A British sustainable design business is set to upcycle battery packs from Lime e-bikes and e-scooters and turn them into slick portable Bluetooth speakers.


Based in the creative hub of Brighton, England, Gomi has been upcycling plastic waste for several years. In 2018, the company released the world's first portable speaker made from non-recyclable trash and powered by 100 percent reclaimed battery cells (each unit holds the equivalent of 100 plastic bags worth of non-recyclable plastic, the team says), and since then have added portable chargers and wireless mag chargers to their arsenal.


Now, Gomi is working with Lime to produce portable speakers using the same plastic repurposing method, but also powered with rechargeable second-life batteries from the micromobility company's e-bikes. The 25W speakers, which can be paired with each other for a stereo effect, will be available in different colour schemes Birthday Cake, Black Mono, Blue Ocean, and of course, Lime Green and will be sold through Kickstarter. Each speaker costs 99 ($137) for super early birds then increases to 149 ($206) for general sale.

Gomi co-founder Tom Meades told Mashable that he reached out to Lime at the end of last summer following the success of the company's chargers. Having made impact in the UK market since 2018, Lime represented a likeminded sustainably-focused business opportunity for Gomi its electric scooters and e-bikes are modular, meaning their parts can be swapped out or repaired, and the materials that make up the vehicles can be recycled after they stop functioning. However, Gomi's project intends to give the fleet's core batteries a second life as they are.


Andrew Savage, vice president of sustainability at Lime, said the partnership allowed Gomi "to breathe new life into our batteries," which would otherwise be recycled. "We are always looking for ways to improve the sustainability of our service and are eager to work with innovative companies like Gomi to find second life opportunities for parts of our vehicles across the world," he explained.

Right now, Gomi has 50,000 battery cells from Lime's Balham and Walthamstow warehouses in London, which is enough to make 12,500 speakers Meades said Gomi hopes to have them all made by October, with delivery before Christmas. 


So, how exactly does Gomi upcycle Lime's batteries? The battery cells are removed from the e-bikes and e-scooters, which are then cleaned and tested for charging capacity. If the cells pass, they're made into battery packs for Gomi's speakers. 


"Basically all of the packs on bikes, they need to be durable, so they're in these stainless steel containers, which means that all the cells are protected and waterproof so they don't get any damage in that way. We then have to take apart the stainless steel shells and push the cells out," explained Meades. "Then you'll see almost like any battery pack like Tesla has or even vapes have, they all have 18,650 cells. They're all lined up, then you have to take them out, and we test each one to capacity. We clean it up, we have to fully charge it, and then fully discharge it. From there, we test each cell, know which ones you can use and which ones you can't use, and then assemble it into our own battery packs, vacuum seal it, make it waterproof again."


Like Gomi's other products, the marbled exterior of the speaker is made with recycled plastic packaging waste deemed non-recyclable by UK councils. With 8 million tonnes of plastic ending up in our oceans every year, this is a welcome innovation.


Meades said Gomi's goal is to demonstrate that consumer tech can be both fully circular and high performance, with a strong, desirable aesthetic. And it's here, Meades continued, that they're able to be even more innovative with sustainable design by working with an effect that the rest of the industry tries to avoid: marbling. 


"In the plastics industry, that's the least desirable thing, marbling. So what they'll do is when they recycle plastic, they'll really, really try to make everything a pure white colour, which means that a lot of plastics can't be recycled because they're not that pure white colour, they can't get to that," he said." So we embraced that and thought, actually let's make it marble, maybe that could look cool, people might like that. And that meant that we could use more waste streams, mix them together, and they kind of had this Jackson Pollock style abstract painting style, and people really liked it."


Gomi isn't the first local sustainable design company Lime has teamed up with in the UK. Since November, the micromobility giant has been working with UK recycling company First Mile to turn shredded tyres into playground surfacing, shredded bike frames into production steel, and non-ferrous metals (metals that don't contain iron) into aluminium products like drink cans. Lime has aggressively pursued its environmental goals globally of late, pledging to be net zero by 2030.


Resource: mashable.com


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Lime e-bike batteries are being turned into portable speakers

We've been waiting for Apple to jack up the iPhone's refresh rate for a while now. If the latest round of iPhone 13 rumors are to be believed, we won't have to wait much longer.


