CityMapper, the urban transportation app, is integrating with bike-sharing company Mobike

Hot on the heels of getting acquired for $2.7 billion by on-demand services startup Meituan-Dianping en route to its own $60 billion IPO, Chinese bike-sharing startup Mobike is ramping up its international push as companies like Uber, Lyft and other standalone bike-on-demand startups take their own expansion strategies up a gear.

The company will this week start integrating with Citymapper, the mapping and navigation app focused on urban areas and public transportation, in all cities where both companies operate (Citymapper is now live in 39 cities; while Mobike calls itself the world’s largest bike-sharing startup, in 200 cities in some 15 countries).

This will mean that users of Citymapper will be able to select bike routes on the app, and also see where they can find a Mobike to complete those journeys, giving the bike-hire-on-demand company one more way to snag customers in what is shaping up to be a very competitive market for transportation options geared to single users.

TechCrunch first learned of the integration by way of an anonymous tip, which was then confirmed to us by a spokesperson from Mobike itself. (We sent multiple emails to Citymapper, but didn’t receive any replies.)

“Bikesharing is a true new emerging global transport platform, so a partnership with Citymapper, one of the most popular transport apps in the world, is a logical step,” said the spokesperson. “Partnering with Citymapper means that more and more people will realise how easy using a Mobike is, encouraging cycling everywhere for short urban trips.”

London-based Citymapper taps APIs from city transportation networks to provide bike routes alongside walking, bus, train, ferry and car routes. In cities where there are city bike schemes — for example in London and New York — it shows locations for bike docking stations and, if available, information on how many bikes are available.

But while there are in London — as one example — some 750 docking stations in the city covering 11,000 bikes, there are large swathes of the city, particularly outside the center, where the city bike scheme doesn’t reach. That presents an opportunity for these bike startups, which are often not banked at docks but parked on sidewalks, to cater to people who may not own a bike but would like to ride one from points A to B, when one or both of those are not near a docking station.

For the moment, you still have to register through the Mobike app to be able to reserve a Mobike you find on Citymapper. And it’s not a given that you will ever be able to book these directly: if you look at Citymapper’s Uber integration it gives you an estimate but links to the Uber app to actually seal the deal (this is now also what Google Maps does, too).

The spokesperson confirmed that there is no revenue share in this deal, and it’s not exclusive. “Mobike is in conversation with a variety of other companies which focus on helping people improve their journeys,” said the spokesperson. “They will announce partnerships as they come.” Mobike is also planning to expand into India this year.

While taxi and ride-on-demand companies duke it out for customers in cities and towns against alternative motorised options like people’s own private cars, buses and trains, in dense urban environments, there has been a secondary track of competition developing around vehicles that are geared (sorry) to more individual modes of transport, such as bikes and electric scooters.

The runaway success of other transportation-on-demand services has driven a lot of investors to look for the next big transport opportunity, which in turn has turned into a glut of money going into these smaller, semi-manual vehicle companies, and a subsequent glut of bikes and scooters filling city streets in that wake.

Electric scooters in particular have raised a lot controversy, because of how scooter services are run, potential safety concerns, and legal requirements for the drivers, to name just three of the issues. That leaves, potentially, more open road for manual bikes, which fall outside of some of these regulations so can grow a little more easily (if with more human pedal power).

All the same, there are a number of bike companies competing for potential customers, so by integrating with Citymapper, Mobike gets more visibility above that competition, specifically at a time when its new owner is itself looking for more differentiated revenue streams as it reportedly gears up for a public listing valued at $60 billion.

Citymapper itself has raised $50 million from investors that include Balderton, Benchmark, Index and Yuri Milner and it has to date not spelled out many details on how it plans to monetise, although in February it launched a hybrid taxi and small bus service serving under-served routes in the city, pointing to how it might evolve those business plans in the future with its own transportation options alongside routing suggestions.

VW, Ford discuss alliance to develop and make transporter vans – sources

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Pew: Social media still growing in emerging markets but stalled elsewhere

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s (so far) five-year project to expand access to the Internet in emerging markets makes plenty of business sense when you look at the latest report by the Pew Research Center — which shows social media use has plateaued across developed markets but continues to rise in the developing world.

In 2015-16, roughly four-in-ten adults across the emerging nations surveyed by Pew said they used social networking sites, and as of 2017, a majority (53%) use social media. Whereas, over the same period, social media use has generally been flat in many of the advanced economies surveyed.

Internet use and smartphone ownership have also stayed level in developed markets over the same period vs rising in emerging economies.

Pew polled more than 40,000 respondents in 37 countries over a roughly three month period in February to May last year for this piece of research.

The results show how developing markets are of clear and vital importance for social behemoth Facebook as a means to eke continued growth out of its primary ~15-year-old platform — plus also for the wider suite of social products it’s acquired around that. (Pew’s research asked people about multiple different social media sites, with suggested examples being country-specific — though Facebook and Twitter were staples.)

Especially — as Pew also found — of those who use the internet, people in developing countries often turn out to be more likely than their counterparts in advanced economies to network via social platforms such as Facebook (and Twitter) .

Which in turn suggests there are major upsides for social platforms getting into an emerging Internet economy early enough to establish themselves as a go-to networking service.

This dynamic doubtless explains why Facebook has been so leaden in its response to some very stark risks attached to how its social products accelerate the spread and consumption of misinformation in some developing countries, such as Myanmar and India.

Pulling the plug on its social products in emerging markets essentially means pulling the plug on business growth.

Though, in the face of rising political risk attached to Facebook’s own business and growing controversies attached to various products it offers, the company has reportedly rowed back from offering its ‘Free Basics’ Internet.org package in more than half a dozen countries in recent months, according to analysis by The Outline.

