Competition in China’s gaming industry is getting stiffer in recent times as tech giants sniff out potential buyouts and investments to beef up their gaming alliance, whether it pertains to content or distribution.
Bilibili, the go-to video streaming platform for young Chinese, is the latest to make a major gaming deal. It has agreed to invest HK$960 million (about $123 million) into X.D. Network, which runs the popular game distribution platform TapTap in China, the company announced on Thursday.
Dual-listed in Hong Kong and New York, Bilibili will purchase 22,660,000 shares of X.D.’s common stock at HK$42.38 apiece, which will grant it a 4.72% stake.
The partners will initiate a series of “deep collaborations” around X.D.’s own games and TapTap, without offering more detail.
Though known for its trove of video content produced by amateur and professional creators, Bilibili derives a big chunk of its income from mobile games, which accounted for 40% of its revenues in 2020. The ratio had declined from 71% and 53% in 2018 and 2019, a sign that it’s trying to diversify revenue streams beyond distributing games.
Tencent has similarly leaned on games to drive revenues for years. The WeChat operator dominates China’s gaming market through original titles and a sprawling investment portfolio whose content it helps operate and promote.
X.D. makes games, too, but in recent years it has also emerged as a rebel against traditional game distributors, which are Android app stores operated by smartphone makers. The vision is to skip the high commission fees charged by the likes of Huawei and Xiaomi and monetize through ads. X.D.’s proposition has helped it attract a swathe of gaming companies to be its investors, including fast-growing studios Lilith Games and miHoYo, as well as ByteDance, which built up a 3,000-people strong gaming team within six years.
Bilibili’s investment further strengthens X.D.’s matrix of top-tier gaming investors. Tencent is conspicuously absent, but it’s no secret that ByteDance is its new nemesis. The TikTok parent recently outbid Tencent to acquire Moonton, a gaming studio that has gained ground in Southeast Asia, according to Reuters. Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, is also vying for user attention away from content published on WeChat.
Tens of millions of people each year purchase a second-hand smartphone in India, the world’s second largest market. Phone makers and giant online sellers such as Amazon and Flipkart are aware of it, but it’s too much of a hassle for them to inspect, repair, and resell used phones. But these firms also know that customers are more likely to buy a smartphone if they are offered the ability to trade-in their existing handsets.
A startup that is helping these firms tackle this challenge said on Thursday it has raised $15 million in a new financing round. New York-based Olympus Capital Asia made the investment through Asia Environmental Partners, a fund dedicated to the environmental sector. The five-year-old startup, which counts Blume Ventures among its early investors, has raised $42 million to date.
“For consumers, our proposition is that we make it easy for you to sell your devices. You come to our site or app, answer questions to objectively evaluate the condition of your device, and we give you an estimate of how much your gadget is worth,” he said. “If you like the price, we pick it up from your doorstep and give you instant cash.”
A few years ago, I wrote about the struggle e-commerce firms face globally in handling returned items. There are many liability challenges — such as having to ensure that the innards in a returned smartphone haven’t been tempered with — as well as overhead costs in reversing an order.
Manocha said that phone makers and e-commerce firms have found better ways to handle returned items in recent years, but they still lose a significant amount of money on them. These challenges have created a big opportunity for startups such as Cashify.
In fact, Cashify says it’s the market leader in its category in India. The startup has partnerships with “nearly every OEM” including Apple, Samsung, OnePlus, Oppo, Xiaomi, Vivo, and HP. “If you walk into an Apple store today, they use our platform.” For consumers in India, if they opted for the trade-in program, Apple.com also uses Cashify’s trading platform, he said.
The startup also works with top e-commerce firms in India — Amazon, Flipkart, and Paytm Mall. The firms use Cashify’s trading and exchange software, and also rely on the startup for liquidation of devices. The startup then repairs these gadgets and sells the refurbished units to customers.
“Essentially, whether you come directly to us, or go to popular e-commerce firms or phone OEMs, we are handling the majority of the trading,” he said. Even if a customer trades in the device to OEMs, or e-commerce firms, these companies sell the device to players like Cashify, which serves over 2 million customers in more than 1,500 cities.
The startup plans to deploy part of the fresh capital to expand its presence in the offline market. Manocha said Cashify currently has dozens of offline stores and kiosks at shopping malls across the country and it has already proven immensely effective in brand awareness among customers.
The startup also plans to expand outside of India, hire more talent, and invest more in getting the word out about its offerings. Manocha said the team is also working on expanding its expertise to more hardware categories such as cameras.
“The management team at Cashify has an excellent track record in building a strong consumer-facing franchise and building relationships with OEMs, e-commerce companies and electronic product retailers to be present across all touch points for the consumer,” said Pankaj Ghai, Managing Director of Asia Environmental Partners, in a statement.
In China’s cosmetics world, where foreign brands were historically revered, indigenous startups are increasingly winning over Gen-Z consumers with cheaper, more localized options. One of the rising stars is the direct-to-consumer brand Perfect Diary, which is owned by five-year-old startup Yatsen.
Yatsen impressed the capital market with a $617 million initial public offering on NYSE in November. Its flagship brand Perfect Diary consistently ranks among the top makeup brands by online sales next to giants like L’Oreal and Shiseido. Now the company is plotting another big move as it set out to buy Eve Lom, a 35-year-old skincare brand owned by British private equity firm, Manzanita Capital.
On Wednesday, Yatsen, named after the father of modern China, Sun Yat-sen, announced it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Eve Lom, which is known for its cleanser. The deal is expected to close within the next few weeks and Manzanita will retain a minority stake in the business and serve as a strategic partner.
The size of the deal wasn’t disclosed but Bloomberg reported in February that Manzanita was looking to sell Eve Lom for as much as $200 million.
Perfect Diary rose to prominence in China by partnering with influencers who reviewed the brand’s lipsticks, eyeshadow palettes, foundation and other products on Chinese social commerce platforms like Xiaohongshu. It took advantage of its vicinity to China’s abundant cosmetics and packaging suppliers, many of whom also work with top international brands. The strategies have allowed Perfect Diary to offer affordable prices without compromising quality, and earn it the moniker, “Xiaomi for cosmetics.”
Growth has skyrocketed at Yatsen since its founding. Its gross sales more than quadrupled to 3.5 billion yuan ($540 million) in 2019 from 2018, thanks to an effective e-commerce strategy. But losses also ballooned. The company recorded a net loss of 1.16 billion yuan ($170 million) in the nine months ended September 2020, compared to a net income of 29.1 million yuan in the year before.
Yatsen has been on the hunt for potential acquisitions to diversify its product portfolio, as it noted in its prospectus. Through the Eve Lom marriage, the company hopes to “enrich our global brand-building capabilities and product offerings,” said Jinfeng Huang, founder and CEO of Yatsen in the announcement.
Yatsen has already embarked on international expansion, landing in Southeast Asia first where it is selling on e-commerce sites like Shopee. It said in the prospectus that it plans on “selectively cooperating with local partners to accelerate our international expansion and localize our product offerings.” In the competitive and entrenched makeup world, Yatsen’s overseas expedition is definitely a curious one to watch.
Smartphone maker Xiaomi has sued the United States government over its inclusion in a military blacklist. The filing, which was submitted on Friday, calls the decision “unlawful and unconstitutional.”
The Chinese smartphone maker adds:
It is not owned or controlled by, or otherwise affiliated with the Chinese government or military, or owned or controlled by any entity affiliated with the Chinese defense industrial base. Nor does the Chinese government or military, or any entity affiliated with the defense industrial base, possess the ability to exert control over the management or affairs of the company.
The filing reflects similar statements by the company in the wake of the listing. The designation came in the waning days of the Trump administration, less than a week before Biden’s inauguration. Huawei and DJI have also been caught up in U.S. blacklists in recent years, though those companies were tagged as part of the separate entity list maintained by the Commerce Department. Huawei filed suit against the government in March 2019.
The listing, which is set to go into effect on March 15, bars investment in the smartphone maker. It’s already had an impact on its bottom line. Xiaomi already has a massive global footprint, ranking No. 2 behind Apple and Samsung, according to the latest figures from Canalys. The company saw a 31% annual growth in market share y-o-y for Q4, as the larger industry continued to stall. Xiaomi hasn’t had much visibility in the U.S., but a potential ban in the world’s third-largest market could severely hamper the company’s growth.
It remains to be seen how the new U.S. administration will impact relations with both China and its hardware makers. Notably, the letter addresses Biden appointees Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
Xiaomi, the world’s third largest smartphone maker, today unveiled “Mi Air Charge Technology” that it says can deliver 5W power to multiple devices “within a radius of several metres” as the Chinese giant invited customers to a “true wireless charging era.”
The company said it has self-developed an isolated charging pile that has five phase interference antennas built-in, which can “accurately detect the location of the smartphone.”
A phase control array composed of 144 antennas transmits millimeter-wide waves directly to the phone through beamforming, the company said, adding that “in the near future” the system will also be able to work with smart watches, bracelets, and other wearable devices.
A company spokesperson said Xiaomi won’t be rolling out this system to consumer products this year.
Here’s how the company has described the mechanics of its new tech:
On the smartphone side, Xiaomi has also developed a miniaturized antenna array with built-in “beacon antenna” and “receiving antenna array”. Beacon antenna broadcasts position information with low power consumption. The receiving antenna array composed of 14 antennas converts the millimeter wave signal emitted by the charging pile into electric energy through the rectifier circuit, to turn the sci-fi charging experience into reality.
Currently, Xiaomi remote charging technology is capable of 5-watt remote charging for a single device within a radius of several meters. Apart from that, multiple devices can also be charged at the same time (each device supports 5 watts), and even physical obstacles do not reduce the charging efficiency.
The impact of United States government sanctions on Huawei is continuing to hurt the company and dampen overall smartphone shipments in China, where it is largest smartphone vendor, according to a new report by Canalys. But Huawei’s decline also opens new opportunities for its main rivals, including Apple.