The new claims come courtesy of MacRumors, who got their hands on research notes from market analyst and popular Apple prognosticator Ming-Chi Kuo. By Kuo's estimation, the 2021 iPhone (which we'll call the iPhone 13) will have smaller notches on the front and bigger batteries. Some of them could also have a 120Hz display.


If you aren't up on tech lingo, the refresh rate is how often a screen can refresh itself, or "blink," in a second. Up until now, iPhones have shipped with 60Hz screens, meaning they refresh 60 times in a second. Going up to 120Hz would obviously double that, with the tangible benefit of making everything look way smoother than before.


According to the research notes, Apple will likely stick with releasing four new iPhones this year, similar to how 2020 brought us the iPhone 12 with Mini, Pro, and Pro Max variants.


Kuo says every iPhone 13 model should have an improved battery, while 120Hz refresh rates will only make it to the Pro models. That would be mildly disappointing if true, as flagships from rivals like Samsung have included high refresh rates for the past couple of hardware cycles. 


Perhaps a bit more juicy are Kuo's predictions for the 2022 iPhones. Yes, we unfortunately need to start thinking about 2022 as a real year that will happen soon. When it does, Kuo says Apple could adopt hole-punch displays like those seen on the front of the aforementioned Samsung flagships, replacing the notch entirely. No word yet on how (or even if) Apple plans on keeping Face ID sensors inside the hole-punch display, but hey, that's a problem we can worry about a year and a half from now.


We won't find out if Kuo is right until Apple has its official showcase this fall. 


Resource: mashable.com


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A bunch of juicy iPhone rumors just dropped

Volvo Cars said it will only make and sell all-electric vehicles by 2030, as part of a broader transformation of the automaker that will include shifting sales online.


"The key to sustainability is electrification, said Volvo Cars CEO Hkan Samuelsson during a presentation Tuesday. "Together with investments in charging infrastructure that is the right way to go and the course we have chosen at Volvo."


The announcement was tied to the launch of the C40 Recharge, a low slung crossover based on the company's CMA vehicle platform. While the C40 is the second vehicle under Volvo's EV-focused Recharge brand, it is the first model designed from the beginning as a battery-electric only vehicle. All Volvo vehicles with fully electric and plug-in hybrid powertrains are housed under the Recharge brand. Like the XC40 Recharge, the C40 will have an infotainment system powered by Google's Android operating system and the ability to handle over-the-air software updates.

"It's a car of firsts and it's a car of the future," CTO Henrik Green said, adding that the C40 will have two motors, a 78 kilowatt-hour battery and an estimated range of 420 km (260 miles) that will improve over time via software updates. C40 will go in production this fall and will be built alongside the XC40 Recharge at the Volvo Cars manufacturing plant in Ghent, Belgium, the company said.


Volvo, which is owned by China's Geely Holdings, aims for 50% of its global sales to consist of fully electric cars, with the rest hybrids. By 2030, every car it sells should be fully electric, the company said.


The company is well on its way to its electrification goal, according to Samuelsson, noting that last year one car out of three sold in Europe was a Recharge model, a chargeable plug-in hybrid.


Volvo's evolution isn't just pinned to the powertrain.


"The future customer offer cannot just consist of an electric car," Samuelsson said. "We also need to listen to our consumers, and they expect transparency and a seamless experience getting and having a car."


Volvo will only sell its all-electric vehicles online and at preset prices. Customers will be able to subscribe or buy the vehicles, which will comes with a customer care package. The vehicles will also have pre-selected configurations to shorten the time between ordering and receiving a vehicle.


Volvo's move to become an all-electric brand is in sync with a growing number of automakers, including GM and Jaguar. Last month, GM committed to selling only electric vehicles by 2035 and becoming a carbon neutral operation globally by 2040. GM said in November it will spend $27 billion over the next five years on the development of electric vehicles and automated technology, a 35% increase that exceeds the automaker's investment in gas and diesel and is an effort to bring products to market faster.


Resource: techcrunch.com


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Volvo to sell only all-electric vehicles by 2030

Postmates X, the robotics division of the on-demand delivery startup that Uber acquired last year for $2.65 billion, has officially spun out as an independent company called Serve Robotics.


TechCrunch reported in January that a deal was being shopped to investors.