In March, for example, the UN warned that Facebook’s platform was contributing to the spread of hate speech and ethnic violence in crisis-hit Myanmar.

The company has also faced specific questions from US and EU lawmakers about its activities in the country — with scrutiny on the company dialed up to 11 after a major global privacy scandal that broke this spring.

And, in recent months, Facebook policy staffers have had to spend substantial quantities of man-hours penning multi-page explanations for all sorts of aspects of the company’s operations to try to appease angry politicians. So it looks pretty safe to conclude that the days of Facebook being able to pass off Internet.org-fueled business expansion as a ‘humanitarian mission’ are well and truly done.

(Its new ‘humanitarian project’ is a new matchmaking feature — which really looks like an attempt to rekindle stalled growth in mature markets.)

Given how the social media usage gap is closing between developed vs developing countries’ there’s also perhaps a question mark over how much longer Facebook can generally rely on tapping emerging markets to pump its business growth.

Although Pew’s survey highlights some pretty major variations in usage even across developed markets, with social media being hugely popular in Northern America and the Middle East, for example, but more of a patchwork story in Europe where usage is “far from ubiquitous” — such as in Germany where 87% of people use the internet but less than half say they use social media.

Cultural barriers to social media addiction are perhaps rather harder for a multinational giant to defeat than infrastructure challenges or even economic barriers (though Facebook does not appear to be giving up on that front either).

Outside Europe, nations with still major growth potential on the social media front include India, Indonesia and nations in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the Pew research. And Internet access remains a major barrier to social growth in many of these markets.

“Across the 39 countries [surveyed], a median of 75% say they either use the internet occasionally or own a smartphone, our definition of internet use,” it writes. “In many advanced economies, nine-in-ten or more use the internet, led by South Korea (96%). Greece (66%) is the only advanced economy surveyed where fewer than seven-in-ten report using the internet. Conversely, internet use is below seven-in-ten in 13 of the 22 emerging and developing economies surveyed. Among these countries, it is lowest in India and Tanzania, at a quarter of the adult population. Regionally, internet use is lowest in sub-Saharan Africa, where a median of 41% across six countries use the internet. South Africa (59%) is the only country in the region where at least half the population is online.”

India, Indonesia and sub-Saharan Africa are also regions where Facebook has pushed its controversial Internet.org ‘free web’ initiative. Although India banned zero-rated mobile services in 2016 on net neutrality grounds. And Facebook now appears to be at least partially rowing back on this front itself in other markets.

In parallel, the company has also been working on a more moonshot-y solar-powered high altitude drone engineering to try to bring Internet access (and thus social media access) to remoter areas that lack a reliable Internet connection. Although this project remains experimental — and has yet to deliver any commercial services.

Pew’s research also found various digital divides persisting within the surveyed countries, related to age, education, income and in some cases gender still differentiating who uses the Internet and who does not; and who is active on social media and who is inactive.

Across the globe, for example, it found younger adults are much more likely to report using social media than their older counterparts.

While in some emerging and developing countries, men are much more likely to use social media  than women — in Tunisia, for example, 49% of men use social networking sites, compared with just 28% of women. Yet in advanced countries, it found social networking is often more popular among women.

Pew also found significant differences in social media use across other demographic groups: Those with higher levels of education and those with higher incomes were found to be more likely to use social network sites.

Amazon is bringing the Echo to Italy and Spain

Alexa’s slow but steady march across the glob continues, as Amazon gets ready to bring the smart assistant to Italy and Spain later this year. The AI will be joined by the company’s own Echo devices, along with with third-party hardware from Bose and Sonos.

In the meantime, the Amazon’s opening the Alexa Skills Kit to developers in those countries. It’s also making the Alexa Voice Service developer preview available to hardware developers looking to build third-party devices using the assistant and throwing in an Echo device to the first 100 devs for good measure.

Just this month, the company added nearby France to the list of Alexa/Echo markets, joining the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia, India, New Zealand, Germany, Japan and Ireland. That manner of roll out takes time. In addition to priming the pump for developers, Alexa needs to be tweaked to learn not only a new language, but also accents, subtle linguistic nuances and local customs.

No word yet on the specific timeframe for launch, or which devices are coming to the aforementioned countries. France, for its part, got the Echo, Echo Dot and Echo Spot. Google meanwhile, has already added Italian support for Assistant and announced Home availability for Spain at I/O, along with Denmark, Korea, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.

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Amazon rolls out Hub delivery lockers to apartment buildings across the country

Hub by Amazon has been around for about a year now. The company introduced its package delivery lockers for apartment dwellers with little fanfare, as it no doubt worked out some of the kinks in the process. This morning, it seems, the company is finally ready to officially announce the product, as it begins rolling service out across the country.

The whole thing isn’t too different from what Amazon’s offered for a while with its locker delivery locations. Here, however, the bins are located inside of apartment buildings, with access available through a key pad. The idea is to save people from having to wait for a delivery from building staff or adjust their hours so they can be home to greet the delivery person.

As a resident of an apartment building who regularly finds himself greeted with a missed delivery slip and a long line at the local post office, it’s an idea I can get behind. And honestly, I’m not a huge fan of entrusting front door (or car) access to Amazon — or anyone else for that matter. How well the whole thing will handle irregularly sized packages, on the other hand, is another question entirely.

What’s really interesting in this whole bit of news is that it’s not an Amazon-only deal. The company says it will work with “deliveries from any sender.” So, why go with Amazon versus numerous other companies that offer similar services? No doubt the price is right on this one. Amazon’s always done a great job undercutting the competition, and Hub will no doubt be any different. It’s also providing 24 hour support for the system.

The company says the service is already available to 500k residents, with “thousands more” gaining access to one every month.