Layer gets $5.6M to make joint working on spreadsheets less hassle

Layer is not trying to replace Excel or Google Sheets. Instead the Berlin-based productivity startup wants to make life easier for those whose job entails wrangling massive spreadsheets and managing data inputs from across an organization — such as for budgeting, financial reporting or HR functions — by adding a granular control access layer on top.

The idea for a ‘SaaS to supercharge spreadsheets’ came to the co-founders as a result of their own experience of workflow process pain-points at the place they used to work, as is often the case with productivity startups.

“Constantin [Schünemann] and I met at Helpling, the marketplace for cleaning services, where I was the company’s CFO and I had to deal with spreadsheets on a daily level,” explains co-founder Moritz ten Eikelder. “There was one particular reference case for what we’re building here — the update of the company’s financial model and business case which was a 20MB Excel file with 30 different tabs, hundreds of roles of assumptions. It was a key steering tool for management and founders. It was also the basis for the financial reporting.

“On average it needed to be updated twice per month. And that required input by around about 20-25 people across the organization. So right then about 40 different country managers and various department heads. The problem was we could not share the entire file with [all the] people involved because it contained a lot of very sensitive information like salary data, cash burn, cash management etc.”

While sharing a Dropbox link to the file with the necessary individuals so they could update the sheet with their respective contributions would have risked breaking the master file. So instead he says they created individual templates and “carve outs” for different contributors. But this was still far from optimal from a productivity point of view. Hence feeling the workflow burn — and their own entrepreneurial itch.

“Once all the input was collected from the stakeholders you would start a very extensive and tedious copy paste exercise — where you would copy from these 25 difference sources and insert them data into your master file in order to create an up to date version,” says ten Eikelder, adding: “The pain points are pretty clear. It’s an extremely time consuming and tedious process… And it’s extremely prone to error.”

Enter Layer: A web app that’s billed as a productivity platform for spreadsheets which augments rather than replaces them — sitting atop Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets files and bringing in a range of granular controls.

The idea is to offer a one-stop shop for managing access and data flows around multi-stakeholder spreadsheets, enabling access down to individual cell level and aiding collaboration and overall productivity around these key documents by streamlining the process of making and receiving data input requests.

“You start off by uploading an Excel file to our web application. In that web app you can start to build workflows across a feature spectrum,” says Schünemann — noting, for example, that the web viewer allows users to drag the curser to highlight a range of cells they wish to share.

“You can do granular user provisioning on top of that where in the offline world you’d have to create manual carve outs or manual copies of that file to be able to shield away data for example,” he goes on. “On top of that you can then request input [via an email asking for a data submission].

“Your colleagues keep on working in their known environments and then once he has submitted input we’ve built something that is very similar to a track changes functionality in Word. So you as a master user could review all changes in the Layer app — regardless of whether they’re coming through Excel or Google Sheets… And then we’ve built a consolidation feature so that you don’t need to manually copy-paste from different spreadsheets into one. So with just a couple of clicks you can accept changes and they will be taken over into your master file.”

Layer’s initial sales focus is on the financial reporting function but the co-founders say they see this as a way of getting a toe in the door of their target mid-sized companies.

The team believes there are wider use-cases for the tool, given the ubiquity of spreadsheets as a business tool. Although, for now, their target users are organizations with between 150-250 employees so they’re not (yet) going after the enterprise market.

“We believe this is a pretty big [opportunity],” Schünemann tells TechCrunch. “Why because back in 2018 when we did our first research we initially started out with this one spreadsheet at Helpling but after talking to 50 executives, most of them from the finance world or from the financial function of different sized companies, it’s pretty clear that the spreadsheet dependency is still to this day extremely high. And that holds true for financial use cases — 87% of all budgeting globally is still done via spreadsheets and not big ERP systems… but it also goes beyond that. If you think about it spreadsheets are really the number one workflow platform still used to this day. It’s probably the most used user interface in any given company of a certain size.”