Serve Robotics, a name taken from the autonomous sidewalk delivery bot that was developed and piloted by Postmates X, has raised seed funding in a round led by venture capital firm Neo. Other investors included Uber as well as Lee Jacobs and Cyan Banister's Long Journey Ventures, Western Technology Investment, Scott Banister, Farhad Mohit and Postmates co-founders Bastian Lehmann and Sean Plaice.


Serve Robotics didn't share specifics of the funding except to confirm that the round, which will be a Series A, has not been completed yet. Funding a spin out can occur in phases, with the first tranche used for the initial launch and the rest of the round closing once IP has been transferred.


The new company will be run by Ali Kashani, who headed up Postmates X. Other co-founders include Dmitry Demeshchuk, the first engineer who joined the Serve team at Postmates and MJ Chun, who previously led product at Anki, has been heading up product strategy at Serve. The company is launching with 60 employees with headquarters in San Francisco and offices in Los Angeles and Vancouver, Canada.

"While self-driving cars remove the driver, robotic delivery eliminates the car itself and makes deliveries sustainable and accessible to all," said Kashani, co-founder and CEO of Serve Robotics. "Over the next two decades, new mobility robots will enter every aspect of our livesfirst moving food, then everything else."


Postmates' exploration into sidewalk delivery bots began in earnest in 2017 after the company quietly acquired Kashani's startup Lox Inc. As head of Postmates X, Kashani set out to answer the question: why move two-pound burritos with two-ton cars? Postmates revealed its first Serve autonomous delivery bot in December 2018. A second generation with an identical design but different lidar sensors and few other upgrades emerged in summer 2019 ahead of its planned commercial launch in Los Angeles.


The company's mission to design, develop, and operate delivery robots specialized in navigating sidewalks will continue, albeit with an eye towards expansion. Serve will continue its delivery operations in Los Angeles. It plans to ramp up research and development in the San Francisco Bay area and expand its market reach through new partnerships.


The spin out is consistent with Uber's aim to narrow the focus of its business on ride-hailing and delivery in a push towards profitability. This strategy began to take shape after Uber's public market debut in May 2019 and accelerated last year as the COVID-19 pandemic put pressure on the ride-hailing company. Two years ago, Uber had enterprises across the transportation landscape, from ride-hailing and micromobility to logistics, public transit, food delivery and futuristic bets like autonomous vehicles and air taxis. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has dismantled the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach as he pushes the company toward profitability.


In 2020, Uber offloaded shared scooter and bike unit Jump in a complex deal with Lime, sold a stake worth $500 million in its logistics spinoff Uber Freight and rid itself of its autonomous vehicle unit Uber ATG and its air taxi play Uber Elevate. Aurora acquired Uber ATG in a deal that had a similar structure to the Jump-Lime transaction. Aurora didn't pay cash for Uber ATG. Instead, Uber handed over its equity in ATG and invested $400 million into Aurora, which gave it a 26% stake in the combined company. In a similarly crafted deal, Uber Elevate was sold to Joby Aviation in December.


Resource: techcrunch.com


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Uber spins out delivery robot startup as Serve Robotics

Insect-like drones have taken one large step closer to becoming a practical reality. Researchers at Harvard, MIT and the City University of Hong Kong have developed tiny insect-inspired drones that can not only maneuver in extremely tight spaces, but withstand bumps if things go wrong. The key is a switch to an actuation system that can flap the drones' wings while surviving its share of abuse.

To date, drone makers wanting to go this small have had to ditch motors (which lose effectiveness at small sizes) in favor of piezoelectric ceramic-based rigid actuators. The new drones rely on soft actuators made from rubber cylinders coated with carbon nanotubes. When you subject those nanotubes to voltage, they squeeze and stretch the rubber to beat the drones' wings nearly 500 times per second.


As you might guess, the combination is quite effective. While the drones are "centimeter-scale," they can squeeze through small areas, perform tight maneuvers (including flips) and survive some collisions unscathed. They weigh as little as a bumblebee, too, at about 0.02oz.


There are plenty of limitations at this stage. The insect-style drones are still tethered to power sources, and there's so much intelligence you can pack into such a minuscule robot. They're a long way from practical use.


If scientists can solve those problems, though, the impact could be significant. MIT Assistant Professor Kevin Yufeng Chen envisions tiny drones that can inspect machinery, or even bee-like bots that artificially pollinate crops. Effectively, these extra-small devices could conquer a final frontier for drones, reaching environments where conventional drones simply can't go.


