Apple launches a U.S.-only music video station, Apple Music TV

Apple is expanding its investment in music with today’s launch of “Apple Music TV.” The new music video station offers a free, 24-hour livestream of popular music videos and other music content, including, exclusive video premieres, curated music video blocks, live shows, fan events, chart countdowns and guest appearances.

The service doesn’t have its own dedicated app, but is instead offered as a new feature within two of Apple’s existing entertainment apps. At launch, you can watch Apple Music TV from within the Browse tab of either the Apple Music app or the Apple TV app. (Accessible via apple.co/AppleMusicTV).

While Apple Music is a paid subscription service, Apple Music TV will be free to users in the U.S., the company says.

To kick off its launch, Apple Music TV today began with a countdown of the top 100 most-streamed songs ever across all of Apple Music, based on U.S. data.,

During brief tests of the new service, we found it to be a fairly basic (if uncensored) experience. The video stream only offered artist and song details at the beginning, instead of as the music played. It also didn’t take advantage of the integration with Apple Music to offer additional features to paying subscribers — like being able to favorite the song or add it to a playlist, for instance.

The stream would stop when the Apple Music app was closed, as it didn’t support background play.

Image Credits: Apple

There also weren’t any on-screen tools to share what you were watching via a social media post. You had to dig to find the “share” button under the three-dot, “more” menu. This would give you a link to tweet, but wouldn’t pre-fill it with text or hashtags, like the artist name or song.

While listening, you could stop the livestream and then return after a short pause. But after a bit, the stream would disconnect and the thumbnail of the paused music video reverts to the placeholder Apple Music TV image. When live, the text and icons will be shown in red. They revert to white when you’ve disconnected, as a visual cue.

Despite its simplicity, Apple Music TV gives Apple an immediate new home for its music-related original content, which over the years has included exclusive interviews, concert films, and more. It also provides Apple with another advantage with it goes to negotiate with artists for their premieres, as it introduces additional platform for reaching an artist’s fans — not only with the premiere itself, but by offering artists blocks of airtime leading up to their next debut that they can use to promote their releases.

The new station can also leverage content produced for the Apple Music 1 (formerly Beats 1) radio station, as it goes about running these promotions.

For example, on Thursday, October 22, Apple Music TV will promote the upcoming release of Bruce Springsteen’s “Letter to You” with music video blocks featuring his greatest videos, plus as exclusive interview with Zane Lowe, and a special livestream fan event.

Fridays, meanwhile, will focus on new music. This Friday, October 23, at 9 AM PT Apple Music TV will showcase two new exclusive video premieres – Joji’s “777” and SAINt JHN’s “Gorgeous.”

Apple Music TV’s biggest advantage, of course, is the fact that it’s freely accessible to millions of Apple device owners.

But it may struggle for traction as it lacks the features that make other livestream fan events or premieres engaging — like group chats or direct interactions with creators.

Instead, it’s more like a traditional TV broadcast — even MTV-like — compared with other online destinations where artists today connect with fans and promote their albums, like YouTube, VEVO, or more recently, Facebook, which just this year launched music videos.

Apple didn’t say if it planned to expand the new station outside the U.S.

This Week in Apps: Apple’s big event, lidar comes to iPhone, Android gets a new IDE

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the TechCrunch 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 series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.

Top Story

Apple introduces four new iPhones (and more)

Apple hosted its iPhone event this week, where it introduced the new iPhone 12… and the iPhone 12 mini, the iPhone 12 Pro and the iPhone 12 Pro Max — effectively plugging all the holes in the market. With the release of the four new iPhones, app developers will have a range of devices to build for, from small to very large — the 12 Pro Max, for example, introduces the iPhone’s biggest-ever screen and the highest resolution, at nearly 3.5M pixels.

It also, of course, includes serious camera improvements, from a redesign of the three-lens system to including a new deeper telephoto camera, now a 65 mm-equivalent instead of 52 mm, as on previous models. There’s also an improved wide-angle lens, larger sensor, the addition of sensor-level image stabilization and a revamped Night Mode. Photographers will appreciate the new Apple ProRAW format, as well. (More on that here).

The iPhone 12 mini, meanwhile, aims to serve the customer base that prefers a smaller phone, like the iPhone SE, but without sacrificing functionality.

All the devices share some key features, including 5G connectivity, the new MagSafe connector for wireless charging and snap-on magnetic accessories, OLED displays and the A14 chip. They also have a more classic look, with straight edges that allow for additional antennas, providing next-gen wireless connectivity.

One of the bigger differences, however, between the Pro models and the regular iPhone 12 is the addition of the LiDAR Scanner, which is also found in the latest iPad Pro. The scanner measures how long it takes for light to reach an object and reflect back. The new depth-sensing technology has big implications for AR, as it allows augmented reality objects to interact with objects in the real world. AR apps will be more user-friendly, too, as they won’t need to first scan the room to place the AR object in the real world. It can be placed instantly.

Apple is leveraging the sensor for the iPhone 12 Pro camera to offer up to 6x faster focus in low-light conditions. Developers, meanwhile, can leverage lidar for use cases like AR-enabled games that work in the real world, social media (like Snapchat’s new lidar-powered Lens), home design and improvement apps involving room scans, spatial layout planning (like JigSpace), better AR shopping experiences and more.

The company also announced an affordable version of its HomePod smart speaker, the $99 HomePod Mini. The item works best for those fully locked inside the Apple universe, as it will stream a handful of music services, but not one of the most popular — Spotify. However, Apple also introduced a nifty feature for the HomePod devices, Intercom, which lets you send announcements across the speakers. While Apple and Google have offered a similar feature for their smart speakers, Intercom also works across other Apple devices, including iPhone, iPod, AirPods and even CarPlay. (What, no Mac?)

If Apple isn’t too late to capture smart speaker market share, the new speaker could see more users adopting smart home devices they can voice control through the HomePod Mini.

During the event, Apple also subtly snubbed its nose at Epic’s Fortnite with the announcement that
League of Legends: Wild Rift would be coming to iPhone 12 to take advantage of its new 5G capabilities and A14 Bionic chip.

Weekly News Round-Up

Platforms

  • Lidar comes to iPhone 12 Pro. Developers can now build AR experiences that interact with real-world objects, and AR apps can now instantly place AR objects in the real world without scanning the room. The update will mean a huge increase in the usability of AR apps but is limited to the Pro model of iPhone for now. Snapchat is already using it.
  • Apple developers can now make their apps available for pre-order even earlier — up to 180 days before release on the App Store.
  • Android Studio 4.1 launches. The new, stable version of the IDE for building Android apps introduces better TensorFlow Lite support and a new database inspector. The team also fixed a whopping 2,370 bugs during this release cycle and closed 275 public issues.
  • Google introduces the Android for Cars library. The library, now in open beta, gives developers tools to design, develop and test new navigation, parking or charging apps for Android Auto. The Google Play Store will be enabled for publishing beta apps in the “coming months.”
  • Google stops selling music. The company no longer sells tracks and albums on its Play Store, shifting all its focus to YouTube Music. The latter also just launched on Apple Watch this week.

Trends

  • Shopping apps forecast. U.S. consumers were expected to spend 60M hours in Android shopping apps during Prime Day week, (which just wrapped) according to one forecast from App Annie.
  • Prime Day downloads grow. Sensor Tower estimates global installs of the Amazon app grew 23% year-over-year, to 684K, as Prime Day neared. Installs on Wednesday were up 33% to 750K. However, U.S. installs were down by 22% 10/13-10/14. Apptopia noted that app sessions, however, were up 27% year-over-year.
  • Shopping, Food & Drink app launches up more than 50% year-over-year. Shopping apps grew 52% while Food & Drink apps grew 60%, due to COVID-19 impacts, according to Sensor Tower.
  • Subscriptions. U.S. consumers spend $20.78 per month on app subscriptions, Adjust study says.
  • TikTok sale impact on ad industry. 73% of marketers said a TikTok sale in the U.S. would impact their 2021 advertising plans. 41% also believed the deal could allow Walmart to overtake Amazon in e-commerce.
  • Amazon expands AR experimentation to its boxes. The retailer launched a new AR application that works with QR codes on the company’s shipping boxes to create “interactive, shareable” AR experiences, like a pumpkin that comes to life.

Security

  • Robinhood said a “limited number” of its users’ accounts were hacked. The service itself was not hacked, but around 2,000 customers had accounts compromised by cybercriminals who first compromised users’ personal emails outside the trading app.