Canalys says Apple’s performance in China during the fourth-quarter of 2020 was its best in years, thanks to the iPhone 11 and 12. Its full-year shipments returned to its 2018 levels, and it reached its highest quarterly shipments in China since the end of 2015, when the iPhone 6s was launched.
Overall, smartphone shipments in China fell 11% to about 330 million units in 2020, with market recovery hindered by Huawei’s inability to ship new units. Even though demand in China for Huawei devices remains high, the company has struggled to cope with sanctions imposed by the U.S. government under the Trump administration that banned it from doing business with American companies and drastically curtailed its ability to procure new chips.
In May 2020, Huawei rotating chairman Guo Ping said even though the firm can design some semiconductor components, like integrated circuits, it is “incapable of doing a lot of other things.”
This left Huawei unable to meet demand for its devices, but gives its main rivals new opportunities, wrote Canalys vice president of mobility Nicole Peng. “Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi are fighting to win over Huawei’s offline channel partners across the country, including small rural ones, backed by huge investments in store expansion and marketing support. These commitments brought immediate results, and market share improved within mere months.”
Apple benefited from Huawei’s decline because the company’s Mate series is the iPhone’s main rival in the high-end category, and only 4 million Mate units were shipped in the fourth quarter. “However, Apple has not relaxed its market promotions for iPhone 12,” wrote Canalys research analyst Amber Liu. “Aggressive online promotions across ecommerce players, coupled with widely available trade-in plans and interest-free installments with major banks, drove Apple to its stellar performance.”
During the fourth-quarter of 2020, smartphone shipments in mainland China fell 4% year-over-year to a total of 84 million units. Even though it held onto its number one position in terms of shipments, Huawei’s total market share plummeted to 22% from 41% a year earlier, and it shipped just 18.8 million smartphones, including units from budget brand Honor, which it agreed to sell in November.
Canalys’ graph showing shipments by the top five smartphone vendors in China
Huawei’s main competitors, on the other hand, all increased their shipments at the end of 2020. Oppo took second place, shipping 17.2 million smartphones, a 23% increase year-over-year. Oppo’s closest competitor Vivo increased its quarterly shipment to 15.7 million units. Apple shipped more than 15.3 million units, putting its market share at 18%, up from 15% a year ago. Xiaomi rounded out the top five vendors, shipping 12.2 million units, a 52% year-over-year increase.
Huawei’s decision to sell Honor means the brand may rapidly gain market share in 2021, since it already has brand recognition, wrote Peng. 5G is also expected to help smartphone shipments in China, especially for premium models.
TikTok, UC Browser, UC News, Baidu Map, Xiaomi’s Video and Community and 53 other Chinese apps that India banned in late June won’t be returning to the country anytime soon, the Indian government has decided, a source familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.
Last week New Delhi told the parent firms of these apps that it wasn’t satisfied with the responses they had provided so far to address cybersecurity concerns charged against them, the source said, requesting anonymity as the communication is private.
Citing this reason, New Delhi has said that it will retain the ban on these apps, but it has not completely shut communication channels with the firms, the source said. Indian media reported last week that the country, which is the world’s second largest internet market with over 600 internet users, was making the ban permanent.
Beginning in late June, India banned over 200 apps including PUBG Mobile with links to China last year amid geo-political tension between the two neighboring nations. All these apps engaged in activities that posed threats to “national security and defence of India, which ultimately impinges upon the sovereignty and integrity of India,” the nation’s IT ministry has said.
New Delhi has so far only sent feedback about the responses to the apps that were banned in late June.
TikTok has been the most high-profile app to be banned by India. ByteDance’s crown app had more than 200 million users in India prior to being blocked in the nation. Despite the ban, the company has retained most of its India-based employees so far.
A source told TechCrunch that ByteDance operates several properties in India including a productivity suite called Lark that remains operational in the country and the team continues to develop these apps. This information has not been previously reported. (UC Browser, too, was once very popular in India, though the rising popularity of Google’s Chrome browser put an end to the Chinese app’s dominance in the country.)
Despite the ban, TikTok and several of the blocked Chinese apps still maintain millions of users in the country who are using specialized software such as virtual private networks to access them. TikTok had over 5 million active users (MAU) in India last month, and PUBG Mobile over 15 million, according to mobile insight firm App Annie, data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch.
TikTok said it was reviewing New Delhi’s notice. “We continually strive to comply with local laws and regulations and do our best to address any concerns the government may have. Ensuring the privacy and security of all our users remains to be our topmost priority,” a spokesperson said.
The ban — as well as the whole U.S. drama about a potential block — hasn’t made much impact on ByteDance’s financials. The Information reported on Tuesday that ByteDance more than doubled its revenue last year to $37 billion, and increased its operating profit to $7 billion, from $4 billion in 2019.
American and Chinese firms have rushed to India in the past decade in search for their next billion users. But the South Asian nation contributes very little to these firms’ bottom line. Kunal Shah, a serial entrepreneur in India, said at a conference in 2018 that the nation has become an “MAU farm” for many companies.
The rise of U.S.-China tensions has accelerated the bifurcation of global technology, with the two superpowers each working on their own tech systems. While the rift might be discouraging cross-border investment and business expansion between the rivals, the countries that are in-between — like those in Southeast Asia and Europe — are still finding opportunities.
Sweden’s Dirac is such an example. The 15-year-old firm has been licensing sound optimization technology to mobile, home entertainment, AR/VR, automotive, and other businesses where sounds are critical. The geopolitical complications “have not impacted” the company at all, its founder and chief executive Mathias Johansson told TechCrunch in an interview.
Based in the university city Uppsala of Sweden, Dirac has deep ties to China, offering solutions to the country’s smartphone leaders from Huawei, Oppo, Xiaomi, to Africa-focused Transsion. More than 50% of its revenue come from China today.
Dirac’s interest in China stems in part from the founder’s early fascination with the country. When Johansson visited China for the first time through his PhD program two decades ago, he was impressed by the “rapid evolution” in the tech industry there.
“The audio industry put a lot of manufacturing in China first, but then more and more on development and design. We realized this is a market that’s absolutely key for the entire consumer electronics ecosystem,” Johansson said.
The entrepreneur had since been traveling to Asia, especially Japan and China where electronics were flourishing. In 2010, he hired Dirac’s first China manager Tony Ye, who previously worked for Swedish software firm IAR Systems in Shanghai. At the time, the revolutionary iPhone 4 was making waves across the world, but Johansson and his team were also bullish about China.
“We thought that China is going to be the leader in smartphones eventually. We thought that with Android and with Arm processors [China] is going to be a very different market. So we really went in there and focused on the market. And we thought that [Chinese] would be more hungry, more interested in trying out new things, simply because they were newcomers just like we were pioneers,” the founder said.
“It turned out to be the right bet.”
Though the Chinese government has been advocating for technological autonomy, the national efforts are prioritizing strategic areas like 5G and AI. In smaller and less politically charged fields, imported technologies are still seeing demand. These solutions are often cutting-edge and built upon years of research and development, but they are too niched for big corporations to invest the money and time. That is true for certain video enhancement solutions (see TechCrunch’s profile of Imint, also an Uppsala-based company), or advanced sound optimization in the case of Dirac.
Johansson began researching the audio technology behind Dirac some 20 years ago during university, which made it harder for latecomers to catch up, the founder asserted. Dirac fixes audio like how glasses correct vision. Its team would first send out a test signal through the target speaker system, records it with a microphone, generates a digital fingerprint of audio, and measures the acoustic information. It then makes an exact “mirror universe” of the distortions created by the system, sends pre-distorted audio back to the speakers and the users will eventually get the distortion-free version of the sound.
The research and development cycle at Dirac is long, but working with Chinese companies has forced the Swedish firm to adapt.
“It challenged us to come up with new, more efficient ways of doing the same thing and to keep that innovation pace ahead of the competitor, whether it’s domestic Chinese, or the U.S., or wherever,” the founder admitted.
Dirac maintains its cashflow by licensing its intellectual property to clients and charges royalty fees per unit of device shipped. It also operates a B2B2C model, whereby the end-user can upgrade the sound system of a device, say, a speaker, by paying a fee, which is then divided between Dirac and its client, i.e. the device maker. Its latest big-name customer is the Chinese electric carmaker BYD, a deal that the company sees as an important step in furthering its automotive ambitions.
“Traditional carmakers are being challenged and the whole ecosystem is changing,” Johansson observed. “With software upgrades, cars are becoming something very different. They’re becoming much more like mobile phones and much more software-centric. The whole entertainment aspect and the audio experience in cars are becoming almost the most important part of the car because the noise is so low, the car is so quiet and you’re maybe driving a self-driving car. The audio experience you will get from cars will be outstanding in a couple of years.”
Bill Zhang lowered himself into lunges on a squishy mat as he explained to me the benefits of the full-body training suit he was wearing. We were in his small, modest office in Xili, a university area in Shenzhen that’s also home to many hardware makers. The connected muscle stimulator attached to the suit, called Balanx, is designed to bring so-called electronic muscle stimulation, which is said to help improve metabolism and burn fat.
“We are not really aiming at Chinese consumers at this point,” said Zhang, who started Balanx in 2014. “The suit is for the more savvy consumers in the West.”
Chinese entrepreneurs don’t expect relationships between the countries to warm up anytime soon, but many do believe the new office will make “less erratic” and “more rational” policy decisions, according to conversations TechCrunch had with seven Chinese hardware startups. Chinese tech businesses, big or small, are adapting swiftly in the new era of U.S.-China competition as they continue to woo overseas customers.
Designed in China
Zhang is just one of the many entrepreneurs looking to bring state-of-the-art Chinese hardware to the world. This generation of founders no longer hawk cheap electronic copycats, the image attached to the old “Made in China” regime. Decades of knowledge transfer, product development, manufacturing, export practice and policy support have made China a powerhouse for producing new technologies that are both edgy and still widely affordable.
Anker’s power banks, Roborock’s vacuums and Huami’s fitness trackers are just a few items that have gained loyal followings in several overseas markets, not to mention global household names like Huawei, Xiaomi, Oppo and DJI.
Consumer sentiment is also changing. Europeans’ perception of “Made in China” quality and innovation has “improved significantly” over the last 10 to 15 years, said Frank Wang who oversees marketing at Xiaomi -backed Dreame which makes premium home appliances including cheaper alternatives to Dyson hairdryers and vacuums.
The new players are eager to replicate the success of their predecessors. They seek media attention and retail partners at international trade fairs like CES, teach themselves Facebook and Google campaigns, and court gadget lovers on crowdfunding platforms. Investors ranging from GGV Capital to Xiaomi rush to back scrappy startups that are already shipping millions of units around the globe.
For Donny Zhang, a Shenzhen-based electronics parts supplier to hardware companies, businesses have been shrinking as soon as the trade war began. “My clients are taking the brunt because the costs of procurement have increased,” he said of those who directly or indirectly deal with American firms.
While many export-led hardware businesses loathe decreasing profitability, some learn to adapt and look for a silver lining. That has unexpectedly spurred new directions for factory owners in China. Indiegogo, one of the world’s largest crowd-funding platforms, saw the changes first hand.
“Once tariffs increase, there’s not much profit margin left for manufacturers because the middlemen already eat up the bulk of their profit,” Lu Li, general manager for Indiegogo’s global strategy, told TechCrunch.
“A good solution is for factories to skip the middlemen and sell directly to consumers with their own brands. Once the goal of brand building is clear, they often come to us because they need marketing help as a first step to establish themselves as a global consumer brand.”
The trend, dubbed “direct-to-consumers” or D2C, also plays into China’s national plan to encourage manufacturing upgrade and homegrown innovations to compete globally, an initiative that began to take shape around 2015. The development naturally makes China Indiegogo’s fastest-growing region in the last two years: in the first three quarters of 2020, businesses coming from China jumped 50% year-over-year, according to Li.
Having an appealing product and brand is just the prerequisite. Ever-changing trade policies and geopolitics have forced many Chinese businesses to localize seriously, whether that means setting up a foreign entity or building a local team.
For Tuya, which provides IoT solutions to device makers around the world, the trade war’s effect has been “minimal” since it has operated a U.S. entity since 2015, which employs its local sales and technical support staff. Most of its research and development, however, still lies in the hands of its engineers in India and China, the latter of which can be a potential contention point, as shown by TikTok’s recent backlash in the U.S.
“The key is compliance. We have a dedicated team of security experts to work on compliance issues. For instance, we were one of the first to get GDPR certified in Europe,” said the company’s chief marketing office Eva Na.
The company’s readiness is prompted by practical needs though. Many of its clients are large Western corporations that demand strict legal compliance in vendors, so Tuya began collecting the needed certificates early on. Connecting 200,000 SKUs today, Tuya’s footprint is found in over 190 overseas countries, which account for over 60% of its business.
Well-funded Tuya may have the financial and operational capacity to sustain an overseas team; but for smaller startups, localization can be a costly and tedious learning curve. Many opted to set up a Hong Kong entity to tap the city’s status as a global financial hub and evade trade restrictions on China, an advantage of the territory that began to crumble following Beijing’s implementation of the national security law.
Balanx, the smart training suit maker, has a Hong Kong entity like many of its export-facing hardware peers. To cope with new global headwinds, it registered a virtual company in Nevada but quickly realized the entity is of little use unless it has an on-the-ground operation in the U.S.
“Many local banks would ask for utility bills and etc. if I want to open an account, which we don’t have. We realized we must have a local team,” asserted the founder.
Zhang is positive that small companies like his own will remain under the radar in spite of U.S. sanctions. “Just avoid having any government connection,” he said.
Indeed, some of the more “benign” and niche products are continuing to thrive in their global push. PopuMusic, a Xiaomi-backed startup making smart instruments like ukulele and guitar to teach beginners, is one. “We aren’t affected by the trade war. We are in a business that’s neither threatening nor aggressive,” said Zhang Bohan, founder of PopuMusic, which counts the U.S. as one of its biggest overseas markets.
Chinese brands are also seeing their edge as the coronavirus sweeps across the globe and confines millions at home. Hardware makers like Balanx, Dreame and PopuMusic have long learned to master e-commerce and logistics in a country where online shopping is ubiquitous.
“Consumers in Europe and the U.S. are growing more accustomed to e-commerce, a bit like those in China five to eight years ago,” said Wang of Dreame.
Rather than rethinking the U.S., PopuMusic is forging further ahead by launching a new connected guitar via an Indiegogo campaign. Global expansion is at the core of the startup’s vision, the founder said. “We are global from day one. We had an English name before even coming up with a Chinese one.”
In the process of making big bucks, hardware makers may have to downplay their “Made in China” or “Designed in China” brand, said Li of Indiegogo. This could help them avoid unnecessary geopolitical complications and attention in their international push. But one has to wonder how this new generation of entrepreneurs is reckoning with their national pride. How do they deal with the mission passed down by Beijing to promote Chinese innovation in the global marketplace? It’s a line that Chinese entrepreneurs have to tread carefully in their global journey in the years to come.
According to estimates from marketing research firm Counterpoint, Samsung commanded 24% of the Indian smartphone market in the quarter that ended in September this year, ahead of Xiaomi’s 23% share. (For context: during Q3 2019, Samsung assumed 20% of the smartphone market in India while Xiaomi captured 26%.)
Counterpoint’s finding is in contrast to what research firm Canalys reported last week. According to Canalys, Xiaomi held the top spot in India with 26.1% of the market share in Q3 2020, ahead of Samsung’s 20.4%.
But both the firms agree that India’s smartphone market saw a sharp rebound during the quarter. According to Counterpoint, more than 53 million smartphone units shipped in Q3 2020 at a 9% year-over-year growth. (Canalys pegged the figure to be about 50 million.)
The volume of units Samsung shipped in Q3 2020 was up 32% year-over-year, Counterpoint said. The company has benefited from its recent aggressive push in online sales and launch of several affordable smartphone handsets in recent months, Counterpoint analysts said.
Xiaomi, which entered India in 2014 and for several years sold exclusively through e-commerce platforms, is still the top online brand in India, Counterpoint said. But the company, which identifies India as its biggest market outside of China, is struggling to grapple with a growing anti-China sentiment in India among consumers as tension between the two neighboring nations have escalated in recent quarters.
This tension may lead to some more changes in the market in the coming months. Micromax, an Indian smartphone vendor which once ruled the market, said earlier this month that it was gearing up to launch a new smartphone sub-brand called “In.” Rahul Sharma, the head of Micromax, said the company will invest $67.9 million in the new smartphone brand.
In a video he posted on Twitter earlier this month, Sharma said Chinese smartphone makers killed the local handset makers but that time had come to fight back. “Our endeavour is to bring India on the global smartphone map again with ‘in’ mobiles,” he said in a statement.
It’s worth pointing out that long before Chinese smartphone makers, who command more than 70% of the local smartphone market in India, arrived to the country, they engaged closely with Chinese phone makers. Chinese firms manufactured the phones and sold it to Indian firms under a white-label agreement.
Indian firms then sold those phones to consumers in the country. Eventually, Chinese smartphone makers cut the middlemen and started to sell better smartphone models at much better prices to Indian directly, said Jayanth Kolla, a smartphone industry veteran and chief analyst at consultancy firm Convergence.
India also recently approved applications from 16 smartphone and other electronics companies for a $6.65 billion incentives program under New Delhi’s federal plan to boost domestic smartphone production over the next five years. Foxconn (and two other Apple contract partners), Samsung, Micromax and Lava (also an Indian brand) are among the companies that will be permitted to avail the incentives.
Missing from the list are Chinese smartphone makers such as Xiaomi, Oppo, Vivo, OnePlus and Realme.
Smartphone shipments reached an all-time high in India in the quarter that ended in September this year as the world’s second largest handset market remained fully open during the period after initial lockdowns due to the coronavirus, according to a new report.
Xiaomi, which assumed the No.1 smartphone spot in India in late 2018, continues to maintain its dominance in the country. It commanded 26.1% of the smartphone market in India, exceeding Samsung’s 20.4%, Vivo’s 17.6%, and Realme’s 17.4%, the marketing research firm said.
Image Credits: Canalys
But the market, which was severely disrupted by the coronavirus, is set to see some more shifts. Research firm Counterpoint said last week that Samsung had regained the top spot in India in the quarter that ended in September. (Counterpoint plans to share the full report later this month.)
According to Counterpoint, Samsung has benefited from its recent aggressive push into online sales and from the rising anti-China sentiments in India.
The geo-political tension between India and China has incentivised many consumers in India to opt for local brands or those with headquarters based in U.S. and South Korea. And local smartphone firms, which lost the market to Chinese giants (that command more than 80% of the market today) five years ago, are planning a come back.
Indian brand Micromax, which once ruled the market, said this month that it is gearing up to launch a new smartphone sub-brand called “In.” Rahul Sharma, the head of Micromax, said the company is investing $67.9 million in the new smartphone brand.
In a video he posted on Twitter last week, Sharma said Chinese smartphone makers killed the local smartphone brands but it was now time to fight back. “Our endeavour is to bring India on the global smartphone map again with ‘in’ mobiles,” he said in a statement.
India also recently approved applications from 16 smartphone and other electronics companies for a $6.65 billion incentives program under New Delhi’s federal plan to boost domestic smartphone production over the next five years. Foxconn (and two other Apple contract partners), Samsung, Micromax, and Lava (also an Indian brand) are among the companies that will be permitted to avail the incentives.
Missing from the list are Chinese smartphone makers such as Oppo, Vivo, OnePlus and Realme.
