FCC bans spending on Huawei, ZTE and other ‘national security threats’

The FCC has finally put the seal of approval on its plan to cut funding going to equipment from companies it deems a “national security threat,” currently an exclusive club of two: Huawei and ZTE.

No money from the FCC’s $8.5 billion Universal Service Fund, used to subsidize purchases to support the rollout of communications infrastructure, will be spent on equipment from these companies.

“We take these actions based on evidence in the record as well as longstanding concerns from the executive and legislative branches,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a statement. “Both companies have close ties to China’s Communist government and military apparatus. Both companies are subject to Chinese laws broadly obligating them to cooperate with any request from the country’s intelligence services and to keep those requests secret. Both companies have engaged in conduct like intellectual property theft, bribery, and corruption.”

The Chinese companies have faced federal scrutiny for years and vague suspicions of selling compromised hardware that the government there could take advantage of, but it was only at the beginning of 2019 that things began to heat up with the controversial arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou. The companies, it hardly needs mentioning, have vehemently denied all allegations.

Increasingly complicated relations between China and the U.S. generally compounded the difficulty of ZTE and Huawei operating in the States, as well as selling to or purchasing from American companies.

The FCC’s new rule was actually proposed well before things escalated, a fact that Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, though she supported the measure, emphasized.

“This is not hard,” she wrote in a statement accompanying the new rule. “It should not have taken us eighteen months to reach the conclusion that federal funds should not be used to purchase equipment that undermines national security.”

Working out the details may have been difficult, however, given the generally chaotic state of the federal government right now. For instance, one month this summer it was going to be illegal for U.S. firms to sell their products to Huawei — and then it wasn’t. Just yesterday several Senators wrote to protest the Department of Commerce issuing licenses to firms doing business with Huawei.

Furthermore, it may be a financial burden for smaller carriers to comply with these rules. There’s a plan for that, though, as Chairman Pai explained: “To mitigate the financial impact of this requirement, particularly on small, rural carriers, we propose to establish a reimbursement program to help offset the cost of transitioning to more trusted vendors.”

Another, earlier proposal, to make communications companies actively remove hardware purchased from those companies, was not considered at November’s open FCC meeting. I’ve asked the agency about this and will update if I hear back.

VTEX, an e-commerce platform used by Walmart, raises $140M led by SoftBank’s LatAm fund

E-commerce now accounts for 14% of all retail sales, and its growth has led to a rise in the fortunes of startups that build tools to enable businesses to sell online. In the latest development, a company called VTEX — which originally got its start in Latin America helping companies like Walmart expand their business to new markets with an end-to-end e-commerce service covering things like order and inventory management; front-end customer experience and customer service — has raised $140 million in funding, money that it will be using to continue taking its business deeper into more international markets.

The investment is being led by SoftBank, specifically via its Latin American fund, with participation also from Gávea Investimentos and Constellation Asset Management. Previous investors include Riverwood and Naspers, and Riverwood continues to be a backer, too, the company said.

Mariano Gomide, the CEO who co-founded VTEX with Geraldo Thomaz, said the valuation is not being disclosed, but he confirmed that the founders and founding team continue to hold more than 50% of the company. In addition to Walmart, VTEX customers include Levi’s, Sony, L’Oréal and Motorola . Annually, it processes some $2.4 billion in gross merchandise value across some 2,500 stores, growing 43% per year in the last five years.

VTEX is in that category of tech businesses that has been around for some time — it was founded in 1999 — but has largely been able to operate and grow off its own balance sheet. Before now, it had raised less than $13 million, according to PitchBook data.

This is one of the big rounds to come out of the relatively new SoftBank Innovation Fund, an effort dedicated to investing in tech companies focused on Latin America. The fund was announced earlier this year at $2 billion and has since expanded to $5 billion. Other Latin American companies that SoftBank has backed include online delivery business Rappi, lending platform Creditas, and proptech startup QuintoAndar.

