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.” 

Snapchat tests TikTok-style navigation for exploring public content

Snapchat could be gearing up to more directly challenge TikTok. The company confirmed it’s testing a new experience that allows users to move through Snapchat’s public content with a vertical swiping motion — a gesture that’s been popularized by TikTok, where it allows users to advance between videos. Snapchat says the feature is one of its experiments in exploring different, immersive visual formats for community content.

The test is focused on content that’s published publicly to Snapchat Discover, not your friends’ private Stories. But because Stories can have multiple parts, users will still tap to advance through the Story, as before. But in the new experiment, a horizontal swiping motion — either to the left or right — will exit the experience, instead of moving you between Stories, as before.

For anyone who spends much of their time on TikTok, the vertical swipe now feels like a more natural way to move through videos. And it’s almost disorienting to return to Snapchat or other apps where the horizontal swipe is used.

This test was first spotted by social media consultant Matt Navarra, citing a post from Twitter user @artb2668. One photo being shared shows the pop-up in the app which explains how to navigate the new experience, while a video gives you an idea for the feel.

Snapchat declined to offer specific details about the test, beyond clarifying it’s in the early stages and only viewable by a very small percentage of its user base.

“We’re always experimenting with new ways to bring immersive and engaging content to our mobile-first Snapchat community,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch.

The timing of Snap’s test is interesting, of course.

The Trump administration is currently threatening to ban TikTok in the U.S. due to the app’s ties to China and fears that Americans’ private user data will end up in the hands of China’s Communist Party. The app has already been banned in India for similar reasons. On Friday, Amazon instructed its employees to remove the app from their company-issued smartphones, before retracting that demand around five hours later. U.S. military branches have also blocked access to the app, following a Pentagon warning earlier this year. Meanwhile, Musical.ly (the app that became TikTok) has had its acquisition by China’s ByteDance come under a U.S. national security review. 

Amid the threat of TikTok’s removal, rival social apps have climbed the app store charts, including Byte, Likee, Triller and Dubsmash. Instagram, meanwhile, has been expanding its TikTok-like feature, Reels, to new markets, including India. Even YouTube began testing a TikTok-like experience in recent days.

It’s no surprise, then, that Snapchat would want to do the same among its own user base, as well, given that the TikTok U.S. audience could be soon up for grabs.

The test also shows how influential TikTok has become in terms of dictating the social app user experience. Where Snapchat once had its concept for short-form Stories stolen by nearly every other social app, including most notably Instagram, it’s now the swipeable TikTok vertical feed that everyone is copying.

Mighty Health created a wellness app with older adults top of mind

Virtual classes might make it easier to work out anywhere, anytime, but not for anyone. Mainstream fitness tech often targets the young and fit, in advertisements and cardio-heavy exercises. It effectively excludes aging adults from participating.

This gap between mainstream fitness and elders is where Mighty Health, a Y Combinator graduate, comes in.

Mighty Health has created a nutrition and fitness wellness app that is tailored to older adults who might have achy hips or joint problems. Today, the San Francisco-based startup has announced it raised $2.8 million in funding by Y Combinator, NextView Ventures, RRE Ventures, Liquid2 Ventures, Soma Capital and more.

Founder and CEO James Li is the child of immigrants, a detail he says helped him lean into entrepreneurship. He had the idea for Mighty Health after his father was rushed to the hospital for emergency open-heart surgery.

“Growing up, we can often think of our parents as invincible — they look after you and take care of you, and you usually don’t worry too much about them,” Li said. His dad survived the surgery, and Li thought about the evolving health needs and limitations of folks over 50 years old. He teamed up with co-founder Dr. Bernard Chang, the youngest-ever ED doctor to receive a top-tier NIH grant and the vice chair of research at Columbia University Medical Center, to create Mighty Health.

Mighty Health’s product is focused on three things: live coaching; content focused on nutrition, preventative checkups and workouts; and celebrations that let family members tune into their loved ones’ achievements.

The app has inclusivity built into its functionality. Everyday, a user logs in and gets a set of three to five tasks to complete, distributed among nutrition, exercise and workouts. The workouts are pre-recorded videos with trainers that have focused on the over-50 population. Think indoor cardio sets focused on being kinder to joints or lower her impacts.

Image Credits: Mighty Health

One customer, Elizabeth, is a 56-year-old mother who joined Mighty Health after suffering a cardiac incident. The app got her to start walking 9,000 steps a day, lose weigh, lower cholesterol and, best of all, discover a love for a vegetable she had recently written off: brussels sprouts.

