How far has U.S. mobile payment fallen behind China

When Apple chose China to be the first Asian market to expand its mobile payment service Apple Pay to, most China watchers knew the iPhone maker would face stiff competition in the country’s already-crowded mobile payment market.

Mobile payment became popular in China in 2013. Alibaba developed Alipay Wallet independently in November 2013 as the number of people using Alipay on their mobile devices rose to 100 million, according to Sina Tech. Alipay, developed in 2004, originally existed to provide online payment service for Alibaba’s marketplaces: Taobao and Tmall.

Tencent followed suit to launch WeChat Payment in March 2014, providing a mobile payment service for WeChat users. WeChat, with its 650 million monthly active users, is the world’s fourth most popular messaging app after WhatsApp, QQ Mobile, and Facebook Messenger as of January, according to statistics firm Statista.

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8 smartphone hacks for the non-tech savvy

A recent Chinese government report shows that 90% of Chinese access the Internet via mobile devices, which means they probably own a smartphone. It’s also a worldwide trend, with many netizens in emerging markets skipping PCs to access information.

Many consumers are not sure how to quickly troubleshoot their devices.

Steve Castro, a veteran graphic and web designer, based in Long Island, NY, shared with me a few hacks on security and saving data, which can turn you into a savvier consumer.

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Mobile World Congress: Huawei, ZTE, Lenovo debut new smart devices and services

The annual Mobile World Congress kicks off in Barcelona on Monday. But its Sunday press conference has already created some buzz, especially about Chinese tech firms. Here is what we know from MWC 2016.

Huawei launches its first laptop-tablet device

The world’s third-largest smartphone maker, according to research firm IDC, is expanding to the laptop business, aiming at enterprise users. The debut of the MateBook is Huawei’s answer to the trend of thin, lightweight convertible devices, taking cues from Microsoft’s Surface Pro and Apple’s iPad Pro. Running on Windows 10, the device will cost at USD 699 and up.

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From LeTV to LeEco: A video website grows into a tech empire with global ambitions

Faraday Future, a California-based EV startup, unveiled its Batmobile-like concept car at CES 2016 in Las Vegas, causing a media storm. As it turns out, one of Faraday’s key investors is the Chinese company Leshi Internet Information & Technology, or LeTV for short.

Electric vehicle production is only one of LeTV’s many arms of vertical integration. In fact, the behemoth changed its name to LeEco in January to reflect its current business scale and its plans to enter the U.S. and Indian markets.

Founded in Beijing in 2004, LeEco’s online platform, which has one of the most comprehensive entertainment libraries in China, provides original internet dramas, TV dramas, movies, variety shows, concerts and sports games. Its Le4K channel has more than 100 films and TV shows in 4K with a growing library of UHD content.

Besides gaining the title “China’s Netflix” by providing video-streaming content, LeEco has branched out to smart TVs, set-top boxes, smartphone manufacturing, an e-commerce platform where it sells its electronics, VR headsets, and content production. It is also entering the internet finance and cloud computing sectors.

In August 2010 LeEco, then LeTV, launched its IPO as an internet streaming company and the corporation was listed on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange. Its market capitalization was around USD 21 billion, Chinese tech media site Huxiu reported last May. Later on, the corporation restructured and expanded into different divisions. Not all of the company subsidiaries went public.

The company has experienced explosive growth in the past two years under its founder and CEO, 42-year-old Jia Yueting. After running a small technology company in his hometown Shanxi in central China for two years, Jia headed to Beijing to found his dream company LeTV in 2004. Jia crafted a strategy and built an ecosystem for his empire. The company began with video streaming. It moved into producing content and apps and also expanded to manufacturing smart devices.

In January, the company’s new president Liang Jun laid out LeEco’s upgraded ecosystem and overall strategy. The company will revolve around its one million registered users to provide three key products: smartphones, smart homes and smart cars, and application services based on cloud computing and big data. The e-commerce platform and its video, music and sports websites are tools to sell their products and serve their users with all kinds of content.