The common theme among many SoftBank investments is a focus on e-commerce in its many forms (whether that’s transactions for loans or to get a pizza delivered) and VTEX is positioned as a platform player that enables a lot of that to happen in the wider marketplace, providing not just the tools to build a front end, but to manage the inventory, ordering and customer relations at the back end.

“VTEX has three attributes that we believe will fuel the company’s success: a strong team culture, a best-in-class product and entrepreneurs with profitability mindset,” said Paulo Passoni, managing investment partner at SoftBank’s Latin America fund, in a statement. “Brands and retailers want reliability and the ability to test their own innovations. VTEX offers both, filling a gap in the market. With VTEX, companies get access to a proven, cloud-native platform with the flexibility to test add-ons in the same data layer.”

Although VTEX has been expanding into markets like the US (where it acquired UniteU earlier this year), the company still makes some 80% of its revenues annually in Latin America, Gomide said in an interview.

There, it has been a key partner to retailers and brands interested in expanding into the region, providing integrations to localise storefronts, a platform to help brands manage customer and marketplace relations, and analytics, competing against the likes of SAP, Oracle, Adobe, and Salesforce (but not, he said in answer to my question, Commercetools, which builds Shopify -style API tools for mid- and large-sized enterprises and itself raised $145 million last month).

E-commerce, as we’ve pointed out before, is a business of economies of scale. Case in point, while VTEX processes some $2.5 billion in transactions annually, it makes a relative small return on that: $69 million, to be exact. This, plus the benefit of analytics on a wider set of big data (another economy of scale play), are two of the big reasons why VTEX is now doubling down on growth in newer markets like Europe and North America. The company now has 122 integrations with localised payment methods.

“At the end of the day, e-commerce software is a combination of knowledge. If you don’t have access to thousands of global cases you can’t imbue the software with knowledge,” Gomide said. “Companies that have been focused on one specific region and now realising that trade is a global thing. China has proven that, so a lot of companies are now coming to us because their existing providers of e-commerce tools can’t ‘do international.'” There are very few companies that can serve that global approach and that is why we are betting on being a global commerce platform, not just one focused on Latin America.”

Y Combinator abruptly shutters YC China

Prolific startup accelerator Y Combinator has abandoned plans to establish a branch of the program in China. The company cites a general change in strategy, but a deafening silence on the complexity and controversy of working with China right now suggests there’s more at play.

In a short blog post, YC leadership explained that “as we worked to establish YC China, we had a change in leadership,” viz. the replacement of CEO Sam Altman with Geoff Ralston in May. This apparently led to a complete about-face on YC’s China strategy.

Qi Lu, hired a little more than a year ago to lead the YC China effort, is departing to run his own program, MiraclePlus. And Chinese companies will still be welcome at Y Combinator “— but as part of our U.S. program.”

A Y Combinator representative confirmed that it has no involvement with MiraclePlus or Qi Lu whatsoever, and that the company will no longer have any local presence in China at all.

It’s hard to accept at face value this vague explanation for such a costly, high-profile retreat.

Altman said when announcing Qi’s hiring that he had been trying to recruit him “for years.” As for the program itself, Altman said that “China has been an important missing piece of our puzzle” and that they would be building “a long-term local organization that will combine the best of Silicon Valley and China.”

That there is no mention of the uncertain international politics and U.S.-China relations right now, nor the explosive situation in Hong Kong, or ongoing human rights issues elsewhere in the country, seems a deliberate choice to make this move seem as ordinary as possible. But those things are major questions for anyone looking to do business in China, and it’s hard to believe none had any bearing on the decision to abruptly pack up and leave a major enterprise behind.

It seems like with a company like Y Combinator, it would be easy enough to provide a modicum of transparency and say that there was a mismatch in culture, or the logistics weren’t working out, or they ended up forwarding too many of the companies to the YC prime location anyway.

Perhaps that information was not deemed material for a public statement, but it only leaves inquiring minds to speculate. Was there pressure from this or that quarter? Is the culture at YC changing? Are other Altman-era projects being abandoned? Did the company gain anything at all by this boondoggle?

For such a major endeavor by one of the most prominent tech communities in Silicon Valley, this highly guarded and obviously incomplete account of its total abandonment seems strange and inadequate. We’ll be looking into it further.

Ford Mustang Mach-E: 5 Tech and Design Details That Stood Out

Ford finally showed the world its highly anticipated all-electric crossover, the Mustang Mach-E. The vehicle, which was unveiled Sunday at the Hawthorne Airport and in Tesla’s backyard, marks a series of firsts for Ford and the Mustang badge.

It’s the first vehicle to come out of Team Edison, the automaker’s dedicated electric vehicle organization. It’s not only the first electric Mustang, it’s also an SUV. 

TechCrunch has had an up close look and ride in the Mach-E, the first variant of which will become available in fall 2020. While there’s a lot to highlight, here are some of the details that stood out.

Door handles

Ford went an entirely new direction with the door handles on the Mustang Mach-E. You won’t find any Tesla lookalike door handles here. The doors seem to be lacking handles at all. A closer look though reveals illuminated buttons on the B and C pillars. The front doors also have a small, protruding handle located just under the button to grab onto.

Pressing the button for the backdoor immediately pops it open just slightly. Then the passenger reaches into the ajar door to hit the latch. This might sound dangerous and apt for a crushed finger. Except there’s an immediate safety in place that doesn’t allow the door to close. TechCrunch tested it out.

Owners will be able to also use their smartphone to unlock the Mustang Mach-E. This phone as a key technology is new to Ford.

Tech tray

It’s a seemingly small detail, but so many automakers ignore that their customers have smartphones and want to put these devices somewhere other than a cup holder. Behold the tech tray, which has wireless charging pad.

The cup holders, located just below the tech tray, can be used to hold actual cups.

Infotainment system

The 15.5-inch screen will get a lot of attention, perhaps because its location and vertical placement is reminiscent of the Tesla Model S. But then there’s the physical dial placed on the bottom of the screen to control the volume.

Ford Mustang Mach-E screen

While not everyone will love this feature, it’s interesting how this dial came to be. Team Edison was assembled in 2017 to do more than create a new electric vehicle. It was created to do it differently and much faster than a typical vehicle program.

How the look and functionality of the infotainment system was developed is an example of this newfound nimbleness. A group of just over a dozen people with minimal oversight started with a research trip to China. Further customer research revealed that people wanted native apps in their car’s infotainment system and they didn’t want to learn anything new, Philip Mason, who is on Team Edison’s user experience, said during a backgrounder event prior to unveiling.

A prototype of physical dial was put together quickly — no fancy prototypes — and research groups responded positively.

The infotainment system is also cloud connected, allowing it to show traffic in real-time in navigation feature, has natural language, activated by one of four “wake words” like OK, Ford, and allows users to create personal profiles. The system learns the behavior and likes of the user over time.

And the entire system will be updated and improved via over-the-air software updates.

Vegan interior

Ford is hardly the first to move away from leather for its interior. Tesla has dropped leather and the Porsche Taycan is also vegan. Now the interior of the Mustang Mach-E also qualifies.

The synthetic material is among the better faux leather materials TechCrunch has come across. Even the steering wheel, a challenging area for synthetics, feels good.

Ford Mustang Mach-E interior

Frunk

A front trunk in an all-electric vehicle is nothing new. The Mustang Mach-E doesn’t have the biggest frunk on the market; it’s not the smallest either.

But there is something interesting about this 4.8-cubic-inch frunk. It’s drainable and plastic lined. Josh Greiner, senior interior designer on the Mach-E, was quick to note during a backgrounder prior to the unveiling that the frunk could be packed with ice and used while tailgating.

One more bonus item

Right above the steering wheel is a driver monitoring system. This might come in handy for the automaker’s eventual plans to offer a hands-free driver assist system in Mach-E.

Opera’s Africa fintech startup OPay gains $120M from Chinese investors

Africa focused fintech startup OPay has raised a $120 million Series B round backed by Chinese investors.