“Our current users we have, for example, a real estate company whereby the finance function is using Layer but also the project controller and also some parts of the HR team,” he adds. “And this is a similar pattern. You have similarly structured workflows on top of spreadsheets in almost all functions of a company. And the bigger you get, the more of them you have.

“We use the finance function as our wedge into a company — just because it’s where our domain experience lies. You also usually have a couple of selective use cases which tend to have these problems more because of the intersections between other departments… However sharing or collecting data in spreadsheets is used not only in finance functions.”

The 2019 founded startup’s productivity platform remains in private beta for now — and likely the rest of this year — but they’ve just nabbed €5 million (~$5.6M) in seed funding to get the product to market, with a launch pegged for Q1 2021.

The seed round is led by Index Ventures (Max Rimpel is lead there), and with participation from earlier backers btov Partners. Angel investors also joining the seed include Ajay Vashee (CFO at Dropbox); Carlos Gonzales-Cadenaz (COO of GoCardless), Felix Jahn (founder and CEO of McMakler), Matt Robinson (founder of GoCardless and Nested) and Max Tayenthal (co-founder and CFO of N26).

Commenting in a statement, Index’s Rimpel emphasized the utility the tool offers for “large distributed organizations”, saying: “Spreadsheets are one of the most successful UI’s ever created, but they’ve been built primarily for a single user, not for large distributed organisations with many teams and departments inputting data to a single document. Just as GitHub has helped developers contribute seamlessly to a single code base, Layer is now bringing sophisticated collaboration tools to the one billion spreadsheet users across the globe.”

On the competition front, Layer said it sees its product as complementary to tech giants Google and Microsoft, given the platform plugs directly into those spreadsheet standards. Whereas other productivity startups, such as the likes of Airtable (a database tool for non-coders) and Smartsheets (which bills itself as a “collaboration platform”) are taking a more direct swing at the giants by gunning to assimilate the spreadsheet function itself, at least for certain use cases.

“We never want to be a new Excel and we’re also not aiming to be a new Google Sheets,” says Schünemann, discussing the differences between Layer and Airtable et al. “What Github is to code we want to be to spreadsheets.”

Given it’s working with the prevailing spreadsheet standard it’s a productivity play which, should it prove successful, could see tech giants copying or cloning some of its features. Given enough scale, the startup could even end up as an acquisition target for a larger productivity focused giant wanting to enhance its own product offering. Though the team claims not to have entertained anything but the most passing thoughts of such an exit at this early stage of their business building journey.

“Right now we are really complementary to both big platforms [Google and Microsoft],” says Schünemann. “However it would be naive for us to think that one or the other feature that we build won’t make it onto the product roadmap of either Microsoft or Google. However our value proposition goes beyond just a single feature. So we really view ourselves as being complementary now and also in the future. Because we don’t push out Excel or Google Sheets from an organization. We augment both.”

“Our biggest competitor right now is probably the ‘we’ve always done it like that’ attitude in companies,” he adds, rolling out the standard early stage startup response when asked to name major obstacles. “Because any company has hacked their processes and tools to make it work for them. Some have built little macros. Some are using Jira or Atlassian tools for their project management. Some have hired people to manage their spreadsheet ensembles for them.”

On the acquisition point, Schünemann also has this to say: “A pre-requisite for any successful exit is building a successful company beforehand and I think we believe we are in a space where there are a couple of interesting exit routes to be taken. And Microsoft and Google are obviously candidates where there would be a very obvious fit but the list goes beyond that — all the file hosting tools like Dropbox or the big CRM tools, Salesforce, could also be interesting for them because it very much integrates into the heart of any organization… But we haven’t gone beyond that simple high level thought of who could acquire us at some point.” 

Investors are browsing for Chromium startups

A few months ago, we declared that “browsers are interesting again,” thanks to increased competition among the major players. Now, as more startups are getting onboard, things are getting downright exciting.