Mighty Health’s other core focus, beyond fitness, is nutrition. The app pairs users with a coach to help them create healthy habits around nutrition and lifestyle. The coaching is done through text message. Li says this was intentional because in the early days of Mighty Health, he saw that coaching in-app was difficult for users to navigate.

Image Credits: Mighty Health

“You have to meet them in the middle where they are,” Li said. The live coaching is also met with phone calls, although 90% of coach interactions are text-message based.

The nutrition program also accounts for a diverse user base. Mighty Health chose not to offer or push recipes upon members, unlike a lot of other applications, because all countries and cultures might not find generic recipes accessible.

“Instead, we focus on the ingredient level,” he said. “We send them ingredients that they can piece together however they like at home in the way that they cook their cultural meals.”

The company offers a free seven-day trail, followed by a membership fee of $20 per month. It’s also having discussions with a number of health insurers to offer Mighty Health as a benefit.

With the new capital, the startup hired a few engineers and a designer to build out product integrations with fitness trackers, plus add new content. For now, Li sees his father’s progress with pride.

“Though I’m sure he sometimes thinks I just went from nagging him directly to nagging him through my product, he’s been eating healthier and exercising nearly every day,” Li said. So far, his father has lost 25 pounds.

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…

This Week in Apps: US ponders TikTok ban, apps see a record Q2, iOS 14 public beta arrives

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.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019. People are now spending three hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

In this Extra Crunch series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.

This week, we’re digging into the news of a possible TikTok ban in the U.S. and how that’s already impacting rival apps. Also, both Android and iOS saw beta launches this week — a near-ready Android 11 beta 2 and the  public beta of iOS 14. We also look at the coronavirus’ impact on the app economy in Q2, which saw record downloads, usage and consumer spending. In other app news, Instagram launched Reels in India, Tinder debuted video chat and Quibi flounders while Pokémon GO continues to reel it in.

Headlines

Apple release iOS 14 public beta

Image Credits: Apple

The much-anticipated new version of the iOS mobile operating system, iOS 14, became available for public testing on Thursday. Users who join the public beta will be able to try out the latest features, like the App Library, Widgets and smart stacks, an updated Messages app, a brand-new Translate app, biking directions in Apple Maps, upgraded Siri and various improvements to core apps like Notes, Reminders, Weather, Home, Safari and others.

When iOS 14 launches to the general public, it may also include support for QR code payments in Apple Pay, according to a report of new assets discovered in the code base.

Alongside the public beta, developers received their second round of betas for iOS 14, iPadOS 14 and other Apple software.

Google’s efforts in speeding up Android updates has been good news for Android 10

How Thor Fridriksson’s ‘Trivia Royale’ earned 2.5M downloads in 3 weeks

In its first few weeks of release, the latest game from QuizUp founder Thor Fridriksson took the top spot in the Games Section of Apple’s App Store and was the top app (for a brief time) in the App Store at large.

Since its launch on June 17, Trivia Royale has been downloaded more than 2.5 million times, with day-one retention of 45% and week-one retention of 45% on iOS, according to the company. Average daily usage per user is around 30 minutes. It currently sits in the number six spot in the Free Games category on the App Store.

There is no shortage of mobile games, but in such a cluttered space, it’s difficult to break through the noise. So how did Trivia Royale do it?

The game, which lets users compete in a 1,000-person, single-elimination trivia tournament, is built on the Teatime Games platform. Teatime emphasizes the fun of playing against other humans in the mobile gaming landscape, giving users the ability to communicate via video chat while they play in a game on their smartphone.

The platform allows game developers to use this video chat functionality, which comes with Snapchat-like face filters or Apple Memoji-style avatars, on their own games. But for Teatime to truly succeed as a gaming platform, the company needed a hit game, Fridriksson said.

The serial entrepreneur told TechCrunch that he decided to take off his CEO hat and return to his product roots by focusing on a category that few people know as well as he does: trivia.

The Trivia Royale tournament combines the scale of Battle Royale with the durability of trivia — whether it’s Jeopardy, HQ Trivia, bar trivia or this, we can’t get enough of it — or lets users match against one other player in a single category of trivia.

I’ve played around on the game for a while now and can say that it’s very well done, from the design to the production value. But more important than the mechanics of the tournament or the typeface or even the content of the questions are the avatars, which let users express themselves through customization and their real-life facial expressions.

But none of that means anything if players don’t join the game. So how did Trivia Royale earn more than 2.5 million downloads (and climbing) in a matter of days?

A big bet on TikTok

Fridriksson told TechCrunch that he has to give a ton of credit to his kids (who are 15 and 11). His daughter told him about TikTok and gave him a list of her favorite stars, including Addison Rae and Dixie D’Amelio.

