This Week in Apps: Black Friday’s boost, security news and the year’s biggest apps

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all. What are developers talking about? What do app publishers and marketers need to know? How are politics impacting the App Store and app businesses? And which apps are everyone using?

This week we look at how the Black Friday weekend played out on mobile (including which non-shopping category that saw a boost in revenue!), as well as a few security-related stories, TikTok’s latest bad press, plus Apple and Google’s best and most downloaded apps of 2019, and more.

Headlines

80% of Android apps are encrypting traffic by default

Google gave an update on Android security this week, noting that 80% of Android applications were encrypting traffic by default, and that percentage was higher for apps targeting Android 9 or higher, with 90% of them encrypting traffic by default. Android protects the traffic entering or leaving the devices with TLS (Transport Layer Security). Its new statistics are related to Android 7’s introduction of the Network Security Configuration in 2016, which allows app developers to configure the network security policy for their app through a declarative configuration file. Apps targeting Android 9 (API level 28) or higher automatically have a policy set by default that prevents unencrypted traffic for every domain. And since Nov. 1, 2019, all apps (including app updates) must target at least Android 9, Google says. That means the percentages will improve as more apps roll out their next updates.

Black Friday boosted mobile game revenue to a record $70M

U.S. sales holiday Black Friday wasn’t just good for online shoppers, who spent a record $7.4 billion in sales, $2.9 billion from smartphones. It also boosted iOS and Android mobile game revenue to a single-day record of $69.7 million in the U.S., according to Sensor Tower. This was the most revenue ever generated in a single day for the category, and it represents a 25% increase over 2018. Marvel Contest of Champions from Kabam led the day with approximately $2.7 million in player spending. Two titles from Playrix — Gardenscapes and Homescapes — also won big, with $1 million and $969,000 in revenue, respectively.

These increases indicate that consumers are looking for all kinds of deals on Black Friday, not just those related to holiday gift-giving. They’re also happy to spend on themselves in games. Mobile publishers caught on to this trend and offered special in-game deals on Black Friday which really paid off.

Did Walmart beat Amazon’s app on Black Friday?

Sensor Tower and Apptopia said it did. App Annie also said it did, but then later took it back (see update). In any event, it must have been a close race. According to Sensor Tower, Walmart’s app reached No.1 on the U.S. App Store on Black Friday with 113,000 new downloads, a year-over-year increase of 23%. Amazon had 102,000 downloads, making it No. 2.

Arguably, many Amazon shoppers already have the app installed, so this is more about Walmart’s e-commerce growth more so than some ding on Amazon.

In fact, Apptopia said that Amazon still had 162% more mobile sessions over the full holiday weekend — meaning Amazon was more shopped than Walmart.

More broadly, mobile shopping is still huge on Black Friday. The top 10 shopping apps grew their new installs by 11% over last year on Black Friday, to reach a combined 527,000 installs.

Report: Android Advanced Protection Program could prevent sideloading

Google’s Advanced Protection Program protects the accounts of those at risks of targeted attacks — like journalists, activists, business leaders, and political campaign teams. This week, 9to5Google found the program may get a new protection feature with the ability to block sideloading of apps, according to an APK breakdown. What’s not yet clear is if program members will have the option to disable the protection, but there are some indications that may be the case. Another feature the report uncovered appears to show that Play Protect will automatically scan all apps, including those from outside the Play Store. This won’t affect the majority of Android users, of course, but it is an indication of where Google believes security risks may be found: sideloaded apps.

Bug hunter suggests Security.plist standard for apps

Reelgood raises $6.75 million for its universal streaming guide

Streaming aggregator Reelgood capitalized on the overabundance of streaming services available today by offering consumers a universal dashboard where you can track what you’re watching and discover your next binge. It then translated the activity from its over 10 million users into data it licenses to major companies, including Roku, Microsoft, smart TV makers, NYPost and even hedge funds. Now the company has closed on $6.75 million in Series A funding to continue to grow its business.

