Huawei and Devialet have unveiled a new speaker specifically designed for the Chinese market, the Huawei Sound X. French startup Devialet has been looking at ways to license its technology and patents to consumer electronics manufacturers, such as Sky, Iliad, Altice USA and Renault.
While Devialet only sells very premium speakers under its own brand, such as the $ 1,000 Phantom Reactor, the Huawei Sound X is much more affordable. You’ll be able to buy a pair of speakers for RMB 1,999, the equivalent of $ 285. Unfortunately, those speakers will only be available in China for now.
The pill-shaped design is reminiscent of the Apple HomePod or the most recent Amazon Echo. It features a 60W double subwoofer and 360-degree sound. You can either use the pair of speakers in different rooms or pair them to create a stereo sound system.
The Huawei Sound X has six microphones so that you can control it with your voice. You can also control the speaker with capacitive touch buttons at the top of the speaker.
If you have a Huawei phone, you can tap it on the top of the speaker to hand off music to the speaker. It also integrates with Huawei HiLink, the company’s framework to control your connected objects around your home.
Devialet has been slowly expanding to China with a distribution partnership, two Devialet stores in Beijing and Shanghai and retail stores partnerships. According to the company, China is now the second market for Devialet.
Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch’s China Roundup, a digest of recent events shaping the Chinese tech landscape and what they mean to people in the rest of the world. It’s been a very busy last week of October for China’s tech bosses, but first, let’s take a look at what some of them are doing in the neck of your woods.
TikTok’s troubles in the U.S.
The challenge facing TikTok, a burgeoning Chinese video-sharing app, continues to deepen in the U.S. Lawmakers have recently called for an investigation into the social network, which is operated by Beijing-based internet upstart ByteDance, over concerns that it could censor politically sensitive content and be compelled to turn American users’ data over to the Chinese government.
TikTok is arguably the first Chinese consumer app to have achieved international scale — more than 1 billion installs by February. It’s done so with a community of creators good at churning out snappy, light-hearted videos, highly localized operations and its acquisition of rival Musical.ly, which took American teens by storm. In contrast, WeChat has struggled to build up a significant overseas presence and Alibaba’s fintech affiliate Ant Financial has mostly ventured abroad through savvy investments.
The new media company must have seen the heat coming as U.S.-China tensions escalate in recent times. In the long term, TikTok might have better luck expanding in developing countries along China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing’s ambitious global infrastructure and investment strategy. The app already has a footprint in some 150 countries with a concentration in Asia. India accounted for 44% of its total installs as of September, followed by the U.S. at 8%, according to data analytics firm Sensor Tower.
The other Chinese company that’s been taking the heat around the world appears to be faring better. Huawei clung on to the second spot in global smartphone shipments during the third quarter and recorded the highest annual growth out of the top-5 players at 29%, according to market analytics firm Canalys. Samsung, which came in first, rose 11%. Apple, in third place, fell 7%. Despite a U.S. ban on Huawei’s use of Android, the phone maker’s Q3 shipments consisted mostly of models already in development before the restriction was instated, said Canalys. It remains to be seen how distributors around the world will respond to Huawei’s post-ban smartphones.
Another interesting snippet of Huawei handset news is that it’s teamed up with a Beijing-based startup named ACRCloud to add audio recognition capabilities to its native music app. It’s a reminder that the company not only builds devices but has also been beefing up software development. Huawei Music has a content licensing deal with Tencent’s music arm and claims some 150 million monthly active users, both free and paid subscribers.
China’s modern-day nomads want flexible and cost-saving housing as much as their American counterparts do. The demand has given rise to apartment-rental services like Danke, which is sometimes compared to WeLive, a residential offering from the now besieged WeWork that provides fully-furnished, shared apartments on a flexible schedule.
Apartment rental is a capital-intensive game. Services like Danke don’t normally own property but instead lease from third-party apartment owners. That means they are tied to paying rents to the landlords irrespective of whether the apartments are ultimately subleased. They also bear large overhead costs from renovation and maintenance. Ultimately, it comes down to which player can arrange the most favorable terms with landlords and retain tenants by offering quality service and competitive rent.