Facebook code change caused outage for Spotify, Pinterest and Waze apps

If you’re an iPhone user, odds are fairly good you spent a frustrating portion of the morning attempting to reopen apps. I know my morning walk was dampened by the inability to fire up Spotify. Plenty of other users reported similar issues with a number of apps, including Pinterest and Waze.

The issue has since been resolved, with Facebook noting that the problem rests firmly on its shoulders. A log page notes a sudden spike in errors stemming from Facebook’s iOS SDK, dating back several hours. Facebook says the issue is the fault of a change in code.

“Earlier today, a code change triggered crashes for some iOS apps using the Facebook SDK,” the developer team writes. “We identified the issue quickly and resolved it. We apologize for any inconvenience.”

While the issue was addressed relatively swiftly (though a few hours can feel like a lifetime, depending on how reliant you are on a given app), annoyed parties will no doubt remember back in May when an SDK update created a similar wave of issues. The issue was no doubt even more distressing to developers whose apps utilize the SDK.

After the second major issue in recent memory, it’s easy to imagine many reconsidering their relationship with the social network — after all, a bad experience can put people off an app entirely, as social media debates around Apple Music versus Spotify appeared to point to this morning. Many users will ultimately place the blame at the feet of a given app, rather than a third-party SDK that caused the crash.

When it comes to updating the SDK, Facebook is seemingly moving too fast and breaking too many things. We’ve reached out to the company to see how it plans to address the issue going forward.

iOS 14 gets rid of the app grid to help you find the app you’re looking for

Apple unveiled the next major version of iOS a few weeks ago. I’ve been playing around with beta versions of iOS 14 and here’s what you should expect when you update your iPhone to the final release of iOS 14 this fall.

The most interesting change is something you’re not going to notice at first. The home screen has been rethought. In some ways, the iPhone now works more like Android devices. You can add widgets to the home screen and there’s a new app launcher called the App Library.

If you’ve been using a smartphone for many years, chances are your device is cluttered with a dozen apps you frequently use, some apps you only need a few times a year and a ton of apps that are no longer useful.

Maybe your home screen is perfectly organized and you’re thinking that this doesn’t apply to you. Arguably, you’re part of the minority. Many people tell me they don’t even know where app icons are located anymore and they just pull down to use the search feature.

With iOS 14, changes are not immediately visible. If you want to keep using your phone just like before, nobody is stopping you. But the home screen is now more customizable.

Image Credits: Apple

When you tap and hold on a home screen icon, there’s a new menu that lists all the widgets you can install on your home screen. Many default apps already support widgets, such as Reminders, Calendar, Stock, Weather, Music, etc. And each widget comes in multiple sizes if you want to see more or less info.

The most interesting thing about widgets is that you can stack them and flip through them. Otherwise, they’d quickly take over your entire home screen. Apple also tries to surface the widget that is more relevant to the time of the day and what you’re doing.

The second big change with the home screen is that there’s a new page at the right of your last page. The App Library groups all your apps on your phone by category. Some icons are bigger than others as Apple tries once again to surface the most important apps to you.

In my experience, categories don’t work that well as they’re based on the broad categories of the App Store. But you can always tap on the search bar at the top to display an alphabetical list of your apps. It could be useful if you can’t remember the name of an app, for instance.

Image Credits: Apple

Fighting app fatigue

Those changes for the home screen might seem minor, but they are important to change the current app paradigm. People simply don’t want to download new apps. They don’t want to create a new account and they don’t want to have another icon.

Now that you can hide pages of apps and that there’s the App Library, downloading new apps has become less intimidating. If you combine that with Sign in with Apple, you can go from no app to interacting with content in no time.

In addition to that, Apple is introducing App Clips. They are sort of mini apps that you can launch without installing an app. It’s a small part of an app that you can easily share. I haven’t had the chance to try it out yet as third-party developers have yet to take advantage of App Clips.

There are many ways to share App Clips. You can launch those apps from the web, from Messages, from Maps, from NFC tags or from QR codes. Get ready to see stickers at cafés, on scooters or in museums. Scan a code or tap your phone on it and you get an app-like experience. If you want to dive deeper, you can download the full app from the App Library.

But it’s also going to have some major impacts on utility apps, apps that you don’t use that often or travel apps for instance. Sure, you may keep your favorite social app on your home screen. But you’re going to forget about apps that only live in the App Library.

Developers will be happy that downloading apps is easier. And yet, it is going to be harder to make people come back to your app after the first launch.

