Facebook prototypes Favorites for close friends microsharing

Facebook is building its own version of Instagram Close Friends, the company confirms to TechCrunch. There are a lot people that don’t share on Facebook because it can feel risky or awkward as its definition of “friends” has swelled to include family, work colleagues and distant acquaintances. No one wants their boss or grandma seeing their weekend partying or edgy memes. There are whole types of sharing, like Snapchat’s Snap Map-style live location tracking, that feel creepy to expose to such a wide audience.

The social network needs to get a handle on microsharing. Yet Facebook has tried and failed over the years to get people to build Friend Lists for posting to different subsets of their network.

Back in 2011, Facebook said that 95% of users hadn’t made a single list. So it tried auto-grouping people into Smart Lists like High School Friends and Co-Workers, and offered manual always-see-in-feed Close Friends and only-see-important-updates Acquaintances lists. But they too saw little traction and few product updates in the past eight years. Facebook ended up shutting down Friend Lists Feeds last year for viewing what certain sets of friends shared.

Then a year ago, Instagram made a breakthrough. Instead of making a complicated array of Friend Lists you could never remember who was on, it made a single Close Friends list with a dedicated button for sharing to them from Stories. Instagram’s research found 85% of a user’s Direct messages go to the same three people, so why not make that easier for Stories without pulling everyone into a group thread? Last month I wrote that “I’m surprised Facebook doesn’t already have its own Close Friends feature, and it’d be smart to build one.”

How Facebook Favorites works

Now Facebook is in fact prototyping its version of Instagram Close Friends called Favorites. It lets users designate certain friends as Favorites, and then instantly post their Story from Facebook or Messenger to just those people instead of all their friends, as is the default.

The feature was first spotted inside Messenger by reverse engineering master and frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong. Buried in the Android app is the code that let Wong generate the screenshots (above) of this unreleased feature. They show how when users go to share a Story from Messenger, Facebook offers to let users post it to Favorites, and edit who’s on that list or add to it from algorithmic suggestions. Users in that Favorites list would then be the only recipients of that post within Stories, like with Instagram Close Friends.

 

A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to me that this feature is a prototype that the Messenger team created. It’s an early exploration of the microsharing opportunity, and the feature isn’t officially testing internally with employees or publicly in the wild. The spokesperson describes the Favorites feature as a type of shortcut for sharing to a specific set of people. They tell me that Facebook is always exploring new ways to share, and as discussed at its F8 conference this year, Facebook is focused on improving the experience of sharing with and staying more connected to your closest friends.

Unlocking creepier sharing

There are a ton of benefits Facebook could get from a Favorites feature if it ever launches. First, users might share more often if they can make content visible to just their best pals, as those people wouldn’t get annoyed by over-posting. Second, Facebook could get new, more intimate types of content shared, from the heartfelt and vulnerable to the silly and spontaneous to the racy and shocking — stuff people don’t want every single person they’ve ever accepted a friend request from to see. Favorites could reduce self-censorship.

“No one has ever mastered a close friends graph and made it easy for people to understand . . . People get friend requests and they feel pressure to accept,” Instagram director of product Robby Stein told me when it launched Close Friends last year. “The curve is actually that your sharing goes up and as you add more people initially, as more people can respond to you. But then there’s a point where it reduces sharing over time.” Google+, Path and other apps have died chasing this purposefully selective microsharing behavior.

Facebook Favorites could stimulate lots of sharing of content unique to its network, thereby driving usage and ad views. After all, Facebook said in April that it had 500 million daily Stories users across Facebook and Messenger, the same number as Instagram Stories and WhatsApp Status.

Before Instagram launched Close Friends, it actually tested the feature under the name Favorites and allowed you to share feed posts as well as Stories to just that subset of people. And last month Instagram launched the Close Friends-only messaging app Threads that lets you share your Auto-Status about where or what you’re up to.

Facebook Favorites could similarly unlock whole new ways to connect. Facebook can’t follow some apps like Snapchat down more privacy-centric product paths because it knows users are already uneasy about it after 15 years of privacy scandals. Apps built for sharing to different graphs than Facebook have been some of the few social products that have succeeded outside its empire, from Twitter’s interest graph, to TikTok’s fandoms of public entertainment, to Snapchat’s messaging threads with besties.

