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Facebook tests App Store rules, Apple fights sideloading, Netflix games go global – TechCrunch

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Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app industry continues to grow, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020. Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.

This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and suggestions about new apps and games to try, too.

Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters

Google Play to allow support for alternative billing systems in South Korea

Following the passage of the so-called “anti-Google law” in South Korea, Google says it will comply with the new mandate by giving Android app developers on Google Play the ability to offer alternative payment systems alongside Google’s own. The legislation represents the first time a government has been able to force app stores to open up to third-party payment systems for in-app purchases — a change that could impact both app stores’ revenues, as developers look to skirt the tech giants’ commissions.

Image Credits: Google

In a blog post this week, Google says developers in South Korea will be able to add an alternative in-app billing system in addition to Google Play’s billing system for their mobile and tablet users in the country. At checkout, users will be able to choose which billing system they want to use for their purchase. Details for developers about how to implement the third-party billing systems will be provided in the weeks ahead, Google said.

The situation in South Korea is interesting as something of a bellwether for how Apple and Google will behave if required by a country to change their app store businesses to promote better competition. In Apple’s case, the company is claiming its current policies are already in compliance based on how the law is written, and has not yet made any changes to its policies related to the matter.

Facebook skirts Apple’s fees with creator subscriptions

Facebook is challenging Apple by avoiding App Store fees. The social network this week introduced a new feature that allows creators to share custom subscription links, giving them a way to collect direct payments from fans and make money from their work. When a fan signs up through the link, the creator keeps all the money, minus only taxes. As the links are on the web, these subscriptions aren’t being processed through Apple’s in-app payments system — which could be in possible violation of App Store policies.

But Facebook believes that these links are compliant because it’s the creators who are generating the revenue, not Facebook itself. Plus, the company isn’t removing the ability for users to sign up for a creator subscription through the native in-app payments system.

Image Credits: Facebook screenshot

This would also be in line with the recent decision in the Epic Games lawsuit, where the court ruled that Apple can’t stop developers from adding links to alternative payment systems inside their apps alongside Apple’s own. Currently, Apple is in the process of asking the court to not enforce the deadline on compliance with its decision, as the case is now under appeal by both parties.

Facebook may be correct that it’s not breaking the rules, so long as it’s not taking a cut of transactions. Clubhouse earlier this year launched a similar payments feature that allowed users to virtually tip their favorite creators. Because creators kept all the revenue (minus only the card processing fee), Apple did not intervene.

But further down the road, Facebook could find a way to capture some of that subscription revenue — either by a cut of the payment itself, or via the payment processing fees with Novi, or even both. The company’s digital wallet platform Novi has only so far launched limited support for cross-border payments between the U.S. and Guatemala (and has been criticized for failing to live up to its original crypto ambitions). But Novi’s long-term plan is to monetize by offering lower fees than credit and debit cards, compared with traditional providers. Facebook could easily get Novi in front of creators, if it chose. First, however, it has to get its foot in the door and start the payment flow without being blocked by Apple. (Facebook said it won’t collect any fees through 2023.)

Facebook and Apple have been critical of each other’s business models, with Facebook accusing Apple of using its privacy changes as cover to allow itself to carve out a place for itself in the digital advertising business where Facebook and Google lead. CEO Mark Zuckerberg made no bones about the fact that Facebook believes Apple’s commissions are bad for creators, saying: “As we build for the metaverse, we’re focused on unlocking opportunities for creators to make money from their work,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post. “The 30% fees that Apple takes on transactions make it harder to do that, so we’re updating our Subscriptions product so now creators can earn more.”

Apple rails against sideloading

Apple’s head of software engineering Craig Federighi gave a keynote address at the Web Summit 2021 conference this week where he spoke out against the idea of “sideloading” apps — meaning, simply, installing an app outside of Apple’s App Store. The speech was given in response to the EU’s draft legislation that proposes Apple open up iPhone to third-party app stores. He argued Apple’s position on the matter, which is that sideloading will put users’ privacy and security at risk and that Apple’s App Store’s vetting process will better protect users.

“Instead of creating choice, it would open up a Pandora’s box of unreviewed malware-ridden software and deny everyone the option of iPhone’s secure approach,” he said. At one point he called apps installed from the web, “a cybercriminal’s best friend,” and painted a picture of how compromised devices could become networks, and malware could threaten government systems, public utilities and enterprises.

Apple is, to some extent, correct that allowing users to download apps from the web could weaken the current state of iPhone security. But, by comparison, Google’s Android already offers sideloading — and it hasn’t so far toppled governments! — even if Android users face more malware issues than their iPhone counterparts. But one issue with Apple’s response is that it blurs the lines between third-party app stores and other forms of sideloading where users install directly from a website. Presumably, a competitive app store would be incentivized to keep its marketplace safe in order to attract and retain its own users. A random app hosted on some website is not the same thing at all.

Apple knows the real threat isn’t to security — after all, the majority of Android users don’t sideload — it’s to its reputation and business model. Customers hitting up the Epic Games Store for downloads or maybe a Facebook Game Store would cut into its revenues significantly. And every time new malware was discovered “sideloaded” onto iPhones, Apple would take a PR hit that would make its platform seem just as vulnerable as Android, losing an advantage it has today over its rival due to being more locked down.

This isn’t the first time Apple has spoken out against sideloading so publicly. CEO Tim Cook already said something similar in June. Apple also recently published a 31-page document laying out its position in detail.

Platforms: Apple

  • TestFlight launched on the Mac App Store, allowing developers to now test apps that work across Apple’s platforms, not just on mobile devices.
  • An Apple job posting is looking for a senior iOS engineer for Apple Music, but referenced the yet-to-be public OS name of “homeOS” as one of the platforms Apple is building for. Presumably, this refers to Apple’s HomePod, which runs a modified version of iOS, but may be getting a rebrand.

Platforms: Google

Image Credits: Google

User voting for the Google Play Best of 2021 opened globally this week. Until November 17, Google Play users will have the opportunity to vote on their favorite apps and games of the year. The winners of the Users’ Choice awards and the Best of 2021 picks from the Google Play editorial team will be announced on November 30.

E-commerce & Food Delivery

  • DoorDash rolled out an in-app safety kit called SafeDash, which offers drivers in larger markets the ability to call an ADT agent if they’re in a situation where they feel unsafe, who can escalate the call to 911 if the Dasher becomes unresponsive for a period of time. It also includes an in-app 911 button. Dashers, however, argue that they want more protection, including being able to choose their delivery areas and not face penalties for choosing their safety over completing a delivery.

Fintech

Image Credits: Cash App

  • Square Inc. opened up its Cash App to teens ages 13 to 17 with parental oversight. The teens can custom their own Cash card and take advantage of features like P2P payments, ATM access and paycheck direct deposit. However, in addition to spending restrictions by category, teens can’t use features like Borrow, Check Deposit, Paper Money Deposit, cross-border payments or Bitcoin or stock investing. Parents are legal owners of the account, have access to statements and can close the account at any time. The expansion may give Cash App, which has 70 million users, a better shot at passing Venmo, which is still 18 and up and has 76 million users.
  • Square Inc. also reported disappointing Q3 earnings due to a drop in Bitcoin-related revenue from Cash App compared with the prior period, sending shares down. Revenue from Bitcoin rose 11% YoY to $1.81 billion, lower than the previous quarter’s total of $2.72 billion and lower than the 200% growth in Bitcoin revenue in Q2. Total revenue was up 27% YoY to $3.84 billion with EPS of 37 cents, versus analyst expectations of $4.39 billion and 38 cents.
  • The top five worldwide crypto apps saw a combined 46 million installs in Q3, said App Annie. These include PayPal, Biance, Crypto.com, Metamask and Coinbase.

Image Credits: App Annie

Social

  • Twitter and Instagram buried the hatchet as Instagram brought back Twitter Card preview support for posts, meaning users will see a small photo when they tweet an Instagram link. Instagram had removed this support back in 2012, in retaliation for Twitter’s removal of access to its social graph.
  • Twitter also this week introduced a way for users to tune into Spaces without a Twitter account, updated its API, and more.
  • Pinterest reported strong profits during its Q3 earnings, with revenue of $633 million versus $630.9 million expected, adjusted EPS of 28 cents versus 23 cents expected, and ARPU of $1.41 versus $1.38 expected. However, one area where the company is not doing well is user growth. In fact, Pinterest, for the second quarter in a row, reported a decline in monthly users, 444 million versus 460 million expected, and down from the 454 million in the prior quarter. The company didn’t discuss the recent reports of a potential acquisition by PayPal.
  • ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming stepped down as chairman after previously resigning as CEO, and is being replaced by new CEO Liang Rubo on the board. Shouzi Chew will also step down as CFO, as part of a larger restructuring that will establish six business units dedicated to various areas, including Douyin, TikTok, Dali Education, Lark (office collaboration), BytePlus (cloud) and Nuverse (gaming). The changes follow a crackdown on China’s tech industry, which sees the app maker moving away from content and entertainment to focus more on its work and cloud offerings. The CEO isn’t the only one to retreat this past week. Kuaishou’s CEO Su Hua did as well.
  • Instagram rolled out an “Add Yours” sticker in Stories that lets users create threads that others can respond to, like “show me your #OOTD, for example. The feature is reminiscent of TikTok’s Duets feature, but more organized as users can see all the responses in one place.
  • Snap partnered with NBCU to gain access to a suite of audio clips that its users can insert into their Snaps, including those sent to friends on posted to Spotlight.
  • Facebook Groups got a huge update, including new personalization features, support for subgroups and even paid subgroups, chat and other tools for generating revenue. Admins will be able to change the group’s colors, post backgrounds, fonts and emoji that members use to react to its content. They’ll also be able to use feature sets to select from preset collections of posts, formats, badges, admin tools and more. Groups can also have subgroups that can be subscription-based, and moderators can enter real-time chats to discuss the group’s content, among other changes.

Image Credits: Facebook

Photos

  • The founders of the photo app Phhhoto have filed an antitrust lawsuit against Facebook, claiming the company’s execs, including Mark Zuckerberg and Instagram founder Kevin Systrom, downloaded their app and approached them about a deal that never materialized. Instead, Facebook launched a clone of Phhhoto’s features and suppressed Phhhoto’s content within Instagram, the suit alleges. The now-defunct app was founded in 2012 and allowed users to edit photos together into looping videos and became popular for a time with celebs including Beyoncé, Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry trying it out.

Messaging

  • WhatsApp began beta testing a new, cloud-based version of its WhatsApp Business API, hosted on parent company Facebook’s infrastructure. With the shift to the cloud, the setup time for integrating with the API will drop from weeks to only minutes, the company claims, so businesses can more quickly transition to WhatsApp’s API platform to communicate with their customers who have opted in to receive their messages.

Dating

  • Match Group detailed its plans for a dating “metaverse” and Tinder’s upcoming virtual goods-based economy during its weaker-than-expected Q3 earnings. The company’s long-term vision for Tinder and Explore, which will expand to include exclusive, shared and live experiences and a virtual goods-based economy, supported by Tinder’s new in-app currency, Tinder Coins. It also talked broadly about its larger plans for leveraging Hyperconnect, the Seoul-based social app maker it acquired for $1.73 billion earlier in 2021, which is now testing an avatar-based metaverse experience, where users interact with audio and meet in virtual spaces.
  • In the meantime, Tinder is bringing back Swipe Night. It relaunches on November 7 at 6 PM as a whodunit-style murder mystery.

Streaming & Entertainment

  • A new Streaming Report from Apptopia found that HBO Max was the most downloaded streaming app on U.S. mobile devices so far in 2021, with 38 million installs, and has the second-highest number of MAUs. Disney+ had 29 million installs in the first three quarters of the year, followed by Netflix with 28 million, Tubi (22.7 million) and Hulu (22.6 million).
  • Spotify partnered with Peloton to launch new playlists in a “Curated by Peloton” section within the app’s “Workout Hub.” The section will feature seven rotating playlists from Peloton instructors and will offer a quiz that will help match users to an instructor who shares their musical tastes.
  • Clubhouse added 13 new languages in an effort to reach more global users. The new additions include French, German, Hindi, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Kannada, Korean, Malayalam, Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish, Tamil and Telugu.

