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Behind the 540 Dancing Robots: Meet Alpha 1S

The dancing robots were the stars of the night at the CCTV Spring Festival Gala this year. Singer Sun Nan performed with a total of 540 robots at the Guangzhou Gala venue. This is the story behind the act; meet China’s first humanoid robot Alpha 1S.

Manya Koetse

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Dancing robots were the stars of the night at the CCTV Spring Festival Gala this year. Singer Sun Nan performed with a total of 540 robots at the Guangzhou Gala venue. Read about the background of the act and meet China’s first humanoid robot Alpha 1S.

The Alpha 1S became famous overnight after its impressive performance at the   CCTV Gala. It was a case of “ten years of practice for one minute on stage” (“台上一分钟,台下十年功”), says the Tech reporter at China’s news platform Tencent. They spoke with the technical staff behind the robots after the Gala. Chinese Mandopop singer Sun Nan (孙楠) sang the song “Going to the Top” (冲向巅峰) as 540 robots were dancing around him, all doing exact same movements at the exact same time.

Meet Alpha

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The robot is China’s first humanoid smart robot. It belongs to the Alpha robot family (阿尔法家族) and carries the name Alpha 1S. It is a truly made-in-China product, developed by Chinese tech experts and locally produced. The creators of Alpha 1S, Chinese company UBTech (圳市优必选科技有限公司) spent five years and over 50 million RMB (7.6 million US$) to produce their star robot, designed for families. In many respects, Alpha 1S is a pioneering work, especially when it comes to the patented computer system at its core. According to Tencent, its technique “surpasses that of American, European, Japanese and Korean robots.”

One of the reasons why Alpha has such good dancing skills is because it has 16 different joints, giving the robot the freedom to move like a human.

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His eyes are flickering blue-ray LEDs with sensors. On the evening of the Gala performance, all robots were numbered so that technical staff could control the twinkling of the eyes in every single robot.

The robot’s software is compatible with both Android and IOS mobile systems, and can also be linked to a computer. Users can edit the robot’s programme themselves, which is also possible for people with little knowledge of robots or programming. Even more awesome: you can preview the robot’s movements in a 3D visualisation on the computer, making it easy to edit and change its movements after seeing them on screen. With the Alpha app, it is also possible for owners to programme movements by playing around with their robot; it will then remember the movement sequence. This means you can let the robot dance in whatever way you want (- we cannot get over how cool this is).

The Gala performance

On the night of the Spring Gala, a total of 540 Alpha robots were lined up in a military square-shaped formation, standing in four groups of 9 x 15 robots. The technical staff had programmed the robots with 12 sets of dance steps, all of its movements in line with the rhythm of Sun Nan’s “Going to the Top” and completely in-sync – a Guinness Record.

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According to Tencent, Alpha 1S was only invited to take part in the Spring Gala one month before Chinese New Year, letting the technical staff, a team of 36 experts, work day and night for an impeccable Gala performance.

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In order for the performance to go smoothly, the staff also had to deal with two problems. The first was that the robot originally could only have a maximum distance of 50 meter to the control desk. This distance needed to be bigger for the great Gala venue, for which experts changed the transmitter, making it possible to control the 540 robots within a range of 5000 meter.

Another risk was that colliding robots would result in a possibly disastrous domino effect. But for the camera to properly capture the perfect formation of robots, they still had to be lined up near to each other. The LED lights in the robot’s eyes with sensor were thus programmed to be ultrasensitive to distance and to stay within a 0.6 m x 0.6 m distance.

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Every millisecond of the performance was tested in great detail and practised over and over again to make sure nothing could go wrong on Sunday night, February 6th, during the live show of the Gala.

China’s future

Alpha 1S is China’s first programmable, interactive and affordable robot meant for family entertainment. The features of Alpha 1S are promising and show that much more will be possible in the near future. Alpha’s brother Alpha 2 will be less affordable (around 8000 US$), but can already do much more than dancing; this robot can act as a tutor, translation, personal assistant and help doing household tasks.

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Weibo netizens praised the robots’ Gala performance. One Weibo netizen says that her boss bought the CCTV Gala robot, and that all people in the office put their work down to see the robot dance along to ‘Gangnam Style’.

