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China’s startup ecosystem is hitting back at demanding working hours – TechCrunch

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In China, the laws limit work to 44 hours a week and require overtime pay for anything above that. But many aren’t following the rules, and a rare online movement puts a spotlight on extended work hours in China’s booming tech sector. People from all corners of society have rallied in support for improvements to startup working conditions, while some warn of hurdles in a culture ingrained in the belief that more work leads to greater success.

In late March, anonymous activists introduced 996.ICU, a domain name that represents the grueling life of Chinese programmers: who work from 9 am to 9 pm, 6 days a week with the threat of ending up at ICU, a hospital’s intensive care unit. The site details local labor laws that explicitly prohibit overtime work without pay. The slogan “Developers’ lives matter” appears at the bottom in solemn silence.

A project called 996.ICU soon followed on GitHub, the Microsoft-owned code and tool sharing site. Programmers flocked to air their grievances, compiling a list of Chinese companies that reportedly practice 996 working. Among them were major names like e-commerce leaders Alibaba, JD.com and Pinduoduo, as well as telecoms equipment maker Huawei and Bytedance, the parent company of the red-hot short video app TikTok.

In an email response to TechCrunch, JD claimed it doesn’t force employees to work overtime.

“JD.com is a competitive workplace that rewards initiative and hard work, which is consistent with our entrepreneurial roots. We’re getting back to those roots as we seek, develop and reward staff who share the same hunger and values,” the spokesperson said.

Alibaba declined to comment on the GitHub movement, although founder Jack Ma shared on Weibo Friday his view on the 996 regime.

“No companies should or can force employees into working 996,” wrote Ma. “But young people need to understand that happiness comes from hard work. I don’t defend 996, but I pay my respect to hard workers!”

Photo source: Jack Ma via Weibo

Bytedance declined to comment on whether its employees work 996. We contacted Huawei but had not heard back from the company at the time of writing.

996.ICU rapidly rocketed to be the most-starred project on GitHub, which claims to be the world’s largest host of source codes. The protest certainly turned heads among tech bosses as China-based users soon noticed a number of browsers owned by companies practicing 996 had restricted access to the webpage.

The 996 dilemma

The 996 list is far from exhaustive as it comprises of voluntary entries from GitHub users. It’s also hard to nail down the average work hours at a firm, especially a behemoth with tens of thousands of employees where policies can differ across departments. For instance, it’s widely acknowledged that developers work longer than their peers in other units. Anecdotally, TechCrunch has heard that bosses in some organizations often find ways to exploit loopholes, such as setting unrealistic KPIs without explicitly writing 996 into employee contracts.

“While our company doesn’t force us into 996, sometimes, poor planning from upper management forces us to work long hours to meet arbitrary management deadlines,” a Beijing-based engineer at a professional networking site told TechCrunch. This person is one of many sources who spoke anonymously because they are not authorized to speak to media.

china office workers

BEIJING, CHINA APRIL 25, 2018: Passenger on a train in the Beijing Subway. Donat Sorokin/TASS (Photo by Donat SorokinTASS via Getty Images)

Other companies are more vocal about 996, taking pride in their excessively diligent culture. Youzan, the Tencent-backed, Shopify -like e-commerce solution provider, explicitly demanded staff to live out 996 work styles. Employees subsequently filed complaints in January to local labor authorities, which were said to have launched an investigation into Youzan.

A lot of companies are like Youzan, which equates long hours of work with success. That mindset can easily lure programmers or other staff into accepting extra work time. But employees are hardly the only ones burning out as entrepreneurs are under even greater pressure to grow the business they build from scratch.

“The recent debate over 996 brings to light the intense competition in China’s tech industry. To survive, startups and large companies have no choice but to work extremely hard. Some renown entrepreneurs even work over 100 hours a week,” Jake Xie, vice president of investment at China Growth Capital, an early-stage venture fund, told TechCrunch.