Other News

  • Zoom’s new events platform brings apps to video conferencing calls.
  • Messenger update brings new features, including cross-app communication with Instagram. The app gets fun features like chat themes, custom reactions and, soon, selfie stickers and vanish mode. But the bigger news is the (potentially anti-competitive) merging of Facebook’s chat platforms.
  • Life360 leverages TikTok teens’ complaints to start a dialogue and invent a new feature, “Bubbles,” which allows teens (or anyone) to share a generalized location instead of an exact one. The feature gives teens a bit more freedom to roam and make choices without so much parental oversight. Parents, meanwhile, can still be sure their teen is OK, as features like emergency SOS and crash alerts remain functional.
  • Must-read: The MacStories iOS and iPadOS 14 Review. Federico Viticci offers a 23-page deep dive into the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system.

Funding and M&A

    • Future raises $24M Series B for its $150/mo workout coaching app amid at-home fitness boom. The app pairs users with real-life fitness coaching for personal training at home. The round was led by Trustbridge Partners with Caffeinated Capital and Series A investors Kleiner Perkins participating.
    • River raises $10.4M for its app offering news, events and other happenings from around the web, ranging from news stories from top publishers to sports to even notable tweets. The app presents the information in a real-time stream, browsed vertically. There’s also a “For You” page, similar to TikTok.
    • Roblox confidentially filed with the SEC to go public. This cross-platform gaming platform has boomed during coronavirus lockdowns. According to reports, the listing could double Robox’s $4B valuation.
    • Robo Adviser Wealthsimple raises $87M. The funding for the investing app with comparisons to Robinhood was led by Menlo Park-based Technology Crossover Ventures (TCV), valuing the business at $1B.
    • Fitness platform Playbook raises $9.3M. The company offers tools for personal trainers who want to make their own videos, which consumers then browse in Playbook’s mobile app. Backers include E.ventures, Michael Ovitz, Abstract, Algae Ventures, Porsche Ventures and FJ Labs.
    • Live streaming app Moment House raises $1.5M seed. The startup aims to recreate live events in a digital format. LA area investors invested, including Scooter Braun, Troy Carter, Kygo’s Palm Tree Crew and Jared Leto. Patreon chief executive Jack Conte and Sequoia Capital partner Jess Lee also participated.
    • Twilio acquires Segment for $3.2B to help developers build data-fueled apps.
    • E-learning platform Kahoot raises $215M from SoftBank. The Norwegian startup claims to have hosted 1.3 billion “participating players” in the last 12 months. The company’s gamified e-learning platform is used both in schools and in enterprise environments.

Downloads

Mycons

Mycons is a new app that makes it easier for users, including non-designers, to create and buy custom icons for their iOS home screen makeovers. In the app’s “Icon Studio,” users can create icons by swapping out the background, choosing a symbol and placing it on the icon accordingly. You can also create a whole set of icons in a batch export. If you don’t feel like designing your own, you can opt to purchase premade packs instead.

The app is a free download with a one-time, in-app purchase to unlock the fully functionality of the icon designer. The icon packs, which include different variations and matching wallpaper, range from $7.99-$9.99.

Spotify’s new iOS 14 widget

Image Credits: TechCrunch screenshot of Spotify widget

It’s here! The widget a number of people have waited for since the launch of the new version of iOS has arrived. 

The widget, which arrives in the latest version of the Spotify iOS app, comes in two sizes. The smaller widget will display just your most recently listened to item, while the medium-sized widget will instead show the five most recent items — four in a horizontal row and the most recent at the top. In that case, you can actually tap on the small thumbnail for which of the five you want to now stream to be taken directly to that page in the Spotify app. The widget also automatically updates its background color to match the thumbnail photo.

Mycons makes it easy to create and buy custom icons for your iOS homescreen

A new app called Mycons, launched today, is tapping into the iOS 14 homescreen customization trend by making it easier for anyone, including non-designers, to quickly create their own custom icons, as well as shop premade icon-and-wallpaper packs from designers.

With the release of iOS 14 in mid-September, millions of users began to take advantage of new functionality like iOS widgets to customize their iPhone homescreens. As a part of this trend, users also rediscovered how to use Apple’s Shortcuts app to create custom icons for their favorite apps in order to match their new homescreen aesthetic.

