Tech giants reveal how they adapted during pandemic

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The Philippine American Academy of Science and Engineering (PAASE) hooked up with local think tank Stratbase ADR Institute to host a webinar on Tuesday, Jan. 26, to discuss the technology trends that emerged during the Covid-19 digital shift.

The virtual town hall, which had the title “What New Technologies Are These Companies Working on in 2021?”, featured representatives from tech giants Netflix, Amazon, Google, Grab, and Mynt.

“Technology is playing an increasingly important role in the daily lives of Filipinos. What these companies will innovate next will shape what life can look like tomorrow,” said Victor Andres “Dindo” Manhit, founder and managing director of the Stratbase Group.

“Hopefully this kind of discussion generates enough interest on how technology — how this shift to digitization — can really shape our economic republic.”

Along with PAASE and the Stratbase ADR Institute, online event was co-organized by the Institutes for Research, Innovation, and Scholarship (IRIS), the Stanford Club in the Philippines, and PumaPodcast.

Netflix’s video compression technology

Anne Aaron, director of encoding technologies at Netflix, started it off the discussion with a presentation on a technology process that allows Netflix to deliver seamless videos even for low-bandwidth countries such as the Philippines.

The process begins after film production with encoding. In this step, Aaron and her team are responsible for creating software that facilitates high-quality viewing with the least amount of data possible. As of this year, the streaming giant’s video compression technology can provide 23 hours of viewing on 4GB of data.

Following encoding, the files are deployed over Netflix’s open connect network to cache servers all over the world for lower Internet congestion, and thus less rebuffs and delays for viewers.

The final step occurs on viewers’ devices. The adaptive streaming engine on client devices adjusts and re-optimizes for highest video quality by requesting the right file based on the specific device or network quality.

Aaron capped off her talk with Netflix’s new technology to deliver fresh entertainment experiences. 4K HDR Picture Quality and Studio Quality Sound respectively supply viewers with deeper, brighter, and more realistic colors as well as immersive sound quality.

Furthermore, interactive TV seen in the “Black Mirror” episode “Bandersnatch” lets viewers participate in the story by making choices that influence the plot.

Amazon’s ‘Just Walk Out’ technology

Amazon senior software engineer Paul Echevarria was next to take the virtual floor. He spoke about one of the company’s more recent developments — the “Just Walk Out” technology in Amazon physical stores.

In stores with “Just Walk Out” technology, there are no long checkout lines. Technology such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, computer vision, and sensor fusion track what products customers take or return.

Once customers have finished with their shopping, they can walk out of the store and their purchases will be charged to their credit card.

Launched last year and only available in limited stores, a new innovation in “Just Walk Out” is Amazon One, a contactless payment method that requires only the palm of a person’s hand.

Using custom-built hardware and algorithms, a unique signature is created for each customer’s palm. A person can enter the store, scan their palm on the Amazon One, then he or she is immediately identified. When they exit with their purchases and scan their palm, their associated cards are similarly charged.

Another novel inclusion in these stores is the Amazon Dash Cart. Both a virtual and a physical cart, the sensors on this cart continuously update its contents while letting customers easily transport their purchases.

Echevarria also announced that Amazon is offering its “Just Walk Out” technology to other businesses.

Google’s YouTube Video Builder

Paolo Malabuyo, director of user experience for YouTube advertising at Google, then spoke with Google technologies designed to help advertisers — from the novice to the professional.

For small businesses and beginner advertisers, Malabuyo presented the YouTube Video Builder. The video-sharing platform only started giving access to this tool last year, and it allows beginner advertisers to make custom YouTube ads through a diverse but easy-to-use template gallery.

Another tool for beginners is the YouTube Bumper Machine. Using machine learning, this tool takes videos that are 90 seconds or fewer and creates several six second bumper videos that advertisers can edit or choose from.

There is also the Director Mix, a tool that allows experienced advertisers and creative agencies to build customized video ads at scale.

With the Director Mix, creatives can be customized to reach hundreds of specific audiences by swapping out images, text, or sounds to fit individual customer needs.

YouTube also provides expert advertisers with tools and metrics that let them experiment with their ads. Using these, advertisers can create two different creatives and test them with the same audience to see which is received better, or make one creative and show it to different audiences to observe their distinct responses.

Grab’s adaptations

Grab Philippines country head Grace Vera-Cruz took the virtual podium to reveal the adaptations adopted by the app to pivot during the pandemic.

First, she said the company had to refocus GrabCar services. Due to the pandemic, the app temporarily suspended GrabCar services such as GrabCar Freemium, GrabShare, and GrabCar 6-Seater to prioritize services that are essential to their customers like the GrabCar 2-Seater, GrabCar 4-Seater, and GrabTaxi.

“Never lose sight of your goals,” Vera-Cruz said. “In our case, our goal was to provide safe and reliable transport services to our customers. The solution or product to this can change over time.”

The executive then discussed GrabProtect, an initiative that encompasses the company’s efforts to enforce a higher standard of safety and hygiene for public transportation, as well as food delivery in the country.

In response to the rising dependence on delivery services during lockdown, Grab introduced contactless payment solutions such as the GrabPay Card to prevent untoward transmissions.

As employees return to office, Grab has added an online health and hygiene checklist for its driver-partners. They also incorporated automated, post-trip ratings, and feedback in their app for both drivers and commuters.

The company has also launched Long Distance Delivery for GrabFood to ensure that consumers stuck at home still have access to their favourite cravings, while at the same time allowing businesses to reach or even expand their markets.

Mynt’s GCash innovations

Karen Yang Chiang, head of enterprise architecture and innovation at Mynt, then discussed how the virtual wallet GCash innovates its services.

Chiang said GCash has added a savings feature with a savings account rate of up to 4 percent — an investment feature where users can start investing for as low as P50. It also introduced GCredit, a feature that allows access to a credit line powered by its in-house trust platform GScore.

Launched only in January this year, GCash also developed an in-app insurance offering with Singlife for dengue and Covid-19 coverage. Here, a user can be insured for as low as P25 a month.

Chiang also announced that a GCash loans marketplace for high-ticket loans would soon be available.

Additionally, GCash has integrated lifestyle features in their app. Last year, they introduced GCash Forest, an initiative that enables users to gather green energy and plant a tree in real life.

Another new feature available on soft launch is GLife, a GCash lifestyle feature where users can access their favorite brands through mini-apps. Mini-apps are applications within GCash that users can use to shop without having to download multiple apps.

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