The Alpha 1S can be bought online. On Taobao, the robot is sold for around 3000 RMB (±450 US$)

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On a side note: remarkably, the multiple promotion campaigns for the made-in-China robot does not feature Chinese-looking models – making it seem like an American or European product.  

A woman named Sima comments on Weibo: “What interested most about the CCTV Gala were the robots dancing together with the drones on Sun Nan’s song. It was such a novelty – this is China’s future!”

By Manya Koetse

Images via CCTV screenshots by Whatsonweibo.com and Tencent
Gifs via http://www.wanhuajing.com/d84556

©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

China Digital

The Fisherman’s Advantange? China Post Starts Partnership with Huawei

Today marks the start of an unexpected ‘romance’ between Huawei and China Post, as the two just announced their strategic cooperation.

Manya Koetse

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Just in! Huawei and China Post announce a close partnership. Is China Post profiting from Huawei’s tough spot amid China-US trade tensions? The strategic cooperation inspired the creative writing of Weibo users today.

On June 5, the topic “China Post Starts Cooperation with Huawei” (#中国邮政与华为合作#) became one of the hottest topics on social media site Weibo shortly after the state-owned China Post Group Corporation announced that it would start a strategic partnership with the Chinese multinational tech company.

According to CNbeta.com, one of China’s major tech news sites, China Post and Huawei will start a close partnership and set up a “China Post Huawei New Technology Application Lab” (中国邮政·华为新技术应用实验室) to jointly develop strategies concerning financial services, tech innovation, big data, post logistics, and more.

News of the cooperation was widely shared on Chinese social media today by various state media outlets, with some threads attracting thousands of comments.

For many Chinese netizens, the press release apparently was the right time to complain about China Post being “too slow,” expressing hopes that the new partnership would make the postal services run more smoothly.

 

Little Huawei crying on the shoulders of China Post.

 

Others suggested that the recent trade war with the US, in which Huawei plays a key role, might have to do with this new move. “This is like little Huawei was being bullied outside, and then came back home to cry on the shoulders of China Post,” one Weibo user jokingly writes, soon receiving over 10,000 likes.

Others called China Post the “the fisherman with an advantage.” This comes from a Chinese saying, that goes 鹬蚌相争,渔翁得利 Yù bàng xiāng zhēng, yúwēng dé lì : “When the snipe and the clam fight, the fisherman has an advantage,” with the ‘fisherman’ being the third party who catches both the snipe and the clam, profiting from the conflict of two others.

The Chinese telecom giant Huawei was added to a trade blacklist earlier last month, as the China-US trade war reached another tipping point. Some experts suggest that US President Trump is using Huawei as a bargaining chip after he earlier stated that Huawei could be included in “some kind of trade deal” with China.

News of the Huawei/China Post partnership also comes days after China’s postal regulator said it would launch an investigation into US delivery company FedEx, which diverted two parcels destined for Huawei in China to the US. Chinese government authorities reportedly issued a statement saying that FedEx’s actions had “violated Chinese laws and regulations on the express delivery sector.”

 

China Post kissed Huawei’s face and said: I will handle this for you.

 

Chinese netizens seem to be creatively inspired by Huawei’s tough spot in the China-US trade war situation and the sudden appearance of China Post in this story. Many commenters personify ‘Little Huawei’ and ‘Big China Post,’ imagining that China Post comforts the crying Huawei and takes it in its arms.

One person writes:

One day, Hua returned home, and went straight to bed. China Post saw it, and softly asked ‘What happened, who made you upset?’ Huawei pulled the blanket over his head and sighed: ‘Nothing, it’s a trivial matter, I can handle it myself.’ But the Post pulled down the blanket, bowed down to kiss Huawei’s face and said: ‘You go and rest now. I will handle this for you.’

“They’re so cute together!”, multiple Weibo users write, suggesting that the Huawei China Post partnership has a ‘romantic’ element to it.

Although some people expect that there are ulterior motives behind the sudden cooperation between China Post and Huawei, many do applaud the fact that it is truly a ‘Chinese’ cooperation. “In crucial times we always rely most on our own family,” a student remarks.

By now, the cooperation is not just triggering people’s fictional creativity, it is also setting off the online meme machine, with a potential new logo for the China Post x Huawei company circulating online (see below).