The advent of low-cost Android smartphones and the world’s cheapest mobile data has paved the way for millions of social media influencers in India to amass a following of tens of millions of users in recent years.
These influencers, also known as creators, share their daily vlogs, thoughts on a wide range of issues, and some engage with big brands to help sell their products to niche, loyal audiences. E-commerce giant Flipkart and scores of several other businesses today work with these influencers.
But India’s ban on TikTok, the Chinese short-video app that reached more than 200 million users in the country, in late June unearthed some of the biggest problems these creators face today: They are too reliant on a handful of platforms, and their work structure is not well organized.
A new startup believes it has built the platform to help creators assume more control over their work. And a number of high-profile entrepreneurs agree.
On Friday, Madhavan Malolan announced CreatorOS, a platform that enables creators to build, manage and grow their businesses. About 1,000 creators including a number of short-film makers, teachers, consultants have already joined the platform, Madhavan, who co-founded the startup, formerly known as Socionity, in January this year. Prior to CreatorOS, he worked at a number of firms including Microsoft.
“We believe that these creators will become an entrepreneur in the coming decade. So we are creating tools, connections and infrastructure that they will need to run their digital businesses. Currently, there is a lot of spray and pray happening on the creator’s part. They are producing videos in hopes that they go viral so more people in the industry discover them,” said Madhavan in an interview with TechCrunch.
The marquee tool on CreatorOS today is an app-builder that allows creators to build their own apps, push and sell their content in it, and build their own communities. Madhavan said CreatorOS has overly reduced the efforts that need to go into building an app to simply drag and drop.
The startup said today it has also raised $500,000 from a clutch of high-profile names. Some of the angel investors include Phanindra Sama (founder and former chief executive of online ticket booking platform RedBus.in), Gaurav Munjal (co-founder and chief executive of online learning platform Unacademy), Kalyan Krishnamurthy (chief executive of Flipkart Group), Sujeet Kumar (co-founder of business-to-business marketplace Udaan), Vidit Aatrey (co-founder and chief executive of social e-commerce Meesho), Vivekananda Hallekere (co-founder and chief executive of mobility firm Bounce), and Alvin Tse (GM of Xiaomi Indonesia).
Madhavan said that the trust that so many established entrepreneurs showed in CreatorOS convinced him that he did not need to engage with VC firms yet and instead put the entire focus on serving creators. He said the ban on TikTok and how so many startups are trying to scale their short-video apps has created an immense opportunity for CreatorOS.
The startup expects to have more than 5,000 creators on its platform by the end of the year. It is working with creators to understand and build more features that would benefit them, said Madhavan.
Connectivity is vital to a future managed and shaped by smart hardware, and Chinese startup Showmac Tech is proposing eSIMs as the infrastructure solution for seamless and stable communication between devices and the service providers behind.
Xiaomi accepted the proposition and doled out an investment for the startup’s angel round in 2017. Now Showmac has convinced more investors to be onboard as it banked close to 100 million yuan ($15 million) in a Series A+ round led by Addor Capital with participation from GGV Capital and Hongtai Aplus.
“We believe cellular communication will become a mainstream trend in the era of IoT. WiFi works only when it’s connected to a small number of devices, but when the number increases dramatically it becomes unreliable,” said Lily Liu, founder and chief executive of Showmac, during an interview with TechCrunch.
Unlike a traditional SIM, short for “subscriber identity module,” an eSIM doesn’t need to be on a removable card, doing away the need for the SIM card slot on a device. Rather, it will be welded onto the device’s integrated chip during assembly and is valid for different network operators. To chipmakers, Showmac’s eSIM functions like an application or software development kit (SDK), Liu observed.
The company began as a pilot project supplying eSIMs to Xiaomi’s ecosystem of connected devices and subsequently set up an entity when the solution proved its viability. Its core products today include eSIM cards for IoT devices, eSIM communication module and gateway, and connection management software as a service.
To date, Showmac has powered more than 10 million devices, around 30% of which are affiliated with Xiaomi, which through in-house development and external investments has constructed an empire of IoT partners reliant on its operating system and consumer reach.
The majority of Showmac’s clients are providers of shared goods, those of which “ownership and right to use are separate”, explained Liu, who earned a PhD in economics from China’s prestigious Huazhong University of Science and Technology. Shared bikes and Luckin’s shared coffee mugs are just a few examples.
Showmac is hardly a forerunner in the global eSIM space, but the founder believed few competitors could match it on the level of supply chain resources, thanks to its ties with Xiaomi.
“As an R&D-oriented and relatively young team, we are very fortunate to have experienced large-scale industrial activity that churns out products in the hundreds of thousands and even millions every day. [Xiaomi] has provided us with this precious opportunity,” the founder said.
With a staff of 40-50 employees across Beijing and Shenzhen, the startup is currently focusing on the Chinese market but has plans for overseas expansion in the long run.
“We are not the first to make eSIM in the world, but being in China, the center of the world’s electronics manufacturing, we are in a superior position to get things done,” suggested Liu.
The arrival of 5G is a boon to the startup, the founder believed. “5G will spurn more IoT devices and applications, giving rise to the need for IoT [devices] with cross-carrier and cross-region capabilities,” she said.
Showmac says it will spend its newly raised capital on mass-producing its integrated eSIM modules, research and development, and business development.
Servify, a Mumbai-headquartered startup that operates a device lifecycle management platform and works deeply with brands including Apple and Samsung in a number of geographies, has raised $23 million in a new financing round.
The Series C financing round for the five-year-old startup was led by existing investor Iron Pillar, and other existing investors including Blume Ventures, Beenext, and Tetrao SPF participated in the round. The new round pushes Servify’s to-date raise to $48 million.
Servify works with enterprises such as Apple, Samsung, OnePlus, Xiaomi, Nokia, Motorola, and Airtel and handles after-sales services such as device protection, exchange, and trade-in programs for its partners, explained Sreevathsa Prabhakar, founder and chief executive of the startup, in an interview with TechCrunch.
The startup, which offers its services through a whitelabel arrangement with enterprises, works with over 50 brands and reaches over 50 markets. With Apple, it works in three geographies, and in over half a dozen with OnePlus .
The new round, which was oversubscribed, will help the startup expand its expertise in many new product categories and deepen its reach in international markets, said Prabhakar, who has more than a decade of experience in overseeing after-sales and other device management businesses.
“We are keenly interested in unique businesses addressing hard problems in very large and global markets and are excited to continue to back the company in its next phase of growth. Stellar execution by Servify’s team combined with its differentiated technology platform have led to the company’s impressive growth this year despite Covid-19 related challenges,” said Anand Prasanna, Managing Partner at Iron Pillar, in a statement.
The coronavirus outbreak has deeply impacted the business of Servify, which was profitable in the financial year that ended in March. The month of April and May, when many countries enforced lockdowns, the startup’s business reached a complete halt. But in the months since, it has not only fully-recovered but grown to new heights, said Prabhakar.
TechCrunch asked Prabhakar if he would ever consider engaging with customers directly. He said the current model of Servify enables it to acquire customers at no charge and he thinks it’s the right model to maintain moving forward.
“It is very satisfying as we have more than quadrupled our revenue in 2020 till date, and raised funds for expansion even during the tough economic climate. This further strengthens our belief that we have built a globally scalable sound business that is not only trusted by large brands, but also the investor community,” he said.
Google today announced the launch of Android 11, the latest version of its mobile operating system. After a slightly longer public preview, users who own a select number of Pixel devices (starting with the Pixel 2), OnePlus, Xiaomi, OPPO or realme phones will now see the update roll out to their phones in the coming days, with others launching their updates over the next few months.
Android 11 isn’t a radical departure from what you’ve come to expect in recent years, but there are a number of interesting new user-facing updates here that mostly center around messaging, privacy and giving you better control over all of your smart devices.
At the core of the improved messaging and communication features are improved notifications for conversations from your messaging apps. These now live in a dedicated space at the top of the notification shade and feature a more “people-forward design,” as the company describes it. The new Bubbles API now also makes chat bubbles a core part of the Android messaging experience.
One addition feature Google lists under the communications section is screen recording, which is now finally a built-in tool that lets you record what’s happening on your screen, using either the sound from your mic, the device or both. Until now, you needed third-party apps like AZ Screen Recorder for this (and you will still need these for more advanced features like live streaming, for example).
Image Credits: Google
As for controlling your smart devices, Google notes how you now simply long-press your power button to get access to a new menu that gives you access to device controls (similar to what you’d find in the Google Home app, but with a different design), as well as payment methods and your boarding passes, for example. And yes, you can still restart and power off your device from there, too.
Media controls are getting a redesign, too, with the controls moving out of the notifications and to the quick settings bar instead. From there, it is now also easier to choose where you want to play your audio and video.
Over the last few years, the Android team added a number of privacy features to the operating system, but this clearly remains a moving target. With this update, the focus is on app permissions. It’s now easier to provide an app with one-time permissions to access your microphone, camera and location, helping you to ensure that an app won’t have perpetual access to your location, for example. After you haven’t used an app for a while, Android will also reset your permissions and you’ll have to re-grant access to the app the next time you launch it.
On the enterprise side, Google is also launching some new features to help employees who use some personal apps on their work phone keep their personal profile data and activity out of the hands of their company’s IT departments.
If you own a compatible phone, you should see an upgrade notification for Android 11 soon.
Once known for its affordable smartphones, Xiaomi has in recent years been transforming itself into an online mall for consumer electronics by cutting checks and building relationships with hundreds of hardware and lifestyle startups. And some of its allies are now going after the Western market with their high-end, China-made products.
Beijing-based Dreame, which produces premium hairdryers and vacuums in the style of Dyson but at lower prices, is one of Xiaomi’s latest bets. The startup announced this week the completion of a Series B+ round led by IDG Capital. The financing of nearly 100 million yuan ($14.6 million) also saw the participation of existing investors Xiaomi and Xiaomi founder Lei Jun’s Shunwei Capital, as well as Peak Valley Capital and Edge Ventures.