The round was led by Runa Capital and includes participation from Reelgood’s seed round investor, August Capital. To date, Reelgood has raised $11 million.

The company’s app to some extent competes with those designed to help you keep track of the episodes you’ve watched across streaming services and TV, like TV Time, iTV, JustWatch and others. But Reelgood’s service stands out for its breadth of catalog — it tracks both movies and TV across some 336 streaming services, the website says. This includes free services like Tubi, Crackle and those from TV networks, plus authenticated “TV Everywhere” services for pay-TV subscribers, and subscription services like Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Amazon Prime and others. It also can help you compare prices on rental options.

And its robust search and filtering features can help you find titles that are new, coming or leaving services, or by any other filter — like genre, year, Rotten Tomatoes rating, IMDB score and more. The more you use and personalize the service, the better its suggestions for what to watch next then become.

Once you find something to watch, you just press play to launch the streaming service’s app or website.

The work involved in making a simple concept — a universal dashboard for streaming — is fairly complex, Reelgood says.

“Putting together these streaming service libraries involves ingesting massive and unstructured amounts of data from hundreds of different sources for real-time matching and combination using machine learning and human curators,” noted Reelgood’s head of Data, Pablo Lucio Paredes.

Reelgood also touts the quality of its data (averaging 98% across all 300+ services), which it then licenses to publishers, search engines, media players, TVs, voice assistants and other smart devices. Currently, the company has around 50 business customers who pay either for the raw data, the insights or both.

Roku, for example, uses Reelgood’s data for its own universal search feature. NYPost displays streaming availability data on their articles via a widget. Hedge funds look at the data to better understand consumer behavior in streaming services and the movement of content between catalogs.

This year, Reelgood hired Nielsen’s former SVP of global measurement, Mark Green, to lead its B2B data licensing business, called Reelgood Insights.

“I sought out and joined Reelgood because they are poised to capture the billions in revenue spent on viewership data as viewing continues to shift towards OTT,” said Green.

The additional funding will be used to expand the number of platforms where Reelgood is offered, including on a range of smart TVs through partnerships. The company has signed five smart TV deals with major brands that will begin to roll out in 2020, but LG is the only name Reelgood can currently disclose.

Reelgood is headquartered in San Francisco. It has 18 employees, both local and remote, and is hiring across a number of roles.

Google’s AI-powered voice recorder and transcription app comes to older Pixel phones

Google’s AI-powered voice recorder app introduced at Google’s October hardware event was one of the company’s more impressive demos. The new app taps into advances in AI, speech processing and speech recognition in order to automatically transcribe a voice recording with few mistakes, in real time as the person is speaking. Unfortunately, Google’s Recorder app was locked to Pixel 4 devices at launch. That has now changed.

As first spotted by Android Police, the Recorder app is available to Android users with older Pixel devices, including Pixel 2, Pixel 3 and Pixel 3a. The updated support was added to the app today, Sensor Tower also confirmed. But the lack of publicity around the launch has led it to see fewer than 1,000 downloads so far.

voice recorder

Google had previously announced its intention to make the app more widely available. In a recent Reddit thread, a company representative said the app would become available to more Pixel users in the future via a software update. They didn’t say when that update would arrive, though.

While there are many voice recorder apps on today’s market, there are few that offer real-time transcriptions. And of those that do — like Otter.ai, for example — the resulting text is often half-garbled. While these services can still be useful as a way to quickly find a section of a recording to then play back and manually transcribe, the lack of accuracy can limit adoption.

Google’s Recorder app was demonstrated at Google’s fall event as capable of taking a far more accurate transcription. Of course, the app was being not put to real-world use at the time — with different types of voices, accents  and background noise, it may not be as accurate. In addition, the app lacks the ability to identify and label different speakers, which could make it more difficult to use in situations like meetings or interviews.

