Turbotodd

Ruminations on tech, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

Archive for the ‘china’ Category

A Fork in the Smartphone Road

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Well, the Chimerica trade and technology war has been taken to new heights over the weekend, both in terms of policy and in global markets.

After President Trump raised the tariffs on China again, this time 10% on $300 billion in Chinese imports not covered by earlier rounds of tariffs on China, China is retaliating with both active and passive measures.

Passively, China is refusing to prompt up the devaluing Chinese currency, the yuan, allowing it to break through 7 against the dollar for the first time since prior to the Great Recession.

Actively, the Chinese Customs Tariffs Commission of the State Council has not ruled out import tariffs on newly purchased U.S. agricultural products after August 3 (this past Saturday).

While the American and Chinese leaders continue with their Great Game of Trade Chicken, Chinese state media has made an interesting announcement: That Huawei is testing a $288 smartphone running its self-developed HongMeng OS, which Reuters is reporting could go on sale later this year.

Could this eventually lead to a global fork in the smartphone OS market, which is currently largely dominated by Google’s Android (and on which most Chinese smartphones are based)?

Probably not in the short term, but longer term…?

Written by turbotodd

August 5, 2019 at 2:38 pm

It’s Tariff Time!

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TGIF. It’s a good day to take a quick glance at some key economic fundamentals that could impact the consumer tech landscape.

U.S non-farm payrolls rose by 164K in July, and the jobless rate held steady at 3.7% (near a 50-year low).

Average hourly wages for private-sector workers advanced 3.2% from a year earlier. GDP increased at 2.1% in the second quarter, down from 3.1% in the first.

Manufacturing output has declined since the end of 2018, and an overseas manufacturing decline could hold U.S. growth back.

The U.S.’ largest trading partner is now Mexico, not China — speaking of whom, President Trump hit the Middle Kingdom yesterday with 10% tariffs on $300 billion in Chinese goods that included consumer products like apparel, toys, and cellphones.

Yes, that means iPhones, too!

Current estimates suggest about a 15% increase on electronics like laptops, smartphones, etc.

They go into effect August 30th, so you have 28 days to shop ’til you drop for any bargains.

Wonder if Gazelle’s traffic is seeing a post-tariff bump!

Written by turbotodd

August 2, 2019 at 11:25 am

Apple’s Service, Vietnam’s Boon

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Apple made plenty of moolah in its fiscal Q3, some $53.3B, nearly half of that ($26B) from iPhones. The story: Its services was up 1% YOY to $10.2B. Wearables, Home, and Accessories generated $5.5B, a 50% YOY increase. Diversification for Apple, good, dependency on iPhone moolah, bad.

Contrast those numbers with Samsung’s, which posted an operating profit of $5.6B on revenue of $47.4B, down 4% YOY. Hurry up and make that Fold fold faster!

Some crypto news that caught my eye: Coindesk is reporting that Chinese importers in Russia are buying up to $30M a day of tether from Moscow’s OTC trading desks. They apparently use the cryptocurrency to send large sums back to China, and they use tether instead of bitcoin because tether is designed to maintain U.S. dollar parity.

Speaking of China, who’s now benefiting from Chimerica? Good morning, Vietnam!, where Samsung already assembles half its handsets. Vietnam has greatly benefited from the U.S. tariffs on China, and even Apple and Nintendo are also said to be shifting certain workloads from China to Vietnam. 

Written by turbotodd

July 31, 2019 at 1:55 pm

Posted in 2019, china, smartphone

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The GitHub Sanctions

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TechCrunch is reporting that GitHub (owned by Microsoft) has officially confirmed it is blocking developers in Iran, Syria, N. Korea, Cuba, and the Crimea from accessing private repos and paid accounts due to sanctions.

Hello, world.

Over the weekend, GitHub CEO Nat Friedman wrote on Twitter that like any other “company that does business in the US,” GitHub is required to comply with the U.S. export law. The confirmation comes months after work collaboration service Slack, too, enforced similar restrictions on its platform.

Public repos will apparently remain available to everyone.

On the funding front…Sales enablement platform MindTickle gets a $40M Series C led by Norwest Venture partners…On demand transport app Grab will invest $2B in Indonesia over the next five years…and the U.K.’s Just Eat is merging with Dutch rival Takeaway.com in a £9B deal that will see the creation of one of the world’s biggest online food delivery companies.

And finally…on the Chimerica front, Chinese social media ByteDance said today that it is developing a smartphone, as part of its deal with device maker Smartisan Technology.

Who needs an Android when ya gotta ByteDance?

Written by turbotodd

July 29, 2019 at 11:27 am

Posted in 2019, china, developers

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Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes at Apple

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Big news at Apple this week…Longtime creative guru Jony Ive will be leaving Apple later this year after more than 20 years at the company. Ive is leaving to start LoveFrom, his own creative agency, and has already landed apple as its first client.

Daring Fireball noted “this dropped like a bomb,” apparently because nobody in the media had been given a heads up. Uh, this is Apple we’re talking about, when do they ever warn the media about anything of significance.

John Gruber continued::

It makes me queasy to see that Apple’s chief designers are now reporting to operations. This makes no more sense to me than having them report to the LLVM compiler team in the Xcode group. Again, nothing against Jeff Williams, nothing against the LLVM team, but someone needs to be in charge of design for Apple to be Apple and I can’t see how that comes from operations. I don’t think that “chief design officer” should have been a one-off title created just for Jony Ive. Not just for Apple, but especially at Apple, it should be a permanent C-level title. I don’t think Ive ever should have been put in control of software design, but at least he is a designer.

I don’t worry that Apple is in trouble because Johnny Ive is leaving; I worry that Apple is in trouble because he’s not being replaced.”
Another reaction, from Stratechery:

I understand Gruber’s angst. It is precisely that sort of dictatorship, first and foremost in the person of Steve Jobs, that made Apple, Apple. Again, though, I think Ive is in part a cautionary tale: he did his best work under Jobs, while the last few years have been more fraught from a design perspective; if Ive was not entirely up to the task of being the ultimate arbiter of all things Apple, who can be?
That is why the conclusion I had after WWDC feels more applicable than ever: it is less that Jony Ive is leaving Apple, and more that Apple, for better or worse, and also by necessity, has left Jony Ive and the entire era that he represented. So it goes.

Others reported that I’ve had only been coming into the office twice a week since the release of the Apple Watch in 2015… hey, the only constant in the tech industry is change. Enough said.

But there’s more change at Apple. The Mac Pro, which had been touted by Apple CEO Tim Cook as having been manufactured in the U.S. (right here in Austin, actually), will now be outsourced to Quanta Computer Inc. in China.

Why this matters? From The Wall Street Journal:

While the Mac Pro isn’t one of Apple’s bigger products, the decision on where to make it carries outsize significance. Apple’s reliance on factories in China to manufacture its products has been an issue for the company, especially under President Trump, who has pressured Apple and other companies to make more in the U.S.

The spin:

Final assembly is only one part of the manufacturing process,” [an Apple] spokesman said, adding that the company’s investments support two million American jobs. The Mac Pro is Apple’s most powerful computer, used primarily by a small group of professionals working in industries such as film and videogames.

The global supply chain for tech manufacturers is a long and winding Silk Belt and Road!

Meanwhile, back on the AI front: Somerville, Massachusetts has become the second U.S. city (behind San Francisco) to ban facial recognition usage in public space. From Vice:

The "Face Surveillance Full Ban Ordinance," which passed through Somerville’s City Council on Thursday night, forbids any “department, agency, bureau, and/or subordinate division of the City of Somerville” from using facial recognition software in public spaces. The ordinance passed Somerville’s Legislative Matters Committee on earlier this week.

The ordinance defines facial surveillance as “an automated or semi-automated process that assists in identifying an individual, capturing information about an individual, based on the physical characteristics of an individual’s face,” which is operationally equivalent to facial recognition.

Now if someone could just find an AI bot to clean up all the poop in the streets of San Francisco!

Written by turbotodd

June 28, 2019 at 12:12 pm

Posted in 2019, apple, artificial intelligence, china

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Apple Drive

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It’s already Wednesday?

I’ve got a jet plane to catch, but before I did, I wanted to convey a couple of stories that caught my eye.

First, back to the “Chimerica” trade wars.

The New York Times is reporting that U.S. tech companies that include Intel and Micron have found ways to sell millions of dollars of products to Huawei despite the Trump administration’s ban.