Whether or not Huawei and China Post indeed get to live happily ever after? We’ll just have to wait and see.

 

Also read: Waves of Support for Huawei on Chinese Social Media following US Blacklisting

Also read: CNN Question “What Do You Think Is the Main Reason Behind the US Campaign against Huawei?” Goes Trending on Weibo

 

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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Top 10 China’s Most Popular Smartphone Brands & Models (May/June 2019)

These are the ten most popular smartphone brands and models in China right now.

Manya Koetse

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There is one topic that is always buzzing on Chinese social media: the latest smartphone trends. This is a top 10 of the most popular Chinese smartphone brands and their hottest models of the moment.

In 2018, What’s on Weibo listed the top 10 most popular smartphone brands in China. With a smartphone market that is dynamic and rapidly changing, it’s time for an update to see which smartphones brands are currently most popular in the PRC.

Since 2017, we’ve seen various smartphone trends coming and going. Bezel-less devices, increasing the size of the screen, have gone from trend to norm. In the selfie era, the same holds true for high-performing front-facing cameras. More temporary trends have given way to more sophisticated gadget design. It’s all about superzoom cameras, full-view displays, pop-up selfie cameras, and let’s not forget about 5G.

One other major trend that is ongoing for the past years is that despite the popularity of Apple and Samsung, ‘made in China’ brands are dominating the smartphone and tablet market.

But the biggest trend now, more so than trendy and colorful design or smooth edges, is photography: the latest devices from different brands are now, more than ever, competing over who has the best (main) camera.

Looking at popularity charts on Baidu and Zol.com, leading IT portal website in China, the brands Oppo, Vivo, and Huawei are still the top popular smartphone brands in China. Huawei, Oppo, and Vivo were also the best-selling smartphones on the market in Q1 (Sohu), followed by Xiaomi, Apple, and Samsung.

Making an absolute top 10 of most popular smartphone brands in China at this moment is not so straightforward, however, since the rankings are different depending on the source and on which phone models are sold the most at a particular time.

The charts of leading e-commerce platforms JD.com and Suning, for example, are not exactly the same as Zol’s smartphone popularity rankings. We will stick to the Zol rankings for this article, looking at brands first and matching them with their most popular device models.

 

#10 Realme and the Realme X

Realme is a Shenzhen-based company that was established in 2018: it is the youngest smartphone brand in this list. Previously, it was a subbrand of OPPO but became independent in May of last year.

Realme has 1,2 million followers on Weibo. Realme is recently promoting its Realme X device, of which the hashtag page has a staggering 120 million views.

The Realme phone price starts at ¥1499 ($216) for the 4GB + 64GB storage variant. It has a a 6.53-inch full-HD+ (1080×2340 pixels) AMOLED screen, and features a 48-megapixel primary camera.

On social media, the Realme is mostly praised for its strong camera and friendly price.

 

#9 OnePlus (一加) and OnePlus7 Pro

OnePlus is a Shenzhen based Chinese smartphone manufacturer founded by Pete Lau and Carl Pei in December 2013. The company officially serves 32 countries and regions around the world as of January 2018.

The OnePlus 7 Pro of ¥4999 ($722) is currently listed as the number one popular smartphone by Zol.com; the brand itself is on the lower end of the top 10 most popular smartphone brands in China.

The 7 Pro device was called “one of the best Android phones you can buy” by AndroidCentral, on top of being “the best phone OnePlus has released to-date.”

The phone is big: it features a 6.67-inch display with a screen resolution of 1440 x 3120 pixels. It has fingerprint sensor, a 4000 mAh battery, and a rear 48MP + 16MP + 8MP camera.

 

#8 Meizu (魅族) and the Meizu 16s

Meizu is another Chinese homegrown brand, established by high school dropout Jack Wong (Huáng Zhāng 黄章) in 2003.

The Meizu device that is currently ranked in the top 10 hot-selling lists is the 16S that was released in April and is priced at ¥3198 ($462). The device has a 6.2 inch AMOLED screen (1080 x 2232 px). The main camera is a 48 MP, and the device is equipped with a 3600mAh battery.

The cheaper 16Xs (#魅族16Xs#) was a popular topic on social media on May 30, which is when it was launched.

