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U.S. slams Alibaba and its challenger Pinduoduo for selling fakes – TechCrunch

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China’s biggest ecommerce company Alibaba was again on the U.S. Trade Representative’s blacklist over suspected counterfeits sold on its popular Taobao marketplace that connects small merchants to consumers.

Nestling with Alibaba on the U.S.’s annual “notorious” list that reviews trading partners’ intellectual property practice is its fast-rising competitor Pinduoduo . Just this week, Pinduoduo founder Colin Huang, a former Google engineer, wrote in his first shareholder letter since listing the company that his startup is now China’s second-biggest ecommerce player by the number of “e-way bills”, or electronic records tracking the movement of goods. That officially unseats JD.com as the runner-up to Alibaba.

This is the third year in a row that Taobao has been called out by the U.S. government over IP theft, despite measures the company claims it has taken to root out fakes, including the arrest of 1,752 suspects and closure of 1,282 manufacturing and distribution centers.

“Although Alibaba has taken some steps to curb the offer and sale of infringing products, right holders, particularly SMEs, continue to report high volumes of infringing products and problems with using takedown procedures,” noted the USTR in its report.

In a statement provided to TechCrunch, Alibaba said it does “not agree with” the USTR’s decision. “Our results and practices have been acknowledged as best-in-class by leading industry associations, brands and SMEs in the United States and around the world. In fact, zero industry associations called for our inclusion in the report this year.”

Pinduoduo is a new addition to the annual blacklist. The Shanghai-based startup has over the course of three years rose to fame among China’s emerging online shoppers in smaller cities and rural regions, thanks to the flurry of super-cheap goods on its platform. While affluent consumers may disdain Pinduodou products’ low quality, price-sensitive users are hooked to bargains even when items are subpar.

“Many of these price-conscious shoppers are reportedly aware of the proliferation of counterfeit products on pinduoduo.com but are nevertheless attracted to the low-priced goods on the platform,” the USTR pointed out, adding that Pinduoduo’s measures to up the ante in anti-piracy technologies failed to fully address the issue.

Pinduoduo, too, rebutted the USTR’s decision. “We do not fully understand why we are listed on the USTR report, and we disagree with the report,” a Pinduoduo spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We will focus our energy to upgrade the e-shopping experience for our users. We have introduced strict penalties for counterfeit merchants, collaborated closely with law enforcement and employed technologies to proactively take down suspicious products.”

The attacks on two of China’s most promising ecommerce businesses came as China and the U.S. are embroiled in on-going trade negotiations, which have seen the Trump administration repeatedly accused China of IP theft. Tmall, which is Alibaba’s online retailer that brings branded goods to shoppers, was immune from the blacklist, and so was Tmall’s direct rival JD.com.

Taobao has spent over a decade trying to revive its old image of an online bazaar teeming with fakes and “shanzhai” items, which are not outright pirated goods but whose names or designs intimate those of legitimate brands. Pinduoduo is now asked to do the same after a few years of growth frenzy. On the one hand, listing publicly in the U.S. subjects the Chinese startup to more scrutiny. On the other, small-town users may soon demand higher quality as their purchasing power improves. And when the countryside market becomes saturated, Pinduoduo will need to more aggressively upgrade its product selection to court the more sophisticated consumers from Chinese megacities.

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Honor marks independence by inking the supplier deals Huawei couldn’t

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Honor is going it alone, cutting ties with Huawei as it spins out as an independent business, and inking the deals that the US government blocked its former parent company from making. The Chinese phone-maker launched its first device as a standalone company today, the Honor View40, a 5G smartphone with aggressive pricing.

Honor was founded eight years ago, as Huawei’s push to grab market share in the more affordable end of the device market. Resolutely targeting younger users, the sub-brand tapped celebrity endorsements like Brooklyn Beckham to help emerge from its parent’s shadow, though also benefited considerably from Huawei’s R&D investments into camera tech and screen design.

That stopped being such an advantage when Huawei found itself added to the US trade embargo list under the Trump Administration. Under the terms of the entity list, Huawei was blocked from inking deals with companies like Google, Qualcomm, and others, and as a subsidiary it left Honor out in the cold, too. In mid-November 2020, Huawei sold Honor to Shenzhen Zhixin New Information Technology Co., Ltd.

As a “fully independent company,” Honor says, it has its own ambitions for 2021 and beyond. As well as the Honor View40 smartphone, and upgrades to the MagicBook Series of Windows notebooks, the company also confirmed it had reached supplier agreements with a number of firms that, as part of Huawei, it had been blocked from doing business with.

“Based on global consumer needs, Honor has the flexibility and independence to choose the best solutions for its global supply chain,” the company said in a statement today. “Honor has already confirmed partnerships with leading suppliers such as AMD, Intel, MediaTek, Micron Technology, Microsoft, Qualcomm, Samsung, SK hynix, and Sony.”