That being said, the app held up well in initial tests in a review by The Wall St. Journal’s Joanna Stern, though it stumbled with accents. Other reviewers found the app to be fairly powerful, too, if a little basic in its overall design. TechCrunch’s review said the transcription was pretty good, but noted also it lacked some features other apps have.

pixel voice recorder

However, Recorder does have an advantage over some of its rivals: it doesn’t require an internet connection to work. Instead, all the recording and transcription capabilities take place directly on the device. That means you could even use the app while in airplane mode.

In addition, a built-in advanced search feature lets you search for sounds, words and phrases and then see a visual depiction of where the search term was spoken in the playback bar so you can go to the recording you need.

Google has put its real-time speech transcription technology to work in a number of ways, besides Recorder. It also introduced live caption technology for Android devices, for example, which brings transcriptions to things like video or audio saved on your device, or video playback outside of YouTube.

The Recorder app is a free download on Google Play.

We’ve reached out to Google for any update on its plans to make Recorder more broadly available across Android . The company hasn’t responded to our questions at this time.

YouTube warns creators of subscriber count declines amid purge of closed accounts

YouTube is warning creators they may see their subscriber numbers decline this week as the result of a purge that will remove closed accounts from YouTube metrics. Closed accounts could refer to those that were willingly shut down by users or those that YouTube shut down for policy violations — like spam or abuse, for example.

The company informed creators of the possible loss of subscribers via a message on its Help site community forum, Twitter feed, as well as through a notification on YouTube Creator Studio, its dashboard for channel management.

It explains that a purge like this is routine and a part of YouTube’s ongoing efforts to ensure the site stays free from spam and abuse. But while the removals may lead to a creator’s subscriber numbers dropping, YouTube says this shouldn’t have an impact on a channel’s watch time.

Creators who are affected by the purge will see the changes to subscriber accounts appear in their YouTube Analytics for December 3 through December 4. To view the exact numbers of closed accounts that are removed from a channel, creators have to click on the “See more” menu in YouTube Analytics, then select “Closed Accounts” from “Subscription Source.”

Purges like this are not popular with most creators because subscriber numbers determine whether or not they become eligible for certain monetization tools, like channel memberships or merch shelf, for instance. It’s also a factor as to whether creators can join the YouTube Partner Program (YPP). For smaller creators just nearing the 1,000-subscriber threshold for entry into YPP, even a small drop in subscriber counts can impact their ability to monetize.

For that reason, many smaller creators are asking fans to double-check to ensure they’re still subscribed as they believe purges like this remove legitimate accounts from their fan base, not just spam and closed accounts.

According to social media posts from creators, the impacts of the purge seem to vary wildly by channel. Some only report losing a few subscribers, others say they lost thousands.

This isn’t the first time YouTube has purged subscribers. Last December, it warned creators it would be removing a significant number of spam accounts over a two-day period, which would lead to large declines in subscriber numbers.

Facebook updates crisis response tools, adds WhatsApp integration

Facebook is expanding Crisis Response, its disaster-reporting and communications feature that’s been used in 300 crises in more than 80 countries. The company today is announcing several new features, including WhatsApp integration, support for first-hand information sharing and an expansion of its “Data for Good” tools for things like better disaster and displacement maps.

Crisis Response originally grew out of a handful of features that help family, friends and communities support one another in the wake of a disaster. A couple of years ago, Facebook organized these tools — like Safety Check, Community Help and Fundraisers — all under a centralized “Crisis Response” centralized hub.

Today, Facebook is adding new functionality to Crisis Response which will allow people in affected areas to share first-hand information about what they’re witnessing or think others should know — like building collapses or road closures, for example. This is in addition to their existing ability to share requests or offers for help, as before.

In addition, Facebook Crisis Response now works with WhatsApp . This particular integration is fairly light — the entire feature set isn’t coming to WhatsApp, to be clear. But people can now offer or request help through the messaging app, instead of using just Facebook Messenger.

