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Welcome to TechCrunch’s China roundup, a digest of events that happened at major Chinese tech companies and what they mean to tech founders and executives around the world.

The talk about U.S.-China relationships over the past two weeks has centered heavily on the NBA controversy, which has put the interest of some of China’s largest tech firms at stake. Last week, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey voiced support for Hong Kong protests in his since-deleted tweet, angering China’s NBA fans and prompting a raft of local tech companies to sever ties with the league. But some businesses seem to be back on track.

Tencent, which is famous for a slew of internet products, including WeChat and its Netflix-like video service, has been NBA’s exclusive streaming partner since 2009 and recently renewed the deal through the 2024-25 season. As many as 490 million fans in China watched NBA programming through Tencent in just one season this year, the pair claims.

The basketball games are clearly a driver of ad revenue and subscribers for Tencent amid fierce competition in China’s video streaming market, but following Morey’s statement, the company swiftly announced (in Chinese) it would suspend portions of its broadcast arrangements with the NBA. Popular smartphone brand Vivo and Starbucks’s local challenger Luckin also promised to pause collaboration with the NBA.

It was a tough call for businesses having to choose between economic interest and patriotism, and Tencent was tactful in its response, pledging only to “temporarily” halt the streaming of NBA “preseason games (China).” As public anger subsided over the week, Tencent resumed airing NBA preseason games on Monday. After all, the content partnership reportedly cost Tencent a heavy sum of $ 1.5 billion.

Entertainment giant turns to education

tiktok edutok

TikTok is probably the Chinese Internet service being most closely watched by the world at the moment. Its parent firm ByteDance, last reportedly valued at $ 75 billion, has ambitions beyond short videos.

This week, more details emerged on the upstart’s education endeavors through a WeChat post by Musical.ly founder Lulu Yang, whose short-video startup was acquired by ByteDance and subsequently merged with TikTok. Yang confirmed he was helping ByteDance to develop an education device in collaboration with phone maker Smartisan’s former hardware team, which ByteDance has absorbed. The product, which leverages ByteDance’s artificial intelligence capabilities, will be a “robotic learning companion” for K-12 students to use at home.

The news arrived in the same week that ByteDance’s flagship video app TikTok announced producing educational content for India, where it’s used by 200 million people every month. The move is designed to assuage local officials who have vehemently slammed TikTok for hosting illicit content, as my colleague Manish Singh pointed out.

Diving into education appears to be a sensible move for ByteDance to build relationships with local authorities, which can at times find its entertainment-focused content problematic. The multi-billion-dollar online education industry is also highly lucrative. ByteDance, with 1.5 billion daily users across TikTok, Douyin (TikTok for China), Toutiao news aggregator and other new media apps, is in a good position to monetize the enormous base by touting new services, whether they are educational content or mobile games.

Also worth your time

  • A total of 53 major video streaming services in China have introduced a “safe mode” for teenagers as of this week, state media reported (in Chinese). During the controls mode, underage users won’t be able to search for content, send real-time comments or private messages, upload or share videos, or reward live streaming hosts with virtual gifts. It’s part of China’s national effort to protect young people from consuming harmful digital content and internet addiction, which has also spawned age checks processes in Tencent games. 
  • Xiaohongshu, a fast-growing social commerce app in China, is back in Android app stores nearly three months after it was banned by the government for undisclosed reasons. Rumors had it that the service, which was reportedly valued at more than $ 2.5 billion last year, was used to spread pornography and fake reviews. It’s hardly the first tech company hit by media regulation, and it can probably learn a thing or two from ByteDance, which has aggressively ramped up its content moderation force following a sequence of crackdowns by the government.
  • Meituan will partner with 1,000 vocational schools in the country to train as many as 100 million workers from the service industry over the next ten years, the Hong Kong-listed company announced (in Chinese) this week. Food delivery makes up the bulk of the on-demand services giant’s business but its footprint spans a wide range. The classes it provides to prepare workers for a digital era will also touch upon skincare, hair styling, manicure, plastic surgery, hospitality and parenting, a program highlighting the extensive reach of technology into Chinese people’s every life.
  • Chinese workers turn out to be big advocates for the application of AI. According to a survey by Oracle and research firm Future Workplace, workers in India (60 percent) and China (56 percent) are the most excited about AI. Japan, where the labor force is shrinking, ranks surprisingly low (25 percent), and the U.S. has an equally mild reaction (22 percent) toward the technology.


TechCrunch

Porsche is squeezing in one more teaser ahead of the global debut of the all-electric Porsche Taycan. And this time, the German automaker didn’t hold back.

Professional racer Shea Holbrook drove a prototype Taycan from a standstill up to 90.58 miles per hour (145 km/h), then slammed on the brakes back to zero all within 10.7 seconds. Shea accelerated the Taycan to 90.58 mph in just 422 feet before braking hard.

If that wasn’t splashy enough, Porsche took it up a level and conducted the demonstration on the flight deck of the USS Hornet, the 27,500-ton aircraft carrier used to recover astronauts from the Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 missions to the moon. You can watch the entire test run in the video below.

Yes, this is gratuitous automotive theater and a marketing ploy. It’s also a spectacularly fun way to show off the stability and performance of Porsche’s big bet on electric vehicles.

Now, the 0-90-0 run falls short of the traditional 0-100-0 tests. It’s not clear why Porsche didn’t make a 0-100-0 run, although available space might have been a factor.porsche taycan uss hornet 001

Stefan Weckbach, vice president of the Taycan product line, admitted that the demonstration was “some kind of fun testing than a completely serious one.” But he added that it was a fitting way to demonstrate the power of the car as it nears the end of its development.

