After Math: Goodbye, Grumpy Cat, whoa oh oh

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Terrible news, everyone! The internet’s favorite maladjusted kitteh has gone to the Great Cat Tree in the sky after succumbing to a urinary tract infection earlier this week. She — yes, Grumpy Cat was a girl — will be missed. Likewise, Cray Supercomputers’ independence, Japan’s phone number system and China’s access to Wikipedia have come to similar ends over the past seven days.


Japan is running out of phone numbers

Since the total number of possible permutations of an 11-digit phone number are no longer sufficient for the nation of Japan, the country’s government announced on Thursday that it will begin phasing in 14-digit phone numbers starting with an initial round of 10 billion come 2021. But since, thanks to smartphones, nobody needs to remember anybody else’s number anyway so the changeover should proceed without much fanfare. Or it could be Y2K^14.


‘Minecraft’ has sold 176 million copies worldwide

So I guess Minecraft is still pretty popular with the youths. Microsoft announced on Thursday that it has eclipsed 176 million copy sales of the blocky video game. Incredibly, some 20 million sales have come in just the last 7 months. The company is hoping for an even bigger response to its next iteration, Minecraft Earth, when the closed beta launches later this summer.


HP Enterprise is acquiring supercomputing giant Cray

HP Enterprise, a spinoff division of Hewlett Packard is working to make inroads to academia and government. The company announced this week that it will be acquiring legendary supercomputer designer Cray in a $1.3 billion takeover bid.


International effort busts $100 million malware crime network

Remember kids, crime doesn’t pay… so long as you don’t count the first $100 million or so.


Amazon is backing UberEats rival Deliveroo in the UK

Remember that bit from Demolition Man where Taco Bell was the only survivor of the Franchise Wars so then every restaurant in San Angeles was a Taco Bell? The same thing is starting to happen in real life except its Amazon buying up food delivery services.


China is blocking Wikipedia in every language

As we approach the 30th Anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests, China remains chuffed that the rest of the world still remembers the actions of the student demonstrators and the brutal retaliation by government forces, so it’s apparently taking its frustrations out on Wikipedia by banning each and every one of its various language sites.

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Chat app Line is adding Snap-style disappearing stories

Facebook cloning Snap to death may be old news, but others are only just following suit. Line, the Japanese messaging app that’s popular in Asia, just became the latest to clone Snap’s ephemeral story concept.

The company announced today that it is adding stories that disappear after 24-hours to its timeline feature, a social network like feed that sits in its app, and user profiles. The update is rolling out to users now and the concept is very much identical to Snap, Instagram and others that have embraced time-limited content.

“As posts vanish after 24 hours, there is no need to worry about overposting or having posts remain in the feed,” Line, which is listed in the U.S. and Japan, wrote in an update. “Stories allows friends to discover real-time information on Timeline that is available only for that moment.”

Snap pioneered self-destructed content in its app, and the concept has now become present across most of the most popular internet services in the world.

In particular, Facebook added stories to across the board: to its core app, Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp, the world’s most popular chat app with over 1.5 billion monthly users. Indeed, Facebook claims that WhatsApp stories are used by 500 million people, while the company has built Instagram into a service that has long had more users than Snap — currently over one billion.

The approach doesn’t always work, though — Facebook is shuttering its most brazen Snap copy, a camera app built around Instagram direct messages.

China’s top chat app WeChat added its own version earlier this year, and while it said in its earnings this week that users upload “hundreds of millions of videos each day” to its social platforms, it didn’t give numbers on its Snap-inspired feature.

Line doesn’t have anything like the reach of Facebook’s constellation of social apps or WeChat, but it is Japan’s dominant messaging platform and is popular in Thailand, Taiwan and Indonesia.

The Japanese company doesn’t give out global user numbers but it reported 164 million monthly users in its four key markets as of Q1 2019, that’s down one million year-on-year. Japan accounts for 80 million of that figure, ahead of Thailand (44 million), Taiwan (21 million) and Indonesia (19 million.)

While user growth has stagnated, Line has been able to extract increase revenue. In addition to a foray into services — in Japan its range covers ride-hailing, food delivery, music streaming and payments — it has increased advertising in the app’s timeline tab, and that is likely a big reason for the release of stories. The new feature may help timeline get more eyeballs, while the company could follow the lead of Snap and Instagram to monetize stories by allowing businesses in.

In Line’s case, that could work reasonably well — for advertising — since users can opt to follow business accounts already. It would make sense, then, to let companies push stories to users that opted in follow their account. But that’s a long way in the future and it will depend on how the new feature is received by users.

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Nissan's ProPilot 2.0 driver assist allows hands-off highway driving

Nissan’s ProPilot driver assist could comfortably control the car with little to no input already, as Autoblog experienced on a road trip last year, but it still required a driver’s hand on the wheel. Now the company has announced ProPilot 2.0 will launch first on its Skyline sedan in Japan, which supports hands-off driving within a single lane. Nissan says its next-gen driver assistance system is a world’s first, but we’ve seen similar technology from Cadillac’s Super Cruise over the last two years, which also allows for hands-off operation as long as the car doesn’t need to change lanes.

Gallery: Nissan ProPilot 2.0 | 6 Photos

Like Super Cruise, even though the driver can keep their hands off of the wheel, the system is monitoring to make sure they’re paying attention to the road and presumably ready to take over if necessary. It also combines the car’s own sensor data with 3D high-definition LiDAR maps previously collected for supported routes, just like Super Cruise.