Located in Lagos and founded by consumer internet company Opera, OPay will use the funds to scale in Nigeria and expand its payments product to Kenya, Ghana and South Africa — Opera’s CFO Frode Jacobsen confirmed to TechCrunch.

Series B investors included Meituan-Dianping, GaoRong, Source Code Capital, Softbank Asia, BAI, Redpoint, IDG Capital, Sequoia China and GSR Ventures.

OPay’s $120 million round comes after the startup raised $50 million in June.

It also follows Visa’s $200 million investment in Nigerian fintech company Interswitch and a $40 million raise by Lagos based payments startup PalmPay — led by China’s Transsion.

There are a couple quick takeaways. Nigeria has become the epicenter for fintech VC and expansion in Africa. And Chinese investors have made an unmistakable pivot to African tech.

Opera’s activity on the continent represents both trends. The Norway based, Chinese (majority) owned company founded OPay in 2018 on the popularity of its internet search engine.

Opera’s web-browser has ranked No. 2 in usage in Africa, after Chrome, the last four years.

The company has built a hefty suite of internet-based commercial products in Nigeria around OPay’s financial utility. These include motorcycle ride-hail app ORide, OFood delivery service, and OLeads SME marketing and advertising vertical.

“Opay will facilitate the people in Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Kenya and other African countries with the best fintech ecosystem. We see ourselves as a key contributor to…helping local businesses…thrive from…digital business models,” Opera CEO and OPay Chairman Yahui Zhou, said in a statement.

Opera CFO Frode Jacobsen shed additional light on how OPay will deploy the $120 million across Opera’s Africa network. OPay looks to capture volume around bill payments and airtime purchases, but not necessarily as priority.  “That’s not something you do ever day. We want to focus our services on things that have high-frequency usage,” said Jacobsen.

Those include transportation services, food services, and other types of daily activities, he explained. Jacobsen also noted OPay will use the $120 million to enter more countries in Africa than those disclosed.

Since its Series A raise, OPay in Nigeria has scaled to 140,000 active agents and $10 million in daily transaction volume, according to company stats.

Beyond standing out as another huge funding round, OPay’s $120 million VC raise has significance for Africa’s tech ecosystem on multiple levels.

It marks 2019 as the year Chinese investors went all in on the continent’s startup scene. OPay, PalmPay, and East African trucking logistics company Lori Systems have raised a combined $240 million from 15 different Chinese actors in a span of months.

OPay’s funding and expansion plans are also harbinger for fierce, cross-border fintech competition in Africa’s digital finance space. Parallel events to watch for include Interswitch’s imminent IPO, e-commerce venture Jumia’s shift to digital finance, and WhatsApp’s likely entry in African payments.

The continent’s 1.2 billion people represent the largest share of the world’s unbanked and underbanked population — which makes fintech Africa’s most promising digital sector. But it’s becoming a notably crowded sector where startup attrition and failure will certainly come into play.

And not to be overlooked is how OPay’s capital raise moves Opera toward becoming a multi-service commercial internet platform in Africa.

This places OPay and its Opera-supported suite of products on a competitive footing with other ride-hail, food delivery and payments startups across the continent. That means inevitable competition between Opera and Africa’s largest multi-service internet company, Jumia.

 

 

 

 

 

China Roundup: Alibaba’s Hong Kong listing and Tencent’s new fuel

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch’s China Roundup, a digest of recent events shaping the Chinese tech landscape and what they mean to people in the rest of the world. The earnings season is here. This week, long-time archrivals in the Chinese internet battlefield — Alibaba and Tencent — made some big revelations about their future. First off, let’s look at Alibaba’s long-awaited secondary listing and annual shopping bonanza.

Forget about the number

It’s that time of year. On November 11, Alibaba announced it generated $38.4 billion worth of gross merchandise value during the annual Single’s Day shopping festival, otherwise known as Double 11. It smashed the record and grabbed local headlines again, but the event means little other than a big publicity win for the company and showcasing the art of drumming up sales.