Instagram Threads

A competent and popular Facebook Favorites could let it try products in location, memes, performances, Q&A, messaging, live streaming and more. It could build its own take on Instagram Threads, let people share exact location just with Favorites instead of just what neighborhood they’re in with Nearby Friends or create a dedicated meme resharing hub like the LOL experiment for teens it shut down. At the very least, it could integrate with Instagram Close Friends so you could syndicate posts from Instagram to your Facebook Favorites.

The whole concept of Favorites aligns with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s privacy-focused vision for social networking. “Many people prefer the intimacy of communicating one-on-one or with just a few friends,” he writes. Facebook can’t just be the general purpose catch-all social network we occasionally check for acquaintances’ broadcasted life updates. To survive another 15 years, it must be where people come back each day to get real with their dearest friends. Less can be more.

Bandit opens a ‘mobile-only’ coffee shop in New York

If you wander into the Bandit coffee shop in Midtown New York, you won’t be able to just walk up to the counter and order something. Instead, you’ll need to download a mobile app.

I experienced it for myself yesterday afternoon, when I — along with several other customers — pulled my phone out, downloaded the Bandit app, then used the app to create a profile, order and pay. A couple minutes later, a barista called me up to the counter and handed me a pretty good cup of coffee.

In other words, while Starbucks has been experimenting with mobile ordering and payment, Bandit is betting entirely on what co-founder and CEO Max Crowley called a “mobile-only” store.

Obviously, this model can lead to some initial awkwardness, particularly if random passersby don’t understand it. But there are friendly Bandit staff members on-hand to help, and Crowley (who was previously the general manager of Uber for Business) said that this model offers an opportunity to create “a whole new type of experience.”

He pointed to the rapid growth of China’s Luckin Coffee as an inspiration, and he suggested that ultimately, Bandit should offer customers the most convenient way to satisfy their coffee cravings: Wherever they are, they open the app and order the drink they want. Then they’ll told when it will be ready, and where to pick it up.

Bandit can’t deliver that level of convenience for most customers quite yet, since it only has a single location. But Crowley said he’s rethought other aspects of the coffee shop model.

For one thing, this first Bandit store is located in what’s essentially a raw retail space. Crowley said his team has developed an 11-by-11 foot countertop where all the coffee is prepared — it’s assembled elsewhere and just needs to be plugged in, eliminating the need for an extensive buildout.

“We can launch [a new location] in a few hours, and we can do it at about a tenth the cost of a traditional store,” he said.

So the plan is to launch four or five more New York stores in the coming months, and to expand beyond New York by the end of the first quarter of 2020.

Crowley added that by keeping costs down, Bandit can also keep its coffee affordable: “I don’t think an iced latte needs to be $6 or $7. Our goal is to be less expensive than Starbucks.” (My coffee yesterday, for example, cost me $2.) It’s also experimenting with other pricing models, starting with a $20 subscription that gets you an unlimited number of $1 drinks for a month.

And if this phone- and pop up-focused mentality sounds a little transactional — maybe even a little soulless — I will note that the actual coffee shop didn’t feel that way at all. While the space was a bit bare, it was eye-catching, with several large games like cornhole set for customers. Most importantly, people weren’t just rushing into pick up their coffee — they were actually hanging out.

“When we did some rudimentary scouting of coffee shop locations, we saw that about 80% of customers are grabbing their coffee and leaving,” Crowley said. “That is definitely core to us, making it super easy to grab it and leave, fulfilling drink orders in less than a minute. All of that said, in the future, we’re going to have this portfolio of different kinds of spaces, different kinds of experiences.”

Smart Compose is coming to Google Docs

At its Cloud Next event in London, Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian today announced that Smart Compose, the AI-powered feature that currently tries to complete phrases and sentences for you in Gmail, is also coming to G Suite’s Google Docs soon. For now, though, your G Suite admin has to sign up for the beta to try it and it’s only available in English.

Google says in total, Smart Compose in Gmail already saves people from typing about 2 billion characters per week. At least in my own experience, it also works surprisingly well and has only gotten better since launch (as one would expect from a product that learns from the individual and collective behavior of its users). It remains to be seen how well this same technique works for longer texts, but even longer documents are often quite formulaic, so the algorithm should still work quite well there, too.