This is the Driver Monitoring System camera for Nissan’s ProPilot 2.0.

Nissan’s focus is on its use of “navigated” highway driving. Similar to the way Tesla’s Navigate on Autopilot is starting to handle ramp-to-ramp highway driving, it combines with the navigation system, albeit with prompts for lane changes or passing. If the car comes up on a slower vehicle and decides it should pass, the driver confirms that by putting both hands on the wheel and pressing a button, or activating the turn signal to make a lane change. Once it’s time to leave the highway, the system prompts the driver using audio and visual cues to take back control. Skylines with the new system will arrive this fall, but there’s no word on when it will be available in other regions or on other cars.

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Google Cloud launches its second region in Japan

Google today announced the launch of its Osaka region, its second cloud region in Japan and seventh in Asia Pacific. With this, the company now offers its users a total of twenty regions, all of which feature at least three availability zones.

In Japan, the Osaka region joins Google’s Tokyo region and will offer lower latencies for local customers, Google notes, though Tokyo and Osaka are obviously pretty close, so that’s likely not a big difference. For businesses in Japan, having two geographically separate regions is a major boon as far as being able to add additional redundancies and disaster recovery is concerned, though.

“Two cloud regions in-country provide improved business continuity planning with distributed, secure infrastructure needed to meet IT and business requirements for disaster recovery. Services and support from our robust partner ecosystem in Japan,” Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian writes in today’s announcement.

“We’re looking forward to the Osaka cloud region,” says Tatsuhito Chiku, Corporate Officer, General Manager, Information Technology Section at Asahi Group Holdings. “Using Google Cloud Platform services like BigQuery have enabled us to build a system with low latency and high resiliency, and the Osaka cloud region will further improve our system availability and achieve business continuity.”

It’s worth noting that Azure also currently offers two regions in Japan, though AWS only offers a single region at this time.

Like its competitors, Google continues to expand its data center availability across the globe. Kurian notes that the company has now spent $47 billion on its global infrastructure, which includes the likes of new data centers and dedicated links between them. Later this year, Google will also launch new regions in Seoul, Salt Lake City and Jakarta.

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Seed investor Gree Ventures makes first close of new $130M fund — and rebrands to Strive

There’s big news for one of India and Southeast Asia’s longest-running early-stage investors after Gree Ventures, the fund attached to Japanese gaming firm Gree, announced the first close of its third fund, which is targeted at $130 million.

Gree has been a fixture in Southeast Asia since 2012, but now the firm is rebranding to Strive (or “STRIVE” to quote the press release) for the new fund. Rebrandings often seem token, but, in this case, it makes a lot of sense to stop being called Gree (“GREE”) because the company is just one LP of many.

“People often confuse us as a single LP fund,” Nikhil Kapur — who has been promoted to partner — told TechCrunch in an interview. “But we’re quite independent from Gree, plus we’re not a corporate fund and we’re not investing in gaming.”

Indeed, in this case, the fund is talking to non-Japan-based LPs for the first time over potential participation. Confirmed LPs include past backers SME Support JAPAN — which is part of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry of Japan — Gree itself and members of the Mizuho Financial Group. Opening the doors to prospective LPs in Southeast Asia is about adding “more local networks in these markets,” Kapur explained.

Those details, it is very much business as usual for Strive, which is putting the focus on B2B. Kapur said that 60-70 percent of past investments have tended to be on B2B deals, but now fund three is — for the first time — almost entirely dedicated to that segment.

Southeast Asia has seen some seed investors move further down the chain — Jungle Ventures’ new fund is targeting a $230 million final close, while Golden Gate Ventures’ third fund is $150 million while it also has a ‘growth fund’ aimed at $200 million — but Strive is sticking to early stage.

As seed funds go, $130 million is a lot but there’s plenty of nuance to that figure — it won’t all go to early-stage checks.

The fund is split across India, Southeast Asia and Japan — with around half of that allocation estimated for deals outside of Japan. That leaves around $25 million for ‘first checks.’ Kapur said that the outlined goal is to find 20 startups to back, and then double down on them with that follow-on capital. Interestingly, he said that there’s no hard allocation between the three focus regions and follow-on capital is allocated freely to those companies which are performing well and ready to grow, irrespective of geography.

The Strive team

Looking more closely at India and Southeast Asia, Kapur and investment manager Ajith Isaac pointed to increased synergies between the two regions. Indeed, large Southeast Asian players like Grab and Go-Jek have tapped India’s talent pool and located their R&D centers and engineering teams in the country, while Indian startups area increasingly foraying into Southeast Asia for market expansion.

“We see these regions not remaining separate in the near future… [and] becoming very intertwined,” Kapur said, pointing out that in venture capital firms like Accel and Lightspeed and following Sequoia India and investing directly in startups in Southeast Asia.

“The region will become very much interlocked and there’s a gap in people who can bridge it… that’s where we see a differentiated value-add on our side,” he added.

Southeast Asia itself has matured immensely since the Gree fund’s early days, but Kapur and Isaac — investment manager Samir Chaibi is the third member on the non-Japan side of the fund — maintain that there’s still “a gap in terms of institutional capital on seed stage” in some verticals where angel investors are helping new ventures get off the ground with first checks and early backing. That’s where the new Strive fund is keen to make its mark.

The fund, which has traditionally been very lean in terms of personnel, will also bulk up its own numbers. Kapur said he is hiring local teams in India and Indonesia with a viewing to growing the non-Japanese headcount to six people by the end of the year.

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