Gaming

Netflix tests mobile gaming, netflix app, Android Netflix app

Image Credits: Netflix

  • Netflix released its mobile lineup of games to all Android users worldwide. The full lineup includes two “Stranger Things” games and three casual games that were currently tested in select markets. Now, all the games will be made available from a dedicated Games tab in the mobile app which directs users to install the titles from the Play Store. Upon first launch, Netflix members will have to sign in to the games using their Netflix account info. The company’s broader plans include more mobile releases (it bought Night School Studio, for example), including those not tied to Netflix TV shows or movies, seeing gaming as just another entertainment option for users.
  • Niantic’s “Harry Potter: Wizards Unite” is shutting down. The AR gaming title was meant to be the next big hit from the Pokémon Go maker, but didn’t find the same level of success, generating $39.4 million in consumer spend to date following its 2019 launch. Pokémon Go, by comparison, pulled in $1.1 billion in 2020 alone. The game will become unplayable on January 31, 2022 and is being pulled from app stores on December 6.
  • In other gaming closures, Nintendo is officially discontinuing Dr. Mario World for iOS. Nintendo has shut down other mobile games in the past, including Miitomo, Pokémon Duel and Pokémon Rumble Rush, and it’s stopping updating Pokémon Shuffle Mobile and Pokémon Magikarp Jump.
  • Roblox (and now, Meta) rival Rec Room says it now has over 1 million MAUs on VR, and that October 2021 delivered the company’s highest YoY user growth rate to date (up 400%). The company wouldn’t share other metrics, but it’s still a long way off from Roblox and its 43.3 million DAUs.
  • Epic Games said it’s shutting down its test of Fortnite in China amid Beijing’s crackdown on the tech industry and gaming. The game will no longer be available as of November 15 and is not accepting any more users.
  • Last week’s three-day Roblox outage over Halloween benefitted other popular gaming apps, according to data from Sensor Tower. The firm found Minecraft’s usage saw a 2% week-over-week boost, and Among Us jumped 6%. Among Us also saw 19% more installs from the day prior the outage. Twitch usage was also up (but that could have been from other factors, too).
  • The Backbone One iPhone controller updated its companion application with new features like a smart recording mode that lets you retroactively record the last 15 seconds of gameplay, improved video quality (now 1080p 60 FPS on iOS 15), the ability to automatically switch into a “Gaming” Focus mode on iOS 15, sharing your screen directly with friends, improved game search, better load times and stability, and more. Users will also now be able to hardwire their controller to other devices like iPads, Macs, and PCs.

Image Credits: Backbone

Travel & Transportation

  • Uber reported revenue up 72% YoY to $4.8 billion versus $4.4 billion expected and a loss per share of $1.28 versus 33 cents expected. The company’s Didi stake contributed to a net loss of $2.4 billion in the quarter, but Uber also reported its first-ever adjusted EBITDA profit (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) of $8 million up from a loss of $507 million in the prior quarter.

Health & Fitness

  • Peloton, during earnings, said Apple’s privacy changes led to some “targeting headwinds” that were disrupting its business. The company joins others, like Facebook and Snap, that claimed similar issues in their latest earnings. Peloton said it would cut its annual revenue forecast by $1 billion, saying that modeling its future growth had been difficult due to COVID, and now exiting from the pandemic, the outlook needed to be updated.

Government & Policy

  • Apple is fighting back against a $1.3 billion antitrust penalty in France over what regulators believed were anti-competitive agreements with two wholesalers of iPads and Macs, hurting premium resellers in the process while favoring its own stores and website. Apple also took action to force resellers to provide the same pricing as its store, among other things. Although Apple is already under regulatory scrutiny over its App Store business in global markets, it’s clear there are other areas where regulators want to hold it accountable, as well.

? South Korean mobile payments app Kakao Pay more than doubled in its IPO, popping more than 150% in early trading. The company raised 1.53 trillion won ($1.3 billion), giving it a market cap of more than 11.7 trillion won.

? Philippine fintech Mynt raised $300 million in a round co-led by Warburg Pincus and Insight Partners that values its business at over $2 billion. The company is the fintech arm of Globe Telcom and the operator of the mobile wallet app GCash, which saw GTV of over $20 billion last year.

? Mumbai-based neobank Fi raised $50 million in a round led by Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin’s B Capital, valuing its business at $315 million. The service offers working professional free savings accounts which are owned by Federal Bank.