A small but growing number of projects are building web browsers with a more specific type of user in mind. Whether that perceived user is prioritizing improved speed, organization or toolsets aligned with their workflow, entrepreneurs are building these projects with the assumption that Google’s one-size-fits-all approach with Chrome leaves plenty of users with a suboptimal experience.

Building a modern web browser from scratch isn’t the most feasible challenge for a small startup. Luckily open-source projects have enabled developers to build their evolved web browsers on the bones of the apps they aim to compete with. For browsers that are not Safari, Firefox, Chrome or a handful of others, Google’s Chromium open-source project has proven to be an invaluable asset.

Since Google first released Chrome in late 2008, the company has also been updating Chromium. The source code powers the Microsoft Edge and Opera web browsers, but also allows smaller developer teams to harness the power of Chrome when building their own apps.

These upstart browsers have generally sought to compete with the dominant powers on the privacy front, but as Chrome and Safari have begun shipping more features to help users manage how they are tracked online, entrepreneurs are widening their product ambitions to tackle usability upgrades.

Aiding these heightened ambitions is increased attention on custom browsers from investors. Mozilla co-founder Brendan Eich’s Brave has continued to scale, announcing last month they had 5 million daily active users of their privacy-centric browser.

Today, Thrive Capital’s Josh Miller spoke with TechCrunch about his project The Browser Company which has raised $5 million from some notable Silicon Valley operators. Other hot upstart efforts include Mighty, a subscription-based, remote-streamed Chrome startup from Mixpanel founder Suhail Doshi, and Blue Link Labs, a recent entrant that’s building a decentralized peer-to-peer browser called Beaker browser.

Mighty

As front-end developers have gotten more ambitious and web applications have gotten more complex, Chrome has earned the reputation of being quite the RAM hog.

Chrome competitor, The Browser Company, quietly raises $5M

A handful of Silicon Valley’s notable figures are backing a software startup looking to challenge Google Chrome’s dominance.

The startup, called The Browser Company, is led by Joshua Miller, who previously served as the Obama White House’s Director of Product and is currently an investor at Thrive Capital, an investment firm founded by Josh Kushner.

The New York startup has raised just north of $5 million in funding, a source familiar tells TechCrunch. The company’s backers include LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner, Medium’s Ev Williams, Figma’s Dylan Field, Notion’s Akshay Kothari and GitHub’s Jason Warner.

The startup has been pretty vague in public about what exactly they’re working on. They’re building a new browser that seems to reject bare bones simplicity and embrace some of the more flexible interfaces of modern web apps. The browser’s backend is built, in part, on the bones of Chrome, utilizing open source Chromium which allows the upstart product to boast seamless support with broader web standards at launch.

“We love the internet, but it can be overwhelming,” the startup’s site reads. “What if a browser could help us make sense of it all?”

In a phone call, Miller wasn’t much more illuminating on what exactly the eventual release might look like.

“I’m going to be a little cagey just because we do have competitors that have more engineers and more money than we do,” Miller said in response to a question regarding product capabilities.

The Browser Company’s team of six isn’t the only young startup aiming to challenge Chrome’s one-size-fits-all approach to the browser market. For Extra Crunch, I dug into a number of the young browser startups that investors are backing. (Subscription required.)

Google’s Chrome flat-out dominates the browser market. In 2016, Google detailed that they had about 2 billion active installs of the application. Since then, as users of competitors like Firefox and Internet Explorer have dropped off significantly, the product has only cemented its lead.

Google’s efforts to build a version of Chrome suited for billions of people across the globe has led to a safe product that Miller says isn’t very “opinionated” about how people should use it. The Browser Company isn’t aiming to replace Chrome, he says, but is looking to find a subset of Chrome users whose needs it can better meet.

“I think one of the reasons that web browsers have remained somewhat stagnant in terms of their functionality is that the business model is built on top of is one of search ad revenue,” Miller says. “I think of Chrome and Safari as Toyotas or Hondas. They’re reliable, they’re affordable, they’re accessible and they’re simple. We’re trying to build the Tesla of web browsers.”

