drawing in commuters on their way to and from work and school. 

With the expansion of online retailing, companies are trying to incorporate advanced technology to improve logistics. Major Chinese online retailer JD.com has started delivering merchandise with robots in select areas. Four-wheeled self-driving vehicles, a little smaller than a golf cart, are equipped with AI, cameras and sensors. They avoid traffic congestion and objects on the road to deliver goods to customers, who open the vehicle's door with facial recognition or other identification technologies.

Internet-based shopping and food deliveries are spreading fast in Southeast Asia. A growing number of delivery operators are using bicycles in Myanmar's largest city of Yangon, as motorcycles are banned in its center. 

The coming year also heralds the start of next-generation 5G telecommunication networks. China's Huawei and South Korea's Samsung Electronics plan to launch 5G-capable smartphones. The transmission speed will be about 100 times faster than that of 4G. 

Although the outlook for Chinese telecom equipment is not entirely clear due to concerns over possible data leaks, they have the potential to create new services that make use of high-speed communications. Online education is expected to expand in India. With technological advances that enable larger volumes of data to be transmitted at higher speeds, more and more companies are working to improve their online content. 

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