Xiaomi is challenging Facebook in the wearables arena by launching its own smart glasses. The device won’t only be capable of taking photos, but also of displaying messages and notifications, making calls, providing navigation and translating text right in real time in front of your eyes. Like Facebook, Xiaomi is also putting emphasis on the device’s lightness despite its features. At 51 grams, though, it’s a bit heavier than the social network’s Ray-Ban Stories. In addition, the glasses also has an indicator light that shows when the 5-megapixel camera is in use.
Xiaomi’s Smart Glasses are powered by a quad-core ARM processor and run on Android. They also use MicroLED imaging technology, which is known for having a higher brightness and longer lifespan than OLED. The company says the technology has a simpler structure that enabled it to create a compact display with individual pixels sized at 4μm. You won’t be able to view the images you take in color, though — Xiaomi says it opted to use a monochrome display solution “to allow sufficient light to pass through complicated optical structures.”
The company explains:
“The grating structure etched onto the inner surface of the lens allows light to be refracted in a unique way, directing it safely into the human eye. The refraction process involves bouncing light beams countless times, allowing the human eye to see a complete image, and greatly increasing usability while wearing. All this is done inside a single lens, instead of using complicated multiples lens systems, mirrors, or half mirrors as some other products do.”
Its smart glasses won’t be just a second screen for your phone, according to Xiaomi. It’s independently capable of many things, such as selecting the most important notifications to show you, including smart home alarms and messages from important contacts. The device’s navigation capability can display maps and directions in front of your eyes. It can also show you the number of whoever’s currently calling your phone, and you can take the call using the smart glasses’ built in mic and speakers.
That mic will be able to pick up speech, as well, which Xiaomi’s proprietary translating algorithm can translate in real time. The glasses’ translation feature also works’ on written text and text on photos captures through its camera. Unfortunately, the company has yet to announce a price or a launch date for the glasses, but we’ll keep you updated when it does.
Editor’s note:This article originally appeared on Engadget.
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.
The biggest news of the week again comes from Beijing’s ongoing effort to dampen the influence of the country’s tech giants. Regulators are now going after the exploitative use of algorithm-powered user recommendations. We also saw a few major acquisitions this week. Xiaomi is acquiring an autonomous vehicle startup called Deepmotion, and ByteDance is said to be buying virtual reality hardware startup Pico.
Beijing has unveiled the draft of a sweeping regulation to rein in how tech companies operating in China utilize algorithms, the engine of virtually all lucrative tech businesses today from short videos and news aggregation to ride-hailing, food delivery and e-commerce. My colleague Manish Singh wrote an overview of the policy, and here’s a closer look at the 30-point document proposed by China’s top cyberspace watchdog.
Beijing is clearly wary of how purely machine-recommended content can stray away from values propagated by the Communist Party and even lead to the detriment of national interests. In its mind, algorithms should strictly align with the interest of the nation:
Algorithmic recommendations should uphold mainstream values… and should not be used for endangering national security (Point 6).
Regulators want more transparency on companies’ algorithmic black boxes and are making them accountable for the consequences of their programming codes. For example:
Service providers should be responsible for the security of algorithms, create a system for… the review of published information, algorithmic mechanisms, security oversight… enact and publish relevant rules for algorithmic recommendations (Point 7).
Service providers… should not create algorithmic models that entice users into addiction, high-value consumption, or other behavior that disrupts public orders (Point 8).
The government is also clamping down on discriminative algorithms and putting some autonomy back in the hands of consumers:
Service providers… should not use illegal or harmful information as user interests to recommend content or create sexist or biased user tags (Point 10).
Service providers should inform users of the logic, purpose, and mechanisms of the algorithms in use (Point 14).
Service providers… should allow users to turn off algorithmic features (Point 15).
The regulators don’t want internet giants to influence public thinking or opinions. Though not laid out in the document, censorship control will no doubt remain in the hands of the authorities.
Service providers should not… use algorithms to censor information, make excessive recommendations, manipulate rankings or search results that lead to preferential treatment and unfair competition, influence online opinions, or shun regulatory oversight (Point 13).
Like many other aspects of the tech business, certain algorithms are to obtain approval from the government. Tech firms must also hand over their algorithms to the police in case of investigations.
Service providers should file with the government if their recommendation algorithms can affect public opinions or mobilize civilians (Point 20).
Service providers… should keep a record of their recommendation algorithms for at least six months and provide them to law enforcement departments for investigation purposes (Point 23).
If passed, the law will shake up the fundamental business logic of Chinese tech companies that rely on algorithms to make money. Programmers need to pore over these rules and be able to parse their codes for regulators. The proposed law seems to have even gone beyond the scope of the European Union’s data rules, but how the Chinese one will be enforced remains to be seen.
Lei Jun bets on autonomous cars
In Xiaomi’s latest earnings call, the smartphone maker said it will acquire DeepMotion, a Beijing-based autonomous driving startup, to aid its autonomous driving endeavor. The deal will cost Xiaomi about $77.3 million, and “a lot of that will be in terms of stock” and “a lot of these payments will be deferred until certain milestones are hit,” said Wang Xiang, Xiaomi president on the call.
Xiaomi’s founder Lei Jun earlier hinted at the firm’s plan to enter the crowded space. On July 28, Lei announced on Weibo, China’s Twitter equivalent, that the company is recruiting 500 autonomous driving experts across China.
Automation has become a selling point for China’s new generation of electric vehicle makers, often with companies conflating advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) with Level 4 autonomous driving. Such overstatements in marketing material mislead consumers and make one question the real technical capability of these nascent EV players.