Image Credits: Apple

Some app refinements

Let me list some quality-of-life improvements that are going to make your phone work better. In Messages, you can now pin conversations to the top. Group conversations are also receiving a major update with the ability to @-mention people, reply to specific messages and set a group of photos. Once again, Apple is bringing Messages closer to WhatsApp and Telegram. But it’s not a bad thing.

In Maps, there are many new features that I already detailed in a separate post. I encourage you to read it if you want to learn more about guides, electric vehicle routing, cycling directions and more.

The Home app has been improved with a new row of icons that describe the status of your home. For instance, you can see the temperature, see if a door is open, see if lights are on, etc.

Like every year, Notes and Reminders are getting some small improvements. For instance, document scanning has been improved, search has been improved, you can assign reminders to others and more. Those apps have become really powerful with these small incremental updates.

Image Credits: Apple

All the rest

There are many things that I haven’t mentioned yet or that I haven’t tried because I can’t use those features yet. Similarly, it’ll take some time before developers start adopting those features. Here’s a quick rundown:

  • Incoming calls don’t take over the entire screen anymore. You get a notification at the top of the screen, which is so much better if you don’t want to answer a call.
  • Similarly, Siri doesn’t overtake the screen. Your display fades out. I think more people are going to use Siri because of this as it doesn’t feel as invasive.
  • Your AirPods will automatically switch between your iPhone, iPad, Mac, etc.
  • When you’re on a FaceTime call or watching a video, you can switch to another app and keep the video in a corner. There’s not much else to say other than it’s nice.
  • Cycling directions in Apple Maps: I’m a bike lover, but the feature isn’t available in Paris. It’s hard to know whether directions make sense in San Francisco or New York as I don’t know cycling infrastructure that well in those cities.
  • When you pull down to search for something, iOS now automatically highlights the first result. You can tap Go on the keyboard to hit the first result. It’s so much better.
  • HomeKit-compatible security cameras can now recognize faces based on tags in Photos.
  • You can unlock cars with your phone using NFC if you have a compatible car.
  • Following the acquisition of Dark Sky, you’ll be able to see next-hour precipitation in Apple’s Weather app.
  • You’ll be able to choose a different web browser and email client as default apps with iOS 14.

What about stability?

The big issue of iOS 13 was that it was quite buggy when it launched in September 2019. It’s hard to know whether iOS 14 is going to perform better on this front as it’s still a beta.

But, as you can see, Apple didn’t try to reinvent the wheel with default apps. There are a ton of improvements across the board, but no big redesign of Photos or Messages for instance. And I think it’s a good thing.

Changes on the home screen as well as App Clips could have wider implications for developers. It could change the way you discover and install apps today. So it’s going to be interesting to see if the developer community embraces App Clips.

Apple just released the first iOS 14 beta to everyone

This is your opportunity to get a glimpse of the future of iOS — and iPadOS. Apple just released the first public beta of iOS 14 and iPadOS 14, the next major version of the operating systems for the iPhone and iPad. Unlike developer betas, everyone can download these betas without a $99 developer account. But don’t forget, it’s a beta.

The company still plans to release the final version of iOS and iPadOS 14.0 this fall. But Apple is going to release betas every few weeks over the summer. It’s a good way to fix as many bugs as possible and gather data from a large group of users.

As always, Apple’s public betas closely follow the release cycle of developer betas. And Apple released the second developer beta of iOS and iPadOS 14 earlier this week. So it sounds like the first public beta is more or less the same build as the second developer build.

But remember, you shouldn’t install an iOS beta on your primary iPhone or iPad. The issue is not just bugs — some apps and features won’t work at all. In some rare cases, beta software can also brick your device and make it unusable. You may even lose data on iCloud. Proceed with extreme caution.

But if you have an iPad or iPhone you don’t need, here’s how to download it. Head over to Apple’s beta website and download the configuration profile. It’s a tiny file that tells your iPhone or iPad to update to public betas like it’s a normal software update.

You can either download the configuration profile from Safari on your iOS device directly, or transfer it to your device using AirDrop, for instance. Reboot your device, then head over to the Settings app. In September, your device should automatically update to the final version of iOS and iPadOS 13 and you’ll be able to delete the configuration profile.

The biggest change of iOS 14 is the introduction of widgets on the home screen, a new App Library to browse all your apps and the ability to run App Clips — those are mini apps that feature a small part of an app and that you can run without installing anything.

There are also many refinements across the board, such as new features for Messages, with a big focus on groups with @-mentions and replies, a new Translate app that works on your device, cycling directions in Apple Maps in some cities and various improvements in Notes, Reminders, Weather, Home and more.

If you want to learn more about iOS 14, I looked at some of the features in the new version: