Xiaomi takes over Meitu’s struggling selfie-focused phone business

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Chinese selfie app and smartphone company Meitu announced it has entered into a strategic partnership with Xiaomi. Going forward, Meitu will license its brand, technologies and hardware to China-based Xiaomi, and for upcoming smartphones, Xiaomi will handle design, research, development, production, business operation, sales and marketing while Meitu will deal with image-related algorithms and technologies. Meitu said its mission has been “to inspire more people to express their beauty,” and its board of directors has determined that a partnership with Xiaomi will aid in carrying out that mission.

Meitu noted in its announcement that it’s likely to experience a much larger loss than it did last year. This year, it’s projected to record a net loss between RMB 950 million and RMB 1,200 million, or between $137 million and $173 million, compared to the $28 million loss it logged last year. It attributed part of that loss to the fact that it only released one smartphone this year as opposed to the five it launched the year before.

This agreement, therefore, makes sense for the struggling Meitu. “With such strategic partnership, we can focus our efforts in developing the next-generation image processing technologies, while leveraging our partner’s economy of scale in research and development, supply chain management and new retail efforts,” the company said. And as for Xiaomi, which just announced a net profit after a rather substantial loss last year, it has been working on expanding into new markets. This partnership with Meitu will give Xiaomi the opportunity to try out new technologies with a sub-brand as it continues to push into Europe and elsewhere.

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Twitter goes incredibly meta for its UK Christmas ad


Twitter has a new Christmas ad highlighting how an infamous case of mistaken identity generates tens of thousands of conversations on its platform every year. It stars user @JohnLewis — no, not the UK department store, but a lecturer at Virginia Tech who shares the same name.

The ensuing confusion has seen Lewis besieged with tweets meant for the retailer and the amusing clip shows him patiently replying to the requests, ranging from queries about stock and references to John Lewis‘ Xmas adverts (which, whether you like them or not, have become ingrained in British popular culture).

Twitter even references the UK retailer’s previous Christmas adverts with a telescope, a miniature moon ornament, Monty the penguin and Buster the boxer. The platform has branded the campaign #NotARetailstore in a nod to the comment on Lewis’ bio.

“I think it’s hilarious that people mistake me for the UK store and I do my best to direct them to the right place,” Lewis told The Guardian. “I see a massive spike in tweets at this time of year and I always watch the John Lewis advert, especially as it becomes a big part of my conversation.”

According to The Guardian, Lewis has had his Twitter handle since 2007 and he claims that John Lewis — which goes by @jlandpartners — has never offered to buy his presence. (Twitter’s rules explicitly prohibit the trading of accounts and “username squatting”). As a result, he gets around 50,000 tweets per year originally intended for the department store. By paying Lewis to appear in the ad, Twitter (which highlights its most popular stories in its Moments feed) is clearly trying to create some viral magic of its own.

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Google: Southeast Asia’s digital economy is surging


Google has begun looking beyond India to Southeast Asia for its “next billion” users. And its annual report on the region’s internet economy gives us an insight as to why it’s so crucial to the web giant. Home to 650 million people, Google projects Southeast Asia’s digital economy will triple in size to $240 billion in the next seven years. So sharp has been its rise that Google has revised its growth expectations for the region (made in collaboration with Singapore sovereign fund Temasek) for the third year on the go.

As the report notes, this surge has been fuelled by tech sectors such as online travel ($30 billion) e-commerce ($23 billion), online streaming media ($11 billion) and ride-hailing ($8 billion). These services have helped Southeast Asia’s online economy reach $72 billion in value this year — 20 percent higher than the estimate given by Google in its debut report two years prior.

Ride-hailing and on-demand food delivery, in particular, are exploding in popularity as local services like Grab (which snapped up Uber’s local business earlier this year) and Go-Jek (which is breaking out of its native Indonesia) tussle for users. More fascinating still is the “huge headroom for further growth,” says Google, with just 20 percent of Southeast Asians regularly using ride-hailing services.

Breaking down the numbers, Google puts Indonesia — the world’s fourth largest country by population — on track to hit $100 billion by 2025, ahead of Thailand ($43 billion) and Vietnam ($33 billion). Echoing past statements, the report stresses that growth hinges on funding, though the figures show a worrying trend: most of the capital is going to just nine so-called unicorns (billion-dollar companies). You can peep the full report via the source link below.

“The record-breaking pace of the region’s internet economy in 2018 wasn’t a freak occurrence,” wrote Google. “Southeast Asian countries are on a solid foundation for accelerated digital growth.”