Resource: engadget.com


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Insect-like drones can take a beating and keep flying

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You may also feel interested in:Rules on RE Purchase by Overseas Organizationzs & IndividualsAll You Need to Know About Working in ChinaThe Chinese Green Card, Are You Qualified?The Measures have come into effect on 1st of July 2017.  The highlights of the Measures related to international students in higher education institutions are as follows:201771
I. For the purpose of the present Measures, "schools" refer to the schools that provide pre-school education, primary education, secondary education and higher education within the territory of the People's Republic of China."International students" refer to the foreign students who do not have Chinese nationality in accordance with the Nationality Law of the People's Republic of China and are educated at school.
II.  For the international students who are enrolled in higher education institutions, the education for academic qualification cover associate degree, undergraduates, postgraduates and doctoral students, while that for non-academic qualifications include foundation course students, advanced students and research scholars.
III. The international students of a higher education institution shall participate in the course study under the curriculum arrangement and teaching plan of the higher education institution and shall take the corresponding graduation examination or assessment as required. The higher education institution shall record the academic performance and daily performance of international students truthfully.Chinese language and China overview shall be the compulsory courses for the higher education for academic qualifications; and political theory shall be the compulsory course for international students majoring in philosophy and political science.
IV. After enrollment, the international students in a higher education institution may change their majors upon their applications and the consent of the higher education institution. The conditions and procedures for change of majors shall be developed by the higher education institution.
V. The common language of the People's Republic of China shall be the basic teaching language for the cultivation of international students in higher education institutions. For the international students whose level of the common language do not meet the requirements for learning, higher education institutions may provide them with necessary extra tutoring conditions.
VI.  A qualified higher education institution may provide specialized courses for international students by using foreign languages in teaching. The international students who receive higher education for academic qualifications in foreign languages may use the appropriate foreign languages to write their dissertations, but the abstract shall be made in Chinese. Whether the international students may orally defense in foreign languages or not shall be determined by the higher education institution.,
VII. The international students in a higher education institution may, with the consent of the higher education institution, hold activities to celebrate the important traditional festivals of their own countries at the place and scope designated by the higher education institution, but shall not have any speeches or behaviors that oppose or attack other countries or ethnic groups or go against public morality.
IX.  International students in a higher education institution may, upon approval by the higher education institution, establish associations in the higher education institution. Such associations may carry out activities within the scopes prescribed by Chinese laws and regulations and are subject to the guidance and management by the higher education institution.
X. International students may participate in work-study program during the period of study in higher education institutions, but shall not be employed, engage in business or other for-profit activities.
XI.  To study in the schools mentioned in Article 2 hereof, foreigners shall, before entering China, go to the Chinese embassies or consulates of the countries of their nationality or their residence or other agencies stationed abroad as entrusted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China to apply for Type X1 or X2 student visa, and they shall submit as required related materials such as the certificates filed with the competent education authorities and the admission notices issued by the schools concerned, etc.X1X2
XII. Where it is indicated in the student visas that the international students shall apply for residence permits after entry into China, they shall, within 30 days from the date of entry, apply with the entry-exit administration of the public security organs at the places where they are to be resident for residence permits for foreign students.
XIII. At the time of enrollment, international students shall, as required by the Chinese health authorities, go to the Chinese health and quarantine agencies to go through the formalities for the confirmation of the Foreign People's Physical Examination Record or take physical examination. Those that are diagnosed with serious mental disorders, infectious pulmonary tuberculosis or other infectious diseases that may cause significant harm to public health as prescribed in the Exit-Entry Administration Law of the People's Republic of China shall be dealt with by the public security authorities in accordance with the law.
XIV. Schools shall adopt insurance system for all international students. International students must be insured in accordance with relevant national regulations and school requirements. Those who fail to purchase insurance in accordance with the regulations shall be required to be insured within a time limit. If they still fail to do so within the prescribed time limit, the schools shall not accept their enrollment, or shall dismiss or refuse to have them registered if they have already studied in schools.
XV. For the purpose of the present Measures, "short-term study" shall refer to the study in school in China for no more than 180 (inclusive) days; and "long-term study" shall refer to the study in school in China for more than 180 days.180180


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Administrative Measures of International Students by Schools

 




Johnson

The human touch 

Grammars resistance to articial intelligence illuminates the nature of language

 




Feb 27th 2021 | words 768

 

 

 

If you frequently Google language-related questions, whether out of interest or need, youve probably seen an advertisement for Grammarly, an automated grammar-checker. In ubiquitous YouTube spots Grammarly touts its ability not only to fix mistakes, but to improve style and polish too. Over more than a decade it has sprawled into many applications: it can check emails, phone messages or longer texts composed in Microsoft Word and Google Docs, among other formats.

