AR 1.0 is dead: Here’s what it got wrong

The first wave of AR startups offering smart glasses is now over, with a few exceptions.

Google acquired North this week for an undisclosed sum. The Canadian company had raised nearly $200 million, but the release of its Focals 2.0 smart glasses has been cancelled, a bittersweet end for its soft landing.

Many AR startups before North made huge promises and raised huge amounts of capital before flaring out in a similarly dramatic fashion.

The technology was almost there in a lot of cases, but the real issue was that the stakes to beat the major players to market were so high that many entrants pushed out boring, general consumer products. In a race to be everything for everybody, the industry relied on nascent developer platforms to do the dirty work of building their early use cases, which contributed heavily to nonexistent user adoption.

A key error of this batch was thinking that an AR glasses company was hardware-first, when the reality is that the missing value is almost entirely centered on missing first-party software experiences. To succeed, the next generation of consumer AR glasses will have to nail this.

Image Credits: ODG

App ecosystems alone don’t create product-market fit

Global app revenue jumps to $50B in the first half of 2020, in part due to COVID-19 impacts

Consumer spending on mobile apps and app installs grew significantly during the first half of 2020, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new data from Sensor Tower. In the first half of the year, consumers spent $50.1 billion worldwide across the App Store and Google Play — a figure that’s up 23.4% from the first half of 2019. Previously, revenue had grown 20% between the first half of 2018 and 2019, for comparison. In addition, first-time app installs were up 26.1% year-over-year in the first half of 2020 to reach 71.5 billion downloads.

Apple’s App Store accounted for 18.3 billion of those downloads, up 22.8% year-over-year, while Google Play delivered 53.2 billion new app installs, up 27.3%.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Though Google Play saw far more app installs, Apple’s App Store continued to outpace its rival on consumer spending.

During the first half of the year, the App Store generated $32.8 billion from in-app purchases, subscriptions, and premium apps and games, Sensor Tower estimates. This figure is up 24.7% year-over-year from the $26.3 billion spent during the first half of 2019. It’s also nearly twice the estimated gross revenue on Google Play, which was $17.3 billion, an increase of 21% year-over-year.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

The pandemic’s impacts are only somewhat reflected in the top-earning (non-game) apps of the first half of 2020. The biggest earner, for example, was Match’s online dating app Tinder — an app that, one would think, would have dropped out of the top 5 due to social distancing requirements.

During the first half of the year, Tinder generated an estimated $433 million in spending across both app stores, combined. However, this number does represent a decrease of about 19% from the first half of 2019, or $532 million. It’s unclear how much that decline is related to consumers’ changing behavior and spending habits during the pandemic. Though shelter-in-place orders and quarantines kept people indoors and social distancing, social networking apps — and particularly those focused on online communication — have boomed amid lockdowns.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Tinder embraced the growing interest in online networking by making its “Passport” feature free. This setting allows users to match with other singles around the world, turning Tinder into more of a social app than one focused on real-world dating. But this change could have also led to a decrease in Tinder’s total revenues for the first half of the year.

The No. 2 top grossing app during the first half of 2020 was YouTube, bringing in an estimated $431 million globally. This was followed by ByteDance’s TikTok with $421 million. The social video app, which includes Douyin in China, had also broken download records during the first half of the year, passing 2 billion total global downloads, Sensor Tower earlier reported.

Tencent Video and Netflix were the No. 4 and No. 5 top grossing apps, respectively.

Meanwhile, consumers stuck at home during the pandemic have been downloading apps and games in greater numbers. During the first half of the year, consumers installed 71.5 billion apps for the first time, up 26.1% from the first half of 2019.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

TikTok was the most-downloaded app in the first half of the year with 626 million downloads. But its position may look quite different in the second half of year, given the recent changes in India where the government has now banned 59 Chinese apps, including TikTok.

The No. 2 and No. 3 apps were WhatsApp and Zoom, respectively — the latter an indication of the rapid shift to work-from-home and consumers’ embrace of online video conferencing, in general. In addition to WhatsApp, Facebook snagged the No. 4, No. 5, and No. 6 positions in the top 10, with Facebook, Instagram and Messenger, in that order.

Snapchat’s social app was No. 7 and No. 8 was video app Likee, which is similar to TikTok but offers a variety of face effects and filters. Netflix and YouTube rounded out the top 10.