Dreame makes Xiaomi-branded vacuums and operates its own label, a common setup between Xiaomi and its suppliers, which get to enjoy the security of Xiaomi distribution and build their names at the same time.
The startup has emerged as a more affordable vacuum brand than the area’s pioneer Dyson, whose inventor James Dyson topped the U.K.’s rich list this year. Dreame’s latest handheld cordless broom V11, for example, costs €350 ($413) whereas Dyson’s new model asks for $600.
“If we compare Dyson to Apple, then there must be a Huawei in the [home cleaning] area, and we believe this company will come from China,” co-founder and vice president of marketing and sales Roc Woo told TechCrunch. Domestic businesses are poised to tap China’s rich manufacturing resources, cheaper labor and longer work hours compared to Western counterparts, he asserted.
“There are more and more success stories of Chinese brands going global, from small players like us through to behemoths like Huawei, Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo.”
The fresh proceeds will fuel Dreame’s marketing and sales efforts in Europe and North America and allow it to spend more on research and development, which tackles the likes of high-speed motors, fluid mechanics, robot dynamics and visual simultaneous localization and mapping (VSLAM), all essential technologies for Dreame’s family of home cleaners and personal care electronics.
The five-year-old startup likes to talk up its robust engineering background. The founding team consists of friends from Tsinghua University, and chief executive Yu Hao made a dent on campus by launching Skyworks, now the prestigious university’s largest hackerspace with sponsorship from industry giants like Boeing and Megvii. A number of its key staff were involved in China’s national spaceship program Shenzhou.
In addition, the startup boasts spending 12% of its annual sales revenue on R&D and operating a 20,000-sqm factory in eastern China’s Suzhou city, where it works to improve its proprietary designs, a growing trend among Chinese startups as Beijing calls for more tech self-reliance.
Xiaomi doesn’t put all its eggs in one basket when it comes to picking suppliers. In the realm of home cleaning, it’s also backed robot cleaner Roborock, which raised about 4.4 billion yuan ($640 million) from an initial public listing on China’s new tech board in February. Xiaomi first bankrolled Roborock back in 2014, four years before its first investment in Dreame.
Woo believed Dreame and Roborock can co-exist, for his company targets a wider product spectrum while Roborock is more focused and akin to iRobot. The startup doesn’t consider Tyson, of which Woo spoke highly, a direct competitor either, for it’s venturing beyond cleaning into areas like smart mobility.
When asked whether Xiaomi picks winners, Woo said “Xiaomi is more of a platform and doesn’t allocate resources.” While it tended to work closely with startups in its early years, Xiaomi’s empire of consumer products runs on the basis of market competition these days.
“Our collaboration with Xiaomi is no different from the way we work with Amazon or eBay. The investment means not much more than having a capital tie-up and a foundation for trust,” he said. Being in the Xiaomi family does provide a practical perk: it’s a guarantee for sales and offers a bargaining chip for Dreame in its negotiation with production partners.
What Xiaomi gets in return is millions of global consumers signed onto its Mi Home app, a central platform for managing Xiaomi-branded Internet of Things. In Europe, its biggest market, Dreame said it strictly follows the GDPR’s rules on data protection.
Boosted with new capital, Dreame is ready to foray into the U.S. by the end of this year. It already derives 70-80% of its sales outside of China, with a concentration in Europe where it saw a spike in orders since the COVID-19 outbreak for its products were sold mainly online.
For the current year, it aims to generate 3 billion yuan ($440 million) in sales, which doesn’t seem far off given it had shopped over 1 million vacuums by May since the category’s debut two years ago.
The front-facing camera has been a pretty constant bugbear for phone makers for a number of years now. Xiaomi certainly isn’t the first to offer a clever technological solution to the problem — and it’s also certainly not the only company to have show off under-screen camera tech — but next year, it’s committed to bringing that technology to market.
The manufacturer noted its plans today as part of its earnings report, stating that it will begin manufacturing handsets using the latest version of the technology it’s been working on for a number of years now. This actually represents the third generation of the tech. The first didn’t exist outside of the lab and the second was shown off to the public but never made it into production.
There are no doubt all sorts of practical reasons for that. Among them seems to be the issue of pixel density. For reasons that ought to be pretty obvious, there’s a big question of how to maintain a consistent pixel density in the area of the screen that sits on top of the front-facing camera. Xiaomi claims to have solved the problem, however.
“The self-developed pixel arrangement used in Xiaomi’s 3rd Generation Under-Display Camera Technology allows the screen to pass light through the gap area of sub-pixels, allowing each single pixel to retain a complete RGB subpixel layout without sacrificing pixel density,” it writes in a blog post.
Xiaomi says it’s been able to effectively double the pixel density of competing technology, letting light through to the camera, without sacrificing the uniformity of the screen. It looks good in the side-by-side videos the company has released, but obviously it’s worth reserving judgement until mass production starts next year.
Xiaomi reported a revenue of $7.77 billion for the quarter that ended in June this year, up 3.1% since the same period last year and up 7.7% over the previous quarter as the Chinese smartphone maker sees recovery in most of its overseas markets.
The company, which appointed Alain Lam (former APAC senior executive from Credit Suisse) as its new CFO this week, said its profit in the second quarter stood at $650 million, up 129.8% year-on-year and 108% compared to Q1 2020.
Its smartphone sales, which still account for the bulk of its revenue, has recovered in most of its international markets. Excluding India, the average daily number of overseas smartphone activations reached 120% of the pre-pandemic level recorded in January 2020, it said.
Xiaomi said local production yields are to be blamed. “As the production capacity had not yet returned to the normal level, our sales were still limited by the production constraints,” it said.
The company has found a silver lining in Europe. In the second quarter of 2020, according to research firm Canalys, Xiaomi’s smartphone shipments grew by 64.9% year-on-year in Europe, achieving a total market share of 16.8%.
In Western Europe, Xiaomi’s smartphone shipments grew 115.9% year-on-year, accounting for a 12.4% market share. Similarly, according to Canalys, Xiaomi commanded the top smartphone vendor position in Spain, second in France, and 4th in Germany and Italy.
The company said shipment of its premium smartphones — those that sell at retail price of €300 ($350) or more — grew 99.2% year-on-year in international markets. “Driven by the higher proportion of sales from mid- to high-end smartphones, the average selling price of the company’s smartphones increased by 11.8% YoY and 7.5% QoQ,” it added.
The smartphone giant, which has been attempting to grow its advertisement business, said there were 343.5 million MIUI users as of June 30 this year, up 23.3% year-over-year. MIUI is Xiaomi’s custom Android operating system that runs on the vast majority of its smartphones. (Xiaomi has also launched a handful of smartphones with pure Android version.)
As the company’s smartphone install base grows, its advertising revenue is also surging. In the second quarter of 2020, its advertising revenue increased by 23.2% year-on-year to $450 million, it said.
Amazon has amassed at least 1 million subscribers for its Prime loyalty service in India, the e-commerce giant revealed today in a long rundown of how its platform fared during last week’s Prime Day in the world’s second largest internet market.
More than a million Prime subscribers in India shopped from small businesses in the two weeks leading up to 48-hour Prime Day event last week, the company said in a blog post. Factoring in the ongoing global pandemic, Amazon last month chose India as the first market for Prime Day this year.
More than 91,000 small businesses (sellers) in India — a record for the company — participated in the local Prime Day, and sold to customers living in 5,900 zip codes (covering more than 97% of the country). Over 4,000 of these businesses clocked sales of more than $13,350 (slightly below 4,500 businesses during last year’s Prime Day), and overall 31,000 sellers reported the two-day period last week as their best selling on the platform.
Chinese firms Xiaomi and OnePlus continued to command dominance in the smartphone category, one of the top three selling categories on Amazon, during Prime Day and also attracted customers to their accessories, laptops, and television sets, Amazon disclosed. The reception stands in contrast with the all-time high anti-China sentiments swirling across India in recent months.
Amit Agarwal, SVP and Country Manager of Amazon India, said in a televised interview that last week’s Prime Day also illustrated an “increasing trend of local Indian sellers use Amazon as a starting point to launch products and reach customers globally” but he declined to share any figures.
“This Prime Day was dedicated to our small business (SMB) partners, who have been increasingly looking to Amazon to keep their businesses running. We are humbled that we were able to help as this was our biggest Prime Day ever for small businesses,” he said in a statement.
Prime Day is one of the biggest sales events for Amazon globally. In India, the e-commerce giant has historically sold more goods during sales events scheduled around the festival of Diwali, which is when local residents peak their spendings.
But the participation of 91,000 sellers in last week’s Prime Day is the highest Amazon has ever witnessed during any sales period in India. During the sale around Diwali last year, for instance, the company had reported the participation of 65,000 sellers.
Amazon, which competes with Walmart’s Flipkart in India, has visibly rushed to expand its base of sellers in the country in recent quarters. Earlier this year, Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos said the company would invest $1 billion in India to help digitize local small businesses and increase their cumulative exports on Amazon to $10 billion by 2025.
The company revealed today that it has amassed 650,000 sellers in India, up from 500,000 it disclosed in January this year.
Amazon also claimed that during Prime Day, the number of requests people made to Alexa exceeded one million. The company also shared a wide-range of other stats such as a claim that twice as many customers signed up for a Prime membership during last week’s Prime Day compared to last year’s. But without any concrete figures, these numbers are bereft of meaning.
Over a third of the world’s smartphone sales come from Chinese vendors Huawei, Xiaomi and Oppo. These manufacturers have thrived not only because they offer value-for-money handsets thanks to China’s supply chains, but they also enjoy a relatively open mobile ecosystem, in which consumers in most countries can freely access the likes of Google, Instagram and WhatsApp.
That openness is under attack as the great U.S.-China tech divide inches closer to reality, which can cause harm on both sides.