Xiaomi has similarly unveiled plans to manufacture electric cars through a separate car-making subsidiary. The ADAS capabilities brought by DeepMotion are naturally a nice complement to Xiaomi’s future cars. As Wang explained:
We believe that there’s a lot of synergies with [DeepMotion’s ADAS] technology with our EV initiatives. So I think it tells you a couple of points. Number one is, we will roll out EV business. And I said in our prepared remarks, we’ve been very focused on hiring the right team for the EV business at this point in time, formulating our strategy, formulating our product strategy, et cetera, et cetera. But at the same time, we are not afraid to apply it and integrate other teams if we find that those will help us accelerate our plan right.
ByteDance is said to be buying Beijing-based VR hardware maker Pico for 5 billion yuan ($770 million), according to Chinese VR news site Vrtuoluo. ByteDance could not be immediately reached for comment.
Advanced VR headsets are often expensive due to the cost of high-end processors. Experts observe that most VR hardware makers are yet to enter the mass consumer market. They are hemorrhaging cash and living off generous venture money and corporate deals.
ByteDance might be buying a money-losing business, but Pico, one of the major VR makers in China, provides a fast track for the TikTok parent to enter VR manufacturing. As the world’s largest short video distributor and an aggressive newcomer to video games, ByteDance has no shortage of creative talent. We will see how it works on producing virtual content if the Pico deal goes through.
Xiaomi reported a second-quarter net income of $1.28 billion on revenue of $13.56 billion following the Chinese technology giant’s strong surge in smartphone market share globally.
During the quarter that ended in June, Xiaomi said it saw a 64% year-on-year growth in revenue, and its net income surged over 80% from the same time a year ago.
The Hong Kong-listed firm said its smartphone revenue grew to $9.1 billion, thanks to a just as impressive jump in its smartphone shipment to 52.9 million units in the quarter, in which it topped Apple to become the world’s second-largest smartphone vendor, according to market intelligence firm Canalys.
The U.S. government’s sanctions against Huawei, Xiaomi’s chief domestic rival, has helped the younger firm — along with some other manufacturers — gain market share domestically as well as globally.
Xiaomi’s revenue from Internet of Things and lifestyle products category also saw a 36% jump in revenue to $3.2 billion.
Shortly after reporting its earnings results, the company said it will buy the four-year-old autonomous driving technology startup Deepmotion for about $77.3 million. The investment follows Xiaomi’s bold plan to invest $10 billion over the next decade in the electric vehicles space.
Xiaomi is the latest Chinese tech company to enter the EV industry. Chinese search engine giant Baidu earlier this year announced that it would be making EVs with the help of automaker Geely. In November, Alibaba and Chinese state-owned carmaker SAIC Motor said they had joined hands to produce electric cars. Ride-share leader Didi and EV maker BYD are also co-designing a model for ride-hailing.
As my colleague Rita Liao reported earlier:
The internet behemoths are competing with a raft of more specialized EV startups such as Xpeng, Nio and Li Auto, which have already debuted multiple models and are often compared to Tesla. They strive to differentiate from each other by investing in functions from in-car entertainment to autonomous driving.
For Xiaomi, the obvious advantage in making cars is its vast retail network and international brand recognition. Some of its smart devices, such as smart speakers and air purifiers, could be easily incorporated into its vehicles as selling points. The real challenge, of course, is in manufacturing. Compared to phone making, the automotive industry is more capital-intensive with a long and complex supply chain. We will see if Xiaomi will pull it off.
Xiaomi said Wednesday its investment in Deepmotion will help the giant shorten the time to market for its products.
The Xiaomi Mi Pad 5 Pro, definitely using a design that has never been used before, especially not by any fruit companies. [credit: Xiaomi ]
Android tablets are totally coming back, right? Google has launched a few tablet apps lately after years of neglect, it gave talks at Google I/O on how to design tablets apps, and the Android 12 developer preview shows the company is working on a taskbar-like UI for big-screen devices. Now, the world’s most popular Android device manufacturer, Xiaomi, is releasing an Android tablet for the first time in three years.
The company’s new tablet has an 11-inch, 120 Hz, 2560×1600 LCD and is relatively high-end with a Snapdragon 870 SoC (that’s a 7nm chip with four Cortex A77 cores and four Cortex A55 cores). The base unit comes with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, with options for 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. There’s an 8600 mAh battery, NFC, a side fingerprint reader/power button, Wi-Fi 6 support, a USB-C port, and a whopping eight speakers, all split between the left and right sides. The frame and back are both aluminum, and the tablet weighs 515 g.
When someone mentioned to me that Xiaomi was launching its own “robot dog,” my mind immediately went to Sony’s Aibo. And honestly, it would have been difficult to be more wrong. Now that the news has been out for a few days, the company’s heard all of your bad Black Mirror jokes, don’t worry.
And, honestly, the Chinese hardware maker didn’t do itself any favors with the design here. Boston Dynamics has done a lot to imbue its quadrupedal robots with personality, through design language and viral videos of Spot and company busting a move to the Dirty Dancing soundtrack.
With Cyberdog, however, Xiaomi’s design team clearly just leaned in and went full-on Robocop (and the Bladerunner pastiche doesn’t help) . I receive a deluge of Metalhead gifs every time I post something about Boston Dynamics — seriously, I’m using Cyberdog as the lead image on this post, just so you can see what I mean. Go check the replies on Twitter. I’ll wait.
Image Credits: Xiaomi
Xiaomi is, of course, far from the first company to release a Spot-like quadrupedal robot. There are a number of companies competing in that space, including ANYmal and Ghost Robotics. For its part, Xiaomi is looking to put a developer spin on the category. Per the Mi blog:
CyberDog is Xiaomi’s first foray into quadruped robotics for the open source community and developers worldwide. Robotics enthusiasts interested in CyberDog can compete or co-create with other like-minded Xiaomi Fans, together propelling the development and potential of quadruped robots.
Image Credits: Xiaomi
The robot is powered by Nvidia’s Jetson Xavier NX platform, coupled with 11-built in sensors, including cameras, touch, GPS and more. The company will be release 1,000 of the robots, price at roughly $1,540 — a fraction of the cost of the advanced Spot system. The robot is also a fraction of the size of Boston Dynamics’ quadruped. And while there are superficial similarities the project really couldn’t be more different.
Xiaomi’s entry into robotics is more about building hardware for Nvidia’s platform. It’s a (relatively) inexpensive way for people to get a hang of programming and, perhaps, protoyping robotics. The likely limited functionality — and availability — are pretty clear indications that that the company’s not trying to put a Cyberdog in every home just yet.
Bear Flag Robotics
A sizable acquisition this week, John Deere announced plans to buy Bear Flag Robotics for $250 million. We’ve been following Bear Flag since it was a member of the YC cohort. The deal seems like a good outcome for both parties. Bear Flag gets a lot of resources from an agricultural giant like John Deere and Deere gets to step another foot into the world of cutting-edge tech with an autonomous tractor startup.
Says co-founder and CEO Igino Cafiero:
One of the biggest challenges farmers face today is the availability of skilled labor to execute time-sensitive operations that impact farming outcomes. Autonomy offers a safe and productive alternative to address that challenge head on. Bear Flag’s mission to increase global food production and reduce the cost of growing food through machine automation is aligned with Deere’s and we’re excited to join the Deere team to bring autonomy to more farms.
Another startup we’ve been following since its early days, Kiwibot is seeing expansion to a significant number of campuses. In spite of campus shutdowns last year, the Berkeley-based company is actually seeing something of a boom due to the pandemic. COO Diego Varela Prada tells TechCrunch:
We have a procedure to disinfect the bots between orders. If you’re a student and you don’t want to mix into large crowds, I think it’s much safer to order food through Kiwibot and have it delivered to the library or your dorm.
We’ve written about Lidar company Aeva a few times over the years, including last November, when it announced plans to go public via SPAC. This week, the company announced a deal with Nikon that takes it beyond its existing automotive applications. The company says there are a slew of potential applications, though the chip is still about four years away from production. Fields include, “consumer electronics, consumer health, industrial robotics, and security.”
A whole bunch of robots are making their way to Florida late next year, courtesy of Amazon. The company announced this week that it has chosen Tallahassee (birthplace of T-Pain and objectively the best Mountain Goats album) as the home of its next fulfillment center. The company plans to add to its massive arm of warehouse robots for the 630,000-square-foot space, along with 1,000 human jobs.
Image Credits: Berkshire Grey
FedEx, meanwhile, has implemented Berkshire Grey robotics at a shipping facility in Queens (the best borough). The systems will identity, pick, sort, collected and containerize primarily small packages like polybags, tubes and padded mailers. The systems are set to roll out to additional locations, including Las Vegas and Columbus, Ohio. Says B.G.,
This technology has been developed and installed as a direct response to the exponential growth of e-commerce, which has accelerated the demand for reliable automated solutions throughout all stages of the supply chain. FedEx Ground believes that continued innovation and automation will improve safety, efficiency, and productivity for its team members as they continue to keep the e-commerce supply chain moving.
Image Credits: Hyphen
Here’s a new company in the food space worth keeping an eye on. Formerly known as Ono Food Co. (then a food truck company), SF-based Hyphen has come out of stealth with the announcement of its Makeline automated meal platform. The company says the system is able to create up to 350 meals an hour, with the aid of a single staff member.
“[W]e really see ourselves like Shopify,” CEO Stephen Klein said in a release, “but instead of enabling merchants to compete with the likes of Amazon, we’re enabling restaurants to compete with the likes of DoorDash as well as other services and ghost kitchens that have decided to compete with their own customers by offering their own food brands.”
The platform is set to start rolling out this winter with plans for 300 locations in New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle and Phoenix.
Xiaomi has today announced the CyberDog, an open-source quadruped robot intended for developers to “build upon” and create applications for. The machine, which resembles a beefier version of Boston Dynamics’ Spot, is a showcase for Xiaomi’s engineering know-how, including its proprietary servo motors.
Running the show is a version of NVIDIA’s Jetson Xavier NX, which has been dubbed the world’s smallest AI supercomputer. In terms of being able to experience the world, CyberDog has 11 sensors over its body, including touch and ultrasonic sensors, cameras and GPS to help it “interact with its environment.”
Xiaomi says that this technology is good enough to enable CyberDog to follow its owner and navigate around obstacles. It is also capable of identifying posture and tracking human faces, enabling it to pick out and track individuals in a group.
Rather than selling this as a general-sale product, the company is for now going to release 1,000 of these things to “Xiaomi fans, engineers and robotics enthusiasts to jointly explore the immense possibility of CyberDog.” This will be facilitated by an open-source community, hosted by Xiaomi, which may be followed by the construction of a robotics laboratory to lay a pathway for “future innovations.”
Of course, this thing isn’t cheap, and those folks willing to get involved will need to shell out 9,999 yuan or around $1,540 to get one of these for themselves.
Editor’s note:This post first appeared on Engadget.
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.
Despite the geopolitical headwinds for foreign tech firms to enter China, many companies, especially those that find a dependable partner, are still forging ahead. For this week’s roundup, I’m including a conversation I had with Prophesee, a French vision technology startup, which recently got funding from Kai-Fu Lee and Xiaomi, along with the usual news digest.
Spotting opportunities in China
Like many companies working on futuristic, cutting-edge tech in Europe, Prophesee was a spinout from university research labs. Previously, I covered two such companies from Sweden: Imint, which improves smartphone video production through deep learning, and Dirac, an expert in sound optimization.
The three companies have two things in common: They are all in niche fields, and they have all found eager customers in China.
For Prophesee, they are production lines, automakers and smartphone companies in China looking for breakthroughs in perception technology, which will in turn improve how their robots respond to the environment. So it’s unsurprising that Xiaomi and Chinese chip-focused investment firm Inno-Chip backed Prophesee in its latest funding round, which was led by Sinovation Venture.
The funding size was undisclosed but TechCrunch learned it was in the range of “tens of million USD.” It was also the first investment that Kai-Fu Lee has made through Sinovation in Europe. As Prophesee CEO Luca Verre recalled:
I met Dr. Kai-Fu Lee three years ago during the World Economic Forum … and when I pitched to him about Prophesee, he got very intrigued. And then over the past three years, actually, we kept in touch and last year, given the growing traction we were having in China, particularly in the mobile and IoT industry, he decided to jump in. He said okay, it is now the right timing Prophesee becomes big.
The Paris-based company wasn’t actively seeking funding, but it believed having Chinese strategic investors could help it gain greater access to the complex market.
Rather than sending information collected by sensors and cameras to computing platforms, Prophesee fits that process inside a chip (fabricated by Sony) that mimics the human eyes, a technology that is built upon neuromorphic engineering.
The old method snaps a collection of fixed images so when information grows in volume, a tremendous amount of computing power is needed. In contrast, Prophesee’s sensors, which it describes as “event-based,” only pick up changes in the environment just as the photoreceptors in our eyes and can process information continuously and quickly.
Europe has been pioneering neuromorphic computing, but in recent years, Verre saw a surge in research coming from Chinese universities and tech firms, which reaffirmed his confidence in the market’s appetite.
We see Chinese OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), particularly Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo pushing the standard of quality of image quality to very, very high … They are very eager to adopt new technology to further differentiate in a way which is faster and more aggressive than Apple. Apple is a company with an attitude which to me looks more similar to Huawei. So maybe for some technology, it takes more time to see the technology mature and adopt, which is right very often but later. So I’m sure that Apple will come at certain point with some products integrating event-based technology. In fact, we see them moving. We see them filing patents in the space. I’m sure that will come, but maybe not the first.
Though China is striving for technological independence, Verre believed Prophesee’s addressable market is large enough — $20 billion by his estimate. Nonetheless, he admitted he’d be “naive to believe Prophesee will be the only one to capture” this opportunity.
WeRide bought a truck company
One of China’s most valuable robotaxi startups has just acquired an autonomous trucking company called MoonX. The size of the deal is undisclosed, but we know that MoonX raised “tens of millions RMB” 15 months ago in a Series A round.
While WeRide is focused on Level 4 self-driving technology, it is also finding new monetization avenues before its robotaxis can chauffeur people at scale. It’s done so by developing minibusses, and the MoonX acqui-hire, which brings the company’s founder and over 50 engineers to WeRide, will likely help diversify its revenue pool.
WeRide and MoonX have deep-rooted relationships. Their respective founders, Tony Han and Yang Qingxiong, worked side by side at Jingchi, which was later rebranded to WeRide. Han co-founded Jingchi and took the helm as CEO in March 2018 while Yang was assigned vice president of engineering. But Yang soon quit and started MoonX.
Han, a Baidu veteran, gave Yang a warm homecoming and put him in charge of the firm’s research institute and its new office in Shenzhen, home to MoonX. WeRide’s sprawling headquarters is just about an hour’s drive away in the adjacent city of Guangzhou.
AI surveillance giant Cloudwalk nears IPO
Cloudwalk belongs to a cohort of Chinese unicorns that flourished through the second half of the 2010s by selling computer vision technology to government agencies across China. Together, Cloudwalk and its rivals SenseTime, Megvii and Yitu were dubbed the “four AI dragons” for their fast ascending valuations and handsome funding rounds.
Of course, the term “AI dragon” is now a misnomer as AI application becomes so pervasive across industries. Investors soon realized these upstarts need to diversify revenue streams beyond smart city contracts, and they’ve been waiting anxiously for exits. Finally, here comes Cloudwalk, which will likely be the first in its cohort to go public.
Cloudwalk’s application to raise 3.75 billion yuan ($580 million) from an IPO on the Shanghai STAR board was approved this week, though it can still be months before it starts trading. The firm’s financials don’t look particularly rosy for investors, with net loss amounting to 720 million yuan in 2020.
Also in the news
Speaking of the torrent of news in autonomous driving, vehicle vision provider CalmCar said this week that it has raised $150 millionin a Series C round. Founded by several overseas Chinese returnees in 2016, CalmCar uses deep learning to develop ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance System) used in automotive, industrial and surveillance scenarios. German auto parts maker ZF led the round.
Baby clothes direct-to-consumer brand PatPat said it has raised $510 million from Series C and D rounds. The D2C ecosystem leveraging China’s robust supply chains is increasingly gaining interest from venture capitalists. Brands like Shein, PatPat, Cider and Outer have all secured fundings from established VCs. Founded by three Carnegie Mellon grads, PatPat counts IDG Capital, General Atlantic, DST Global, GGV Capital, SIG China and Sequoia China among its investors.