Mobile gaming also saw a boost during the pandemic, with game spending up 21.2% year-over-year to reach an estimated $36.6 billion during the first half of the year, Sensor Tower found. Spending on the App Store grew 22.7% year-over-year to reach $22.2 billion, while Google Play game spending grew 19% to reach $14.4 billion.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Tencent’s PUBG Mobile beat out Honor of Kings as the top-grossing game for the first half of the year. Tencent’s game, which includes its localized versions (Game for Peace and Peacekeeper Elite) generated $1.3 billion across both app stores, not including China’s third-party Android app stores. Honor of Kings, meanwhile, pulled in roughly $1 billion.

The remaining top 10 included, in order, Monster Strike ($632M), Roblox, Coin Master, Candy Crush Saga, AFK Arena, Gardenscapes, Fate/Grand Order, and Pokémon Go. The latter recently adapted to indoor gaming amid government lockdowns.

Roblox, in particular, has been surging due to the pandemic as kids stuck indoors have gone online to play and socialize with friends in its virtual environment. In June, Sensor Tower reported Roblox had surpassed a milestone of $1.5 billion in lifetime player spending, for instance. Coin Master, meanwhile, is approaching the $1 billion lifetime player milestone, the firm found.

In terms of top game installs, PUBG Mobile came out on top here as well, followed by another battle royale title, Garena Free Fire. Ruby Game Studio’s Hunter Assassin, Eyewind Limited’s Brain Out, and Playrix’s Gardenscapes — which many found to be a relaxing distraction during a stressful time — rounded out the top five.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Across all of the mobile gaming market, downloads grew 42.5% year-over-year to reach 28.5 billion first-time installs in the first half of 2020. Of those, Google Play downloads grew 46.2% year-over-year to 22.8 billion while App Store downloads grew 29.5% to 5.7 billion.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

 

COVID-19 impacts more apparent in Q2 

Indications of COVID-19’s impact on the app market can be found among the figures for the first half of the year — like the growth seen by Zoom or social gaming platforms like Roblox, for example. But a closer look at the second quarter of 2020 alone makes the COVID-19 impacts more apparent.

Sensor Tower’s initial projections show consumer spending on apps and games jumped 11% on a quarterly basis from Q1 to Q2, and grew 28.8% year-over-year to reach $26.4 billion worldwide. This is a sizable increase from the 1.4% growth between Q1 2019 and Q2 2019. Downloads were up 12% on a quarterly basis and up 31.7% year-over-year to reach 37.8 billion worldwide. Again, a large increase from the 2.5% growth between Q1 2019 and Q2 2020.

Apple will soon let developers challenge App Store rules

Apple has announced an upcoming change to App Store rules that could mark a major shift in how the marketplace operates. Developers will soon be able to challenge not just the rejection of an app, but the rule that prompted that rejection. Bug fixes will also no longer be held up by rule violations.

In a blog post about changes for apps and developers, Apple noted these major additions with remarkably little fanfare:

First, developers will not only be able to appeal decisions about whether an app violates a given guideline of the App Store Review Guidelines, but will also have a mechanism to challenge the guideline itself. Second, for apps that are already on the App Store, bug fixes will no longer be delayed over guideline violations except for those related to legal issues.

App Store rules have been in the headlines this week due to a fracas over monetization that saw the new email service Hey rejected from the platform over a reluctance to share its subscription revenue with Apple.

While the issue is hardly new and it seems unlikely that a high-profile play like Hey (from Basecamp co-founder David Heinemeier Hansson) was unaware that this would happen, this isn’t the first criticism of Apple’s one-size-fits-all business model for apps.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Apple’s Phil Schiller said the company was not considering any changes to the rules that would allow Hey — and other apps with similar models — to operate on the App Store without surrendering a significant cut of its income.

But while Apple may not be considering changing the rules immediately, it seems from today’s announcement that the rules may change eventually. Exactly how feedback from developers would be solicited, processed, and weighed is not addressed, but we can probably expect to hear more during this week’s many developer sessions (and during which suggestions will no doubt begin to be submitted).

The second change takes a bit of the pressure off app developers that may find themselves, as Hey did, blocked from providing security updates because of business concerns. Separating the two seems only right, since Apple doesn’t want its users at risk because negotiations haven’t concluded. It shrinks the size of the stick that Apple wields against recalcitrant developers, but ultimately results in less risk for everyone involved.