It’s a comprehensive list if you’re a company trying to make cutting-edge smartphones. Sony, for example, provides the camera sensors for many in the smartphone industry right now; Samsung is a key supplier of memory and displays. A deal with Qualcomm gives Honor the option of using Snapdragon chipsets and, arguably as important, the company’s 5G modems.

The Honor View40 uses MediaTek’s 1000+ chipset with 5G, but lacks support for the mmWave networks that US networks have been rolling out for the fastest possible speeds in typically urban areas. It’s unclear when – or if – Honor might have ambitions for the fiercely competitive US market, but supporting mmWave 5G would be effectively a must-have if that’s on the roadmap. Right now, that means Qualcomm modems, since MediaTek’s 5G products don’t support that specific network tech.

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HONOR View40 launched with waterfall display, 5G, super-fast charging

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This week the folks at HONOR revealed the HONOR View40 at a live streamed event in China. This device is the first major release of the year for HONOR, and one of the most extravagant devices released by the brand thus far. The HONOR View40 works with a waterfall cured 7.72-inch OLED display with a resolution of 2676 x 1236 pixels.

The HONOR View40 smartphone’s display is 10-bit (8+2-bit) with OLED tech, delivering over 1 billion colors directly into your face. This device’s display works with a 120Hz image refresh rate with up to 300Hz touch response. This panel covers the entirety of the DCI-P3 color space and works with HDR10 support.

Under the hood, this device has a 4000mAh battery with the ability to charge at a great speed, thanks to 66W SuperCharge tech. The battery in this device can charge up to 60 percent capacity in approximately 35 minutes – that’s swift! That’s wired charging – wireless charging is here too, at up to 50W (allowing up to 50 percent total charge in approximately 30 minutes).

The processor inside this machine is a MediaTek Dimensity 1000+ (SoC) with GPU Turbo X and Hunter Boost optimizations – we’ll see what that’s all about when we review the device in the near future. For now, HONOR suggests they’ll bring power to the gaming environment in this machine.

The HONOR View40’s cameras include a 50-megapixel RYYB sensor with 1/1.56-inch sensor with f/1.9 aperture to deliver top-notch main sensor action. This camera array also includes an 8MP ultra-wide camera with f/2.4 aperture and 2MP macro lens with f/2.4 aperture.

This device also has NSA/SA 5G connectivity with a dual-SIM tray for switching. This device also works with an infrared port (for controlling your television) and always-on display. You’ll have NFC, multi-window multi-tasking, and a variety of sensors. Sensors include proximity, ambient light, gravity, accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, and fingerprint sensor (under-display, optical).

The HONOR View40 will have a release date of January 22 (today!) That’s when it’ll be released in China – no word yet when it’ll be released (or if it’ll be released) elsewhere. This device will have two iterations (at least) with 8GB RAM and either 128GB or 256GB internal storage. Pricing will be RMB 3599 and RMB 3999 for the smaller and larger internal storage size iterations.

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New MacBook Air could lead Apple’s long-awaited apology to power users

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A lot of rumors have been swirling about incoming MacBook updates lately, and today we have a particularly juicy report to sink our teeth into. Just as Apple is rumored to be updating the MacBook Pro significantly, so too is it apparently looking to make some big changes to the MacBook Air. The first big change is rumored to be a switch back to MagSafe chargers.

That’s according to a new report from Bloomberg, which is based on information from anonymous sources with knowledge of Apple’s plans. Last week, Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo predicted that MagSafe will return in 2021’s MacBook Pro, and now we’re hearing the same is true for Apple’s next MacBook Air, which could be released either later this year or at some point in 2022.

Bloomberg’s report also states that this new MacBook Air will use next-generation versions of Apple’s in-house processors, which makes sense as Apple debuted its M1 chip in the MacBook Air last year. This new MacBook Air may shrink screen bezels to make for a footprint that’s smaller overall, but we can expect the screen to stay at 13-inches – we’re told that Apple has entertained the idea of making a MacBook Air with a 15-inch display, but that’s on hold for this upcoming model.

This report doesn’t just stop at the next MacBook Air, though. Bloomberg also reports that the next MacBook Pros will feature SD card slots, which is something we haven’t seen on a MacBook since 2016. We also hear that the Touch Bar is being dropped, which is something that Kuo predicted last week as well. Further off in the future, we could even see Macs that support both cellular connectivity and Face ID, but Bloomberg says that neither feature is coming soon.

So, regardless of whether you’re a MacBook Air or a MacBook Pro person, it sounds like you’ve got some changes heading your way in newer models – assuming, of course, that Bloomberg’s report and Kuo’s predictions pan out and are actually accurate. We should find out soon enough, as Apple could start unveiling these new laptops in the second half of this year.

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