Google to add App Store privacy labels to its iOS apps as soon as this week

Contrary to reports, Google is not delaying updates to its iOS apps because it doesn’t want to comply with Apple’s recently announced App Store Privacy Labels policy. The new policy, a part of the company’s larger privacy push, requires developers to disclose how data is collected from App Store users and used to track them. TechCrunch confirmed Google is not taking a stand against the labels. It is, in fact, preparing to roll out privacy labels across its sizable iOS app catalog as soon as this week or the next.

TechCrunch looked into the situation with Google’s apps following a story by Fast Company today that speculated that Google’s slowdown on releasing iOS app updates could be because it was not ready to be transparent about the data it collects from its users. The report stated that “not a single one” of Google’s apps had been updated since December 7, 2020 — coincidentally, just one day before Apple’s new privacy label requirements went into effect on the App Store.

It went on to suggest the late November to early December time frame when many of Google’s iOS apps were updated was another indication that Google was trying to squeeze in a few last updates before the app privacy label deadline.

There are a few problems with speculation, however.

For starters, Google actually did update two of its apps after the deadline — but those updates didn’t include privacy labels.

Google Slides, the slideshow presentation app and one of Google’s more significant apps in the productivity space, was updated on December 14, 2020. And Socratic by Google, a homework helper and the No. 7 free app in the Education category, was updated on December 15. (We fact-checked this data with Sensor Tower’s assistance, as Google’s iOS catalog is nearing 100 iPhone apps!)

While it may seem Google is skirting Apple’s new rules, we must also be careful about reading too much into the update timing. A slowdown in December app updates isn’t unusual by any stretch. Nor is it suspicious to see app changes pushed out to the public in the weeks before Christmas and New Year’s because the Apple’s App Store itself shuts down over the holidays. This year, The App Store closed from December 23 through December 27, 2020 for its annual break.

And like other large companies, Google goes on a code freeze in late December through early January, so as not to cause major issues with its products and services over the holidays when staff is out.

Google also isn’t the only major app publisher that delayed an immediate embrace of app privacy labels. Amazon and Pinterest haven’t yet updated with privacy labels as of the time of writing, for example.

Of course, none of this is to say that app privacy labels aren’t a concern for Google, given its primary business is advertising. In fact, they’re being taken quite seriously — with execs attending meetings to discuss that sort of thing.

Apple may have given Google some leeway on the matter, it seems, as it allowed Google’s apps to update after the deadline without submitting the privacy label information. (That probably won’t make happy smaller developers who worked to comply with the deadline, however.)

Reached for comment, a Google spokesperson confirmed the company has a plan to add privacy labels across its app catalog. They also confirmed the labels are expected to begin rolling out as soon as this week or next week, though an exact date is not yet available.

Apple Fitness+ launches on December 14

Apple is launching its subscription fitness service, which is built mainly to complement Apple Watch, on December 14. Apple Fitness+ was first announced at Apple’s iPhone event in September, and will offer guided workouts on iPhone iPad and Apple TV, with live personal metrics delivered by the Apple Watch’s health metrics monitoring.

The fitness offering will cover 10 workout types at launch, including Hight Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), strength, yoga, dance, core, cycling, indoor walking and running, as well as rowing and cooldown. All cases are led by real trainers that Apple selected to record the interactive sessions, and they’re soundtracked from “today’s top artists” according to the company.

The interactive elements are fed mostly by Apple Watch stats, and will display heart rate metrics, countdown timers, and goal achievement ‘celebration’ graphics which display on the screen when a user fills up their Apple Watch Activity rings. This is a level of direct integration that’s similar to what Peloton achieves with its service, but without requiring a whole connected stationary bike or treadmill to work.

Other distinguishing features of the service include a recommendation engine that leverages data including previous Fitness+ courses taken by a user, as well as their Apple Watch Workout App data and other third-party health and fitness app integration information from Apple Health to recommend new workouts, trainers and exercise routines. Apple’s use of third-party integrations is particularly interesting here, since it’s using its platform advantage to inform its service personalization.

Image Credits: Apple

Apple is also committing to weekly updates of new content across all categories of workouts, with varying intensity and difficult levels. Anyone using Fitness+ can also share their workouts with friends and family, and compete with others directly in the app if they want.

There’s also an optional Apple Music integration, which allows users to favorite songs and playlists directly from workouts to add them to their library, but users won’t require Apple Music in order to access the music used for the training videos, which are divided into different selectable “styles” or genres.

Apple Fitness+ is available starting December 14, and will retail for $9.99 per month, or $79.99 when paid for a twelve month period up front. It’s also part of Apple’s new Apple One Premier service bundle alongside other services.

This is definitely a major competitive service launch to existing subscription fitness offerings, including Peloton. Apple’s bundle offering, along with its system’s flexibility and syncing across its devices, could make it an easier choice for beginners and those just getting started with more serious training, though the lack of live classes might be a downside for some.

Apple embraces iOS 14 home screen customization by fixing how app shortcuts work

Apple is making a change to how app shortcuts work in the next release of the iOS 14 operating system. In iOS 14.3, beta 2, the Shortcuts app will now no longer open when you tap on an app shortcut on your iPhone’s home screen. That means users who have created custom icons for their favorite apps as part of their iOS 14 home screen makeover will no longer be annoyed with this intermediate step where the Shortcuts app opens before the actual app does.

