COVID-19 SPECIAL: Silver lining in business - Entertainment & remote-working tools

Spike in demand for gaming chairs, streaming services, meetings software

Secretlab's Ian Alexander Ang. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Zoom, Secretlab, Cast, SmartUC Mobile - tech terms that would have baffled most Singaporeans a month ago are now part and parcel of the nation's conversation as employees and students are forced to knuckle down at home.

Demand for such solutions has gone through the roof in recent weeks, but it is not all work and no play either.

Leading streaming services such as Netflix and Disney+ have seen huge spikes in global subscription numbers as people turn to them to stay entertained. Video game brands such as Sony's PlayStation and Microsoft's Xbox have also reported record levels of engagement around the world.

While many Singaporeans rely heavily on these international companies for work and play, local providers and resellers of remote working tools and entertainment services have also enjoyed a surge in demand.

Singapore video game retailer Qisahn, which sells games and consoles, has seen a 40 per cent spike in business in recent weeks.

This is despite some of the obstacles the retailer faced early last month, when its physical store at Far East Shopping Centre was forced to shut due to circuit breaker measures, leaving the team to figure out how to work solely via the Internet.

Owner Soon Qishan said they had to change their "entire way" of doing things by setting up remote working systems such as one to print delivery labels. But the effort has paid off, given the incessant demand from Singaporeans.

"People are at home and they want to find new forms of entertainment. Many of our recent customers are new, not our regulars," he said.

The increased revenue prompted Mr Soon to donate $25,000 to Singapore Children's Society last month. "It's odd to be more profitable in times of crisis. A lot of people need help now, so I thought I should do something for children, since video games appeal to the inner child in all of us," he said.

Singapore company Secretlab, which makes chairs for gamers, has also seen a "multi-fold increase" in sales since March.

It helps that its chairs, which are known worldwide as among the most comfortable for gamers, have become popular options for workers to use in home offices as well.

Secretlab co-founder Ian Alexander Ang told The Sunday Times: "People may have ergonomic chairs in their offices, but that's often not the case for their home workstation.

"With work from home likely to remain the new norm for the foreseeable future, people are finding that they can no longer compromise on comfort."

Secretlab worked with e-sports partners last month to donate 400,000 masks to healthcare workers in Singapore, Britain and the United States.

There has been a rush for remote working solutions as well with StarHub seeing "continued high demand" for services such as SmartConferencing, a system that allows users to host secure high-quality multi-party meetings online or over the phone.

SmartUC Mobile, which enables workers to present office numbers when making phone calls from their own smartphones, has also been popular.

StarHub, which runs a programme to provide such services free of charge or heavily discounted for companies' business continuity plans, said: "The norms of working have changed, and enterprises have been implementing measures to minimise disruption to operations and remain in contact with employees, partners and customers."

The telco added that there has been an increase in demand for its entertainment services as well, recording a double-digit percentage growth in viewing hours across its channels plus a "significant increase" in the number of unique users on its streaming app StarHub Go over the last few months.

Similarly, telco Singtel has seen a "huge growth" in demand for its streaming service Cast, with user numbers more than doubling and a threefold increase in streams since the start of the circuit breaker period on April 7.

Sign-ups for its conferencing solution Singtel BizConference, which allows users to record meetings to the cloud and co-annotate on shared screens, have also more than doubled in the same time.

While tech-savvy Singapore has many options for work and play in the home, experts point out that users need robust Internet connections to fully reap their benefits.

Mr Jordan Zhu, CommScope's director of sales and service provider for South-east Asia, said that people rely on their home networks now that the lines between work and home become "increasingly blurred".

He added: "Network traffic might encounter a greater bottleneck when educational and enterprise platforms compete with consumer and home entertainment services for bandwidth. Speedy and reliable connectivity is thus needed to adequately allocate capacity to maximise both professional and personal demands."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 10, 2020, with the headline Spike in demand for gaming chairs, streaming services, meetings software. Subscribe