It isn’t just apps. China’s cinemas broke records during Lunar New Year


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China celebrated Lunar New Year last week as hundreds of millions of people travelled to their hometowns. While many had longed to see their separated loved ones, others dreaded the weeklong holiday as relatives awkwardly caught up with them with questions like: “Why are you not married? How much do you earn?”

Luckily, there are ways to survive the festive time in this digital age. Smartphone usage during this period has historically surged. Short video app TikTok’s China version Douyin noticeably took off by acquiring 42 million new users over the first week of last year’s holiday, a report from data analytics firm QuestMobile shows. Tencent’s mobile game blockbuster Honor of Kings similarly gained 76 percent DAUs during that time, according to another QuestMobile report.

People also hid away by immersing themselves in the cinema during the Lunar New Year, a movie-going period akin to the American holiday season.

wandering earth 2

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Sub-brands are the new weapon in China’s smartphone war


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One of China’s top smartphone brands Vivo appears to have joined its fellows Oppo, Huawei and Xiaomi in setting up a new sub-brand as a softening market and heightened competition at home drive players to venture upon their original reach.

A new smartphone brand called iQoo made its debut on Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter, on Tuesday by greeting in English: “Hello, this is iQoo.” It also playfully encouraged people to guess how its name is pronounced, as the spelling doesn’t resonate with either Chinese or English speakers. Vivo immediately reposted iQoo’s message, calling iQoo a “new friend.”

Vivo has not further revealed its ties with iQoo, although the latter’s Weibo account is verified under Vivo’s corporate name. TechCrunch has contacted Vivo and will update the story when we have more information.

vivo iqoo

Screenshot of iQoo’s first Weibo post

Sub-brands have become a popular tactic for Chinese smartphone

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Two former Qualcomm engineers are using AI to fix China’s healthcare problem


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Artificial intelligence is widely heralded as something that could disrupt the jobs market across the board — potentially eating into careers as varied as accountants, advertising agents, reporters and more — but there are some industries in dire need of assistance where AI could make a wholly positive impact, a core one being healthcare.

Despite being the world’s second-largest economy, China is still coping with a serious shortage of medical resources. In 2015, the country had 1.8 physicians per 1,000 citizens, according to data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That figure puts China behind the U.S. at 2.6 and was well below the OECD average of 3.4.

The undersupply means a nation of overworked doctors who constantly struggle to finish screening patient scans. Misdiagnoses inevitably follow. Spotting the demand, forward-thinking engineers and healthcare professionals move to get deep learning into analyzing medical

12 sigma

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Xiaomi-backed electric toothbrush Soocas raises $30 million Series C


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China’s Soocas continues to jostle with global toothbrush giants as it raises 200 million yuan ($30 million) in a series C funding round. The Shenzhen-based oral care manufacturer has secured the new capital from lead investor Vision Knight Capital, with Kinzon Capital, Greenwoods Investment, Yunmu Capital and Cathay Capital also participating in the round.

The new proceeds arrived less than a year after Soocas, one of Xiaomi’s home appliance portfolio startups, snapped up close to 100 million yuan in a Series B round last March. Best known for its budget smartphones, Xiaomi has a grand plan to construct an Internet of Things empire that encompasses smart TVs to electric toothbrushes, and it has been gearing up by shelling out strategic investments for consumer goods makers such as Soocas.

Founded in 2015, Soocas’s rise reflects a growing demand for personal care accessories as people’s disposable income increases. Electric toothbrushes are a

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A government propaganda app is going viral in China


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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.

xuexi qiangguo

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

xuexi qiangguo
xuexi qiangguo

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Tencent moves into automotive with $150M joint venture


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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

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Alibaba’s growth slows to lowest in 3 years


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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,

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China continues 5G push despite economic slowdown and Huawei setbacks


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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 other futuristic products will be eligible for government subsidies, though the regulator didn’t outline the detailed criteria.

The acceleration of 5G licenses comes as Beijing copes with a weakening national economy, a move that will “drum up demand with upgraded technology experiences across devices, automotive and manufacturing leveraging 5G technology,”

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


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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 Store. But not all native apps are replaceable by mini programs for the former support more functionalities and give developers more control in aspects like monetization and access to user insight.

Like WeChat, Alipay added a swipe-down menu on

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


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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

wework go china
wework china

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


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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.

app annie china 2018

Report: The State of Mobile 2019, App Annie

The aptly-named WiFi Master Key, which owns the enviable domain wifi.com, is the product of a little-known startup called LinkSure in Shanghai that gets people onto the nearest wireless networks without the need for passwords. In addition, the app also recommends news and video content based on users’ past habits to lock them in, a feature similar to that of ByteDance’s algorithm-driven Jinri Toutiao news app.

Like many consumer-facing services in China,

wifi master key

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China finally grants a game license to Tencent


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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 of its earnings.

China resumed its game approval process in December after a nine-month hiatus during which it worked to reshuffle its main regulating bodies for games. However, it left Tencent, the country’s biggest game publisher, and runner-up NetEase off its first batch of approved titles. NetEase also scored its first

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Microsoft confirms Bing is down in China


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Microsoft’s Bing is down in China, according to users who took to social media beginning Wednesday afternoon to complain and express concerns.

The Seattle-based behemoth has confirmed that its search engine is currently inaccessible in China and is “engaged to determine next steps,” a company spokesperson said in a statement to TechCrunch Thursday morning.

The situation appears to be a DNS (domain name system) corruption, one method for China to block websites through its intricate censor system called the Great Firewall. When a user enters a domain name associated with a banned IP address, the Firewall will corrupt the connection to stop the page from loading.

Several users told TechCrunch they are still able to access Bing by directly visiting its IP address as of Thursday morning.

China’s Mobike will rename to Meituan Bike as its parent takes the wheel


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One of China’s top bike-rental apps is entering a new phase. Mobike, which neighborhood services giant Meituan-Dianping gobbled up last April, is changing its name to Meituan Bike as part of an ongoing integration with its parent, according to an internal letter from Meituan senior vice president Wang Huiwen to staff. There’s no timeline for when the new moniker will go live, and the change applies to its China business only at the moment, TechCrunch confirmed with a Mobike spokesperson on Wednesday.

The rebranding is bound to stir up nostalgia among millions of users accustomed to telling others: I’m going to Mobike from point A to point B. But deepening ties with Meituan, which claims more than 380 million annual users who use its services for food delivery, hotel booking and others, will do more good in the long run. The bike service has already been integrated into the Meituan app, where users

mobike

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Work on world’s first CRISPR gene-edited babies declared illegal by China


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Chinese authorities have declared the work of He Jiankui, who shocked the scientific community by claiming he successfully created the world’s first gene-edited babies, an illegal decision in pursuit of “personal fame and gain.” Investigators have completed preliminary steps in a probe that began in November following He’s claims and say they will “seriously” punish the researcher for violations of the law, China’s official news agency Xinhua reported on Monday.

He, who taught at Shenzhen’s Southern University of Science and Technology, had led a team to research the gene-editing technique CRISPR since mid-2016 in attempts to treat cancers and other diseases. The incident drew significant attention to the professor’s own biotech startups that are backed by local and overseas investors.

The official probe shows that He fabricated ethics approvals which he used to

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Canada’s Telus says partner Huawei is ‘reliable’: reports


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The US-China tension over Huawei is leaving telecommunications companies around the world at a crossroad, but one spoke out last week. Telus, one of Canada’s largest phone companies showed support for its Chinese partner despite a global backlash against Huawei over cybersecurity threats.

“Clearly, Huawei remains a viable and reliable participant in the Canadian telecommunications space, bolstered by globally leading innovation, comprehensive security measures, and new software upgrades,” said an internal memo signed by a Telus executive that The Globe and Mail obtained.

The Vancouver-based firm is among a handful of Canadian companies that could potentially leverage the Shenzhen-based company to build out 5G systems, the technology that speeds up not just mobile connection but more crucially powers emerging fields like low-latency autonomous driving and 8K video streaming. TechCrunch has contacted Telus for comments and will update the article when more information becomes available.

The United States has long worried

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New policy puts revenue squeeze on China’s payments giants


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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 and Tencent derived from these deposits is unclear. Both companies declined to comment on the policy’s revenue implications but said they have complied with the rules and finished transferring all customer reserve funds to a centralized clearing system.

Here are some numbers to help grasp the scale of the lucrative practice. The

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EVs and online marketplaces thrive despite slump in Chinese car sales


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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 on US car imports and weighed on consumers. The standoff prompted Tesla to cut prices for Model 3 in China and Jaguar Land Rover to temporarily close a factory after sales plummeted in the country. Internally, China is coping with a cooling economy that has undermined consumer demand

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


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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 the new model is that it supports Mandarin, the official language on Mainland China and Cantonese, which is spoken in Hong Kong and China’s most populated province Guangdong. Previously, Chinese-speaking users would have to converse with HomePod in English.

A main selling point of HomePod is its focus on music

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


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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

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