Author: Rita Liao

A government propaganda app is going viral in China

Besides binge-watching TikTok videos and battling enemies in the magical land of mobile games, many Chinese people may also pass time during the upcoming Lunar New Year on Xuexi Qiangguo, a news and chat app developed by the country’s top ideology officials. The app managed to top the Chinese App Store between January 22 and 25 before two ByteDance apps pushed it down to the third place this week, download statistics from App Annie shows. At a glance, the news section is almost exclusively about the Communist Party and president Xi Jinping. The app is almost exclusively about the Communist Party and president Xi Jinping. It doubles as an instant messenger, with development support provided by Alibaba’s Dingtalk enterprise communications tool. That means users can log in via their Dingtalk account and chat with their Dingtalk contacts directly over Xuexi Qiangguo. Alibaba explains this is a “regular business collaboration” between Dingtalk’s open platform and a third-party developer. The app doubles as a messenger with technical support provided by Alibaba’s Dingtalk. Directly translated as “studying strengthens the nation,” Xuexi Qiangguo is the product of a research center under China’s Publicity Department, an important organ in charge of how information disseminates in the country. The digital weapon underscores the Communist Party’s growing efforts in recent years to appeal to phone-savvy generations, though the app seems to have peaked. As of February 1, the iOS...

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Tencent moves into automotive with $150M joint venture

China’s internet firms are getting pally with giant state-owned automakers as they look to deploy their artificial intelligence and cloud computing services across traditional industries. Ride-hailing startup Didi Chuxing, which owns Uber China, announced earlier this week a new joint venture with state-owned BAIC. Hot on the heels came another entity set up between Tencent and the GAC Group. GAC, which is owned by the Guangzhou municipal government in southern China, announced Thursday in a filing it will jointly establish a mobility company with social media and gaming behemoth Tencent, Guangzhou Public Transport Group alongside other investors. The announcement followed an agreement between Tencent and GAC in 2017 to team up on internet-connected cars and smart driving, a deal that saw the carmaker tapping into Tencent’s expertise in mobile payments, social networking, big data and cloud services. Tencent, which is most famous for its instant messenger WeChat, went through a major restructuring last October to place more focus on enterprise-facing services, and the GAC tie-up appears to fit nicely into that pivot. The fresh venture will bank a capital infusion of 1 billion yuan ($149 million) with GAC owning a 35 percent stake. Tencent and Guangzhou Public Transport will take up 25 percent and 10 percent, respectively. A flurry of Chinese internet service providers have made forays into the automotive industry, marketing their digital and machine learning capabilities at old-school automakers. Besides...

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Alibaba’s growth slows to lowest in 3 years

China’s Alibaba continues to see slowing expansion in the latest quarter, but the e-commerce giant’s effort to spur new growth from new arenas have started to bear fruit. The Hangzhou-based firm rang up $17 billion in revenue during the third quarter of 2019. That’s a 41 percent increase from the previous year but it also marks the slowest pace of growth since early 2016. Revenue from the quarter was driven by growth in the firm’s core e-commerce unit, the newly formed local services business between Koubei and Ele.me, and its fledgling cloud business, which now commands more than half of the Chinese market, Alibaba executive Joe Tsai said (paywalled) this month. Revenue growth to its lowest since early 2016 as Alibaba weathers saturation and an economic slowdown in China Revenue from Alibaba’s core commerce, “new initiatives” including local services, and cloud computing was up 40 percent, 73 percent and 84 percent, respectively. The commerce arm is expected to kick up growth when the giant finally starts monetizing its revamped user recommendation system and search engine, features that the giant launched last quarter. Alibaba said there’s no exact timeline for the rollout but the redesigns have already boosted user engagement and purchase conversion. Alibaba trimmed its forecasted annual revenue target by four to six percent last November as China confronted a weakening economy at home and trade tensions with the U.S. Nonetheless, Alibaba executives continue to...

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China continues 5G push despite economic slowdown and Huawei setbacks

China will fast-track the issuance of commercial licenses for 5G as part of a national plan to boost consumer spending, said a notice published this week by the National Development and Reform Commission. The move appears to be multifaceted, for 5G plays a key role in China’s bid to lead the global technology race and one of its biggest 5G champions, Huawei, has been facing troubles on a global scale. In its statement, the economic regulator calls on local governments to support the promotion and showcase of services utilizing the super-fast network technology. Ultra-high definition TVs, virtual/augmented reality handsets and...

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Alibaba’s alternative to the app store reaches 230M daily users

WeChat isn’t the only one doubling down on lite apps. Ever since China’s messaging titan introduced “mini programs” two years ago, a handful of its peers including Alibaba and Baidu have followed with their own manifestations. Alipay, the payments solution affiliated with China’s ecommerce juggernaut Alibaba, today announced it surpassed 230 million daily active users and 12 million lite apps. For some context, Tencent’s WeChat said it topped 200 million daily users and one million mini apps last November. These stripped-down apps run within an all-in-one platform, or what some call the “super app,” allowing users to bypass the App...

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WeWork could challenge Starbucks in China with new on-demand service

The rise of Starbucks in China, like that in the west, is closely linked to its function as a “third space” for people to hang out between home and work. In recent years, a bevy of coffee entrepreneurs are trying to topple the American giant’s dominance in China and lately, an unexpected contender — WeWork — has joined their camp. This month, the office tenant and workplace service provider launched WeWork Go, a new feature that allows China-based users to rent a desk by the minute so they are no longer tied to long-term leases. While Starbucks provides free accommodation and charges for coffee, WeWork flips the equation to offer free coffee and paid space. Starbucks is already being squeeze in China by emerging rival Luckin Coffee, a well-funded startup that explicitly pledges to take on the Seattle-based giant with a model that focuses on coffee delivery. WeWork Go works a bit like other shared services, with an app that lets users check the occupancy of a list of offices in real time before they travel over. Upon arrival, users scan a QR code at the gate, pop the door open, get seated in the common area and the billing begins. WeWork Go available through a WeChat mini program. Screenshot: TechCrunch The firm says it monitors traffic flow closely so the common space isn’t flooded with fleeting users. Booking...

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Meet the little-known Chinese WiFi startup that rubs shoulders with WeChat and Alipay

The app that gives people free WiFi has 800 million monthly active users worldwide Rita Liao 8 hours A service that connects people to WiFi hotspots for free turned out to be one of China’s most popular apps, nestling in the top ranks with Tencent’s WeChat messenger and Alibaba’s digital wallet affiliate Alipay. According to a report from app tracking service App Annie, WiFi Master Key was China’s fifth-largest app and the world’s ninth largest by monthly active users in 2018, titles it also held in 2017. Report: The State of Mobile 2019, App Annie The aptly-named WiFi Master Key, which owns...

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China finally grants a game license to Tencent

Tencent has finally come out of a prolonged freeze on game approvals as Beijing granted licenses to two of its mobile games this month. According to a notice published by China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television on January 24, Tencent is one of nearly 200 games assigned licenses in January. That’s big news for the Shenzhen-based firm which has seen its share price plummet in the past months because the licensing halt crippled its ability to generate gaming revenues. Tencent is best known for its immensely popular WeChat messenger, but gaming makes up a bulk...

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