Facebook’s “Data for Good” tools are also being updated and expanded. Via partnerships with more than 100 organizations, Facebook provides disaster maps and relief organizations with information about where to distribute supplies, based on aggregated, anonymized data.

With the updates, Facebook says it’s now able to deliver these updates to state and local officials, as well as federal relief agencies, thanks to partnerships with organizations like Direct Relief and the National Alliance for Public Safety GIS (NAPSG) Foundation.

The company is also improving its disaster maps, following its work with experts on the topic of displacement, like the International Displacement Monitoring Centre. The maps have been corrected for things like commute patterns and tourist populations, Facebook says.

The new features are rolling out now.

Twitter launches a Privacy Center to centralize its data protection efforts

Twitter today is launching a new resource that aims to serve as the central place for everything related to the company’s efforts around privacy and data protection. The new site, the Twitter Privacy Center, will host information about Twitter’s initiatives, announcements and new privacy products, as well as other communication about security incidents.

The company says it wanted to create a centralized resource so it would be easier to find all the information about Twitter’s work in this area. However, the impacts of Europe’s data protection regulation, GDPR, likely also spurred Twitter’s efforts on this front, along with other data laws.

For its own purposes, Twitter now needs to have a more organized approach to consumer data privacy. As a result, it makes sense to put Twitter’s work and announcements onto a consumer-facing site that’s easy to navigate and use.

The new Twitter Privacy Center splits information between what’s aimed at users and what’s for partners. On the latter front, it has dedicated pages for GDPR, CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act) and Global DPA (Data Processing Addendum), for example.

The users’ section, meanwhile, directs visitors to Twitter’s Terms, Privacy Policy, Account Settings, Service Providers and more.

In its newly updated policies, Twitter says the entity serving the EU, or European Economic Area, is Twitter International Company, not Twitter. This entity already exists but Twitter is now moving people outside of the E.U. and outside of the U.S. to Twitter Inc. from Twitter International. This change gives Twitter the ability to test features and settings for E.U. users alone. It also allows Twitter to provide these users with a different set of controls outside of its main product.

For example, Twitter says it may test additional opt-in or opt-out preferences, prompts or other requirements for advertisements. Some of this work may make its way back to Twitter eventually.

Twitter’s new Terms also clarify that its intellectual property license says that the content users provide may be curated, transformed and translated by Twitter.

Plus, Twitter’s Privacy Policy has been modified with clarifications around how Twitter processes data, how tweets are shared with developers and other changes.

In its announcement, Twitter spins its history a bit by saying how privacy has been its focus since the service’s creation in 2006. That’s a funny stance, given its product has been that of a public social media platform, not a private one — a sort of public SMS, in fact.

Twitter notes how users are able to be anonymous on its platform, a feature it says was built with privacy in mind. In reality, Twitter’s creation was inspired by SMS, but Twitter remained an ambiguous product for years, until its user base grew and figured out what they wanted Twitter to be. Much of what Twitter is today — even its conventions like the @ mention and the retweet — grew organically, not by design.

The company’s announcement today also states its privacy and data protection work going forward will be focused on three key areas: 1) to fix Twitter’s technical debt — meaning upgrading older systems to support their current uses; 2) to build privacy into all new products it launches; and 3) accountability.

Products now go through reviews by Twitter’s Information Security, Product and Privacy Counsel teams and its independent Office of Data Protection ahead of launch. In addition, Twitter’s Data Protection Officer, Damien Kieran, will provide to Twitter’s board of directors every quarter an independent assessment of all privacy and data protection-related work to ensure Twitter remains on track.

“It’s so common to hear tech companies say: ‘Privacy is not a privilege; it is a fundamental right’ that those words have become a cliche. People have become desensitized to hearing companies say, ‘we value your privacy,’ and are worn out from being asked to accept privacy policies that they rarely, if ever, even read,” read Twitter’s announcement about the launch of the new Twitter Privacy Center, jointly authored by both Kieran and Twitter Product Lead, Kayvon Beykpour.