Also worth your attention
WeChat has been quite restrained in monetization but seems to be recently lifting its commercial ambitions. The social networking giant, which already sells in-feed ads, is expanding its inventory by showing users geotargeted ads as they scroll through friends’ updates, Tencent announced (in Chinese) in a company post this week.
Alibaba reported a 40% revenue jump in its September quarter, beating analysts’ estimates despite a cooling domestic economy. Its ecommerce segment saw strong user growth in less developed areas where it’s fighting a fierce war with rival Pinduoduo to capture the next online opportunity. Users from these regions spent about 2,000 yuan ($ 284) in their first year on Alibaba platforms, said CEO Daniel Zhang in the earnings call.
Walmart’s digital integration is gaining ground in China as it announced that online-to-offline commerce now contributes 30% sales to its neighboorhood stores. Last November, the American retail behemoth began testing same-day delivery in China through a partnership with WeChat.
We’ve known this day would come for a long time now. Over the past several months, however, it feels like it has arrived in slow motion. Seemingly legitimate concerns over security and sanction violations have been muddled by chest-puffing and braggadocio and large-headed leaders promising to do deals. Executives were arrested in Canada and the company was added to a trade blacklist, only to be given a temporary reprieve.
This morning, in spite of it all, Huawei unveiled its latest flagship. The Mate 30 Pro is a beast of a smartphone, as we’ve come to expect from the Chinese electronics powerhouse. It’s got a quartet of cameras aligned in a ring up top. On the flip side, a 6.53-inch flexible OLED hugs the corners of the handset, boasting an always-on functionality — the long-awaited new feature that served as the central selling point for Apple’s latest wearable.
From a 100-foot view, however, it seems inevitable that no one will remember the handset for its screen or cameras or beefy 4,500mAh. It’s what’s missing that’s the most notable. The Mate 30 and Mate 30 Pro don’t use full Android, but rather an open-source version of the operating system based on it. More importantly, they are missing Google’s fundamental apps like Gmail, Maps and Chrome, a fundamental part of the Android experience. Worse yet, there’s no Google Play Store to download them.
The solutions for now are mostly stop-gap. There’s a Huawei-branded browser that lets you download apps through a Huawei-branded channel. There are 45,000 or so. Not bad, but nowhere near the 2.7 million you’ll find via Google Play. There will be better solutions to these, but they take a lot of both time and money. Huawei’s got plenty of the latter, though the former has been the cause for some debate amongst those following the company.
Apple isn’t the only smartphone manufacturer planning a big September launch. Huawei’s got a big event on the books as well, set for September 18 in Munich, just over a week after the new iPhones are unveiled. For Huawei, however, the Mate 30 announcement is about more than just smartphones.
The event is effectively the first big handset launch since the embattled Chinese manufacturer was added to the U.S. trade blacklist. The move had seemingly been a long time coming, after years of allegations ranging from spying to sanctions violations, but with the ban in place, the move will mark a key moment of truth for a company that has so far been dependent on offerings from U.S. companies like Google.
The Mate 30, which also marks a push into 5G, could potentially launch without Google apps. The recent U.S. government reprieve only applied to already announced products, according to a statement Google gave to Reuters. Trump has suggested that ban on Huawei products could be lifted with a new U.S.-China trade deal, further clouding the suggestion that the move made purely out of concerns for security.
The smartphone maker gave its own comment to Reuters, noting, “Huawei will continue to use the Android OS and ecosystem if the U.S. government allows us to do so. Otherwise, we will continue to develop our own operating system and ecosystem.”
That last bit is a clear allusion to HarmonyOS. The recently unveiled operating is largely limited to low end handsets and IoT device, but Huawei is also certainly readying itself for a longterm life after Google.
Meanwhile, CNBC is citing a source that suggests the phone will launch with or without Google apps, depending on how things shake out over the next few weeks. That would likely amount to a minor nuisance, requiring users to download them after purchase, while a full out Android brand would prove far more harmful to its bottom line.
It seems quite unlikely at the moment, however, that the company would attempt to launch such a high end device with its own partially baked operation system.