Author Archives: Jon Russell

VLC prepares to add AirPlay support as it crosses 3 billion downloads

VLC, the hugely popular media playing service, is filing one of its gaps with the addition of AirPlay support as its just crossed an incredible three billion users.

The new feature was revealed by Jean-Baptiste Kempf, one of the service’s lead developers, in an interview with Variety at CES and it will give users a chance to beam content from their Android or iOS device to an Apple TV. The addition, which is due in the upcoming version 4 of VLC, is the biggest new feature since the service added Chromecast support last summer.

But that’s not all that the dozen or so people on the VLC development team are working on.

In addition, Variety reports that VLC is preparing to add enable native support for VR content. Instead of SDKs, the team has reversed engineered popular hardware to offer features that will include the option to watch 2D content in a cinema-style environment. There are also plans to bring the service to more platforms, with VentureBeat reporting that the VLC team is eying PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and Roku devices.

VLC, which is managed by non-profit parent VideonLAN, racked up its 3 millionth download at CES, where it celebrated with the live ticker pictured above. The service reached one billion downloads back in May 2012, which represents incredible growth for a venture that began life as a project from Ecole Centrale Paris students in 1996.

Grab drivers in Southeast Asia are now convenience stores, too

Drivers of Southeast Asia-based Grab can now become mini convenience stores. That’s because the ride-hailing company, which bought out rival Uber’s local business earlier this year, has teamed up with U.S. startup Cargo to sell a selection of items to passengers during their ride.

New York-based Cargo claims it can help drivers earn up to $300 in additional wages per month by selling items like snacks, drinks, beauty items, phone chargers and more.

Drivers add a Cargo box which includes free samples and paid products to their car for free. (Refills are free, too.) They make a 25 commission on all paid sales, plus $1 every time a passenger places an order or free sample request via the Cargo website.

That’s about it.

Cargo has done deals with Lyft and Uber drivers in the U.S., but this marks its first move overseas. For now the partnership takes effect in Singapore but a Grab representative told TechCrunch that, all being well, it will expand across Southeast Asia, where Grab serves eight countries.

Cargo is targeting 100,000 cars this year, in January it claimed to have 2,500 cars on the road in New YOrk Chicago, Boston and Minneapolis, with 20,000 driver signups from all 50 states. The company raised $5.5 million this year to facilitate that growth.

Announcing the TechCrunch Ethereum Meetup alongside our blockchain event in Zug

There are already many, many reasons to attend TechCrunch’s first blockchain event this coming July 6 in Zug, Switzerland. You’ll hear from industry leaders including Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin, Coinbase CTO Balaji Srinivasan and Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao, but here’s a further sweetener: we will have a follow-on event the very next day.

We’re excited to announce that we’ll hold an Ethereum Meetup on July 7, the day after the ‘TC Sessions: Blockchain’ event. TechCrunch is producing this event with support from the Ethereum Foundation and other members of the Ethereum community.

To recap: the TC Sessions: Blockchain event takes place July 6 in Zug, the Swiss Canton know as ‘Crypto Valley,’ and it’ll be followed by the Ethereum Meetup produced by TechCrunch on July 7th from 1-6pm at the Casino, the same venue as the blockchain event the day before.

A follow-on meetup is a first for our single-day ‘TC Sessions’ events, which TechCrunch produces to cover important emerging topics like robotics, AR/VR and tech diversity. The second-day event in Zug reflects the strong demand we’ve seen from readers who are keen to further explore and understand the blockchain space.

This meetup will feature core developers and leaders from the Ethereum ecosystem, including Vitalik Buterin, Ethereum Foundation developer Karl Floersch, and others. It will cover a range of topics on the technical side, including presentations and discussions around issues of scaling, protocol improvements, and improvements to consensus among other topics.

We’ll have full details on the agenda very soon so stay patient.

Attendees of the TC Sessions: Blockchain event who wish to attend the Ethereum Meetup will need to purchase a separate pass. Tickets are available now for the meetup and can be purchased here — they are priced at 50 CHF plus VAT, that’s around $53 at current rates. We can’t wait to see you there.

There are a limited number of sponsorship opportunities open for the Ethereum Meetup produced by TechCrunch. If you are interested in sponsoring the event, please fill out this form.

Google brings its FilesGo Android device management app to China

Google has continued its slow and steady China strategy after it launched Files Go, a files management service for Android devices. The app launched to global markets last year but today it landed in China via a trio of third-party app stores.

Named ‘Google 文件极客’ in China, the app helps users keep within the storage limits of their device by suggesting files to delete if they need to free up space. It also includes feature for finding files and sharing them to local devices without an internet connection. Like a solid internet connection, keeping enough free space on a device is critical to it running efficiently and quickly which is Files Go aims to help.

