If you want to understand Snapchat, the insanely fast-growing and—to people born before 1990—straight-up insane messaging app and media platform, DJ Khaled is your Virgil. If you were one of the 100 million people who logged in to Snapchat each day during Super Bowl weekend, his thick beard and full frame were impossible to miss. You would have seen clips of him at an impromptu concert where he was mobbed by several hundred screaming fans waving giant cardboard keys, or at a raucous party sponsored by PepsiCo, or in a pedicab he hailed after the game. “Ride wit me through the journey [to] more success,” he captioned that last video, as his chauffeur pedaled furiously. ... Its annual revenue is small—perhaps $200 million, according to several press reports—but it has already drawn many big-name advertisers. ... it’s not just an American phenomenon: Snapchat is a top 10 most-downloaded app in about 100 countries ... History suggests that cookie-based media, and Snapchat in general, may be a fad.
Since its July launch Pokémon GO, a free “augmented reality” game by Niantic Labs in which players capture virtual characters mapped to real-world locations, has piled up superlatives. Apple said the game had more downloads in its first week than any other app in history. One in ten Americans plays Pokémon GO daily, according to App Annie, and SurveyMonkey estimates that the game is hauling in as much as $6 million a day from in-app purchases in the U.S. alone (the game is available in 37 countries). ... Just 12 months ago Hanke was an increasingly restless Google employee (he launched Google Earth, among other things) and his company, Niantic, was an overlooked gaming skunkworks lost in the search giant. As Google reorganized itself into Alphabet, Niantic looked likely to be rolled back into the company’s Android division or simply shut down. But Google had the wisdom to let Hanke seek outside investors and spin the company out. That paved the way for Hanke to approach Nintendo and the Pokémon Co., which oversees the brand’s intellectual property, and make the smartest mobile-gaming deal of all time. ... As of May 2016 Pokémon products had grossed $45 billion in lifetime sales.
Under Cheng, Didi has expanded in just four years to 400 Chinese cities. The service lets users digitally hail and pay for taxis, private cars, limousines, and commuter buses. Cheng says 80 percent of all taxi drivers in China now use Didi to find passengers. So many people use the app, it can be difficult to get a cab during rush hour without it. Investors recently valued Didi at $35 billion, making it one of the most valuable private companies in the world. Uber, with operations in almost 500 cities on six continents, is worth $68 billion. ... Cheng was born in Jiangxi province, a landlocked region in eastern China famous for being the cradle of Mao Zedong’s Communist revolution. His father was a civil servant, his mother a mathematics teacher. He says he excelled at math in high school but during his college entrance exams neglected to turn over the last page of the test, leaving three questions blank. He got into the Beijing University of Chemical Technology, less prestigious than the upper-echelon schools. ... it turned out that Didi had a few advantages over the competition. Some were copying Uber’s U.S. strategy of working with limousine and town car chauffeurs. But there are far fewer black cars than yellow cabs in China. ... Instead of imitating competitors and giving away smartphones to drivers, an expensive proposition for a capital-strapped startup, they focused on providing their free app to younger drivers who already had phones and were likely to spread the word about Didi.
In the first quarter of 2016, Huawei sold 10 times as many phones as Apple in Finland, according to research firm IDC. And in October it soared ahead of Samsung for the market-share lead. ... Today you can’t stride through Helsinki without encountering a Huawei billboard. You can’t watch Jokerit, one of the country’s top hockey teams, without seeing Huawei’s flower-in-bloom logo. And you can’t find an electronics store where Huawei’s phones don’t outnumber Samsung’s and Apple’s. ... Enter Huawei—probably the most viable contender yet to loosen the giants’ grip. It’s a 170,000-employee company with $61 billion in sales, selling telecom equipment in 170 countries. Since 2014 it has been No. 1 globally in sales of the networking equipment that underpins telecommunication systems, taking the crown from Sweden’s Ericsson. And now its goal is to dominate the market for the phones themselves. It has taken big strides toward doing just that in China and in growing swaths of Europe—helped in those Western countries by side deals with wireless carriers that have not previously been reported.