Safe Security, a Silicon Valley cyber risk management startup, has secured a $33 million investment from U.K. telco BT.
Founded in 2012, Safe Security — formerly known as Lucideus — helps organizations to measure and mitigate enterprise-wide cyber risk using its security assessment framework for enterprises (SAFE) platform. The service, which is used by a number of companies including Facebook, Softbank and Xiaomi, helps businesses understand their likelihood of suffering a major cyberattack, calculates a financial cost to customers’ risks and provides actionable insight on the steps that can be taken to address them.
This funding round saw participation from Safe Security’s existing investors, including former Cisco chairman and chief executive John Chambers, and brings the total amount raised by Safe Security to $49.2 million.
BT said the investment, which is its first major third-party investment in cybersecurity since 2006, reflected its plans to grow rapidly in the sector. Philip Jansen, BT CEO said: “Cybersecurity is now at the top of the agenda for businesses and governments, who need to be able to trust that they’re protected against increasing levels of attack.
“Already one of the world’s leading providers in a highly fragmented security market, this investment is a clear sign of BT’s ambition to grow further.”
The startup’s co-founder and chief executive Saket Modi said he was “delighted” to be working with BT.
“By aligning BT’s global reach and capabilities with SAFE’s ability to provide real-time visibility on cyber risk posture, we are going to fundamentally change how security is measured and managed across the globe,” he said.
As part of the investment, which will see Safe Security double its engineering team by the end of the year, BT will combine the SAFE platform with its managed security services, and gain exclusive rights to use and sell SAFE to businesses and public sector bodies in the UK. BT will also work collaboratively with Safe Security to develop future products, according to an announcement from the company.
A banner quarter for Xiaomi helped the Chinese mobile company snag the No. 2 spot in global smartphone shipments, according to newly posted Q2 numbers from research firm Canalys. It’s pretty stunning growth for the company, up 83% year-over-year for the quarter and capturing 17% of the global market.
The surge puts Xiaomi at No. 2, globally, behind only Samsung’s 19% by a relatively small margin. Apple is at third with 14% (after its own solid growth has slowed), while fellow Chinese manufacturers Oppo and Vivo round out the top five at 10% a piece.
Huawei, of course, is nowhere to be seen among the top companies. It’s a pretty massive drop, due in no small part to blacklisting that has both barred the company from certain markets (namely, the U.S.) and cut off access to U.S. mobile products, including Google’s Android and various apps.
Image Credits: Canalys
Canalys cites aggressive pricing as a big factor in Xiaomi’s success — particularly contrasted with premium priced offerings from Samsung and Apple.
“It is now transforming its business model from challenger to incumbent, with initiatives such as channel partner consolidation and more careful management of older stock in the open market,” the analyst firm’s Research Manager Ben Stanton said in a release. “It is still largely skewed toward the mass market, however, and compared with Samsung and Apple, its average selling price is around 40% and 75% cheaper respectively. So a major priority for Xiaomi this year is to grow sales of its high-end devices, such as the Mi 11 Ultra.”
The company certainly isn’t a household name in the States (the company has dealt with its own issues here), but of late it has found particular success in Latin America, Africa and Western Europe. It seems that there are still plenty of markets available to continue its expansion as it looks to take on Samsung, even as Oppo and Vivo hope to continue their own respective rapid global growth.
Jio Platforms, run by India’s richest man (Mukesh Ambani), and Google on Thursday unveiled JioPhone Next, an affordable Android smartphone as the top Indian telecom operator makes further push to make it more affordable for people to sign up to its network.
The Indian firm, which secured $4.5 billion investment from Google (and another $15.5 billion from Facebook and others) last year and shared plans to work on low-cost smartphones, said the JioPhone Next will help roughly 300 million users in India who are still on 2G network upgrade.
The phone, which is “powered by extremely optimized Android” operating system, will first launch in India this September and eventually be made available outside of the country.
Jio Platforms, which serves 425 million subscribers, is positioned to add another 200 million in the next few years, said Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries, at its annual general meeting Thursday.
The JioPhone Next will be the “most affordable smartphone” globally though he didn’t reveal the price, said Ambani.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai said the company has also entered into a 5G cloud partnership with Jio Platforms.
Even as most smartphones that ship in India, the second largest market, are priced at $150 or less, customers looking for a smartphone priced under $100 are left with little choice. And that choice has further shrunk in recent years.
Research firm Counterpoint told TechCrunch that the sub-$100 smartphones accounted for just 12% of the Indian smartphone market, down from 18% in 2019 and 24% in 2018. Sub-$50 smartphones represented just 0.3% of the entire market in 2020, down from 4.3% in 2018.
Smartphone makers are aware of this whitespace in the market, but have found it incredibly challenging to meet this demand. Some, including Jio Platforms, which has amassed over 425 million subscribers, earlier explored a range of feature phones to reach small cities and towns of India. Jio Platforms’ KaiOS-powered feature phone, called JioPhone, had amassed 100 million customers as of late February this year.
In a recent report to clients, analysts at UBS said that after accounting the recent price surge of memory component, any smartphone priced at or under $50 is likely selling at cost.
“While this move by Jio will accelerate 2G to 4G migration, we evaluated how interesting this space would be for other smartphone manufacturers, especially key players like Xiaomi. Xiaomi, the unit market leader in smartphones in India, is unlikely to follow up with a $50 smartphone, in our view,” they wrote in the report, obtained by TechCrunch.
The rush to back lidar companies continues as more automakers and robotaxi startups include the remote sensing method in their vehicles.
Latest to the investment boom is Hesai, a Shanghai-based lidar maker founded in 2014 with an office in Palo Alto. The company just raised over $300 million in a Series D funding round led by GL Ventures, the venture capital arm of storied private equity firm Hillhouse Capital, smartphone maker Xiaomi, on-demand services giant Meituan and CPE, the private equity platform of Citic.
Hesai said the new proceeds will be spent on mass-producing its hybrid solid-state lidar for its OEM customers, the construction of its smart manufacturing center, and research and development on automotive-grade lidar chips. The company said it has accumulated “several hundred million dollars” in funding to date.
Other participants in the round included Huatai Securities, Lightspeed China Partners and Lightspeed Venture Capital, as well as Qiming Venture Partners. Bosch, Baidu, and ON Semiconductor are also among its shareholders.
Lidar isn’t limited to powering robotaxis and passenger EVs, and that’s why Hesai got Xiaomi and Meituan onboard. Xiaomi makes hundreds of different connected devices through its manufacturing suppliers that could easily benefit from industrial automation, to which sensing technology is critical. But the phone maker also unveiled plans this year to make electric cars.
Hesai, with a staff of over 500 employees, says its clients span 70 cities across 23 countries. The company touts Nuro, Bosch, Lyft, Navya, and Chinese robotaxi operators Baidu, WeRide and AutoX among its customers. Last year, it kickstarted a partnership with Scale AI, a data labeling company, to launch an open-source data set for training autonomous driving algorithms, with data collected using Hesai’s lidar in California.
More signs of the global market righting the ship after a disastrous 2020. New figures from Gartner point to 26% increase in global sales year over year for the first quarter of 2021. The overall increase is an impressive one, though it comes after a couple of years of market slow down, followed by a step drop amid the pandemic.
Manufacturers got hit from all sides last year. 2020 kicked things off with a manufacturing slowdown, as China and greater Asia were the first to be impacted by the effects of Covid-19. In the following months, global demand slowed, as shutdowns were instated and job loss and economic issues massively hampered sales.
Image Credits: Gartner
The new Gartner numbers maintain the same global top three manufacturers as this time last year. Samsung’s overall market share grew from 18.4- to 20.3%, courtesy of budget devices, returning to the number one spot.
Apple had managed to push its way to number one in Q4, on the strength of its belated 5G push. The company dropped down to number two for the first quarter – the same position it held this time last year. Overall, its market share is up around 2% y-o-y to 15.5, according to the figures. The top five are rounded out by three Chinese manufacturers — Xiaomi, Vivo and Oppo – as Huawei’s struggles continue.
Thus far, global chip shortages appear to have had little impact on shipments.
Think you’re living in a hyper-connected world? Huawei’s proprietary HarmonyOS wants to eliminate delays and gaps in user experience when you move from one device onto another by adding interoperability to all devices, regardless of the system that powers them.
On Wednesday, Huawei officially launched its proprietary operating system HarmonyOS for mobile phones. The firm began building the operating system in 2016 and made it open-source for tablets, electric vehicles and smartwatches last September. Its flagship devices such as Mate 40 could upgrade to HarmonyOS starting Wednesday, with the operating system gradually rolling out on lower-end models in the coming quarters.
HarmonyOS is not meant to replace Android or iOS, Huawei said. Rather, its application is more far-reaching, powering not just phones and tablets but an increasing number of smart devices. To that end, Huawei has been trying to attract hardware and home appliance manufacturers to join its ecosystem.
To date, more than 500,000 developers are building applications based on HarmonyOS. It’s unclear whether Google, Facebook and other mainstream apps in the West are working on HarmonyOS versions.
Some Chinese tech firms have answered Huawei’s call. Smartphone maker Meizu hinted on its Weibo account that its smart devices might adopt HarmonyOS. Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi, who are much larger players than Meizu, are probably more reluctant to embrace a rival’s operating system.
Huawei’s goal is to collapse all HarmonyOS-powered devices into one single control panel, which can, say, remotely pair the Bluetooth connections of headphones and a TV. A game that is played on a phone can be continued seamlessly on a tablet. A smart soymilk blender can customize a drink based on the health data gleaned from a user’s smartwatch.
Devices that aren’t already on HarmonyOS can also communicate with Huawei devices with a simple plug-in. Photos from a Windows-powered laptop can be saved directly onto a Huawei phone if the computer has the HarmonyOS plug-in installed. That raises the question of whether Android, or even iOS, could, one day, talk to HarmonyOS through a common language.
The HarmonyOS launch arrived days before Apple’s annual developer event scheduled for next week. A recent job posting from Apple mentioned a seemingly new concept, homeOS, which may have to do with Apple’s smart home strategy, as noted by Macrumors.
Huawei denied speculations that HarmonyOS is a derivative of Android and said no single line of code is identical to that of Android. A spokesperson for Huawei declined to say whether the operating system is based on Linux, the kernel that powers Android.
Several tech giants have tried to introduce their own mobile operating systems to no avail. Alibaba built AliOS based on Linux but has long stopped updating it. Samsung flirted with its own Tizen but the operating system is limited to powering a few Internet of Things like smart TVs.
Huawei may have a better shot at drumming up developer interest compared to its predecessors. It’s still one of China’s largest smartphone brands despite losing a chunk of its market after the U.S. government cut it off critical chip suppliers, which could hamper its ability to make cutting-edge phones. HarmonyOS also has a chance to create an alternative for developers who are disgruntled with Android, if Huawei is able to capture their needs.
The U.S. sanctions do not block Huawei from using Android’s open-source software, which major Chinese smartphone makers use to build their third-party Android operating system. But the ban was like a death knell for Huawei’s consumer markets overseas as its phones abroad lost access to Google Play services.