“Many companies make these declarations without even showing people what actions they are taking to protect their privacy. And let’s be honest, we have room for improvement, too,” it stated.

Cyber Monday on track to deliver $9.4B in US online sales

Cyber Monday online sales are on track to hit $9.4 billion today, a figure that’s up 18.9% year-over-year, and even larger than Black Friday’s record-breaking $7.4 billion in online sales, according to analytics from Adobe.

As of 9 AM Eastern on Cyber Monday, U.S. online shoppers had already spent $473 million, Adobe says.

Adobe’s forecasts and reports are based on over 1 trillion visits to U.S. online retail sites and 55 million SKUs. And its Adobe Analytics service is able to measure transactions from 80 of the top 100 U.S. retailers.

Retailers smartly addressed the shortened post-Thanksgiving time frame by rolling out their deals a week earlier. That plan worked, as U.S. consumers spent a record $72.1 billion online shopping since November 1, representing 16.3% year-over-year growth.

Through this weekend, consumers spent $7.4 billion, including “Small Business Saturday” and “Super Sunday,” which are newer terms for the big shopping days after Thanksgiving and Black Friday .

Top sellers so far have included Frozen 2 toys, L.O.L Surprise Dolls, Paw Patrol toys, video games like Madden 20 and FIFA 20 and the Nintendo Switch. Electronics like Samsung TVs, Apple laptops and Amazon Echo devices also sold well. One report claims Apple may have sold as many as 3 million pairs of AirPods from Black Friday until today.

Adobe says Cyber Monday shoppers today can expect the biggest discounts on TVs (savings of 19%, on average), toys (20% savings) and computers (18% savings). Furniture and bedding, however, may be cheaper on Giving Tuesday (tomorrow), at 10% off.

In addition to the usual factors that influence Cyber Monday sales, the shopping holiday may get a boost from the bad weather, too. When extreme weather arrives, shoppers tend to stay indoors and shop at home. On Black Friday, for example, states that recorded more than two inches of snow saw a 7% bump in online sales.

“Online shopping received some unexpected boosts this holiday season. Retailer fears of a shorter season meant that deals came much sooner than usual, and consumers took notice. In some areas of the country, adverse weather in the form of snow and heavy rain meant that many opted to stay home instead and grabbed the best deals online. Just look at Black Friday, which brought in $7.4 billion online and is just below last year’s Cyber Monday at $7.9 billion,” said Taylor Schreiner, principal analyst and head of Adobe Digital Insights.

“Consumers are reimagining what it means to shop during the holidays, with smartphones having a breakout season as well. We expect that consumers will spend $14 billion more this holiday season via their phones,” Schreiner added.

Adobe also notes that Cyber Monday’s four golden hours — 10 PM through 2 AM ET — will bring in 30% ($2.8 billion) of today’s revenue as shoppers show up to grab the deals before they end. During the peak hour of 11 PM ET to midnight, shoppers will spend $11 million per minute.

Adobe’s forecast of $9.4 billion in Cyber Monday sales will likely be at least roughly accurate, but the company won’t have the exact total until the day ends — and it could end up being a little less. The actual Black Friday sales numbers came in just under Adobe’s prediction of $7.5 billion, for example.

A related forecast from Salesforce is estimating slightly smaller Cyber Monday sales, by comparison. It instead predicts Black Friday will deliver $8 billion in U.S. sales and $30 billion worldwide — representing 15% and 12% year-over-year growth, respectively.

 

This Week in Apps: Apple Arcade updates, TikTok distances itself from China, Kardashians send shady app to No. 1

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all. What are developers talking about? What do app publishers and marketers need to know? How are politics impacting the App Store and app businesses? And which apps are everyone using?