The change was first spotted by MacStories’ founder Federico Viticci.

A tweet from Apple Terminal shows the update in action. (You’ll notice a small pop-up still displays when the app opens, but the full launch of the Shortcuts app has been bypassed.)

Though only a slight tweak, the change will be welcomed by those who have customized their home screen following the release of iOS 14.

The launch of iOS 14 in September had introduced one of the biggest updates to the iPhone user’s interface in years. Users were finally able to customize their home screen to their liking by offloading less-used apps to their App Library as well as by adding customizable widgets to their home screen. Though widgets were originally designed to allow important information — like your next calendar appointment, to do’s, or today’s weather, for example — to sit directly on the home screen, they soon began to be used for much more.

Widget makers — like Widgetsmith and Color Widgets, for example — launched tools that let users design their own widgets, by picking the font, the size, the color and more. Users could even choose a particular photo to pin to their home screen using these tools.

The next step in the customization process relied on a previously available but little used trick: creating alternative app icons using Apple’s Shortcuts app. This somewhat cumbersome process was detailed and demonstrated by users on TikTok, which helped make the home screen customization craze go viral. Simply put, the process let you assign your own icon to any app using a particular function within Shortcuts.

This allowed you to create icons that matched your home screen aesthetic, which now consisted of a wallpaper, custom widgets, and only the handful of icons that earned home screen (instead of App Library) placement.

However, one of users’ biggest complaints with their custom icons is that, when tapped, the Shortcuts app would briefly open to run the process that then opens the app in question. It was an annoyance of sorts.

Apple, it seems, is addressing the Shortcuts issue. In the beta version of iOS 14.3, the app will open directly.

Now, if only Apple would allow users to hide their widgets’ labels, we’d be all set. Unfortunately, that change doesn’t seem to be in the works.

Apple’s IDFA gets targeted in strategic EU privacy complaints

A unique device identifier that Apple assigns to each iPhone for third parties to track users for ad targeting — aka the IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers) — is itself now the target of two new complaints filed by European privacy campaign not-for-profit, noyb.

The complaints, lodged with German and Spanish data protection authorities, contend that Apple’s setting of the IDFA breaches regional privacy laws on digital tracking because iOS users are not asked for their consent for the initial storage of the identifier.

noyb is also objecting to others’ being able to access the IDFA without prior consent — with one of its complainants writing that they were never asked for consent for third party access yet found several apps had shared their IDFA with Facebook (per their off-Facebook activity page).

We’ve reached out to the data protection agencies in question for comment.

While Apple isn’t the typical target for digital privacy campaigners, given it makes most of its money selling hardware and software instead of profiling users for ad targeting, as adtech giants like Facebook and Google do, its marketing rhetoric around taking special care over user privacy can look awkward when set against the existence of an Identifier for Advertisers baked into its hardware.

In the European Union there’s a specific legal dimension to this awkwardness — as existing laws require explicit consent from users to (non-essential) tracking. noyb’s complaints cite Article 5(3) of the EU’s ePrivacy Directive which mandates that users must be asked for consent to the storage of ad tracking technologies such as cookies. (And noyb argues the IDFA is just like a tracking cookie but for iPhones.)

Europe’s top court further strengthened the requirement last year when it made it clear that consent for non-essential tracking must be obtained prior to storing or accessing the trackers. The CJEU also ruled that such consent cannot be implied or assumed — such as by the use of pre-checked ‘consent’ boxes.

In a press release about the complaints, noyb’s Stefano Rossetti, a privacy lawyer, writes: “EU law protects our devices from external tracking. Tracking is only allowed if users explicitly consent to it. This very simple rule applies regardless of the tracking technology used. While Apple introduced functions in their browser to block cookies, it places similar codes in its phones, without any consent by the user. This is a clear breach of EU privacy laws.”

Apple has long controlled how third parties serving apps on its iOS platform can use the IDFA, wielding the stick of ejection from its App Store to drive their compliance with its rules.

Recently, though, it has gone further — telling advertisers this summer they will soon have to offer users an opt-out from ad tracking in a move billed as increasing privacy controls for iOS users — although Apple delayed implementation of the policy until early next year after facing anger from advertisers over the plan. But the idea is there will be a toggle in iOS 14 that users need to flip on before a third party app gets to access the IDFA to track iPhone users’ in-app activity for ad targeting.

However noyb’s complaint focuses on Apple’s setting of the IDFA in the first place — arguing that since the pseudonymised identifier constitutes private (personal) data under EU law they need to get permission before creating and storing it on their device.

“The IDFA is like a ‘digital license plate’. Every action of the user can be linked to the ‘license plate’ and used to build a rich profile about the user. Such profile can later be used to target personalised advertisements, in-app purchases, promotions etc. When compared to traditional internet tracking IDs, the IDFA is simply a ‘tracking ID in a mobile phone’ instead of a tracking ID in a browser cookie,” noyb writes in one complaint, noting that Apple’s privacy policy does not specify the legal basis it uses to “place and process” the IDFA.

noyb also argues that Apple’s planned changes to how the IDFA gets accessed — trailed as incoming in early 2021 — don’t go far enough.