LeEco has big plans for the future. Le Holdings Vice President Zhang Zhiwei said Le Holdings (Global) plans to launch its IPO in 2022, Sina Tech reported. He added that the company’s unlisted core businesses and the company’s core assets would go public, including LeCloud, LeSports, LeCar and more.

To date, the company has accelerated investment and development in sectors related to its ecosystem.

Smart TV, one of the company’s key areas, was established in 2013. The company has released several models ranging from 40 inches all the way to 120 inches, with 3D and 4K capabilities in some models. As of October 2015, LeEco has sold nearly four million TV sets altogether, according to Chinese news outlet Sina.com.

In December 2014, the company’s sports division LeSports was spun off. It raised RMB 800 million (USD 122 million) in its first round of funding in May 2015. The major investors include Alibaba-backed Yunfeng Capital and Prometheus Capital. This division is in charge of sports content and sporting events. It faces competition from Tencent’s video channel and PPTV, a Chinese video streaming company.

Similarly, the company has separated its music division by starting a music business in Hong Kong in March 2015. Yin Liang, the CEO of LeTV Music, said they would begin a round of funding in the first quarter of 2016, Chinese tech media iFeng.com reported last December.

LeEco entered the smartphone business last April. It released phones in two series: Le 1 and Le Max. It caught attention from gadget fans recently, after it launched the world’s first phone to run Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 chipset at CES 2016. Beijing Business Today reported that the company had sold more than four million smartphones in less than a year in 2015. Feng Xing, LeMobile’s president, said the target for smartphone sales in 2016 is set for 15 million.

LeEco’s most recent move is building a team to enter the internet finance market by hiring banking execs. The company successfully wooed two business heavyweights from the Bank of America Merrill Lynch and the Bank of China in August to join LeEco as senior VPs, Sina Finance reported. Around the same time, the corporation built a computing and big data center in Chongqing, southwest China, as its cloud computing division’s headquarters.

Despite the fact that LeEco has successfully made its billion-dollar businesses in many promising tech sectors, the company has caused controversy by aggressively denouncing its competitors.

After Apple had announced its fourth generation of Apple TVs in September 2015, the company’s CEO Jia wrote on Weibo, China’s largest social network, “After Steve Jobs, Apple has not made any disruptive innovations. [I’m] disappointed.”

When LeTV launched its smartphones Le 1, Le 1 Pro and Le Max last April, it released a video trailer insulting Apple’s iPhone for its regressive design and innovation. Jia also publicly criticized Xiaomi for its loose ecological structure and its lack of competitiveness. Industry analysts suggest that the company’s criticism of its competitors is also a marketing strategy for its products. This tactic is also adopted by many other Chinese tech companies, notably smartphone maker Smartisan and security giant Qihoo 360.

The company has faced its share of financial challenges. Jia had to sell his stocks twice in 2015 to finance his organization’s listed arms, according to finance website iFeng.com. The first time was in June when his LeTV shares were reduced to 3,524 million shares, and he cashed out with nearly RMB 2.5 billion. Then in October, he sold another 5.39% of his shares. He currently holds 36.79% of shares in LeEco. Jia reportedly loaned the money with no interest to the corporation to relieve its financial pressure.


Wanda-backed travel site to set up joint venture in Thailand

After expanding its businesses in North Asia, Chinese online travel platform Tongcheng, or “Ly.com”, will enter the Southeast Asia market by setting up a joint venture with Wenmei Holidays, which already has a subsidiary in Thailand, Chinese tech media outlet TechWeb reported on Wednesday.

The new joint venture aims to serve Chinese tourists traveling to Thailand and to develop Thai tourism resources. Tourism in Thailand is one of Wenmei Holidays’ most competitive businesses, which the company said serves close to 100,000 Chinese travelers visiting Thailand every year.

The Bangkok Post reported that Chinese tourists were the largest group of foreign tourists visiting China last year, amounting to 7.9 million, citing data from the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

The platform’s core business expansion in 2016 will be overseas tourism. Tongcheng came to an agreement to establish a joint venture with Japan’s long-established tourism agency H.I.S. Co. Ltd. last November, and a month later struck a similar deal with South Korea’s Lotte Travel.

Tongcheng was established in 2004 in Suzhou, a city west of Shanghai. The company attracted investment from Tencent and Ctrip in 2014. Its most recent funding in July 2015 included an investment of RMB 3.5 billion (USD 560 million) from commercial property giant Dalian Wanda Group. Tencent and CITIC Capital also participated in this round of fundraising.

The platform’s major rival is Tuniu.com, which is backed by China’s second largest e-commerce platform JD.com. Tuniu mainly focuses on tour packages, cruises, driving holidays, day trips, and company outings.

The two platforms are competing with China’s Expedia, Ctrip, which has a valuation of USD 10.2 billion. Ctrip merged with its former rival Qunar last October.

This story is published on AllChinaTech.


Traveler accuses online travel platform Qunar of selling invalid airline tickets

A disgruntled passenger complained to a Chinese media outlet about purchasing fake airline tickets from one of China’s leading online travel agencies, Qunar.com, Shanghai-based newspaper The Paper reported on Thursday.

The passenger referred to by the surname Zhang, told the newspaper that he bought a round-trip Air Canada ticket from Shanghai to Toronto from Qunar. Although he received a confirmation from the site, he was told by Air Canada that his ticket was not valid. Zhang then followed up with Qunar, who said that this was due to an error on the part of its supplier, a travel agent. Not satisfied, Zhang insists that Qunar lacks regulation and inspection of its travel agents, who issue passengers tickets from airlines.

This is one of the several recent incidents in which prominent travel platforms like Qunar and Chinese largest travel website Ctrip have been accused of selling invalid tickets to consumers. Last week, Ctrip had to publish a statement responding to a similar issue.

The two online rivals merged back in October, one of the biggest M&A deals in the Chinese tech industry in 2015. Ctrip acquired Qunar and formed a new entity with a valuation of USD 15.6 billion. Qunar’s CEO Zhuang Chenchao and CTO David Wu resigned from the company earlier in January.

Many Chinese airlines including China Southern Airlines, Hainan Airlines, and Air China have boycotted Qunar as of early January, citing concerns about the platform’s online sales procedure. Air China posted a statement on January 4 that it has received complaints from passengers saying that Qunar.com arbitrarily raises the price of air tickets, alters the terms and conditions of ticket use, adds fees for ticket changes & refunds and fails to notify them about flight changes.

The Paper also reported that Qunar has launched an investigation into the matter and has initiated a better regulatory system.

This story is published on AllChinaTech.


Uber China confirms USD 2 billion from multiple Chinese investors

Uber China confirmed Thursday the ride-hailing firm had received nearly USD two billion from Chinese investors without disclosing exact amounts from individual investors.

An Uber China spokesperson said China Minsheng Bank, China Vanke Group Co., and China Broadband Capital (CBC), along with other unnamed investors are behind the investment, in addition to HNA Group, China Taiping Insurance Group, China Life Insurance Company, Guangzhou Automobile Group Co. (GAC), Baidu and CITIC Securities.

The spokesperson said the Chinese investors have also invested in Uber’s global operations in addition to Uber China but did not elaborate on details. Uber China is an independent arm of the Uber parent company and fundraises separately.

Guangzhou Automobile Group Co., an earlier confirmed investor, has announced USD  100 million in investment for Uber China’s Series B financing.

China is Uber’s only independent franchise and began independent operations in October 2015. Uber China was established in the Shanghai Free Trade Zone with registered capital of RMB 2.1 billion, and to date has received more than RMB 6.3 billion in investment.

Uber founder and CEO Travis Kalanick told reporters in Beijing on Monday that its Chinese unit has completed a Series B fundraising, and confirmed the Chinese operation now has a USD 7 billion pre-money valuation.

Kalanick said Uber has a long-term view towards serving cities in China, and the ride-hailing firm is committed to making significant investments in China.

Uber began serving customers in China as a part of the parent company in February 2014 and currently serves in 22 Chinese cities. Kalanick said the number would go up to 100 in the future.