As a result, homescreen customization apps shot to the top of the App Store in the days and weeks following the iOS 14 launch.

The trend doesn’t seem to be a flash-in-the-pan, either. Today, top custom widget provider Widgetsmith continues to rank at No. 8 on the App Store’s (non-game) top free apps chart, as of the time of writing.

But while most of the new customization apps focus on creating your own iOS 14 widgets, those that help users design their own icon sets are more difficult to find. Some existing apps have retooled to address user demand for icons, like Launcher, while others have debuted paid icon marketplaces, like Brass.

Mycons, meanwhile, offers both an icon customization toolset and the option purchase premade icon packs.

Image Credits: Mycons, via the App Store

If you want to build your own icons, you can use the “Icon Studio” section in Mycons to get started. Some introductory functionality is offered for free, and a one-time upgrade of $9.99 unlocks the full functionality.

“I wanted to release the app with a handful of basic design features available for free, so users can get a feel for how things work and still be able to make their homescreens look beautiful, without coughing up their hard earned cash,” explains Mycons developer Daniel McCarthy.

Image Credits: Mycons app

Once the Icon Studio’s full customization capabilities are unlocked, you’ll find them to be fairly extensive.

You can pick solids, gradients or even a photo as your icon background, or opt to use a premium background you’ve purchased.

And if you’re setting your own color as the background, Mycons lets you choose between using a color grid, color spectrum, adjusting sliders or entering a specific Hex Color number to get exactly the right shade.

The app also includes a searchable database with thousands of symbols and logos to choose from — including symbols for your most-used apps as well as harder-to-find generic symbols, like the RSS symbol, for instance. For some of the more popular apps — like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Snapchat, for example — you’ll even find a few different options to choose from.

You can then choose to place the symbol in the center, the top or bottom left, or the top or bottom right. You can also adjust the symbol’s color, size and transparency.

Image Credits: Mycons app

Mycons makes it easy to create a whole set of custom icons at once, too.

After you design your icon template style, you can toggle an option, “Enable Batch Export,” to select multiple symbols then apply the same background to all. You then tap the “Export” button to send all the icons to your Camera Roll at once.

If you’re not up for building your own icons, Mycons also offers packs you can buy.

In a separate tab from the Icon Studio, Mycons lets you shop icon packs from designers via one-time in-app purchases. These range in price from $7.99 to $9.99 and include a set of backgrounds (wallpapers) to match the custom icons. In some cases, these are available in multiple colors and styles, too.

 

 

Once purchased, you can use the style with your own custom icon designs. That’s an advantage over buying an icon pack off Etsy, for instance, where you only get a set number of icons — but no tools to build your own to match, in the case you’re missing a few.

At launch, the designs offered come from just three creators, Mycons developer Daniel McCarthy, artist Alanna Ranellone, and painter and photographer Jenna McCarthy.

Image Credits: Mycons

Now that the app is live, Mycons is opening up to other designers who can apply to join the marketplace through a link in the Settings tab of the app.

Not all designs will be accepted, however, McCarthy says. Instead, the marketplace will be curated to ensure all the designs are unique and high-quality.

McCarthy, who previously worked as designer himself, says he plans to offer Mycons’ designer partners how they want to be paid: either as contract work at a competitive market rate or as a percentage of sales.

A performance bonus will also be offered in the case that an icon pack becomes a hit, but the designer had opted for the contract rate option.

“I always try to do what’s fair and right,” McCarthy explains. “If a design partner opts for contract work and their designs end up being wildly successful, I’m not going to let them get screwed,” he says.

Designers will also be credited in the app and allowed to link out to their own websites or social media accounts, if they choose. In this way, their Mycons marketplace listing could serve as lead gen for their own design business.

Mycons is a free download with in-app purchases on the App Store.

Apple reveals the $99 HomePod Mini

Today, during its iPhone hardware event, Apple unveiled the $99 HomePod Mini.

The HomePod Mini is clearly a reach for a broader swath of new users. The original HomePod managed to impress audiophiles but its high price served as a high barrier of entry to new users looking for a new smart speaker. Complicating that “smart speaker” designation is the face that Siri was and is several years behind the intelligence of both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, leaving the speaker as a more compromised choice for users who might have been hoping to embrace the fully smart home ecosystem.