The changes to App Store rules will be arriving this summer, and more details will surely be forthcoming before then.

Apple’s iOS 14 will give users option to decline ad tracking

A new version of iOS wouldn’t be the same without a bunch of security and privacy updates. Apple on Monday announced a ton of new features it’ll bake into iOS 14, expected out later this year with the release of new iPhones and iPads.

Apple said it will allow users to share your approximate location with apps, instead of your precise location. It’ll allow apps to take your rough location without identifying precisely where you are. It’s another option that users have when they give over their location. Last year, Apple allowed users to give over their location once so that apps can’t track a person as they go about their day.

iPhones with iOS 14 will also get a camera recording indicator in the status bar. It’s a similar feature to the camera light that comes with Macs and MacBooks. The recording indicator will sit in the top bar of your iPhone’s display when your front or rear camera is in use.

But the biggest changes are for app developers themselves, Apple said. In iOS 14, users will be asked if they want to be tracked by the app. That’s a major change that will likely have a ripple effect: by allowing users to reject tracking, it’ll reduce the amount of data that’s collected, preserving user privacy.

Apple also said it will also require app developers to self-report the kinds of permissions that their apps ask for. This will improve transparency, allowing the user to know what kind of data they may have to give over in order to use the app. It’s a feature that Android users have been able to see app permissions for years on the Google Play app store.

The move is Apple’s latest assault against the ad industry as part of the tech giant’s privacy-conscious mantra.

The ad industry has frequently been the target of Apple’s barbs, amid a string of controversies that have embroiled both advertisers and data-hungry tech giants, like Facebook and Google, which make the bulk of their profits from targeted advertising. As far back as 2015, Apple CEO Tim Cook said its Silicon Valley rivals are “gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it.” Apple, which makes its money selling hardware, “elected not to do that,” said Cook.

As targeted advertising became more invasive, Apple countered by baking in new privacy features to its software, like its intelligence tracking prevention technology and allowing Safari users to install content blockers that prevent ads and trackers from loading.

Just last year Apple told developers to stop using third-party trackers in apps for children or face rejection from the App Store.

Apple doubles down on its right to profit from other businesses

Apple this week is getting publicly dragged for digging in its heels over its right to take a cut of subscription-based transactions that flow through its App Store. Almost unbelievably, it’s doing so so in the middle of antitrust investigations both in the E.U. and the U.S. — the latter which CEO Tim Cook may decide to skip— in which lawmakers will attempt to determine if Apple abuses its market position and power to disadvantage its competitors.

This is not a new complaint, but one that came to a head this week over Apple’s decision to reject app updates from Basecamp’s newly launched subscription-based email app called “Hey.”  

Hey offers a $99-per-year subscription for access to its nouveau email service that works across web, Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS and Android, but not via standard email protocols. The Hey iOS app was initially approved by Apple, but then put on pause — meaning Basecamp couldn’t submit any updates or bug fixes until it added an option for users to subscribe to Hey’s service through an in-app purchase.

This decision on Apple’s part was met with shock, horror and outrage by Basecamp co-founder and Chief Technology Officer David Heinemeier Hansson and, to some extent, the broader iOS developer community.

Heinemeier Hansson has been a vocal opponent to Apple’s policies well before the launch of Hey. He testified before Congress as part of a series of hearings over online platforms and market power. Last year, he called out Apple Card for discriminatory practices. Of all people for Apple to antagonize amid multiple antitrust probes — and the week before Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference — this was certainly a bold choice.

In a series of tweets, Heinemeier Hansson made the case as to why Apple’s reasoning made no sense.

Arguably, the whole debacle served as a nice bit of high-profile marketing for a brand-new app that would have otherwise flown under the radar. But, nonetheless, his larger points appear correct: Apple’s policies are confusing, inconsistently applied, and anti-competitive.

For starters, Basecamp’s new email app Hey competes with Apple’s built-in Mail app. That means it already has to convince users to forgo the iPhone’s free email experience for its differentiated one. And when it does acquire a user, Apple wants it to hand over a commission no matter if the new user discovered the app for the first time on the App Store or somewhere else. (Like a TechCrunch article!)

Apple argues its policies around the use of in-app purchases are not new. In fact, they’ve been in place since the first set of App Store Review Guidelines were published in September 2010, the company told TechCrunch when questioned about its decision.

The section around in-app purchases was relocated to 3.X from 11.X in 2016, but today states that multi-platform apps can allow access to subscriptions provided elsewhere so long as in-app purchases are also offered with the iOS app. The rules also state that developers can’t directly or indirectly tell iOS users how to make a purchase outside the app. (Hey has a Help screen that says you can’t sign up in the app and “we know that’s a pain.”) The rules also say you can’t discourage the use of in-app purchases.

In other words, Apple seems to argue, Basecamp should have known better.

That argument would hold up if Apple enforced its rules uniformly, but it does not.

As Apple observer John Gruber of Daring Fireball pointed out, Apple makes a distinction between business services and consumer apps when enforcing in-app purchase policies. This has to do with how business software is often paid for — by the company, not the end user, as a report by Protocol first noted. That’s why Basecamp’s flagship service for businesses can be offered in the App Store without a subscription sign-up, but its consumer app Hey cannot.

That’s a confusing distinction to make — and one not documented by Apple’s rules — as the line between software meant for business versus consumer use has long since been blurred. In fact, that blurring comes about, in part, because of the democratized access to business-grade software made possible through platforms like the Apple App Store.

Business apps aren’t the only exception Apple makes.

Apple also carves out exceptions for a type of apps it broadly refers to as “reader” apps, even though they aren’t necessarily about parsing the printed word.

This set does include reading apps — like magazines, newspapers, and books. And it’s why the Kindle app lets you read your ebooks, but doesn’t tell you how to buy more or offer a way to do so in the app. The group has also expanded to include audio, music, video, access to professional databases, VoIP, cloud storage, and other approved services, like classroom management apps.

Not surprisingly, this group of apps where Apple permits the companies to forgo the in-app purchase option (so long as they never ever mention how else to subscribe) are also among those with a direct competitor to an Apple paid service.

For example, Spotify, which competes with Apple Music, is considered a “reader” app. The group also includes rivals to Apple TV+, iCloud, Podcasts, Classroom, Books, and others.

Spotify has been among the most vocal about how Apple’s policy negatively impacts its business. Last year, it filed an antitrust complaint against Apple in the E.U. That investigation is now underway which Spotify says is great news for consumers.

“Apple’s anticompetitive behavior has intentionally disadvantaged competitors, created an unlevel playing field, and deprived consumers of meaningful choice for far too long,” Spotify’s statement read. “We welcome the European Commission’s decision to formally investigate Apple, and hope they’ll act with urgency to ensure fair competition on the iOS platform for all participants in the digital economy,” it added.

But for the most part, only larger companies have been willing to stand up to Apple publicly on this front.

Among these is Fortnite maker Epic Games, which wants to sell software through its own iOS app. Its CEO, Tim Sweeney, said he wants all iOS developers to have the option to process payments directly and install software from any source, and won’t seek out any “special deal just for ourselves.”

More recently, ebook seller Kobo added its voice to growing list of anticompetitive complaints, saying it can’t fairly compete against Apple Books when it has to share 30% of revenue from purchases with Apple. (The company, like many others, currently sells only from its website to avoid this fee.)

Tinder parent Match has also released a lengthy statement against Apple’s in-app purchase policy, saying it’s “acutely aware of [Apple’s] power over us.” Match also said it’s unfair how only digital service providers have to share revenue with Apple when others — like ride-share apps and social networking apps — do not.

But many developers bite their tongue and play along with Apple’s rules out of fear. Stratechery founder Ben Thompson posted to Twitter on Tuesday how he’s hearing from a number of developers who claim Apple is refusing to update their app until they add an in-app purchase option for their SaaS (software as a service) business. It’s unclear, given these developers didn’t go on record, how many of their apps had been mistakenly approved by App Store reviewers in the first place.

Of course, the line between Apple enforcing an existing policy it’s been lax on and a change in direction around enforcement of App Store policies has always been a gray area at best. (Remember how all of a sudden Amazon’s Prime Video app could rent and sell movies once Apple had its own Apple TV+ app it wanted to distribute on Fire TV? And Apple said that fell under an existing policy — one that magically now included permission for Amazon?)

In a third exception, Apple also turns a blind eye towards companies that incentivize users to pay for access to their upgraded features outside the App Store. For example, Google sells its YouTube Premium service for $11.99 per month via the web, but for $15.99 per month on the App Store to account for Apple’s commission. Apple allows this, despite its rule about about companies that discourage the use of in-app purchases. (Apparently, giving users a way to save nearly $50 per year by shopping outside the App Store doesn’t count as “discouraging” an in-app purchase?)

The solution to this whole matter is tricky, of course.

As much as developers want to sell directly to consumers without sharing a cut with Apple, it would be wrong to say that apps don’t benefit from Apple’s distribution platform. Would iOS apps ever have found as large an audience if they were all side-loaded bits of software instead of being organized, ranked, curated and featured in a built-in App Store?

Plus, consumers want the convenience of making easy purchases inside an app with a payment card they keep on file. Amazon proved consumer demand for this with 1-click checkout, which allowed it to capture massive ecommerce market share over the years. In other words, take away the option to make purchases directly in iOS apps via Apple Pay and prepare for a consumer backlash.

A better compromise would be a reduction in the cut that Apple takes. Today, Apple currently charges a 30% commission on subscriptions in year 1 which drops to 15% in year 2. These commissions are often for apps that have built sizable brands without Apple’s help — Spotify, YouTube, Pandora, Hulu, Netflix, Tinder, Fortnite, etc. These apps don’t need the App Store to be “discovered” by users or curated into “must” lists by App Store editors, they simply need to serve their existing users who happen to carry an iPhone.

Apple may deserve to stick its hand in the pot to some extent for making apps easy to find, install and pay for, but it’s getting much harder to argue that 30% is the right price for such a system.

Apple Pay and iOS App Store under formal antitrust probe in Europe

Apple is under formal investigation by antitrust regulators in European Union — following a number of complaints related to how it operates the iOS App Store and also its payment offering, Apple Pay.

The Commission said today that it has concerns that conditions and restrictions applied by the tech giant may be distorting competition in a number of areas, following a preliminary probe of the issues.

Back in March 2019, European music streaming service Spotify filed an antitrust complaint against Apple — railing very publicly against what it dubbed an “Apple tax”; aka the 30% tariff the tech giant applies on accepting payments in apps on its App Store. Spotify also accused Apple of impeding its business by applying arbitrary rules — such as making it harder to offer its own users discounts.

The Commission confirmed today that it’s looking formally into whether Apple’s rules for app developers on the distribution of apps via the App Store violate EU competition rules. It said the probe focuses on Apple’s mandatory requirement that app developers use its own proprietary in-app purchase system, as well as restrictions applied on the ability of developers to inform iPhone and iPad users of alternative cheaper purchasing possibilities outside of apps.

As well as the very public complaint from Spotify, the Commission has received a similar complaint from an unnamed e-book/audiobook distributor related to the impact of the App Store rules on competition.

Two specific restrictions imposed by Apple in its agreements with companies that wish to distribute apps to users of Apple devices will be investigated, per the Commission — namely [emphasis its]:

(i)   The mandatory use of Apple’s own proprietary in-app purchase system “IAP” for the distribution of paid digital content. Apple charges app developers a 30% commission on all subscription fees through IAP.

(ii)  Restrictions on the ability of developers to inform users of alternative purchasing possibilities outside of apps. While Apple allows users to consume content such as music, e-books and audiobooks purchased elsewhere (e.g. on the website of the app developer) also in the app, its rules prevent developers from informing users about such purchasing possibilities, which are usually cheaper.

“Following a preliminary investigation the Commission has concerns that Apple’s restrictions may distort competition for music streaming services on Apple’s devices,” it writes in a press release. “Apple’s competitors have either decided to disable the in-app subscription possibility altogether or have raised their subscription prices in the app and passed on Apple’s fee to consumers.

“In both cases, they were not allowed to inform users about alternative subscription possibilities outside of the app. The IAP obligation also appears to give Apple full control over the relationship with customers of its competitors subscribing in the app, thus dis-intermediating its competitors from important customer data while Apple may obtain valuable data about the activities and offers of its competitors.”

Commenting in a statement, Commission EVP Margrethe Vestager — who heads up competition policy for the bloc — added: Mobile applications have fundamentally changed the way we access content. Apple sets the rules for the distribution of apps to users of iPhones and iPads. It appears that Apple obtained a ‘gatekeeper’ role when it comes to the distribution of apps and content to users of Apple’s popular devices. We need to ensure that Apple’s rules do not distort competition in markets where Apple is competing with other app developers, for example with its music streaming service Apple Music or with Apple Books. I have therefore decided to take a close look at Apple’s App Store rules and their compliance with EU competition rules.”

Vestager’s reference to a “gatekeeper” role has specific significance as the Commission is currently consulting on updating regulations for digital platforms — including floating the possibility of ex ante regulation for platforms deemed to be gatekeepers vis-a-vis other suppliers.  (In parallel, the Commission is consulting on updates to competition law that may allow it to intervene more swiftly in future, in instances where it suspects digital markets have ‘tipped’.)

Spotify welcomed the Commission’s action, writing in a statement:

Today is a good day for consumers, Spotify and other app developers across Europe and around the world. Apple’s anticompetitive behavior has intentionally disadvantaged competitors, created an unlevel playing field, and deprived consumers of meaningful choice for far too long. We welcome the European Commission’s decision to formally investigate Apple, and hope they’ll act with urgency to ensure fair competition on the iOS platform for all participants in the digital economy.

On Apple Pay, the Commission said a formal investigation of how it operates the payment tech will look at the “terms, conditions and other measures” Apple applies for integrating the payment solution in merchant apps and websites on iPhones and iPads; Apple’s limitation of access to the NFC functionality on iPhones for payments in stores; and allegations of “refusals of access to Apple Pay”.

Following a preliminary probe, the Commission said it is concerned Apple’s processes “may distort competition and reduce choice and innovation”.

It also notes that Apple Pay is the only mobile payment solution that is allowed to access NFC technology on iOS devices for making payments in stores.

“The investigation will also focus on alleged restrictions of access to Apple Pay for specific products of rivals on iOS and iPadOS smart mobile devices,” it added.

The Commission said it will carry out the investigations “as a matter of priority”, but there’s no set timeframe for how long this process might take.

EU antitrust investigations have tended to take a number of years from an announcement of a formal probe to a decision being reached. (Although, in an ongoing investigation against Broadcom, Vestager recently dusted off a tool to accelerate regulatory intervention — but as yet there’s no formal ‘statement of objections’ against Apple so it remains to be seen how this case will proceed, and whether regulators may seek to speed up any intervention.)

Reached for comment on the Commission’s announcement of the two antitrust investigations, Apple dubbed the complaints “baseless” — choosing to throw shade on the complainants by claiming these companies are after “a free ride, and don’t want to play by the same rules as everyone else”.

Here’s Apple’s statement on the two investigations in full:

Throughout our history, Apple has created groundbreaking new products and services in some of the most fiercely competitive markets in the world. We follow the law in everything we do and we embrace competition at every stage because we believe it pushes us to deliver even better results.

We developed the App Store with two goals in mind: that it be a safe and trusted place for customers to discover and download apps, and a great business opportunity for entrepreneurs and developers. We’re deeply proud of the countless developers who’ve innovated and found success through our platform. And as we’ve grown together, we’ve continued to deliver innovative new services — like Apple Pay — that provide the very best customer experience while meeting industry-leading standards for privacy and security.

It’s disappointing the European Commission is advancing baseless complaints from a handful of companies who simply want a free ride, and don’t want to play by the same rules as everyone else. We don’t think that’s right — we want to maintain a level playing field where anyone with determination and a great idea can succeed.

At the end of the day, our goal is simple: for our customers to have access to the best app or service of their choice, in a safe and secure environment. We welcome the opportunity to show the European Commission all we’ve done to make that goal a reality.

Apple has had a number of run-ins with EU regulators over the years — including a probe of its acquisition of Shazam (which was later cleared); a major investigation of ebook pricing; and a probe of tax benefits in Ireland which saw it on the hook for $15BN.

French competition regulators also recently fined the tech giant $1.2BN for anti-competitive sales tactics. It’s also been fined $27M by French regulators this year for throttling old iPhones.

This report was updated with comment from Spotify

Carry1st has $4M to invest in African mobile gaming

Gaming development startup Carry1st has raised a $2.5 million seed round led by CRE Venture Capital .

That brings the company’s total VC to $4 million, which Carry1st will deploy to support and invest in game publishing across Africa.

The startup — with offices in New York, Lagos, and South Africa — was co-founded in 2018 by Sierra Leonean Cordel Robbin-Coker, American Lucy Parry, and Zimbabwean software engineer Tinotenda Mundangepfupfu.

Robbin-Coker and Parry met while working in investment banking in New York, before forming Carry1st.

“I convinced her to avoid going to business school and instead come to South Africa to Cape Town,” Robbin-Coker told TechCrunch on a call.

“We launched with the idea that we wanted to bring the gaming industry…to the African continent.”

Carry1st looks to match gaming demand in Africa to the continent’s fast growing youth population, improving internet penetration and rapid smartphone adoption.

Carry1st has already launched two games as direct downloads from its site, Carry1st Trivia and Hyper!.

“In April, [Carry1st Trivia] did pretty well. It was the number one game in Nigeria, and Kenya for most of the year and did about one and a half million downloads.” Robbin-Coker said.

Carry1st Africa

Image Credit: Carry1st

The startup will use a portion of its latest round and overall capital to bring more unique content onto its platform. “In order to do that, you need cash…to help a developer finish a game or entice a strong game to work with you,” said Robbin-Coker.

The company will also expand its distribution channels, such as partnerships with mobile operators and the Carry1st Brand Ambassador program — a network of sales agents who promote and sell games across the continent.

The company will also invest in the gaming market and itself.

“We want to dedicate at least a million dollars to actually going out and acquiring users and scaling our user base. And then, the final piece is really around the the tech platform that we’re looking to build,” said Robbin-Coker.

That entails creating multiple channels and revenue points to develop, distribute, and invest in games on the continent, he explained.

Image Credits: Carry1st

Robbin-Coker compared the Carry1st’s strategy in Africa as something similar to Sea: an Asia regional mobile entertainment distribution platform — publicly traded and partially owned by Tencent — that incubated the popular Fornite game.

“We’re looking to be the number one regional publisher of [gaming] content in the region…the publisher of record and the app store,” said Robbin-Coker.

That entails developing and distributing not only games originating from the continent, but also serving as channel for gaming content from other continents coming into Africa.

That generates a consistent revenue stream for the startup, Robbin-Coker explained, but also creates opportunities for big creative wins.

“It’s a hits driven business. A single studio will work and toil in obscurity for a decade and then they’ll make Candy Crush. And then that would be worth $6 billion, very quickly,” Carry1st’s CEO said.

He and his team will use a portion of their $4 million in VC to invest in that potential gaming success story in Africa.

The company’s co-founder Lucy Parry directs aspirants to the company’s homepage. “There’s a big blue button that says ‘Pitch Your Game’ at the bottom of our website.”

Apple fixes bug that stopped iOS apps from opening

Apple has now resolved the bug that was plaguing iPhone and iPad apps over the weekend, causing some apps to not launch at all. The issue was related to a bug with Apple’s Family Sharing system, it appears, as users reported error messages which said “This app is no longer shared with you,” and directed them to buy the app from the App Store in order to still use it.

Following this issue, users on Sunday said they were seeing dozens of pending app updates for their iOS devices, some of which even went back to the app’s last update from well over a week ago. Users reported in forums seeing as many as 10, 20, 50 or even 100-plus new updates to install. This indicated a fix was in the works, as these were not brand-new updates — the apps were already up to date. Instead, these reissued updates seem to have been part of the fix for the Family Sharing problem, as afterward the bug was resolved.

Apple confirmed the issue has been now resolved for all affected customers.

Apple-focused news sites including MacRumors, 9to5Mac, Appleinsider, and others previously reported on the news of bug and the following deluge of app updates. 9to5Mac also offered a plausible explanation for what happened, saying it was likely due to a signing issue of some kind. Apps were essentially behaving as if they were paid downloads and the right to use the app had been removed from the iCloud family circle, the site explained.

Some users discovered they could delete the troubled app then re-download it to resolve the problem. That’s what the forced app updates did, too — they overwrote the parts of the apps causing the issue. Had Apple not reissued the app updates, many iOS users would have likely assumed it was the app developer’s fault. And they may have then left unfair complaints and 1-star reviews on the app’s App Store page as a result.

Apple has not shared any additional details about why the problem occurred in the first place, but if you happened to notice a significant increase in app updates on Sunday, that’s why.

 

Apple expands App Store, Music, iCloud and other services to dozens of additional markets

Apple said today it is launching its services App Store, Apple Podcasts, iCloud, and Apple Music to dozens of additional markets in Africa, Europe, Asia-Pacific, and Middle East among others in what is one of the biggest geographical expansions for one of the world’s biggest firms.

The App Store, Apple Arcade, Apple Podcasts, and iCloud are now available in 20 additional nations, whereas the iPhone-maker’s music streaming service, Apple Music, has launched in an additional 52 countries.

Apple said Music streaming service includes locally curated playlists including Africa Now, Afrobeats Hits, Ghana Bounce in new markets and, as an introductory offer, it is offering a six-month free trial on Music in the newly launched markets.

The App Store, Apple Arcade, Apple Music, Apple Podcasts and iCloud are now available in the following countries and regions:

  • Africa: Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Libya, Morocco, Rwanda, and Zambia.
  • Asia-Pacific: Maldives and Myanmar.
  • Europe: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Serbia.
  • Middle East: Afghanistan (excluding Apple Music) and Iraq.
  • Oceania: Nauru (excluding Apple Music), Tonga, and Vanuatu.

Apple Music is expanding to the following countries and regions:

  • Africa: Algeria, Angola, Benin, Chad, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Republic of the Congo, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, and Tunisia.
  • Asia-Pacific: Bhutan.
  • Europe: Croatia, Iceland, and North Macedonia.
  • Latin America and the Caribbean: the Bahamas, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Turks and Caicos, and Uruguay.
  • Middle East: Kuwait, Qatar, and Yemen.
  • Oceania: Solomon Islands.

“We’re delighted to bring many of Apple’s most beloved Services to users in more countries than ever before,” said Oliver Schusser, Apple’s vice president of Apple Music and International Content, in a statement.

“We hope our customers can discover their new favorite apps, games, music, and podcasts as we continue to celebrate the world’s best creators, artists, and developers,” he added.

App Store is now available in 175 countries and regions, whereas Apple Music has reached 167 markets. In comparison, music streaming service giant Spotify is available in fewer than 100 nations.

The availability of the aforementioned services in dozens of new markets should help Apple further grow sales in its services segment, which already clocks more revenue than the Mac, iPad, and wearables and accessories.

Their availability should also persuade more users to explore Apple’s products. iPhone users in the past have expressed their disappointment when they don’t have access to the wider services ecosystem.

Report: Apple’s iOS 14 contains code that would let you sample apps before download

Apple has under development a feature that would allow iOS users to interact with a third-party app, even if the app wasn’t yet installed on your device, according to a report from 9to5Mac. The report is based on information discovered in the iOS 14 code, which is not necessarily an indication of launch plans on Apple’s part — but rather an insight into some of Apple’s work in progress.

The feature is referenced internally as the “Clips” API — not to be confused with Apple’s video editing app of the same name. Based on 9to5Mac’s analysis, the new API works in conjunction with the QR Code reader, allowing a user to scan a code linked to an app, then interact with that app from a card that appears on their screen.

Described like this, the feature sounds like a marketing tool for app publishers, as it would offer a way for users to try out new apps before they download them to get a better feel for the experience than a banner ad would allow. In addition to offering some interactivity with an app before it’s downloaded, the card could also be used to redirect users to the App Store if they choose to download the full version. The card could also be used to open the app directly to the content, in the case of apps the user already had installed.

Google’s Android, the report noted, offers a similar feature called “Slices,” launched in 2018. While Google had already introduced a way to interact with small pieces of an app in an experience called Instant Apps, the newer Slices feature was meant to drive usage of apps — like booking a ride or hotel room, for example, without having to first locate the app and launch it. On iOS, perhaps, these app “clips” could be pulled up by Siri or in Spotlight search — but that functionality wasn’t demonstrated by the code the report referenced today.

It’s unclear what Apple’s intentions are with the Clips API or how experimental its efforts are at this time.

However, the report found the feature was being tested with OpenTable, Yelp, DoorDash, Sony (the PS4 Second Screen app) and YouTube. This could indicate a plan to demo examples of the app’s functionality in a future reveal to developers.