“These changes seem to restrict the use of the IDFA for third parties (but not for Apple itself),” it writes. “Just like when an app requests access to the camera or microphone, the plans foresee a new dialog that asks the user if an app should be able to access the IDFA. However, the initial storage of the IDFA and Apple’s use of it will still be done without the users’ consent and therefore in breach of EU law. It is unclear when and if these changes will be implemented by the company.”

We reached out to Apple for comment on noyb’s complaints but at the time of writing an Apple spokesman said it did not have an on-the-record statement. The spokesman did tell us that Apple itself does not use unique customer identifiers for advertising.

In a separate but related recent development, last month publishers and advertisers in France filed an antitrust complaint against the iPhone maker over its plan to require opt-in consent for accessing the IDFA — with the coalition contending the move amounts to an abuse of market power.

Apple responded to the antitrust complaint in a statement that said: “With iOS 14, we’re giving users the choice whether or not they want to allow apps to track them by linking their information with data from third parties for the purpose of advertising, or sharing their information with data brokers.”

We believe privacy is a fundamental human right and support the European Union’s leadership in protecting privacy with strong laws such as the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation),” Apple added then.

That antitrust complaint may explain why noyb has decided to file its own strategic complaints against Apple’s IDFA. Simply put, if no tracker ID can be created — because an iOS user refuses to give consent — there’s less surface area for advertisers to try to litigate against privacy by claiming tracking is a competitive right.

“We believe that Apple violated the law before, now and after these changes,” said Rossetti in another statement. “With our complaints we want to enforce a simple principle: trackers are illegal, unless a user freely consents. The IDFA should not only be restricted, but permanently deleted. Smartphones are the most intimate device for most people and they must be tracker-free by default.”

Another interesting component of the noyb complaints is they’re being filed under the ePrivacy Directive, rather than under Europe’s (newer) General Data Protection Regulation. This means noyb is able to target them to specific EU data protection agencies, rather than having complaints funnelled back to Ireland’s DPC — under the GDPR’s one-stop-shop mechanism for handling cross-border cases.

Its hope is this route will result in swifter regulatory action. These cases are based on the ‘old’ cookie law and do not trigger the cooperation mechanism of the GDPR. In other words, we are trying to avoid endless procedures like the ones we are facing in Ireland,” added Rossetti.

This Week in Apps: Conservative apps surge, Instagram redesigned, TikTok gets ghosted

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.

Top Stories

Trump administration backs down on TikTok ban

CULVER CITY, CA - OCTOBER 13: General view of the TikTok headquarters on October 13, 2020 in Culver City, California. (Photo by AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)

(Photo by AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)

The Trump administration seemingly forgot it had banned the TikTok app in the U.S., as the president focused this week instead on sowing doubt over the integrity of the U.S. elections — which the Dept. of Homeland Security just called the “most secure in American History,” by the way.

The inaction on the Trump administration’s part revealed what many suspected all along: that the TikTok ban was largely performative.

Earlier this week, TikTok went public with the fact that it hadn’t heard anything about its ban for weeks, despite the fact that it had a deadline of November 12 to divest its U.S. assets. The company filed a petition in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Tuesday, calling for a review of actions by CFIUS (Trump’s committee on foreign investment in the United States).

TikTok had earlier asked for an extension, but never heard back, it said.

Or, as the winning headline put it, courtesy of The Verge: “TikTok says the Trump administration has forgotten about trying to ban it, would like to know what’s up.”

In a statement, TikTok said:

“For a year, TikTok has actively engaged with CFIUS in good faith to address its national security concerns, even as we disagree with its assessment. In the nearly two months since the President gave his preliminary approval to our proposal to satisfy those concerns, we have offered detailed solutions to finalize that agreement – but have received no substantive feedback on our extensive data privacy and security framework.

Facing continual new requests and no clarity on whether our proposed solutions would be accepted, we requested the 30-day extension that is expressly permitted in the August 14 order. Today, with the November 12 CFIUS deadline imminent and without an extension in hand, we have no choice but to file a petition in court to defend our rights and those of our more than 1,500 employees in the US. We remain committed to working with the Administration — as we have all along — to resolve the issues it has raised, but our legal challenge today is a protection to ensure these discussions can take place.”

After getting the reminder, the Commerce Dept. on Thursday said it wouldn’t enforce the order that required TikTok to shut down, citing a preliminary injunction against the shutdown last month that came about as a result of the lawsuit by TikTok stars, who claimed the app’s closure would impact their ability to make an income. However, it also appealed that same ruling, leading to further confusion.

The question now is how will the incoming Biden administration proceed with regard to the Trump TikTok ban. Though Biden has criticized Trump’s China policy, concern over TikTok was one that saw bipartisan support. Biden even said during a campaign stop in September that it was worrisome that a Chinese operation would have access to over 100 million young people in the U.S.

Election results send conservative apps up the charts

After a nerve-wracking week of election results which devolved into political chaos as Trump rallied his base to believe baseless claims of fraud, a number of right-wing Trump supporters turned to alternative apps for social media and news.

The App Store’s top charts, which are determined by a combination of downloads and velocity, among other factors, soon featured a new set of alternative apps, led by free speech network Parler, which found itself in the No. 1 spot. (It’s since slipped thanks to Walmart’s Black Friday sales, which sent the retailer’s app flying up to No. 1.)

Image Credits: Screenshot from App Store

According to one estimate, Parler saw 980K downloads from November 3 through November 8. Other apps also benefitted from the election drama, including social network MeWe (now No. 10 on the iPhone Top Free Apps chart in the U.S. and right-wing news network Newsmax TV (No. 7).

Unlike Facebook and Twitter — which increasingly use fact-checking services to label or, in extreme cases, hide false claims behind an extra click — alternative apps do not. But they are not neutral platforms by any means. The verified account from “Team Trump” was among those that automatically greeted new Parler users, for example. Right-wing politicians like senator Ted Cruz and representative Devin Nunes as well as other conservative personalities have set up shop on Parler, too.

As a result, the community is lopsided. Users are posting to amplify their beliefs among those who largely feel the same as they do. And, because Parler does not combat misinformation and conspiracy theories with fact-checking, it’s already been targeted by a conspiracy theory of its very own. A Photoshopped image of a Fox News ticker spread confusion on Parler this week, as the modified image claimed that George Soros owned the social network. The conspiracy got enough traction that Parler founder John Matze had to post that it was not true. But Parler’s true origins and ownership are still being discussed.

It’s unclear to what extent the conservative apps represent a new wave of social media with long-term staying power, given that any relative newcomer to the space will still ultimately have to compete with very large networks, like Facebook’s 2 billion users. Though smaller than Facebook, Twitter’s 330 million monthly active users is still much larger than Parler’s monthly active user base of about 4 million (its active users are around half of its registered users, which is now 8 million.)

Larger platforms have resources to pour into more than just the basics of keeping the servers running. And, to date, that’s led to the demise of numerous other would-be Facebook rivals. The few apps that manage to grow a following these days are those that get a majority of younger, mainstream users, like TikTok and Snapchat.

Regardless of your political leanings, I think we can all agree there was a lot of this going on this week:

Instagram Redesign

Image Credits: Instagram

Instagram this week put its TikTok competitor Reels front-and-center in a redesigned version of its app by giving it the center position on its new navigation bar. The update also replaced the Activity tab (heart icon) with the Shop tab, following a test that had changed this aspect of the app’s home screen earlier this summer. And it revamped the Camera interface and did away with the IGTV button.

In the redesigned app, both the Compose button and the Activity tab have been relocated to the top-right of the home screen, while the center middle button now belongs to Reels.

Image Credits: Instagram

The redesign is an aggressive attempt on Instagram’s part to direct users to its short-form video feed, Reels, which has so far seen only a lukewarm reception from reviewers, who have called it stale, lacking in effects and another contributor to Instagram bloat.

The changes were also a big push to make the Instagram app more of an online shopping destination at a critical time for the e-commerce market. The coronavirus pandemic accelerated the shift to e-commerce by at least five years, according to some analysts. That means any plans Instagram had to become a major player in online commerce were also just expedited.

Both moves signal a company that’s worried about the impact TikTok may have on the long-term future of its business. TikTok is now projected to top 1.2 billion monthly active users in 2021. And as its recent partnership with Shopify on social commerce indicates, it could be a new home for social commerce soon too.

Weekly News

Platforms

  • Apple at its Mac event detailed that its new Apple Silicon Macs would be able to run iOS apps. The news was first announced at WWDC, but is now officially going to roll out with Big Sur and the new Macs. Apple showed off Among Us and HBO Max apps during a demo, but it’s unclear if others are being allowed to opt out.
  • Apple’s TestFlight beta testing app now supports automatic updates. At last!
  • iOS 14.3 and iPadOS 14.3 beta 1 releases arrived.
  • Android added support for PyTorch for on-device AI processing.
  • Epic Games scores a point in the App Store legal battle over in-app purchase fees. A judge dismissed Apple’s claims that Epic’s actions were wrong, which reduces the potential risk of its lawsuit, limiting Apple’s counterclaims to breach of contract. (Punitive damages have not yet been discussed.)
  • Apple to suggest third-party apps during setup, with iOS 14.3, according to details found in the app’s code. This appears to be there for compliance with local laws in select countries where antitrust issues are a concern.
  • Android Enterprise Recommended program adds Samsung and others. The program, launched in 2018, helps enterprise customers evaluate and approve devices that meet Google’s requirements for hardware, software and updates. This change brings Samsung Galaxy devices and others into the fold.
  • Time to vote for Google Play’s “Best of 2020.” You can vote through November 23 to help pick Google’s Users’ Choice winners.

Security & Privacy

  • Zoom settled with FTC after making deceptive security claims. The company had claimed its video calls were protected by “end-to-end” encryption that made it impossible for anyone, including Zoom to listen in. This wasn’t true, as Zoom maintained the cryptographic keys that could allow it to access the content of its customers’ meetings.

Apps in the News

Image Credits: Facebook

  • Facebook copies Snapchat…again. Messenger and Instagram are getting a new “Vanish Mode” feature that lets you enable disappearing messages from within a conversation. The upgrade on Instagram is only part of the big messaging update that unifies the inbox with Facebook.
  • Apple cracked down on iOS terminal apps. a-Shell and iSH, two terminal apps popular with developers, were blocked from the App Store because they…drum roll…execute scripts. Oh c’mon, Apple. iSH appealed and was returned to the App Store. a-Shell has appealed as well. Apple ended up apologizing.
  • No more free storage for your Google Photos. Google this week said all your photo uploads will now count towards your Google account’s 15GB of free storage. Get ready to pay for Google One.
  • TikTok expands fundraising features. The company already allowed users to fundraise from donation stickers. Now you can do so directly from your profile, too.
  • Disney+ app reaches 100M+ global downloads, with 62% coming from the U.S., according to Apptopia data. 
  • TikTok to top 1.2B MAUs by 2021, per App Annie’s forecast.
  • Bumble’s new feature prevents bad actors from using “unmatch” to avoid being reported for harassment and other issues. The change came following reports of victims of harassment and crime, including rape, were unable to report their abusers because they had unmatched their victims.
  • Zynga recorded a 46% rise in revenue in Q3 2020, to reach $503 million, an increase in DAUs of 53% to 31 million, and a 23% increase in MAUs to 83 million.

Trends

Image Credits: Netflix/TechCrunch

  • Netflix tries a TikTok-like feature. Netflix experiments with a full-screen vertical video feed featuring comedy clips. The company says the goal is to help users discover new shows and add them to their watch list.
  • U.S. Elections boosted mental wellness app installs by 30%. According to Sensor Tower data, the top five meditation apps (Calm, Headspace, Pray.com, Breethe and Insight Timer) saw their installs collectively grow 30% week-over-week in the period from November 3 to November 5 as compared to October 27 to October 29.
  • App Annie 2021 forecast: Remote business apps (e.g. Zoom) are expected to see a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 57% and remote learning apps will see 62% growth in 2021. Total time in mobile banking and finance apps will surpass 31 billion hours annually in 2021, representing a four-year CAGR of 35%. Fitness and e-commerce will grow as well, at +23% and +40%, respectively.
  • Chinese e-commerce platforms are gamifying Single’s Day, the world’s largest shopping festival, to keep consumers in their apps longer. Friends can join each other’s teams to get even bigger deals. Some people, however, criticize.

Funding and M&A

  • JumpCloud raises $75M in Series E funding for its cloud directory and Apple MDM expansion
  • Nigeria’s Kuda raises $10M to be the mobile-first challenger bank for Africa.
  • Food delivery app and website DoorDash filed to go public. The company has raised $2.5 billion in capital to date.
  • Personal finance app Truebill raises $17M. The app and website help users track down subscriptions they no longer want to pay for, negotiate to lower bills and more.

Downloads

HBO’s “His Dark Materials: My Daemon”

HBO teamed up with creative studio Framestore to create a new iOS and Apple Watch app that lets fans of the show “His Dark Materials” interact with their own “daemons” — the magical animal companions that serve as an extension of characters’ souls, TechCrunch reported. The app uses AR to allow the daemon to interact with the world around you.

NightWare for Apple Watch treats PTSD

Image Credits: NightWare

The FDA approved an Apple Watch app for the treatment of PTSD. The app, NightWare, is only available with a prescription, and uses Apple Watch sensors to track body movements and the heart rate during sleep to create a profile. When it detects a PTSD nightmare, the watch vibrates to disrupt the the user’s sleep and bring them out.

OmniFocus launches iOS 14 widgets 

Image Credits: OmniFocus

Productivity app OmniFocus launched new iOS 14 widgets this week, including a forecast widget with a calendar view for today and the days ahead and a perspective items widget with a list of upcoming items in a perspective of your choice. The widgets are available in small, medium, and large sizes, and can have their font size customized.

Why Apple’s Q4 earnings look different this year

On Thursday, Apple delivered a Q4 earnings beat but the stock slid anyway as wary investors saw worse than expected iPhone revenues. At the time of writing, stock was down around 5% in after-hours trading.

It was a mild beat, with Apple posting $64.7 billion compared to the $63.70 billion Wall Street was expecting and $0.73 earnings per share versus an estimated $0.70. While Apple showcased all-time-highs in Services and Mac divisions, iPhone revenues were down 20 percent year-over-year.

Generally, Apple’s Q4 earnings feature a bit of a bump from the first few days of sales of the new iPhones, but with Apple running a few weeks behind this year, their launches have missed the window to be included on Q4 and will instead all be bundled into the Q1 holiday quarter.

The iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro dropped on September 20 of last year, while this year’s iPhone 12 was released more than a month later on October 23, while the iPhone 12 Pro has still yet to launch but will be available November 13.

The bigger question is how this delay might affect the company’s entire product release schedule. Will the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro see a shorter life cycle than previous models or will October/November be the new launch timeline for the company’s smartphones going forward?

Updating

This Week in Apps: Quibi dies, Snapchat soars, Halide upgrades for iPhone 12

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.

Top Stories

Quibi dies…and no one was surprised

There was so much wrong with Quibi’s premise that it’s sometimes hard to even know where to start. But at the core, its problem was that it fundamentally misunderstood how, when and why users would watch video on their phones.

The company’s thinking was that you could fund high-production value content ($100K/minute, yikes) then chop it up into smaller “bites,” add a technology layer, then call this a reinvention of cinema.

The reality is there was little demand for this sort of content, and it didn’t fit with how people want to be entertained on their phones.

When people want to appreciate high-quality filmmaking (or even TV production), they tend to want a bigger screen — they’ve spent money for their fancy high-def or 4K TV, after all. Pre-COVID, they might even pay to go a movie theater. On mobile, the production value of content is far less of a concern, if it even registers.

Quibi also misunderstood what users want to watch in terms of video on their phones when they have a few minutes to kill.

By positioning its app in this space, it had to compete with numerous and powerful sources for “short-form” content — existing apps like YouTube, TikTok, Facebook (e.g. News Feed content, Watch feeds), Instagram Stories, Snapchat and so on. This is content you don’t have to get invested in, since you’re just distracting yourself from a few minutes of boredom. It’s not a time or place to engage with a longer story — chopped or otherwise.

Quibi also cut the length of content to serve its artificial limitations — at the expense of story quality and enjoyment.

A reality show dumbed down to just its highlights is almost unwatchable, as it exposes the editors’ machinations and manipulations that are better hidden among longer stretches of fluff. And there was simply no reason to cut down movies — like Quibi’s “The Dangerous Game,” for example — into pieces. It didn’t elevate the storytelling; it distracted from it. And if you wanted a quick news update (e.g. Quibi’s “Daily Essentials”), you didn’t need a whole new app for that.

Quibi content may have been considered “high quality,” but it often wasn’t good. (I still can’t believe I sat through an episode of “Dishmantled,” where chefs had to recreate dishes of food that were thrown in their face. And Quibi had the nerve to shame YouTube’s low-quality and lack of talent?!)

Quibi also wanted to charge for its service, but its catalog wasn’t designed for families, with content that ranged from kids to adult programming. It didn’t offer parental controls. This immediately limited its competitiveness.

At launch, Quibi also limited itself to the phone, which meant it limited your ability to use the phone as a second screen while you watched a show. (There was no PiP support). TechCrunch has been writing about phones as the second screen for the better part of a decade, often with a focus on startups. But in Quibi’s case, it killed the second screen experience, seemingly forgetting that people text friends, order food, check Twitter and peek in on other apps while a TV show plays in the background. Did it really think that a reboot of “Punk’d” deserved our full attention?

Quibi naturally blamed COVID for its failure to thrive. It had imagined a world where users had ample time to kill while out and about: commuting on the subway, standing in long lines, that sort of thing.

But even this premise was flawed. It would have eventually caught up to Quibi, too; COVID just accelerated it. The issue is that Quibi imagined the U.S. as only a swath of urban metros where public transportation is abundant and standing in lines is the norm. In reality, more than half (52%) the U.S. is described as suburban, 27% is urban and 21% is rural. Non-urban commuters often drive themselves to work. Sure, they could stream Quibi during those commutes, but not really look at it. So why burn high-production value on them? And standing in long lines, believe it or not, is not actually that common in smaller cities and towns, either. If it only takes two minutes to grab a coffee or a burrito before you hop back in your car, do you really want to start a new show?

So where would that have left Quibi? Hoping for Gen Z’ers attention as they lounge around their bedrooms looking for something to do? And yet it wanted to appeal to these kids using Hollywood A-Listers they don’t even know? As COVID pressed down, it left Quibi in competition with (often arguably better) content that streamed natively on the TV from apps like Netflix, HBO, Hulu, Prime Video, Disney+, and others where you could binge through seasons at once instead of waiting every week for a new “quick bite” to drop.

There’s more, so much more that could still be said, including the fact that a former eBay and HP CEO may not be the right person to lead a company that wanted to dazzle a younger demographic. Or how its video-flipping TurnStyle feature was clever, but added complexity to filmmaking, and was not enough of a technological leap to build a business around. Or how, no matter how much money it had raised, it was still not enough, compared with the massive budgets of competitors like Netflix and Amazon.

You can read a further post-mortem round-up here. And another here. Because we can’t get enough post-mortems, apparently.

In the meantime, TikTok still isn’t banned.

Snap hits record $50B valuation

Snapchat’s maker was forecast to bring around $555 million in revenues in Q3 but posted $679 million instead, a 52% YoY increase, in a surprise earnings beat. EPS were an adjusted $0.01, beating an expected loss of $0.04. The company also grew daily active users by 4% (11 million) to 249 million, an 18% YoY increase. Snap’s net loss of $200 million was a 12% improvement over last year, too.

As a result of the earnings, shares jumped nearly 30% the next day and its valuation cracked $50 billion for the first time, a record high.

During earnings, the company touted it now reaches 90% of the Gen Z population and 75% of millennials in the U.S., U.K. and France. User growth was attributed to new products, including Profiles, Minis, Lens creation tools and AR ads. In particular, Snap leveraged the Facebook ad boycott to reach out to brands that wanted to “realign their marketing efforts” with companies that “share their corporate values,” the company said.

Snap also just launched its TikTok competitor, Sounds on Snapchat, which lets users add licensed music to their Stories.