Files Go was designed for India, where budget Android phones are mainstream, but interest in the app was so widespread that it was later launched worldwide. Indeed, the U.S. is now the third-largest market for the app, Josh Woodward, a product manager within Google’s ‘Next Billion’ team, told TechCrunch in an interview.

Given that global demand, bringing the app to China, where Google is testing out new strategies, makes plenty of sense. The launch also allows Google to work with third-party app stores for distribution since the Google Play Store is banned in China. It selected Xiaomi, Huawei and Baidu and the experience is sure to help Google figure out the lay of the land.

Google’s services remain banned in the country, but this is the third product launch it has made in China following the return of Google Translate last year and this week’s launch of ACCore.

Google is quietly formulating a new strategy for China

Google is slowing piecing together a strategy for China to ensure that it doesn’t miss out on the growth of technology in the world’s largest country. It’s been months in the making through a series of gradual plays, but further evidence of those plans comes today via a product launch.

Files Go — a file manager for Android devices released last yearhas made its way to China today. Not a huge launch, for sure, but the mechanisms behind it provide insight into how Google may be thinking about the country, where it has been absent since 2010 after redirecting its Chinese search service to Hong Kong in the face of government pressure.

For Files Go, Google is taking a partner-led approach to distribution because the Google Play Store does not operate in China. The company is working with Tencent, Huawei, Xiaomi and Baidu, each of which will stock the app in their independent app stores, which are among the country’s most prominent third-party stores.

Let that sink in a little: the creator of Android is using third-party Android app stores to distribute one of its products.

On the outside that’s quite the scenario, but in China it makes perfect sense.

There’s been regular media speculation in recent about Google’s desire to return to China which, during its absence, has become the largest single market for smartphone users, and the country with the most app downloads and highest app revenue per year. Mostly the rumors have centered around audacious strategies such as the return of the Google Play Store or the restoration of Google’s Chinese search business, both of which would mean complying with demands from the Chinese government.

Then there’s the politics. The U.S. and China are currently in an ongoing trade standoff that has spilled into tech, impacting deals, while Chinese premier Xi Jinping has taken a protectionist approach to promoting local business and industries, in particular AI. XI’s more controversial policies, including the banning of VPNs, have put heat on Apple, which stands accused of colluding with authorities and preventing free speech in China.

Political tension between the U.S. and China is affecting tech companies. [Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images]

Even when you remove the political issues, a full return is a tough challenge. Google would be starting businesses almost from scratch in a highly competitive market where it has little brand recognition.

It’s hardly surprising, then, that it hasn’t made big moves… yet at least.

Instead, it appears that the company is exploring more nimble approaches. There have been opportunistic product launches using established platforms, and generally Google seems intent at building relationships and growing a local presence that allows its global business to tap into the talent and technology that China offers.

Files Go is the latest example, but already we’ve seen Google relaunch its Translate app in 2017 and more recently it brought its ARCore technology for augmented and virtual reality to China using partners, which include Xiaomi and Huawei.

Bouquets of flowers lie on the Google logo outside the company’s China head office in Beijing on March 23, 2010 after the US web giant said it would no longer filter results and was redirecting mainland Chinese users to an uncensored site in Hong Kong — effectively closing down the mainland site. Google’s decision to effectively shut down its Chinese-language search engine is likely to stunt the development of the Internet in China and isolate local web users, analysts say. (Photo credit: xin/AFP/Getty Images)

Beyond products, Google is cultivating relationships, too.

It inked a wide-ranging patent deal with Tencent, China’s $500 billion tech giant which operates WeChat and more, and has made strategic investments to back AI startup XtalPi (alongside Tencent), live-streaming platform Chushou, and AI and hardware company Mobvoi. There have been events, too, including AlphaGo’s three-game battle with Chinese grandmaster Ke Jie in Wuzhen, developer events in China and the forthcoming first Google Asia Demo Day, which takes places in Shanghai in September.

In addition to making friends in the right places, Google is also increasing its own presence on Chinese soil. The company opened an AI lab in Beijing to help access China-based talent, while it also unveiled a more modest presence in Shenzhen, China’s hardware capital, where it has a serviced office for staff. That hardware move ties into Google’s acquisition of a chunk of HTC’s smartphone division for $1.1 billion.

The strategy is no doubt in its early days, so now is a good time to keep a keen eye on Google’s moves in this part of the world.

Papua New Guinea threatens to close Facebook for a month to investigate its harmful impact

Facebook is proving problematic for many governments worldwide, but few would think to shut it down entirely.