Miller says The Browser Company is hoping to start bringing on users to beta test the software later this year.

Decrypted: As tech giants rally against Hong Kong security law, Apple holds out

It’s not often Silicon Valley gets behind a single cause. Supporting net neutrality was one, reforming government surveillance another. Last week, Big Tech took up its latest: halting any cooperation with Hong Kong police.

Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, and even China-headquartered TikTok said last week they would no longer respond to demands for user data from Hong Kong law enforcement — read: Chinese authorities — citing the new unilaterally imposed Beijing national security law. Critics say the law, ratified on June 30, effectively kills China’s “one country, two systems” policy allowing Hong Kong to maintain its freedoms and some autonomy after the British handed over control of the city-state back to Beijing in 1997.

Noticeably absent from the list of tech giants pulling cooperation was Apple, which said it was still “assessing the new law.” What’s left to assess remains unclear, given the new powers explicitly allow warrantless searches of data, intercept and restrict internet data, and censor information online, things that Apple has historically opposed if not in so many words.

Facebook, Google and Twitter can live without China. They already do — both Facebook and Twitter are banned on the mainland, and Google pulled out after it accused Beijing of cyberattacks. But Apple cannot. China is at the heart of its iPhone and Mac manufacturing pipeline, and accounts for over 16% of its revenue — some $9 billion last quarter alone. Pulling out of China would be catastrophic for Apple’s finances and market position.

The move by Silicon Valley to cut off Hong Kong authorities from their vast pools of data may be a largely symbolic move, given any overseas data demands are first screened by the Justice Department in a laborious and frequently lengthy legal process. But by holding out, Apple is also sending its own message: Its ardent commitment to human rights — privacy and free speech — stops at the border of Hong Kong.

Here’s what else is in this week’s Decrypted.


THE BIG PICTURE

Police used Twitter-backed Dataminr to snoop on protests

Google makes education push in India

Google said on Monday that it has partnered with CBSE, a government body that oversees education in private and public schools in India, to deliver a “blended learning experience” across 22,000 schools in the world’s second largest internet market by the end of this year.

The Search giant, which today also announced plans to invest $10 billion in India in the next five to seven years, said it will train more than 1 million teachers in India this year and offer a range of free tools such as G Suite for Education, Google Classroom, and YouTube to help digitize the education experience in the nation, which like other countries, closed schools earlier this year to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

“We must acknowledge that not everyone has access to internet,” said Sapna Chadha, Senior Marketing Director at Google India, at an online event Monday. She said the company is working with partners to bring education through TV and other mediums.

Google’s Monday announcement follows a similar effort from its global rival Facebook, which partnered with CBSE earlier this month to launch a certified curriculum on digital safety and online well-being, and augmented reality for students and educators in the country.

The Android-maker also announced that Bolo, an education app it launched in India last year that helps students develop reading and comprehension skills, is expanding to 180 countries in nine languages under Read Along brand.

More to follow…

Google to invest $10 billion in India

Google said on Monday that it plans to invest $10 billion in India in the next five to seven years as the search giant looks to further expand its presence in the key overseas market.

Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Google, today unveiled Google for India Digitization Fund through which the company will be making the investments in the country.

“We’ll do this through a mix of equity investments, partnerships, and operational, infrastructure and ecosystem investments. This is a reflection of our confidence in the future of India and its digital economy,” he said at the company’s annual event focused on India.

Investments will focus on four areas:

  • First, enabling affordable access and information for every Indian in their own language, whether it’s Hindi, Tamil, Punjabi or any other
  • Second, building new products and services that are deeply relevant to India’s unique needs
  • Third, empowering businesses as they continue or embark on their digital transformation
  • Fourth, leveraging technology and AI for social good, in areas like health, education, and agriculture

India is a key overseas market for Google, where a range of its products and services including Search, YouTube, and Android have made inroads with much of the entire online population.

More than 500 million people in India, the world’s second most populous nation with 1.3 billion people, are online today and more than 450 million smartphones are in active usage in the country.