“Overtime is a norm at many internet companies. If we don’t work more, we fall behind,” said a founder of a Shenzhen-based mobile game developing startup. Competition is particularly cut-throat in China’s mobile gaming sector, where creativity is in short supply and a popular shortcut to success is knocking off an already viral title. Speed, therefore, is all it matters.

Meanwhile, a high-performing culture brewing in China may neutralize society’s resistance to 996. Driven individuals band together at gyms and yoga studios to sweat off stress. Getting group dinners before returning to work every night becomes essential to one’s social life, especially for those that don’t yet have children.

alibaba

Photo source: Jack Ma via Weibo

“There is a belief that more hours equals more learning. I think some percentage of people want to put in more hours, and that percentage is highest for 22 to 30 years old,” a Shanghai-based executive at a tech company that values work-life balance told TechCrunch. “A few people in my team have expressed to us that they feel they cannot grow as fast as their friends who are working at companies that practice 996.”

“If you don’t work 996 when you’re young, when will you?” Wrote 54-year-old Jack Ma in his Weibo post. “To this day, I’m definitely working at least 12 to 12, let alone 996… Not everyone practicing 996 has the chance to do things that are valuable and meaningful with a sense of achievement. So I think it’s a blessing for the BATs of China to be able to work 996.”

(BAT is short for Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent for their digital dominance in China, akin to FANNG in the west.)

Demanding hours are certainly not unique to the tech industry. Media and literature have long documented the strenuous work conditions in China’s manufacturing sector. Neighboring Japan is plagued by karoshi or “death from overwork” among its salarymen and Korean companies are also known for imposing back-breaking hours on workers, compelling the government to step in.

Attempts to change

Despite those apparent blocks, the anti-996 movement has garnered domestic attention. The trending topic “996ICU gets blocked by large companies” has generated nearly 2,000 posts and 6.3 million views on Weibo. China’s state-run broadcaster CCTV chronicled the incident and accused overtime work of causing “substantial physical and psychological consequences” in employees. Outside China, Python creator Guido van Rossum raised awareness about China’s 996 work routine in a tweet and on a forum.

“Can we do something for 996 programmers in China?” He wrote in a thread viewed 16,700 times.

The 996 campaign that began as a verbal outcry soon led to material acts. Shanghai-based lawyer Katt Gu and startup founder Suji Yan, who say they aren’t involved in the 996.ICU project, put forward an Anti-996 License that would keep companies in violation of domestic or global labor laws from using its open source software.

But some cautioned the restriction may undermine the spirit of open source, which denotes that a piece of software is distributed free and the source code undergirding it is accessible to others so they can study, share and modify the creator’s work.

“I strongly oppose and condemn 996, but at the same time I disagree with adding discretionary clauses to an open source project or using an open source project for the political game,” You Yuxi, creator of open-source project Vue, which was released under the MIT license, said on the Chinese equivalent to Twitter, Weibo. (Gu denies her project has any “political factors.”)

Others take a less aggressive approach, applauding companies that embrace the more humane schedule of “9 am to 5 pm for 5 days a week” via the “995.WLB” GitHub project. (WLB is short for “work-life balance.”) On this list are companies like Douban, the book and film review site famous for its “slow” growth but enduring popularity with China’s self-proclaimed hippies. WeWork, the workplace service provider that bills itself as showing respect for employees’ lives outside work, was also nominated.

While many nominees on the 996 list appear to be commercially successful, others point to a selection bias in the notion that more work bears greater fruit.

“If a company is large enough and are revealed to be practicing 996, the issue gets more attention. Take Youzan and JD for example,” a Shanghai-based developer at an enterprise software startup told TechCrunch.

“Conversely, a lot of companies that do practice 996 but have not been commercially successful are overlooked. There is no sufficient evidence that shows a company’s growth is linked to 996… What bosses should evaluate is productivity, not hours.”

Or, as some may suggest, managers should get better at incentivizing employees rather than blindingly asking for more hours.

“As long as [China’s] economy doesn’t stall, it may be hard to stop 996 from happening. This is not a problem of the individual. It’s an economic problem. What we can do is offering more humane care and inspiring workers to reflect, ‘Am I working at free will and with passion?’ instead of looking at their work hours,” suggested Xie of China Growth Capital.