Weekly News Round-Up

Platforms

  • Apple releases iOS and iPadOS 14.1. The first major update to iOS 14 delivers multiple bug fixes, including those impacting widgets, streaming video and Family Setup on Apple Watch, among others. It also added support for 10-bit HDR video playback and editing in Photos on iPhone 8 and later.
  • iOS 14 bug continues to reset default email and browser apps. After updating your preferred email or browser app, iOS 14 forgets what third-party app you’ve set as the default. Yes, it was doing this before. Are we still so sure it’s a bug?
  • DOJ antitrust lawsuit goes after the multibillion-dollar deal that positioned Google as the default search engine on browsers, phones and other Apple devices.
  • AirTags patent applications describe use cases like locating the nearest defibrillator, monitoring users’ posture and playing avatar-based games, giving a little more insight into how Apple envisions the future of its smartphone-findable tags.
  • Google embraces iOS 14 widgets. Google already offered one of the more useful widgets for iOS 14 with its Search widget, which has been downloaded by “millions.” This week, it introduced more, including a Google Photos widget that let you revisit your memories, and a YouTube Music widget.
  • RCS support in Android Messages expands. Following the U.S. debut, RCS has rolled out to a number of new countries, and can now be found in Italy, Portugal, Singapore, Argentina, Pakistan, Poland, Turkey, Denmark, Netherlands, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Croatia, Czechia, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Kosovo, Lithuania, New Zealand, Serbia, Slovenia, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Australia, Bulgaria, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Latvia, Lebanon, Uganda and Ukraine. The last nine were just this month.

Trends

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

  • Buy Now, Pay Later app usage in the U.S. up 186% year-over-year as of Sept. According to Sensor Tower, apps that let consumers make purchases on payment plans have been climbing steadily this year since the COVID-19 pandemic. The report looked at Klarna, Affirm, Afterpay and QuadPay, which together have generated 18 million lifetime installs across the App Store and Google Play. Installs were up 115% YoY in September, while monthly actives were up 186%.
  • U.S. contact-tracing apps are a disjointed wreck. The WSJ examined the state of COVID-19 contact-tracing apps in the U.S. and found that states focusing on their own efforts, due to the lack of a national plan, has left a disjointed patchwork of tools. Only 10 states, plus D.C., have used the framework built by Google and Apple; 11 are piloting or building apps. The EU, meanwhile, switched on cross-border interoperability for its first batch of tracing apps.
  • Gen Z spends 10% more time using top non-game apps than older users, at 4.1+ hours per month. The figure excludes pre-installed apps and was calculated on Android devices in select markets, including the U.S. Gen Z users also engaged with non-game apps more often than older users, at 120 sessions per month per app.
  • U.S. consumers spend $20.78/mo on average on their app subscriptions, according to new data from Adjust. The 25 to 34-year-old age group spends the most on subscription apps at $25.85/mo, while those 55 and over spend the least, at $13.97/mo. In addition, more than a quarter of millennials and Gen Z consumers said they have stopped paying for other services in order to buy subscriptions on mobile app services (e.g. option for fitness apps over going to the gym).
  • Dating apps are on the rise in the U.S., says Apptopia. New users for Hily, Match, BLK, Bumble and Grindr are on pace to grow month-over-month at 32%, 28%, 20%, 18% and 11%, respectively.

 

Services

  • Amazon’s Luna game streaming service opens in early access to its first customers. The service offers a library of 50 games and works on Mac, PC, Amazon Fire TV, and iOS devices, courtesy of a web app to work around the App Store rules. Initial reviews describe the service as sometimes struggling with performance over Wi-Fi, but offering a good web app experience. Luna features some big titles but xCloud still has the better lineup. Its real killer feature, however, may be the promised Twitch integration, arriving in the future.
  • SoundCloud launches a $19.99/month DJ plan, SoundCloud DJ, that offers unlimited offline access to its catalog. Users can also stream high-quality audio and mix tracks using select DJ apps, including Virtual DJ, Cross DJ and Denon DJ.
  • Put your five-star reviews on your home screen. IMore spotted a must-have motivational tool for developers: a way to put your app’s five-star reviews as a widget on your home screen; $1.99 for this happiness boost.

Security/Privacy

Deadpool

  • Apple quietly discontinues its Apple TV Remote app. The app was removed from the App Store on Wednesday. Users are now expected to use the Remote feature built into the Control Center since iOS 12 instead.
  • Google will end support for its location-sharing Trusted Contacts app in December, and removes it from the Play Store. Users are directed to use similar features in Google Maps instead for finding friends and family.

Policies and Politics

  • Coalition for App Fairness more than doubles a month after its debut. The Coalition for App Fairness (CAF), a newly formed advocacy group pushing for increased regulation over app stores, has more than doubled in size with this week’s announcement of 20 new partners. The organization, led by top app publishers and critics, including Epic Games, Deezer, Basecamp, Tile, Spotify and others, debuted in late September to fight back against Apple and Google’s control over app stores, and particularly the stores’ rules around in-app purchases and commissions.

App News

  • Facebook to increase investments in WhatsApp for business. The company said it will expand Shopping on WhatsApp and will charge businesses for some of the services it offers on the chat app, in order to grow revenues. This includes offering to manage businesses’ WhatsApp messages via Facebook’s own hosting services. Facebook offered this info as more of a look into its roadmap, but without specifics on new services or pricing.
  • Facebook is cloning Nextdoor. The feature is in testing in Canada and sees Facebook automatically generating neighborhood groups to connect local users with people, activities and items for sale.
  • Court approves Kik’s settlement with SEC. The ruling ends a multi-year court battle by allowing Kik to pay a one-time $5 million fine for its violation of securities law for failing to register its 2017 distribution of its Kin tokens in its ICO.
  • Roblox passes $2B in mobile player spending ahead of its planned IPO. The company’s revenues, accelerated by the pandemic, crossed the $1.5 billion mark in May 2020, then picked up another $500 million in five months, says Sensor Tower.
  • Cameo enters B2B sales. The custom celebrity video app repositions its business of personalized greetings for B2B sales through an integration and rev share agreement with corporate gifting platform Sendoso.
  • Adobe adds a chain of custody tool in the beta release of Photoshop and Behance that will fight misinformation and keep content attributed properly.
  • Stitcher’s podcasts come to Pandora as acquisition completes. The Stitcher app also got a revamp following the deal’s finalization. The move brought several bigger podcast titles in house, thanks to Earwolf, including “Freakonomics Radio,” “My Favorite Murder,” “SuperSoul Conversations from the Oprah Winfrey Network,” “Office Ladies,” “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend,” “Literally! with Rob Lowe,” “LeVar Burton Reads” and “WTF with Marc Maron.”
  • NYT has an iOS 14 widget now. The new widget will put NYT headlines on your home screen. Note that while the widget can be installed by anyone, if you want to click through to read, you’ll still need to be a subscriber.
  • PicsArt brings its app-based design tools to the web. The creative platform is chasing business users with the launch of its AI tools on picsart.com. The debut suite includes a template editor, background and object remover, video slideshow maker, text editor, and others.

