What is the world to do with the graveyards of dockless bicycles left over after China’s bike sharing startups retreated from global markets?
One man has come up with the best idea to date: donate them to students who need them.
Entrepreneur Mike Than Tun Win has bought 10,000 bikes from bike-sharing companies which he plans to provide to school children across Myanmar, many of who walk miles to school and, more broadly, lack transportation for their families.
“It’s a common sight to see lines and lines of students walking long distances from home to school in rural villages,” Than explained. “Some students can walk up to one hour from home to school and the families can hardly afford a simple form of transport like bicycle or motorcycle… a school bus is almost unheard of to the students in rural villages.”
To bridge the gap, Than — whose companies include tech entrepreneurship project 8bod.com and travel startup flymya.com — created a non-profit organization called LessWalk which is buying up the bikes and making them suitable for students.
That means fitting them with a second seat, switching the QR code-scan lock for a regular key lock and then shipping them to Myanmar. Many of the bikes have been bought from liquidators — who took control of oBike’s shuttered business in Singapore and inherited Ofo’s abandoned fleets — which makes their acquisition cheaper than regular bikes. But still, the fixes and shipping costs are estimated at around $35-$40 per bike.
Than described those prices as “a rare once in a lifetime opportunity” to make a positive impact, but there’s still a significant cost attached to the project.
Than told TechCrunch that the project is funded with around $400,000 in capital, half of which has come from donations and sponsors with Than himself providing the rest.
“Suddenly, there was an opportunity to buy [these bikes] at fraction of price,” he said in an interview. “The benefit it can develop is well beyond that cost.”
Right now, Than said that he has received around 4,000 bikes, which are currently warehoused in Myanmar. Rather than sad, well-used or damaged cycles, LessWalk has bought itself unused, new-generation products that hadn’t been deployed to the streets. Once sitting in a warehouse awaiting a rollout with startups, the adapted bikes will be distributed to students this year.
But giving out thousands of bicycles is no easy feat given that Myanmar has a population of over 50 million people and more than nine million students.
Than said he’s currently in contact with government organizations and civic groups in Myanmar to identify potential beneficiaries. The primary focus is students aged 13-16 who walk 2km or more to school each day and part of families without transport. He envisages that bikes will be given out in batches every two weeks for two or three months with support from volunteer groups and the government, but a lot of the operational approach is still to be defined.
“I’m only halfway through the journey. The remaining 50 percent is making sure we have an impact,” Than told TechCrunch.
Further down the line, he is hopeful that he can inspire “global friends” to follow his lead and set up similar donation programs that will put the hundreds of thousands of abandoned bikes to work, instead of creating yet more urban trash. Already, Than said he is fielding interest from Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia.
Donations aren’t the only sustainable future for fleets of former Mobike and Ofo bikes, in some cases the people who ran the services are taking control. Indeed, a number of Mobike executives got together to buy out the company’s European business from Meituan — the on-demand giant that owns Mobike — for $20 million. That deal is scheduled to close this month.
Apple Q1 2022 winners & losers: iPhone up, iPad down in bumper holiday
Apple has released the earnings report for its first fiscal quarter of 2022, announcing yet another all-time record with revenue hitting $123.9 billion. The company credits a “very strong customer response” toward its latest and greatest products for the growth, noting its earnings ultimately jumped 11-percent compared to the previous year.
Apple’s most recent fiscal quarter ended on December 25, 2021, raking in growth across the services, wearables, Mac, and iPhone products lines. The iPad was the only notable exception to the records, with the overall trend hinting at a bright future despite pandemic-related disruptions.
The company hasn’t provided forward guidance since the start of the pandemic and the most recent quarterly earnings report is no exception. Despite that, Apple CEO Tim Cook did offer some insight into the company’s expectations for the next quarter in a statement to CNBC, revealing Apple expects to see “solid year-over-year revenue growth” during its March quarter.
As with many other companies in the industry, Apple has been hit hard by supply chain disruptions. Though this issue won’t disappear overnight, Cook said Apple expects these “constraints” to be less of a problem in its next quarter compared to the December quarter.
Apple introduced its iPhone 13 series in September 2021, paving the way for typically high sales over the holiday period. As of October, the company warned that supply shortages may end up hitting the iPhone and iPad lines, potentially impacting holiday sales. This reality was reflected in consumers’ struggle to find the iPhone 13 Pro, at least in their desired configurations, for weeks after its launch.