While a push towards more disciplined work hours may be slow to come, experts have suggested another area where workers can strive for better treatment.

“It seems almost all startups in China underfund the social security or housing fund especially when they are young, that is, before series A or even series B financing,” Benjamin Qiu, partner at law firm Loeb & Loeb LLP, explained to TechCrunch.

“Compared to 996, the employees have an even stronger legal claim on the above since it violates regulations and financially hurts the employee. That said, the official social credit and housing fund requirement in China appears to be an undue burden on the employer compared to the Silicon Valley, but if complied with, it could be understood as an offset of the 996 culture.”

A number of my interviewees spoke on conditions of anonymity, not because their companies promote 996 but, curiously, because their employers don’t want to become ensnarled in the 996 discussions. “We don’t need to tell people we support work-life balance. We show it with action,” said a spokesperson for one company.



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Pixel 6 can’t fly some DJI drones because of an incompatible app

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It’s not really that unusual for some mobile apps to stop working on newer phones, especially if the app hasn’t been updated in years. It’s a completely different situation, however, if the app in question comes from a large and popular brand that does support the latest smartphones. That’s the rather puzzling and infuriating situation that new Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro owners have suddenly found themselves in after discovering that they can no longer fly their DJI drones. The company’s response, however, added insult to injury.

On the one hand, it might not exactly be too surprising for DJI owners and fans who have been keeping a close eye on the company’s products. Officially speaking, not even the Pixel 5 is listed in the company’s supported mobile devices, after all. On the other hand, the phone works just fine with the DJI Fly app, so Pixel 6 owners can’t be blamed for expecting the same situation with Google’s latest flagship.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the case, and owners of some DJI models are forced to decide between their new phone and their favorite drone. Several such owners are reporting that DJI’s Fly app only shows a black screen instead of the usual video feed, making the app practically useless. In fact, some are reporting that DJI’s other apps also crashed immediately on Pixel 6 phones.

DroneDJ reports that a DJI representative suggested using another phone just to be able to use the DJI Fly app. Unsurprisingly, that was met with harsh criticism and backlash since not everyone has the capacity to keep another phone just to fly a drone. DJI could always argue that it never promised the Pixel 6 to be compatible with the app, but few buyers are able to check those technical specifications first, especially if they’re not located in a discoverable place.

There’s also the mystery of why the app wouldn’t work on the Pixel 6 in the first place, especially if it has no problem working on other Android phones. It’s especially puzzling considering this is Google’s flagship, not an old phone from some lesser-known company. As one person put it, there would have been an even bigger uproar if it was discovered that DJI’s app didn’t support the iPhone 13.

DJI did acknowledge the issue and had at least promised to pay attention to it and resolve it ASAP. That said, it also adds that “if it bothers you a lot,” affected users should borrow or use a compatible phone, echoing the earlier recommendation. It’s definitely a disappointing and almost insulting response, and it doesn’t exactly inspire much hope if last year’s Pixel 5 hasn’t exactly been added to the official list yet in the first place.

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Galaxy Note production has reportedly ended

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As if Galaxy Note fans needed more reason to be glum this year, more news just dropped over the weekend that probably puts what might be the final name in the fan favorite’s coffin. There have been numerous reports of the Galaxy Note line’s demise, especially since it didn’t make an appearance this year. With the Galaxy S22 Ultra expected to pretty much stand in its place, this report about Samsung ceasing the production of Galaxy Note phones is both expected yet also disheartening for Galaxy Note believers.

Of course, nothing’s official yet, since it pretty much comes from the usual anonymous industry source. According to ETnews, Samsung is halting the production of the Galaxy Note series this year, which has all the elements of a prophecy of doom for the much-loved series. That said, there’s still a window of opportunity for Samsung to change course, at least after 2022.

The report says that the primary reason for Samsung stopping Galaxy Note production is to give way to the Galaxy Z Fold and Z Flip. The production capacity that would have been reserved for the Galaxy Note would instead be allocated for making these foldable phones. It might make sense given how there is no Galaxy Note this year, but that also means that it won’t be producing any new Galaxy Note 20 units next year either.

Complicating matters for Galaxy Note fans is Samsung’s 2022 production goals that were leaked recently. According to the unofficial information, Samsung plans on producing 13 million units of combined Galaxy Z Fold and Galaxy Z Flip phones, more than it has for the Galaxy Note line in the past two years. Those plans apparently don’t have space for a Galaxy Note again, suggesting that it will be a no-show next year as well.

Given the ongoing constraints in components, it is understandable that Samsung will consolidate its resources on one or the other smartphone line. For better or for worse, the company is betting on foldables next year, specifically the Galaxy Z Flip 4, as it tries to push the still niche devices into mainstream consciousness. There’s also the expectation that the Galaxy S22 Ultra will practically take the place of the Galaxy Note in everything except the name anyway.

Of course, many Galaxy Note users are displeased with these reports, especially with suggestions that the Galaxy Z Fold is being groomed to replace their favorite stylus-toting phablet. Admittedly, the foldable phone still has ways to go to become a Galaxy Note substitute, especially if the Galaxy Z Fold 4 still won’t have a mechanism for storing the S Pen. In the meantime, however, the Galaxy S22 Ultra could give Galaxy Note fans their fix, checking all the boxes and putting the final nail in the Galaxy Note’s coffin.

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Samsung Galaxy S22: Rumors, leaks and everything we know

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The highly anticipated Samsung Galaxy S22 series is not long away from its release with speculations brewing for early 2022 launch, and rumors of the flagship doing rounds in plenty. The premium phone will come in three variants: the successors to Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21 Plus and Galaxy S21 Ultra respectively.

This line-up will try and retain the charm of the canceled Note series for this year at least. The Galaxy S22 Ultra will be the best device in the line-up, and current rumors and leaks assure the Samsung flagship for 2022 will edge out the competitors by a long way.

Design and display

The design of the Galaxy S22 and the Galaxy S22 Plus will be more or less the same as the predecessor, whereas the Galaxy S22 Ultra will have a boxier Galaxy Note influence courtesy of the squared corners and the S Pen slot. This fact is clear from the leaked renders by reliable leakster Steve Hemmerstoffer (a.k.a. OnLeaks) in partnership with Digit.

Another thing that’s very clear is the refreshing gamut of color options; the Galaxy S22 and Galaxy S22 Plus will come in white, rose gold, green and black colors. The Galaxy S22 Ultra will feature white, black, and dark red colorways.

The camera module on the rear of the Galaxy S22 Ultra will have a P-shaped camera housing split in half. Another backplate picture also suggests the existence of this radical design change. This has gained more substance as the recent real-life leaked images of the S22 Ultra prototype align with whatever is said earlier.

Trusted tipster Ice Universe and Mauri QHD recently tweeted about the screen size of the upcoming flagship. According to them, the Galaxy S22 will adorn a 6.06-inch Full-HD+ flat AMOLED display which will be a bit smaller than the one on Galaxy S21.

The Plus variant will have a 6.55-inch display and Galaxy S22 Ultra might get a slightly bigger 6.81-inch Full HD+ display. The latter is also speculated by Mauri QHD to have an adaptive refresh rate between 1Hz – 120Hz thanks to the LTPO technology. Ice Universe claims the phone will have a brightness level of 1500 nits or even 2,000 nits.

Specification and features

The processing power of the Galaxy S22 lineup will be a hot topic until its release. It will expectedly be powered by the 4nm Snapdragon 898 chipset, which will take graphics and AI to a whole new level. So will it bump up the camera performance and overall user experience with massive processing power. However, according to a leak, many global carriers are requesting Exynos variant of the phone over Snapdragon for a good reason.

The Exynos 2200 with the AMD RDNA 2 architecture-based GPU powering the Galaxy S22 variants will present a good fight. Capabilities comparable to gaming consoles and the Wild Life results leaked by Ice Universe suggest a graphics benchmark of 8,134 and average FPS of 50.3. In fact, the South Korean electronics giant is believed to be testing the AMD graphics-based chip that’ll change the landscape of gaming on mobile devices.

According to Max Weinbach, Samsung could offer both the SoC options for each device in the lineup irrespective of the region, as it did in the past. Either of these SoCs will be mated to 8GB LPDRR5X RAM and 256GB UFS 3.1 storage on the Galaxy S22 and Galaxy S22 Plus. The Galaxy S22 Ultra on the other hand will come with 12GB and 16GB LPDRR5X RAM and 256GB and 512GB UFS 3.1 onboard storage.

Camera prowess

While we had an early rumor of an Olympus partnership, the rumor has been washed away now. As per Ice Universe, the Galaxy S22 Ultra will see some changes in the camera sensors. The main camera lens will be a 108MP (f/1.8) HM3 sensor with an 85-degree field-of-view and laser autofocus.

The ultra-wide (with optical image stabilization) will be the same and the 10MP telephoto lens will have a larger pixel size for improved low-light photography. For the S22 Ultra, the company is working on a super detailed photo mode to match iPhone 13 Pro Max and Pixel 6 Pro.

Galaxy S22 and S22 Plus will have a 50MP primary sensor (probably ISOCELL GN2) with the RGBW unit for better color reproduction. Another rumor points to a 3X telephoto zoom level at 10MP resolution. The Galaxy S22 variant is also tipped to record 8K video at 60 fps, which will be better than the Galaxy S21 Ultra from the last year.

Battery and charging

The batteries on the vanilla Galaxy S22 and the Galaxy S22 Plus might see a downgrade with 3,700mAh and 4,600mAh respectively. Compare that to the equivalent predecessor variants which have 4,000mAh and 4,800mAh capacity batteries. The S22 Ultra will have the same 5,000mAh juicing up its guts though.

A recent listing spotted by SamMobile points to a 4,370mAh battery for the Plus variant and 4,855mAh for the Galaxy S22 Ultra. In either case, buyers seeking a higher battery capacity will have to live without such a change, if the final released Galaxy S22 line-up arrives with the speculated battery capacities.

Rumors in the past by Ice Universe have hinted at the reincarnation of the 65W fast charging for the Galaxy S22. That’s contradicted by a recently leaked listing on China’s tech regulator portal suggesting the 25W charging tech for the phone. If that’s the case, eager buyers will be a bit disappointed, especially seeing other OEMs offering crazy fast charging speeds.

Release date and price

The Samsung Galaxy S22 series is likely to launch in February 2022 but we have to factor in the global chip shortage. In that case, a delay of a few weeks or even months won’t be surprising. A recent rumor by Jon Prosser hints at a February 8, 2022 release for the line-up. The reliable tipster also claims the flagship will be up for pre-order the very same day with the sale going live on February 18.

Last year, the Galaxy S21 lineup saw a drop of a couple of hundred dollars on all the variants. While we don’t expect a further drop in price for the new Galaxy S22, similar pricing (in the best-case scenario) as that of the predecessor is on the cards. That said, a recent rumor could shatter the dreams, it tips a price increase to $849 for the vanilla Galaxy S22 and the Plus variant it suggests a $1,049 tag. The Premium flagship Galaxy S22 Ultra will cost a hefty $1,299 according to the leaked information.

Wrap-up

Usually, leaks by reliable tipsters turn out to be close to the official release specs, we have seen this in the past. So, we can have a fair idea about the upcoming Galaxy S22 series from all that’s around in the tech cloud already. An under-display selfie camera (which won’t have many changes) could be on the cards, while S Pen support for the Galaxy S22 Ultra could be a surprise everyone will relish.

We would wish for a fast-charging device, at least 45W charging support would be great together with better battery management courtesy of the new-age chipsets. So, a lesser battery capacity won’t hurt that much, and we are sure Samsung has got that covered.

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