? Chipper Cash, an African cross-border payments app, raised $150 million in a Series C extension round led by Sam Bankman-Fried’s cryptocurrency exchange platform FTX. The new funds come barely six months after the startup closed its first Series C round of $100 million, led by SVB Capital.

? Play, a native iOS product design tool that works on the iPhone, announced it has raised $9.1 million in seed rounds led by First Round Capital and including Oceans Ventures, which took place over the past year and in 2020.

? When I Work, a messaging and scheduling app for shift-based workers, raised $200 million in a growth round from Bain Capital Tech Opportunities, with participation from Arthur Ventures. The app is used by around 10 million hourly workers in the U.S. across some 200,000 businesses, the company claims.

Zynga’s FarmVille 3

Twelve years after the franchise debuted on Facebook, Zynga has introduced Farmville 3 on iOS, Android and Mac M1 desktops. The new imagining of the game for mobile devices evolves Farmville into more of a “metaverse,” the company claims, allowing players to not just harvest crops, but also nurture animals and participate in continuously updated new activities like hot air balloon rides or pig races, among other things.

“From the very first time I thought of FarmVille, I thought that could be the beginning of the metaverse where you could start with a square plot of dirt and build that into a persistent connected world. That was my original vision for Zynga and social gaming,” said Zynga founder Mark Pincus. The game will generate revenue through in-app purchases and ads, aiming for $100 million in annual revenue over the next five years.

Firefox Mobile (update)

Alternative mobile browser Firefox shipped its latest release for iOS and Android with an update aimed at helping users address common issues — like the visual clutter of having too many open tabs or needing to pick up where you left off the last time the app was closed, among other things. The changes are a part of the Firefox Beta, which introduced a new homepage that will now serve as a re-entry point to the mobile web, says the browser’s maker, Mozilla. The changes could make Firefox more competitive with default options on mobile devices, like Apple’s Safari or Google’s Chrome. Among the new features are a “Jump back in” section for returning to internet research, easy access to saved searches, and other recent tabs — the latter of which are archived to reduce clutter, but still accessible as needed.



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India’s Exponent Energy may have found the secret to 15 min rapid EV charging – TechCrunch

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Bangalore-based Exponent Energy might have come up with a way to deliver 15-minute rapid charging for electric vehicles. The startup, which just raised a $13 million Series A, relies on a combination of its proprietary battery pack and charging infrastructure to achieve such a feat.

Exponent Energy’s business model is geared towards OEMs building commercial EVs for fleet purposes. Ideally, the company works with the OEM to integrate its battery pack, or e^pack, that can then be charged quickly via Exponent’s network of chargers, or e^pumps. Earlier this month, Exponent announced its first partnership with Altigreen, an Indian electric cargo vehicle manufacturer, launching the Exponent-enabled Altigreen neEV HD, a three-wheeler that both companies say can be fully charged, from 0% to 100%, in 15 minutes.

The rub is that the battery pack only charges that quickly when it’s being charged on Exponent’s charging infrastructure — if the e^pack is being charged at a standard charging station, it’ll take about 60 minutes, according to the company. Likewise, the e^pumps don’t deliver the same rapid charge to all EVs, so the two must be scaled side-by-side. This is how Exponent hopes to monetize its energy offerings. It will earn revenue from both the sale of the battery pack to OEMs and the charging on a recurring basis, according to Arun Vinayak, Exponent’s co-founder and CEO.

For comparison, Exponent’s business model is a somewhat similar model to Gogoro, the Taiwanese company that works with OEMs to integrate its swappable batteries into their electric two-wheelers while simultaneously building out swapping stations around the country.

Aside from the monetization logic of including the battery pack and charging infrastructure as a package deal, Vinayak says it just makes sense to do so from a technology perspective.

“15-min rapid charging is a two-sided problem,” said Vinayak. “It’s not just the battery but also the charger. The e^pump delivers 600A of current to the e^pack (15x industry standard) while managing individual cell characteristics including thermals to ensure safety, long battery life and performance consistency even at 50 degrees Celsius. Since our technology is present on both sides, we’re able to manage the flow of energy far more efficiently, safely and rapidly.”

Building out such a network will require funds, which is where Exponent’s Series A comes in. The round, which was led by Lightspeed with participation from YourNest VC, 3one4 Capital and AdvantEdge VC, will be used to scale up the e^pump network to 100 location points in each city Exponent expands into, starting with Bengaluru and eventually making its way to New Delhi, according to Vinayak. The company also aims to deploy 2,000 Exponent-enabled vehicles as part of its partnership with Altigreen.

Vinayak said the e^pack is scalable across multiple form factors, and Exponent Energy is currently in the engineering phase for partnerships in other segments, specifically three-wheeled passenger vehicles and four-wheeled cargo vehicles.

“Our primary focus is commercial vehicles and our primary customer is anyone running a fleet, from a single vehicle owner to an aggregator of 1000s of vehicles,” Vinayak told TechCrunch via email. “In India, commercial vehicles have the highest per vehicle energy use-age. (Constitutes 10% of vehicles, but consumes 70% of our on-road energy). This represents a highly concentrated market for an energy company like us as the segment is already convinced of switching to electric as EVs drive better than their diesel counterparts. However, the bottleneck for adoption is energy, as slow charging (3 to 6 hours) affects operations. Therefore customers are forced to opt for large batteries with short life thereby making owning the vehicle expensive.”



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How a16z’s investment into Adam Neumann further solidifies the ‘concrete ceiling’ – TechCrunch

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It was the fundraise heard around Twitter.

Adam Neumann, the infamous entrepreneur behind WeWork, raised a stunning $350 million from Andreessen Horowitz for a yet-to-launch real estate company called Flow. The investment gave Neumann’s latest venture a more than $1 billion valuation, as reported by The New York Times, and came amid what is supposed to be an investor pullback in a bear market.

It is the largest individual check a16z has ever written and the second time the firm backed a Neumann-founded company this year.

There is no need to rehash every single thing that Neumann did wrong; AppleTV+ did that already in the miniseries “WeCrashed.” His calamitous tenure at WorkWork garnered him a reputation for worker mismanagement and he led his company to a disastrous IPO. He nevertheless walked away with a roughly $1 billion exit package. He failed up, and the announcement of his a16z round was a reminder that he is still failing up.

“The news [of Neumann’s raise] was not shocking to me,” Nicole Tinson, the founder of the inclusion platform HBCU 20×20, told TechCrunch. “I actually anticipated this because discrimination in funding is no different than discrimination in any avenue.”

One cannot out-educate, out-network, and out-assimilate the systemic barriers designed to discriminate against them.

The news put reality in a harsh light, a breaking point for many. Women are tired of shattering glass ceilings; their hands are slashed from the dropping shards. Some founders are also exhausted from taking swings at the concrete ceiling, where gender, racial, and often socioeconomic conditions combine to create a discriminatory barrier so strong it cannot shatter like glass; it’s sturdy like concrete and must arduously be drilled through.



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Polestar is launching an EV roadster in 2026 called the Polestar 6 – TechCrunch

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Electric vehicle maker Polestar said Tuesday that it is expanding its lineup to include an 884-horsepower hard-top convertible with recycled polyester upholstery.

The Polestar 6 electric performance roadster will go into production in 2026 based on the Polestar O₂ Concept the company revealed in March. Customers can now begin reserving build slots online.

Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath called the forthcoming roadster “a perfect combination of powerful electric performance and the thrill of fresh air with the top down.”

The company hasn’t announced details such as price, acceleration or battery range. However, Polestar confirmed that the hard-top convertible will use the same bonded aluminum platform and 800-volt architecture that will underpin its future Polestar 5 GT.

The dual motor powertrain delivers a top speed of 155 mph and 0-to-62 mph acceleration in 3.2 seconds, according to Polestar.

Polestar will make 500 limited-edition models, the Polestar 6 LA Concept edition, named after the city where the electric roadster concept made its debut. Those models will come with the concept’s Sky blue exterior, leather interior and 21-inch wheels.

Polestar, which made its Nasdaq debut in June, has outlined aggressive growth plans. The company spun out from Volvo and Geely to merge with special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) with Gorges Guggenheim at a $20 billion valuation.

The automaker raised $890 million in the deal to help fund a three-year growth plan, which includes scaling its global operations, adding a second shift at its factory in China and beginning in October will produce the Polestar 3 SUV at Volvo’s factory in South Carolina.

Polestar also plans to introduce a Polestar 4 midsize crossover in 2023 and Polestar 5 four-door GT in 2024.

So far, Polestar has avoided the pitfalls facing most other EV manufacturers that have opted to go public through a SPAC instead of an IPO in the past two years.

Faraday Future, Electric Last Mile Solutions, Lordstown Motors and others have struggled to raise enough money to build their own EVs from scratch. Polestar benefits from access to Volvo and Geely’s manufacturing expertise, facilities and connections, as well as a $3 billion deal to supply Hertz with 65,000 EVs over the next five years.

In July, Polestar said it is on track to sell 50,000 cars this year. Currently, the Polestar 2 battery-electric sedan is the only model the automaker sells, following the discontinued, 600-horsepower Polestar 1 plug-in hybrid. The company’s ambitious plans call for expanding to 30 countries by the end of 2023 and selling 290,000 cars annually by 2025 — about 10 times Polestar’s 2021 sales.

 



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SoftBank, Sequoia China back this ERP startup enabling China’s online exporters – TechCrunch

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Thanks to cross-border e-commerce platforms, China continues to be a major exporter of consumer goods for the world in the online shopping age. It’s not just marketplaces like Amazon and AliExpress that are enabling Chinese businesses to sell abroad. Behind the scene, a group of startups are making the software that allows exporters to more easily figure out what to sell and how to sell.

Dianxiaomi, roughly translated as ‘shop assistant’, is one of these ecommerce SaaS providers. The company just secured $110 million in a Series D funding round led by SoftBank Vision Fund II and Sequoia Capital China. Other prominent investors, including Tiger Global Management, GGV Capital, and Huaxing Growth Capital, also participated.

The financing lifts the company’s total investment to $210 million in 2022 alone.

Dianxiaomi is strategically located in Shenzhen, the capital of export-oriented ecommerce activity in China. The city that’s home to Huawei, Tencent, and DJI is also known to house the most Amazon sellers in the world.

Dianxiaomi started out with a convenient tool that allowed sellers to list their products already sold on Taobao, Alibaba’s marketplace for Chinese consumers, on Wish with “one click”, said its founder and CEO Du Jianyin, a former R&D engineer at Baidu, in an interview.

From there, Dianxiaomi went on to create a suite of enterprise resource planning (ERP) software for Chinese vendors on Wish, Amazon, eBay, AliExpress, Shopee, Lazada and the like. The target users are small and medium-sized sellers with 5,000 orders per day or less, the company told TechCrunch.

The SaaS provider itself is expanding overseas as well. It’s launched localized ERP products for sellers in Southeast Asia and Latin America, respectively. Globally, it claims to be serving 1.5 million users and has partnered with some 50 ecommerce platforms. In Southeast Asia, it has amassed 430,000 users that are selling within the booming region.

The company plans to open offices in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the U.K., where it looks to build a team of 20-100 staff to carry out customer service, operations, and other tasks in each country.

Landing in Southeast Asia is an obvious choice for many Chinese entrepreneurs, who see similar opportunities in the region as they did in their home market a decade ago.

“At its rapid growth rate, [Southeast Asia] is a bit like China from ten years ago. Second, the region is culturally similar with a big ethnically Chinese population, who can help promote the products. And third, orders from Southeast Asia have been growing at over 100% a year,” the CEO noted in the interview.

The financing for Dianxiaomi is one of the few deals that SoftBank has sealed this year in China, which for long was a major destination for the investment powerhouse. But amid a slowing economy and regulatory uncertainties, the company said last year that it would take a more “cautious” approach to backing Chinese startups.

In January, SoftBank and Sequoia Capital China injected funding into a similar venture called Shoplazza, a Canada- and Shenzhen-based company that powers direct-to-consumer brands with online store management tools.



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Galaxy Digital calls off $1.2 billion acquisition of BitGo – TechCrunch

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Crypto sector’s first $1 billion deal, announced at the height of record surge in token prices, is disbanding as the market reverses much of the gains.

Galaxy Digital said Monday it has terminated the $1.2 billion proposed acquisition of crypto custodian BitGo, a high-profile deal they announced in May last year, after the San Francisco-based startup failed to provide its audited financial statements for the year 2021.

BitGo’s alleged failure to provide the financial statements by July 31 violated the terms the two firms had agreed upon last year, Galaxy Digital said in a public statement, adding that the termination of the deal won’t incur the company any fee. Shares of Galaxy Digital, which trades in Toronto, jumped on the news.