GMV is often used interchangeably with sales in e-commerce. That’s problematic because the number takes into account all transactions, including refunded items, and it’s by no means reflective of a company’s actual revenue. There are numerous ways to juice the figure, too, as I wrote last year. Presales began days in advance, incentives were doled out to spur last-minute orders and no refunds could be processed until November 12.

Even Jiang Fan, the boss of Alibaba’s e-commerce business and the youngest among Alibaba’s 38 most important decision-makers, downplayed the number: “I never worry about transaction volumes. Numbers don’t matter. What’s most important is making Single’s Day fun and turning it into a real festival.”

Indeed, Alibaba put together another year of what’s equivalent to the Super Bowl halftime show. Taylor Swift and other international big names graced the stage as the evening gala was live-streamed and watched by millions across the globe.

Returning home

Alibaba is going ahead with its secondary listing in Hong Kong on the heels of reports that it could delay the sale due to ongoing political unrest in the city-state. The company is cash-rich, but listing closer to its customers can potentially ease some of the pressure arising from a new era of volatile U.S.-China relationships.

Alibaba is issuing 500 million new shares with an additional over-allotment option of 75 million shares for international underwriters, it said in a company blog. Reports have put the size of its offering between $10 billion and $15 billion, down from the earlier rumored $20 billion.

The giant has long expressed it intends to come home. In 2014, the e-commerce behemoth missed out on Hong Kong because the local exchange didn’t allow dual-class structures, a type of organization common in technology companies that grants different voting rights for different stocks. The giant instead went public in New York and raised the largest initial public offering in history at $25 billion.

“When Alibaba Group went public in 2014, we missed out on Hong Kong with regret. Hong Kong is one of the world’s most important financial centers. Over the last few years, there have been many encouraging reforms in Hong Kong’s capital market. During this time of ongoing change, we continue to believe that the future of Hong Kong remains bright. We hope we can contribute, in our small way, and participate in the future of Hong Kong,” said chairman and chief executive Daniel Zhang in a statement.

Missing out on Alibaba had also been a source of remorse for the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong. Charles Li, chief executive of the HKEX, admitted that losing Alibaba to New York had compelled the bourse to reform. The HKEX has since added dual-class shares and attracted Chinese tech upstarts such as smartphone maker Xiaomi and local services platform Meituan Dianping.

Tencent’s new fuel

Content and social networks have been the major revenue drivers for Tencent since its early years, but new initiatives are starting to gain ground. In the third quarter ended September 30, Tencent’s “fintech and business services” unit, which includes its payments and cloud services, became the firm’s second-largest sales avenue trailing the long-time cash cow of value-added services, essentially virtual items sold in games and social networks.

Payments, in particular, accounted for much of the quarterly growth thanks to increased daily active consumers and number of transactions per user. That’s good news for the company, which said back in 2016 that financial services would be its new focus (in Chinese) alongside content and social. The need to diversify became more salient in recent times as Tencent faces stricter government controls over the gaming sector and intense rivalry from ByteDance, the new darling of advertisers and owner of TikTok and Douyin.

Tencent also broke out revenue for cloud services for the first time. The unit grew 80% year-on-year to rake in 4.7 billion yuan ($670 million) and received a great push as the company pivoted to serve more industrial players and enterprises. Alibaba’s cloud business still leads the Chinese market by a huge margin, with revenue topping $1.3 billion during the September quarter.

Also worth your attention…

Luckin Coffee, the Chinese startup that began as a Starbucks challenger, is starting to look more like a convenient store chain with delivery capacities as it continues to increase store density (a combination of seated cafes, pickup stands and delivery kitchens) and widen product offerings to include a growing snack selection. Though bottom-line loss continued in the quarter, store-level operating profit swung to $26.1 million from a loss in the prior-year quarter. 30 million customers have purchased from Luckin, marking an increase of 413.4% from 6 million a year ago.

Minecraft is on the brink of 300 million registered users in China, its local publisher Netease announced at an event this week. That’s a lot of players, but not totally unreasonable given the game is free-to-play in the country with in-game purchases, so users can easily own multiple accounts. Outside China, the game has sold over 180 million paid copies, according to gaming analyst Daniel Ahmed from Niko Partners.

