Alvin Wang Graylin, President of HTC China talks to Cristian Emanuel Anton, CEO and co-founder of MeetinVR about his journey with technology, China as an emerging technological innovation hub, what HTC has done in the VR space and what the future looks like with new innovation like robots and AI coming up.
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This interview was recorded in January 2020.
Cristian Anton (00:00):
Hello, my name is Chris and welcome to the “Future of Work” virtual reality podcast. We’re honored to have with us Alvin Wang Graylin. He is the president of HTC, China leading all aspects of the company’s business in the region. He’s also vice chairman of the industry of virtual reality Alliance, president of the 18 billion virtual reality venture capital Alliance and oversees the Vive X VR accelerators in Beijing, Shenzhen and Tel Aviv. Welcome Alvin. It’s a real honor to be with us today.
Alvin Wang Graylin (00:30):
My pleasure. Thanks for inviting me.
Cristian Anton (00:33):
So I guess my first question for you is: how do you manage so many active roles and what’s your recipe for success?
Alvin Wang Graylin (00:40):
In terms of managing multiple activities, the key is really prioritization, right? Cause I think we all are limited to the same amount of time in the day, but as long as you really prioritize what you’re doing and then you delegate properly you know, you can get quite a bit accomplished. In fact there was one thing that I, uh, when I was at MIT, one of our professors said something that I think has stayed with me for a long time. And then he said “to really get a lot of things done, you have to do selective neglect”. So there are certain things that are just not as important. And you just decide that you don’t give it 100% because even if you put time into it, the real impact of it is limited. So trying to really understand what are those things and putting your times in the things that really need your participation.
Cristian Anton (01:29):
So can you tell our audience a little bit about your relationship to technology? Would you call it your passion, where did this passion start and how did it evolve through time?
Alvin Wang Graylin (01:38):
Definitely technology is something that I’ve grown up with and has been something that I’ve been involved with since I was quite young. So I was born in China, but I moved to the States when I was 8. And my father specifically sat my brother and I down and said, “Hey, you know, we’ve given you this opportunity to come to a new country and to have an opportunity to go the best schools in the world. So make sure you really try to make something of yourself and make a better world and what it is that you’re most capable at and spend your career doing that”. And I’ve been attracted to technology really since then and was able to buy a computer and buy media devices with my own side jobs and my brother’s side jobs. So we actually bought a Commodore 64 and Amiga, and the first IBM XT with our own money because, you know, my, my parents were immigrants and, you know, didn’t have a lot of money. So they said, whatever you want, you have to get, you know, yourself. So we really worked hard to to utilize the technology and learn from it. This kept my entire career in this space. So, you know, I started programming when I was 9 or 10 and have been working in hardware and software and systems ever since.
Cristian Anton (02:54):
So it’s not a secret that you’re a big supporter of VR technology. Let’s step a little bit into this topic with a video from VR people, which you guys created at HTC Vive. Let’s take a look.
New Speaker (03:05):
Yeah, sure. Let me do the little video thing and let’s take a look.
Cristian Anton (03:12):
That’s awesome. So let’s get a little bit deeper into the subject. What’s your take on VR for enterprise?
New Speaker (03:22):
I think enterprises are probably actually the first early adopters of this technology. I mean VR actually started not in enterprise, but in military. So I was very fortunate that I was able to study under my advisor back in undergrad naudible] He was one of the pioneers in VR and back in the 60s and really used VR to train fighter pilots and,uyou know, the kind of combination of VR and AR. And then he went and started the human interface technology lab, the HIT lab at the University of Washington. It was the first research lab specifically targeted towards virtual reality. So that’s where it really started, but it’s been applied to a lot of different industries since. What we’re seeing in China is that R for enterprise is actually a much larger part of our business today than the consumer space. So probably about 70% of our sales goes into the enterprise or business-to-business space and you know, everything from education to medical to architecture, engineering, construction as well as for location-based entertainment etc. etc. Pretty much what we find is that every single industry today can apply VR technology to help it in some form. Particularly right now, we’re seeing a lot of interest in the training space where it really allows a risk-free training environment for new employees or for a high and very low cost because devices today are just a few hundred dollars to do things that used to cost millions of dollars to keep that experience. So definitely enterprise is where it’s going to start at. And over Time we expect that as schools and businesses start to adopt it in a broader way, it will then find its way back into mass consumer. Now there’s certainly a certain segment of hardcore gamers that are adopting VR,for certain types of gaming, but it’s still a relatively small audience. So for that really mass market, in terms of hundreds of millions of consumer users,we expect it to go first to enterprise and then back into consumer, just as what we saw with PCs and with, even with mobile or handheld phones – it really all started with a business use case.
Cristian Anton (05:51):
In 2015, you’ve written an article titled “The Renaissance of China”. Will you explain how China is becoming an increasingly innovative country? Can you talk a little bit about this subject and if there have been any changes to this since 2015?
Alvin Wang Graylin (06:08):
Sure, sure. When I wrote this, it was kind of when China started to be seen as, as an innovator it was still fairly early days. But you know, the idea was that over history and over the last 2000 years for a lot of that portion of the history, China was probably the most advanced technological country in the world. But you know, over the last 200 years or so, the Western markets have kind of overtaken it, it became a little bit too insullary and it really was surpassed by the industrialization of the Western world. But you know, over the last 20 or 30 years, China has been coming and manufacturing capital for, for the world, but really for low technology goods, right. That’s how it’s been saying kind of low quality, low cost goods. But now, over the last 10 years, people have seen it as becoming a place where high high quality goods are made, but still not very innovative. Now what we’re finding is over the last 5 years, that’s starting to change where now it’s actually, instead of copying something from the West to China they’re starting to copy from China to the rest of the world, right? So I think that that’s a really good sign. You know, when you look at Facebook, it’s really copying a lot of the interfaces that’s been created bythe Tencent WeChat app and using it to create their, their super-apps. Right. We’re finding that TikTok now is one of the biggest apps and socials in the US and really making video entertaining in a different way, I think a lot of the exporting of Chinese social habits and innovation habits. One of the things that’s really fueled, this is just the very large pool of Chinese users that are on the internet, right? Essentially the largest pool of internet users, largest pool of mobile users and also in general, everything from electrical vehicles to clean energy. All of these are actually now more innovative in China than it is in the rest of the world. Not to mention virtual reality, then pretty much 99% of all virtual reality hardware is actually being manufactured in China. I just came back from CES. And if you go to the VR section of CES , the VR/AR section, I would say probably +70% of those companies are Chinese companies that are showing their technology there. So there definitely is a lot of innovation happening. You know also a company that’s been in the news quite a bit recently is Huawei. They own probably more than half of all of the 5G patents in the world. So for a lot of people measuring the number of patents, that’s really a sign of innovation. And China’s definitely starting to impact a lot of those areas. I think there is two or three times more patents in the 5G space that are being created in China than in the US, two or three times more blockchain patents in China than in the US and two or three times more AI patents being created in China than the US, righ?. So the US has really in the past been the capital of innovation and now is starting to shift, if not over, at least equal basis in terms of innovation in a number of different high-tech areas.
Cristian Anton (09:44):
So interesting. So what are some of HTC’s latest VR projects? Is there anything exciting you can share with us?
New Speaker (09:51):
Well, we definitely have a policy that we don’t talk about future products, but I can definitely tell you about what we’ve been doing. We have been innovating in the VR space for the last 4 years and really we’re the first company to come out with 6DOF (six degrees of freedom) VR devices with our Vive device back in 2016, where we had two hands and your head, and you can walk around the full space. Nobody had that before, until we delivered that product. So that really helped to bring this new generation of high fidelity VR into homes and into businesses. In 2017, we released the first wireless device, so adaptor allow people to become wireless on their PC-based solutions, as well as our tracker solutions; that brought physical objects into the VR space. In 2018 we also released the first six degrees of freedom standalone devices (the Vive Focus) to allow people to walk around with a Qualcomm base and essentially a standalone device that didn’t require a PC to run anything. And in 2019, we were actually the first company to make available the full six degrees of freedom: hands and head devices ahead of the Oculus Quest products. So in terms of every kind of new innovation, HTC has been really on the edge of bringing that innovation to market. In the second half of 2019, we brought out the Vive Cosmos – the first expandable VR device, allowing a single device to switch the faceplate and add new functionalities. So I think you’ll find it that in the next month or two, we’ll have some new announcements coming out that will start to realize that potential by allowing multiple faceplates to be put onto our existing Cosmos devices and adding new functionality onto an existing hardware platform. That’s never really been done with any other VR device in past. Beyond the hardware, we’re actually also innovating on the software and platform side. I don’t know if you’re aware of our VivePort platform, which is a content platform like Steam or the Oculus Store. We’ve also innovated in terms of how users interact with platforms. We came out with subscription as a couple of years ago, allowing people to essentially get five apps per month on a subscription basis – kind of like a Netflix model. And then last year we were the first company ever to deliver such an all-you-can-eat model. So now you don’t have to worry about how many apps you download. You just pay $10 a month. And essentially, you get all the apps that are on the store available, about 1000 apps on the subscription model and about 3000 total apps that you could download. And you never run out of apps. Right? What we found was that now users are using it anywhere from 3 to 5 times as much downloads as they used to with this new unlimited (plan) – what we call “the infinity subscription model”. I think that allows people to discover a lot more content that they weren’t able to see before and allowing people to find apps that really are interesting and suitable for them versus just always just the first, top 10 or top 20 apps that get downloaded. Now we’re finding a lot of the top 100, top 500 apps are being used a lot more than they, than they were before.
Cristian Anton (13:15):
Before the final part of our interview. This is going to be a brainstorming session. Let’s try to imagine what the, our work lives will look 20 years from now. So let’s just go crazy and try to use some sticky notes and generate some ideas.
New Speaker (13:31):
Okay. Sure, sure.
Cristian Anton (13:40):
So the first thing I wrote is remote work. We can see that more and more people are working remotely. I believe that 20 years from now, this is going to be extended but even higher level due to the innovations in technology which are happening right now, including virtual reality, of course. The second one I wrote is virtual metaverses. I really believe that once big companies start to have a lot of their services in virtual reality, then they will be all interconnecting with each other, eventually forming something like a metaverse. So then there will be a series of different metaverses people can choose to use and basically live in and then get to choose them according to which one they like to be in the most. So as soon as all the big corporations worldwide start to move all of their services, or at least have a virtual reality version of their services thenthey will be interconnected,forming a metaverse. So it’s going to be this kind of competition of metaverses. And then the last thing I wrote is of course, robots, automation, they will take our jobs, leaving us unemployed. But for sure, in 20 years from now a lot of the jobs, which we do will be done by robots and it will be automated.
Alvin Wang Graylin (15:10):
Yeah. And I think it’s not just automation through robots. There’ll be automation through AI in general because you know, a lot of the work today is non blue collar work, right? Robots really would mostly focus on blue collar work, but a lot of the impact will be actually on white collar workers, which a lot of people may or may not realize. So in fact, my notes are in some ways a little bit similar to yours you know, telecommuting using VR is very, pretty much what your remote work is, right? Because I think the idea is that, you know, what we’re doing today,aving this videoconference or VR conference or interview, it’s very similar to what I think a future workforce will be doing in terms of how they interact with each other in the virtual environment, whether for work or play. Now the side effect of that is actually a lot of environmental benefits of it, because you are no longer commuting. In fact, I think in the US something like 30% of the greenhouse gases are created through transportation. So if we can reduce the commute, we can actually reduce the impact and the negative impact that we have on our climate. So the, the other thing is the ability to access talent anywhere because you’re working remotely. Now you’re, as a company, you’re not no longer limited to the pool of people where your office is, where your company is physically located. So that I think it’s going to be something that both democratizes good employment, because it used to be that if you lived in the US or you lived in Western developed markets, you’re able to access higher income jobs. Now you could live anywhere in the world, and if you can work remotely, hat allows anybody with that capability, with that skillset to be able to now access the highest paying jobs around the world. I think that that’s actually going to be a huge impact, oth in terms of access to talent, as well as talent, getting access to the best jobs. And that should be able to create a higher quality of life for the workers, as well as higher quality of product or service for the companies.
Cristian Anton (17:31):
Very ood point.
New Speaker (17:32):
Lastly is the, the elderly being able to reenter the workforce. I think that’s going to be a lot more impactful than people realize as things develop over the next 20 years or so, what we’re going to find is that our ability to live longer will become more and more apparent, right? Uh I think there’s a lot of experts are saying somewhere in the next 10 to 20 years, we’re going to probably add 20+ years of average lifespan to every individual. And if we start using a lot of the genetic engineering, it could actually go much further than that. So we’re going to have people that are going to be part of our society a lot longer, and they need to be able to feel that they have purpose in life. You know, if all they’re doing is watching TV and sitting in a elderly home, that’s not good for society, and it’s also not pleasant for the individuals themselves. So if they can now go into virtual reality, and even if they can’t travel somewhere, they can now participate back into the workforce again, because of their minds. A lot of them, their minds are excellent, but maybe their physical, you know, their bodies are, you know, kind of worn out a little bit. So this allows them to utilize now their, their capabilities, their knowledge and wisdom, that was a little bit neglected in the past. And actually being able to utilize their minds, allows them to keep their mind sharp a lot longer. So that’s something that I think will have a huge impact in terms of societal good and societal happiness, because we’re going to have an inverse pyramid very soon in a lot of markets where you know, people over 50, over 60 are actually going to be more than people who are under that. Which is, which is not the case in the past. It used to be the, you know, the, the, the, the, the elderly pretty much until by the last hundred years, the average lifetime was somewhere around 40, right. And it’s essentially almost doubled over the last a hundred years to somewhere around 70 to 80, depending on which country you’re at. But over the next 20 years, it’s probably going to go over a hundred. You know, that’s going to mean that we have a lot, a lot of elderly people in the society. And you know, we need to make sure that, that they feel relevant.
Cristian Anton (19:53):
It’s such a good point.
New Speaker (19:54):
Yeah and VR will help them do that.
Cristian Anton (19:59):
Thank you so much, Alvin for joining us, it was a real pleasure. It was extremely interesting to have you with us today.
Alvin Wang Graylin (20:06):
Absolutely. Thanks, Chris.
Cristian Anton (20:08):
And looking forward to seeing what you guys are going to build in the future.