The Trump Administration’s five-pronged Clean Network initiative aims to strip away Chinese phone makers’ ability to pre-install and download U.S. apps. Under U.S. sanctions, Huawei already lost access to key Google services, which has dealt a blow to its overseas phone sales. Oppo, Vivo, Xiaomi, and other Chinese phone makers could suffer the same setback as Huawei, should the Clean Network applies to them.
For years, China has maintained a closed-up internet with the Great Firewall restricting a bevy of Western services, often without explicitly presenting the reasons for censorship. Now the U.S. has a plan that could potentially keep Chinese apps off the American internet.
The Clean Network program was first announced in April as part of the Trump Administration’s efforts in “guarding our citizens’ privacy and our companies’ most sensitive information from aggressive intrusions by malign actors, such as the Chinese Communist Party.”
Beijing said Thursday it’s firmly opposed to U.S. restrictions on Chinese tech firms and blasted that the U.S. uses such actions to preserve its technology hegemony.
Many on Chinese social media compare Trump’s Clean Network proposal to routine cyberspace crackdowns in China, which regulators say are to purge pornography, violence, gambling, and other ‘illegal’ activities. Others that espouse a free internet lament its looming demise.
(1/2) A long, long time ago I can still remember how that internet used to make me smile
But August makes me shiver With every app I’d have delivered Bad news on state dot government I couldn’t reach Pompeo’s statement
It’s unclear when the rules would be implemented and how they would be enforced. The program also aims to remove ‘untrusted’ Chinese apps from US app stores. A TikTok ban is looking less likely as Microsoft nears a buyout, but other Chinese apps also have a big presence in the U.S. Many, like WeChat and Weibo, target the diaspora community, while players like Likee and Zynn, owned by Chinese firms, are making waves among local users.
Chinese firms are already hedging. Some like TikTok have set up overseas data centers. Others register their entities abroad and maintain U.S. offices, while still resorting to China for cheaper engineering talents. It’s simply impractical to investigate — and hard to determine — every app’s Chinese origin.
Under the program, carriers like China Mobile are not allowed to connect with U.S. telecoms networks, which could prevent these services from offering U.S. roaming to Chinese travelers.
The initiative also tells U.S. companies not to store information on Chinese cloud services like Alibaba, Tencent, and Baidu. Chinese cloud providers don’t find many clients in the U.S., perhaps except when they are hosting data for their own services, such as Tencent games serving American users.
Lastly, the framework wants to ensure U.S. undersea cables connecting to the world “are not subverted for intelligence gathering by the PRC at hyper-scale.”
Such sweeping restrictions, if carried out, will almost certainly trigger retaliation from China. But what bargaining chips are left for Beijing? Apple and Tesla are the few American tech behemoths with significant business interest in China.
South Korean giant Samsung, Apple’s contract manufacturing partners Foxconn, Wistron and Pegatron, and Indian smartphone vendors Micromax and Lava among others have applied for India’s $6.6 billion incentive program aimed at boosting the local smartphone manufacturing, New Delhi said on Saturday.
The scheme, called Production-Linked Incentive Scheme, will offer a range of incentives to companies including a 6% financial incentive on additional sales of goods produced locally over five years, with 2019-2020 set as the base year, India’s IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said in a press conference.
22 companies have applied for the incentive program — that also includes manufacturing of electronics components — and have agreed to export 60% of their locally produced units outside of India, said Prasad. He said the companies estimate they will produce smartphones and components worth $153 billion during the five-year duration.
The Production-Linked Incentive Scheme is aimed at turning India into a global hub of high-quality manufacturing of smartphones and support Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s push to make the country self-reliant, said Prasad.
A total of 22 companies have filed their application under the PLI Scheme. These companies will produce mobile phones and components worth Rs 11.5 lakh crore in the coming 5 years out of which products worth Rs 7 lakh crore will be exported. pic.twitter.com/3yUky3HkOC
As part of their applications, the companies have also agreed to offer direct and indirect employment to roughly 1.2 million Indians, the Indian minister said.
The interest of Samsung and Apple, two companies that account for more than 50% of the global smartphone sales revenue, in India is a testament of the opportunities they see in the world’s second largest internet market, said Prasad. “Apple and Samsung, India welcomes you with attractive policies. Now expand your presence in the country,” he said.
Missing from the list of companies that the Indian minister revealed today are Chinese smartphone makers Oppo, Vivo, OnePlus, and Realme that have not applied for the incentive program.
The Indian government did not prevent companies from any country from participating to the program, Prasad insisted in a call with reporters Saturday noon. Chinese smartphone vendors command roughly 80% of the Indian handset market, according to research firm Canalys.
“We are optimistic and looking forward to building a strong ecosystem across the value chain and integrating with the global value chains, thereby strengthening electronics manufacturing ecosystem in the country,” he said. The deadline for applying to participate in India’s program, which began in April, ended on Friday this week.
The participation of Wistron, Foxconn, and Pegatron is also indicative of Apple’s future plans to produce locally in India. Apple’s contract manufacturing partner, Taiwan-based Wistron, first began assembling older iPhone models in 2017. Last month, Foxconn kickstarted assembly of a small batch of iPhone 11 units. This was the first time any Apple supplier assembled a current-generation iPhone model in the country.
Apple’s contract manufacturing partner Foxconn has started to assemble the current generation of iPhone units — the iPhone 11 lineup — in its plant near southern city of Chennai, a source familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.
A small batch of locally manufactured iPhone 11 units has already shipped to retail stores, but the production yield is currently limited, the person said, requesting anonymity as matters are private. Apple, in general, has ambitions to scale up its local production efforts in India, the person said.
The local production of current iPhone 11 models illustrates Apple’s further commitment to India, the world’s second largest smartphone market, as it explores ways to cut its reliance on China, which produces the vast majority of iPhone models today.
Apple’s contract manufacturing partner Taiwan-based Wistron first began assembling older iPhone models in 2017. But until now, Apple has not been able to have an assembly partner produce the current generation iPhone model in India.
Wistron, which has locally assembled older iPhone SE, iPhone 6s, and iPhone 7 models in the past in its Bangalore plant, currently assembles iPhone XR units in India. Apple discontinued the local production of iPhone SE and iPhone 6s last year, the person said.
Piyush Goyal, India’s Minister of Commerce and Industry, tweeted on Friday that Apple had begun assembling iPhone 11 models in India. Apple did not comment on this story.
Assembling handsets in India enables smartphone vendors — including Apple — to avoid roughly 20% import duty that the Indian government levies on imported electronics products.
Xiaomi, Vivo, Samsung, Oppo, OnePlus, and a range of other smartphone companies, have inked deals with contract manufacturers across India in recent years to produce much of their locally sold smartphones units in the country itself.
Apple has been exploring ways to ramp up its production in India for years, but the company has struggled to find contract manufacturers that adhered to its safety and quality standards, people familiar with the matter have told TechCrunch.
News outlet The Information reported in March that some of Apple’s other contract manufacturers have attempted to enter — or expand in — India, but have run into regulatory and local laws issues. Pegatron, another assembly partner of Apple, plans to set up a local subsidiary in India and begin operations in the country, according to Bloomberg.
Foxconn, which counts India as one of its biggest markets, plans to invest $1 billion in its operations in the country, Reuters reported earlier this month. New Delhi announced a $6.6 billion plan to attract top smartphone manufacturers in June this year.
Apple plans to launch its online store in India in a few months and open its first brick-and-mortar retail store next year, chief executive Tim Cook announced earlier this year. The online store’s launch in India remains on track despite the pandemic, a person familiar with the matter said.
Xpeng, an electric vehicle startup run by former Alibaba executive He Xiaopeng, said Monday it has raised around $500 million in a Series C+ round to further develop models tailored to China’s tech-savvy middle-class consumers.
The announcement followed its Series C round of $400 million closed last November. A source told TechCrunch that the company’s valuation at the time had exceeded the 25 billion yuan ($3.57 billion) round raised in August 2018.
The new proceeds bring the five-year-old Chinese startup’s to-date fundings announced to $1.7 billion.
Investors in the latest round include Hong Kong-based private equity firm Aspex Management; the storied American tech hedge fund Coatue Management; China’s top private equity fund Hillhouse Capital; and Sequoia Capital China. The other existing big-name backers are Foxconn, Xiaomi, GGV Capital, Morningside Venture Capital, IDG Capital, and Primavera Capital.
Despite the sizable round, Xpeng is headed for a slew of challenges. Electric vehicle sales in China have shrunk in the wake of reduced government subsidies set in motion last year, and the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to further dampen demand as the economy weakens.
Xpeng claims it has so far been able to withstand coronavirus challenges. In May, the company obtained a production license for its fully-owned car plant in a city near its Guangzhou headquarters, signaling its reduced dependence on manufacturing partner Haima Automobile.
Even the world’s second largest smartphone market isn’t immune to COVID-19.
Smartphone shipments in India fell 48% in the second quarter compared with the same period a year ago, the most drastic drop one of the rare growing markets has seen in a decade, research firm Canalys reported Friday evening.
About 17.3 million smartphone units shipped in Q2 2020, down from 33 million in Q2 2019 and 33.5 million in Q1 2020, the research firm said.
You can blame coronavirus, more than a million cases of which has been reported in India.
New Delhi ordered a nationwide lockdown in late March to contain the spread of the virus that saw all shops across the country — save for some of those that sell grocery items and pharmacies — temporarily cease operation. Even e-commerce giants such as Amazon and Flipkart were prohibited from selling smartphones and other items classified as “non-essential” by the government.
“It’s been a rocky road to recovery for the smartphone market in India,” said Madhumita Chaudhary, an analyst at Canalys. “While vendors witnessed a crest in sales as soon as markets opened, production facilities struggled with staffing shortages on top of new regulations around manufacturing, resulting in lower production output.”