Xiaomi, one of China’s high-profile tech firms that fell in the crosshairs of the Trump administration, has been removed from a U.S. government blacklist that designated it as a Communist Chinese Military Company.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has vacated the Department of Defence’s designation of Xiaomi as a CCMC in January, a document filed on May 25 shows.
In February, Xiaomi sued the U.S. government over its inclusion in the military blacklist. In March, the D.C. court granted Xiaomi a preliminary injunction against the DoD designation, which would have forbidden all U.S. persons from purchasing or possessing Xiaomi’s securities, saying the decision was “arbitrary and capricious.” The ruling was made to prevent “irreparable harm” to the Chinese phone maker.
Xiaomi has this to say about getting off the blacklist:
The Company is grateful for the trust and support of its global users, partners, employees and shareholders. The Company reiterates that it is an open, transparent, publicly traded, independently operated and managed corporation. The Company will continue to provide reliable consumer electronics products and services to users, and to relentlessly build amazing products with honest prices to let everyone in the world enjoy a better life through innovative technology.
Xiaomi’s domestic competitor Huawei is still struggling with its inclusion in the U.S. trade blacklist, which bans it from accessing critical U.S. technologies and has crippled its smartphone sales around the world.
Four years after joining as Facebook’s first VP of VR, ex-Xiaomi exec Hugo Barra has left the company, he said in a social media post Tuesday.
Barra led Facebook’s VR efforts during a particularly tumultuous time for Oculus, coming aboard to helm the division as the once independent arm was folded deeper into its parent company after the departure of co-founder and CEO Brendan Iribe. During Barra’s time at Facebook, the company pivoted from PC-based VR systems towards all-in-one designs, relying on a partnership with Barra’s previous employer Xiaomi to help the company scale its entry-level Oculus Go headset which has since been discontinued.
The executive was eventually replaced in his role leading AR/VR inside Zuck’s inner circle by long-time Facebook veteran Andrew Bosworth and subsequently moved to a role leading partnerships. Barra leaves months after the launch of Facebook’s $299 Quest 2 headset, which arrived to positive reviews, and on the cusp of the company’s first foray into AR-based smart glasses.
“When Mark Zuckerberg approached me 5 years ago to come to Facebook to lead the Oculus team and work on virtual reality, I knew I was jumping into an ambitious journey to help build the next computing platform but I couldn’t have imagined just how much this team would get done in just a few years,” Barra wrote in a public Facebook post.
Barra didn’t detail where he’ll be landing next, but said he’s joining an effort in the healthcare technology space.
Shein‘s quiet rise has reached a crescendo as the fast fashion e-commerce app takes the crown from Amazon as the most downloaded shopping app on iOS and Android in the United States, according to data from app tracking firms App Annie.
Its ascent is quiet because the startup, despite reportedly exceeding a $15 billion valuation, maintains an unusually low profile and doesn’t try to make itself known to the media. The app, dubbed the “TikTok for e-commerce” by China-focused internet analyst Matthew Brennan in this thorough piece on the startup, manufactures in China as many apparel retailers do.
The difference is Shein controls its own production chain, from design and prototype to procurement to manufacturing. Each step is highly digitized and integrated with another, which allows the company to churn out hundreds of new products tailored to different regions and user tastes at a daily rate. The strategy is not unlike TikTok matching content creators with users by using algorithms to understand their habits in real-time.
On May 11, Shein became the most installed shopping app on Android in the U.S., and six days later took the top spot on iOS as well.
The origin of Shein, which was previously named “She Inside,” is little understood. On its official website, it describes itself as an “international B2C fast fashion e-commerce platform” founded in 2008. There is no mention of its founder and CEO Chris Xu. In a 2018 corporate blog posted on WeChat, it wrote that it was headquartered in Nanjing, an eastern Chinese city home known for its historical heritages and home to Chinese appliance giant Suning. It also opened offices in other major Chinese cities as well as the U.S., Belgium and the United Arab Emirates.
Shein’s low profile is perhaps expected in times of geopolitical tensions and heightened regulatory scrutiny over China-related tech companies around the world. Shein owns its sales channel and user data, which distinguishes it from the swathe of generic consumer brands relying on Amazon for customer acquisition without meaningful access to user data.
As of May 17, Shein was the top iOS shopping app in 54 countries and ranked top in the category on Android devices across 13 countries.
Shein has not announced who its investors are, but Chinese media reports have listed Capital Nuts, JAFCO Asia, Greenwoods Asset Management, IDG Capital, Sequoia Capital China, Tiger Global, and Xiaomi founder’s Shunwei Capital among its backers.
We’ve reached out to Shein for comments on the story. Sequoia Capital China confirmed it’s an investor in Shein.
Huawei’s smartphone rivals in China are quickly divvying up the market share it has lost over the past year.
92.4 million units of smartphones were shipped in China during the first quarter, with Vivo claiming the crown with a 23% share and its sister company Oppo following closely behind with 22%, according to market research firm Canalys. Huawei, of which smartphone sales took a hit after U.S. sanctions cut key chip parts off its supply chain, came in third at 16%. Xiaomi and Apple took the fourth and fifth spot respectively.
All major smartphone brands but Huawei saw a jump in their market share in China from Q1 2020. Apple’s net sales in Greater China nearly doubled year-over-year to $17.7 billion in the three months ended March, a quarter of all-time record revenue for the American giant, according to its latest financial results.
“We’ve been especially pleased by the customer response in China to the iPhone 12 family,” said Tim Cook during an earnings call this week. “You have to remember that China entered the shutdown phase earlier in Q2 of last year than other countries. And so they were relatively more affected in that quarter, and that has to be taken into account as you look at the results.”
One after another, Chinese tech giants have announced their plans for the auto space over the last few months. Some internet companies, like search engine provider Baidu, decided to recruit help from a traditional carmaker to produce cars. Xiaomi, which makes its own smartphones but has stressed for years it’s a light-asset firm making money from software services, also jumped on the automaking bandwagon. Industry observers are now speculating who will be the next. Huawei naturally comes to their minds.
Huawei seems well-suited for building cars — at least more qualified than some of the pure internet firms — thanks to its history in manufacturing and supply chain management, brand recognition, and vast retail network. But the telecom equipment and smartphone maker repeatedly denied reports claiming it was launching a car brand. Instead, it says its role is to be a Tier 1 supplier for automakers or OEMs (original equipment manufacturers).
Huawei is not a carmaker, the company’s rotating chairman Eric Xu reiterated recently at the firm’s annual analyst conference in Shenzhen.
“Since 2012, I have personally engaged with the chairmen and CEOs of all major car OEMs in China as well as executives of German and Japanese automakers. During this process, I found that the automotive industry needs Huawei. It doesn’t need the Huawei brand, but instead, it needs our ICT [information and communication technology] expertise to help build future-oriented vehicles,” said Xu, who said the strategy has not changed since it was incepted in 2018.
There are three major roles in auto production: branded vehicle manufacturers like Audi, Honda, Tesla, and soon Apple; Tier 1 companies that supply car parts and systems directly to carmakers, including established ones like Bosch and Continental, and now Huawei; and lastly, chip suppliers including Nvidia, Intel and NXP, whose role is increasingly crucial as industry players make strides toward highly automated vehicles. Huawei also makes in-house car chips.
“Huawei wants to be the next-generation Bosch,” an executive from a Chinese robotaxi startup told TechCrunch, asking not to be named.
Huawei makes its position as a Tier 1 supplier unequivocal. So far it has secured three major customers: BAIC, Chang’an Automobile, and Guangzhou Automobile Group.
“We won’t have too many of these types of in-depth collaboration,” Xu assured.
Arcfox, a new electric passenger car brand under state-owned carmaker BAIC, debuted its Alpha S model quipped with Huawei’s “HI” systems, short for Huawei Inside (not unlike “Powered by Intel”), during the annual Shanghai auto show on Saturday. The electric sedan, priced between 388,900 yuan and 429,900 yuan (about $60,000 and $66,000), comes with Huawei functions including an operating system driven by Huawei’s Kirin chip, a range of apps that run on HarmonyOS, automated driving, fast charging, and cloud computing.
Perhaps most eye-catching is that Alpha S has achieved Level 4 capabilities, which Huawei confirmed with TechCrunch.
That’s a bold statement, for it means that the car will not require human intervention in most scenarios, that is, drivers can take their hands off the wheels and nap.
There are some nuances to this claim, though. In a recent interview, Su Qing, general manager for autonomous driving at Huawei, said Alpha S is L4 in terms of “experience” but L2 according to “legal” responsibilities. China has only permitted a small number of companies to test autonomous vehicles without safety drivers in restricted areas and is far from letting consumer-grade driverless cars roam urban roads.
As it turned out, Huawei’s “L4” functions were shown during a demo, during which the Arcfox car traveled for 1,000 kilometers in a busy Chinese city without human intervention, though a safety driver was present in the driving seat. Automating the car is a stack of sensors, including three lidars, six millimeter-wave radars, 13 ultrasonic radars and 12 cameras, as well as Huawei’s own chipset for automated driving.
“This would be much better than Tesla,” Xu said of the car’s capabilities.
But some argue the Huawei-powered vehicle isn’t L4 by strict definition. The debate seems to be a matter of semantics.
“Our cars you see today are already L4, but I can assure you, I dare not let the driver leave the car,” Su said. “Before you achieve really big MPI [miles per intervention] numbers, don’t even mention L4. It’s all just demos.”
“It’s not L4 if you can’t remove the safety driver,” the executive from the robotaxi company argued. “A demo can be done easily, but removing the driver is very difficult.”
“This technology that Huawei claims is different from L4 autonomous driving,” said a director working for another Chinese autonomous vehicle startup. “The current challenge for L4 is not whether it can be driverless but how to be driverless at all times.”
L4 or not, Huawei is certainly willing to splurge on the future of driving. This year, the firm is on track to spend $1 billion on smart vehicle components and tech, Xu said at the analyst event.
A 5G future
Many believe 5G will play a key role in accelerating the development of driverless vehicles. Huawei, the world’s biggest telecom equipment maker, would have a lot to reap from 5G rollouts across the globe, but Xu argued the next-gen wireless technology isn’t a necessity for self-driving vehicles.
“To make autonomous driving a reality, the vehicles themselves have to be autonomous. That means a vehicle can drive autonomously without external support,” said the executive.
“Completely relying on 5G or 5.5G for autonomous driving will inevitably cause problems. What if a 5G site goes wrong? That would raise a very high bar for mobile network operators. They would have to ensure their networks cover every corner, don’t go wrong in any circumstances and have high levels of resilience. I think that’s simply an unrealistic expectation.”
Huawei may be happy enough as a Tier 1 supplier if it ends up taking over Bosch’s market. Many Chinese companies are shifting away from Western tech suppliers towards homegrown options in anticipation of future sanctions or simply to seek cheaper alternatives that are just as robust. Arcfox is just the beginning of Huawei’s car ambitions.
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.