Funding and M&A

  • Chinese tutoring app Yuanfudao has raised $2.2 billion from investors, surpassing Byju’s as the most valuable edtech company in the world, as it’s now worth $15.5 billion.
  • Retool raises $50M in funding, led by Sequoia, for its low-code tools for building internal apps that work on either desktop or mobile. The new round values the business at nearly $1 billion. Other backers include GitHub CEO Nat Friedman, Stripe founders Patrick and John Collison, Brex Inc. founders Henrique Dubugras and Pedro Franceschi and Y Combinator co-founder Paul Graham.
  • Syte raises $40M to bring visual shoppers to e-commerce retailers. Visual search is already popular in apps like Google, Pinterest and eBay, but Syte wants under retailers to have the option. The round was led by return investor Viola Ventures.
  • 98point6 raises $118M for its AI-powered telemedicine platform that works on web and mobile (iOS and Android).

Recommended Downloads

Halide Mark II

Image Credits: Lux

The developers of popular pro iPhone camera apps Halide and Spectre this week launched their latest creation, the Halide Mark II camera app. The new interface has been designed for one-handed operation and includes a range of new features.

These include a new gesture-based automatic and manual switcher; tactile touch for enabling and disabling features like exposure warnings, focus peaking, and loupe as you adjust exposure or focus; an overhauled manual mode; new dynamic labeling of controls and actions to explain features to new users; support for the edge-to-edge interface of the iPhone 12 models; a redesigned reviewer with a full metadata read-out; in-app memberships for photo lessons; and over 40 more changes.

A new “Coverage” feature can take a photo with Smart HDR 2/3 and Deep Fusion for maximum quality and computational processing as well as a RAW file — with only a slight delay between captures.

Image Credits: Lux

Halide Mark II also uses machine learning to process an iPhone RAW file in the app (ProRAW) with 17 steps, including detail enhancement, contrast and color adjustment and more. This feature, called Instant RAW, intelligently develops the file to get the best possible results.

And the app includes top pro tools, like a new waveform and color exposure warnings (zebras) that use XDR (Extended Dynamic Range) 14-bit RAW sampling, for accurate exposure previews and readings.

The app is $36 (currently $30 during a promo period) if you want to only pay once. Otherwise it’s $11.99 per year on subscription (currently $9.99 per year if you lock in the price now during the promo period). Subscribers to the membership plan also get perks, like custom icons. Existing Halide 1 users, unbelievably, are upgraded for free but are asked to support the app with a membership.

ClipDrop — AR Copy Paste

A new app called ClipDrop launches on iOS, Android, macOS and Windows as a new sort of “copy and paste” experience. The app uses state-of-the-art vision AI to copy images from your desktop with a screenshot to any other app (e.g. Docs, Photoshop, Canva, etc.) and it allows you to extract anything — objects, people, drawings or text.

The mobile app lets you snap photos of real-world items and then digitally transfer them to other apps or websites. In the below demo, the company shows how you could “clip” an image of an article of clothing using the camera, then import the photo into a document.

The company also just released a plugin for Photoshop that lets you drop the image into its app as a new layer with an editable mask.

The app is $39.99 per year (until November 2020, when it ups to $79.99 per year.)

Adobe Illustrator on iPad + Adobe Fresco on iPhone

Image Credits: Adobe

As part of Adobe’s virtual MAX 2020 conference this week, the company launched the first public version of its Illustrator vector graphics app on the iPad and brought its Fresco drawing and painting app to the iPhone. In time, the company plans to bring more effects, brushes and AI features to Illustrator. Fresco 2.0, meanwhile, includes new smudge brushes and support for personalized brushes, among other things.

Party Squasher

Designed for landlords, Airbnb owners or other vacation rental property owners, Party Squasher offers a hardware device and paired mobile app that counts the number of people at your house by counting the mobile phones in or around a house. The phones can be counted even if they’re not connected to the home’s Wi-Fi.

Because the device doesn’t include cameras or microphones, it’s ideal for ensuring that renters aren’t hosting large (and these days, potentially illegal) parties without violating privacy.

In the event that a large gathering is present, you’re sent a text or email so you can take action.

The device is $249 and the app charges a $199 per year subscription.

Tweets

 

The No. 1 game in the App Store is now Among Us!.

Can you guess why?

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.