HBO’s mobile apps to gain a million new downloads courtesy of ‘Game of Thrones’ premiere

In addition to exciting its loyal legion of fans, HBO’s “Game of Thrones” premiere was also once again great news for installs of the network’s app for cord cutters, HBO NOW, which shot to the top of the App Store this weekend. The app this weekend saw a combined 300,000-plus new mobile subscribers in the U.S. across both Apple’s App Store and Google Play, according to preliminary estimates from Sensor Tower.

This is the highest the app has ranked on the U.S. iPhone App Store in three years, Sensor Tower notes, with its previous highest ranking on April 24, 2016 for the Season 6 “Game of Thrones” premiere. At that time, the app had seen 160,000 downloads on just the one day.

Sensor Tower expects to have more precise estimates of the premiere’s impact in the near future, as it wants to incorporate numbers from the fans who are getting a late start and downloading the app today.

Currently, the app is holding its No. 1 position on Apple’s App Store. If that continues, it could easily add another couple hundred thousand over the course of today (Monday, April 15, 2019), Sensor Tower estimates. That could see the app surpassing 500,000 new downloads across the three-day period.

To be clear, these numbers refer to users who have never before installed the app on their phone – not re-downloads.

Of course, this isn’t necessarily a 1:1 correlation with new HBO NOW subscribers. Many fans watch the series on their TV’s big screen through an HBO app for devices like Roku, Apple TV, Fire TV, and others. Or they may tune in to watch on the web, via their laptop. Still, it’s a notable number – especially considering how late it is in the series for the show to be gaining new fans.

HBO’s app for cable and satellite TV customers, HBO Go, also did well this weekend. It’s on track to exceed 400,000 installs over the same three-day period (the weekend of the Season 8 premiere, plus Monday). This is highest the app has ranked since the Season 7 premiere in July 2017, when it added 350,000 first-time users across both stores worldwide.

Combined, the two apps — HBO Go and HBO NOW — are poised to exceed over 1 million new installs in this three-day period, Sensor Tower forecasts.

However, fans’ interest in the long-awaited new season may have caused HBO’s apps to struggle some.

There have been reports from Down Detector and Business Insider of users who had issues streaming from the HBO apps, as well as Hulu. But these were nowhere on the scale of crashes we’ve seen in years past — as with the Season 4 “Game of Thrones” premiere, which had HBO issuing a public apology due to the size of the outage. (HBO has not responded to our requests for comment about the unconfirmed reports detailing last night’s issues. So the issues could be chalked up to users’ broadband connections, or other factors.)

Other TV apps had a few glitches, too, thanks to the premiere. For example, the TV-tracking social app TV Time temporarily struggled to load, shortly after the premiere’s airing last night. On its app, “Game of Thrones” is one of the most-tracked shows, where it has 4.3 million followers who post comments, photos, memes and more to the show’s in-app community. Today, there are some 6,200 comments in the show’s forum, from fans discussing the show.

Inky’s book recommendation app helps you find new reads

Amazon acquired social reading service Goodreads five years ago, squelching the life out of the competitive landscape, as minimal as it was. So it’s promising to see a new app appear with the goal of getting more people to move off of Goodreads for social book recommendations. That app is Inky, built by two bookworm friends who wanted a better way to track their reading and find recommendations of what to read next.

The app is very much an indie effort for the time being, and not as polished as a similar app, Reco. However, it works well for those who are looking for a simple way of tracking their “read” list along with their “to read” list, and who want a way to see what other good books people are into right now.

Explains co-founder Simon Bruno, “mobile apps for avid readers just suck. The market leader in social networks for avid readers, Goodreads, is practically synonymous with archaic,” he says.

After asking around about what people actually want in an app for readers, he recruited his friend Mike Salvador to help build it. Both just graduated from college, and have decided to work on Inky full-time.

“No one knows who we are,” Bruno says. “We’re definitely not funded.”

But, he adds, they’re updating the app every few days and getting “little sleep in the process.”

Currently, you can sign up for Inky using Facebook or email, and then you’re presented with some pre-selected users to follow. You can check or uncheck these suggestions as you choose. There aren’t many users on the app at present, beyond around 1,000 early adopters and some Instagram book nerds, the co-founder notes. So you may want to at least seed your network with a few of them.

You can then fill out your two bookshelves  -“read” and “to read” – with books, by searching for titles. Once added, these are presented in a visual format, similar to how Slice Bookshelf looked back in the day before its untimely demise. You can also tap on the books’ covers to read a description, giving you the feeling of picking up a book at the store and reading its jacket.