Xiaomi founder Lei Jun is returning a huge favor by backing a long-time friend. Xpeng Motors, the Chinese electric vehicle startup financed by Alibaba and Foxconn, has received $400 million in capital from a group of backers who weren’t identified except Xiaomi, which became its strategic investor. The marriage would allow Xpeng cars to tap Xiaomi’s growing ecosystem of smart devices, but the relationship dates further back. Lei was an early investor in UCWeb, a browser company founded by He and acquired by Alibaba in 2014. A day after Xiaomi’s began trading in Hong Kong in mid-2018, He wrote on his WeChat feed that he had bought $100 million worth of Xiaomi shares (in Chinese) in support of his old friend.

PalmPay launches in Nigeria on $40M round led by China’s Transsion

Africa focused payment startup PalmPay has launched in Nigeria after raising a $40 million seed-round led by Chinese mobile-phone maker Transsion.

The investment came via Transsion’s Tecno subsidiary, with participation from China’s NetEase and Taiwanese wireless comms hardware firm Mediatek a Transsion spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch.

PalmPay had piloted its mobile fintech offering in Nigeria since July, before going live today at a launch in Lagos.

The startup aims to become Africa’s largest financial services platform, according to a statement. 

As part of the investment, PalmPay enters a strategic partnership with mobile brands Tecno, Infinix, and Itel that includes pre-installation of the startup’s app on 20 million phones in 2020.

The UK headquartered venture — that was also founded with Chinese seed investment — offers a package of mobile based financial services, including no fee payment options, bill pay, rewards programs, and discounted airtime.

In Nigeria, PalmPay will offer 10% cashback on airtime purchases and bank transfer rates as low as 10 Naira ($.02).

In addition to Nigeria, PalmPay will use the $40 million seed funding to grow its financial services business in Ghana. The payments startup has plans to expand to additional countries in 2020, PalmPay CEO Greg Reeve told TechCrunch on a call.

PalmPay received its approval from the Nigerian Central Bank as a licensed mobile money operator in July. During its pilot phase, the payments venture registered 100,000 users and processed 1 million transactions, according to a company spokesperson.

With its payments focus, the startup enters Africa’s most promising digital sector, but also one that has become notably competitive and crowded  — particularly in the continent’s largest economy and most populous nation of Nigeria. 

By a number of estimates, Africa’s 1.2 billion people represent the largest share of the world’s unbanked and underbanked population.

An improving smartphone and mobile-connectivity profile for Africa (see GSMA) turns this scenario into an opportunity for mobile-based financial products.

That’s why hundreds of startups are descending on Africa’s fintech space, looking to offer scalable solutions for the continent’s financial needs. By stats offered WeeTracker, fintech now receives the bulk of VC capital and deal-flow to African startups.

Nigeria has multiple new digital-payments entrants — see Chippercash — and several firmly rooted later stage fintech players, such as Paga and recently confirmed unicorn Interswitch.

PalmPay CEO Greg Reeves believes the company can compete in Nigeria and across Africa based on several strategic advantages. A big one is the startup’s support from Transsion and partnership with Tecno.

Transsion Tecno Store Africa“On channel and access, we’re going to be pre-installed on all Tecno phones. Your’e gonna find us in the Tecno stores and outlets. So we get an immediate channel and leg up in any market we operate in,” said Reeve.

Tecno’s owner and PalmPay’s lead investor, Transsion, is the largest seller of smartphones in Africa and maintains a manufacturing facility in Ethiopia. The company raised nearly $400 million in a Shanghai IPO in September and plans to spend roughly $300 million of that on new R&D and manufacturing capabilities in Africa and globally.

In addition to Transsion’s support and network, Reeves names PalmPay’s partnership with Visa . “We signed a strategic alliance with Visa so now I can deliver Visa products on top of my wallet, link my wallet to Visa products and give access to someone who’s completely unbanked to the whole of the Visa network,” he said.