How?

Industry leaders including Intel and Micron have found ways to avoid labeling goods as American-made, said the people, who spoke on the condition they not be named because they were not authorized to disclose the sales.

Goods produced by American companies overseas are not always considered American-made. The components began to flow to Huawei about three weeks ago, the people said.

The sales will help Huawei continue to sell products such as smartphones and servers, and underscore how difficult it is for the Trump administration to clamp down on companies that it considers a national security threat, like Huawei. They also hint at the possible unintended consequences from altering the web of trade relationships that ties together the world’s electronics industry and global commerce.

And…Apple says it has acquired autonomous driving startup, Drive.ai, as well as hiring dozens of the company’s engineers and taking over its autonomous cars. 

The company was once valued at $200M, and Axios reports this deal and the hires “confirm that Apple hasn’t given up its autonomous driving project.”

No purchase price was disclosed.

Let’s hope this isn’t the road to nowhere for Apple and its autonomous driving strategy.

Written by turbotodd

June 26, 2019 at 9:37 am

Apple WWDC: The China Backdrop

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Happy Monday.  

It’s 6/3/2019, thirty years on from 6/3/1989.

The New York Times has published an editorial explaining why China cannot erase the truth of Tiananmen. And Ian Johnson’s analysis explains that thirty years on, someone always remembers despite the government’s efforts to make them forget.

In some ways, the world is interacting with a different China in 2019. In others, the tiger hasn’t changed its stripes.

And as its annual developer conference gets going in San Jose later this morning, WIRED reminds us that Apple could be a likely target for Chinese retaliation in the increasingly chilly U.S-China trade “Cold War.”

WIRED observes that many in China view the “aggressive US measures” on trade and IP as designed to prevent China from rising further, and the multipronged campaign against Huawei “is largely perceived in China as a naked attempt by Washington to kneecap a serious competitor in everything from mobile devices to networking equipment and especially 5G.”

But China could respond in a way that could take a big bite out of Apple’s profitability:

Beijing could respond by increasing tariffs on US imports into China and by making it more cumbersome for US companies to do business in China, through such moves as permitting delays and holding up shipments in customs. But if China is truly looking for revenge, it need look no further than Apple. The Cupertino company has a vast global business, but China represents a real vulnerability.

China represents 19 percent of Apple’s worldwide sales, with the iPhone making up the bulk of that. While China is not as fruitful a market for Apple’s burgeoning services business, it is and has been a strong and generally growing market for Apple’s devices—until the past year.

Already, without the government doing anything explicit, Apple’s China sales have slowed precipitously. It had 10 percent share of the smartphone market at the beginning of 2018; it now has barely 7 percent. Almost all smartphone makers have seen shipments decline in China. The exception? Huawei, whose market share and sales have modestly increased while its competitors, ranging from Apple to Samsung to Xiaomi, have fallen.

Or, WIRED goes on, the Chinese government “could simply ban the sale of iPhones in China using the same justifications that the US is using against Huawei: national security and data security.”

But with the Google/Huawei Android license dispute looming with an August extension of the original deadline, one imagines Apple could be safe through much of the summer if, for no other reason, they serve as a viable smartphone OS hedge for the Middle Kingdom

So with that as the backdrop, what, exactly, are we hearing that could be announced, shown, unveiled, etc at Apple’s biggest developer event of the year?

Topline: Possibly a new and improved MacPro on the hardware side. macOS 10.15 and iOS 13 on the iPad, with more possible convergence between the Mac OS and iOS through Apple’s Marzipan project (including confirmed new apps that include Apple Music, Apple Podcasts, and Apple TV).

Also expect updates on tvOS and watchOS, new AR, and likely pricing on the Apple Arcade service.

And oh yeah, a Dark Mode for iPhone owners. 

Will there be an upside surprise in today’s keynote or this week’s event?

Tune in a couple of hours and find out.

Written by turbotodd

June 3, 2019 at 10:11 am

Posted in 2019, apple, china, developers

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Crazy Dogs and Tank Men

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This one reminded me of Socks the Puppet.

You remember Socks, the Pets.Com mascot back during the dot com heyday? Go watch one of their TV spots on YT. Good stuff.