 

Does it achieve what it purports to? Sometimes. But sometimes Grammarly doesnt do what it should, and sometimes it even does what it shouldnt. These strengths and failings hint at the essence of language and the peculiarity of human intelligence, as opposed to the artificial sort as it stands today.

 

Begin with the strengths. In a rough piece of student writing, Johnson counted 14 errors. Grammarly flagged five. For example, it sensibly suggested inserting a hyphen in post cold war [world]. It spotted a missing the in the phrase with [the] European economy. And it noticed an absent about in wondering [about] the state of Europe. By using Grammarly, the author of this essay could have avoided some red ink.

 

On the other hand, Grammarly has a problem with false positives, calling out mistakes that are not. The other two suggestions were not disastrous, but neither did they relate to critical errors as Grammarly maintains. In the assertion that enlargement had created a fatigue within the European Union, Grammarly needlessly suggested deleting the a. In another error-ridden sentence it recommended removing a comma, which fixed none of the problems. This false-positive tendency is not a deal-breaker for reasonably skilled writers who just want a second pair of eyes; you can dismiss any suggestion you like. But truly struggling scribblers might not know when Grammarlys ideas would make their prose worse rather than better.

 

Then there are the false negatives, or the mistakes Grammarly fails to notice. Depending on the text, Grammarly can seem to miss more errors than it marks. The companys chief executive, Brad Hoover, describes it as a coach, not a crutchwhich sets expectations more appropriately than some of the ads do.

 

Artificial-intelligence systems like Grammarly are trained with data; for instance, translation software is fed sentences translated by humans. Grammarlys training data involve a large number of standard error-free sentences (so it knows what good English should look like) and human-corrected sentences (so the software can find the patterns of fixes that human editors might make). Developers also manually add certain rules to the patterns Grammarly has taught itself. The software then looks at a users prose: if a string of words seems ungrammatical, it tries to spot how the putative mistake most closely resembles one from its training inputs.

 

All this shows how far artificial intelligence is from the human kind (which Grammarly wants to correct to humankind). Computers outpace humans at problems that can be cracked with pure maths, such as chess. Advances in language technology have been impressive in, for example, speech recognition, which involves another sort of statistical guesswhether or not a stretch of sound matches a certain string of words. One Grammarly feature that works fairly well is sentiment analysis. It can rate the tone of an email before you send it, after being trained on texts that have been assessed by humans, for example as admiring or confident.

 

But grammar is the real magic of language, binding words into structures, binding those structures into sentences, and doing so in a way that maps onto meaning. And at this crucial structure-meaning interface, machines are no match for humans. Computers can parse (grammatical) sentences fairly well, labelling things like nouns and verb phrases. But they struggle with sentences that are difficult to analyse, precisely because they are ungrammaticalin other words, written by the kind of person who needs Grammarly.

 

To correct such prose requires knowing what the writer intended. But computers dont work in meaning or intention; they work in formulae. Humans, by contrast, can usually understand even rather mangled syntax, because of the ability to guess the contents of other minds. Grammar-checking computers illustrate not how bad humans are with language, but just how good.







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Economist | The human touch


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Women's Day: Improve Your Health Today


International Womens Day is a day when women are perceived for their accomplishments. In China, it is also called Godnesses Day in recent years. The change of title indicates the improvement of women social status. Truly, women make the world come alive and colorful. They deserve the best.


As International Womens Day comes, you may gift your mom, wife, and sister a complete womens health checkup package. Being healthy is the most important thing for every single person. 


Don't miss on our special offer on health checkup package for women in March. 



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  2. Payments are limited to credit card, cash, WeChat pay and Alipay.

  3. The reports will be ready around 10 working days after checkup because of the large amount of appointments during the special offer period.

  4. Please avoid menstrual period and abstain from sex for 3 daysbefore the checkup.


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Share this article to your Wechat moment and send the screenshot of your post to Wechat account ShanghaiRenaiHospital(extract the QR code below to follow). 20 of you will be given a free T.C.M. spine health checkup(checkup valued at 500 CNY).

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Women's Day: Improve Your Health Today

Click LegalTips

to follow usOn 3rd of Feb 2021, the Supreme People's Court released the Provisions about Providing Online Case Filing Services for Cross-border Litigation Parties.
202123
The highlights of the Provisions are as follows:
I. Cross-border litigants referred to in these Provisions shall include foreigners, residents of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Macau Special Administrative Region (hereinafter referred to as the "Hong Kong and Macau SAR") and Taiwan, Chinese Mainland citizens whose habitual residence is located overseas or in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, as well as enterprises and organisations registered overseas or in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.1.
II. The scope of cases for which online case filing services are provided for cross-border litigants includes civil and commercial lawsuits of first instance.2.

III. People's Courts shall provide cross-border litigants with online case filing services through China Mobile Mini Court.3.

IV. To conduct identity verification, a cross-border litigant shall submit the following materials to the court which has accepted the lawsuit:a. A foreigner shall submit passport and other documents to prove his/her identity; b. An enterprise or organisation shall submit its identity document and supporting documents to prove that the person participating in the lawsuit on behalf of such enterprise or organisation has the right to participate in the lawsuit as its representative. Such supporting documents shall be notarised by a notary public organ in the home country and certified by the Chinese embassy or consulate in the said country.c. Where the home country of a foreigner, foreign enterprise or organisation does not have diplomatic relations with China, such documents may be notarised by a notary public organ in the home country, and certified by the embassy or consulate of a third country which has diplomatic relations with China in the home country, and then certified by the embassy or consulate of China in the third country.d. Where there are specific provisions on certification formalities in the international treaties and conventions entered into, concluded or acceded to by China and the home country of the foreigner, foreign enterprise or organisation, such provisions shall prevail, except for those clauses for which China has declared reservations;e.These provisions also provide how to conduct identity verification for a Hong Kong or Macau resident, a Taiwan resident and a Chinese mainland citizen whose habitual residence is in a foreign country or in Hong Kong.4. a.b.c.d.
VI. Where a cross-border litigant that has passed identity authentication entrusts a Chinese mainland lawyer to represent it/him in the proceedings, it/he may apply to the court that has accepted the case for online video witness.Online video witness shall be initiated by a judge online, and the judge, cross-border litigant and the entrusted lawyer shall be online at the same time. As witnessed by the judge via video, the cross-border litigant and the entrusted lawyer shall sign the relevant documents on entrustment of agency, and are not required to go through the formalities of notarisation, certification, forwarding, etc. After online video witness, the entrusted lawyer may carry out online case filing, online payment and other matters on behalf of the litigant.5.   
VII. A cross-border litigant that applies for online case filing shall submit the following materials online:a. a bill of complaint;b. identity documents of the litigant and the relevant notarisation, certification, forwarding, or mailing for verification; andc. evidentiary materials.The aforesaid materials shall be written in the common language of the People's Republic of China or translated by a qualified translation company.7. a. b. c.


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Leaders

The dust-up

A new phase in the global tech contest is under way


 




Feb 27th 2021 | words 1087


The idea of the technology industry being dominated by monopolies is so widely held that it has monopolised much thinking, from investors strategies to antitrust watchdogs legal briefs. Yet, as we explain, it is getting harder to sustain (see article). After a long period of ossification, the industry is entering a dynamic phase. In America digital markets are shifting towards oligopolies, in which second and third firms compete vigorously against the incumbent. The big tech firms are wrestling over customers and data: witness the confrontation between Apple and Facebook over who controls iPhone users privacy. And all across Asia digital conglomerates are battling it out. The industrys emerging structure is a far cry from the open, diffuse capitalism this newspaper supports. But an oligopoly of rivals is much better than a monopoly.

