Huawei officially launches Android alternative HarmonyOS for smartphones

Think you’re living in a hyper-connected world? Huawei’s proprietary HarmonyOS wants to eliminate delays and gaps in user experience when you move from one device onto another by adding interoperability to all devices, regardless of the system that powers them.

Two years after Huawei was added to the U.S. entity list that banned the Chinese telecom giant from accessing U.S. technologies, including core chipsets and Android developer services from Google, Huawei’s alternative smartphone operating system was unveiled.

On Wednesday, Huawei officially launched its proprietary operating system HarmonyOS for mobile phones. The firm began building the operating system in 2016 and made it open-source for tablets, electric vehicles and smartwatches last September. Its flagship devices such as Mate 40 could upgrade to HarmonyOS starting Wednesday, with the operating system gradually rolling out on lower-end models in the coming quarters.

HarmonyOS is not meant to replace Android or iOS, Huawei said. Rather, its application is more far-reaching, powering not just phones and tablets but an increasing number of smart devices. To that end, Huawei has been trying to attract hardware and home appliance manufacturers to join its ecosystem.

To date, more than 500,000 developers are building applications based on HarmonyOS. It’s unclear whether Google, Facebook and other mainstream apps in the West are working on HarmonyOS versions.

Some Chinese tech firms have answered Huawei’s call. Smartphone maker Meizu hinted on its Weibo account that its smart devices might adopt HarmonyOS. Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi, who are much larger players than Meizu, are probably more reluctant to embrace a rival’s operating system.

Huawei’s goal is to collapse all HarmonyOS-powered devices into one single control panel, which can, say, remotely pair the Bluetooth connections of headphones and a TV. A game that is played on a phone can be continued seamlessly on a tablet. A smart soymilk blender can customize a drink based on the health data gleaned from a user’s smartwatch.

Devices that aren’t already on HarmonyOS can also communicate with Huawei devices with a simple plug-in. Photos from a Windows-powered laptop can be saved directly onto a Huawei phone if the computer has the HarmonyOS plug-in installed. That raises the question of whether Android, or even iOS, could, one day, talk to HarmonyOS through a common language.

The HarmonyOS launch arrived days before Apple’s annual developer event scheduled for next week. A recent job posting from Apple mentioned a seemingly new concept, homeOS, which may have to do with Apple’s smart home strategy, as noted by Macrumors.

Huawei denied speculations that HarmonyOS is a derivative of Android and said no single line of code is identical to that of Android. A spokesperson for Huawei declined to say whether the operating system is based on Linux, the kernel that powers Android.

Several tech giants have tried to introduce their own mobile operating systems to no avail. Alibaba built AliOS based on Linux but has long stopped updating it. Samsung flirted with its own Tizen but the operating system is limited to powering a few Internet of Things like smart TVs.

Huawei may have a better shot at drumming up developer interest compared to its predecessors. It’s still one of China’s largest smartphone brands despite losing a chunk of its market after the U.S. government cut it off critical chip suppliers, which could hamper its ability to make cutting-edge phones. HarmonyOS also has a chance to create an alternative for developers who are disgruntled with Android, if Huawei is able to capture their needs.

The U.S. sanctions do not block Huawei from using Android’s open-source software, which major Chinese smartphone makers use to build their third-party Android operating system. But the ban was like a death knell for Huawei’s consumer markets overseas as its phones abroad lost access to Google Play services.

#alibaba, #android, #apple, #asia, #bluetooth, #china, #facebook, #gadgets, #harmonyos, #huawei, #internet-of-things, #linux, #meizu, #microsoft-windows, #mobile, #mobile-linux, #mobile-operating-system, #mobile-phones, #open-source-software, #operating-system, #operating-systems, #smart-devices, #smartphone, #smartphones, #tc, #xiaomi

0

Tencent helps Chinese students skip prohibitively low speeds for school websites overseas

Hundreds of thousands of Chinese students enrolled in overseas schools are stranded as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt life and airlines worldwide. Learning at home in China, they all face one challenge: Their school websites and other academic resources load excruciatingly slowly because all web traffic has to pass through the country’s censorship apparatus known as the “great firewall.”

Spotting a business opportunity, Alibaba’s cloud unit worked on connecting students in China to their university portals abroad through a virtual private network arrangement with American cybersecurity solutions provider Fortinet to provide, Reuters reported last July, saying Tencent had a similar product.

Details of Tencent’s offering have come to light. An app called “Chang’e Education Acceleration” debuted on Apple’s App Store in March, helping to speed up loading time for a selection of overseas educational services. It describes itself in a mouthful: “An online learning free accelerator from Tencent, with a mission to provide internet acceleration and search services in educational resources to students and researchers at home and abroad.”

Unlike Alibaba’s VPN for academic use, Chang’e is not a VPN, the firm told TechCrunch. The firm didn’t say how it defines VPN or explain how Chang’e works technically. Tencent said Chang’e rolled out on the app’s official website in October.

The word “VPN” is a loaded term in China as it often implies illegally bypassing the “great firewall.” People refer to its euphemism “accelerator” or “scientific internet surfing tool” otherwise. When Chang’e is switched on, iPhone’s VPN status is shown as “on”, according to a test by TechCrunch.

Tencent’s Chang’e website ‘accelerator’ helps Chinese students stuck home get on their school websites faster. Screenshot: TechCrunch

On the welcome page, Chang’e asks users to pick from eight countries, including the U.S., Canada, and the U.K., for “acceleration”. It also shows the latency time and expected speed increased for each region.

Once a country is picked, Chang’e shows a list of educational resources that users can visit on the app’s built-in browser. They include the websites of 79 top universities, mostly U.S. and the U.K. ones; team collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams, Trello and Slack; remote-learning platforms UDemy, Coursera, Lynda and Khan Academy; research networks such as SSRN and JSTOR; programming and engineering communities like Stack Overflow, Codeacademy and IEEE; economics databases from the World Bank and OECD; as well as resources for medical students like PubMed and Lancet.

Many of these services are not blocked in China but load slowly on mainland China behind the “great firewall.” Users can request sites not already on the list to be included.

Accessing Stanford’s website through Chang’e. Screenshot: TechCrunch

Chang’e appears to have whitelisted only its chosen sites rather than all traffic on a user’s smartphone. Google, Facebook, YouTube and other websites banned in China are still unavailable when the Chang’e is at work. The app, available on both Android and iOS for free, doesn’t currently require users to sign up, a rare gesture in a country where online activities are strictly regulated and most websites ask for users’ real-name registrations.

Services accessible through Chang’e. Screenshot: TechCrunch

The offerings from Alibaba and Tencent are indicative of the inadvertent consequences caused by Beijing’s censorship system designed to block information deemed illegal or harmful to China’s national interest. Universities, research institutes, multinational corporations and exporters are often forced to seek censorship circumvention apps for what the authorities would consider innocuous purposes.

VPN providers have to obtain the government’s green light to legally operate in China and users of licensed VPN services are prohibited from browsing websites thought of us endangering China’s national security. In 2017, Apple removed hundreds of unlicensed VPN apps from its China App Store at Beijing’s behest.

In October, TechCrunch reported that the VPN app and browser Tuber gave Chinese users a rare glimpse into the global internet ecosystem of Facebook, YouTube, Google and other mainstream apps, but the app was removed shortly after the article was published.

#alibaba, #app-store, #apple, #apple-app-store, #asia, #beijing, #china, #firewall, #fortinet, #great-firewall, #tc, #tencent, #vpn

0

Alibaba is making its cloud OS compatible with multiple chip architectures

Alibaba’s cloud computing unit is making its Apsara operating system compatible with processors based on Arm, x86, RISC-V, among other architectures, the company announced at a conference on Friday.

Alibaba Cloud is one of the fastest-growing businesses for the Chinese e-commerce giant and the world’s fourth-largest public cloud service in the second half of 2020, according to market research firm IDC.

The global chip market has mostly been dominated by Intel’s x86 in personal computing and Arm for mobile devices. But RISC-V, an open-source chip architecture competitive with Arm’s technologies, is gaining popularity around the world, especially with Chinese developers. Started by academics at the University of California, Berkeley, RISC-V is open to all to use without licensing or patent fees and is generally not subject to America’s export controls.

The Trump Administration’s bans on Huawei and its rival ZTE over national security concerns have effectively severed ties between the Chinese telecom titans and American tech companies, including major semiconductor suppliers.

Arm was forced to decide its relationships with Huawei and said it could continue licensing to the Chinese firm as it’s of U.K. origin. But Huawei still struggles to find fabs that are both capable and allowed to actually manufacture the chips designed using the architecture.

The U.S. sanctions led to a burst in activity around RISC-V in China’s tech industry as developers prepare for future tech restrictions by the U.S., with Alibaba at the forefront of the movement. Alibaba Cloud, Huawei and ZTE are among the 13 premier members of RISC-V International, which means they get a seat on its Board of Directors and Technical Steering Community.

In 2019, the e-commerce company’s semiconductor division T-Head launched its first core processor Xuantie 910, which is based on RISC-V and used for cloud edge and IoT applications. Having its operating system work with multiple chip systems instead of one mainstream architecture could prepare Alibaba Cloud well for a future of chip independence in China.

“The IT ecosystem was traditionally defined by chips, but cloud computing fundamentally changed that,” Zhang Jianfeng, president of Alibaba Cloud’s Intelligence group, said at the event. “A cloud operating system can standardize the computing power of server chips, special-purpose chips and other hardware, so whether the chip is based on x86, Arm, RISC-V or a hardware accelerator, the cloud computing offerings for customers are standardized and of high-quality.”

Meanwhile, some argue that Chinese companies moving towards alternatives like RISC-V means more polarization of technology and standards, which is not ideal for global collaboration unless RISC-V becomes widely adopted in the rest of the world.

#alibaba, #alibaba-cloud, #asia, #china, #cloud, #cloud-computing, #computers, #computing, #huawei, #operating-system, #risc-v, #semiconductor, #university-of-california, #university-of-california-berkeley, #x86

0

Tesla will store Chinese user data locally, following Apple’s suit

The handling of user data in China has become a delicate matter for American tech companies operating in the country. Apple’s move to store the data of its Chinese customers in servers managed by a Chinese state-owned cloud service has stoked controversy in the West over the years. A recent New York Times investigation found that the setup could give the Chinese government easy access to Apple’s user data in China, compromising”, but Apple said it “never compromised the security” of its customers or their data.

Tesla, one of the few U.S. tech heavyweights that generate substantial revenues from China, is working out a similar data plan. The electric carmaker said it has established a data center in China to carry out the “localization of data storage,” with more data facilities incoming, the company announced through its account on microblogging platform Weibo. All data generated by Tesla vehicles sold in mainland China will be stored domestically.

Tesla is acting in response to new requirements drafted by the Chinese government to regulate how cameras- and sensors-enabled carmakers collect and utilized information. One of the requirements states that “personal or important data should be stored within the [Chinese] territory.”

It’s unclear what level of access Chinese authorities have to Tesla’s China-based data. In the case of Apple, the phone maker said it controlled the keys that protect the data of its Chinese customers.

Tesla recently fell out of favor with Chinese media and the public after a customer protested the carmaker’s faulted parts at an auto show in Shanghai, earning her widespread sympathy. Tesla also faces fierce competition from Chinese rivals like Nio and Xpeng, which are investing heavily in world-class designs and autonomous driving technology.

The American firm clearly wants the government’s good graces in its second-largest market. It appeared a few days ago at an industry symposium along with Baidu, Alibaba, research institutions, and think tanks to discuss the new vehicle policy proposed by the country’s cybersecurity watchdog.

“Important data” generated by vehicles as defined by the Chinese internet regulator include traffic conditions in military and government compounds; surveying and mapping data beyond what the government discloses; status of electric charging grids; face, voice, and car plate information; and any data deemed as affecting national security and public interest.

The regulations also urge car service providers to not track users by default, as well as inform them of the kinds of and reasons for data collection. If gathered, information should be anonymized and stored for only “the minimum period of time.”

#alibaba, #apple, #asia, #baidu, #china, #government, #nio, #shanghai, #tc, #tesla, #transportation, #xpeng

0

WalletsClub wants to be the ‘Visa for e-wallets’ across the world

Digital payments are going mainstream around the world. By the end of 2020, there were more than 300 mobile money providers with over 100,000 active users, according to a report published by GSMA, an industry association for mobile network operators. Altogether, over 300 million mobile money accounts were active every month around the world.

Mobile money providers — more commonly known as e-wallets — are used to transfer money, pay and receive payments through mobile phones without the need for a traditional bank. They are useful so long as they enjoy wide adoption and a strong network effect. But even a popular service like Ant Groups’s Alipay, which has over one billion annual users, is practically unusable outside China due to its low penetration in most countries.

The problem is there is no interoperability between most wallets as there is between traditional banks, suggested Xue Zhixiang, who worked on the basic infrastructure for Alibaba’s cloud unit and Alipay before starting WalletsClub.

Registered in Hong Kong in 2019 with a small operational team in mainland China, WalletsClub sets its sights on becoming the Visa for digital wallets, making money transfers possible between the world’s hundreds of electronic money services.

“We are like a clearinghouse for digital wallets,” said Xue, the company’s CEO.

A clearing system is an intermediary for two parties engaged in a financial transaction. It’s designed to ensure the efficiency and security of a transfer by validating the availability of the funds and logging the transfer between two transacting parties. Payments can be sent and received in real-time using WalletsClub, Xue claimed, and its technology is based on the “ISO 20022” standard, a common language for financial institutions to exchange data across the globe.

In other words, WalletsClub is going after the hundreds of e-wallets around the world rather than individual end-users. Its vision is to let people pay with any mobile wallet anywhere as long as the sender’s service provider or financial institution and the receiver’s equivalent services are members of WalletsClub, similar to how Visa and Mastercard process credit cards issued by different banks that are in their networks. The company plans to monetize by charging a flat fee per transaction.

By adding interoperability to electronic wallets, even small, regional players can thrive because they gain compatibility wherever a clearing system is in place.

Instead of challenging the traditional financial system, WalletsClub wants to provide a way for unbanked individuals to easily move money around through digital wallets, which are easier to obtain than a bank account. A big demand will come from overseas migrant workers who need to send money back to their home countries, such as the millions of Southeast Asian workers abroad.

WalletsClub is potentially encroaching on the territory of a few players. Expatriate workers sending money home currently revert to longstanding remittance services like Western Union or MoneyGram, which have large networks of “agent” locations where users go send or collect money. In 2018, Alipay began allowing users in Hong Kong to send money to GCash accounts in the Philippines, but “the focus of Ant Group is payments rather than remittance,” Xue observed.

In 2019, money sent home from diaspora workers became the largest source of external financing in low- and middle-income countries excluding China, according to World Bank data. The money flows amounted to over $500 billion and surpassed the levels of foreign direct investment in these regions.

The other type of business that a clearinghouse for mobile wallets could threaten is cross-border payment aggregators, which save merchants from having to integrate with various digital payment methods.

The biggest challenge for the nascent startup is to establish trust with clients. At this stage, WalletsClub in talks with electronic money services founded by Chinese entrepreneurs in Hong Kong, Singapore and Canada. Chinese-made wallets are especially plentiful in emerging markets, thanks to these founders’ learning from China’s fintech boom over the decade. Many of them found it hard to compete with behemoths like Tencent and Ant, let alone China’s tightening regulations around fintech.

“If we reach 20 members and have several hundreds of transactions between every pair of members on a daily basis, we are basically profitable,” said Xue, adding that the goal is to onboard a dozen customers by this year.

#alibaba, #alibaba-group, #alipay, #ant-group, #asia, #bank, #canada, #china, #digital-currencies, #digital-wallet, #finance, #mastercard, #mobile-payment, #mobile-phones, #money, #moneygram, #online-payments, #philippines, #singapore, #tc, #visa, #western-union, #world-bank

0

JD Logistics, China’s answer to Amazon’s logistics ambitions, to raise $3.4B from IPO

After operating in the red for 14 years, JD.com’s logistics subsidiary is getting ready for an initial public offering in Hong Kong. JD Logistics will price its share between HK$39.36 and HK$43.36 apiece, which could see the firm raise up to about HK$26.4 billion or $3.4 billion, according to its new filing.

JD.com, Alibaba’s e-commerce rival in China, began building its own logistics and transportation network from the ground up in 2007 and spun out the unit in 2017, following a pattern where major segments of the tech giant became independent, such as JD.com’s health and fintech units. JD.com is currently the largest shareholder of JD Logistics with an aggregate stake of 79%.

Unlike Alibaba, which relies on a network of third-party partners to fulfill orders, JD.com takes a heavy-asset approach like Amazon, building up warehouse centers and keeping its own army of courier staff. As of 2020, JD Logistics had over 246,800 employees working in delivery, warehouse operations among other customer services. Its total headcount was 258,700 last year.

A major strategic decision JD Logistics made once it became independent was opening its technologies to external customers beyond the scope of JD.com’s own demand, helping retailers like Skechers optimize their logistics operations. As a result, the share of its revenue from external customers rose from 29.9% in 2018 to 38.4% in 2019, and to 43.4% in the nine months ended September 2020.

“Our growth strategy is partially based on the assumption that the trend toward outsourcing of supply chain services will continue,” the firm said in its prospectus.

“Third-party service providers like us are generally able to provide such services more efficiently than otherwise could be provided ‘in-house,’ primarily as a result of our expertise, technology and lower and more flexible employee cost structure.”

But retailers may switch to in-house supply chain operations themselves if they see risks in relying on third-party providers, the company added.

The main selling point of JD Logistics is its same- or next-day delivery, thanks to warehouses it keeps close to end consumers. It said about 90% of the total orders it processed were delivered on the same or next day in 2020.

Such user experience comes at a substantial cost for JD Logistics, though losses are shrinking. The firm posted a net loss of 2.8 billion yuan, 2.2 billion yuan and 11.7 million yuan in 2018, 2019 and for the nine months ended September 30, 2020, respectively.

Its gross profit margin improved from 8.5% during the nine months ended September 30, 2019 to 10.9% for the same period in 2020, primarily due to economies of scale, better operational efficiency, and government subsidies for reductions in social security funds contributed by employers and waivers of toll charges during COVID-19.

JD Logistics reached into instant delivery by partnering with Dada, a Chinese last-mile delivery service, to form JDDJ, short for “JD Arrives Home” in Chinese. JDDJ has been Walmart’s on-demand delivery service provider in China since 2016.

#alibaba, #amazon, #asia, #china, #jd-com, #logistics, #retailers, #richard-liu, #tc, #walmart

0

Equity Monday: Dogecoin is passé, but student notes are big business

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest private market news, talks about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here.

This weekend was all about memecoins. And I am sorry about that. But Equity doesn’t run the world, sadly, it merely notes what is going on:

  • Dogecoin dropped during Elon Musk’s SNL appearance. Which was somewhat ironic. Also there’s another memecoin that is skyrocketing.
  • Palantir, DoorDash, Airbnb, Alibaba will report earnings this week, amongst others.
  • Clubhouse is finally coming to Android. In the United States. By invite. So, if that’s you, congrats, welcome to the app.
  • A major cyberattack and ransom situation in the United States is a data point, yet again, that we’re woefully unprepared for cyber risk.
  • StuDocu raised $50 million which was cool, while Gojek raised another $300 million, which was the very opposite of surprising.
  • This week’s Extra Crunch Live is going to be really good. I will see you there!

It is going to be a busy week! Already since we recorded this show there’s more drama from Box, and more. Strap in!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 AM PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

#airbnb, #alibaba, #android, #clubhouse, #crypto, #cryptocurrency, #cyberattack, #dogecoin, #doordash, #elon-musk, #equity, #equity-monday, #equity-podcast, #gojek, #india, #palantir, #pipeline, #snl, #startups, #studocu, #tc

0

Tesla supplier Delta Electronics invests $7M in AI chip startup Kneron

Despite a persistent semiconductor shortage that is disrupting the global automotive industry, investors remain bullish on the chips used to power next-generation vehicles.

Kneron, a startup that develops semiconductors to give devices artificial intelligence capabilities by using edge computing, just got funded by Delta Electronics, a Taiwanese supplier of power components for Apple and Tesla. The $7 million investment boosts the startup’s total financing to over $100 million to date.

As part of the deal, Kneron also agreed to buy Vatics, a part of Delta Electronics’ subsidiary Vivotek, for $10 million in cash. The new assets nicely complement Kneron’s business as the startup extends its footprint to the booming smart car industry.

Vatics, an image signal processing provider, has been selling system-on-a-chip (SoC) and intellectual property to manufacturers of surveillance, consumer, and automotive products for many years across the United States and China.

Headquartered in San Diego with a development force in Taipei, Kneron has emerged in recent years as a challenge to AI chip incumbents like Intel and Google. Its chips boast of low-power consumption and enable data processing directly on the chips using the startup’s proprietary software, a departure from solutions that require data to be computed through powerful cloud centers and sent back to devices.

The approach has won Kneron a list of heavyweight backers, including strategic investor Foxconn, Qualcomm, Sequoia Capital, Alibaba, and Li Ka-shing’s Horizons Ventures.

Kneron has designed chips for scenarios ranging from manufacturing, smart homes, smartphones, robotics, surveillance and payments to autonomous driving. In the automotive field, it has struck partnerships with Foxconn and Otus, a supplier for Honda and Toyota.

Following the acquisition, Vatics executives will join Kneron to lead its surveillance and security camera division. The merged teams will jointly develop surveillance and automotive products for Kneron going forward. Image signal processors, coupled with neural processing units, are helpful in detecting objects and ensuring the safety of automated cars.

“This acquisition will allow us to offer full-stack AI solutions, along with our current class-leading NPUs [neural processing units], and will significantly speed up our go-to-market strategy,” said Kneron’s founder and CEO, Albert Liu.

#albert-liu, #alibaba, #apple, #apple-inc, #artificial-intelligence, #asia, #automotive, #china, #computing, #foxconn, #honda, #horizons-ventures, #intel, #kneron, #li-ka-shing, #manufacturing, #qualcomm, #san-diego, #semiconductor, #sequoia-capital, #system-on-a-chip, #taipei, #tesla, #toyota

0

Ushopal looks to charm China’s beauty lovers with niche Western brands

What will China’s answer to Estée Lauder look like in the digital age?

According to Ushopal, it will provide a seamless online and offline shopping experience, where China’s savvy beauty shoppers get to discover niche, tasteful brands and learn their stories.

Ushopal was founded in 2017 by J&J veteran Lu Guo as an “omni-channel” partner for luxury beauty brands at a time when online and offline consumption were increasingly merging in China. Unlike traditional import distributors, which simply puts goods on the shelves, Ushopal offers a holistic solution that helps brands develop their digital and brick-and-mortar retail channels as well as marketing content through its network of 2,500 influencers.

Ushopal felt that patnerships weren’t enough, so in 2019, it took a step further by adding a strategic investment arm to seek deeper operational influence on brands. Check sizes range from $10 million to $100 million, and for the larger rounds, Ushopal says it can leverage its own investors such as Cathay Capital, a private equity firm focused on global companies.

For instance, Cathay Capital bought a minority stake in the Paris-based, high-end fragrance brand Juliette Has A Gun. As its investor and partner, Ushopal helped the brand, which was founded by the grandson of the legendary couturier Nina Ricci, grow its gross merchandise value in China from zero to over 70 million yuan within a year.

To boost its capital pool, Ushopal raised $100 million in March that lifted its total fundings to $200 million. Aside from Cathay Capital, its past investors also include FountainVest Partners, a Chinese private equity firm that recently acquired the Canadian premium outdoor clothing label Arc’teryx, and Chinaccelerator, SOSV’s China-based accelerator focused on cross-border businesses.

Chinese consumers are hooked to e-commerce today, but there is still much of the shopping experience that Alibaba’s marketplace and WeChat mini-stores can’t offer. As such, Ushopal opened its first multi-brand store in an upscale mall in Shanghai last year, carrying brands that are normally found in Neiman Marcus in the U.S. and Le Bon Marché in Paris. The goal is to showcase treasures from around the world, an idea that is captured by the chain’s name — Bonnie&Clyde — the names of a Depression-era crime couple who is often depicted as chic and rebellious in popular culture.

Customers don’t pay at B&C’s brick-and-mortar store; instead, they order through its app and can have the order delivered to their doorsteps within four hours if they live in Shanghai. The delivery time is much shorter than China’s standard e-commerce import practice, which normally takes three to seven days for goods to arrive from their overseas distribution centers.

B&C, on the other hand, stockpiles in its own warehouse in a free trade zone in Shanghai, which allows for much quicker delivery. And since it holds exclusive and selective distribution rights to the brands it works with, it has a good grasp over how much inventory to keep.

A promotional short video made by Ushopal for Juliette Has A Gun in China

At China’s beauty stores targeting the mass market, shoppers are often seen moving from one busily stocked shelf to another while their eyes are fixated on their phones, browsing product reviews on content commerce apps like Xiaohongshu. B&C wants full attention from its customers by limiting its in-store product number and statinoing a team of beauty advisors. The demographics it targets are also quite different.

“When they are traveling in the U.S., they are going to Barneys, Saxs Fifth Avenue and whey they are in the U.K., they are going to Harrods,” Lau, vice president of brands at Ushopal, told TechCrunch in an interview. “They are familiar with the experience, and they are not here to line up.”

Last year, B&C generated over $200 million in gross merchandise value through the products it bought from a dozen of brands and subsequently sold in China. The average ticket size of its sales was over 5,000 yuan ($770), with shoppers often spending over 10,000 yuan per order, according to Lau. Many of the customers were what he called “second-generation rich,” roughly China’s equivalent to trust fund kids, as well as “well-to-do wives.”

Ushopal doesn’t limit its portfolio to overseas products. It doesn’t distinguish the origin of a brand, said Lau, whether it’s Chinese, Japanese or European. Though the company mainly works with Western brands at the moment, Lau said Chinese brands are becoming more sophisticated and often understand the local market better.

“For us, it’s just about creating great brands. It’s like Estée Lauder, which has brands from all over the world. We are a China-based company but a global luxury business.”

#alibaba, #asia, #beauty, #brand, #ceo, #china, #chinaccelerator, #ecommerce, #fountainvest-partners, #johnson-johnson, #paris, #shanghai, #tc, #united-states, #xiaohongshu

0

Arm launches its latest chip design for HPC, data centers and the edge

Arm today announced the launch of two new platforms, Arm Neoverse V1 and Neoverse N2, as well as a new mesh interconnect for them. As you can tell from the name, V1 is a completely new product and maybe the best example yet of Arm’s ambitions in the data center, high-performance computing and machine learning space. N2 is Arm’s next-generation general compute platform that is meant to span use cases from hyperscale clouds to SmartNICs and running edge workloads. It’s also the first design based on the company’s new Armv9 architecture.

Not too long ago, high-performance computing was dominated by a small number of players, but the Arm ecosystem has scored its fair share of wins here recently, with supercomputers in South Korea, India and France betting on it. The promise of V1 is that it will vastly outperform the older N1 platform, with a 2x gain in floating-point performance, for example, and a 4x gain in machine learning performance.

Image Credits: Arm

“The V1 is about how much performance can we bring — and that was the goal,” Chris Bergey, SVP and GM of Arm’s Infrastructure Line of Business, told me. He also noted that the V1 is Arm’s widest architecture yet. He noted that while V1 wasn’t specifically built for the HPC market, it was definitely a target market. And while the current Neoverse V1 platform isn’t based on the new Armv9 architecture yet, the next generation will be.

N2, on the other hand, is all about getting the most performance per watt, Bergey stressed. “This is really about staying in that same performance-per-watt-type envelope that we have within N1 but bringing more performance,” he said. In Arm’s testing, NGINX saw a 1.3x performance increase versus the previous generation, for example.

Image Credits: Arm

In many ways, today’s release is also a chance for Arm to highlight its recent customer wins. AWS Graviton2 is obviously doing quite well, but Oracle is also betting on Ampere’s Arm-based Altra CPUs for its cloud infrastructure.

“We believe Arm is going to be everywhere — from edge to the cloud. We are seeing N1-based processors deliver consistent performance, scalability and security that customers want from Cloud infrastructure,” said Bev Crair, senior VP, Oracle Cloud Infrastructure Compute. “Partnering with Ampere Computing and leading ISVs, Oracle is making Arm server-side development a first-class, easy and cost-effective solution.”

Meanwhile, Alibaba Cloud and Tencent are both investing in Arm-based hardware for their cloud services as well, while Marvell will use the Neoverse V2 architecture for its OCTEON networking solutions.

#alibaba, #arm, #aws, #cloud-infrastructure, #cloud-services, #computing, #enterprise, #india, #machine-learning, #nvidia, #oracle, #oracle-cloud, #softbank-group, #south-korea, #svp, #tc, #technology, #tencent

0

China’s e-commerce giant JD.com starts paying some staff in digital yuan

China’s plan to introduce its digital currency is getting a lot of help from its tech conglomerates. JD.com, a major Chinese online retailer that competes with Alibaba, said Monday that it has started paying some staff in digital yuan, the virtual version of the country’s physical currency.

China has been busy experimenting with digital currency over the past few months. In October, Shenzhen, a southern city known for its progressive economic policies, doled out 10 million yuan worth of digital currency to 500,000 residents, who could then use the money to shop at certain online and offline retailers.

Several other large Chinese cities have followed Shenzhen’s suit. The residents in these regions has to apply through selected banks to start receiving and paying by digital yuan.

The electronic yuan initiative is a collective effort involving China’s regulators, commercial banks and technology solution providers. At first glance, the scheme still mimics how physical yuan is circulating at the moment; under the direction of the central bank, the six major commercial banks in China, including ICBC, distribute the digital yuan to smaller banks and a web of tech solution providers, who could help bring more use cases to the new electronic money.

For example, JD.com partnered up with the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) to deposit the digital income. The online retailer has become one of the first organizations in China to pay wages in electronic yuan; in August, some government workers in the eastern city of Suzhou also began getting paid in the digital money.

Across the board, China’s major tech companies have actively participated in the buildout of the digital yuan ecosystem, which will help the central government better track money flows.

Aside from JD.com, video streaming platform Bilibili, on-demand services provider Meituan and ride-hailing app Didi have also begun accepting digital yuan for user purchases. Gaming and social networking giant Tencent became one of the “digital yuan operators” and will take part in the design, R&D and operational work of the electronic money. Jack Ma’s Ant Group, which is undergoing a major overhaul following a stalled IPO, has also joined hands with the central bank to work on building out the infrastructure to move money digitally. Huawei, the telecom equipment titan, debutted a wallet on one of its smartphone models that allows users to spend digital yuan instantaneously even if the device is offline.

#alibaba, #ant-group, #asia, #bank, #bilibili, #central-bank, #china, #digital-currency, #digital-yuan, #finance, #huawei, #jd-com, #relational-database, #tc, #yuan

0

China’s Xpeng in the race to automate EVs with lidar

Elon Musk famously said any company relying on lidar is “doomed.” Tesla instead believes automated driving functions are built on visual recognition and is even working to remove the radar. China’s Xpeng begs to differ.

Founded in 2014, Xpeng is one of China’s most celebrated electric vehicle startups and went public when it was just six years old. Like Tesla, Xpeng sees automation as an integral part of its strategy; unlike the American giant, Xpeng uses a combination of radar, cameras, high-precision maps powered by Alibaba, localization systems developed in-house, and most recently, lidar to detect and predict road conditions.

“Lidar will provide the 3D drivable space and precise depth estimation to small moving obstacles even like kids and pets, and obviously, other pedestrians and the motorbikes which are a nightmare for anybody who’s working on driving,” Xinzhou Wu, who oversees Xpeng’s autonomous driving R&D center, said in an interview with TechCrunch.

“On top of that, we have the usual radar which gives you location and speed. Then you have the camera which has very rich, basic semantic information.”

Xpeng is adding lidar to its mass-produced EV model P5, which will begin delivering in the second half of this year. The car, a family sedan, will later be able to drive from point A to B based on a navigation route set by the driver on highways and certain urban roads in China that are covered by Alibaba’s maps. An older model without lidar already enables assisted driving on highways.

The system, called Navigation Guided Pilot, is benchmarked against Tesla’s Navigate On Autopilot, said Wu. It can, for example, automatically change lanes, enter or exit ramps, overtake other vehicles, and maneuver another car’s sudden cut-in, a common sight in China’s complex road conditions.

“The city is super hard compared to the highway but with lidar and precise perception capability, we will have essentially three layers of redundancy for sensing,” said Wu.

By definition, NGP is an advanced driver-assistance system (ADAS) as drivers still need to keep their hands on the wheel and take control at any time (Chinese laws don’t allow drivers to be hands-off on the road). The carmaker’s ambition is to remove the driver, that is, reach Level 4 autonomy two to four years from now, but real-life implementation will hinge on regulations, said Wu.

“But I’m not worried about that too much. I understand the Chinese government is actually the most flexible in terms of technology regulation.”

The lidar camp

Musk’s disdain for lidar stems from the high costs of the remote sensing method that uses lasers. In the early days, a lidar unit spinning on top of a robotaxi could cost as much as $100,000, said Wu.

“Right now, [the cost] is at least two orders low,” said Wu. After 13 years with Qualcomm in the U.S., Wu joined Xpeng in late 2018 to work on automating the company’s electric cars. He currently leads a core autonomous driving R&D team of 500 staff and said the force will double in headcount by the end of this year.

“Our next vehicle is targeting the economy class. I would say it’s mid-range in terms of price,” he said, referring to the firm’s new lidar-powered sedan.

The lidar sensors powering Xpeng come from Livox, a firm touting more affordable lidar and an affiliate of DJI, the Shenzhen-based drone giant. Xpeng’s headquarters is in the adjacent city of Guangzhou about 1.5 hours’ drive away.

Xpeng isn’t the only one embracing lidar. Nio, a Chinese rival to Xpeng targeting a more premium market, unveiled a lidar-powered car in January but the model won’t start production until 2022. Arcfox, a new EV brand of Chinese state-owned carmaker BAIC, recently said it would be launching an electric car equipped with Huawei’s lidar.

Musk recently hinted that Tesla may remove radar from production outright as it inches closer to pure vision based on camera and machine learning. The billionaire founder isn’t particularly a fan of Xpeng, which he alleged owned a copy of Tesla’s old source code.

In 2019, Tesla filed a lawsuit against Cao Guangzhi alleging that the former Tesla engineer stole trade secrets and brought them to Xpeng. XPeng has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. Cao no longer works at Xpeng.

Supply challenges

While Livox claims to be an independent entity “incubated” by DJI, a source told TechCrunch previously that it is just a “team within DJI” positioned as a separate company. The intention to distance from DJI comes as no one’s surprise as the drone maker is on the U.S. government’s Entity List, which has cut key suppliers off from a multitude of Chinese tech firms including Huawei.

Other critical parts that Xpeng uses include NVIDIA’s Xavier system-on-the-chip computing platform and Bosch’s iBooster brake system. Globally, the ongoing semiconductor shortage is pushing auto executives to ponder over future scenarios where self-driving cars become even more dependent on chips.

Xpeng is well aware of supply chain risks. “Basically, safety is very important,” said Wu. “It’s more than the tension between countries around the world right now. Covid-19 is also creating a lot of issues for some of the suppliers, so having redundancy in the suppliers is some strategy we are looking very closely at.”

Taking on robotaxis

Xpeng could have easily tapped the flurry of autonomous driving solution providers in China, including Pony.ai and WeRide in its backyard Guangzhou. Instead, Xpeng becomes their competitor, working on automation in-house and pledges to outrival the artificial intelligence startups.

“The availability of massive computing for cars at affordable costs and the fast dropping price of lidar is making the two camps really the same,” Wu said of the dynamics between EV makers and robotaxi startups.

“[The robotaxi companies] have to work very hard to find a path to a mass-production vehicle. If they don’t do that, two years from now, they will find the technology is already available in mass production and their value become will become much less than today’s,” he added.

“We know how to mass-produce a technology up to the safety requirement and the quarantine required of the auto industry. This is a super high bar for anybody wanting to survive.”

Xpeng has no plans of going visual-only. Options of automotive technologies like lidar are becoming cheaper and more abundant, so “why do we have to bind our hands right now and say camera only?” Wu asked.

“We have a lot of respect for Elon and his company. We wish them all the best. But we will, as Xiaopeng [founder of Xpeng] said in one of his famous speeches, compete in China and hopefully in the rest of the world as well with different technologies.”

5G, coupled with cloud computing and cabin intelligence, will accelerate Xpeng’s path to achieve full automation, though Wu couldn’t share much detail on how 5G is used. When unmanned driving is viable, Xpeng will explore “a lot of exciting features” that go into a car when the driver’s hands are freed. Xpeng’s electric SUV is already available in Norway, and the company is looking to further expand globally.

#alibaba, #artificial-intelligence, #asia, #automation, #automotive, #baic, #bosch, #cars, #china, #cloud-computing, #driver, #electric-car, #elon-musk, #emerging-technologies, #engineer, #founder, #huawei, #lasers, #li-auto, #lidar, #livox, #machine-learning, #nio, #norway, #nvidia, #qualcomm, #robotaxi, #robotics, #self-driving-cars, #semiconductor, #shenzhen, #tc, #tesla, #transport, #transportation, #u-s-government, #united-states, #wu, #xavier, #xiaopeng, #xpeng

0

Equity Monday: Microsoft buys Nuance, Uber isn’t dead, and Austin has a new unicorn

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest private market news, talks about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here. It is good to be back!

There was a lot to get through, so, in order that we discussed the topics on the show, here’s our rundown:

Don’t forget that Coinbase is listing this week, yeah? Chat soon!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 AM PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

#africa, #alibaba, #antitrust, #darktrace, #equity-podcast, #fundings-exits, #india, #microsoft, #nuance-communications, #startups, #the-zebra, #tiger-global, #uber

0

Beyond Meat opens its first production plant in China

About a year after Beyond Meat debuted in China on Starbucks’s menu, the Californian plant-based protein company opened a production facility near Shanghai to tap the country’s supply chain resources and potentially reduce the carbon footprint of its products.

Situated in Jiaxing, a city 85 km from Shanghai, the plant is Beyond Meat’s first end-to-end manufacturing facility outside the U.S., the Nasdaq-listed company said in an announcement on Wednesday.

Over the past year, competition became steep in China’s alternative protein space with the foray of foreign players like Beyond Meat and Eat Just, as well as a slew of capital injections for domestic startups including Hey Maet and Starfield.

Beyond Meat doesn’t flinch at the rivalry. When asked by TechCrunch to comment on a story about China’s alternative protein scene, a representative of the company said “there are none that Beyond Meat considers their competitors.”

China not only has an enormous, unsaturated market for meat replacements; it’s also a major supplier of plant-based protein. Chinese meat substitute startups enjoy a cost advantage from the outset and don’t lack interest from investors who race to back consumer products that are more reflective of the tastes of the rising middle class.

Having some kind of manufacturing capacity in China is thus almost a prerequisite for any serious foreign player. Tesla has done it before to build Gigafactory in Shanghai to deliver cheaper electric vehicles. Localized production also helps companies advance their sustainability goals as it shortens the supply chain.

In Beyond Meat’s own words, the Jiaxing facility is “expected to significantly increase the speed and scale in which the company can produce and distribute its products within the region while also improving Beyond Meat’s cost structure and sustainability of operations.”

The American food-tech giant works hard on localization, selling in China both its flagship burger patties and an imitation minced pork product made specifically for the world’s largest consumer of pork. The soy- and rice-based minced pork could be used in a wide range of Chinese cuisines and is the result of a collaboration between the firm’s Shanghai and Los Angeles teams.

Besides production, the Jiaxing plant will also take on R&D responsibilities to invent new products for the region. Beyond Meat will also be unveiling its first owned manufacturing facility in Europe this year.

“We are committed to investing in China as a region for long-term growth,” said Ethan Brown, CEO and founder of Beyond Meat. “We believe this new manufacturing facility will be instrumental in advancing our pricing and sustainability metrics as we seek to provide Chinese consumers with delicious plant-based proteins that are good for both people and planet.”

Beyond Meat products can now be found in Starbucks, KFC, Alibaba’s Hema supermarket and other retail channels across major Chinese cities.

#alibaba, #asia, #beyond-meat, #china, #consumer-products, #ethan-brown, #europe, #food, #food-and-drink, #kfc, #meat, #meat-substitutes, #shanghai, #starbucks

0

Microsoft’s Dapr open-source project to help developers build cloud-native apps hits 1.0

Dapr, the Microsoft-incubated open-source project that aims to make it easier for developers to build event-driven, distributed cloud-native applications, hit its 1.0 milestone today, signifying the project’s readiness for production use cases. Microsoft launched the Distributed Application Runtime (that’s what “Dapr” stand for) back in October 2019. Since then, the project released 14 updates and the community launched integrations with virtually all major cloud providers, including Azure, AWS, Alibaba and Google Cloud.

The goal for Dapr, Microsoft Azure CTO Mark Russinovich told me, was to democratize cloud-native development for enterprise developers.

“When we go look at what enterprise developers are being asked to do — they’ve traditionally been doing client, server, web plus database-type applications,” he noted. “But now, we’re asking them to containerize and to create microservices that scale out and have no-downtime updates — and they’ve got to integrate with all these cloud services. And many enterprises are, on top of that, asking them to make apps that are portable across on-premises environments as well as cloud environments or even be able to move between clouds. So just tons of complexity has been thrown at them that’s not specific to or not relevant to the business problems they’re trying to solve.”

And a lot of the development involves re-inventing the wheel to make their applications reliably talk to various other services. The idea behind Dapr is to give developers a single runtime that, out of the box, provides the tools that developers need to build event-driven microservices. Among other things, Dapr provides various building blocks for things like service-to-service communications, state management, pub/sub and secrets management.

Image Credits: Dapr

“The goal with Dapr was: let’s take care of all of the mundane work of writing one of these cloud-native distributed, highly available, scalable, secure cloud services, away from the developers so they can focus on their code. And actually, we took lessons from serverless, from Functions-as-a-Service where with, for example Azure Functions, it’s event-driven, they focus on their business logic and then things like the bindings that come with Azure Functions take care of connecting with other services,” Russinovich said.

He also noted that another goal here was to do away with language-specific models and to create a programming model that can be leveraged from any language. Enterprises, after all, tend to use multiple languages in their existing code, and a lot of them are now looking at how to best modernize their existing applications — without throwing out all of their current code.

As Russinovich noted, the project now has more than 700 contributors outside of Microsoft (though the core commuters are largely from Microsoft) and a number of businesses started using it in production before the 1.0 release. One of the larger cloud providers that is already using it is Alibaba. “Alibaba Cloud has really fallen in love with Dapr and is leveraging it heavily,” he said. Other organizations that have contributed to Dapr include HashiCorp and early users like ZEISS, Ignition Group and New Relic.

And while it may seem a bit odd for a cloud provider to be happy that its competitors are using its innovations already, Russinovich noted that this was exactly the plan and that the team hopes to bring Dapr into a foundation soon.

“We’ve been on a path to open governance for several months and the goal is to get this into a foundation. […] The goal is opening this up. It’s not a Microsoft thing. It’s an industry thing,” he said — but he wasn’t quite ready to say to which foundation the team is talking.

 

#alibaba, #alibaba-cloud, #aws, #cloud, #cloud-computing, #cloud-infrastructure, #cloud-services, #cloud-storage, #computing, #developer, #enterprise, #google, #hashicorp, #mark-russinovich, #microservices, #microsoft, #microsoft-azure, #new-relic, #serverless-computing, #tc

0

Alibaba Cloud turns profitable after 11 years

Alibaba Cloud, the cloud computing arm of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, became profitable for the first time in the December quarter, the company announced in its earnings report.

The firm’s cloud unit achieved positive adjusted EBITA (earnings before interest, taxes, and amortization) during the quarter, after being in business since 2009. The milestone is in part a result of the “realization of economies of scale,” Alibaba said.

Alibaba Cloud, which incorporates everything from database, storage, big data analytics, security, machine learning to IoT services, has dominated China’s cloud infrastructure market for the past few years and its market share worldwide continues to grow. As of 2019, the cloud behemoth was the third-largest public cloud company (providing infrastructure-as-a-service) in the world with a 9% market, trailing behind Amazon and Microsoft, according to Gartner.

COVID-19 has been a boon to cloud and digital adoption around the world as the virus forces offline activities online. For instance, Alibaba notes in its earnings that demand for digitalization in the restaurant and service industry remains strong in the post-COVID period in China, a trend that benefits its food delivery and on-demand services app, Ele.me. The firm’s cloud revenue grew to $2.47 billion in the December quarter, primarily driven by “robust growth in revenue from customers in the internet and retail industries and the public sector.”

Commerce remained Alibaba’s largest revenue driver in the quarter accounting for nearly 70% of revenue, while cloud contributed 7%.

Tencent’s cloud segment is Alibaba Cloud’s closest rival. As of 2019, it had a 2.8% market globally, according to Gartner. The industry in China still has ample room for growth, as Alibaba executive vice-chairman Joe Tsai pointed out in an analyst call from last August.

“Based on the third-party studies that we’ve seen, the China cloud market is going to be somewhere in the $15 billion to $20 billion total size range, and the U.S. market is about eight times that. So the China market is still at a very early stage,” said Tsai.

“We feel very good, very comfortable to be in the China market and just being an environment of faster digitization and faster growth of usage of cloud from enterprises because we’re growing from such a smaller base, about one-eighth the base of that of the U.S. market.”

A key strategy to grow Alibaba Cloud is the integration of cloud into Alibaba’s enterprise chat app Dingtalk, which the company hopes can drive industries across the board onto cloud services. It’s a relationship that echoes that between Microsoft 365 and Azure, as president of Alibaba Cloud, Zhang Jianfeng, previously suggested in an interview.

“We don’t want to just provide cloud in terms of infrastructure services,” said Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang in the August earnings call. “If we just do it as an infrastructure service, as SaaS services, then price competition is inevitable, and then all the cloud service is more like a commodity business. Today, Alibaba’s cloud is cloud plus intelligence services, and it’s about cloud plus the power of the data usage.”

#alibaba, #alibaba-cloud, #asia, #china, #cloud, #cloud-computing, #earnings, #tc

0

Augmented reality and the next century of the web

Howdy friends, this is the web version of my Week in Review newsletter, it’s here to entice you to sign up and get it in your inbox every week.

Last week, I showcased how Twitter was looking at the future of the web with a decentralized approach so that they wouldn’t be stuck unilaterally de-platforming the next world leader. This week, I scribbled some thoughts on another aspect of the future web, the ongoing battle between Facebook and Apple to own augmented reality. Releasing the hardware will only be the start of a very messy transition from smartphone-first to glasses-first mobile computing.

Again, if you so desire you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny


The Big Thing

If the last few years of new “reality” tech has telegraphed anything, it’s that tech companies won’t be able to skip past augmented reality’s awkward phase, they’re going to have to barrel through it and it’s probably going to take a long-ass time.

The clearest reality is that in 2021 everyday users still don’t seem quite as interested in AR as the next generation of platform owners stand to benefit from a massive transition. There’s some element of skating to where the puck is going among the soothsayers that believe AR is the inevitable platform heir etc. etc., but the battle to reinvent mobile is at its core a battle to kill the smartphone before its time has come.

A war to remake mobile in the winner’s image

It’s fitting that the primary backers of this AR future are Apple and Facebook, ambitious companies that are deeply in touch with the opportunities they could’ve capitalized on if they could do it all over again.

While Apple and Facebook both have thousands of employees toiling quietly in the background building out their AR tech moats, we’ve seen and heard much more on Facebook’s efforts. The company has already served up several iterations of their VR hardware through Oculus and has discussed publicly over the years how they view virtual reality and augmented reality hardware converging. 

Facebook’s hardware and software experiments have been experimentations in plain sight, an advantage afforded to a company that didn’t sell any hardware before they started selling VR headsets. Meanwhile Apple has offered up a developer platform and a few well-timed keynote slots for developers harnessing their tools, but the most ambitious first-party AR project they’ve launched publicly on iOS has been a measuring tape app. Everything else has taken place behind closed doors.

That secrecy tends to make any reporting on Apple’s plans particularly juicy. This week, a story from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman highlights some of Apple’s next steps towards a long-rumored AR glasses product, reporting that Apple plans to release a high-end niche VR device with some AR capabilities as early as next year. It’s not the most surprising but showcases how desperate today’s mobile kingpins are to ease the introduction of a technology that has the potential to turn existing tech stacks and the broader web on their heads.

Both Facebook and Apple have a handful of problems getting AR products out into the world, and they’re not exactly low-key issues:

  1. hardware isn’t ready
  2. platforms aren’t ready
  3. developers aren’t ready
  4. users don’t want it yet

This is a daunting wall, but isn’t uncommon among hardware moonshots. Facebook has already worked its way through this cycle once with virtual reality over several generations of hardware, though there were some key difference and few would call VR a mainstream success quite yet.

Nevertheless, there’s a distinct advantage to tackling VR before AR for both Facebook and Apple, they can invest in hardware that’s adjacent to the technologies their AR products will need to capitalize on, they can entice developers to build for a platform that’s more similar to what’s coming and they can set base line expectations for consumers for a more immersive platform. At least this would all be the case for Apple with a mass market VR device closer to Facebook’s $300 Quest 2, but a pricey niche device as Gurman’s report details doesn’t seem to fit that bill quite so cleanly.

The AR/VR content problem 

The scenario I’d imagine both Facebook and Apple are losing sleep over is that they release serviceable AR hardware into a world where they are wholly responsible for coming up with all the primary use cases.

The AR/VR world already has a hefty backlog of burnt developers who might be long-term bullish on the tech but are also tired of getting whipped around by companies that seem to view the development of content ecosystems simply as a means to ship their next device. If Apple is truly expecting the sales numbers of this device that Bloomberg suggests — similar to Valve’s early Index headset sales — then color me doubtful that there will be much developer interest at all in building for a stopgap device, I’d expect ports of Quest 2 content and a few shining stars from Apple-funded partners.

I don’t think this will me much of a shortcut for them.

True AR hardware is likely going to have different standards of input, different standards of interaction and a much different approach to use cases compared to a device built for the home or smartphone. Apple has already taken every available chance to entice mobile developers to embrace phone-based AR on iPhones through ARKit, a push they have seemed to back off from at recent developer-centric events. As someone who has kept a close eye on early projects, I’d say that most players in the space have been very underwhelmed by what existing platforms enable and what has been produced widely.

That’s really not great for Apple or Facebook and suggests that both of these companies are going to have to guide users and developers through use cases they design. I think there’s a convincing argument that early AR glasses applications will be dominated by first-party tech and may eschew full third-party native apps in favor of tightly controlled data integrations more similar to how Apple has approached developer integrations inside Siri.

But giving developers a platform built with Apple or Facebook’s own dominance in mind is going to be tough to sell, underscoring the fact that mobile and mobile AR are going to be platforms that will have to live alongside each other for quite a bit. There will be rich opportunities for developers to create experiences that play with 3D and space, but there are also plenty of reasons to expect they’ll be more resistant to move off of a mutually enriching mobile platform onto one where Facebook or Apple will have the pioneer’s pick of platform advantages. What’s in it for them?

Mobile’s OS-level winners captured plenty of value from top-of-funnel apps marketplaces, but the down-stream opportunities found mobile’s true prize, a vastly expanded market for digital ads. With the opportunity of a mobile do-over, expect to find pioneering tech giants pitching proprietary digital ad infrastructure for their devices. Advertising will likely be augmented reality’s greatest opportunity allowing the digital ads market to create an infinite global canvas for geo-targeted customized ad content. A boring future, yes, but a predictable one.

For Facebook, being a platform owner in the 2020s means getting to set their own limitations on use cases, not being confined by App Store regulations and designing hardware with social integrations closer to the silicon. For Apple, reinventing the mobile OS in the 2020s likely means an opportunity to more meaningfully dominate mobile advertising.

It’s a do-over to the tune of trillions in potential revenues.

What comes next

The AR/VR industry has been stuck in a cycle of seeking out saviors. Facebook has been the dearest friend to proponents after startup after startup has failed to find a speedy win. Apple’s long-awaited AR glasses are probably where most die-hards are currently placing their faith.

I don’t think there are any misgivings from Apple or Facebook in terms of what a wild opportunity this to win, it’s why they each have more people working on this than any other future-minded project. AR will probably be massive and change the web in a fundamental way, a true Web 3.0 that’s the biggest shift of the internet to date.

That’s doesn’t sound like something that will happen particularly smoothly.

I’m sure that these early devices will arrive later than we expect, do less than we expect and that things will be more and less different from the smartphone era’s mobile paradigms in ways we don’t anticipate. I’m also sure that it’s going to be tough for these companies to strong-arm themselves into a more seamless transition. This is going to be a very messy for tech platforms and is a transition that won’t happen overnight, not by a long shot.


Other things

The Loon is dead
One of tech’s stranger moonshots is dead, as Google announced this week that Loon, it’s internet balloon project is being shut down. It was an ambitious attempt to bring high-speed internet to remote corners of the world, but the team says it wasn’t sustainable to provide a high-cost service at a low price. More

Facebook Oversight Board tasked with Trump removal
I talked a couple weeks ago — what feels like a lifetime ago — about how Facebook’s temporary ban of Trump was going to be a nightmare for the company. I wasn’t sure how they’d stall for more time of a banned Trump before he made Facebook and Instagram his central platform, but they made a brilliant move, purposefully tying the case up in PR-favorable bureaucracy, tossing the case to their independent Oversight Board for their biggest case to date. More

Jack is Back
Alibaba’s head honcho is back in action. Alibaba shares jumped this week when the Chinese e-commerce giant’s billionaire CEO Jack Ma reappeared in public after more than three months after his last public appearance, something that stoked plenty of conspiracies. Where he was during all this time isn’t clear, but I sort of doubt we’ll be finding out. More

Trump pardons Anthony Levandowski
Trump is no longer President, but in one of his final acts, he surprisingly opted to grant a full pardon to one Anthony Levandowski, the former Google engineer convicted of stealing trade secrets regarding their self-driving car program. It was a surprising end to one of the more dramatic big tech lawsuits in recent years. More

Xbox raises Live prices
I’m not sure how this stacks in importance relative to what else is listed here, but I’m personally pissed that Microsoft is hiking the price of their streaming subscription Xbox Live Gold. It’s no secret that the gaming industry is embracing a subscription economy, it will be interesting to see what the divide looks like in terms of gamer dollars going towards platform owners versus studios. More

Musk offers up $100M donation to carbon capture tech
Elon Musk, who is currently the world’s richest person, tweeted out this week that he will be donating $100 million towards a contest to build the best technology for carbon capture. TechCrunch learned that this is connected to the Xprize organization. More details


Extra Things

I’m adding a section going forward to highlight some of our Extra Crunch coverage from the week, which dives a bit deeper into the money and minds of the moneymakers.

Hot IPOs hang onto gains as investors keep betting on tech
“After setting a $35 to $39 per-share IPO price range, Poshmark sold shares in its IPO at $42 apiece. Then it opened at $97.50. Such was the exuberance of the stock market regarding the used goods marketplace’s debut.
But today it’s worth a more modest $76.30 — for this piece we’re using all Yahoo Finance data, and all current prices are those from yesterday’s close ahead of the start of today’s trading — which sparked a question: How many recent tech IPOs are also down from their opening price?” More

How VCs invested in Asia and Europe in 2020
“Wrapping our look at how the venture capital asset class invested in 2020, today we’re taking a peek at Europe’s impressive year, and Asia’s slightly less invigorating set of results. (We’re speaking soon with folks who may have data on African VC activity in 2020; if those bear out, we’ll do a final entry in our series concerning the continent.)” More

Hello, Extra Crunch Community!
“We’re going to be trying out some new things around here with the Extra Crunch staff front and center, as well as turning your feedback into action more than ever. We quite literally work for you, the subscriber, and want to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth, as it were.” More


Until next week,
Lucas Matney

#alibaba, #anthony-levandowski, #app-store, #apple, #apple-inc, #ar, #arkansas, #asia, #augmented-reality, #ceo, #computing, #engineer, #europe, #facebook, #google, #head, #high-speed-internet, #instagram, #itunes, #jack-ma, #lucas-matney, #microsoft, #mobile-computing, #mobile-developers, #oculus, #oversight-board, #poshmark, #president, #siri, #smartphone, #smartphones, #software, #tc, #technology, #trump, #twitter, #virtual-reality, #vr, #xprize, #yahoo

0

Alibaba shares jump on Jack Ma’s first appearance in 3 months

Alibaba’s billionaire founder resurfaced as he spoke to 100 rural teachers through a video call, three months after his last public appearance in October, sending the e-commerce firm’s shares up more than 8% in Hong Kong.

A recording of the call was first posted on a news portal backed by the government of Zhejiang, the eastern province where Alibaba is headquartered, and the video was verified by an Alibaba spokesperson.

Speculations swirled around Ma’s whereabouts after media reported in December that he skipped the taping of a TV program he created. Ma, known for his love for the limelight, has seen his e-commerce empire Alibaba and fintech giant Ant Group increasingly in the crosshairs of the Chinese authorities in recent months.

Ma last appeared publicly at a conference where he castigated China’s financial regulatory system in front of a room of high-ranked officials. His controversial remark, according to reports, prompted the Chinese regulator to abruptly halt Ant’s initial public offering, which would have been the biggest public share sale of all time.

Ant has since been working on corporate restructuring and regulatory compliance under the directions of the government. Alibaba, China’s largest e-commerce platform, also came under scrutiny as market regulators opened an investigation into its alleged monopolistic practices.

Some argue that the recent clampdown on Jack Ma’s internet empire signals Beijing’s growing unease with the super-rich and private-sector power brokers.

“Today, Alibaba and its archrival, Tencent, control more personal data and are more intimately involved in everyday life in China than Google, Facebook and other American tech titans are in the United States. And just like their American counterparts, the Chinese giants sometimes bully smaller competitors and kill innovation,” wrote Li Yuan for the New York Times.

“You don’t have to be a member of the Communist Party to see reasons to rein them in.”

In the 50-second clip, Ma talked directly into the camera against what appears to be decorative paintings depicting a water town typical of Zhejiang. An art history book is shown amid a stack of books, alongside a vase of fresh flowers and a ceramic figurine of a stout, reclining man, looking relaxed and content.

Ma addressed the 100 teachers receiving the Jack Ma Rural Teachers Award, which was set up by the Jack Ma Foundation to identify outstanding rural teachers every year. The video also briefly shows Ma visiting a rural boarding school in Zhejiang on January 10. The award ceremony was moved online this year due to the pandemic, Ma told the teachers.

When Ma announced his retirement plan, he pledged to return to his teaching roots and devote more time to education philanthropy, though the founder still holds considerable sway over Alibaba. The legendary billionaire began his career as an English teacher in Hangzhou, and on Weibo, China’s Twitter equivalent, he nicknames himself the “ambassador for rural teachers.”

#alibaba, #alibaba-group, #ant-group, #asia, #china, #communist-party, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #government, #hangzhou, #jack-ma, #xi-jinping

0

WeChat advances e-commerce goals with $250B in transactions

WeChat continues to advance its shopping ambitions as the social networking app turns 10 years old. The Chinese messenger facilitated 1.6 trillion yuan (close to $250 billion) in annual transactions through its “mini programs,” third-party services that run on the super app that allow users to buy clothes, order food, hail taxis and more.

That is double the value of transactions on WeChat’s mini programs in 2019, the networking giant announced at its annual conference for business partners and ecosystem developers, which normally takes place in its home city of Guangzhou in southern China but was moved online this year due to the pandemic.

To compare, e-commerce upstart Pinduoduo, Alibaba’s archrival, saw total transactions of $214.7 billion in the third quarter.

WeChat introduced mini programs in early 2017 in a move some saw as a challenge to Apple’s App Store and has over time shaped the messenger into an online infrastructure that keeps people’s life running. It hasn’t recently disclosed how many third-party lite apps it houses, but by 2018 the number reached one million, half the size of the App Store at the time.

From Tencent’s strategic perspective, the growth in mini program-based transactions helps further the company’s goal to strengthen its fintech business, which counts digital payments as a major revenue driver.

A big proportion of WeChat’s mini programs are games, which the app said exceeded 500 million monthly users thanks to a boost in female and middle-aged users, as well as players residing in China’s Tier 3 cities, WeChat said.

The virtual conference also unveiled a set of other milestones from China’s biggest messaging app, which surpassed 1.2 billion monthly active users last year.

Among its monthly users, 500 million have tried the WeChat Search function. The Chinese internet is carved into several walled gardens controlled by titans like Tencent, Alibaba and ByteDance, which often block competitors from their services. When users search on WeChat, they are in effect retrieving information published on the messenger as well as Tencent’s allies like Sogou, Pinduoduo and Zhihu, rather than the open web.

WeChat said 240 million people have used its “payments score.” When the feature debuted back in 2019, there was speculation that it signaled WeChat’s entry into consumer credit finance and participation in the government’s social credit system. WeChat reiterated at this year’s event that the WeChat score does neither of that.

Like Ant’s Sesame Score, the rating system works more like a royalty program, “designed to build trust between merchants and users.” For instance, people who reach a certain score can waive deposits or delay payments when using merchant services on WeChat. The score, WeChat said, helped users save more than $30 billion in deposits a year.

WeChat’s enterprise version has surpassed 130 million active users. Its biggest rival, Dingtalk, operated by Alibaba, reached 155 million daily active users last March.

The one-day event concluded with the much-anticipated appearance of Allen Zhang, WeChat’s creator. Zhang went to great lengths to talk about WeChat’s nascent short-video feature, which is somewhat similar to Snap’s Stories. He didn’t disclose the performance of short videos because “the PR team doesn’t allow” him to, but said that “if we set a goal for ourselves, we will have to achieve it.”

Zhang also announced the WeChat team is weighing up an input tool for users. It’d be a tiny project given Tencent’s colossal size, but the project reflects Zhang’s belief in “privacy protection,” despite public skepticism about how WeChat handles user data.

“If we analyze [users’ chat history], we can bring great advertising revenue to the company. But we don’t do that, so WeChat cares a lot about user privacy,” asserted Zhang.

“But why do you still get ads [related to] what you have just said on WeChat? There are many other channels that process your information, not just WeChat. From there, our technical team said, ‘Why don’t we create an input tool ourselves?’”

#alibaba, #asia, #china, #dingtalk, #instant-messaging, #messaging-apps, #pinduoduo, #snap, #sogou, #tc, #tencent, #wechat

0

Alibaba shuts down 12-year-old music streaming app Xiami

Using Xiami was once synonymous with having good music taste in China. The music app, which debuted around 2008 and was acquired by Alibaba in 2013, is discontinuing its streaming service today, Xiami said in a notice to users.

Xiami, which means “smalll shrimp” in Chinese, was once known for its smart discovery, elegant design, social features and support for indie musicians which helped attract a loyal following among China’s artsy, hipster types. The beginning of its decline coincided with the battle for music rights in China. A digital music behemoth was formed in 2016 when Tencent bought a majority stake in China Music Group, which brought to Tencent a reservoir of exclusive music deals. By 2017, Tencent’s music apps controlled as much as 75% of China’s music streaming market.

Xiami, on the other hand, lost large quantities of music rights and consequently users who converted to more resource-rich platforms, albeit grudgingly.

Alibaba did have a shot at online music. In 2015, the e-commerce giant appointed two renowned industry veterans — a songwriter and a music company executive — to steer its newly minted music group. Neither was necessarily seen as having the experience for running an internet music business. Instead of growing Xiami, they poured resources into a platform called Alibaba Planet to build artist-fan relationships. The idea didn’t take off.

In the meantime, newcomers like NetEase Music are holding out in their battle against Tencent’s music empire, of which dominance has endured to this day.

While users will lose access to the app and all their data, Xiami is not totally dead. Its copyrights-focused segment Yin Luo (音螺 or Conch Music) will continue to operate, according to the notice. But the dream of Xiami’s utopian founders, “earn music & money” (hence the app’s original name “EMUMO”), a vision they laid out inside a cafe on a snowy day in Hangzhou, is surely gone.

#alibaba, #asia, #entertainment, #music-streaming, #xiami

0

Jack Ma’s absence from public eye sparks Twitter discussions

The world’s attention is on Jack Ma’s whereabouts after reports noted the billionaire founder of Alibaba and Ant Group had been absent from public view since late October.

On October 24, Ma delivered fiery remarks against China’s financial system to an audience of high-rank officials. Days later the Chinese authorities abruptly halted Ant’s initial public offering, an act believed to be linked to Ma’s controversial speech. The Chinese government subsequently told the fintech behemoth, which had thrived in a relatively lax regulatory environment, to “rectify” its business according to the law. The future of Ant hangs in the air.

Concurrently, Chinese regulators have launched an unprecedented probe into Alibaba over suspected monopolistic behavior.

Ma is known for his outspoken personality and love for the limelight, so it’s no surprise that his missing from recent events, including the final episode of an African TV program he created, is sparking widespread chatter. From economists to journalists, the Twitter world has tuned in:

“Regarding the Africa’s Business Heroes competition, Mr. Ma had to miss the finale due to a scheduled conflict,” an Alibaba spokesperson said.

While China’s Twitter equivalent Weibo has not blocked searching for “Jack Ma missing,” the posts it surfaced barely have any like or repost. Elsewhere on the Chinese internet, users are speculating inside WeChat groups that Ma was either “made vanished” or has fled the country.

It’s worth noting that Ma has long stepped back from day-to-day operations at Alibaba. In September 2019, he officially handed his helm as the company’s chairman to his successor Daniel Zhang. That said, the billionaire still holds considerable sway over the e-commerce business as a lifetime partner at the so-called Alibaba Partnership, a group comprising senior management ranks who can nominate a majority of the directors to the board.

It’s not unusual to see Chinese tycoons choosing to lie low in tough times. After Richard Liu was accused of rape, the flamboyant founder of JD.com, Alibaba’s archrival, skipped a key political event in China last year. Tencent founder Pony Ma, who already keeps a low profile, has been absent from the public eye for about a year, though the cause is his chronic “back problems,” a source told TechCrunch, and the tech boss has made virtual appearances at events by sending voice messages in the past year.

#alibaba, #ant, #asia, #china, #ecommerce, #jack-ma

0

Global investors flee from Chinese tech stocks after the government crackdown on Ant and Alibaba

Global investors are running from Chinese tech stocks in the wake of the government’s crackdown on Ant Group and Alibaba, two high-flying businesses founded by Ma Yun (Jack Ma) that were once hailed as paragons of China’s new tech elite.

Shares of major technology companies in the country have fallen sharply in recent days, with Bloomberg calculating that Alibaba, Tencent, JD.com and Meituan have lost around $200 billion in value during a handful of trading sessions.

Already reeling from the last-minute halt of the public debut of Ant Group, a major Chinese fintech player with deep ties to Alibaba, the e-commerce giant came under new fire, as China’s markets watchdog opened a probe into its business practices concerning potentially anticompetitive behavior.

Ant Group was itself summoned by the government on December 26th, leading to a plan that will force the company to “rectify” its business practices.

Shares of Alibaba are off around 30% from their recent, record highs set in late October. Tech shares are also off in the country more broadly, with one Chinese-technology-focused ETC falling around 8% from recent highs, including a 1.5% drop today.

The American Depositary Receipts used by traders to invest in Alibaba fell from around $256 per share at the close of Wednesday trading on the New York Stock Exchange to around $222 last Thursday. The company is down another half point today. It was worth more than $319 per share earlier in the quarter.

It’s clear that the rising tensions between China’s tech giants and the country’s ruling Communist Party have investors spooked. But Jack Ma’s relationship with the Chinese government has always been a bit more fraught than that of his peers. Ma Huateng (Pony Ma), the founder of Tencent, and Xu Yong (Eric Yong) and Li Yanhong (Robin Li), the co-founders of Baidu, have kept lower profiles than the Alibaba founder.

Bloomberg has a good synopsis of the state of the market right now. The companies that are most directly in the crosshairs appear to be Ma Yun’s, but at different times, Tencent has been the focus of Chinese regulators bent on curbing the company’s influence through gaming.

Specifically for Alibaba things have gone from bad to worse, and a boosted share buyback program was not enough to halt the bleeding.

Whether this new round of regulations is a solitary blip on the radar or the signal of an increasing interest in Beijing tying tech companies closer to national interests remains to be seen. As the tit-for-tat tech conflict between the U.S. and China continues, many companies that had seen their growth as apolitical may become caught in the diplomatic crossfire.

Other tech companies are seeing their fortunes rise, boosted by newfound interest from the central government in Beijing.

This is already apparent in the chip industry, where China’s push for self-reliance has brought new riches and capital for new businesses. It’s true for Liu FengFeng, whose company, Tsinghon, was able to raise $5 million for its attempt at building a new semiconductor manufacturer in the country. Intellifusion, a manufacturer of chipsets focused on machine learning applications, was able to raise another $141 million back in April.

Private investors may be less enthused at the prospect of backing Chinese tech upstarts who could face government censure should the regulatory winds shift. Whether other startup markets in the region — India, Japan, among others — will benefit from the Chinese regulatory barrage will be interesting to track in 2021.

#alibaba, #ant, #fundings-exits, #startups, #tc

0

China’s e-commerce titan Alibaba hit with antitrust probe

China’s top market watchdog has begun a probe into Alibaba over alleged anti-competition practices at the e-commerce firm, the latest of Beijing’s efforts to curb the country’s ever-expanding internet titans.

The State Administration for Market Regulation said Thursday in a brief statement that it is investigating Alibaba over its “choosing one from two” policy, in which merchants are forced to sell exclusively on Alibaba and skip rivaling platforms JD.com and Pinduoduo.

Alibaba cannot be immediately reached for comment.

On the same day, state-backed Xinhua reported that Ant Group, Alibaba’s affiliate, has been summoned by a group of finance authorities to discuss its “compliance” work. Ant, which works as an intermediary for financial services and customers, has pledged to take measures to curb debt risks after Chinese authorities abruptly called off its colossal initial public offering last month.

“Today, Ant Group received a meeting notice from regulators. We will seriously study and strictly comply with all regulatory requirements and commit full efforts to fulfill all related work,” the firm said in a statement.

More to come…

#alibaba, #ant-financial, #ant, #asia, #ecommerce, #government, #jack-ma, #tc

0

Alibaba ‘dismayed’ by its cloud unit’s ethnicity detection algorithm

Chinese tech giants have drawn international criticism after research showed they have technologies that enable the authorities to profile Muslim Uyghurs.

The cloud computing unit of Alibaba, Alibaba Cloud, developed a facial recognition algorithm that can identify a person’s ethnicity or whether a person is “Uyghur”, according to research from surveillance industry publication IPVM.

China has repeatedly defended its controversial “vocational training programs” imposed upon its Muslim ethnic minorities, including Uyghurs, Kazakhs and others, as part of what the government calls counter-terrorism efforts.

Alibaba said in a statement that it is “dismayed” to learn that Alibaba Cloud tested a technology that included “ethnicity as an algorithm” and that “racial or ethnic discrimination or profiling in any form violates Alibaba’s policies and values.”

“We never intended our technology to be used for and will not permit it to be used for targeting specific ethnic groups, and we have eliminated any ethnic tag in our product offering. This trial technology was not deployed by any customer. We do not and will not permit our technology to be used to target or identify specific ethnic groups,” the company added.

A security breach from last year revealed that a “smart city” surveillance system hosted on Alibaba Cloud could detect people’s ethnicity or label them Uyghur Muslim, TechCrunch reported earlier. At the time, Alibaba said as a public cloud provider, it “does not have the right to access the content in the customer database.”

IPVM also found earlier this month that Huawei and artificial intelligence unicorn Megvii, known for its facial recognition product Face++, jointly developed a technology that could alert the Chinese government when the system detected the face of a member from the Uyghur community.

As China’s tech upstarts seek overseas growth, they increasingly find themselves stuck between the demands of Beijing and international scrutiny over their stance on human rights issues.

Cloud computing is one of Alibaba’s fastest-growing segments and the giant is eyeing to attract more international customers. Last year, Alibaba Cloud was the biggest player in the Asia Pacific region and the third-largest Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) provider globally, according to research firm Gartner.

Alibaba’s cloud unit grew 60% year-over-year to account for nearly 10% of the firm’s revenues in the three months ended September. As of the quarter, approximately 60% of A-share listed companies, those that are based in mainland China and trade in RMB, are customers of Alibaba Cloud, the company claimed.

#alibaba, #alibaba-cloud, #artificial-intelligence, #asia, #beijing, #china, #government, #uighur, #uyghur

0

Singapore is poised to become Asia’s Silicon Valley

Long established as a global financial center, Singapore also looks set to become the “Silicon Valley of Asia.”

Tencent, ByteDance and Alibaba are reportedly planning regional hubs in the city-state, with ByteDance in particular expected to add hundreds of jobs over the next three years. They will join an international coterie of tech giants like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Stripe, Salesforce and Grab, that already have headquarters or significant operations, including engineering and R&D centers, in Singapore.

This means startups will have to compete more aggressively for talent. But having a diverse cluster of big tech companies helps the ecosystem by providing more resources, including mentorship and early funding opportunities, say Singapore-based investors. In the long term, the presence of global tech giants, coupled with homegrown unicorns like Grab, Sea (formerly known as Garena) and Trax, may also mean more exit opportunities for startups.

The Singaporean government continues to create new initiatives that make it attractive to tech companies and entrepreneurs.

While the United States-China trade war may have prompted Chinese companies like Tencent and ByteDance to move more of their operations to Singapore, it’s not the only reason, said AppWorks partner Jessica Liu, who oversees the venture firm and accelerator’s programs in Southeast Asia.

Many already had investments in Southeast Asian companies and were eyeing markets there as well, particularly Indonesia. “Some of it is probably due to the trade war over the past two years and other difficulties they’ve faced in the States,” she told Extra Crunch. “Strategically, they also have to find another big market with long-term potential for growth, and I think that’s why they are targeting Southeast Asia.”

Government policy pays off

Proximity to important growth markets isn’t the only reason tech companies find Singapore desirable. Regulations also play a role. Liu said, “The Singaporean government has already done a good job, from a policy and tax perspective, for startups and big tech companies to set up and incorporate in Singapore,” making the country an “intuitive” choice for regional headquarters.

A lot of what makes Singapore attractive to tech companies today can be credited to government initiatives that have been in play for more than a decade, said Kuo-Yi Lim, co-founder and managing partner at early-stage investment firm Monk’s Hill Ventures.

Before Monk’s Hill Ventures, Lim served as chief executive officer of Infocomm Investments from 2010 to 2013. Infocomm Investments is backed by the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) of Singapore, a government agency that is responsible for promoting the IT industry in Singapore.

“One of its explicit mandates was to look at bringing in top-tier tech companies to set up shop in Singapore, and ideally focus on product development activities, in addition to marketing activities like sales,” said Lim. “That’s always been a very explicit part of the government’s strategy to grow the tech industry.”

Over the past few years, companies like Google and Facebook have set up substantial operations in Singapore, along with fast-growing startups like Twilio, which came in after receiving investment from Infocomm.

“That strategy has been in play for almost 10 years, even longer, and I think we’re seeing the fruits of that now, with ByteDance, as well as Tencent, et cetera,” Lim said. “In terms of impact, I would say in general it has been very positive in terms of the vibrancy of the ecosystem, bringing in more depth of talent across multiple functional areas and bringing more richness in the different types of players across different verticals.”

Other factors made Singapore an attractive base for tech companies, including the fact it is a primarily English-speaking country, has a large number of international schools and was already filled with other multinational companies.

Timing was also crucial.

“Between 2010 and 2020, Southeast Asia went through a sea change, a lot of mobile first, which made it more meaningful for companies to set up local operations,” said Lim. “All those dovetailed nicely during that time.”

The Singaporean government continues to create new initiatives that make it attractive to tech companies and entrepreneurs. For example, it recently launched the Singapore Blockchain Innovation Programme (SBIP), with the aim of helping companies commercialize blockchain technology.

Competing for the same talent pool

All this means that the pool of tech talent in Singapore, which has a population of 5.6 million, is in especially high demand. Moving teams of employees to Singapore can be expensive, said Liu, and as a result, many companies have satellite engineering teams in Vietnam, India and Taiwan, especially for front-end engineers.

#alibaba, #asia, #bytedance, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #tencent

0

AutoX becomes China’s first to remove safety drivers from robotaxis

Residents of Shenzhen will see truly driverless cars on the road starting Thursday. AutoX, a four-year-old startup backed by Alibaba, MediaTek and Shanghai Motors, is deploying a fleet of 25 unmanned vehicles in downtown Shenzhen, marking the first time any autonomous driving car in China tests without safety drivers or remote operators on public roads.

The cars, meant as robotaxis, are not yet open to the public, an AutoX spokesperson told TechCrunch.

The milestone came just five months after AutoX landed a permit from California to start driverless tests, following in the footsteps of Waymo and Nuro.

It also indicates that China wants to bring its smart driving industry on par with the U.S. Cities from Shenzhen to Shanghai are competing to attract autonomous driving upstarts by clearing regulatory hurdles, touting subsidies and putting up 5G infrastructure.

As a result, each city ends up with its own poster child in the space: AutoX and Deeproute.ai in Shenzhen, Pony.ai and WeRide in Guangzhou, Momenta in Suzhou, Baidu’s Apollo fleet in Beijing, to name a few. The autonomous driving companies, in turn, work closely with traditional carmakers to make their vehicles smarter and more suitable for future transportation.

“We have obtained support from the local government. Shenzhen is making a lot of rapid progress on legislation for self-driving cars,” said the AutoX representative.

The decision to remove drivers from the front and operators from a remote center appears a bold move in one of China’s most populated cities. AutoX equips its vehicles with its proprietary vehicle control unit called XCU, which it claims has faster processing speed and more computational capability to handle the complex road scenarios in China’s cities.

“[The XCU] provides multiple layers of redundancy to handle this kind of situation,” said AutoX when asked how its vehicles will respond should the machines ever go rogue.

The company also stressed the experience it learned from “millions of miles” driven in China’s densest city centers through its 100 robotaxis in the past few years. Its rivals are also aggressively accumulating mileage to train their self-driving algorithms while banking sizable investments to fund R&D and pilot tests. AutoX itself, for instance, has raised more than $160 million to date.

#alibaba, #artificial-intelligence, #asia, #automation, #autox, #beijing, #china, #mediatek, #momenta, #robotaxi, #robotics, #self-driving-cars, #shanghai, #shenzhen, #transportation, #waymo

0

China’s tech firms rush to deliver solutions for grocery shopping

Nearly all of China’s largest internet firms have established a presence in online grocery. Just this week, news arrived that Alibaba co-led the $196 million C3 funding round of Nice Tuan, the two-year-old grocery group-buying firm’s fourth round year to date.

People in China shop online for almost everything, including groceries. At first, grocery e-commerce appears to have caught on mainly among the digitally-savvy who have grown reliant on the convenience of e-commerce and don’t mind paying a bit more for delivery. Many elderly shoppers, on the other hand, still prefer visiting traditional wet markets where ingredients are generally cheaper.

Now tech companies in China are scrambling to capture grocery shoppers of all ages. A new business model that’s getting a lot of funding is that of Nice Tuan, the so-called community group buying.

In conventional grocery e-commerce, an intermediary platform like Alibaba normally connects individual shoppers to an array of merchants and offers doorstep delivery, which arrives normally within an hour in China.

A community group-buying, in comparison, relies on an army of neighborhood-based managers — often housewives looking for part-time work — to promote products amongst neighbors and tally their orders in group chats, normally through the popular WeChat messenger. The managers then place the group orders with suppliers and have the items delivered to pick-up spots in the community, such as a local convenience store.

It’s not uncommon to see piles of grocery bags at corner stores wating to be fetched these days, and the model has inspired overseas Chinese entrepreneurs to follow suit in America.

Even in China where e-commerce is ubiquitous, the majority of grocery shopping still happens offline. That’s changing quickly. The fledgling area of grocery group-buying is growing at over 100% year-over-year in 2020 and expected to reach 72 billion yuan ($11 billion) in market size, according to research firm iiMedia.

It sounds as if grocery group-buying and self-pickup is a step back in a world where doorstep convenience is the norm. But the model has its appeal. Texting orders in a group chat is in a way more accessible for the elderly, who may find Chinese e-commerce apps, often overlaid with busy buttons and tricky sales rules, unfriendly. With bulk orders, sales managers might get better bargains from suppliers. If a group-buying company is ambitious, it can always add last-mile delivery to its offering.

Chinese tech giants are clearly bullish about online grocery and diversifying their portfolios to make sure they have a skin in the game. Tencent is an investor in Xingsheng Youxuan, Nice Tuan’s major competitor. Food delivery service Meituan has its own grocery arm, offering both the traditional digital grocer as well as the WeChat-based group-buy model. E-commerce upstart Pinduoduo similarly supports grocery group purchases. Alibaba itself already operates the Hema supermarket, which operates both online and offline markets.

#alibaba, #alibaba-group, #asia, #china, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #food, #funding, #grocery-store, #group-buying, #meituan-dianping, #online-grocery, #pinduoduo, #tc, #tencent, #wechat

0