Well, China’s “Crazy Dog” is not to be outdone, and recently raised $43.4M in Series B funding. The company was founded in 2014 and is one of China’s leading Internet-based pet supplies brands.

Crazy Dog actually sells stuff, though, including more than 5 million bags of dog food last year. China’s annual pet care market reached some $24.7 billion last year (only 33% of which was dog food).

Also on the Chinese front, a startup called Neolix Technologies is mass producing self-drive delivery vans in Changzhou. Specifically, what are referred to as Level 4 autonomous vehicles, those that a driver does not need to interfere with any driving operations and where autonomous travel is available under specific conditions, like self-driving zones.

And on to more sensitive subjects, we’re less than a week away from the 30th anniversary of the bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown (June 4th). We’ll see just how good those Chinese AI algorithms are, as posts that allude to dates, images and names associated with the protests will be automatically rejected and/or deleted.

Penalties for Internet users and activists who step beyond the bounds of Chinese censorship propriety include fines to jail time.

That means any allusions to “Tank Man” will likely end up in the AI scrapheap of history.

But you can still buy good dog food online in China.

Written by turbotodd

May 28, 2019 at 12:00 pm

Posted in 2019, china

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Telco Turmoil

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The 5G and telco industry whirlwind continues…

Bloomberg reported earlier this week that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is "leaning against approving T-Mobile’s proposed takeover of Sprint."

Apparently the "remedies" proposed by the wireless carriers earlier this week didn’t go far enough resolve the department’s concerns that the deal risked harming competition.

Next, the FTC won an antitrust case against Qualcomm in the Northern District of California, this just a few weeks after Apple and Qualcomm settled a major patent dispute.

The FTC has ordered a number of remedies to Qualcomm, including that the company must not condition of the supply of modem chips on a customer’s patent license status, and that the company must negotiate or renegotiate license terms with customers "in good faith under conditions free from the threat of lack of access to or discriminatory provision of modem chip supply or associated technical support or access to software," among others.

And not to be left out, the telco vice against China continues today with the U.K.’s chip design firm ARM reportedly in a leaked memo has told its staff it must suspend business with Huawei. A report from the BBC explained that "Arm’s designs form the basis of most mobile processors worldwide" and that the designs contained "U.S. origin technology," and therefore subject to the U.S. trade restrictions.

Written by turbotodd

May 22, 2019 at 9:56 am

Posted in 2019, 5G, china

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On the Verge of a Digital Cold War: Peking Duck (and Cover)

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Man oh man, has this already been a juicy week thus far for tech geopolitical geeks like me.

First, last week, the U.S. Commerce Dept. basically banned all U.S. telcos from doing business with Huawei, but then today has “temporarily eased trade restrictions [on the company] to minimize disruption for its customers.”

Tit, meet Tat.

Specifically, Reuters reported today that Commerce has not granted Huawei a license to buy U.S. goods until August 19th to maintain existing telecoms networks and provide software updates to Huawei smartphones.

This gives telecom operators that rely on Huawei time to make other arrangements.

China’s Huawei founder isn’t taking all this lying down: “The U.S. government’s actions at the moment underestimate our capabilities,” said Ren Zhengfei.

The latest Huawei casualty? Microsoft removed the Huawei MateBook X Pro (one of the best Windows laptops available in the U.S. right now, says The Verge) from its online store — without a Windows license, it’s a brick.

This shit is getting real real and fast!

Which makes me wonder: Who’s holding which cards in this geopolitical poker game with gargantuan stakes? China certainly seems to have the edge (and pricing power) on new 5G technologies, but do they have their own native-built smartphone operating system they can do a hot switchover to lest the Android goes completely dark.

Bloomberg reports that Huawei has indeed, and better yet, has been building its own OS and its own “App Gallery” (lest it need to supplant the Android Play Store).

I f——ing love this industry, and it’s a great time to watch these great powers battle for its future. We might just have ourselves a new space race, and despite the tensions, remember, the space race between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Led to more technological innovation in a short 7-8 years than I even care to count (although we’ll leave Tang out of that equation).

Freeze dried ice cream, anyone? It’s time to celebrate!

Written by turbotodd

May 21, 2019 at 4:20 pm

Posted in 2019, 5G, china, huawei

Tagged with , , ,

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