 

The gale of creative destruction used to blow hard in Silicon Valley. The list of firms toppled from dominance runs from Fairchild Semiconductor to Hewlett-Packard. Yet recently the giants have clung on: Apple and Microsoft are over 40 years old and Alphabet and Amazon over 20; even Facebook is 17 this month. What happened? Network and scale effects mean that size begets size, while data can act as a barrier to entry. Search, social media, advertising, e-commerce, streaming, ride-hailing, delivery and payments all exhibit these alchemical properties to some degree. Having achieved supremacy in their chosen area, many tech firms, especially the big ones, have shown little appetite to compete directly with each other in the past decade. The three most common searches on Microsoft Bing are Facebook, YouTube and Google. Does anyone remember Amazons Fire Phone?

 

At first glance nothing has changed. Tech firms enjoyed a lucrative 2020 and investors are betting more is to come. The $7.6trn market value of Americas five giants implies their sales will double in the next decade. Yet if you look more closely, a shift is under way. The incumbents are not getting smallertheir weighted-average market share is stable, at about 35% across each of 11 American tech subsectors. But the share of second and third firms has risen from 18% to 26% since 2015. This reflects two deeper trends.

 

First, big tech firms are diversifying as their core products mature, new technological opportunities emerge and regulatory threats mount in America, Europe and China. The firms have talked about this for years, but now it is happening. The share of the five American giants revenues that overlaps with the others has risen from 22% to 38% since 2015. Microsoft and Alphabet are taking on Amazon in the cloud. Amazon is, in turn, the rising force in digital advertising.

 

The second trend, accounting for a third of the shift in market share, is that outsiders have momentum. From the ranks of the corporate establishment, Disney, aged 98, has acquired 116m new streaming customers in 18 months, while Walmart, aged 58, booked $38bn in online sales last year. Independent tech firms such as Shopify in e-commerce and PayPal have broken through thanks to the digital surge caused by the pandemic, and are generating enough profits to be self-sustaining.

 

You might think that this competition is just a blip, but it has a precedent in Asia, where customers have leapfrogged ahead and the boundaries between products have blurred, leading to market-share shifts, lower margins and innovation. China has Alibaba and Tencent and five other contenders worth $100bn or more. India has Jio and South-East Asia has Grab, Gojek and Sea. All these firms think in terms of subscribers who could be persuaded to buy a fluid range of services, rather than of protecting a static monopoly at all costs. They seek expansion through diversification, even if that means bumping up against rivals.

 

One danger is that this oligopolistic rivalry is a Potemkin contest. It has not yet disrupted the Apple-Alphabet duopoly over phone-operating systems or app stores. Although advertisers have more choice, between, say, Amazon and Facebook, those being advertised to still have no real alternative to the products of Mark Zuckerberg, Facebooks boss. And there are too many cosy links between firms. Alphabet pays Apple up to $12bn a year to make Google the iPhones default search engine. Alibaba and Tencent own stakes in some of Chinas new entrants.

 

This is where resurgent antitrust enforcers can make a difference. Those Google payments are now subject to a Department of Justice lawsuit, while Apple and Google face complaints over their app stores. Europe is planning rules to get different firms products to work together and help users move their data around. China has a new list of the nine do nots for e-commerce firms, including not shutting out new contenders.

 

It helps that ambition is plentiful. In attracting business to its cloud platform, Alphabet is losing $6bn a yearmore than Amazon has lost in its lifetime. Disney plans to have 325m subscribers by 2024. PayPal intends to have 750m users of its financial super-app by 2025. Walmart has just bought an advertising firm. Facebook is entering e-commerce. Microsoft has considered buying two social-media firms, TikTok and Pinterest. Huawei in China is busy creating an alternative to the ios-Android operating-system duopoly.

 

Oligopolistic competition could benefit consumers in several ways. It could boost choice as more firms compete to offer an expanding range of services: 11 American firms have over 100m digital subscribers. It could raise standards as platforms differentiate themselves by trust. That is why Apple will soon ask iPhone users if they want to opt out of Facebooks data-tracking, upending the advertising market (see article). And it could spur innovation as firms search for new tools, such as virtual reality, to control access to the customer.

 

Back in 2000 few predicted that tech was destined for monopoly, then it became accepted wisdom. Today no one knows if the emerging pattern of oligopolistic rivalry will last or benefit consumers. But the conditions are more promising than they have been for years. Regulators are trying to prise open closed markets, a financial boom means that capital is abundant and a global surge in online activity has boosted demand. A more contested digital economy would be consequentialfor markets, consumers and businesses alike. It is looking more likely. 







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Economist | The dust-up