 

#7 Xiaomi (小米) and the Redmi Note

Since the launch of its first smartphone in 2011, Beijing-brand Xiaomi has become one of the world’s largest smartphone makers. In the Zol rankings the brand is currently listed at number 7, in JD.com’s hot-selling lists, it’s ranked 3. The Redmi is actually a sub-brand of Xiaomi, but it’s still listed as Xiaomi in ranking lists such as that of JD.com.

The Xiaomi Redmi Note 7, Redmi K20, and Xiaomi 9 are all doing well, with the Redmi being the more popular device within the PRC. Techradar describes the Redmi Note 7 as a “great budget smartphone” with “stellar battery life.”

The Xiaomi Redmi Note 7 has a 6.3 inch (1080 x 2340) full-HD display (Full HD+) and a 12 MP main camera(the Redmi Note 7S has a 48 MP main camera). The cheapest models of ¥998 ($144) are among the lowest priced devices in this list.

 

#6 Apple (苹果) and the iPhone XR/XS Max

The position of Apple in China’s smartphone market has become a hot topic of discussion on social media recently in light of the rising China-US trade tensions. Although iPhone sales in China have indeed been dropping according to news reports, the iPhone XR and iPhone XS Max currently rank number 8 and number 10 most popular devices according to Zol at time of writing, with Apple ranking 6 in the top 10 smartphone brand charts. In the current list of best-selling smartphones on e-commerce site JD.com, the iPhone XR even ranks number one.

The iPhone XS Max is bigger than ever: it has a 6.5-inch OLED (2,688 x 1,242 pixels) screen whereas the XR has a 6.1-inch LCD (1,792 x 828 pixels). The camera of the XS Max has a dual 12-megapixel camera with wide-angle and telephoto. The XR has a single 12-megapixel wide-angle.

Some Chinese bloggers don’t understand why the iPhone is still so popular in China. Influential Weibo tech blogger Keji Xinyi (@科技新一) recently wrote: “The exterior of all Android flagship devices looks better than iPhone, they take better pictures too, why do girls still like the iPhone so much?”

Some of the popular answers include that people like iOS, that they prefer the “uncomplicated” use of the iPhone, and praise it for being “stable.”

With its ¥8399 ($1214) price tag, the iPhone XS Max is the most expensive phone around. The XR is currently priced at ¥5399 ($780).

 

#5 Honor (荣耀) and the Honor V20

Honor, established in 2013, is the budget-friendly sister of the Huawei brand. The company’s sub-brand has been doing very well over the past years. Honor focuses on great value for money.

The brand has over 21 million fans on Weibo. Honor targets younger consumers, not just with its relatively low prices, but also with its trendy designs, often offering phones in vibrant blue, pink and purple colors.

While the Honor brand currently ranks 5 on China’s nationwide smartphone brands popularity charts, its most popular device, the Honor V20, now ranks number 9 within smartphone device rankings. Another bestseller is the Honor Magic 2.

Priced at ¥2799 ($404), the V20 device is one of the cheaper ones in the popularity charts. It has a 6.40-inch display with a resolution of 1080×2310 pixels. Its rear camera is a 48-megapixel camera, with its selfie camera being a 25-megapixel one. It is available in colors Charm Sea Blue, Magic Night Black, Charm Red, Phantom Red, and Phantom Blue.

 

#4 Samsung (三星) and the Galaxy S10

Samsung currently is the most popular smartphone brand in the PRC that is not made-in-China. The brand seems to have been able to win back consumer’s trust after its previous problems with overheating and exploding batteries. In the first half of 2018, China actually replaced the US as the biggest market for Samsung.

The Galaxy S10 is the most popular Samsung device of this moment, and recent reports on bugs that allegedly come with a recent update have not seemed to impact its ranking.

The S10 has a 6.1-inch Super AMOLED QHD+ screen with 1440 x 3040-pixel display resolution.  Like most devices on this list, its camera is good: a triple rear camera (12 MP x 12 MP x 16 MP) that can shoot panorama shots on ultra wide.  The device has a dual-SIM tray/microSD card slot, and is water-resistant.

Price: ¥5999 ($867).