On a tough, changeable surface the Taycan’s composure, its incredible acceleration and stopping power were absolutely impressive – though we decided not to take it to the max, just to reach the 0-100 mph margin.” Weckbach said. While I was completely sure both Shea and the car could achieve something special, I’m really relieved no one went for a swim.”

 

Holbrook said that despite appearances, the deck was quite bumpy.

“Deliberately accelerating towards thin air and the ocean is a new experience for me, but the Taycan gave me a huge amount of confidence — it was really stable but under acceleration and, more importantly, under braking,” she added.

porsche taycan uss hornet 021

 


TechCrunch

SpaceX has completed a second low-altitude test flight of its ‘Starhopper’ demonstration prototype, which is being used to test technologies that will be used to build the full-scale next-generation SpaceX ‘Starship’ spacecraft. This test involved ‘hopping’ the Starhopper (hence the name, get it?) to a height of around 150m (or a little under 500 feet), the highest it’s flown so far, at a SpaceX test facility in Texas. After the hop, which lasted around 50 seconds (the GIF above is sped up 2X) it successfully navigated itself to a target landing pad a short distance away.

This is the second untethered test trip for the Starhopper, and will is intended to be its last, as SpaceX moves forward with construction of its Starship Mk I and Mk II prototypes, which is taking place currently and simultaneously at sites in Florida and Texas. Today’s attempt was the second try after a planned test yesterday was aborted at the last second, with SpaceX resetting and ensuring everything was in place for this longer hop, which lasted just under a minute.

In July, SpaceX ran its first untethered hop, which is designed to test the operation of the Raptor engine SpaceX is developing for Starship, along with other subsystems for use in the production Starship. That flew only for around 22 seconds, and attained a height of just 20 meters (a little over 65 feet).

Construction is currently in progress at both SpaceX’s Texas and Florida facilities on its full-scale Starship prototypes, which SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is ambitious will begin their own flight testing later this year, in perhaps as little as a few months. The larger prototypes, which should be closer to what will actually launch, will test more Raptor engines working together and aim to fly to higher altitudes, another key step as the company works towards a true first orbital test flight.

Ultimately, SpaceX is hoping to replace both Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy entirely with different configurations of Starship, which will help the company in terms of cost efficiency thanks to its fully reusable nature, and streamlining all of its rocket construction efforts around one type of vehicle.


TechCrunch

SpaceX encountered a snag in an attempted test key to the development of its next-generation Starship spacecraft. Specifically, the StarHopper sub scale demonstration and testing craft it’s using to work on the Starthip’s propulsion system fails to undertake its first untethered test flight at a testing site in Boca Chica Beach in Texas,

The plan was to have the demonstration craft take off and fly to a height of 20 meters before returning to Earth, all under tis own power and directed by its own guidance system. Instead, It seemed to fire rockets and then was engulfed in smoke, before venting fire out of the top of the test craft for a few minutes prior to extinguishing, with StarHopper looking relatively unscathed. We’re still waiting on official confirmation of what happened from SpaceX, but they characterized this as an “abort” on a livestream of the test.

Last week during a static test fire, the StarHopper vehicle was engulfed in a large ball of flame. This wasn’t a planned event, but did not result in significant damage to the spacecraft, SpaceX later said.

StarHopper succeeded in flying its first tethered flight at the beginning of April, and has undergone further testing since then to prepare for this untethered trip. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said earlier this month that a successful untethered test would pave the way for a full presentation of SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft plans at the end of July, but the test has encountered a few issues since then.

The reason SpaceX and other companies run tests like these is to identify potential issues early in the development process, so it’s good to see them making progress even if that doesn’t mean a “success” in the traditional sense of actually having achieved untethered flight.

SpaceX designed Starship will be fully reusable once complete, unlike Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, so it’ll reduce the cost of launches, and the company hopes to eventually use it to fly all its missions, though it’ll keep Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy in service for its paying customers as long as there’s appetite.


TechCrunch

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk believes that both the Texas and Florida Starship prototype rockets being developed by the private space company will fly “in 2 to three months,” which is an aggressive timeline considering the planned untethered flight of its Starhopper demonstration prototype missed its target of running this past week.

SpaceX is developing two Starship prototypes in parallel, at both its Texas and Florida facilities, in what is sometime referred to in the technology industry as a ‘bake-off.’ Both teams develop their own rockets independently, in an attempt to spur a sense of internal competition and potentially arrive at combined progress that wouldn’t be possible with just a single team working together on the task.

Earlier this month, Musk stated that the inaugural untethered test of its Starhopper (Hopper for short) Starship tech demo prototype would happen this past Tuesday, July 16. Those plans were derailed when a preliminary test firing of its engines resulted in a large fireball captured on camera by many local observers. Musk later said on Twitter that this was the result of a “post test fuel leak” but added that there was actually no significant damage to the sub-scale Starhopper itself.

The SpaceX CEO then continued with a new timeline for the untethered test, saying it should happen sometime this coming week instead. That’s definitely a required step for the company to take ahead of any test flights of the more complete Starhopper prototypes.

Those initial test will be sub-orbital flights, Musk said on Friday, with orbital tests to follow some “2 to 3 months” after those first test flights 2 to 3 months from today – so, that puts the earliest orbital test flights for Starship at just 4 to 6 months from now. Based on how Musk’s stated timelines match up with reality, you should definitely consider that an extremely optimistic assessment.

Musk also shared some detail about how Starship will launch – it’ll use a launch structure, which is currently under construction at another site, much like Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy does today.


TechCrunch


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