Google first announced Smart Compose in May 2018, as part of its I/O developer conference. It builds upon the same machine learning technology Google developed for its Smart Reply feature. The company then rolled out Smart Compose to all G Suite and private Gmail users, starting in July 2018, and later added support for mobile, too.

Email app Spark receives update with new design

Spark, the popular email app from Readdle, has been redesigned on iOS and Android. The interface has always been a bit busy in the mobile app. That’s why the updated app now features a cleaner design and a handful of new features.

On the design front, Spark now uses simple headers to separate smart sections, such as newsletters, notifications and personal emails. It looks better than the rounded boxes with a colorful background.

There’s a lot of whitespace now, but the company has also taken advantage of this update to add dark mode. When you tap on a thread, the thread view has been updated as well.

When it comes to new features, the app tries to autopopulate your inbox with profile pictures. Just like Vignette, it pulls images from popular web services. For instance, if somebody who emails you has a Twitter account under the same email address, Spark can add the Twitter profile picture to your inbox.

Everybody has their own way of dealing with their email inbox. That’s why Spark lets you choose the buttons that appear at the bottom of an email thread. For instance, if you use folders a lot, you can put a folder button. But if you want to replace that button with a snooze button, you can.

Spark is now a better citizen on iPadOS 13. You can open multiple instances of Spark. This way, you can work on a document with an email thread using Split View and you can open a second Spark window to check your inbox in a separate workspace. Spark on iPadOS also supports the floating keyboard and new iPadOS gestures.

India’s Swiggy bets big on cloud kitchens

Can cloud kitchens take off in India? Swiggy, one of the country’s largest food delivery startups, is betting on it. The Prosus Ventures-backed startup said on Wednesday it has established 1,000 cloud kitchens for its restaurant partners in the country — more than any of its local rivals.

The Bangalore-headquartered firm said it has invested in over a million square feet of real estate space across 14 cities in the country over the last two years to help restaurant partners of all sizes expand to more locations both within their city and across new cities through cloud kitchens.

Swiggy said it has already invested about $24.5 million in its cloud kitchens business that it calls Swiggy Access, and plans to pump another $10.5 million into it by March next year.

Compared to developed nations like Japan and the U.S., India remains a very underpenetrated market for restaurants. “Even in dense areas, you know you need more restaurants,” said Larry Illg, chief executive of Prosus Ventures, in an interview with TechCrunch.

“That’s the value of creating kitchens for delivery platforms. We have the visibility of all the market dynamics. We can look at a location, comb through the data and know what kind of restaurants and food supplies would work there. Over time, you come to realize the neighborhood and their collective behaviour,” he said.

That’s where cloud kitchens could help. For restaurateurs, cloud kitchens reduce the risk when they look for expansion. “You have figured out the menu, and you know the operations. But you still have to take a big real estate risk when picking the location. Kitchens allow them to de-risk all these factors,” said Illg.

Early signs show that the concept of cloud kitchens is working for Swiggy Access partners. The company said one in three partners has been able to expand to a second kitchen within 90 days of signing up. Many restaurants from smaller cities have also expanded into big cities, the startup said.

Raymond Andrews, founder and chief executive of Biryani Blues, said in a statement that Swiggy Access has enabled the eatery to “expand quickly into newer territories not just in Delhi-NCR but also to Chandigarh. In the six years of our existence, I have found Access to be the easiest way to expand my brand. It’s a game-changer for the industry.”

Swiggy believes that India could emerge as the second-highest number of cloud kitchens after China in the coming years, said Vishal Bhatia, CEO of New Supply business at the firm. A year ago, the company had just 200 cloud kitchen partners.

“The milestone of Swiggy successfully creating over 1000 partner kitchens shows the faith the restaurant partners have in the concept and bolsters our pioneering efforts in enabling more success stories in the restaurant ecosystem,” he said.

Swiggy is also betting that cloud kitchens will help it speed up the delivery time. Swiggy co-founder and chief executive Sriharsha Majety said last month that the company is quickly scaling up “pods” that house cloud kitchens for restaurants in a way that they are “within a 10-minute reach of 99% of their consumers.”

Swiggy added that it is on track to create 15,000 new direct or indirect jobs in the restaurant industry through its Access program by next six months.

The announcement today comes weeks after news broke that Travis Kalanick, founder and former chief executive of Uber, is buying up cheap properties in India and some other markets to scale his cloud kitchens venture.