Smartphone shipment estimates for the Indian market through Q1 2019 to Q1 2020 (Canalys)
Nearly every smartphone vendor has launched new handsets in India in recent weeks as they look to recover from the downtime, and several more new smartphone launches are planned in the next month.
But for some of these players, the virus is not the only obstacle.
Anti-China sentiment has been gaining mindshare in India in recent months, ever since more than 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a military clash in the Himalayas in June. “Boycott China” — and variations of it — has been trending on Twitter in India as a number of people posted videos destroying Chinese-made smartphones, TVs and other products. Late last month, India also banned 59 apps and services developed by Chinese firms.
Xiaomi, Vivo and Oppo, which now assumes the fourth spot in India, and other Chinese smartphone vendors command nearly 80% of the smartphone market in India.
Canalys’ Chaudhary, however, believes these smartphone firms will be able to largely avoid the backlash as “alternatives by Samsung, Nokia, or even Apple are hardly price-competitive.”
Apple, which commands only 1% of the Indian smartphone market, was the least impacted among the top 10 vendors as iPhone shipments fell just 20% year-on-year to over 250,000 in Q2 2020, Canalys said.
India’s Reliance Jio Platforms is the world’s most ambitious tech company. Founder Mukesh Ambani has made it his dream to provide every Indian with access to affordable and comprehensive telecommunications services, and Jio has so far proven successful, attracting nearly 400 million subscribers in just a few years.
What can we learn from Reliance Jio Platforms’s growth? What does the future hold for Jio and for India’s tech startup ecosystem in general?
Through a series of reports, Extra Crunch is going to investigate those questions. We previously profiled Mukesh Ambani himself, and in today’s installment, we are going to look at how Reliance Jio went from a telco upstart to the dominant tech company in four years.
Months after India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, launched his telecom network Reliance Jio, Sunil Mittal of Airtel — his chief rival — was struggling in public to contain his frustration.
That Ambani would try to win over subscribers by offering them free voice calling wasn’t a surprise, Mittal said at the World Economic Forum in January 2017. But making voice calls and the bulk of 4G mobile data completely free for seven months clearly “meant that they have not gotten the attention they wanted,” he said, hopeful the local regulator would soon intervene.
This wasn’t the first time Ambani and Mittal were competing directly against each other: in 2002, Ambani had launched a telecommunications company and sought to win the market by distributing free handsets.
In India, carrier lock-in is not popular as people prefer pay-as-you-go voice and data plans. But luckily for Mittal in their first go around, Ambani’s journey was cut short due to a family feud with his brother — read more about that here.
Wearables have proven to be a surprisingly resilient category amid the global COVID-19-fueled shutdown. As noted earlier this month, shipment growth slowed — but didn’t stop — in Q1, even as many potential customers have far fewer steps to track. And according to new numbers from Canalys out today, smartwatches in particular continued to grow in spite of it all.
Overall, the category grew 12% year-over-year for Q1, up to 14.3 million. China, in particular, saw a big uptick in shipments — a full 66% over Q1 2019. Cellular models from Xiaomi and Apple were big hits, owing to a nationwide push for eSIM adoption. North America continued to see an increase, as well, but made up less than a third of all shipments for the first time in the firm’s reporting.
Image Credits: Canalys
Apple actually saw a 13% dip in shipments for the quarter, but remained the leader in marketshare by a significant margin, at 36.3%. Analysts believe that a shift in focus toward AirPods has been part of the slow down for the company in North America and Europe. Second place Huawei is gaining fast, too. A 113% increase in shipments put the company at 14.9% of the total market — up from 7.9 percent the year prior. Huawei continues to have a strong presence in China, and other local electronics giants Xiaomi and Oppo are expected to be strong drivers in the category moving forward.
Beyond that, the report doesn’t go into great detail with regard to what continued driving smartwatch sales as categories like smartphones sputtered along. I suspect that while consumers have been put off by an inability to meet personal activity goals, an increased interest in vital signs and other quantifiable statistics has driven some to take a closer look at such products, as they become an increasingly viable tool for day-to-day health tracking.
BYD Co., the Chinese auto giant backed by Warren Buffett, is rushing to make China self-sufficient in the production of electric vehicles. On Monday, the firm said in a filing it has secured 800 million yuan ($113 million) in a Series A+ round for its chipmaking arm, BYD Semiconductor.
At stake is the race to make so-called insulated gate bipolar transistors (IGBT), an integral silicon component in EVs’ power management system that’s at the core of BYD Semiconductor. The electronic switch is dubbed by industry experts the “CPU of an EV” for it reduces power loss and improves reliability. It’s the second-most expensive part of an EV after batteries, accounting for around 7-10% of the total cost according to market research.
BYD is fighting a fierce competition against Germany’s semiconductor giant Infineon Technologies AG, which produced 58% of the IGBTs used in China’s electric cars in 2019. BYD finished with an 18% share that year, noted a report from Citic Securities.
The prospects of IGBT production are bright, as the technology not only powers a booming EV industry worldwide but is also used in other high-energy applications such as air conditioners, refrigerators, and high-speed trains. The global market for IGBTs is estimated to near 10 billion yuan ($1.41 billion) in 2020 and quadruple to almost 40 billion yuan by 2025, according to the Citic report.
The outsize funding arrived just two months after Shenzhen-traded BYD hived its chip unit off into an independent company ahead of a separate public listing. Due to oversubscription from investors, the subsidiary raised the new round on the heel of its 1.9 billion yuan ($270 million) Series A closed in late May.
Parent company BYD holds a 72.3% stake in the chip arm following the two funding rounds, which have lifted the valuation of the subsidiary to 10.2 billion yuan ($1.44 billion).
As the only Chinese company that can produce IGBTs independently, the semiconductor maker has drawn heavyweight backers across the board. Its investors range from Sequoia China and state-backed CICC Capital from the Series A round, to Korean conglomerate SK Group, smartphone maker Xiaomi, Lenovo Group, ARM, China’s largest semiconductor foundry SMIC, and investment affiliates of Chinese carmakers SAIC and BAIC in the latest A+ round.
BYD started out as a manufacturer of electronics components in 1995 and has since expanded into automobiles and renewable energy. Headquartered in Shenzhen, it powers all of the city’s electric buses and taxis. It’s also ramped up expansion into overseas markets as China scales back state subsidies on electric cars.
One of the world’s best selling wearable lineups just added a new gadget to the mix.
Chinese electronics giant Xiaomi today unveiled the Mi Smart Band 5 that delivers several improvements and adds features such as a bigger screen, new wireless charging system, and women’s health mode over the company’s one-year-old Mi Smart Band 4 — while retaining its dirt-cheap price point.
The Mi Smart Band 5 features a 1.1-inch AMOLED display that is 20% larger than the one its immediate predecessor sported.
With the new band, the world’s second largest wearable vendor is also bringing a range of new animated watch faces including characters from TV series such as Spongebob Squarepants, Neon Genesis Evangelion and Detective Conan, and eight colorful straps.
Xiaomi says the new smart band is powered by an improved processor — the name of which it did not specify — to enable tracking of menstrual cycles for the first time, and support additional features such as stress assessment that will tell the wearer when it’s a good time to relax.
The Mi Smart Band 5, compatible with iPhones as well as Android handsets, also monitors the wearer’s sleep cycle more efficiently now, adding support for REM sleep as well as evaluating deep and light sleep sessions. The company claimed its heart rate monitoring is now 50% more precise.
One of the biggest improvements in the new band is its new charging system. This is a refreshing change as previous models in Xiaomi’s Mi Smart Band lineup have received complaints from users who described having to get the tracker out of the strap as a clumsy process. Now the company says its new magnetic charging dock automatically snaps onto the bottom of the band. Charging the band once delivers up to 14-days of continuous usage.
Like the Mi Smart Band 4, the Band 5 supports company’s homegrown digital voice assistant XiaoAI that a user can trigger by swiping to the right of the display.
There is an additional variant of the Smart Band 5 that supports NFC. This model features support for mobile payment services, and can be used to unlock smart doors and also serve as a transportation card at select subways.
The Mi Smart Band 5 goes on sale in China next week at a price point of RMB 189 ($26.75) while the NFC variant of the band is priced at RMB 229 ($32.5). The company says the device will be made available in international markets “soon.”
Xiaomi continues to be one of the leading players in the wearable market as it aggressively refreshes and introduces new devices. In November last year, Xiaomi its first smartwatch — called the Mi Watch — that looks strikingly similar to the Apple Watch. The Mi Watch is priced at $185.
According to research firm IDC, the company shipped 10.1 million wearable devices in the quarter that ended in March this year. It is ahead of Samsung, Huawei, and Fitbit. Apple maintains its top spot in the category.
Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch’s China Roundup, a digest of recent events shaping the Chinese tech landscape and what they mean to people in the rest of the world. It’s been a tumultuous week for Chinese tech firms abroad: Huawei’s mounting pressure from the U.S., a big blow to U.S.-listed Chinese firms, and TikTok’s high-profile new boss.
China tech abroad
Over the years, American investors have been pumping billions of dollars into Chinese firms listed in the U.S., from giants like Alibaba and Baidu to emerging players like Pinduoduo and Bilibili. That could change soon with the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act, a new bill passed this week with bipartisan support to tighten accounting standards on foreign companies, with the obvious target being China.
“For too long, Chinese companies have disregarded U.S. reporting standards, misleading our investors. Publicly listed companies should all be held to the same standards, and this bill makes commonsense changes to level the playing field and give investors the transparency they need to make informed decisions,” said Senator Chris Van Hollen who introduced the legislation.
PCAOB, which was set up in 2002 as a private-sector nonprofit corporation overseen by the SEC, is meant to inspect audits of foreign firms listed in the U.S. to prevent fraud and wrongdoing.
The rule has not sat well with foreign accounting firms and their local regulators, so over time PCAOB has negotiated multiple agreements with foreign counterparts that allowed it to perform audit inspections. China is one of the few countries that has not been cooperating with the PCAOB.