 

#3 Huawei (华为) and its P30 Series

In light of the China-US trade war, Huawei has been making international headlines recently. Judging from e-commerce ranking lists and ZOL.com popularity lists, Huawei’s popularity within the PRC seems to be unaffected by the recent consternation; if anything, it has only made the brand more popular within mainland China. Huawei remains to be one of China’s top smartphone brands.

The most popular device of the Huawei brand currently is the Huawei P30 Pro mobile, ranking fifth in Chinas most popular smartphone charts of this moment. The Huawei P30 is slightly less popular, ranked at number 8.

The P30 Pro features a Full HD+ OLED 6.47 inches display, an integrated fingerprint sensor in the display, with a screen resolution of 1080 x 2340 pixels. It has a 40MP + 16MP + 8MP camera that is the best part of the device, with an impressive zoom function:

The device has been called “one of the best and most unique phones” to be released this year, and is an absolute winner for its camera compared to the Samsung S10 or the iPhone XS Max. The Pro price is set at ¥5488 ($793), also making it one of the most expensive phones in the top lists of this moment.

 

#2 Vivo and its Vivo X27


Vivo is another Chinese brand that has gained worldwide success since it first entered the market in 2009. Its headquarters are based in Dongguan, Guangdong.

Vivo often cooperates with Chinese celebrities in its marketing campaigns, such as Chinese singer and actor Lu Han (born 1990) or Chinese actress Zhou Dongyu (born 1992), clearly targeting the post-90s consumer group.

The brand has over 37 million followers on its Weibo account, making it the most popular brand in terms of online fans.

The Vivo X27 device was launched in China in March of 2019 and is specifically marketed as a “night photo” wonder tool.

The VivoX27 is a 6.39-inch dual-sim device with a super AMOLED screen. It has a 48 MP main camera and 12 MP selfie camera, and in-display fingerprint sensor.

The Vivo X27 Pro hashtag (#vivo X27 Pro#) has over 96 million views on Weibo at time of writing, with most netizens mostly praising the device for its ability to make good photos at night. The device is currently also ranked number one on Zol.com in the best mobile gaming device category.

Priced around ¥3598 ($520).

 

#1 Oppo and its OPPO Reno Series


2019 is the year of 5G, and OPPO Reno is ready for it. Oppo launched its latest 5G supported OPPO Reno smartphone in April of 2019 and has since been a hit on Chinese social media. The OPPO Reno hashtag (#OPPO全新Reno#) has a staggering 560 million views on the Sina Weibo platform at the time of writing, with the launch of the orange Reno becoming a trending topic in late May.

OPPO is a Guangdong-based brand that officially launched in 2004. The brand is known for targeting China’s young consumers with its trendy designs and smart celebrity marketing. In 2016, the brand hit international top smartphone lists and ranked as the number 4 smartphone brand globally.

OPPO currently has over 25 million fans on Weibo.

The OPPO Reno has a 6.4-inch AMOLED display, a 48-megapixel main camera, a wedge-shaped pop-up camera (16-megapixel front-facing), and in-display fingerprint scanner. Besides the standard Oppo Reno, there is also the OPPO Reno’s 10x Hybrid Zoom, and that model is mostly praised on Chinese social media for its photo quality under the OPPO Reno 10 X Zoom hashtag (#OPPOReno10倍变焦版#). Check the photos below of one Weibo user (@塔湾小魔王) trying out the zoom.

Price starting from: ¥3599 ($520).

 

Worth mentioning:

Some brands that did not make this top 10 list are still worth mentioning. One of them is Nubia (努比亚): Nubia may not be a very well-known brand outside of China, but in the PRC it’s been consistently hitting top brand lists. Nubia, owned by parent company ZTE, has been doing very well in China’s top-scoring smartphone lists since it was officially launched in 2015.

Other popular brands include Lenovo, ZTE, and Smartisan, Meitu: all Chinese companies.

“China has so many domestically produced smartphone,” Chinese tech blogger Keji Xinyi (@科技新一) recently wrote on Weibo: “Xiaomi, OPPO, vivo, OnePlus, Meizu, Lenovo, etc. etc. Why is it that if we’re talking about Chinese phones we’re always talking about Huawei?”

Among the hundreds of responses, many think Huawei is simply the best, with others saying it just has a very strong marketing campaign. Most people, however, agree that Chinese smartphone market has much more to offer than Huawei alone.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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