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Tim Cook defends Apple's search deals with Google

Axios on HBO

Apple’s Tim Cook is always on hand to explain why his company is better at privacy than its rivals (read Google and Facebook), which have been mired in data scandals of late. When Cook said personal information is being “weaponized against us with military efficiency,” while calling on GDPR-style rules in the US, it was clear who his targets were. Reality, however, is a lot more complicated than that. Though Apple doesn’t have a targeted advertising business, it still stocks Facebook’s apps in its App Store and receives billions from Google to make it the default search engine on its platforms.

In an Axios on HBO interview, Cook was asked why Apple takes Google’s cash in exchange for putting its search engine up front and centre on the iPhone — in effect serving as a vessel for it to siphon more data. “I think their search engine is the best,” replied Cook matter-of-factly, before admitting that the Apple-Google partnership isn’t “perfect.”

He then listed off the security measures Apple has added to Safari to “help” users better navigate the search engine. “Look at what we’ve done with the controls we’ve built in. We have private web browsing. We have an intelligent tracker prevention,” said Cook, adding: “What we’ve tried to do is come up with ways to help our users through their course of the day. It’s not a perfect thing. I’d be the very first person to say that. But it goes a long way to helping.”

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SoftBank’s Deepcore and accelerator Zeroth team up to hunt early stage AI opportunities

Two early stage AI programs are joining forces because, even in the world of artificial intelligence, two heads are better than one.

Hong Kong-based accelerator Zerothwhich recently grabbed a majority investment from Animoca Brands — and Deepcore, a Japanese incubator and fund that is part of the SoftBank group, are pairing up to use their resources on deal sourcing and other collaboration around artificial intelligence.

The two seem complementary, with Deepcore focused on starting new ventures and investing in AI companies more generally, while Zeroth operates Asia’s first accelerator program targeted at AI and machine learning startups. It recently bagged $3 million through a deal that sees Animoca Brands take a 67 percent share stake in Deepcore’s operating business and provide a check for its investment arm.

SoftBank launched Deepcore earlier this year to give the organization a foothold in early AI projects. The company operates a co-working/incubation/R&D facility — Kernel Hongo — in addition to an investment arm called Deepcore Tokyo.

Zeroth was founded two years ago and it has graduated 33 companies from three batches to date, taking an average of six percent equity. Some of those graduates have gone on to raise from other investors, including Fano Labs (which is now Accosys) which took money from Horizons Ventures, the VC firm founded by Hong Kong’s richest man Li Ka-Shing, and Japan’s Laboratik. It has also made eight investments in blockchain startups.

“It’s very excited to see the Zeroth ecosystem grow,” founder Tak Lo told TechCrunch in a statement. “Ultimately, this ecosystem is about building more and more opportunities for our founders to build great companies.”

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Cities that didn’t win HQ2 shouldn’t be counted out

The more than year-long dance between cities and Amazon for its second headquarters is finally over, with New York City and Washington, DC, capturing the big prize. With one of the largest economic development windfalls in a generation on the line, 238 cities used every tactic in the book to court the company – including offering to rename a city “Amazon” and appointing Jeff Bezos “mayor for life.”

Now that the process, and hysteria, are over, and cities have stopped asking “how can we get Amazon,” we’d like to ask a different question: How can cities build stronger start-up ecosystems for the Amazon yet to be built?

In September 2017, Amazon announced that it would seek a second headquarters. But rather than being the typical site selection process, this would become a highly publicized Hunger Games-esque scenario.

An RFP was proffered on what the company sought, and it included everything any good urbanist would want, with walkability, transportation and cultural characteristics on the docket. But of course, incentives were also high on the list.

Amazon could have been a transformational catalyst for a plethora of cities throughout the US, but instead, it chose two superstar cities: the number one and five metro areas by GDP which, combined, amounts to a nearly $2 trillion GDP. These two metro areas also have some of the highest real estate prices in the country, a swath of high paying jobs and of course power — financial and political — close at hand.

Perhaps the take-away for cities isn’t that we should all be so focused on hooking that big fish from afar, but instead that we should be growing it in our own waters. Amazon itself is a great example of this. It’s worth remembering that over the course of a quarter century, Amazon went from a garage in Seattle’s suburbs to consuming 16 percent — or 81 million square feet — of the city’s downtown. On the other end of the spectrum, the largest global technology company in 1994 (the year of Amazon’s birth) was Netscape, which no longer exists.

The upshot is that cities that rely only on attracting massive technology companies are usually too late.

At the National League of Cities, we think there are ways to expand the pie that don’t reinforce existing spatial inequalities. This is exactly the idea behind the launch of our city innovation ecosystems commitments process. With support from the Schmidt Futures Foundation, fifty cities, ranging from rural townships, college towns, and major metros, have joined with over 200 local partners and leveraged over $100 million in regional and national resources to support young businesses, leverage technology and expand STEM education and workforce training for all.

The investments these cities are making today may in fact be the precursor to some of the largest tech companies of the future.

With that idea in mind, here are eight cities that didn’t win HQ2 bids but are ensuring their cities will be prepared to create the next tranche of high-growth startups. 


Austin just built a medical school adjacent to a tier one research university, the University of Texas. It’s the first such project to be completed in America in over fifty years. To ensure the addition translates into economic opportunity for the city, Austin’s public, private and civic leaders have come together to create Capital City Innovation to launch the city’s first Innovation District at the new medical school. This will help expand the city’s already world class startup ecosystem into the health and wellness markets.


Baltimore is home to over $2 billion in academic research, ranking it third in the nation behind Boston and Philadelphia. In order to ensure everyone participates in the expanding research-based startup ecosystem, the city is transforming community recreation centers into maker and technology training centers to connect disadvantaged youth and families to new skills and careers in technology. The Rec-to-Tech Initiative will begin with community design sessions at four recreation centers, in partnership with the Digital Harbor Foundation, to create a feasibility study and implementation plan to review for further expansion.


The 120-acre Buffalo Niagara Medical Center (BNMC) is home to eight academic institutions and hospitals and over 150 private technology and health companies. To ensure Buffalo’s startups reflect the diversity of its population, the Innovation Center at BNMC has just announced a new program to provide free space and mentorship to 10 high potential minority- and/or women-owned start-ups.


Like Seattle, real estate development in Denver is growing at a feverish rate. And while the growth is bringing new opportunity, the city is expanding faster than the workforce can keep pace. To ensure a sustainable growth trajectory, Denver has recruited the Next Generation City Builders to train students and retrain existing workers to fill high-demand jobs in architecture, design, construction and transportation. 


With a population of 180,000, Providence is home to eight higher education institutions – including Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design – making it a hub for both technical and creative talent. The city of Providence, in collaboration with its higher education institutions and two hospital systems, has created a new public-private-university partnership, the Urban Innovation Partnership, to collectively contribute and support the city’s growing innovation economy. 


Pittsburgh may have once been known as a steel town, but today it is a global mecca for robotics research, with over 4.5 times the national average robotics R&D within its borders. Like Baltimore, Pittsburgh is creating a more inclusive innovation economy through a Rec-to-Tech program that will re-invest in the city’s 10 recreational centers, connecting students and parents to the skills needed to participate in the economy of the future. 


Tampa is already home to 30,000 technical and scientific consultant and computer design jobs — and that number is growing. To meet future demand and ensure the region has an inclusive growth strategy, the city of Tampa, with 13 university, civic and private sector partners, has announced “Future Innovators of Tampa Bay.” The new six-year initiative seeks to provide the opportunity for every one of the Tampa Bay Region’s 600,000 K-12 students to be trained in digital creativity, invention and entrepreneurship.

These eight cities help demonstrate the innovation we are seeing on the ground now, all throughout the country. The seeds of success have been planted with people, partnerships and public leadership at the fore. Perhaps they didn’t land HQ2 this time, but when we fast forward to 2038 — and the search for Argo AISparkCognition or Welltok’s new headquarters is well underway — the groundwork will have been laid for cities with strong ecosystems already in place to compete on an even playing field.

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Microsoft briefly tested ads in the Windows 10 mail app

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It’s bad enough when your email inbox gets inundated with subscriptions and promotions you forgot you ever signed up for, but now Microsoft is thinking about injecting advertisements right into your inbox. According to Windows news site Aggiornamenti Lumia, the beta version of the company’s Mail client for Windows 10 has been placing ads right at the top of the inbox — though the company has since turned off the feature and claims that it was just an experiment.

In a now-removed FAQ page on Microsoft’s support website (archived here), the company explains that it was running pilot program testing ads in Mail. The test countries included Brazil, Canada, Australia and India. Per the support document, the ads were visible on Windows Home and Windows Pro but not Windows Enterprise or Windows EDU. Ads were served to “non-work accounts” set up through the mail, including Outlook.com Gmail, and Yahoo Mail accounts. Users who have an Office 365 subscription — which costs $7 per month or $70 per year — linked to their email address were not shown ads.

Despite the pretty detailed plan laid out in the support document, Microsoft’s head of communications Frank Shaw tweeted today that the ads were “an experimental feature that was never intended to be tested broadly” and have now been turned off completely. The FAQ has also been removed from the company’s website.

It’s unclear if the company will revive this plan to serve ads to people not paying for Office 365, but it’s clearly put some thought into it. The company does need to pay the bills, and it did promise that it wouldn’t scan the content of email to generate the ads, which sets it apart from Yahoo and AOL in that regard (Gmail no longer scans emails for ad purposes). That said, no one wants ads in their inbox.

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Pitching a $99 tax advisory service for the masses, Visor has raised $9 million

The only sure things in this life, according to Ben Franklin, are death and taxes. And a new startup called Visor has just raised $9 million in financing to make one of them as painless as possible.

Unlike Nectome, Visor won’t kill anyone, but it may ring the death knell for the high-end tax advisors that most Americans can’t even access to get help filing and paying their taxes. It’s like having a personalized accountant for the cost of a high-end do-it-yourself tax-prep service.

The $9 million Visor raised came from the venture capital firm Defy, with participation from Unusual Ventures, SVB Capital and existing investors like Obvious Ventures, Fika Ventures and Boxgroup, which had put a previous $6.5 million into the company. 

The idea for the company had been percolating for co-founder and chief executive Gernot Zacke since he settled in the U.S. 

Growing up in Sweden, Zacke was exposed to a much different process for paying taxes. “The experience of filing taxes in Sweden is that you receive a message from the government that stated how much you made and how much you were withholding. That’s it,” said Zacke. “Taxes should be as easy as ordering a cab.”

That’s the service that Visor aims to provide.

“If you think about the market there are two ways to get your taxes done. There’s the DIY space and then there are other online services but it requires the tax payer to fill out the forms and it leaves the tax payer with a little bit of anxiety,” said Zacke. “We’re delivering the CPA experience through the convenience of a web app and a mobile app.”

On average, Americans spend about 13 hours each year dealing with taxes, and the average American doesn’t have the benefits of a professional advisor who can help optimize the process. That’s what Visor wants to provide.

“You provide the same amount of information you provide to a CPA or TurboTax… we make sure that that information is filed securely on AWS and shared between the docs and the backend,” said Zacke. 

The target customers for Zacke’s services are folks who have had a change to their tax situation — whether moving, buying a home or any other life event; or folks who have had a CPA and don’t want to pay the higher fees, he said.

Visor currently has an operations team of around 34 people split between San Francisco and Atlanta.

For Zacke, the pain point he’s solving with the Visor service is very real. A former employee of the European investment firm Atomico, Zacke bounced between the U.S. and Europe — eventually running U.S. investments for the firm before leaving to launch Visor.

Other co-founders and senior executives hail from the tax advisory world, and from employee benefits outsourcing services company Zenefits, along with former Venmo and Square developers.

“Taxpayers spend $20 billion a year to get their taxes prepared and are stuck between spending hours filling out DIY tax software and hiring an expensive CPA,” said Zacke, in a statement. “

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More companies are chipping their workers like pets

The trend of blundering into the void of adopting new tech, damn the consequences, full speed ahead, continues this week. The Telegraph tells us about “a number of UK legal and financial firms” are in talks with a chip company to implant their employees with RFID microchips for security purposes.

Ah, security purposes, our favorite road to hell paved with some kind of intentions. Is it like when Facebook took people’s phone numbers for security purposes and handed them to advertisers? Sorry, I’m just a little cynical right now. The report explained the purpose of corporate bosses chipping their workers like a beloved Pekinese is to set restrictions on areas they can access within the companies.

“One prospective client,” The Telegraph wrote, “which cannot be named, is a major financial services firm with “hundreds of thousands of employees.”

Jowan Österlund, founder of chip-implant company Biohax at the center of this deal, told the outlet: “These companies have sensitive documents they are dealing with. [The chips] would allow them to set restrictions for whoever … In a company with 200,000 employees, you can offer this as an opt-in,” said Mr. Österlund. “If you have a 15 percent uptake that is still a huge number of people that won’t require a physical ID pass.”

Never mind that RFID badge cloning is trivial to the point of funsies for hackers (who have been experimenting with hacking biochips for a while), this is about employee efficiency. A further selling point for companies grinding privacy into bottom-line dust is that it’ll save a company money. “As well as restricting access to controlled areas,” The Telegraph said, “microchips can be used by staff to speed up their daily routines. For instance, they could be used to quickly buy food from the canteen, enter the building or access printers at a fastened rate.”

As some readers may recall, this isn’t the first instance of employee chipping in recent news. Last year, American company Three Square Market in Wisconsin made headlines when 80 of its employees got chips implanted. They use the little RFID chips in their hands (the size of a grain of rice, like the one in your cat) to scan themselves into security areas, use computers and vending machines. Interestingly, Three Square sells vending machine “mico markets” but offers a cottage industry in implants (with an angle on their use for “law enforcement solutions“).

Microchip Hand Implant

Yet the first US company to inject workers with tracking chips was a Cincinnati surveillance firm in 2006, which required all employees working in its secure data center to have RFIDs implanted in their triceps. Coming from a spying company, it’s almost like asking if you’d like your Orwell with a little Orwell on top. California in 2007 swiftly moved to block companies from being able to make RFID implants mandatory, as well as blocking the chipping of students in the state.

Don’t get me wrong: becoming a cyborg sounds pretty awesome. It’s a fairly popular pastime for DEF CON attendees who like their hackery edge-play to get a souvenir implant while at the conference. But those people are hackers, and they know what they’re getting into. And I’m just that annoying person worried about normal people not knowing how they can get pwned, and who has a few irritating questions about personal security and privacy.

According to MIT Technology review, the Three Square Market employees said they liked it — the convenience outweighed personal privacy and security concerns, which could include surveillance by higher-ups, or attackers doing a little drive-by data sniffing (when hackers ping your chip to see what’s on it). President of Three Square, Patrick McMullan, told MIT that only some of the info on the chip is encrypted “but he argues that similar personal information could be stolen from his wallet, too.”

Unlike a company ID card, you can’t leave it at home. We might imagine that with all of these privacy and tracking concerns, female employees dealing with harassment would have an extra layer to worry about. MIT only quoted male employees, so that’s worth noting.

The chip-your-workpets trend spreading to the US and UK got its foothold in Sweden where apparently they are much cooler about becoming the Borg than we are. Swedish incubator Epicenter in Stockholm “includes 100 companies and roughly 2,000 workers, began implanting workers in January 2015,” reported LA Times. “Now, about 150 workers have the chips.”

Microchipped Employees

Jowan Osterlund from Biohax Sweden, holds a small microchip implant, similar to those implanted into workers at the Epicenter digital innovation business center

The chief experience officer at Epicenter, Fredric Kaijser, told press: “People ask me, ‘Are you chipped?’ and I say, ‘Yes, why not?’ And they all get excited about privacy issues and what that means and so forth. And for me it’s just a matter of I like to try new things and just see it as more of an enabler and what that would bring into the future.”

Again, I’ll annoy you by pointing out that the evangelists here all seem to be dudes, which isn’t a bad thing. It maybe might suggest no one’s thinking about the inevitable DEF CON talk “Chipped employees: Fun with attack vectors,” or a possible future headline about employee stalking or chip-based discrimination. I mean, we can already imagine the ones where ICE demands the last known doors opened by all employees on the RFID database who happen to be brown.

I’m sure it’s all well and good until someone gets locked out of their own hand. Or the app used to access your hand gets compromised.

Like I said earlier, it’s at the “damn the consequences, full speed ahead” stage.

Images: LPETTET via Getty Images (Xray); Associated Press (Biohax microchip)

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Nintendo won't release an N64 Classic anytime soon

Nintendo 64

The NES and SNES Classic consoles served as bellwethers for the retro gaming revival that’s currently in full swing. Naturally, everyone thought the N64 Classic was next (with both an earlier trademark filing and controller patent adding fuel to the fire). And what better time to launch then Christmas, right? Wrong. According to Nintendo America President Reggie Fils-Aime, the company has no plans to release an N64 Classic now, next month, or for the foreseeable future.

Speaking to Kotaku, Fils-Aime said the first two Classic series were basically designed to plug the year-long gap between the end of the Wii U and the arrival of the Switch. “That was the very strategic reason we launched the NES Classic system,” he explained.

Though Fils-Aime didn’t rule out the N64 Classic altogether, he said Nintendo would cater to retro-heads by growing the content in its Nintendo Switch Online subscription service instead. But he wouldn’t say whether the platform would expand beyond its current roster of NES titles to include SNES games and beyond.

As to why Nintendo isn’t releasing an N64 classic any time soon, it could be that it’s a tougher sell and tricky to replicate. As former Engadget-er David Lumb notes, the console skimped on entire genres and its controller was an “aesthetic aberration.” Nintendo slavishly recreated the NES and SNES for its classic editions, meaning modernizing the outdated controller (with its misplaced analog stick and deadweight d-pad) is out of the question.

On the bright side, nostalgic gamers can take solace in the fact that both the NES and SNES Classic consoles are currently available to buy (after rapidly selling out in the past). The PlayStation Classic is also set for next month and a Sega Genesis Mini is on the way (not to mention the raft of classic games Sega is promising for the Switch under its Sega Ages banner).​​

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