The Uber chief said he spent about 75 days in China in the last 12 months.

“That gives you a sense of the time I’m spending locally here; I only expect that will go up over time, with more and more of our business happening in China,” Kalanick said.

This story was published on AllChinaTech.


Hainan Airlines leads Series B financing of Uber China to boost its valuation at $7 billion

To further expand Uber’s global business, Uber announced a strategic partnership with HNA Group, a parent company of Hainan Airlines, in Beijing on Monday, providing Chinese travelers with a door-to-door travel experience.

HNA Group was a leading investor in Uber China’s Series B funding back in October. Uber founder and CEO Travis Kalanick disclosed investors in the round of financing include Citic Securities and Taiping Insurance Group. The funding round boosted Uber China’s valuation to $7 billion.

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Beijing-based smart bicycle startup 700Bike puts the social back into biking

700Bike, a smart bicycle startup, was launched in May 2012. The startup did not produce bikes right away but built a community of avid cyclists in China via its cycling blog on China’s largest social network WeChat, and an app to share news and information about urban cycling.

Besides building an online audience, the startup organizes events for cyclists such as the Chinese Tweed Run – a festival encouraging cyclists to ride in vintage clothing with music and food – Night Ride activities in different cities and co-organizes The Fixed Gear Open Game.

It is reported that between 2012 to 2014, close to 10,000 cyclists participated in events, according to China.com.cn, one of the biggest Chinese state-owned news and information sites.

700Bike now produces bikes that represent China’s new generation of city bikes with features including an embedded digital display depicting track speed, distance and ride time.

700Bike also provides a corresponding app for its bikes allowing users to sync cycling data with mobile devices and even includes a built-in GPS transceiver on certain models that can track bicycles in case of theft.

At 700Bike’s headquarters in Beijing, bicycle-related events are held every Sunday. Past events included tips on riding in thin air regions and the benefits of riding with cleats and toe clips.

Apart from sharing cycling information among cyclists, 700Bike refers to itself as an Internet company that also designs and manufactures bicycles. Zhang Xiangdong, co-founder and CEO of 700Bike, sees the challenge of the city bike market as an opportunity for a new concept of city bikes.

“The Chinese middle class has changed their attitude towards transportation, and their way of life has been transformed accordingly,” Zhang told AllChinaTech.

Zhang is a cycling enthusiast and the author of Best Flight, a book about his cycling adventures in five continents over seven years. He joined the smart bicycle startup in November 2014.

Four months after he joined, 700Bike raised USD 15 million in Series A funding from Banyan Capital, China Growth Capital, and IDG Capital Partners.

Zhang made a bold move in June when the startup began accepting pre-orders for its first smart bicycle series with no information released about the products, no price tags, and no launch day set. After ten days of “blind” pre-ordering, 700Bike claimed pre-orders had reached 20,000 bikes.

“It wasn’t a risk, we just treated it as a small game,” Zhang said. “We didn’t expect to have so many users support us.”

Science China – a part of website China.com.cn – pins the high volume of orders received in a short period down to the cycling community trusting Zhang’s reputation and recognizing 700Bike as a brand. A style of marketing critics often refers to as a “trusted economy.”

It is perhaps quite helpful that Zhang has a massive followers on China’s largest social media website Sina Weibo. He shares news and updates about his company with his more than two million fans on the platform. To put this in perspective, 700Bike itself only has just above 62,000 followers on Weibo.

Zhang states that his reputation can only be attributed to a small portion of the pre-order success. Instead it’s the result of different elements.

“More and more people like cycling and they are looking for a better user experience,” Zhang said. “It’s an opportunity for more aesthetically pleasing bikes.”

Zhang admits that he is not concerned about the smart bicycle market. As a new generation of smart bicycles, he hopes to expand the overall bicycle market in China, which is now dominated by mountain bikes, from 100 billion to 300 billion.

700Bike plans to launch a new series of portable folding bikes next spring.

This story is published on AllChinaTech.