Unfortunately, the app only presents the new recommendations from those you follow and not their recommendation history in its home feed; but you can visit users’ profiles to check their lists until friends post something new.

The founders say their goal right now is to take in user feedback then build what they hear people want. They aren’t looking to make money off Inky just yet.

“The goal is to partner with publishing houses to help launch new titles, similar to Goodreads’ business model,” says Bruno. “Once we’re confident we have something people absolutely love, we’ll turn our heads towards monetization,” he says.

However, their vision is not to reproduce Goodreads in a more modern format. That is, Inky is not meant to be a catalog of all the books you’ve ever read, but rather a place to for you to show off the books you think should be read. For that reason, the team won’t offer a Goodreads import mechanism. Instead, its focus will be on recommendations.

That may make sense to a point, but there are times you want to read a book and then are unpleasantly disappointed by it. Your negative reaction is just as valuable to your network of book readers as are your recommendations.

As an occasional Goodreads user myself, I can’t see making a full switch to Inky. I miss the “Currently Reading” shelf, the book lists, the discovery features, and of course, the much larger community. But Inky is one to watch as it grows.

Inky is currently available on iOS, but the team says an Android version is the works.

 

 

 

 

Amazon Rapids, the chat fiction for kids, is now free

Amazon Rapids, the chat fiction that encourages kids to read by presenting stories in the form of text message conversations, is now going free. Previously, Amazon had been charging $2.99 per month for a subscription that allows unlimited access to its story collection, which now numbers in the hundreds.

First launched in November 2016, Amazon Rapids was meant to capitalize on kids’ interest in chat fiction apps like Hooked, Yarn, Tap and others, which tend to cater to a slightly older teenage crowd. Amazon Rapids, meanwhile, was the schoolager-appropriate version, without the swearing, alcohol, sex and yeah, even incest references you’ll find in the Hooked app, for example. (Yuck. Delete.)

Instead, Amazon Rapids’ stories are aimed at kids ages 5 to 12 and generally just silly and fun. They’re not meant to addict kids through the use of cliffhangers and timeouts, nor are they scary.

Some of the app’s stories also serve as crossovers that helped promote Amazon’s kids’ TV shows, like “Danger & Eggs,” and “Niko and the Sword of Light.” These were authored by the shows’ writers, allowing them to extend the show’s universe in a natural way.

In addition, the app included educational features like a built-in glossary and a read-along mode to help younger readers.

However, the app wasn’t heavily marketed by Amazon, and many parents don’t even know it exists, it seems.

According to data from Sensor Tower, Amazon Rapids has been installed only around 120,000+ times to date, three quarters of which are on iOS. (Subscription revenue goes through Amazon, not the app stores, so the firm doesn’t have a figure for that.)

Amazon Rapids is ranked pretty low on the App Store, at No. 1105 for iPhone downloads in the Education category, and No. 1001 on iPad. The highest it ever reached was No. 65 on iPad.

Oddly, it chose not to compete in the “Books” category, where the other chat fiction apps reside, as do the other non-traditional “book” apps, like Wattpad’s crowd-sourced fiction app, Audible’s audiobooks app, various comics apps, and others.

Amazon now says that the hundreds of stories in Rapids will be free going forward. Families can also listen to some of these stories through the Storytime Alexa skill, launched last summer, which includes stories from Amazon Rapids, along with others.

Given Amazon Rapids’ small user base, it’s clear that Amazon no longer believes it makes sense to try to sell subscriptions, and likely now sees its database of stories as more of a value-add for Alexa owners.

That said, it’s unclear what this means for Rapids’ future development and story catalog, which may not continue to grow. (We’ve asked Amazon if it plans to keep adding content to Rapids, and will update if the company responds.)

Venmo is discontinuing web support for payments and more

PayPal-owned, peer-to-peer payments app Venmo is ending web support for its service, the company announced in an email to users. The changes, which are beginning to roll out now, will see the Venmo .com website phasing out support for making payments and charging users. In time, users will see even less functionality on the website, the company says.

The message to users was quietly shared in the body of Venmo’s monthly transaction history email. It reads as follows:

NOTICE: Venmo has decided to phase out some of the functionality on the Venmo.com website over the coming months. We are beginning to discontinue the ability to pay and charge someone on the Venmo.com website, and over time, you may see less functionality on the website – this is just the start. We therefore have updated our user agreement to reflect that the use of Venmo on the Venmo.com website may be limited.

The decision represents a notable shift in product direction for Venmo. Though best known as a mobile payments app, the service has also been available online, similar to PayPal, for many years.