Another strategic advantage PalmPay may have as a newcomer in Africa’s fintech space is Reeve’s leadership experience. He comes to the CEO position after serving as Vodaphone’s global head of M-Pesa — one of the world’s most recognized mobile-money products. Reeve was also a GM for Millicom‘s fintech products across Africa and Latin America.

“I’ve had my fingers in mobile financial services for the last 10 years,” he said.

Reeve confirmed that PalmPay has local teams (and is hiring) in Nigeria and Ghana.

With the company’s launch and $40 million raise — which is potentially the largest seed-round for an Africa focused startup in 2019 — PalmPay’s bid to gain digital payment market share is on.

The Transsion led investment also serves as a big bold marker for China’s pivot to African tech in 2019. It follows several big moves by Chinese actors in the continent’s digital space.

These include Opera’s $50 million investment in multiple online verticals in Nigeria and a major investment by Chinese investors in trucking logistics startup Lori Systems this week.

Chinese EV startup Xpeng Motors raises $400 million, takes on Xiaomi as strategic investor

Xpeng Motors, the Chinese electric vehicle startup backed by Alibaba and Foxconn, has raised a fresh injection of $400 million in capital and has taken on Xiaomi as a strategic investor, the company announced.

The Series C includes an unidentified group of strategic and institutional investors. XPeng Motors Chairman and CEO He Xiaopeng, who also participated in the Series C, said the received strong support from many of its current shareholders. Xiaomi founder and CEO Lei Jun previously invested in the company.

“Xiaomi Corporation and Xpeng Motors have achieved significant progress through in-depth collaboration in developing technologies connecting smart phones and smart cars,” Xiaomi’s Jun said in a statement. “We believe that this strategic investment will further deepen our partnership with Xpeng in advancing innovation for intelligent hardware and the Internet of Things.”

The company didn’t disclose what its post-money valuation is now. However, a source familiar with the deal said it is “better” than the 25 billion yuan valuation it had in its last round in August 2018.

The announcement confirms an earlier report from Reuters that cited anonymous sources.

XPeng also said it has garnered “several billions” in Chinese yuan of unsecured credit lines from institutions such as China Merchants Bank, China CITIC Bank and HSBC. XPeng didn’t elaborate when asked what “several billions” means.

Brian Gu, Xpeng Motors Vice Chairman and President added that the company has been able to hit most of its business and financing targets despite economic headwinds, uncertainties in the global markets and government policy changes that have had direct impact on overall auto sales in China.

The round comes as XPeng prepares to launch its electric P7 sedan in spring 2020. Deliveries of the P7 are expected to begin in the second quarter of 2020.

Xpeng began deliveries of its first production model the G3 2019 SUV in December and shipped 10,000 models by mid-June. The company has since released an enhanced version of the G3 with a 520 km NEDC driving range.

The company plans to launch the P7 sedan in the spring 2020 and will start delivery in 2Q 2020.

XPeng has said it wants to IPO, but it’s unclear when the company might file to become a public company. No specific IPO timetable has been set and a spokesperson said the company is monitoring market conditions closely, but its current focus is on building core businesses.

This Week in Apps: Photoshop for iPad bombs, Google Play’s new rewards program, iOS bug fixes

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support, and the money that flows through it all. What are the developers talking about? What Do app publishers and marketers need to know? How is international politics playing out in the App Store? What apps is everyone using?

As November kicks off, we’re looking at a number of big apps launches from Microsoft and Adobe — as well as what went wrong. We’re also looking at the iOS bug-squashing release, a bunch of data about app install trends around the world, Google Play’s new loyalty program and what it means for developers, the continued scrutiny of Chinese apps by the U.S. government, and more.

