Tencent is launching its own version of Snap Spectacles

Some were surprised to see Snap release a second version of its ‘face-camera’ Spectacles gadget, since the original version failed to convert hype into sales.

But those lackluster sales — which dropped as low as 42,000 per quarter — didn’t only fail to dissuade the U.S. social firm from making more specs, because now Tencent, the Chinese internet giant and Snap investor, has launched its own take on the genre.

Tencent this week unveiled its answer to the video-recording sunglasses, which, you’ll notice, bear a striking resemblance to Snap’s Spectacles.

Called the Weishi smart glasses, Tencent’s wearable camera sports a lens in the front corner that allows users to film from a first-person perspective. Thankfully, the Chinese gaming and social giant has not made the mistake of Snap’s first-generation Spectacles, which highlighted the camera with a conspicuous yellow ring.

Tencent, which is best known for operating China’s massively popular WeChat messenger, has been an investor in Snap for some time after backing it long before it went public. But, when others have criticized the company and its share price struggled, Tencent doubled down. It snapped up an additional 12 percent stake one year ago and it is said to have offered counsel to Snap CEO Evan Spiegel on product strategy. We don’t know, however, if the two sides’ discussions have ever covered Spectacles and thus inspired this new Tencent take on then.

The purpose behind Tencent’s new gadget is implicit in its name. Weishi, which means “micro videos” in Chinese, is also the name of the short-video sharing app that Tencent has been aggressively promoting in recent months to catch up with market dominators TikTok and Kuaishou .

TikTok, known as Douyin in China, is part of the entertainment ecosystem that Beijing-based ByteDance is building. ByteDance also runs the popular Chinese news aggregator Toutiao and is poised to overtake Uber as the world’s most-valued tech startup when it closes its mega $3 billion funding round.

Weishi’s other potential rival Kuaishou is, interestingly, backed by Tencent. Kuaishou launched its own video-taking sunglasses in July.

Alongside the smart sunglasses, Tencent has also rolled out a Go Pro-like action camera that links to the Weishi app. Time will tell whether the gadgets will catch on and get more people to post on Weishi.

Snap Spectacles V1 (top) and V2

The spectacles will go on sale November 11, a date that coincides with Singles Day, the annual shopping spree that Tencent’s close rival Alibaba runs. Tencent does not make the gadget itself and instead has teamed up with Shenzhen-based Tonot, a manufacturer that claims to make “trendy” video-taking glasses. Tonot has also worked with Japan’s Line chat app on camera glasses.

“There isn’t really a demand for video-recording glasses,” says Mi Zou, a Beijing-based entrepreneur working on an AI selfie app. That’s because smart glasses are “not offering that much more to consumers than smartphones do,” she argues. Plus, a lot of people on apps like Douyin and Kuaishou love to take selfies, a need that smart glasses fail to fulfil.

“Tencent will have to work on its marketing. It could perhaps learn a few things from the Apple Watch, which successfully touts a geeky product as a fashionable accessory,” suggests Mi, who points out Snap Spectacles’ so-far dim reception.

Weishi had not responded to TechCrunch’s request for comment at the time of writing, but we’ll update this story with an additional information should the company provide it.

Baidu hits the gas on autonomous vehicles with Volvo and Ford deals

China’s search engine giant Baidu is continuing its partnership spree for Apollo, its open development platform for autonomous driving, after it inked a deal with Swedish automaker Volvo to develop level four self-driving passenger cars.

“Autonomous driving has been our dream, but it’s coming true,” said Li Zhenyu, vice president and general manager of Baidu’s intelligent driving group, at the company’s annual conference today. Level four means the vehicles can drive on pre-mapped roads with little or no human intervention.

The agreement came a day after Baidu and Ford forged an agreement to test self-driving vehicles on Chinese roads for two years. The American car giant’s self-driving system has already been fitted into Apollo, according to the duo’s joint statement.

baidu autonomous car

The Baidu-Red Flag autonomous passenger car

Baidu and Volvo, which is owned by China’s Geely, said they plan to mass produce the vehicles for the Chinese market, although there is no timeline for the promise. The deal marks Volvo’s first partnership to jointly develop autonomous vehicles in China. This is also the first time for Baidu to work with a non-Chinese automaker to mass produce level four passenger cars.

Over the past few months, Baidu has signed a number of Chinese carmakers including BAIC and Red Flag onto Apollo amid a global race to mass produce autonomous vehicles. As of July, the Apollo ecosystem counted 116 partners, up from 50 a year ago.

Baidu previously said its first batch of level four autonomous driving vehicles through the BAIC deal would be ready by 2021. Its level four minibuses with Xiamen King Long are already running in over ten locations throughout China, Baidu’s CEO Robin Li said during its Q3 earnings call on Tuesday.

Baidu has also been expanding its Apollo network by linking up with the government. On Tuesday, it announced a collaboration with the Chinese city of Changsha, which has over seven million residents, to apply self-driving solutions to the city’s roads. Baidu is also in talks with Beijing and Shanghai for a similar tie-up.

China’s Youon expands into Europe as other bike startups backpedal worldwide

A little known Chinese bike company is riding into Europe as its peer Ofo has applied the brakes to its global expansion strategy in recent months.

Youon, which gets by manufacturing public bikes for city governments across China, has formed a joint venture with UK-based bike-sharing startup Cycle.land, it says in a statement. The deal allows the Chinese firm to sit back in its headquarters in eastern China while its British partner deploys its bikes and takes care of on-the-ground operation.

Youon’s fleet of 1,000 public bikes will start appearing in London next March, making the UK the fourth country in its international expansion after Russia, India, and Malaysia.

Youon’s name may not ring a bell, but its subsidiary Hellobike is increasingly turning heads as its dockless bikes win over users in China’s smaller cities where its larger rivals Ofo and Mobike lack a presence. This is in part thanks to Hellobike’s partnership with its investor Ant Financial, Alibaba’s financial affiliate, which lets users skip Hellobike’s standalone app and access the service on Ant’s Alipay wallet, which has over 500 million MAUs.

While Hellobike’s mobile penetration recorded a 20 percent month-over-month increase (link in Chinese) in September, Mobike and Ofo barely saw any growth in the same period, according to data service provider Jiguang.

Away from home, Youon’s partnership approach is also noticeably different from that of Mobike and Ofo, which have chosen to run their own overseas operation. Teaming up with local players gives Youon insight into customers abroad, suggests market research firm Analysys.

“User behavior in Europe and North America is very different and it will be reckless for a [Chinese] firm to abruptly set up its own operations overseas,” Sun Naiyue, an analyst at Analysys, tells TechCrunch.

China’s Youon partnered with peer-to-peer bike-sharing startup Cycle.land to expand to the UK [Image via Youon]

Having a local ally also helps Youon avoid government protectionism and regulatory meddling in the foreign market, Sun adds. London has already greenlighted the company to place bikes in the city and the company will “follow local demand and rules to deploy bikes accordingly,” Cycle.land says of its partner.

Contrasting the prospects of Youon’s latest push is the bleak outlook of its peer. The past few months have seen Ofo retreat from its overseas markets to prioritize profitability. To date, Ofo has shut down in Australia, Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, India, Israel, and scaled back operation in a host of other countries.