That’s exactly the approach that Papua New Guinea, the Pacific sea island nation located near Australia, is proposing to take with a new measure that could see the social network closed off for a month. During that period, the government plans to investigate the impact of fake accounts, pornography and false news and information which it said are rife on the social network in the country.

The prospect of a month-long ban was announced by Papua New Guinea’s communications minister Sam Basil who told Post Courier that the government “cannot allow the abuse of Facebook to continue in the country.”

Internet penetration in the country is thought to be less than 15 percent, which suggests at face value that Facebook isn’t particularly mainstream. However, that may not be an accurate measure of how many of the country’s eight million population use the social network since mobile is the primary access point in many parts of Asia Pacific. Still, the ban is unlikely to be welcomed by the population.

Post Courier reported that Basil even floated the idea of a dedicated social network to replace Facebook in the country.

At this point, the Facebook ban — however delicious it may sound given recent events — is not confirmed for Papua New Guinea. It remains a possibility once Basil has liaised with police, according to the media report.

Our attempts to reach Basil via phone and email to confirm the plan were not successful.

Facebook has been under fierce pressure around the way it handles data for its 1.5 billion users after it emerged that Cambridge Analytica, a consulting firm that worked on the successful Trump election campaign, hijacked data on nearly 90 million users of the social network.

The aftermath of the scandal has seen Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testify on data security and processes in front of Congress and the House in the U.S., as well as the EU parliament in Europe.

Meanwhile, and of equal importance, Facebook has also been engaged in controversies in the emerging world. The UN has accused it of accelerating racial violence in Myanmar, while the service was closed for three days in Sri Lanka to stop anti-muslim violence. In the Philippines, it has been scrutinized for helping controversial President Rodrigo Duterte into power, while Vietnamese activists have expressed concern that it is helping the government crack down on people in the country.

Papua New Guinea threatens to close Facebook for a month to investigate its harmful impact

Facebook is proving problematic for many governments worldwide, but few would think to shut it down entirely.

That’s exactly the approach that Papua New Guinea, the Pacific sea island nation located near Australia, is proposing to take with a new measure that could see the social network closed off for a month. During that period, the government plans to investigate the impact of fake accounts, pornography and false news and information which it said are rife on the social network in the country.

The prospect of a month-long ban was announced by Papua New Guinea’s communications minister Sam Basil who told Post Courier that the government “cannot allow the abuse of Facebook to continue in the country.”

Internet penetration in the country is thought to be less than 15 percent, which suggests at face value that Facebook isn’t particularly mainstream. However, that may not be an accurate measure of how many of the country’s eight million population use the social network since mobile is the primary access point in many parts of Asia Pacific. Still, the ban is unlikely to be welcomed by the population.

Post Courier reported that Basil even floated the idea of a dedicated social network to replace Facebook in the country.

At this point, the Facebook ban — however delicious it may sound given recent events — is not confirmed for Papua New Guinea. It remains a possibility once Basil has liaised with police, according to the media report.

Our attempts to reach Basil via phone and email to confirm the plan were not successful.

Facebook has been under fierce pressure around the way it handles data for its 1.5 billion users after it emerged that Cambridge Analytica, a consulting firm that worked on the successful Trump election campaign, hijacked data on nearly 90 million users of the social network.

The aftermath of the scandal has seen Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testify on data security and processes in front of Congress and the House in the U.S., as well as the EU parliament in Europe.

Meanwhile, and of equal importance, Facebook has also been engaged in controversies in the emerging world. The UN has accused it of accelerating racial violence in Myanmar, while the service was closed for three days in Sri Lanka to stop anti-muslim violence. In the Philippines, it has been scrutinized for helping controversial President Rodrigo Duterte into power, while Vietnamese activists have expressed concern that it is helping the government crack down on people in the country.

Alibaba doubles down on logistics with $1.4B investment in Chinese courier ZTO

Alibaba is doubling down on logistics after it led a $1.38 billion investment in Chinese courier firm ZTO Express alongside Alibaba logistics affiliate Cainiao.

ZTO went public on the NYSE in 2016 raising $1.4 billion from what was the year’s largest IPO in the U.S. The Shanghai-based company claims to be one of China’s largest logistics firms via a partner-based network. Its clients include Alibaba and rival e-commerce firm JD.com . There’s plenty more overlap between the two, ZTO CFO Huiping Yan previously spent two years working for Cainiao.

Alibaba, Cainiao and other undisclosed investors will buy around 10 percent of the company through the deal, which is expected to be completed in June. ZTO’s stock price closed at $17.30 on Friday (before the long weekend) which represented an all-time high since its IPO in October 2016, when it opened at $18.40 before dropping 15 percent on day-one.