The new device starts shipping the week of November 16. The device comes in white and space grey colors.

The HomePod Mini ditches the trashcan Mac Pro design of its bigger relative and is much more spherical in shape, still covered in a mesh fabric. It boasts the same onboard screen that allows users to summon Siri and adjust volume, while giving the device a more interesting visual look than smart devices from other companies. Also differentiating the device is Apple’s S5 chip which the company says helps the HomePod Mini bring users its “computational audio.”

Like with the original HomePod, users can arrange a stereo pair of two of the HomePod Minis and will also be able to utilize multiple HomePod devices in a home to operate a new “Intercom” experience.

Image Credits: Apple

Live from Apple’s virtual 2020 iPhone event

Apple’s big iPhone event is finally here – virtually, which is to be expected these days. This is already the second virtual event Apple has hosted this fall, following one in September at which it revealed the Apple Watch Series 6 and a new iPad Air. This time around, we’re going to see what the iPhone 12 looks like, as well as how many colors and sizes it comes in.

There’s also supposed to be plenty of other news, including a new smaller HomePod mini, maybe an updated Apple TV, possibly a number of different headphone products and more. Will we get our first glance at the first shipping ARM-based Mac to use Apple’s in-house processors? Probably not, but maybe!

We’re going to be following along live and offering commentary below, and you can also tune in live to the video stream right here. Everything gets underway at 10 AM PT/ 1 PM ET.

Apple brings Health Records to iPhone in the UK and Canada

Apple has added support for the Health Records feature of its Health app on iPhones in two new markets – the UK and Canada. The electronic medical records feature originally debuted in the U.S. in 2018, and the company says that it’s now supported by over 500 institutions across that country. At its debut in its two new markets, it’ll be supported by three hospitals in Canada and two in the UK, but obviously the plan is to expand support to more over time.

Apple’s EHR feature was created with its commitment to user privacy in mind. In practice, that means that any information transferred between a user’s iPhone and their healthcare provider is encrypted, and the data is transmitted directly, with no intermediary sever storage. Also, Apple Health Records data on a user’s device is fully encrypted and locally stored, unlock able only via a user’s individual passcode, as well as Touch ID or Face ID for devices that support those.

Health Records on iPhone requires institutional support, but can provide a high degree of individual ownership of health data, as well as a means of making sure that data is portable and can follow a patient to integrate with a variety of care facilities and providers. Many efforts have been made to unify and standardize EHR systems in different parts of the world, but few have gained widespread support. Apple’s has the advantage of working broadly with devices that make up roughly half the mobile representation in markets where it’s available, and a user-friendly, clear and concise design.

Instagram’s 10th birthday release introduces a Stories Map, custom icons and more

Instagram today is celebrating its 10th birthday with the launch of several new features, including a private “Stories Map,” offering a retrospective of the Stories you’ve shared over the last three years, a pair of well-being updates, and the previously announced IGTV Shopping update. There’s even a selection of custom app icons for those who have recently been inspired to redesign their home screen, as is the new trend.

The icons had been spotted earlier in development within Instagram’s code, and it was expected they would be a part of a larger “birthday release.” That turned out to be true.

With the update, Instagram users across both iOS and Android can opt between a range of icons in shades of orange, yellow, green, purple, black, white and more. There’s also a rainbow-colored Pride icon and several versions of classic icons, if you want a more nostalgic feel.

The new Stories Map feature, meanwhile, introduces a private map and calendar of the Instagram Stories you’ve shared over the past three years, so you can look back at favorite moments. Though this may surprise some users who thought Instagram Stories’ ephemeral nature meant they were deleted from Facebook servers over time, it’s not the first time Instagram has pulled up your old Stories to build out a new feature.

Instagram’s “Story Highlights,” for example, first introduced in 2017, allowed users to create a permanent home for some of their formerly ephemeral content.

Image Credits: Instagram

Two other new features also rolling out with the latest release are timed alongside the kickoff of National Bullying Prevention Month. The first, which will begin as a test, will automatically hide comments similar to others that have already been reported. These will still be visible under the label “View Hidden Comments” if you want to see what’s been removed from the main comment feed.

Image Credits: Instagram

This feature is somewhat similar to Twitter’s “Hide Replies” feature that launched globally last year. Like Twitter, the feature will place the inappropriate or abusive remarks behind an extra click, which supposedly helps to disincentivize this sort of content, as it could be hidden from view. Except in Twitter’s case, the original poster had to manually hide the replies. The Instagram feature, however, is attempting to automate this functionality.

Instagram says it’s also expanding its nudge warnings feature to include an additional warning when people repeatedly try to post offensive remarks. Already, Instagram provides an AI-powered feature that notifies people when their comment may be considered offensive by giving them a chance to reflect and make changes before posting. Now this feature will target repeat offenders, suggesting that they take a moment to step back and reflect on their words and the potential consequences.

Image Credits: Instagram

The company also released new data about trends across its platform as well as an editorial look back at Instagram’s major milestones.

Here, it revealed trends across music — like how KPOP is the No. 1 most-discussed genre — along with other trends, like top songs, AR effects, top Story Fonts and more. Instagram said more than a million posts mentioning “meme” are shared on its platform daily, 50% of users see a video on Instagram daily, there are over 900 million emoji reactions sent daily and the average person sends 3x more DMs than comments.

The updated app is available across iOS and Android.

How to make the most of iOS 14 widgets and iPhone home screen customization

You’ve probably seen the screenshots going around that show iOS home screens that differ considerably from the stock options that Apple provides. Yes, if you’re an Android user you’re probably laughing at iPhone owners for finally (nearly) catching up to the customization features they’ve had for years, but if you’re an iOS fan, you probably just want to know how to join in. It’s actually relatively easy — provided you’ve got some time to spare, and you don’t mind a few slightly hacky workarounds (don’t worry, no jailbreaking required).

Widgets

The big new addition that’s prompting all the shared screens across social media are home screen widgets, which are supported under iOS 14 for the first time. These can be either first or third-party, and are included with apps you download from the App Store. There are a number of developers who pushed to ensure they were ready at or near the launch of iOS, and Sarah has created a growing list of some of the best for you to check out if you’re not sure where to start.

One of my personal favorite widget apps is Widgetsmith, an app that, as its name suggests, was created pretty much entirely for the purpose of making them. It allows you a range of customization options, has a number of handy, useful functions, including calendar, weather and clock, and comes with different font choices to best suit your style. I’ve always aimed to create a clean, single-tone look with iOS as much as possible, and Widgetsmith is the best I’ve found so far for creating home screen displays that look like they’re borderless (provided your iOS wallpaper is a solid color that matches one of those the app supports).

Widgets are great at providing right on your home screen (where you need it) at-a-glance information that you don’t typically want to dive into an app to retrieve. Some can shortcut to useful features, like the search widget built into Google’s iOS app, but most are made primarily to reduce the amount of time you spend actually inside the apps themselves.

Custom app icons

While Widgets are new, another big component of this customization push is not — the ability to create custom home screen icons for iOS apps. That’s been around ever since Apple introduced its Shortcuts app on iOS a couple of years ago, but many people are discovering the feature for the first time as a result of the increased attention around home screen customization with the introduction of Widgets in iOS 14.

[gallery ids="2049681,2049682"]

Creating custom icons on iOS isn’t actually doing that, strictly speaking — what you’re in fact doing is creating new Shortcuts that trigger the launch of an app, and using a custom image for that bookmark that then lives on your home screen instead. This is not an ideal solution, because it means that A) you won’t have any notification badges on your “apps,” and B) the system first directs you to Apple’s Shortcuts app, which opens for a split-second before bumping you into the actual app you selected for the shortcut.

Apple clearly didn’t design this Shortcuts feature for this use (opening a target app is meant to be the start of a string of automated actions), but Apple also hasn’t really ever seemed interested in letting users choose their own custom icons, so it’s the best we can do for now. Luckily, the process is relatively simple. Unluckily, there are a lot of steps involved, so it’s pretty time-consuming to customize your entire home screen.

Here’s a video of how to do this as simply as possible:

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

There are some fantastic examples out there of what creative individuals have been able to do with this, given a little time and some elbow grease. With more widget options coming online all the time, we’ve probably only begun to see the limits of testing the boundaries of what’s possible under Apple’s rules, too.

On lying AIs

A yellow-eyed cat tilts its eyes at the camera, gazing up from a grey bedspread. ‘London Trip’, is the AI’s title for this photo-montage ‘Memory’ plucked from the depths of my iPhone camera-roll. It’s selected a sad score of plinking piano and sweeping violin. The algorithm has calculated it must tug at the heart strings. 