“There’s still more work to do in order to make the internet affordable and useful for a billion Indians…from improving voice input and computing for all of India’s languages, to inspiring and supporting a whole new generation of entrepreneurs,” said Pichai.

Google, like every other American tech giant, though makes only a fraction of its revenue from the world’s largest internet market. But that does not appear to be a priority for any American or Chinese tech giant in India that are currently searching for their next hundreds of millions of users in developing markets.

Facebook, which rivals with Google and Amazon in India, made a $5.7 billion investment in Reliance Jio Platforms, the top telecom operator in the nation in April this year to digitize 60 million mom and pop stores in the country.

Reliance Jio Platforms, a four-year-old subsidiary of India’s most valued firm Reliance Industries, has raised more than $15.7 billion since the second half of April from 12 high-profile investors.

During his visit to India early this year, Jeff Bezos said Amazon plans to invest an additional $1 billion in India, totalling the company’s to-date commitment to $6.5 billion.

Google’s announcement today also comes at a time when India appears to be shutting its door for Chinese firms. New Delhi last month banned 59 apps and services developed by Chinese companies. Among those that have been banned include ByteDance’s Tencent, Alibaba Group’s UC Browser, and Tencent’s WeChat. Some industry players believe that this ban would help American tech giants further expand their tentacles across India as they would face less competition.

In April this year, India also amended its foreign direct investment policy to require all neighboring nations with which it shares a boundary to seek approval from New Delhi for their future deals in the country. For dozens of startups in India including unicorns Zomato, Swiggy, and Paytm that count Chinese investors as some of their biggest backers, New Delhi’s move is likely to result in additional difficulties in raising future capital.

Google has backed a handful of startups in India to date, including Bangalore-headquartered hyperlocal delivery service Dunzo. In May, Financial Times reported that Google was in talks with Vodafone Idea, the second biggest telecom operator in India, to acquire a 5% stake in the company.

Sanjay Gupta, the head of Google in India, said the company’s new $10 billion commitment to India today shapes the future of many of its products ands services in the country. “We are recommitting ourselves to partner deeply and support India in becoming a truly digital nation,” he said.

One of the ways Google has extended its reach in India is through partnerships with local smartphone vendors to produce low-cost handsets that receive timely and more frequent updates. Without disclosing much details, Caesar Sengupta, GM & VP of Payments and Next Billion Users at Google, said today that the company will focus on “enabling more high-quality low-cost smartphones so that more people can access the internet to learn, grow and succeed.”

More to follow…

Google’s Fitbit deal could avoid EU antitrust probe by agreeing not to use health data for ads

Google announced its plans to acquire Fitbit for $2.1 billion back in November. As of this writing, the deal has yet to go through, courtesy of all the usual regulatory scrutiny that occurs any time one large company buys another. EU regulators are often a key hurdle for these sorts of deals, and this time it may be no different.

Citing “people familiar with the matter,” Reuters notes that Google may be facing down some scrutiny in the form of an EU antitrust investigation if it doesn’t make some concessions. The heart of the concern here is a matter of health privacy. Fitbit — like many other wearable companies — collects a tremendous amount of health information from wearers.

Google, of course, is a company tremendously invested in data and advertising. Critics of the deal have suggested that purchasing Fitbit would provide yet another rich vein of data for Google to mine. As such, the deal could hinge on the promise that Google will never use health data to sell ads.

The stipulation is in keeping with a promise the company made when the acquisition was first announced, with the company’s head of hardware Rick Osterloh promising, “[P]rivacy and security are paramount. When you use our products, you’re trusting Google with your information. We understand this is a big responsibility and we work hard to protect your information, put you in control and give you transparency about your data.”

In a follow-up to this week’s reporting, the company noted that it believes the acquisition would increase competition. While Fitbit has a sizable footprint, Apple, Xiaomi and Huawei currently dominate the category, due in part to Fitbit’s late start in the smartwatch category. Google’s efforts to make inroads through Wear OS have largely come up short, though the company did also purchase a chunk of smartwatch tech from Fossil last January.