This week, we’re discussing the impact of the CFIUS investigation into TikTok, the further fallout of Apple’s vaping app ban, updates to Apple Arcade and Google Play Pass subscription-based app stores, Apple’s breaking changes that rolled out without warning (thanks, Apple!) and a shady app that reached the top of the App Store thanks to a big Kardashians-led endorsement, among other things.

Headlines

TikTok separates further from its Chinese parent

One of the world’s most downloaded and used apps, TikTok, is under a national security review in the U.S. because of its Chinese roots. TikTok parent company, ByteDance, is a China-based operation — something that has raised concerns because of its significant access to U.S. users’ personal data and potential censorship issues.

The company was already working to separate itself further from China before the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) began its investigation. For example, it separated the TikTok product, business development, marketing and legal teams from those of its Chinese app, Douyin, and hired consultants to audit how it’s storing U.S. users’ personal data. Following the investigation, it hired more U.S. engineers and set up a U.S.-based team to oversee data management, Reuters reported.

The question now is whether not these moves — along with a promise to not store U.S. user data in China — will be enough. The app collects data including profile information such as name, age, email and phone number, provided by users, as well as photos, videos, and location. Many of TikTok users are younger teens and college students.

Even if you’re “too old” to care about TikTok, CFIUS investigation’s conclusions here will have a larger impact on the global app industry, as they’ll set precedents as to how foreign powers can compete in U.S. app stores.

Oops: Apple releases breaking changes with no warning 

Apple this week introduced new server-to-server notifications for subscriptions that allowed developers to receive real-time updates in a subscription’s status, so they could provide customized experiences for subscribers. Only one problem with the release: Apple broke most server notifications implementations as a result. Developers weren’t given any warning about the APIs that were “scheduled for deprecation,” either, which is not typically how web APIs are managed. To add icing to the cake, not only were the changes released without warning, they were also rolled out on a Friday — there goes the weekend. Thanks, Apple.

The vaping app ban backlash continues

Has Apple crossed the line between protecting its users from dangerous apps to just turning into an overbearing parent policing adults’ ability to make their own choices? Over the past couple of weeks, several have said the latter. Now concerning are arising about what this means for the overall industry and whether or not decisions like this should even be in Apple’s hands in the first place.

As you may recall, Apple earlier made a controversial decision to remove all 181 vaping-related apps from its App Store in wake of news from the CDC about the 47 vaping deaths and thousands of lung injuries. Some early studies point to Vitamin E acetate, an addictive used in THC oil, as the cause. But Apple isn’t worrying about the details of what’s dangerous and what’s not — it just wiped out anything vaping-related, including things like Bluetooth-connected apps that let users control aspects of their vaping devices, like the lights, heat, and updates to the firmware. There’s no backup plan here for those app makers, since web apps don’t offer the same level of functionality. Plus, the ban is also impacting devices used to distribute medication as well as apps designed to help people cut down and eventually quit smoking and vaping by tracking their nicotine usage.

For app entrepreneurs, Apple’s decision in one fell swoop also just destroyed half the vaping app market as their apps will now only run on Android.

The question now is whether or not any of this should be Apple’s decision? While you may personally applaud a vaping app ban — or simply not care because it doesn’t affect you — Apple has made other controversial choices that have a more serious impact. Like when it kicked out the app that aided Hong Kong protestors, for example.

Apple Arcade and Google Play Pass expand their collections

Apple’s subscription-based gaming store and Google’s rival subscription app store, Google Play Pass, have both added new apps since their debuts. Now, the two companies are making users aware of their ongoing efforts to beef up their respective collections. Apple this week shared a video that highlighted over a dozen new Apple Arcade releases that hit this month — the first time it’s released a compilation video featuring multiple titles since its launch.

Meanwhile, Google Play Pass added 37 more apps to bring its total to 274.