Indian newspaper Economic Times reported earlier this month that Ashish Saxena, former India head of TexMex Cuisine, franchisee for American casual dining restaurant chain Chili’s Grill & Bar in the country, is working with Kalanick on CloudKitchens, the new venture.

Food delivery firm FoodPanda, owned by ride-hailing giant Ola, earlier this year also pivoted to cloud kitchens. Swiggy claims it leads the cloud kitchens market in the country.

It will soon have another rival to compete with. American e-commerce giant Amazon plans to soon enter the food delivery business in the country.

Spotify turns its personalization technology to podcasts with launch of Your Daily Podcasts

Spotify is taking the personalization technology that powers its music playlists, like Discover Weekly and Daily Mix, and turning it to podcasts. The company announced this morning the launch of a new podcast playlist called Your Daily Podcasts, that allows users to discover new shows and keep up with their favorites. In other words, it’s a discovery mechanism for finding new podcasts — similar to how Discovery Weekly will recommend new music.

The playlist will only appear when you’ve listened to at least four podcasts in the past 90 days, Spotify says. It will be available in the “Your Top Podcasts” shelf in the Home tab or in the “Made for You” hub in the app.

As with Spotify’s music playlists, algorithms will be used to analyze your podcast listening behavior like what’s you’ve recently streamed and what you follow. It will then recommend what episode to listen to next based on this history and what sort of podcasts you like. This could be the next episode in something you’re already listening to, a standalone evergreen episode from a popular podcast, or a more timely episode from a daily updating podcast, the company says. It also promises it won’t skip ahead if you’re listening to a story-driven sequential series.

After a few recommended episodes from your own subscriptions or history, Spotify will suggest new shows and begin playing their episodes after a brief intro that says, “And now, something new based on your listening.”

But unlike Discover Weekly, where the main goal is to keep users engaged and subscribed to Spotify’s service, Your Daily Podcasts has a secondary motive as well — to point users to Spotify’s own, in-house programs. While the new playlist at launch doesn’t appear to be favoring Spotify’s shows over others, it certainly is including them.

Over time, Spotify’s playlist could help grow the fan bases for its own programming, which listeners can’t get elsewhere. That also keeps them subscribed. Plus, podcasts are another surface against which Spotify can advertise, and they don’t have the hefty licensing fees associated with streaming music — especially when their creation is handled in-house.

In the third quarter, Spotify launched 22 original and exclusive titles from Spotify Studios, including The Ringer: The Hottest Take and The Conversation with Amanda de Cadenet in the U.S. It also launched a number of originals from the studios it recently acquired, Gimlet and Parcast, the company said. As a result of its efforts, it’s seeing exponential growth in podcast hours streamed (up 39% from the prior quarter).

However, podcast adoption among the overall user base lags…just under 14% of users are listening to the audio programs. A new playlist like this could help, but it also misunderstands how some people listen to audio shows. They don’t necessarily want to hear any ol’ program they like at any time. Much like selecting something to watch on TV, people will be in the “mood” for one type of podcast over another at different times. Sometimes, it may be true crime, sometimes news, sometimes pop culture, sometimes comedy, etc. Throwing all those genres into the same mix is a disjointed experience.

If anything, Spotify should be trying to design a podcast experience that looks more like Netflix than a music app. Perhaps with rows where there are different grouping by genre or topic, or rows featuring short-form quick bites or longer, in-depth shows. A row with clips where you could check out new shows then click “subscribe” to keep following them. It could even put easy-to-access buttons next to these rows in order to launch a stream of favorites from a given genre. Basically, personalize the whole podcast interface so it feels like your own rather than trying to do that within a single playlist.

This is not Spotify’s first attempt at a podcast playlist. It also recently launched “Your Daily Drive” which combines music and podcasts. And it now allows users to create their own playlists using podcasts.

Spotify says the new playlist is available free and Premium users in U.S., U.K., Germany, Sweden, Mexico, Brazil, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

 

Mubi launches streaming service in India

Mubi, a 12-year-old on-demand movie streaming and rental service, has arrived in India. Like other streaming services giants such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+ and Disney’s Hotstar, Mubi is offering its service at a slightly lower price in the key overseas entertainment market.