The proposed acquisition — which was proposed to include Galaxy Digital issuing 33.8 million new shares, and a $265 million cash component — was supposed to be crypto sector’s first $1 billion deal. The BitGo purchase was positioned to help Galaxy Digital broaden its offerings for institutional investors by adding services such as investment banking, prime lending and tax services. BitGo counts Galaxy Digital, Goldman Sachs, Valor Equity Partners, Craft Ventures, DRW and Redpoint Ventures among its backers.

“The power of the technology, solutions, and people we will have as a result of this acquisition will unlock unique value for our clients and drive long-term growth for our combined business. We are excited to welcome Mike Belshe and the talented BitGo team to Galaxy Digital,” Mike Novogratz, chief executive officer and founder of Galaxy Digital, said at the time.

Novogratz (pictured above) said Monday: “Galaxy remains positioned for success and to take advantage of strategic opportunities to grow in a sustainable manner. We are committed to continuing our process to list in the U.S. and providing our clients with a prime solution that truly makes Galaxy a one-stop shop for institutions.”

The announcement follows Galaxy Digital reporting a second-quarter loss of $554.7 million, up from a loss of $183 million a year ago, earlier this month. In the company’s earnings call, Novogratz said Galaxy Digital had about $1 billion in cash on hand.

Galaxy Digital said today it is waiting for the SEC’s review and stock exchange approval for a Nasdaq listing.



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Uber to sunset free loyalty program in favor of subscription membership – TechCrunch

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Ride-hailing giant Uber is shutting down its free loyalty program, Uber Rewards, so it can focus on its subscription-based Uber One membership.

Uber first launched the rewards program in 2018 as a sort of frequent flyer scheme that allowed riders to earn points for every dollar spent on rides or Uber Eats deliveries. Those points could then be used to get discounts on future rides or deliveries. In November 2021, Uber began introducing Uber One, which, for $9.99 per month or $99.99 annually, allows members perks like 5% off certain rides or delivery orders and unlimited $0 delivery fees on food orders of over $15 and grocery orders of over $30.

In an email sent to customers that was picked up by The Verge, Uber said users can still earn points via the legacy rewards program until the end of August, and that they can redeem those points until October 31. Uber Rewards will officially shut down on November 1, 2022, according to an update posted by the company.

The Uber Rewards program allowed users to earn 1x point for every Uber Pool dollar spent, 2x for every UberX dollar spent and 3x for every $1 spent on Premium. The number of points accumulated would put members into different castes of loyalty, from Blue to Gold to Platinum to Diamond, the latter of which comes with benefits like access to highly rated drivers, free delivery on three Uber Eats orders, access to better customer service and free upgrades.

While phone support will continue for Diamond users, now the only way to get additional perks with Uber will be to shell out for a subscription. Existing Rewards members will get a free one-month subscription to Uber One, but then will be charged for access. If you’re someone who orders Uber Eats more than twice a month, you can easily break even with the Uber One subscription, but plenty of users might not see the money saving benefits in the switch.

Uber did not respond immediately for clarity as to why it is shutting down the Rewards program in favor of the Uber One membership. Perhaps the company did not see the returns and user loyalty that it would have expected from the program and thinks a subscription offering will provide better returns.



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As companies fight to retain talent, employee benefits startups might escape cost cuts – TechCrunch

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How will employee benefits startups fare when their corporate customers start slashing costs as the market goes downhill? We’re going to find out if current trends continue.

There was a spike in the number of startups offering employee benefits services through a B2B2C model last year, as nearly every company focused on employee benefits amid the Great Resignation in an effort to retain and attract talent. These startups sell everything from paid care leave coordination and fertility services to discounted gym memberships to consumers through their employers.

But the freewheeling spending of 2021 is now over, and some of these startups could find their offered services on the chopping block if market conditions continue to worsen.

If there is indeed a recession on the horizon, many of these startups would be right to fear for their future growth, but Brian Kropp, chief of HR research at Gartner, doesn’t think this downturn will mirror the last. Kropp told TechCrunch that even if the market enters a recession, it won’t be similar to what we saw in 2008 because of the ongoing labor shortage.



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