The deal is focused on Alibaba’s ‘new retail’ version which merges e-commerce and offline retail. The idea is to marry the speed and ease of e-commerce with the advantages of brick and mortar, such as being able to touch and feel products and customer care. Alibaba has already introduced hybrid stores in parts of China, and fast logistics represents an important part of the plan.

Alibaba said in a statement that the investment will “deepen their collaboration” between ZTO, Cainiao and Alibaba.

“This investment will enable Cainiao and ZTO to supercharge joint innovation and development to accelerate digitalization of the industry,” Cainiao President Lin Wan said in a statement.

Cainiao was started in 2013 by Alibaba and eight other backers to bring organization in Chinese logistics, particularly around e-commerce deliveries. Last year, Alibaba agreed to pay over $800 million to take majority ownership in the business, which works closely with the Chinese firm’s business units and services to enable fast delivery. Cainiao is valued at around $20 billion based on its most recent fundraising activity.

Despite a large IPO, ZTO has attracted controversy. U.S. pension fund Birmingham Retirement and Relief System sued the business alleging that it exaggerated profit margins to lure investors to its listing in 2016. The company has denied the claims.

Grab launches a food delivery service in Southeast Asia

Fresh from completing its acquisition of Uber’s Southeast Asia business, ride-hailing firm Grab has officially launched its food delivery business — GrabFood — today.

The service is already available in beta in a handful of countries, including Thailand, but now it is available in Singapore (Grab HQ) with plans to reach Grab’s core six markets in Southeast Asia in the coming months. As part of its acquisition of Uber Southeast Asia, Grab took charge of UberEats in the region and moved its merchants and customer base to GrabFood before shuttering the Uber service.

GrabFood is available as a standalone app in Singapore, but in countries where Grab offers motorbikes on-demand the service is integrated into the core Grab app. The service will compete against the likes of Deliveroo, FoodPanda, Go-Jek’s GoFood, and others.

The GrabFood service is also tied to Grab’s rewards and loyalty program — GrabRewards — and customers can use cash, cards or GrabPay to pay for their orders. Two notable features allow customers schedule orders in advance while there is also no minimum spend on orders.

Grab announced a deal to buy rival Uber’s local business in March, although the deal itself doesn’t seem to have progressed quite as smoothly as expected. As TechCrunch reported last month, a mixture of regulatory concerns, disgruntled employees scheduled to transition to Grab and consumer concern at the lack of competition have weighed on what is Grab’s coming-of-age moment.

Nonetheless, Grab said in a statement that its move into food delivery is an important part of its strategy to develop “an interconnected ecosystem of consumer services to make the everyday lives of people easier.”

Removing Uber may have made that goal more realistic, but Grab will face competition regionally after Go-Jek, the market leader in Indonesia that’s backed by the likes of Google and Tencent, confirmed plans to expand to four new markets imminently. Go-Jek is putting $500 million behind that expansion, which it said will be modeled on a partner approach that gives local founding teams full control of the business in each new country.

Rather than standing still, Grab is reported to be raising $1 billion in fresh funding at a valuation of $10 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal. That would represent a significant increase on the $6 billion valuation that Grab commanded when it gobbled up $2 billion from SoftBank and China’s Didi Chuxing last July.

Go-Jek, meanwhile, recently raised around $1.5 billion from a list of investors that include Tencent, JD.com, Google, Allianz, Meituan and Singapore-based funds GIC and Temasek.

Take a look at your Twitter timeline 10 years ago

Here’s a fun thing for a Friday: go back and see what your Twitter timeline looked like 10 years ago.

Twitter has pretty powerful search settings, but Andy Baio — of Kickstarter fame and more — did the heavy-lifting for us all by sharing a link that let’s you look at your timeline exactly a decade ago, assuming you followed the same people.

Try it here. (The search will work even if you didn’t have an account 10 years ago.)

The mix is eerily quiet, with far fewer retweets and likes than the current time — Twitter hadn’t yet introduced the ‘automatic’ retweet, people were still doing it manually — and no nested replies or link previews, while there are ghosts of once-major social media services, such as TwitPic, TinyURL.

Certainly, it’s a fun way to see how Twitter has morphed, both in terms of features and the actual dialogue of users. The latter, in my experience at least, seems more driven by status update-style tweets than discussions or dialogue and there’s precious little content from media at that time, too. Given how things are today, with polarized opinions and armies of trolls, perhaps the old days of Twitter did have their benefits.

You can, of course, tweak the settings to change the date, language and more to explore past Twitter.

Enjoy — and maybe retweet a decade-old tweet or two while you’re there.

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