Though the December quarter ended up exceeding analysts’ expectations, the struggle isn’t quite over. Cook explained that Apple’s “biggest issue” involves supply chain constraints related to legacy nodes, a problem we’ve heard before. However, Apple’s CEO did reveal the company is “doing okay” when it comes to acquiring leading-edge chips, which refers to the powerful hardware powering many of the smart devices used in everyday life.
The constraints aside, Cook also mentioned Apple’s ongoing environmental and social efforts as part of the company’s earnings announcement, stating:
We are gratified to see the response from customers around the world at a time when staying connected has never been more important. We are doing all we can to help build a better world — making progress toward our goal of becoming carbon neutral across our supply chain and products by 2030, and pushing forward with our work in education and racial equity and justice.
Facebook Messenger will tell you if someone screenshots your disappearing message
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a major new feature for Facebook Messenger, one that will significantly improve privacy on the platform: Notifications when someone screenshots your disappearing messages in a Secret Conversation secured with end-to-end encryption.
“New update for end-to-end encrypted Messenger chats so you get a notification if someone screenshots a disappearing message,” Zuckerberg wrote on January 27, 2022. “We’re also adding GIFs, stickers, and reactions to encrypted chats too.”
Facebook first introduced disappearing messages in November 2020, in both Messenger and Instagram. The move was part of a larger effort to provide additional protection across the company’s messaging platforms, with WhatsApp receiving a similar feature just weeks before.
From the very beginning, Messenger would notify users when someone took a screenshot of a disappearing message, making this latest announcement seem redundant. There’s one very important difference, however.
Facebook’s end-to-end encryption push
Facebook has been working to roll out end-to-end encryption (E2EE) across its messaging platforms. E2EE is a significant upgrade from server-side encryption and is considered the gold standard of privacy and security. In the case of server-side encryption, the service provider has the key that can be used to decrypt your data. As a result, you can never truly be sure who is accessing your data and messages.
With E2EE, however, your data is encrypted in such a way that only you and the person you’re communicating with can read your message. Not even the provider, whose service you’re using, can intercept and read your messages. Needless to say, while E2EE offers unrivaled security, it can be more difficult to add features that are commonplace in non-E2EE services.
That distinction is what makes Zuckerberg’s latest announcement different. Facebook is now providing screenshot notifications within E2EE chats, adding an additional layer of privacy and security to such messages. The addition of reactions, GIFs, and stickers to these chats, meanwhile, will make private conversations a bit more exciting. The new features are rolling out now.
Your iPhone could accept contactless payments in the future
Apple is working on a service that will let you accept payments directly through your iPhone, according to a new report from Mark Gurman at Bloomberg. Gurman’s sources say that the tech giant has been working on the feature since 2020, when it purchased Mobeewave, the Canadian startup behind new tech for smartphones that lets them accept contactless payments from credit cards.
Gurman reports that the payment system will probably rely on the iPhone’s near field communications chip (NFC). The iPhone already uses the NFC chip to process payments using Apple Pay, so it would make sense to build off of that usage with the new service.
Currently, users accepting payments via their iPhone have to rely on third-party hardware from companies like Square. With this new tech, though, businesses would be able to accept card payments by simply letting the customer tap their card against their iPhone. It’s an interesting concept, and one that could turn the world of handheld sales on its head depending on how Apple pushes it.
Apple could announce a new iPhone SE, too
While Apple hasn’t shared any real details about the plan, or indeed any official news at all, it is something to keep an eye on. Additionally, Gurman says that the tech may debut later this year, alongside some other announcements that people are expecting from Apple. Chief among these other announcements is a new iPhone SE model, as well as an iPad Air that offers 5G connectivity. Gurman says those devices are expected to debut in March or April, and we’ve already seen previous reports about a new Mac that uses Apple’s custom-built processors, too.
Apple pushing towards accepting payments directly on its devices isn’t exactly a surprise. The company has slowly been expanding its payment options in the past, with the launch of the Apple Card, as well as a push to get Apple Pay in more stores around the world. The company also launched the Apple Cash Card, which allows you to send payments directly peer-to-peer, similarly to services like PayPal or Venmo. All we need to do now is wait and see how Apple pushes this new service, and exactly what it means for current payment providers like Square.
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