The London-headquartered firm is offering a three-month subscription in India at Rs 199 ($2.8), after which it would charge $7 a month or $67 a year (this way, the monthly cost works out to about $5.5). This is substantially lower than the £9.99 monthly subscription fee it charges to subscribers in the U.K., and the $10.99 it charges in the U.S.

Perhaps the lesser-known streaming service among all the usual names, Mubi has earned a name for itself by offering a selection of critically acclaimed movies. Unlike other services, Mubi’s catalog is incredibly thin. At any moment, the service offers only 30 recent and vintage movies. One new title arrives every day and another vanishes at the same time. No movie stays longer than 30 days on the platform.

Mubi, founded in 2007, started with the ambition of becoming just like what Netflix is today. But it became apparent to the company that they couldn’t afford to offer thousands of titles to users, founder and chief executive of the company Efe Cakarel told The New York Times in an interview two years ago.

“In the beginning, we wanted to be like Netflix, but the unit economies of an ‘all-you-can-eat’ site is very capital-intensive,” Cakarel told the Times. “The question becomes, how do you create a compelling experience? If you can’t get 10,000 titles, how about a limited selection?”

Mubi has amassed 9 million subscribers, the company said. (Cakarel will be speaking at Disrupt Berlin next month.)

In an interview last month, Cakarel said most streaming platforms are today focused on the biggest TV series. “But Mubi focuses on finding gems, often going back decades, that very few people know of. We are giving distribution to such films. You may not like a film, but it is there for a reason,” he said.

In India, Mubi has additionally launched a dedicated channel (first time it has done so for any market), where local movies are being showcased. (Customers in India have access to the global feed as well.) Additionally, like in other markets, Mubi is offering a rental service to subscribers in India, allowing them to pick any movie from a selection of a few dozen for $3.5.

For its India business, the company has appointed film producer and Academy Award winner Guneet Monga (known for titles such as Gangs of Wasseypur, The Lunchbox and Masaan) as its content advisor. It also maintains a partnership with Times Bridge, the venture arm of Indian internet services and content conglomerate Times Internet.

“Monga has the sensibility for great cinema. The kind of films she produces, the kind of films she champions are the type of films more people should see. I cannot be more fortunate that she sees our vision in India,” Cakarel said in an interview.

In a statement, Monga said, “I’m thrilled we have launched a dedicated channel for Indian cinema as it means that film lovers can now watch amazing films like Salaam Bombay and Andaz Apna Apna, alongside globally renowned gems like Moonlight.”

The company has secured deals with local distributors FilmKaravan, NFDC, PVR Pictures, Shemaroo, and Ultra to populate titles on India section every day. Some of the upcoming titles include Kamal Swaroop’s cult film Om Dar-B-Dar, Kanu Behl’s Binnu Ka Sapna, which premiered at Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival this year, and ghost film Duvidha from Indian art-house master Mani Kaul.

Mubi Go, a service available in the U.K. and Ireland, which allows subscribers in those markets to get a movie ticket each week in a local theatre, is not available to customers in India.

Apple launches a dedicated mobile app for its developer community

Apple today is introducing a new resource for the over 23 million registered members of its developer community, with the launch of a dedicated Apple Developer mobile app. The new app is an expansion on the existing WWDC app for Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference, which it will now replace. Instead of only including information about the developer event itself, the app will expand to include other relevant resources — like technical and design articles, developer news and updates, videos, and more. It will also offer a way for developers to enroll in the Apple Developer program and maintain their membership.

Today, developer information is spread out across Apple’s website, and elsewhere. It even arrives in developers’ inbox in the form of email updates from various product teams. Now it will be available in a single, streamlined mobile app experience.

At launch, the Apple Developer app may not have everything you could otherwise find on Apple’s Developer website, but its offerings will grow over time. For example, today you’ll find technical information and over 600 videos, but you won’t find things like the Apple Developer Forums or a way to connect a local Apple Developer program — like Apple’s App Accelerators, Design Labs or Developer Academies.

Instead, the app’s content is organized across four main sections: Discover, for finding developer information, news and updates; Videos, where you’ll find the videos the WWDC app once hosted; WWDC, for event attendees; and Account, where developers can manage their account and program membership.

Apple’s goal is to use the app to get relevant content in front of developers in a timely fashion and to point them to things they may not even realize exist on the Apple Developer website, or even at Apple, overall. And in some cases, the app will include more mobile-friendly content — like articles that attempt to educate in a more digestible, short-form manner.