Cut to a crop of a desk with a 2FA device resting on a laptop case. It’s not at all photogenic. On to a shot of a sofa in a living room. It’s empty. The camera inclines toward a radio on a sidetable. Should we be worried for the invisible occupant? The staging invites cryptic questions.

Cut to an outdoor scene: A massive tree spreading above a wrought iron park fence. Another overcast day in the city. Beside it an eccentric shock of orange. A piece of public art? A glass-blown installation? There’s no time to investigate or interrogate. The AI is moving on. There’s more data clogging its banks. 

Cut to a conference speaker. White, male, besuited, he’s gesticulating against a navy wall stamped with some kind of insignia. The photo is low quality, snapped in haste from the audience, details too fuzzy to pick out. Still, the camera lingers, panning across the tedious vista. A wider angle shows conference signage for something called ‘Health X’. This long distant press event rings a dim bell. Another unlovely crop: My voice recorder beside a brick wall next to an iced coffee. I guess I’m working from a coffee shop.

On we go. A snap through a window-frame of a well kept garden, a bird-bath sprouting from low bushes. Another shot of the shrubbery shows a ladder laid out along a brick wall. I think it looks like a church garden in Southwark but I honestly can’t tell. No matter. The AI has lost interest. Now it’s obsessing over a billboard of a Google Play ad: “All the tracks you own and millions more to discover — Try it now for free,” the text reads above a weathered JCDecaux brand stamp.

There’s no time to consider what any of this means because suddenly it’s nighttime. It must be; my bedside lamp is lit. Or is it? Now we’re back on the living room sofa with daylight and a book called ‘Nikolski’ (which is also, as it happens, about separation and connection and random artefacts — although its artful narrative succeeds in serendipity).

Cut to a handful of berries in a cup. Cut to an exotic-looking wallflower which I know grows in the neighbourhood. The score is really soaring now. A lilting female vocal lands on cue to accompany a solitary selfie.

I am looking unimpressed. I have so many questions. 

The AI isn’t quite finished. For the finale: A poorly framed crop of a garden fence and a patio of pot plants, washing weeping behind the foliage. The music is fading, the machine is almost done constructing its London trip. The last shot gets thrust into view: Someone’s hand clasping a half-drunk punch. 

Go home algorithm, you’re drunk.

Footnote: Apple says on-device machine learning powers iOS’ “intelligent photos experience” which “analyzes every 
photo in a user’s photo library using on-device machine learning [to] deliver 
a personalized experience for each user” — with the advanced processing slated to include scene classification, composition analysis, people and pets identification, quality analysis and identification of facial expressions

Are high churn rates depressing earnings for app developers?

Ever since Apple opened up subscription monetization to more apps in 2016 — and enticed developers with an 85/15 split on revenue from customers that remain subscribed for more than a year — subscription monetization and retention has felt like the Holy Grail for app developers. So much so that Google quickly followed suit in what appeared to be an example of healthy competition for developers in the mobile OS duopoly.

But how does that split actually work out for most apps? Turns out, the 85/15 split — which Apple is keen to mention anytime developers complain about the App Store rev share — doesn’t have a meaningful impact for most developers. Because churn.

No matter how great an app is, subscribers are going to churn. Sometimes it’s because of a credit card expiring or some other billing issue. And sometimes it’s more of a pause, and the user comes back after a few months. But the majority of churn comes from subscribers who, for whatever reason, decide that the app just isn’t worth paying for anymore. If a subscriber churns before the one-year mark, the developer never sees that 85% split. And even if the user resubscribes, Apple and Google reset the clock if a subscription has lapsed for more than 60 days. Rather convenient… for Apple and Google.

Top mobile apps like Netflix and Spotify report churn rates in the low single digits, but they are the outliers. According to our data, the median churn rate for subscription apps is around 13% for monthly subscriptions and around 50% for annual. Monthly subscription churn is generally a bit higher in the first few months, then it tapers off. But an average churn of 13% leaves just 20% of subscribers crossing that magical 85/15 threshold.

In practice, what this means is that, for all the hype around the 85/15 split, very few developers are going to see a meaningful increase in revenue: