From the ashes of nearly a billion dollars, Ample resurrects Better Place’s battery swapping business model

A little over thirteen years ago, Shai Agassi, a promising software executive who was in line to succeed the chief executive at SAP, then one of the world’s mightiest software companies, left the company he’d devoted the bulk of his professional career to and started a business called Better Place.

That startup promised to revolutionize the nascent electric vehicle market and make range anxiety a thing of the past. The company’s pitch? A network of automated battery swapping stations that would replace spent batteries with freshly charged ones.

Agassi’s company would go on to raise nearly $1 billion (back when that was considered a large sum of money) from some of the world’s top venture capital and growth equity firms. By 2013 it would be bankrupt and one of the many casualties of the first wave of cleantech investing.

Now serial entrepreneurs John de Souza and Khaled Hassounah are reviving the battery swapping business model with a startup called Ample and an approach that they say solves some of the problems that Better Place could never address at a time when the adoption of electric vehicles is creating a far larger addressable market.

In 2013, there were 220,000 vehicles on roads, according to data from Statista, a number which has grown to 4.8 million by 2019.

Ample has actually raised approximately $70 million from investors including Shell Ventures, the Spanish energy company Repsol, and the venture capital arm of the $10 billion money manager, Moore Capital Management. That includes a $34 million investment first reported back in 2018, and a later round from investors including Japan’s energy and metals company, Eneos Holdings that closed recently.

“We had a lot of people that either said, I somehow was involved in that and was suffering from PTSD,” said de Souza, of the similarities between his business and Better Place. “The people who weren’t involved read up about it and then ran away.”

For Ample, the difference is in the modularization of the battery pack and how that changes the relationship with the automakers that would use the technology.

“The approach we’ve taken… is to modularize the battery and then we have an adapter plate that is the structural element of the battery that has the same shape of the battery, same bolt pattern and same software interface. Even though we provide the same battery system.. .it’s same as replacing the tire,” said Hassounah, Ample’s co-founder and chief executive. “Effectively we’re giving them the plate. We don’t modify the car whatsoever. You either put a fixed battery system or an Ample battery plate. We’re able to work with the OEMS where you can make the battery swappable for the use cases where this makes a lot of sense. Without really changing the same vehicle.”

Ample’s currently working with five different OEMs and has validated its approach to battery swapping with nine different car models. One of those OEMs also brings back memories of Better Place.

It’s clear that the company has a deal with Nissan for the Leaf thanks to the other partnership that Ample has announced with Uber. Ample’s founders declined to comment on any OEM relationships.

It’s clear that Ample is working with Nissan because Nissan is the company that inked a deal with Uber earlier this year on zero-emission mobility. And Uber is the first company to use Ample’s robotic charging stations at a few locations in the Bay Area, the company said. This work with Nissan echoes Better Place’s one partnership with Renault, another arm of the automaker, which proved to be the biggest deal for the older, doomed, battery swapping startup.

Ample says it only takes weeks to set up one of its charging pods at a facility and that the company’s charging drivers on energy delivered per mile. “We achieve economics that are 10% to 20% cheaper than gas. We are profitable on day one,” said Hassounah.

Uber is the first step. Ample is focused on fleets first and is in talks with multiple, undisclosed municipalities to get their cars added to the system. So far, Ample has done thousands of swaps, according to Hassounah with just Uber drivers alone.

The cars can also be charged at traditional charging facilities, Hassounah said, and the company’s billing system knows the split between the amount of energy it delivers versus another charging outlet, Hassounah said.

“So far, in the use cases that we have, for ride sharing it’s individual drivers who pay,” said de Souza. With the five fleets that Ample expects to deploy with later this year the company expects to have the fleet managers and owners pay for. charging.

Some of the inspiration for Ample came from Hassounah’s earlier experience working at One laptop per child, where he was forced to rethink assumptions about how the laptops would be used, the founder said.

“Initially i worked on the keyboard display and then quickly realized the challenge was in the field and developed a framework for creating infrastructure,” Hassounah said.

The problem was the initial design of the system did not take into account lack of access to power for laptops at children’s homes. So the initiative developed a charging unit for swapping batteries. Children would use their laptops over the course of the day and take them home, and when they needed a fresh charge, they would swap out the batteries.

“There are fleets that need this exact solution,” said de Souza. But there are advantages for individual car owners as well, he said. “The experience for the owner of a vehicle is after time the battery degrades. With ours as we put new batteries in the car can go further and further over time.” 

Right now, OEMs are sending cars without batteries and Ample is just installing their charging system, said Hassounah, but as the number of vehicles using the system rises above 1,000, the company expects to send their plates to manufacturers, who can then have Ample install their own packs.

Currently, Ample only supports level one and level two charging, but won’t offer fast charging options for the car makers it works with — likely because that option would cannibalize the company’s business and potentially obviate the need for its swapping technology.

At issue is the time it takes to charge a car. Fast chargers still take between 20 and 30 minutes to charge up, but advances in technologies should drive that figure down. Even if fast charging ultimately becomes a better option, Ample’s founders say they view their business as an additive step to faster electric vehicle adoption.

“When you’re moving 1 billion cars, you need everything… We have so many cars we need to put on the road,” Hassounah said. “We think we need all solutions to solve the problem. As you think of fleet applications you need a solution that can match gas in charge and not speed. Fast charging is not available in mass. The challenge will not be can the battery be charged in 5 minutes. The cost of building  charges that can deliver that amount of power is prohibitive.”

Looking beyond charging, Ample sees opportunities in the grid power market as well, the two founders said.

“Time shift is built into our economics… that’s another way we can help,” said de Souza. “We use that as grid storage… we can do demand charge and now that the federal mandate is there to feed into the grid we can help stabilize the grid by feeding back energy.. We don’t have a lot of stations to make a significant impact. As we scale up this year we will.”

Currently the company is operating at a storage capacity of tens of megawatts per hour, according to Hassounah.

“We can use the side storage to accelerate the development of swapping stations,” de Souza said. “You don’t have to invest an insane amount of money to put them in. We can finance the batteries in multiple ways as well as utilize other sources of financing.” 

Ample co-founders John de Souza and Khaled Hassounah. Image Credit: Ample

#ample, #better-place, #cars, #charging-station, #electric-vehicle, #electric-vehicles, #energy, #inductive-charging, #japan, #lithium-ion-battery, #nissan, #nissan-leaf, #one-laptop-per-child, #range-anxiety, #renault, #repsol, #sap, #shai-agassi, #shell-ventures, #tc, #transport, #uber, #venture-capital


Two Americans Tied to Carlos Ghosn’s Escape Are Extradited to Japan

The father and son face trial on charges that they helped Mr. Ghosn, Nissan’s former chief, flee in a speaker box to Lebanon in 2019.

#extradition, #fugitives, #ghosn-carlos, #japan, #kelly-greg-nissan-executive, #nissan-motor-co, #renault-sa, #suits-and-litigation-civil, #supreme-court-us, #taylor-michael-private-security-contractor, #taylor-peter-maxwell


Geothermal startups get another boost from Chevron as the oil giant backs a geothermal project developer

The U.S.-based oil major Chevron is doubling down on its investment in geothermal power by investing in a Swedish developer of low-temperature geothermal and heat power projects called Baseload Capital.

Oil companies are under pressure to find new lines of business as the world prepares for a massive shift to renewable energy resources to power all aspects of industry in the face of mounting climate-related disasters caused by greenhouse gas emissions warming the temperature on the planet.

Joining Chevron in the investment was the ubiquitous billionaire-backed clean energy investment firm Breakthrough Energy Ventures and a Swedish investment group called Gullspang Invest AB.

The investment into Baseload follows closely on the heels of another commitment that Chevron made to the geothermal technology developer Eavor and a recent Breakthrough Energy Ventures investment in the Google-affiliated company, Dandelion Energy (a spinout from Google’s parent company’s moonshot technology development business unit, called X).

Dandelion and Eavor are just two examples of a groundswell of startups working to leverage the knowledge from the oil and gas industry to tap geothermal resources for applications ranging from baseload energy to home heating and cooling.

They’re joined by businesses like Fervo EnergyGreenFire Energy, and Sage Geosystems, who’re all leveraging heat to generate power.

As Chevron noted in its press release, heat power is an affordable form of renewable energy that can be harnessed from either geothermal resources or waste heat.

The investments in Baseload and Eavor are financed by CTV’s Core Venture fund which identifies companies with technology that can add efficiencies to Chevron’s core business in operational enhancement, digitalization, and lower-carbon operations, the company said in a statement.

Together the two businesses are planning pilot projects to test technology and could look to current Baseload operations in Japan, Taiwan, Iceland or the United States to develop projects.

Financial terms of the deal were undisclosed. 

“In August, we announced that we were looking for a new strategic investor to help us accelerate deployment in our key markets,” said Baseload’s Chief Executive Officer Alexander Helling. “We couldn’t have asked for a better one. Chevron complements our group of owners and adds expertise in drilling, engineering, exploration and more. These assets are expected to accelerate our ability to deploy heat power and strengthen our way of working.”


#articles, #breakthrough-energy-ventures, #chevron, #chief-executive-officer, #dandelion-energy, #energy, #geothermal-energy, #google, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #iceland, #investment, #japan, #major, #oil, #renewable-energy, #taiwan, #tc, #united-states


Satellite constellation operator Spire Global to go public via $1.6 billion SPAC

Monday brings with it not one, but two space SPACS – there’s Rocket Lab, and there’s Spire Global, a satellite operator that bills itself primarily as a SaaS company focused on delivering data and analytics made possible by its 100-plus spacecraft constellation. SPACs have essentially proven a pressure-release valve for the space startup market, which has been waiting on high-profile exits to basically prove out the math of its venture-backability.

Spire Global debuted in 2012, and has raised over $220 million to date. It will merge with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) called NavSight Holdings, in order to make a debut on the NYSE under the ticker ‘SPIR.’ The combined company will have a pro forma enterprise value of $1.6 billion upon transaction close, which is targeted for this summer.

The deal will provide $475 in funds for the company, including via a PIPE that includes Tiger Global, BlackRock and Hedosophia. Existing Spire stockholders will wind up with around 67% of the company after the businesses combine.

Spire’s network of satellites is designed to provide customers with a ‘space-as-a-service’ model, allowing them to operate their own payloads, and access data collected via an API their developers can integrate into their own software. The model is subscription-based, and is designed to get customers up and running with their own space-based data feed in less than a year from deal designs and commitment.

Existing investors in Spire Global include RRE Ventures, Promus Ventures, Seraphim Capital, Mitsui Global Investment and more, with its most recent round being a raised of debt financing. The company has launched satellites via Rocket Lab, its companion in the Monday SPAC news rush. The satellites it operates are small cube satellites, and it has launches on a wide range of launch vehicles, including SpaceX’s Falcon 9, the Russian Soyuz, ISRO’s PSLV, Japan’s H-2B, ULA rockets, Northrop Grumman’s Antares and even the International Space Station.

Spire got its start from very humble origins indeed – tracing all the way back to a Kickstarter campaign that was successful with just over $100,000 raised from backers.

#aerospace, #api, #blackrock, #corporate-finance, #falcon, #international-space-station, #japan, #kickstarter, #mitsui, #northrop-grumman, #outer-space, #private-equity, #promus-ventures, #rocket-lab, #rre-ventures, #satellite, #seraphim-capital, #spac, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #special-purpose-acquisition-company, #spire-global, #tc, #tiger-global, #transport


An ‘Old Men’s Club’ Dominates Japan. The Young Just Put Them on Notice.

Change may come slowly in Japanese society, but social media has offered an outlet for a younger generation stifled by a rigid hierarchy.

#chinese-university-of-hong-kong-the, #japan, #mori-yoshiro, #workplace-environment, #youth


Harvard Professor’s ‘Comfort Women’ Claims Stir Wake-up Call

The professor was widely criticized for writing that the women served Japanese troops willingly during World War II. A Korean survivor called the uproar a “blessing in disguise.”

#history-academic-subject, #human-trafficking, #japan, #south-korea, #world-war-ii-1939-45


This Website Puts Boisterous Children and Noisy Neighbors on the Map

The crowdsourced guide collects anonymous gripes and pins every grievance on an interactive map, creating a record of the irritating sounds and sights of Japan.

#children-and-childhood, #japan, #maps, #noise, #parenting, #suits-and-litigation-civil


Anime Is Booming. So Why Are Animators Living in Poverty?

The workers who make the Japanese shows the world is binge-watching can earn as little as $200 a month. Many wonder how much longer they can endure it.

#animated-films, #freelancing-self-employment-and-independent-contracting, #japan, #labor-and-jobs, #shirobako-tv-program, #wages-and-salaries


Deaths Fell in Japan Last Year. How?

The decline indicated that methods for fighting the coronavirus have also been effective at curbing other illnesses.

#birth-rates, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #deaths-fatalities, #japan, #population


As Pandemic Took Hold, Suicide Rose Among Japanese Women

Last year saw more women, but fewer men, take their own lives in Japan. For women there, the pressures of Covid-19 have been compounded.

#anxiety-and-stress, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #depression-mental, #japan, #layoffs-and-job-reductions, #mental-health-and-disorders, #suicides-and-suicide-attempts, #takeuchi-yuko-1980-2020, #unemployment, #women-and-girls


In Dense, Urban Japan, Flowers Bring Beauty and Solace

In densely packed Tokyo, flora is abundant in unassuming places. Hunting for it, as I learned, can lighten life’s loads.

#flowers-and-plants, #gardens-and-gardening, #japan, #quarantine-life-and-culture, #seasons-and-months, #tokyo-japan, #trees-and-shrubs


Japanese Student Forced to Dye Her Hair Black Wins, and Loses, in Court

In a split ruling, a court in Osaka ordered the school to pay some damages for emotional distress, but it said the rule that students’ hair must be black did not violate regulations.

#dyes-and-dyestuffs, #education, #education-k-12, #hair, #japan, #osaka-japan


Woman Is Chosen to Succeed Tokyo Olympics Chief Who Made Sexist Remark

The selection of Seiko Hashimoto represented an abrupt shift after the Olympic committee had apparently intended to name another man in his 80s.

#appointments-and-executive-changes, #japan, #mori-yoshiro, #olympic-games-2020, #seiko-hashimoto, #tokyo-japan, #women-and-girls


For My Next Trick … Opening a New Musical in Tokyo in a Pandemic

Our writer’s adaptation of “The Illusionist” was slated for a tryout run. Lockdown, a tragic death, cancer and quarantine got in the way, but didn’t stop the show.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #duchan-peter, #japan, #nissay-theater-tokyo-japan, #quarantine-life-and-culture, #shutdowns-institutional, #southerland-thom, #the-illusionist-play, #theater, #tokyo-japan, #umeda-arts-theater-co-ltd, #workplace-hazards-and-violations


Japan’s Uncovered Fund launches $15M fund to back early-stage startups in Africa

Uncovered Fund, a VC firm targeting early-stage startups in Africa, announced today that it has launched its $15 million fund which is expected to close at the end of June this year. The Tokyo-based outfit founded by Takuma Terakubo in 2019 will invest $50,000 to $500,000 in African startups in seed and Series A stages.

Before Uncovered Fund, Terakubo was the CEO of Leapfrog Ventures. Together with Japanese startup incubator, Samurai Incubate, they launched Samurai Incubate Fund; a fund focused on early-stage African startups. During his time there, the firm raised more than $4.5 million targeted at startups in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, South Africa, Ghana and Nigeria. It also financed over 10 startups with checks similar to Uncovered Fund’s ($50,000 to $500,000).

Terakubo doesn’t say why he left Samurai Incubate Fund. But according to him, Uncovered Fund’s investment methodology is different from his previous firm because it doesn’t bring only money to the table.

“We do not make scattered, one-shot, small investments, but rather we provide long-term growth support, including follow-on investment. In addition, we not only invest, but we also multiply the huge assets of Japanese companies to grow the business and provide technical support and finance as well,” he said.

As per who these corporations are, Terakubo isn’t disclosing names just yet but says he hopes to do so in the coming months.

Uncovered Fund focuses on startups based in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa playing in retail, fintech, healthtech, logistics, MaaS, agritech, and smart city sectors. The general partner says the firm invests in these sectors because “they are basic behaviors in people’s lives, and we believe it is important to improve convenience as quickly as possible.”

So far, it has backed five startups across these sectors and markets. They include Kenyan e-commerce platform, Sky Garden; US-based and Africa-focused healthtech startup RxAll; Francophone Africa mobility startup, Gozem; Kenyan fintech company LipaLater; and YC-backed Nigerian digital freight startup, SEND Technologies.

Some of these companies are doing business in other countries, and Terakubo says that the firm is willing to fund startups in other African countries as well.

“We are looking for African startups to expand their business across multiple countries. So, we welcome startups from any country as long as the business can scale.”

Uncovered Fund joins other Asian early-stage VC firms like Future Hub, Kepple Africa, and recently launched Sherpa Ventures who have launched within the past four years and funded over 50 African startups during that period. Terakubo says his VC firm hopes to increase this number by backing 15 startups this year and further the synergy between African founders and Asian investors.

“We are looking into joint development from Africa to Asian markets, and that is the big vision we have for the future,” he said. “As a VC and also an entrepreneur, I’m looking forward to the challenge of working with African entrepreneurs to create that future.”

#africa, #funding, #japan, #leapfrog-ventures, #startups, #tc, #tokyo, #venture-capital


Japan’s Economy Surges, but Covid-19 Looms

The world’s third largest economy capped off a terrible year with a sharp rise in activity. Still, analysts say trouble lies ahead.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #economic-conditions-and-trends, #gross-domestic-product, #international-trade-and-world-market, #japan


2 Americans Tied to Carlos Ghosn’s Escape to Be Extradited to Japan

The Supreme Court denied a bid by a father and son to block their extradition. They face trial on charges they helped Japan’s most famous criminal defendant flee to Lebanon.

#beirut-lebanon, #extradition, #fugitives, #ghosn-carlos, #japan, #suits-and-litigation-civil, #taylor-michael-private-security-contractor, #taylor-peter-maxwell


Powerful Earthquake Strikes Japan

The epicenter of the quake was off the coast of Fukushima Prefecture, the site of a massive earthquake and tsunami in 2011 that killed thousands and caused meltdowns at a nuclear plant.

#earthquakes, #fukushima-japan, #japan, #japan-earthquake-and-tsunami-2011, #nuclear-energy


Yoshiro Mori Expected to Resign as Tokyo Olympics President

Yoshiro Mori, a former Japanese prime minister, had complained that women cause meetings to run long by talking too much. His exit would further complicate the delayed Games.

#international-olympic-committee, #japan, #mori-yoshiro, #olympic-games-2020, #tokyo-japan, #women-and-girls


How Japonisme Forever Changed the Course of Western Design

In the late 19th century, Japanese aesthetics and craftsmanship overtook Paris, inspiring a movement that would radically transform Europe’s visual culture.

#art, #design, #fashion-and-apparel, #france, #gray-eileen, #japan, #monet-claude, #van-gogh-vincent


Olympics Chief Said Sorry for Demeaning Women. In Japan, That’s Often Enough.

Yoshiro Mori’s resistance to calls for his resignation shows the power of a male-dominated old guard that is mostly unaccountable to public opinion.

#international-olympic-committee, #japan, #liberal-democratic-party-japan, #mori-yoshiro, #olympic-games-2020, #politics-and-government, #suga-yoshihide, #women-and-girls, #womens-rights


These Lizards Have a Hot Trick to Escape Hungry Snakes

On some Japanese islands where lizards live, the ones that fear predators have higher body temperatures that help them run faster.

#anatomy-and-physiology, #ecology-letters-journal, #evolution-biology, #izu-islands-japan, #japan, #lizards, #miyake-island-japan, #research, #snakes, #your-feed-animals, #your-feed-science


Officials Outline Tokyo Olympics Plan for a Safe Games Without Quarantines

With concern rising in Japan that the Summer Olympics could become a hub for new coronavirus infections, organizers unveiled measures aimed at protecting athletes and others.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #japan, #olympic-games-2020, #tokyo-japan


Not Yet Desperate, Japan and South Korea Plod Toward Vaccinations

The slower pace gives the East Asian countries a chance to learn from mistakes elsewhere but also poses risks as more contagious and perhaps deadlier variants of the virus emerge.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #hong-kong, #japan, #olympic-games-2020, #south-korea, #vaccination-and-immunization


How a High-Ranking Nissan Executive Escaped His Own Trap

Hari Nada helped bring down his boss, Carlos Ghosn. In the process, he nearly met his own downfall. But with shrewd maneuvering and the protection of high-ranking allies, he survived and thrived.

#appointments-and-executive-changes, #automobiles, #conflicts-of-interest, #ghosn-carlos, #japan, #kelly-greg-nissan-executive, #nada-hari, #nissan-motor-co, #renault-sa


Hopes for Tokyo’s Summer Olympics Darken

Organizers postponed the Olympic Games for one year last March. Nearly a year later, prospects are getting bleaker.

#bach-thomas, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #international-olympic-committee, #japan, #olympic-games-2020, #tokyo-japan


Tokyo-based SODA, which runs Japan’s largest sneaker resell platform, lands $22 million led by SoftBank Ventures Asia

Tokyo-based SODA, which runs sneaker reselling platform SNKRDUNK, has raised a $22 million Series B led by SoftBank Ventures Asia. Investors also included basepartners, Colopl Next, THE GUILD and other strategic partners. Part of the funding will be used to expand into other Asian countries. Most of SNKRDUNK’s transactions are within Japan now, but it plans to become a cross-border marketplace.

Along with SODA’s $3 million Series A last year, this brings the startup’s total funding to $25 million.

While the COVID-19 pandemic was initially expected to put a damper on the sneaker resell market, C2C marketplaces have actually seen their business increase. For example, StockX, one of the biggest sneaker resell platforms in the world (which hit a valuation of $2.8 billion after its recent Series E), said May and June 2020 were its biggest months for sales ever.

SNKRDUNK’s sales also grew last year, and in December 2020, it recorded a 3,000% year-over-year increase in monthly gross merchandise value. Chief executive officer Yuta Uchiyama told TechCrunch this was because demand for sneakers remained high, while more people also started buying things online.

Launched in 2018, SNKRDUNK now has 2.5 million monthly users, which it says makes it the largest C2C sneaker marketplace in Japan. The Series B will allow it to speed up the pace of its international expansion, add more categories and expand its authentication facilities.

Like StockX and GOAT, SNKRDUNK’s user fees cover authentication holds before sneakers are sent to buyers. The company partners with FAKE BUSTERS, an authentication service based in Japan, to check sneakers before they are sent to buyers.

In addition to its marketplace, SNKRDUNK also runs a sneaker news site and an online community.

SODA plans to work with other companies in SoftBank Venture Asia’s portfolio that develop AI-based tech to help automate its operations, including logistics, payment, customer service and counterfeit inspection.

#asia, #c2c-marketplace, #e-commerce, #fundings-exits, #japan, #recent-funding, #sneakers, #snkrdunk, #soda, #softbank-ventures-asia, #startups, #tc


App stores saw record 218 billion downloads in 2020, consumer spend of $143 billion

Mobile adoption continued to grow in 2020, in part due to the market forces of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to App Annie’s annual “State of Mobile” industry report, mobile app downloads grew by 7% year-over-year to a record 218 billion in 2020. Meanwhile, consumer spending grew by 20% to also hit a new milestone of $143 billion, led by markets that included China, the United States, Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom.

Consumers also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone, the report found.

In another shift, app usage in the U.S. surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours on their mobile device.

The increase in time spent is a trend that’s not unique to the U.S., but can be seen across several other countries, including both developing mobile markets like Indonesia, Brazil and India, as well as places like China, Japan, South Korea, the U.K., Germany, France and others.

The trend isn’t isolated to any one demographic, either, but is seen across age groups. In the U.S., for example, Gen Z, millennials and Gen X/Baby Boomers spent 16%, 18% and 30% more time in their most-used apps year-over-year, respectively. However, what those favorite apps looked like was very different.

For Gen Z in the U.S., top apps on Android phones included Snapchat, Twitch, TikTok, Roblox and Spotify.

Millennials favored Discord, LinkedIn, PayPal, Pandora and Amazon Music.

And Gen X/Baby Boomers used Ring, Nextdoor, The Weather Channel, Kindle and ColorNote Notepad Notes.

The pandemic didn’t necessarily change how consumers were using apps in 2020, but rather accelerated mobile adoption by two to three years’ time, the report found.

Investors were also eager to fuel mobile businesses as a result, pouring $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year. According to Crunchbase data, 26% of total global funding dollars in 2020 went to businesses that included a mobile solution.

From 2016 to 2020, global funding to mobile technology companies more than doubled compared with the previous five years, and was led by financial services, transportation, commerce and shopping.

Mobile gaming adoption also continued to grow in 2020. Casual games dominated the market in terms of downloads (78%), but Core games accounted for 66% of games’ consumer spend and 55% of the time spent.

With many stuck inside due to COVID-19 lockdowns and quarantines, mobile games that offered social interaction boomed. Among Us, for example, became a breakout game in several markets in 2020, including the U.S.

Other app categories saw sizable increases over the past year, as well.

Time spent in Finance apps in 2020 was up 45% worldwide, outside of China, and participation in the stock market grew 55% on mobile, thanks to apps like Robinhood in the U.S. and others worldwide, that democratized investing and trading.

TikTok had a big year, too.

The app saw incredible 325% year-over-year growth, despite a ban in India, and ranked in the top five apps by time spent. The average monthly time spent per user also grew faster than nearly every other app analyzed, including 65% in the U.S. and 80% in the U.K., surpassing Facebook. TikTok is now on track to hit 1.2 billion active users in 2021, App Annie forecasts.

Other video services boomed in 2020, thanks to a combination of new market entrants and a lot of time spent at home. Consumers spent 40% more hours streaming on mobile devices, with time spent in streaming apps peaking in the second quarter in the west as the pandemic forced people inside.

YouTube benefitted from this trend, as it became the No. 1 streaming app by time spent among all markets analyzed except China. The time spent in YouTube is up to 6x that of the next closet app at 38 hours per month.

Of course, another big story for 2020 was the rise of e-commerce amid the pandemic. This made the past year the biggest ever for mobile shopping, with an over 30% increase in time spent in Shopping apps, as measured on Android phones outside of China.

Mobile commerce, however, looked less traditional in 2020.

Social shopping was a big trend, with global downloads of Pinterest and Instagram growing 50% and 20% year-over-year, respectively.

Livestreaming shopping grew, too, led by China. Downloads of live shopping TaoBao Live in China, Grip in South Korea and NTWRK in the U.S. grew 100%, 245% and 85%, respectively. NTWRK doubled in size last year, and now others are entering the space as well — including TikTok, to some extent.

The pandemic also prompted increased usage of mobile ordering apps. In the U.S., Argentina, the U.K., Indonesia and Russia, the app grew by 60%, 65%, 70%, 80% and 105%, respectively, in Q4.

Business apps, like Zoom and Google Meet among others, grew 275% in Q4, for example, as remote work and sometimes school, continued.

The analysis additionally included lists of the top apps by downloads, spending and monthly active users (MAUs).

Although TikTok had been topping year-end charts, Facebook continued to beat it in terms of MAUs. Facebook-owned apps controlled the top charts by MAUs, with Facebook at No. 1 followed by WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram.

TikTok, however, had more downloads than Facebook and ranked No. 2 by consumer spending, behind Tinder.

The full report is available only as an online interactive experience this year, not a download. The report largely uses data from both the iOS App Store and Google Play, except where otherwise noted.

#amazon, #android, #app-annie, #apps, #argentina, #brazil, #china, #computing, #e-commerce, #facebook, #financial-services, #france, #freeware, #germany, #google, #india, #indonesia, #instagram, #japan, #kindle, #linkedin, #messenger, #mobile-app, #mobile-applications, #mobile-commerce, #mobile-device, #mobile-devices, #mobile-technology, #operating-systems, #pandora, #paypal, #pinterest, #roblox, #russia, #snapchat, #social-media, #software, #south-korea, #spotify, #the-weather-channel, #tiktok, #twitch, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #video-services


Millipede Swarms Once Stopped Japanese Trains in Their Tracks

A team of scientists say they have figured out the cicada-like life cycles of the many-legged arthropods.

#animal-behavior, #arthropods, #cicadas-insects, #insects, #japan, #millipedes, #railroads, #reproduction-biological, #research, #royal-society-open-science-journal, #seasons-and-months, #your-feed-animals, #your-feed-science


South Korean Court Orders Japan to Compensate Wartime Sex Slaves

The ruling, which Tokyo rejected, is likely to aggravate already chilly relations between the two key allies of the United States.

#decisions-and-verdicts, #defense-and-military-forces, #japan, #sex-crimes, #south-korea, #suits-and-litigation-civil, #women-and-girls, #world-war-ii-1939-45


Japan Declares State of Emergency in Tokyo as Covid Cases Rise

Fast-rising coronavirus case counts and deaths forced Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to act, but some say the restrictions — mostly voluntary — won’t be enough.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #japan, #suga-yoshihide, #tokyo-japan


Japan to Declare State of Emergency in Tokyo Area After Days of Hesitation

Fast-rising coronavirus case counts and deaths forced Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to act, but some say the restrictions — mostly voluntary — won’t be enough.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #japan, #suga-yoshihide, #tokyo-japan


‘I Will Get Up’: A Hard New Year Greets a World in Waiting

Around the globe, people who held on in hopes that 2021 would banish a year of horror are struggling with the reality that the hardest challenges may lie ahead.

#australia, #china, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #france, #great-britain, #italy, #japan, #mexico-city-mexico, #new-year, #quarantine-life-and-culture, #south-africa, #south-korea, #united-states, #vaccination-and-immunization


New York licenses GMO Internet to issue the first JPY-pegged stablecoin

The New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) has approved Tokyo-based GMO Internet to launch GYEN, the first stablecoin pegged to the Japanese yen.

GMO Internet, an internet conglomerate that offers a large array of services, including domain hosting, online advertising and what it claims is the world’s largest foreign exchange trading platform, will set up Trust Company (GMO Trust) to issue GYEN and ZUSD, a USD-pegged stablecoin. Both will start selling outside of Japan next month.

In a press announcement, GMO Trust said it had also made strategic partnerships with global digital asset exchanges to ensure the liquidity of the virtual currencies. Began developing GYEN in 2018.

GMO Trust joins about two dozen other companies that have received virtual currency licenses, also called BitLicenses, from the NYSDFS. BitLicenses, which went into effect in June 2015, are required to engage in virtual currency business activities in New York. Other companies based in Asia that hold BitLicenses include Japan’s bitflyer, a Bitcoin exchange, and Hong Kong-based digital wallet Xapo.

#asia, #cryptocurrency, #gmo-internet, #gyen, #japan, #new-york, #stablecoin, #tc


‘Box’ or Gem? A Scramble to Save Asia’s Modernist Buildings

Groups across the region are rallying to save buildings that officials consider too new, too ugly or too unimportant to protect from demolition.

#architecture, #cambodia, #design, #far-east-south-and-southeast-asia-and-pacific-areas, #historic-buildings-and-sites, #hong-kong, #hotel-okura-tokyo-japan, #japan, #la-scala-theater-paris-france, #postal-service-and-post-offices, #real-estate-commercial, #singapore, #thailand


Shinzo Abe Aide Faces Fine Over Campaign Finance Allegations

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said he had unintentionally misrepresented the facts around a political finance scandal after prosecutors announced they would seek to punish a former aide to Shinzo Abe.

#abe-shinzo, #corruption-institutional, #hiroyuki-haikawa, #japan, #politics-and-government, #polls-and-public-opinion, #suga-yoshihide


SoftBank will reportedly file for a SPAC on Monday

SoftBank Investment Advisers may file as early as Monday to raise between $500 million and $600 million through an initial public offering of its first special purpose acquisition vehicle, reports Axios.

SoftBank Investment Advisers manages the two Vision Funds and may continue leaning into SPACs, with two more reportedly in the works.

The conglomerate first revealed its SPAC plans in October when SoftBank Investment Advisers chief executive officer Rajeev Misra said he was planning a SPAC while speaking at the Milken Institute Global Conference. An SPAC would give the Vision Fund another way of investing in private companies, and also allow the public to invest in SoftBank’s portfolio picks.

SPACs are blank-check companies created for the purpose of merging or acquiring other companies, and have gained popularity this year as an alternative to traditional stock market debuts.

While this would be SoftBank’s first SPAC, one of its portfolio companies, real-estate platform OpenDoor, recently went public through an SPAC. Another one of its investments, Indonesian e-commerce giant Tokopedia, is also considering going public through a SPAC backed by Richard Li and Peter Thiel, after putting its IPO plans because of the pandemic.

#asia, #fundings-exits, #japan, #softbank, #softbank-investment-advisers, #softbank-vision-fund, #spac, #tc


Takashi Oka, Journalist Who Interpreted Japan for U.S., Dies at 96

A former war crimes trial interpreter, he was the first native-born Tokyo bureau chief for The New York Times and a longtime correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor.

#christian-science-monitor, #deaths-obituaries, #japan, #journalism, #new-york-times, #news-and-news-media, #oka-takashi-1924-2020


How Putting on a Mask Raised Naomi Osaka’s Voice

She used her time away from competing during the pandemic to reflect on the world and her place within it. When the time came to speak, she approached it in her own distinct way.

#black-lives-matter-movement, #black-people, #content-type-personal-profile, #george-floyd-protests-2020, #haiti, #japan, #osaka-naomi-1997, #race-and-ethnicity, #tennis, #united-states-open-tennis


Shinji Aoba Charged in Kyoto Animation Fire

Prosecutors accused Shinji Aoba in connection with a blaze in Kyoto last year that killed 36, making it the country’s deadliest attack in decades.

#animation, #arson, #japan, #kyoto-animation-co-ltd, #murders-attempted-murders-and-homicides, #shinji-aoba


Japan’s ‘Twitter Killer,’ Takahiro Shiraishi, Is Sentenced to Death

Takahiro Shiraishi confessed to killing eight women he stalked on social media, and a man he thought suspected him, in crimes that evoked many of the country’s social fears.

#crime-and-criminals, #decisions-and-verdicts, #japan, #murders-attempted-murders-and-homicides, #social-media, #suicides-and-suicide-attempts, #takahiro-shiraishi, #twitter


She Accused the Mayor of Sexual Assault. Then the Town Turned on Her.

Assemblymen in Kusatsu, Japan, organized an election to recall their sole female colleague, saying she had damaged the town’s reputation with her allegations.

#japan, #politics-and-government, #women-and-girls


Agricultural biotech startup Boost Biomes adds a strategic investor in Japan’s Universal Materials Incubator

Boost Biomes, the Y Combinator-backed developer of microbiome-based bio-fungicides and bio-pesticides for agricultural applications, has added $2 million in funding and picked up a new strategic investor in Japan’s Universal Materials Incubator.

To date, Boost Biomes has raised over $7 million in financing to support the development of new products like its biofungicide developed from the micro-organisms that live in the soil in a symbiotic relationship with the plants.

The work that Boost does is primarily on understanding the interactions between microbes and plants in the soil. “The goal is to be  the discovery engine and develop new microbial products for use in food and agriculture,” said Boost chief executive and co-founder Jamie Bacher.

The commitment from Japan’s Universal Materials Incubator expands on a $5 million institutional round led by another strategic partner, Yara International, a global crop nutrition company and venture investors like Viking Global Investors and Y Combinator.

Boost hopes to tackle issues in agriculture like spoilage, bacterial contamination and pathogen infrestations, as well as addressing diseases that can affect plant health directly.

Boost is already working with an undisclosed biomanufacturing partner to develop its biofungicide.

UMI’s decision to invest in Boost comes from our evaluation of their team, technology, and the associated market opportunities.  We believe that Boost’s platform generates a unique data set that can be exploited for far superior products with many diverse microbiome applications in food and agriculture,” said Yota Hayama, an investor at UMI, in a statement. “These are critical areas to achieve food security and promote sustainable agriculture. We also expect Boost’s huge potential on other areas where microbiomes are utilized.”


#articles, #biotechnology, #food, #japan, #life-sciences, #microbiome, #tc, #viking-global-investors, #y-combinator


For the second time ever, an asteroid sample returns to Earth

The Hayabusa2 spacecraft spies its shadow as it descended toward Ryugu to deploy two small rovers.

Enlarge / The Hayabusa2 spacecraft spies its shadow as it descended toward Ryugu to deploy two small rovers. (credit: JAXA)

Early on Sunday morning, the skies above a secluded military complex in central Australia will be brightened by a fireball plummeting to Earth. It will be a flamboyant homecoming for the sample return capsule from Hayabusa2, a Japanese spacecraft launched almost exactly six years ago on a mission to shoot an ancient asteroid and steal some of its dirt. If the capsule survives its fiery descent, its payload of pristine space rock will help scientists understand the earliest days of our solar system, shed light on the mysterious origins of meteorites, and may even provide clues about the emergence of life on Earth.

By the time it lands under parachute in the Australian outback, the sample will have traveled more than 180 million miles from Ryugu, a diamond-shaped asteroid orbiting the sun between Earth and Mars. Scientists believe that Ryugu broke off from a larger parent body only a few million years ago, but the rocks that compose it are closer to 4 billion years old. Hayabusa2 camped out around Ryugu for more than a year and a half, studying the asteroid from a distance and sending robotic scouts to its surface to prepare for a sample collection. It’s main mission was to collect just a few grams of dust and pebbles from this cosmic time capsule that has been preserved for eons in the frigid vacuum of space.

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#asteroids, #hayabusa2, #japan, #ryugu, #science, #space


Japan’s Hayabusa2 Asteroid Journey Ends With a Hunt in Australia’s Outback

The Hayabusa2 mission cements Japan’s role in exploring the solar system, but finding its asteroid cargo presents one last challenge.

#asteroids, #australia, #earth, #hayabusa2, #japan, #japan-aerospace-exploration-agency, #research, #solar-system, #space-and-astronomy


The Appealing and Potentially Lethal Delicacy That Is Fugu

Eating has been a perilous act for most of human history, but Western diners have lately become that much more obsessed with the idea that our meals might destroy us.

#far-east-south-and-southeast-asia-and-pacific-areas, #food, #fugu-fish, #japan, #japanese-food-cuisine, #poisoning-and-poisons, #seafood


This Time, a Cartoon Depiction of Naomi Osaka Is More True to Life

Last year, the tennis champion was shown with light skin in an instant noodle ad. Now, she’ll be portrayed as a manga character, and illustrators insisted on getting details right.

#black-lives-matter-movement, #cartoons-and-cartoonists, #japan, #osaka-mari-1996, #osaka-naomi-1997, #race-and-ethnicity, #tennis


NASA selects four companies for Moon material collection as it seeks to set precedent on private sector outer space mining

NASA has selected the winning candidates that they’ve decided to tap to collect lunar resources for eventual Earth return, from a number of commercial companies who applied. The four companies all have rides booked on future commercial lunar lander missions, and the agency is using this as a demonstration of what kinds of efficiencies it can realize by piggybacking on private industry for serving its needs – and a precedent-setting event for NASA paying private companies to retrieve materials that they retrieved and owned privately for their own purposes prior to transferring ownership to the agency.

The winning bids were evaluated based on two simple criteria: Basically, were they technically feasible, and how much did they cost. There were four winners, each with a different ride out, which will seek to satisfy the conditions of NASA’s request, which is basically to collect a lunar regolith (essentially what we call ‘soil’ on the Moon) in an amount ranging from between 50 grams or 500 grams, with retrieval to be handled separately by NASA at a later date. The samples had to be collected before 2024 as part of the request, which sets them up for potential retrieval via NASA’s Artemis mission series, though the agency isn’t necessarily going to actually pick up the samples, though it reserves the option to do so.

The four companies selected are:

  • Lunar Outpost, from Golden, Colorado, which bid to complete the contract for just $1, following the arrival of the Blue Origin lunar lander in 2023.
  • ispace Japan, which asked for $5,000 for a retrieval via the landing of its Hakuto-R lander during its first mission currently set for 2022.
  • ispace Europe, a part of ispace Japan’s global corporate footprint, which bid for $5,000 and an arrival in 2023 on the second Hakuto-R mission.
  • Masten Space Systems, which asked for $15,000, with an arrival in 2023 using its Masten XL lander

The agency received 22 proposals in total, between 16 and 17 companies. This was intentionally designed to help NASA demonstrate the advantages of its public-private partnerships approach, and to set precedents about how resource material collection can happen on extra-terrestrial bodies like the Moon.

“With the commercial partnerships, this is setting a precedent internally as well as externally, relative to NASA continuing that paradigm,” said NASA’s Acting Associate Administrator for International and Interagency Relations Mike Gold . “Rather than pay for the development of the systems themselves, NASA is playing the role is customer.”

More specifically, these contracts also set precedents in terms of what private companies can do in terms of collecting material from the Moon, and who has ownership of that material once collected.

“I’ve often said that the rocket science part, the engineering, sometimes that seems like the easy aspect when it comes to all of the policy issues, legal, or financial challenges that we have,” Gold said. “It’s very important that we resolve any legal or regulatory questions in advance because we never want policy, or regulations to slow down or hinder incredible innovations in development that we’re seeing from both the public and the private sector. So we think it’s very important to establish the precedent that the private sector entities can extract can take these resources that NASA can purchase, and utilize them to fuel, not only NASA’s activities, but a whole new dynamic era of public and private development and exploration on the Moon, and then eventually to Mars .”

Basically, NASA wants this to set a precedent that private companies can go to the Moon, and eventually Mars, and mine material and retain ownership of said material for later distribution to both public and other private customers.

That’s part of the reason these bids are so low – companies like ispace and Lunar Outpost have future business models that involve significant potential planetary body mining components. The other is that these lunar lander missions were already planned, and as NASA explicitly laid out in their request for proposals for this bid, the agency did not want to pay for any development costs for the mission of getting to the Moon itself – just the actual collection.

#aerospace, #blue-origin, #colorado, #europe, #gold, #golden, #google-lunar-x-prize, #ispace, #japan, #mars, #masten-space-systems, #moon, #nasa, #outer-space, #science, #space, #spaceflight, #tc, #transportation


He Escaped Death as a Kamikaze Pilot. 70 Years Later, He Told His Story.

Kazuo Odachi is one of the last living members of a group never meant to survive. He wants to remind Japan that before its modern success came the sacrifices of the young pilots who gave their lives.

#airlines-and-airplanes, #defense-and-military-forces, #japan, #kazuo-odachi, #pilots, #world-war-ii-1939-45


This Japanese Shop Is 1,020 Years Old. It Knows a Bit About Surviving Crises.

A mochi seller in Kyoto, and many of Japan’s other centuries-old businesses, have endured by putting tradition and stability over profit and growth.

#family-business, #hosoo, #ichiwa, #japan, #kikkoman, #nbk, #nintendo-co-ltd, #tanaka-iga-butsugu