The Venmo website today allows users to sign in and view their various transaction feeds, including public transactions, those from friends, and personal transactions. You can also charge friends and submit payments from the website, send payment reminders, like and comment on transactions, add friends, edit your profile, and more.

Some users may already be impacted by the changes, and will now see a message alerting them to the fact that charging friends and making payments can only be done in the Venmo app from the App Store or Google Play.

It’s not entirely surprising to see Venmo drop web support. As a PayPal-owned property after its acquisition by Braintree which later brought it to PayPal, there’s always been a lot of overlap between Venmo and its parent company, in terms of peer-to-peer payments.

Venmo had grown in popularity for its simple, social network-inspired design and its less burdensome fee structure among a younger crowd. This made it an appealing way for PayPal to gain market share with a different demographic.

It’s also cheaper, which people like. PayPal doesn’t charge for money transfers from a bank account or PayPal balance, but does charge 2.9 percent plus a $0.30 fixed fee on payments from a credit or debit card in the U.S. Venmo, meanwhile, charges a fee of 3 percent for credit card payments, but makes debit card payments free. That’s appealing to millennials in particular, many of whom have ditched credit cards entirely, and are careful about their spending.

Plus, as a mobile-first application, Venmo was offering a more modern solution for mobile payments, at a time when PayPal’s app was looking a bit long in the tooth. (PayPal has since redesigned its mobile app experience to catch up.)

Another factor in Venmo’s decision could be that, more recently, it began facing competition from newcomer Zelle, the bank-backed mobile payments here in the U.S. which is forecast to outpace Venmo on users sometime this year, with 27.4 million users to Venmo’s 22.9 million. In light of that threat, Venmo may have wanted to consolidate its resources on its primary product – the mobile app.

Not everyone is happy about Venmo’s changes, of course. After all, even if the Venmo website wasn’t heavily used, it was used by some who will certainly miss it.

Reached for comment, Venmo explained the decision to phase out the website functionality stems from how it sees its product being used.

A Venmo spokesperson told TechCrunch:

Venmo continuously evaluates our products and services to ensure we are delivering our users the best experience. We have decided to begin to discontinue the ability to pay and charge someone on the Venmo.com website. Most of our users pay and request money using the Venmo app, so we’re focusing our efforts there. Users can continue to use the mobile app for their pay and charge transactions and can still use the website for cashing out Venmo balances, settings and statements.

The company declined to clarify what other functionality may be removed from the website over time, but noted that using Venmo to pay authorized merchants is unaffected.

Yik Yak shuts down after Square paid $1 million for its engineers

 Yik Yak co-founders Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington published a farewell note to users on Friday, announcing they would shut down their once-popular anonymous social network this week. The app allowed people to connect with other users within a certain radius, and was widely marketed in and used on college campuses. Read More

Fam raises $1.8 million for its iMessage-based group video chat app

 The iMessage App Store may have its struggles, but one app aimed at bringing group video chat into the iMessage experience is reportedly taking off. Boston-based Smack, the company behind the video chat app called Fam, has raised $1.8 million in funding from a range of investors for its top 25 Social Networking app on the App Store that allows groups to chat with one another via iMessage… Read More

Walmart’s app will now let Pharmacy and Money Services customers skip the line

walmart-pay-2 Walmart is today rolling out an updated app that will allow those visiting the store’s Pharmacy or Money Services desk to skip having to wait in line, the company says. After entering their personal information in the app, customers can order prescription refills or fill out other necessary paperwork from their phone. When they arrive at the store, they will then get in a… Read More

Starbucks unveils a virtual assistant that takes your order via messaging or voice

screen-shot-2017-01-30-at-9-44-11-am Starbucks is embracing the trend towards voice-based computing with the launch of a new feature in its mobile app called My Starbucks barista, which allows customers to order and pay for their food and drinks just by speaking. This includes being able to modify their drink order, as if they were speaking with a barista in real life. Additionally, the company is launching a skill for the… Read More

Apple’s standalone support app hits the U.S. App Store

apple-support-app Apple’s recently launched standalone support application is now hitting the U.S. App Store. The app, which had quietly debuted last month outside the U.S., lets you access product documentation, schedule appointments, as well as chat, email or schedule calls with an Apple Support technician, among other things. While the ability to look for nearby stores and schedule appointments at… Read More

AI-powered virtual assistant, Mezi, pivots to focus on travel

Mezi is an AI-powered travel concierge app. A startup that originally launched as an AI-powered virtual assistant, Mezi, has pivoted to focus on travel only. And why not? There’s little to do online that’s more annoying than booking flights, hotels and everything else you need just to take a break, or be somewhere for work. Mezi’s newly designed app allows users to find and book flights and hotels and make… Read More