What we don’t know yet, is how well the two services are working — or whether they will benefit developers in the long run. And because neither has a Top Charts section, it’s not even clear what apps are most popular or how many downloads they’re seeing.

Apple Arcade adds a “Top Games” chart… well, sorta… OK, not really

Apple took a step to address the above problem with a new section in Apple Arcade called “Top Arcade Games This Week.” We had argued earlier that the lack of visibility into the popularity of titles on Arcade was a disservice to users who wanted quickly and easily find the most popular titles.

But this new section, while fun, doesn’t solve the problem. Top Games, based on what? Downloads? Editorial curation? Both? Is there going to be an API for it?

It’s common knowledge that the App Store’s Top Charts are based on a combination of downloads and velocity. And that data is accessible to third parties like App Annie, Sensor Tower, Apptopia and others who use it to come up with download estimates.

But a “Top Games This Week” section is not the same thing as a real Top Charts section. And by limiting it to only a week’s time, it provides no real insight into whether or not the Arcade is able to produce a lasting hit the way the App Store can, or what those hit titles may be.

Apple has distanced itself from promoting the Top Charts as a means of app discovery for years now. With its big App Store makeover, it shifted its focus more to editorial, curation, and recommendations, rather than downloads. But for a smaller store like Arcade, Top Charts could have value as they would feature some of the best titles from an already exclusive collection — that’s something people would want to see.

Why was a shady photo editor the top app of October?

Twitter tests new conversation features from twttr prototype, rollout planned for 2020

Twttr, the prototype app Twitter launched earlier this year, has been testing new ways to display conversations, including through the use of threaded replies and other visual cues. Now, those features have been spotted on Twitter.com, giving the service a message board-like feel where replies are connected to original tweeter and others in a thread by way of thin, gray lines.

As you may recall, the goal with twttr was to give Twitter a place outside of its main app to publicly experiment with more radical changes to the Twitter user interface, gain feedback, then iterate as needed, before the changes were rolled out to Twitter’s main user base. Since its arrival in March, the prototype twttr app has focused mainly on how threaded conversations would work, sometimes including different ways of labeling the posters in a thread, as well.

Currently, for example, twttr labels the original poster — meaning the person who started a conversation — with a little microphone icon, similar to Reddit. It’s also testing a way to view the tweet details in a card-style layout you can activate with a tap.

But its main focus continues to be on the display of the threads themselves.

Following its launch, the work on twttr slowed as did the excitement over its exclusive, invite-only Twitter experience. Instead of being a continual testbed of new ideas, twttr mostly rolled out small tweaks to threads. And it never branched out beyond conversation redesigns to test entirely new features, like Twitter’s recently launched Topics, for example.

In August, Sara Haider, who had been heading up the design of Conversations on Twitter — a role that included running twttr — announced she would be moving to a new team at the company. Meanwhile, Suzanne Xie, who had just joined Twitter by way of the Lightwell acquisition, stepped in to lead Conversations instead. She confirmed at the time that part of her role would be working with the twttr team to bring its best parts to the main Twitter app.

That work now appears to be underway.

Noted reverse engineer Jane Manchun Wong spotted a conversation tree layout being developed on Twitter.com, identical to the one found on twttr.

And just this week, the feature was tweaked a bit more to include the ability to focus on a specific tweet, even from a permalink — also similar to twttr’s card-style layout, which highlights tweets you tap within a thread in the same way.

Wong wasn’t opted into an A/B test on Twitter.com to view this feature but rather found it through her investigative techniques, we understand.

Twitter confirmed what she found is part of the company’s broader plan to bring twttr’s features to Twitter — a rollout that will take place next year, a spokesperson said. However, not all the features discovered by Wong will be a part of the launch — just the “best parts” of twttr. (Meaning, the conversation threads, but not necessarily the other tweaks.)

In addition, the company is considering how to use the twttr app to experiment with other features going forward, it says.