A spokesperson also attempted to put to rest potential regulatory fears, stating, “Throughout this process we have been clear about our commitment not to use Fitbit health and wellness data for Google ads and our responsibility to provide people with choice and control with their data.”

Regulators are set to decide on the deal by July 20. Google reportedly has until July 13 to present its concessions.

Nanoleaf’s new Hexagon Shapes are a surprisingly lively and organic addition to your home decor

Nanoleaf essentially created a new smart lighting category with its connected light panels, and since then it has iterated with its pixel-like Canvas and, most recently, its new Shapes Hexagons. The Hexagons already seem to be proving popular with customers, as they’re currently waitlisted, but I got the chance to spend some time with them and have found them to be a unique, interesting and very pleasing addition to my home decor.

The basics

The Nanoleaf Hexagons don’t change the basic formula of Nanoleaf’s products: They’re individual light panels, which connect to one control unit that has a hardware controller and connects to the power supply. Each one has an electronic connector that snaps into a two-sided connection module that you can then use to connect another panel, in whatever configuration you desire. The panels attach to walls by way of 3M strips, which are pre-mounted on a plastic pad that makes it relatively easy to detach them from the panels for damage-free removal from walls, and replacement by using new 3M strips if you’re redecorating or changing things up. You can also optionally mount them with screws if you want a more permanent installation.

The panels come in a few different configurations, including a Starter Kit that includes seven panels ($199.99), add-on packs that contain three additional panels and larger packs, including 13 and 19-panel bundles. You can configure them basically any way you want — but if that sounds like too much freedom, Nanoleaf provides a number of preset configuration suggestions, and its app has an augmented reality feature that lets you mock up and preview different arrangements on your walls before installing. I ended up just free-styling with a rough idea of where I wanted the design to start and end in terms of height and width, and was very happy with the results.

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

In terms of specs, each panel is very thin at only around 0.24 inches, and they measure roughly 9 inches by 7.75 inches. They each put out around 100 lumens of light, which is not going to replace an overhead light fixture, but which proves perfectly usable for actually supplanting entirely things like bedside lamps and mood lighting in other rooms.

Nanoleaf has made the Hexagon controllable in a number of ways, including via the hardware controller included with the base kit, through their mobile or desktop app and through smart assistants, with compatibility for Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple HomeKit — all of which proved convenient and user-friendly ways to interact with the panels in my experience. You can also touch individual panels to provoke a lighted response.

The Hexagons also include audio responsiveness, meaning they can react to sound. You can use the default programs included with the app, download user-created ones or make your own, both for sound-reactive modes and for configurations that just play back a set pattern. The sound-reactive modes work amazingly well with music played back through your home audio devices, and really bring the Nanoleaf Hexagons alive — lending an almost biological feel to the devices.

Design

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

The individual Hexagon panels are each very lightweight and thin, but still feel sturdy and durable. They feature a lighted area that takes up nearly all of their surface, minus rounded corners at each point of the hexagon shape, to create a more organic look once they’re powered on. Each side of the hexagon features a receptacle for the connector clip on the back, allowing you to connect another panel to them and provide power and control through each. One controller unit can control up to 500 hexagons, so you shouldn’t ever really need more than one, and one power supply can provide power for up to 21 hexagons. Each can be snapped to any panel in your configuration for flexible positioning.

Nanoleaf’s original light panels are triangular, and they also created the square Canvas later on. The Hexagons have a honeycomb effect and are the most organic looking to my eye, with an ability to work with a wider range of decor, including softer, less industrial interior aesthetics.

The light emitted by each panel is even and bright, and can be tuned across the RGB spectrum. Whites ranging from warm to very cool can also be achieved with the panels for more general day-to-day use. The hardware controller allows you to cycle through some standard white presets, too, including Warm White (2700K), Reading Light (4000K) and Daylight White (5000K) — plus you can control it to essentially any temperature you want, as well as different colors, through the app.

Nanoleaf has come up with a very simple mounting solution that’s easy to do on your own. I had mine installed and configured in probably around 15 minutes today, once I’d worked out a rough idea of how I wanted to lay them out on the wall. I used a level to get the first panel plumb, but it’s not necessarily required, as the shapes look great even if they’re off-level relative to the room and surrounding objects.

Because of their modular nature, you can easily add more to your existing layout by picking up additional expansion packs, should you decide to grow your collection in the future. There’s enough play with the mounting equipment that you can snap one of the connectors in place behind previously installed panels to attach new ones.

Features

Nanoleaf has evolved their product since its introduction to include a wide range of built-in features, including ambient music modes that use audio to dynamically change the lighting on the panels. This is probably my favorite feature of the Hexagons, and the mode I use most often, especially because I’m often playing music via Sonos throughout the house on most days.

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

The hardware controller is also a great option in case you want to skip the app features altogether and treat your Hexagons more like a traditional light source — with added flexibility. It allows you to turn the brightness up and down, power them on and off, and cycle through different stored patterns and sequences.

App-based control offers a much wider range of options, however. It provides access to a range of pre-installed scenes, including both standard dynamic ones as well as Rhythm modes (those that react to sound) and you can set scheduled events, including scene changes, and have them occur just once or repeat on whatever schedule you prefer.

A built-in scene creator allows you to fully customize your light show, panel-by-panel, and then save that and share it with the community as well. It’s a great way to get just the look you want, and combined with the scheduler, means you can ensure your setup is custom-tailored to exactly which colors, brightness and effects you’re looking for throughout the day.

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

Bottom line

The Nanoleaf Hexagons are a terrific addition to the Nanoleaf lineup, and I think they’re the model that’s mostly likely to appeal to a much broader customer base when compared to the company’s existing options. I personally didn’t expect to be that big a fan of Nanoleaf in general — I’d never been more than mildly interested in their offerings before. But as soon as I powered on the Hexagon, I was amazed at how much I felt like they improved the aesthetics of the space.

Their Rhythm features feels like having a living, dancing electric decor element, and the general pattern and even ambient lighting modes are all very pleasant additions to any room that impress without feeling overly techy or overwhelming of other aspects of your home design and furnishings. They command a high price versus traditional lighting, but when you factor in their smart features, they’re a good value in terms of bringing something unique and highly personal into your home’s look and feel.

Currently, Nanoleaf is sold out of its initial pre-orders, but you can sign up to be waitlisted for when they become available again (the company expects new shipments to resume in August).

California reportedly launches antitrust investigation into Google

According to a report in Politico, California has become the 49th state to launch an antitrust investigation into Google.

California and Alabama were the only states that did not participate in an antitrust investigation by 48 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, that began in September and is focused on Google’s dominance in online advertising and search.

It is still unclear what aspects of Google’s business the reported California investigation will focus on.

The Justice Department is also currently conducing its own antitrust investigation into Google, and working with the multi-state probe. It is expected that the investigations will result in lawsuits against Google.

Google is among several big tech companies, including Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon, that are currently being scrutinized by state and federal legislators and agencies, including the Federal Trade Commission, over alleged antitrust issues.

In 2011, California, four other states (Texas, New York, Oklahoma and Ohio) and the Federal Trade Commission launched an antitrust investigation into allegations that Google unfairly favored its own products over competitors in search results. That investigation was closed in 2013.

TechCrunch has contacted Google and the office of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra for comment.

 

Coronavirus impact sends app downloads, usage and consumer spending to record highs in Q2

As the world continued to cope with the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, the second quarter of 2020 became the largest yet for mobile app downloads, usage and consumer spending. According to new data from app store intelligence firm App Annie, mobile app usage grew 40% year-over-year in the second quarter of 2020, even hitting an all-time high of over 200 billion hours during April. Consumer spending in apps, meanwhile, hit a record high of $27 billion in the second quarter. And app downloads reached a high of nearly 35 billion.

The growth in app usage has been fueled by social distancing and lockdown measures, as countries around the world try to quell the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Image Credits: App Annie

In India, for example, time spent in apps grew 35% in Q2 2020 from Q4 2019. Italy and Indonesia saw growth of 30% and 25%, respectively. In the U.S., time spent in apps grew 15%.

App Annie says now the average user is spending 4 hours and 20 minutes per day on their smartphones.

Image Credits: App Annie

But consumers aren’t just launching apps they already have installed on their phones — they’re also downloading new ones. In the second quarter, consumers downloaded nearly 35 billion new apps, an all-time high.

Google Play accounted for 25 billion of those downloads, representing 10% year-over-year growth. India and Brazil were the the two largest markets for Google Play in the quarter.

Image Credits: App Annie

iOS downloads grew 20% year-over-year to reach nearly 10 billion. The U.S. and China were iOS’s biggest markets for downloads, but the U.S. and Saudi Arabia saw the most quarter-over-quarter growth. The latter was likely attributed to a nationwide lockdown and school closures, driving app downloads in the country to a all-time high in April and 100% year-over-year growth on iOS.

Games were downloaded at record levels in the quarter, App Annie noted, totaling 14 billion games. In the first week of Q2, weekly mobile game downloads broke records at over 1.2 billion, and weekly download levels remained at 1 billion on average throughout the quarter, up 20% year-over-year.

Image Credits: App Annie

Non-gaming apps represented over half (55%) of the new downloads on Android and 70% of those on iOS.

More specifically, top categories outside of games included “Tools” and “Entertainment” on Google Play and “Photo and Video” and “Entertainment” on iOS. But other categories saw strong growth, including “Business,” “Health & Fitness” and “Education,” which saw quarter-over-quarter growth in downloads of 115%, 75% and 50% respectively on Google Play.

On iOS, “Health and Fitness,” “Shopping” and “Medical” apps saw strong quarter-over-quarter growth of 30%, 25% and 20%, meanwhile.

With record downloads and usage, consumer spending also grew significantly as a result, particularly among streaming video services.

Image Credits: App Annie

In the second quarter, consumers spent a record $27 billion in apps, up 15% year-over-year to $17 billion on iOS and up 25% to $10 billion on Android.

Games accounted for $19 billion of the spend, up 15% quarter-over-quarter. Google Play saw sizable growth at 25% quarter-over-quarter, which was 2x the growth rate on iOS.

Image Credits: App Annie

Non-gaming apps were 35% of the spend on iOS. The U.S. and China the largest contributors in both games and non-game apps on iOS in the quarter. However, the U.S. notably took back the top position as the largest market for consumer games — a spot previously held by China — with 30% quarter-over-quarter growth in Q2.

Non-games were 15% of the spend on Google Play. The U.S., Japan, and South Korea were the largest markets in both non-games and games alike on Google Play.

Top Google Play categories in addition to “Games” included “Social” and “Entertainment.” Growth in the “Entertainment” category was driven largely by Disney+ and Twitch, App Annie noted.

On iOS, “Entertainment” and “Photo and Video” were the largest categories by consumer spend, in addition to “Games.” Here, TikTok drove growth for the “Photo and Video” category, becoming the No. 1 top-grossing app on iOS App Store globally in Q2 2020 thanks to sales of virtual gifts used to tip streamers.

Image Credits: App Annie

While much of the activity taking place on mobile devices during the pandemic is related to having fun — like watching videos or playing games, for example — several of the top apps in the quarter were work-related.

Zoom, for instance, became the No. 2 of most downloaded app globally in Q2 2020. Google Meet was No. 7.

TikTok, meanwhile, was the top app by downloads and spending, and the No. 7 by monthly active users. That will likely change in the months ahead, due to its ban in India. A proposed U.S. ban has also recently seen TikTok rivals gaining ground. Amid this disruption, local competitors in India have seen increased usage, and elsewhere, competitors like Byte and Likee have surged.