2) The bill will also require public companies in the U.S. to disclose whether they are owned or controlled by a foreign government, including China’s communist government.
The question now is whether we will see Chinese companies give in to the new rules or relocate to bourses outside the U.S.
The Chinese firms still have a three-year window to figure things out, but they are getting more scrutiny already. Most recently, Nasdaq announced to delist Luckin, the Chinese coffee challenger that admitted to fabricating $310 million in sales.
Those that do choose to leave the U.S. will probably find a warmer welcome in Hong Kong, attracting investors closer to home who are more acquainted with their businesses. Alibaba, for instance, already completed a secondary listing in Hong Kong last year as the city began letting investors buy dual-class shares, a condition that initially prompted many Chinese internet firms to go public in the U.S.
The long-awaited announcement is here: TikTok has pickedits new chief executive, and taking the helm is Disney’s former head of video streaming, Kevin Mayer.
It’s understandable that TikTok would want a global face for its fast-growing global app, which has come under scrutiny from foreign governments over concerns of its data practices and Beijing’s possible influence.
Curiously, Mayer will also take on the role of the chief operating officer of parent company ByteDance . A closer look at the company announcement reveals nuances in the appointment: Kelly Zhang and Lidong Zhang will continue to lead ByteDance China as its chief executive officer and chairman respectively, reporting directly to ByteDance’s founder and global CEO Yiming Zhang, as industry analyst Matthew Brennan acutely pointed out. That means ByteDance’s China businesses Douyin and Today’s Headlines, the cash cows of the firm, will remain within the purview of the two Chinese executives, not Mayer.
Huawei is in limbo after the U.S. slapped more curbs on the Chinese telecoms equipment giant, restricting its ability to procure chips from foreign foundries that use American technologies. The company called the rule “arbitrary and pernicious,” while it admitted that the attack would impact its business.
As Huawei faces pressure abroad due to the Android ban, other Chinese phone makers have been steadily making headway across the world. One of them is Oppo, which just announced a partnership with Vodafone to bring its smartphones to the mobile carrier’s European markets.
The U.S. has extended sanctions to more Chinese tech firms to include CloudWalk, which focuses on developing facial recognition technology. This means all of the “four dragons of computer vision” in China, as the local tech circle collectively calls CloudWalk, SenseTime, Megvii and Yitu, have landed on the U.S. entity list.
Xiaomi, the Chinese comapny famous for its budget smartphones and a bevy of value-for-money gadgets, said in a filing on Thursday that it has backed more than 300 companies as of March, totaling 32.3 billion yuan ($4.54 billion) in book value and 225.9 million yuan ($32 million million) in net gains on disposal of investments in just the first quarter.
The electronics giant has surely lived up to its ambition to construct an ecosystem of the internet of things, or IoT. Most of its investments aim to generate strategic synergies, whether it is to diversify its product offerings or build up a library of content and services to supplement the devices. The question is whether Xiaomi’s hardware universe is generating the type of services income it covets.
Monetize from services
Back in 2013, Xiaomi founder Lei Jun vowed to invest in 100 hardware companies over a five-year period. The idea was to acquire scores of users through this vast network of competitively-priced devices, through which it could tout internet services like fintech products and video games.
That’s why Xiaomi has kept margins of its products razor-thin, sometimes to the dismay of its investees and suppliers. Its vision hasn’t quite materialized, as it continued to drive most of its income from smartphones and other hardware devices. Services comprised 12% of total revenue in the first quarter, although the segment did record a 38.6% increase from the year before.
Over time, the smartphone maker has evolved into a department store selling all sorts of everyday products, expanding beyond electronics to cover categories like stationaries, kitchenware, clothing and food — things one would find at Muji. It makes certain products in-house — like smartphones — and sources the others through a profit-sharing model with third parties, which it has financed or simply partners with under distribution agreements.
Xiaomi’s capital game
Many consumer product makers are on the fence about joining Xiaomi’s distribution universe. On the one hand, they can reach millions of consumers around the world through the giant’s vast network of e-commerce channels and physical stores. On the other, they worry about margin squeeze and overdependence on the Xiaomi brand.
As such, many companies that sell through Xiaomi have also carved out their own product lines. Nasdaq-listed Huami, which supplies Xiaomi’s Mi Band smartwatches, has its own Amazfit wearables that rival Fitbit. Roborock, an automatic vacuum maker trading on China’s Nasdaq equivalent, STAR Market, had been making Xiaomi’s Mi Home vacuums for a year before rolling out its own household brand.
With the looming economic downturn triggered by COVID-19, manufacturers might be increasingly turning to Xiaomi and other investors to cope with cash-flow liquidity challenges.
Along with its earnings, Xiaomi announced that it had bought an additional 27.44% stake in Zimi, the main supplier of its power banks, bringing its total stakes in the company to 49.91%. Xiaomi said the acquisition would boost Xiaomi’s competitiveness in “5G + AIoT,” a buzzword short for the next-gen mobile broadband technology and AI-powered IoT. For Zimi, the investment will likely alleviate some of the financial pressure it’s feeling under these difficult times.
Competition in the Chinese IoT industry is heating up as the country races to roll out 5G networks, which will enable wider adoption of connected devices. Just this week, Alibaba, which has its finger in many pies, announced pumping 10 billion yuan ($1.4 billion) into ramping up its Alexa-like smart voice assistant Genie, which will be further integrated into Alibaba’s e-commerce experience, online entertainment services and consumer hardware partners.
On Wednesday, Utsav Somani announced iSeed, a micro VC fund to back up at least 30 startups over the course of two years. iSeed, which is not affiliated with AngelList, is Somani’s maiden venture fund.
In an interview with TechCrunch, Somani said he would write checks of $150,000 each to up to 35 early-stage startups in any tech category and enable his portfolio firms’ access to global investors and their knowledge pool. The fund will not participate in a startup’s follow-on rounds.
iSeed counts a range of high-profile investors, including Naval Ravikant and Babak Nivi, co-founders of AngelList, who are some of the biggest backers of the fund.
Others include founders of Xiaomi, Jake Zeller, a partner at AngelList and Spearhead, Sheel Mohnot, general partner at 500 Fintech, Brian Tubergen of CoinList, Deepak Shahdadpuri, managing director at DST Global, and Kavin Bharti Mittal of Hike.
Somani has also been an angel investor in more than a dozen startups including BharatPe, a firm that it is helping small businesses accept online payments and access working capital, and Jupiter, a neo-bank.
“I like the work AngelList India and Utsav have done since the launch. He brings energy, access and judgement to the table — the things to look for in a first-time fund manager,” said Ravikant in a statement.
Micro VCs is becoming a popular trend in the United States. Ryan Hoover of ProductHunt, for instance, maintains Weekend Fund. Somani said he has appreciated how others have been able to institutionalize the angel investing practice. According to Crunchbase, U.S. investors raised 148 sub-$100 million VC funds in 2018.
Running a micro-fund by leveraging AngelList’s infrastructure has also eased the burden starting such a venture creates for an investor, he said.
Indian startups could use any fund that backs early startups. Early-stage firms have consistently struggled to find enough backers in India, according to data from research firm Tracxn .
Xiaomi on Tuesday unveiled the global version of MIUI 12, the latest update to its Android -based operating system, for hundreds of millions of smartphones as the Chinese electronics giant pushes to broaden its services ecosystem.
The world’s fourth largest smartphone firm said it is delivering a range of new features to its overseas users with MIUI 12 including a revamped user interface, the ability to cast the phone screen without the need to connect it to a computer, improvement to multitasking support and battery life, and more privacy controls to users.
Chief among the new changes is how the software looks. A company executive said animation renders slightly differently after installing MIUI 12, stretching more naturally across the screen — especially on smartphones with rounded corners — as a user taps on an app.
Xiaomi has been able to deliver this graphical improvement thanks to what it calls “kernel-level innovation” that includes a new rendering engine, she said.
“With our rendering, we have enabled color blending and Gaussian blur. You can see various degrees of blurring happening in real time as light penetrates different materials,” explained Louisa Jia, head of marketing and operations of Global MIUI, at an event today.
MIUI 12, which is built atop Android 9 and Android 10 (depending on the device it will be rolled out on), also changes how storage, memory, and power consumption usage are displayed on the phone, making it easier for users to quickly understand the state of their device at a glance.
As part of the new coat of paint, Xiaomi is also deploying dark mode across all third-party apps, including those that have not introduced support for this feature yet.
Support for multitasking is also getting an improvement, popping any additional app on a floating screen that users can move around to any part of the screen and engage quickly without having to switch from the game or other app that they were focusing on. The company said it is also introducing “ultra battery saver” feature that kicks in when the level of phone charge hits 5%. The new feature shuts off every non-essential service to deliver an additional five hours of battery life.
Another interesting feature the company is introducing grants more privacy control to users. MIUI 12 will allow users to easily monitor and restrict apps from using the camera, microphone, location, contacts, storage, call history, and calendar.
Whenever an app uses any of these, a persistent icon appears in the notification bar, tapping which will allow users to see which app is using this data and easily shut that access. Additionally, like with newer versions of Android and iOS, MIUI 12 gives users the ability to determine how often an app can access sensitive personal information.
Xiaomi said with MIUI 12, it is also providing users with the ability to strip off sensitive information such as location data from a photo before they share it with their friends. By default, the new operating system will strip off such data from photos — a feature that privacy advocates have long desired, and business communication app Slack recently introduced to its service.
MIUI 12 will roll out to select smartphones — Mi 9, Mi 9T, Mi 9T Pro, Redmi K20, and Redmi K20 Pro — at the end of June, and dozens of smartphone models including Poco F1 and Redmi 6 that were launched in 2018, “soon afterward,” said Jia. The company said it will make a beta version of MIUI 12 available to users next week for those who don’t want to wait for too long.