Author: Rita Liao

New policy puts revenue squeeze on China’s payments giants

TECHCRUNCH The era that saw China’s mobile payments providers making handsome interest returns on client money has officially ended. Starting this week, non-bank payments companies must place 100 percent of their customer deposit funds under centralized, interest-free accounts as Beijing moves to rein in financial risks. In the past, third-party payments firms were allowed to hold pre-paid sums from buyers for a short period of time before transferring the money to merchants. This layout allowed companies like Alibaba’s payments affiliate Ant Financial and Tencent to earn interest by depositing customer money into bank accounts. Exactly how much money Ant...

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EVs and online marketplaces thrive despite slump in Chinese car sales

TECHCRUNCH China’s massive auto market hit the brakes last year as trade tensions and a softening economy dampened consumer confidence, but one segment soared on account of increasing internet penetration — used car sales. New passenger car sales fell to 23.7 million last year, representing a 4.1 year-over-year drop according to a new report by China’s Association of Automobile Manufacturers, the country’s top auto association. That marks the very first annual decline in the world’s biggest car market since the 1990s. A few factors were at play. For one, the tit-for-tat US-China trade war has led to a slew of tariff...

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TikTok is giving China a video chat alternative to WeChat

TECHCRUNCH ByteDance, the world’s most-valued startup, just launched a new social media product under its Douyin brand in what many people see as a serious attempt to challenge WeChat. Tencent has long dominated China’s social networking space with WeChat and QQ. WeChat claims to have one billion monthly active users worldwide, most of whom are in China. Its older sibling QQ managed to survive the country’s transition from PC to mobile and still have a good chunk of 800 million MAUs at last count. The news has got many people excited. Some of the top trending words on Weibo, China’s closest...

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WeChat is quietly ranking user behavior to play catch-up with Alibaba

TECHCRUNCH Over one billion people leave behind trails of information on WeChat every day as they use the messenger to chat, read, shop, hail rides, rent umbrellas and run many other errands. And the Tencent app has quietly started using this type of signal to determine whether a user is worthy of perks such as deposit-free renting services. The rating system, which the company calls the “WeChat Payments Score” in Chinese, soft-launched last November across eight cities and has been piloting on a small number of apps. Among them is the Tencent-backed power bank rental service Xiaodian, which waives...

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Apple HomePod comes to China at $400 amid iPhone sales woes

TECHCRUNCH Apple is finally launching HomePod in China, but the timing is tricky as the premium device will have to wrestle with local competitors and a slowing economy. The firm said over the weekend that its smart speaker will be available in Mainland China and Hong Kong starting January 18, adding to a list of countries where it has entered including US, UK, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Mexico and Spain. The Amazon Echo competitor, which launched in mid-2017, is already available to Chinese buyers through third-party channels like “daigou”, or shopping agents who bring overseas products into China. What separates...

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Xiaomi’s five-year plan is a $1.5 billion bet on smart homes

TECHCRUNCH Xiaomi, the Chinese company best known for budget phones, is betting big on a future of connected homes. It plans to plough at least 100 billion yuan, or $1.48 billion, into the so-called “AIoT” sector over the next five years, founder and chief operating office Lei Jun announced on Friday. AIoT, short for “AI + IoT,” is an upgrade from devices connected to the internet, known as the Internet of Things. AIoTs are intelligent, run on automated systems and can learn from users’ habits, like lights that automatically turn on when you get home. “We see a future where all home devices will be connected to the internet and controlled by voice. A wave of home appliances will be replaced by smart devices. There will be an AIoT network that infiltrates every second and scenario of people’s lives, collecting mountains of users, traffic and data,” said Lei in his annual address to employees. The plan is to get all sorts of gadgets, not just handsets, onto Xiaomi’s operating system so the company can hawk services through these devices. The move comes as Xiaomi, the world’s fourth-largest smartphone vendor, copes a weakening market. Smartphone shipments in China were down more than 15 percent year-over-year in 2018, according to a government-backed research institute. Phones remain strategically important to Xiaomi as it looks to lower-end phones for growth. On Thursday, the company announced it...

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World’s most valuable AI startup SenseTime unveils self-driving center in Japan

TECHCRUNCH The world’s highest-valued artificial intelligence startup SenseTime has set foot in Japan. The Beijing-based firm announced on Friday that it just opened a self-driving facility in Joso, a historic city 50 kilometers away from Tokyo where it plans to conduct R&D and road test driverless vehicles. The initiative follows its agreement with Japanese auto giant Honda in 2017 to jointly work on autonomous driving technology. SenseTime, which is backed by Alibaba and last valued at more than $4.5 billion, is best known for object recognition technologies that have been deployed in China widely across retail, healthcare and public security. Bloomberg reported this week that the AI upstart is raising $2 billion in fresh funding, Four-year-old SenseTime isn’t the only Chinese AI company finding opportunities in Japan. China’s biggest search engine provider Baidu is also bringing autonomous vehicles to its neighboring country, a move made possible through a partnership with SoftBank’s smart bus project SB Drive and Chinese automaker King Long. Japan has in recent years made a big investment push in AI and autonomous driving, which could help it cope with an aging and declining workfoce. The government aims to put driverless cars on Tokyo’s public roads by 2020 when the Olympics takes place. The capital city said it already successfully trialled autonomous taxis last August. SenseTime’s test park, which is situated near Japan’s famed innovation hub Tsukuba Science City, will be open...

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The next phase of WeChat

TECHCRUNCH Thousands of people gathered Wednesday night in a southern Chinese city for Zhang Xiaolong, Tencent’s low-key executive who built WeChat eight years ago. It’s no longer adequate to call the app a messenger, for it now enables myriads of functions that infiltrate Chinese people’s private and public lives. It wasn’t just the tech circles tuning into the event. Civil servants, real-estate agents, salon owners, fruit vendors, teachers, artists — anyone who use WeChat to facilitate daily work — watched attentively for news and tips that came out of the annual conference. Zhang, nickname Allen, is by nature a hardcore product manager. He went to great lengths during his 4-hour speech telling people productivity is WeChat’s holy grail, and that he wants to make user sessions “short and efficient.” He called out apps obsessed with keeping users on, which many may agree include ByteDance’s video app TikTok and news aggregator Jinri Toutiao. That’s a tough sell, though, for WeChat is anything but a disposable tool. The app now boasts over 1 billion daily users. 750 million of them open WeChat Moments, a scrolling feed of friends’ updates, each day during which they check it more than 10 times. User growth is cooling, but that’s expected given the super app’s enormous base. In addition to being a social network, the juggernaut has also devised a host of new features that may generate...

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