 

Fabric’s new app helps parents with the hard stuff, including wills, life insurance & shared finances

A new app called Fabric aims to make it simpler for parents to plan for their family’s long-term financial well-being. The goal is to offer parents a one-stop-shop that includes the ability to ability for term life insurance from their phone, create a free will in about five minutes, and collaborate with a spouse or partner to organize key financial accounts or other important documents. In addition, parents are able to coordinate with beneficiaries, children’s guardians, attorneys, financial advisors, and others right from the app.

Fabric was originally founded in 2015 by Adam Erlebacher, previously the COO at online bank Simple, and Steven Surgnier, previously the Director of Data at Simple. The company last year raised a $10 million Series A led by Bessemer Venture Partners, after having sold life insurance coverage to thousands of families.

Since launch, Fabric has expanded beyond life insurance to offer other services, like easy will creation and the addition of tools that help families organize their financial and legal information in one place. The idea, the company explained at the time, was to offer today’s busy parents a better alternative to meetings with agents to discuss complicated life insurance products. Instead, the company offers a simple, 10-minute life insurance application and the option to connect with a licensed team if they need additional help, as well as a similarly simplified will creation workflow.

As with the founders’ earlier company, Simple, which offered a better front-end to banking while actual bank accounts were held elsewhere, Fabric’s life insurance policies are issued by “A” rated insurer, Vantis Life, not Fabric itself.

However, until now, Fabric’s suite of services were only available on the web. They’re now offered in an app for added convenience. The app is initially available on iOS with an Android version in the works.

“Money can be especially stressful when you’re trying to build a family and a career,” said Fabric co-founder and CEO Adam Erlebacher. “In one survey by Everyday Health, 52% of respondents said financial issues regularly stress them out, and people between the ages of 38 to 53 were the most stressed out financially. Parents want to have more control over their families’ long-term financial well-being and today’s dusty old products and tools are failing them,” he added.

Using the Fabric app, parents can take advantage of any of its offerings, including the option to apply for life insurance from the phone and get immediate approval. The app also makes it possible to share the policy information with beneficiaries, so it doesn’t get lost.

Another feature lets you create your will for free, and share that information with key people as well, including the witnesses you need to coordinate with in order to finalize the will, for example. And a spouse can choose to mirror your will, which speeds up the process of creating a second one with the same set of choices.

Fabric also helps to address an issue that often only comes up after it’s too late or in other emergency situations — organizing both parents’ finances in a single place. Many working adults today have not just a bank account, but also have investment accounts, 401Ks, IRAs, and credit cards, or a combination of those. But their partner may not know where to find this information or where the accounts are held.

The app, which we put through its paces (but didn’t purchase life insurance through), is very easy to use. It starts off with a short quiz to get a handle on your financial picture. It then delivers you to a personalized homescreen with a checklist of suggestions of what to do next. Naturally, this includes the life insurance application, as this is where Fabric’s revenue lies. And if you’re lacking a will and have other fiances to organize, these are featured, too.

The online forms are easy to fill out, despite the smartphone’s reduced screen space compared with a web browser, and Fabric has taken the time to get the small touches right — like when you enter a phone number, the numeric keypad appears, for example, or the integration of address lookup so you can just tap on the match and have the rest autofill. It also saves your work in progress, so you can finish later in case you get interrupted — as parents often do. And it explains terms, like “executor,” so you know what sort of rights you’re assigning.

Given its focus, Fabric protects user information with bank-grade security, including 256-bit encryption, two-factor authentication, automatic lockouts, biometrics, and other adaptive security features.

Fabric isn’t alone in helping parents and others financially plan wills and more from their iPhone. Other apps exist in this space, including will planning apps from Tomorrow, LegalZoom, Qwill, and others. Plus many insurers offer a mobile experience. Fabric is unique because it puts wills, insurance, and other tools into a single destination, without complicating the user interface.

Fabric’s app is a free download on the App Store.