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Tiger Global and Ant Financial lead $500M investment in China’s shared housing startup Danke – TechCrunch

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A Chinese startup that’s taking a dorm-like approach to urban housing just raised $500 million as its valuation jumped over $2 billion. Danke Apartment, whose name means “eggshell” in Chinese, closed the Series C round led by returning investor Tiger Global Management and newcomer Ant Financial, Alibaba’s e-payment and financial affiliate controlled by Jack Ma.

Four years ago, Beijing-based Danke set out with a mission to provide more affordable housing for young Chinese working in large urban centers. It applies the coworking concept to housing by renting apartments that come renovated and fully furnished, a model not unlike that of WeWork’s WeLive. The idea is by slicing up a flat designed for a family of three to four — the more common type of urban housing in China — into smaller units, young professionals can afford to live in nicer neighborhoods as Danke takes care of hassles like housekeeping and maintenance. To date, the startup has set foot in ten major Chinese cities.

With the new funds, Danke plans to upgrade its data processing system that deals with rental transactions. Housing prices are set by AI-driven algorithms that take into account market forces such as locations rather than rely on the hunches of a real estate agent. The more data it gleans, the smarter the system becomes. That layout is the engine of the startup, which believes an internet platform play is a win-win for both homeowners and tenants because it provides greater transparency and efficiency while allowing the company to scale faster.

“We are focused on business intelligence from day one,” Danke’s angel investor and chairman Derek Shen told TechCrunch in an interview. Shen was the former president of LinkedIn China and was instrumental in helping the professional networking site enter the country. “By doing so we are eliminating the need to set up offline retail outlets and are able to speed up the decision-making process. What landlords normally care is who will be the first to rent out their property. The model is also copiable because it requires less manpower.”

“We’ve proven that the rental housing business can be decentralized and done online,” added Shen.

Photo: Danke Apartment via Weibo

Danke doesn’t just want to digitize the market it’s after. Half of the company’s core members have hailed from Nuomi, the local services startup that Shen founded and was sold to Baidu for $3.2 billion back in 2015. Having worked for a business of which mission was to let users explore and hire offline services from their connected devices, these executives developed a propensity to digitize all business aspects including Danke’s day-to-day operations, a scheme that will also take up some of the new funds. This will allow Danke to “boost operational efficiency and cut costs” as it “actively works with the government to stabilize rental prices in the housing market,” the company says.

The rest of the proceeds will go towards improving the quality of Danke’s apartment amenities and tenant experiences, a segment that Shen believes will see great revenue potential down the road, akin to how WeWork touts software services to enterprises. The money will also enable Danke, which currently zeroes in on office workers and recent college graduates, to explore the emerging housing market for blue-collar workers.

Other investors from the round include new backer Primavera Capital and existing investors CMC Capital, Gaorong Capital and Joy Capital.

China’s rental housing market has boomed in recent years as Beijing pledges to promote affordable apartments in a country where few have the money to buy property. As President Xi Jinping often stresses, “houses are for living in, not for speculation.” As such, investors and entrepreneurs have been piling into the rental flat market, but that fervor has also created unexpected risks.

One much-criticized byproduct is the development of so-called “rental loans.” It goes like this: Housing operators would obtain loans in tenants’ names from banks or other lending institutions allegedly by obscuring relevant details from contracts. So when a tenant signs an agreement that they think binds them to rents, they have in fact agreed to take on loans and their “rent” payments become monthly loan repayments.

Housing operators are keen to embrace such practices for the loans provide working capital for renovation and their pipeline of properties. On the other hand, the capital allows companies like Danke to lower deposits for cash-strapped young tenants. “There’s nothing wrong with the financial instrument itself,” suggested Shen. “The real issue is when the housing operator struggles to repay, so the key is to make sure the business is well-functioning.”

Danke alongside competitors Ziroom and 5I5J has drawn fire for not fully informing tenants when signing contracts. Shen said his company is actively working to increase transparency. “We will make it clear to customers that what they are signing are loans. As long as we give them enough notice, there should be little risk involved.”

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Amazon sets a date for its big 2021 Echo and Ring devices event

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Amazon has set the date for its next big devices and services event, and if previous years are anything to go by we can expect new Echo and Ring hardware along with potentially a few surprises. The event will kick off at 9am PT (12pm ET) on Tuesday, September 28, and as with last year’s it’ll be online-only.

Last year Amazon didn’t hold back on new smart home hardware. Along with the new Echo Show 10, which could rotate under its own power to face the person interacting with it, Amazon also had a new, spherical Echo smart speaker.

The smaller Echo Dot – and its Echo Dot with Clock sibling – offered a lower price point, and the new Echo Dot Kids Edition dressed that up in more playful designs. As for Ring, we saw the Ring Car Alarm debut, plus the promise of end-to-end video encryption. Amazon also announced a collaboration with Tesla, with the Ring Car Connect for the automaker’s EVs.

Elsewhere, the Eero Pro 6 and Eero 6 added WiFi 6 to the familiar mesh networking, while the Fire TV Stick and Fire TV Stick Lite kicked off pricing at under $30. Amazon also introduced Luna, its cloud gaming service, complete with a dedicated wireless controller.

Just as much a showcase for hardware, though, Amazon’s events have become demonstrations for its software changes. Alexa typically plays a key part in that – last year we saw group calling support, Netflix on Echo Show, and interactive teaching tools – but it’s also an opportunity to see what developer tools and improvements have been introduced.

Finally, it’s a chance for Amazon to surprise. Last year, that meant the Ring Always Home Cam – a flying camera drone that promised automated patrols of your house – though the gadget is still yet to actually launch commercially.

For 2021, it’s likely we’ll see refreshes of Amazon’s core Echo range. After all, with the holidays approaching, that’s a key opportunity for Amazon to put more smart speakers in users’ homes – and double-down on their commitment to Alexa as a platform, rather than the Google Assistant or Apple’s Siri. The new Amazon-branded Fire TV range could also be expanded.

We’ll probably also hear more about the controversial Amazon Sidewalk, the shared neighborhood network that Amazon opted to enable by default earlier in the year.

On the “weird tech” side, that could well be the rumored wall-mounted Echo touchscreen. Billed as being an in-wall smart home hub, it would help position Alexa as a key way of interacting with the connected home and IoT, if the rumors are to be believed.

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After iPhone 13: The new tech coming in 2022, 2023, and 2024

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Over the next few years, the iPhone will see some significant changes. This year’s iPhone 13 didn’t exactly make major waves when it came to upgrades VS last year’s model lineup. According to high-level Apple product predictions released this week, the changes will come in the years 2022, 2023, and 2024 in the form of punch hole front-facing cameras, under-display Touch ID, and foldable smartphones from Apple.

Notes from Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo relayed by 9to5Mac suggested that the iPhone line released in the year 2022 would include two higher-end devices with a punch-hole display. Kuo also suggested that these devices would include a new 48MP wide camera, and would be joined by a new and “more affordable” 6.7-inch iPhone.

Kuo also noted the addition of an under-display fingerprint reader for the year 2023. This technology began to appear in Android devices over the last few years, but hasn’t yet matured to the point at which Apple has been comfortable releasing it on a release-level iPhone. The iPhone under-display Touch ID system is predicted to be a part of the iPhone 15 (or whatever it’ll be called) released in the year 2023 – or later.

The most massive change to the iPhone line comes in the prediction of a foldable device. Ming-Chi Kuo suggested that the “foldable iPhone” won’t be released until the year 2024. It is not yet known whether this foldable iPhone will be released at the same time as the traditional iPhone, what it’s price will be, or if it’ll actually truly ever be released at all!

ALSO NOTE: There’ll likely be a new iPhone SE coming in the year 2022 with expanded mobile data radio coverage. This means 5G support for said iPhone SE, likely appearing in the first half of the year 2022.

If you’re currently preparing to purchase an iPhone and want to wait for the newest possible device – you’re in luck, since the iPhone 13 will be available in stores on September 24, 2021. The release date is the same for iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Mini, iPhone 13 Pro, and iPhone 13 Pro Max, all coming on September 24th, 2021. Take a peek at comparisons between the iPhone 13 models and iPhone 12 and see what you make of them. Then stick around as we prepare to release our review of the iPhone 13 and beyond!

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IKEA Sjomake makes DIY hidden wireless charging a $40 upgrade

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IKEA is making it easy to hide wireless charging in your nightstand, desk, or coffee table, with the new Sjömäke wireless pad keeping its Qi out of sight. Unlike IKEA’s earlier charging pads, which slot into circular cut-outs in the tabletop, this new high-power pad is intended to hide underneath yet still allow for wireless charging through the surface.

In fact, IKEA claims, it should work just fine through tables and other worktops that are 3/8″ to 7/8″ thick, just as long as they’re not metal. The Swedish retailer includes double-sided tape for mounting it underneath, though there’s also support for screws or other fixings if you prefer.

Plug in the six foot long power cable, meanwhile, and then you have a discreetly hidden Qi charging pad. IKEA includes some stickers that you can optionally use on the top of the table or nightstand, so that you know whereabouts to position your phone or other device for best charging results. Or, you can leave them off altogether, and have the whole thing seem a little more magical.

The pad is a fairly uninspiring design, given it’s intended to be hidden from sight. It’s 1-inches thick, 7-inches long, and 3-inches wide. An indicator LED on the side shows whether or not it’s actively charging a device, though of course there’s a fair chance that you won’t be able to see that in day to day use.

Indeed, IKEA says that you really shouldn’t use the pad with a phone or other device without anything in-between. According to the user manual, there should be at least around 8mm between the two, presumably because IKEA has tuned the charging coils to take into account some sort of gap.

As for the charging rate, expect around 5W. Less, certainly, than you’d get from some of the other Qi pads on the market right now, but certainly sufficient if you’re leaving your phone to one side as you sleep or work.

Currently, the Sjömäke is listed at $39.99 on IKEA’s site, though it’s not yet available to order. The retailer confirmed to The Verge that it will be going on sale in October, both in the US and in other international stores, both at its physical locations and online.

This isn’t, of course, IKEA’s first flirtation with wireless charging. Back in 2018, the company ran a high-profile welcome campaign for the iPhone 8, highlighting how Apple’s addition of Qi support meant that the smartphone would now work with the Swedish company’s chargers that were build into tables, lamps, and more.

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