In other words, it may be the same content as found online in technical papers, but packaged in a slightly different way. Later, the app will also expand to address some of the things that Apple hasn’t yet documented — a topic of increasing concern among developers as of late. (One developer even built a website called “No Overview Available” that helps you find out if an Apple API is missing documentation.)

Elsewhere in the app, developers will continue to be able to watch WWDC session videos and review the WWDC schedule, when available. They’ll also be able to sign up for or renew an Apple Developer program membership, then pay for it using Apple Pay or other payment methods.

The app’s launch comes at a time when Apple has been focused on growing its international community of developers through investments in local developer academies and accelerators — efforts that have been paying off.

For example, over the past year, the developer community in Indonesia grew its membership by 60% after the opening of two Developer Academy facilities in 2019. In Brazil, the original location for an Apple Developer Academy, the community grew by 50% this year. In India, the location of Apple’s first accelerator lab, the community grew by 45%. Other areas that grew their developer base this year included the U.K. (up 40%), France (30%), Italy (28%), and China (17%).

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In serving these regions, Apple found that some developers are more inclined to open an app than they are an email — which is another reason it wanted to offer a mobile-optimized, mobile-friendly developer resource. Plus, the company discovered it had developer resources that some people didn’t even know about, like its App Store mini site. By centralizing all this content into an app, it’s more accessible.

The Apple Developer app is being soft-launched today in all worldwide markets, but Apple Developer program membership management tools are U.S.-only for now. Apple considers this a version 1, and aims to get developer feedback as it expands.

The Apple Developer app is available on iOS, including Apple Watch and iMessage.

 

SmartNews raises $92M at a $1.2B valuation

Looks like there’s still money to be made in news aggregation — at least according to the investors backing the news app SmartNews.

The company is announcing the close of a $92 million round of funding at a valuation of $1.2 billion. The funding was led by Japan Post Capital Co. and ACA Investments, with participation from Globis Capital Partners Co., Dentsu, and D.A. Consortium.

This includes the $28 million that SmartNews announced in August, and it brings the startup’s total funding to $182 million.

News aggregation apps seemed to everywhere a few years ago, and while they haven’t exactly disappeared, they didn’t turn into unicorns, with many of them acquired or shut down.

However, Vice President of U.S. marketing Fabian-Pierre Nicolas told me that SmartNews has a few unique advantages. For one thing, it uses machine learning rather than human curation to “thoughtfully generate a news discovery experience” that’s personalized to each user.

SmartNews team

Secondly, he said that many news aggregators treat the publishers creating the content that they rely on “like a commodity,” whereas SmartNews treats them as “true partners.” For example, it’s working with select publishers like Business Insider, Bloomberg, BuzzFeed and Reuters on a program called SmartView First, where articles are presented in a custom format that gives publishers more revenue opportunities and better analytics.

Lastly, he said SmartNews has focused on only two key markets — Japan (where the company started) and the United States. And it sounds like one of the main goals with the new funding is to continue growing in the United States.

Nicolas also suggested that there are some broader trends that SmartNews is taking advantage of, like the fact that the shift to mobile news consumption is still underway, particularly for older readers.

And then there’s “the loss of trust in some news sources — political news, especially” which makes SmartNews’ curated approach seem more valuable. (It also recently launched a News From All Sides feature to show coverage from different political perspectives.)

As for monetization, he said SmartNews remains focused on advertising.

Yes, there’s a growing interest in subscriptions and paywalls, which is also reflected in subscription news aggregators like Apple’s News+, but Nicolas said, “Eighty-five to ninety percent of Americans are not subscribing to news media. We believe those 85 to 90 percent have a right to have quality information as well.”

This Week in Apps: Apple’s vaping app ban, Disney+ gets installed, apps gear up for Black Friday

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?

As mid-November rolls around, we’re looking at a few big stories, including Apple’s decision to ban an entire category of apps due to health concerns, the launch of Disney+ from an app perspective, what Black Friday will mean for e-commerce apps, and more.

Fast Facts

With Disney+’s huge launch (10+ million users!) on everyone’s minds, it’s time to think about what these streaming newcomers mean for the overall landscape and the app stores. In this case, it seems that Disney+’s user base was highly mobile. The company itself announced more than 10 million users, while data on the Disney+ app’s first few days indicates it now has over 10 million downloads. It seems like consumers definitely want to take their new streaming service with them everywhere they go.

  • In 2020, App Annie forecasts consumers will spend more than 674 billion hours in the Entertainment and Video Player and Editor categories worldwide on Android phones, up from an expected 558 billion hours in 2019. Thanks to Disney+, Apple TV+ and soon, HBO Max, Peacock and Quibi, to making the landscape both richer and more complicated.
  • On its launch day, Disney+ hit #1 by iPhone Overall downloads at 8 AM in the U.S. and at 11 AM in Canada — an indication of the ability that strong IP has can really excite consumers to come out in droves. (Unfortunately, that led to some launch day glitches, too.)
  • Apptopia estimated Disney+ was downloaded 3.2 million times in its first 24 hours. The firm also estimated users collectively spent 1.3 million hours watching Disney+ on day one — ahead of Amazon Prime Video, but well behind Netflix.

  • Sensor Tower waited to collect a little more data instead. It found that the Disney+ app was installed approximately 9.6 million times in all available markets (the U.S., Canada, and the Netherlands), since its U.S. launch on Tuesday, Nov. 12. For comparison’s sake, HBO Now’s U.S. launch only saw 180,000 installs in its first three days — or 2% of the Disney+ total. Combined with the test period installs in the Netherlands, the app has now been installed over 10 million times.
  • The hype around Disney+ has had a halo effect. Hulu and ESPN, which were offered in a bundle with Disney+, also grew as a result of the Disney+ launch. Sensor Tower found combined users of the apps in the U.S. and Canada were up 30% in the past week over the week prior.

Headlines

Apple removed all vaping apps from the App Store, citing CDC health concerns

The CDC says 42 people have died due to vaping product use and thousands more cases of lung injuries have been reported from 49 states. Now, Apple has made the controversial decision to remove all 181 vaping-related apps from its App Store — including those with news and information about vaping and even vaping-related games, Axios reported this week.

Some say Apple is helping to protect kids and teens by limiting their exposure to e-cigarette and vaping products, which are being used to addict a younger generation to nicotine and cause serious disease. Others argue that Apple is over-reaching. After all, many of the lung illnesses involve people who were vaping illegally obtained THC, studies indicated.

This isn’t the first time Apple has banned a category of apps because of what appear to be moral concerns. The company in the past had booted apps that promoted weed or depicted gun violence, for example. In the case of vaping apps, Apple cited the public health crisis and youth epidemic as contributing factors, telling Axios that:

We take great care to curate the App Store as a trusted place for customers, particularly youth, to download apps. We’re constantly evaluating apps, and consulting the latest evidence, to determine risks to users’ health and well-being. Recently, experts ranging from the CDC to the American Heart Association have attributed a variety of lung injuries and fatalities to e-cigarette and vaping products, going so far as to call the spread of these devices a public health crisis and a youth epidemic. We agree, and we’ve updated our App Store Review Guidelines to reflect that apps encouraging or facilitating the use of these products are not permitted. As of today, these apps are no longer available to download.

Existing users will still be able to use their apps, but new users will not be able to download the banned apps going forward.

Minecraft Earth arrives 

Minecraft Earth launched early last week across 9 countries on both Android and iOS and now it’s come to the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and several other markets. Some expect the app will rival the success of the AR breakout hit, Pokémon Go, which was thought at the time to be the precursor to a new wave of massive AR gaming titles. But in reality, that didn’t happen. The highly anticipated follow-up from Niantic, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite didn’t come close to competing with its predecessor, generating $12 million in its first month, compared with Pokémon Go’s first-month earnings of $300 million. With Minecraft Earth now sitting at No. 2 (c’mon, you can’t unseat Disney+) on the U.S. App Store, it seems there’s potential for another AR kingpin.

App Annie releases a user acquisition playbook

A top name in App Store intelligence, App Annie this week released a new how-to handbook focused on user acquisition strategies on mobile. Sure the free download is just a bit of lead gen for App Annie, but the guide promises to fill you in on all you need to know to be successful in acquiring mobile users. The playbook’s arrival follows App Annie’s acquisition of adtech insights firm Libring this fall, as it expands to cover more aspects of running an app business. Just as important as rankings and downloads are the very real costs associated with running an app business — including the cost of acquiring users.