Data Sheet—China’s Tech Debutantes Still Dazzle, Despite Uncertainties
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China’s tech companies grappled with daunting new challenges this year, including Draconian government supervision at home and a welter of controls on exports and investments abroad. But they’re still crushing it on foreign stock markets, says a recent report in VentureBeat citing research by Renaissance Capital.
Among this year’s notable China tech listings: e-commerce platform Pinduoduo, which raised $1.6 billion in July, and electric and autonomous car startup NIO, which raised $1 billion last month. Renaissance counts 23 Chinese IPOs in the U.S. the first nine months of 2018, the best showing for Chinese listings since 2010. And that’s not counting blockbuster China IPOs in Hong Kong, including Meituan Dianping, which raised $4.2 billion in September, and Xiaomi, which raised $4.7 billion in June.
And there are more China offerings are in the pipeline. On Tuesday, China’s Tencent Music Entertainment Group, China’s largest music-streaming company, filed to go public in the U.S. The company, which operates a host of popular apps including QQ Music and an online karaoke platform, boasts more than 800 million total unique monthly active users, and is expected to be one of the biggest listings of the year.
Tencent Music was created by Tencent Holdings in 2016. An equity swap last year with Spotify Technology valued the company at $12.5 billion. The Wall Street Journal puts recent estimates of Tencent Music’s value at around double that, suggesting the company’s listing could be the biggest tech IPO ever.
Investors don’t seem that put off by the lackluster post-IPO performance of this year’s China tech debutantes. The most dazzling prospect of them all, Alibaba Group spin-off Ant Financial, has shelved plans for going public. Speculation now has it that the mobile payments giant, widely valued at $150 billion, will wait at least another year. Odds are global investors will still be keen.
To every thing there is a season. Everyone wants to be in hardware these days, even Microsoft. The software giant rolled out updates on Tuesday to many of Surface computers, including the Surface Pro 6 2-in-1, Surface Laptop 2 (now in black but still lacking USB-C ports), and the Surface Studio 2 desktop. One surprise: $350 noise canceling headphones with digital assistant Cortana built in. Meanwhile, the king of hardware that everyone wants to emulate—Apple—is planning a major update...of emojis. New icons in iOS 12.1 include a bagel, a swan, and options for people with red hair, curly hair, and (hitting close to home for this writer) grey hair.
A time to heal. After receiving blistering criticism for poor treatment of its warehouse workers, Amazon said it is raising its minimum wage to $15 for all 350,000 workers, including temps, part timers, and seasonal employees. “We listened to our critics, thought hard about what we wanted to do, and decided we want to lead,” CEO Jeff Bezos said.
A time to hate. A meta-study of 24 prior studies looking at the impact of children playing violent video games concluded that the activity does make kids more aggressive. Researchers at Dartmouth concluded that the controversial link between such games and physical aggression is real. “Based on our findings, we feel it is clear that violent video game play is associated with subsequent increases in physical aggression,” lead author Jay Hull said.
A time to embrace. With Congress pondering what to do about privacy, Apple CEO Tim Cook gave an interview to Vice's Elle Reeve about the topic. He didn't have a lot of specific suggestions, however. "I think some level of government regulation is important to come out of that," Cook said.
A time to gather stones. Cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase was valued at $8 billion in its latest round of fundraising, which brought in $500 million of private capital. That's five times what the six-year-old startup was worth when it last raised money just over a year ago. Also, the Wall Street Journal says it has created its own digital currency, dubbed WSJCoin, as an "experiment." Hmm.
Turn, turn, turn. They told us that making video content easily available online would cut down on video piracy—and it did. But a new study finds that the proliferation of competing video services, and the creation of so much "original" content, is now leading to an uptick in piracy. File sharing via BitTorrent reached 52% of all North American broadband traffic in 2011 and then declined to 27% by 2015, monitoring firm Sandvine reports. But now, without giving exact numbers, the company says that "trend appears to be reversing." Users of BitTorrent consumed the second-most bandwidth behind Netflix subscribers this year.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Smartphones like the iPhone didn't spring up out of nowhere. A long line of technological advances preceded the industry, in everything from wireless phones to pocket calculators. Science writer Duncan Geere delves into the "Great Calculator Race" of the 1970s for the web site How We Get To Next. And it wasn't just calculators. The first device, dubbed the CalTech, was a prototype pocket calculator created by Texas Instruments in 1967, Geere writes. Things moved quickly from there:
The HP-65 marked the start of a new era, as silicon chips became cheap and ubiquitous. The Speak & Spell, which Texas Instruments released in 1978, wasn’t just an iconic toy — it had a third of the processing power of the Apollo Guidance Computer, and cost just $50 (about $191 today). Through the 1970s and into the 1980s, the Great Calculator Race turned into the pocket computer boom, and devices gained more and more features: by 1979, you could accessorize a calculator like the HP-41C with extras such as a barcode reader, a floppy disk drive, and a printer. The device even came along on nine early space shuttle missions to perform basic calculations and serve as a backup to the main onboard computer.
The Soviet Union had its own parallel programmable calculator industry in the late 1970s, beginning with 1978’s garish, plasticky Elektronika B3–21 and followed by the equally cheap-looking Elektronika B3–34, released in 1980 and sold for 85 rubles (about $35, or $107 in 2018 adjusted for inflation, although historical currency conversions across the Iron Curtain should always be taken with a pinch of salt). This was the first computer many people in the U.S.S.R. ever used, and they wrote all kinds of programs for it — from scientific and business software to adventure games. In 1985, the science magazine Tekhnika Molodezhi published a science fiction story named “Way to Earth,” accompanied by programs for the B3–34 that could be used to simulate the story’s journey from the moon to the Earth. The calculator sent humans to the moon in fiction, if not fact.
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BEFORE YOU GO
Going to the movies this weekend? The reviews are in for comic book-inspired action flick Venom and they are not good. The New York Post calls it "an absolute disaster." Maybe something a little deeper? Critics are mostly swooning over A Star Is Born. "A total emotional knockout," says Variety. Not exactly the same amount of car chases, but entertaining nonetheless.