Fast Facts

eMarketer remindS us that it recently put out a big report on app installs with a ton of insights. It’s actually been live for a few months, but ICYMI, here are some of the key data points and highlights:

  • The average iPhone user in the U.S. downloaded 47 apps in 2018, up from 44 in 2017.
  • The average number of apps installed is rising — up 15% from 2016. In the U.S., Japan, South Korea, and Australia, users had more than 100 apps downloaded in 2018.
  • Smartphone users spend the most time using their top 5 apps. In 2017, the top 5 accounted for 87% of usage. Now (Apr. 2019) it’s 83%. The No. 1 app had a 49% share of the time spent, now it’s 44%.
  • The number of smartphone users in the U.S. will grow just 3% in 2019, compared with 13.2% in India and 12.1% in Indonesia.
  • Related, app downloads grew 165% in India from 2016 to 2018. In China, 70%. In Indonesia, 55%. And in Brazil, 25%. The U.S. app downloads grew just 5%.
  • In June 2019, the App Store had 1.8 million apps compared with Google Play’s 3.1 million.
  • 43% of iOS app install referrals came from Facebook properties, and only 6.6% came from Google properties.
  • Apple Search Ads drove 12% of non-organic installs in May 2019.
  • In-app video ads outperform display ads. Install-to-register rates for video were 35.1% in Q1
    2019 on the Liftoff network, compared with 28.5% for display ads.
  • App engagement drop-off rates after day one are the biggest in shopping apps. (25% engagement after the first day, but 8% at 30 days). Travel also sees a big drop-off. (20% after the first day and 6% after 30 days).

Headlines

iOS Bug Squashing: Apple fixed the iOS bug that killed your background apps. Apple this week finally squashed a very annoying bug in iOS 13 that made the OS overly aggressive about killing background apps and tasks. Apps like Safari, YouTube, Overcast and others were impacted, leading users to lose emails or the video they were watching just when they switched away for a few seconds. What Apple can’t fix is a growing concern that Apple has “lost the plot” following a series of extremely buggy software updates across its product line, which made users hesitant to upgrade to macOS Catalina, and bricked people’s HomePods.

Google admits it can’t secure the Play Store on its own: Google this week announced partnerships with security firms ESET, Lookout, and Zimperium to form what it has branded the “App Defense Alliance.” The goal, the company says, is to unite the security industry to fight malicious apps across Android’s ecosystem of 2.5 billion devices. Basically, Google will integrate its own detection systems with each partner’s scanning engine to help it uncover potential risks and threats. However, the fact that Google is now essentially outsourcing security to a partner ecosystem is an admission of failure, to some extent, about its abilities to keep the Play Store free from bad actors on its own. (But of course, we all knew that already, right?)

Photoshop for iPad is tanking: Adobe released its most important mobile app ever with this week’s launch of Photoshop for iPad. But fans panned the app because it’s missing several key features. Like RAW support! The app now has 2 stars out of 5…yikes. So what went wrong?

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Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 starts shipping

Earlier this year, at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Microsoft announced the second generation of its HoloLens augmented reality visor. Today, the $3,500 HoloLens 2 is going on sale in the United States, Japan, China, Germany, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Australia and New Zealand, the same countries where it was previously available for pre-order.

Ahead of the launch, I got to spend some time with the latest model, after a brief demo in Barcelona earlier this year. Users will immediately notice the larger field of view, which still doesn’t cover your full field of view, but offers a far better experience compared to the first version (where you often felt like you were looking at the virtual objects through a stamp-sized window).

The team also greatly enhanced the overall feel of wearing the device. It’s not light, at 1.3 pounds, but with the front visor that flips up and the new mounting system that is far more comfortable.

In regular use, existing users will also immediately notice the new gestures for opening up the Start menu (this is Windows 10, after all). Instead of a ‘bloom’ gesture, which often resulted in false positives, you now simply tap on the palm of your hand, where a Microsoft logo now appears when you look at it.

Eye tracking, too, has been greatly improved and works well, even over large distances, and the new machine learning model also does a far better job at tracking all of your fingers. All of this is powered by a lot of custom hardware, including Microsoft’s second-generation ‘holographic processing unit.’

Microsoft has also enhanced some of the cloud tools it built for HoloLens, including Azure Spatial Anchors that allow for persistent holograms in a given space that anybody else who is using a holographic app can then see in the same spot.

Taken together, all of the changes result in a more comfortable and smarter device, with reduced latencies when you look at the various objects around you and interact with them.