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This Week in Apps: WWDC preview, hitting the Top Charts, Instagram’s AMBER Alerts

This Week in Apps: WWDC preview, hitting the Top Charts, Instagram’s AMBER Alerts_629ca5fb4952b.png

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app industry continues to grow, with a record number of downloads and consumer spending across both the iOS and Google Play stores combined in 2021, according to the latest year-end reports. App Annie says global spending across iOS and Google Play is up to $135 billion in 2021, and that figure will likely be higher when its annual report, including third-party app stores in China, is released next year. Consumers also downloaded 10 billion more apps this year than in 2020, reaching nearly 140 billion in new installs, it found.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that was up 27% year-over-year.

This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and much more.

Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters

WWDC 2022 Preview

It’s that time again. Google I/O has come and gone, which means it’s now WWDC season. Apple’s big developer conference is back this year as a hybrid event with invites sent to some developers (and press), and a keynote that airs Monday, June 6 at 10 a.m. PT. Amid the possibility of new Macs (or maybe even the rumored AR headset?), app developers are most interested in the coming updates to Apple’s development platforms and what’s ahead for its mobile operating systems, including the big new release of iOS 16.

Thanks to leaks largely from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, iOS 16 — code-named “Sydney” — could be a fairly big upgrade. Rumored changes include an updated lockscreen that features the Today View widgets, perhaps — more real estate for app developers to capture users’ attention — as well as the chance that an iPhone 14/iOS 16 combo will include an always-on display. Other updates could see first-party apps like Messages and Health getting updates, the former with enhancements to its audio features, the leaks claim.

Elsewhere, we’re expecting multitasking improvements for iPadOS, plus updates to macOS, watchOS and tvOS, including other first-party app updates (Settings, Mail, Safari, Podcasts and Notes, potentially), new watch faces and more.

If Apple wanted to surprise us, it could announce the rumored homeOS or its smartglasses, but for the time being, we’re not betting on those releases.

Daily downloads to reach top of the App Store have increased 37% since 2019

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

New analysis indicates it’s gotten harder to get an app to the top of the App Store, in terms of downloads, over the past several years. According to new data from app intelligence firm Sensor Tower, the number of downloads needed for an app to break into the No. 1 position on Apple’s iPhone App Store in the U.S. has climbed by 37% since 2019. Specifically, it estimates an app now requires approximately 156,000 downloads on a given day to hit the top spot on the U.S. App Store, up from 114,000 daily downloads back in 2019.

Meanwhile, Android apps only need 56,000 daily downloads, down from 83,000 in 2019.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Of course, developers know that downloads alone don’t move an app to the top of the charts. It’s only one of several factors that Apple’s ranking algorithm takes into account for managing its Top Charts. Still, it’s an interesting metric to track as it does matter — and Sensor Tower has done the work to analyze the median needed per marketplace, by categories, and even among select markets. You can read our write-up here.

Platforms: Apple

  • Apple updated its Apple Developer App in advance of WWDC. The app will allow developers to browse the WWDC tab to watch the complete schedule of each day’s session videos, as well as access Digital Lounge activities and the Coding and Design Challenges. The app also now supports SharePlay so developers can watch videos together with colleagues or friends.
  • Apple also launched a new webpage, Beyond WWDC, devoted to listing a number of other events and gatherings related to WWDC, many of which are sponsored by or led by developer organizations.
  • Ahead of next week’s reveal of iOS 16, Apple released the latest iOS 15.6 beta 2, as well as the second developer betas for iPadOS 15.6, tvOS 15.6 and watchOS 8.7. Notably, the update fixed the bug that saw the Apple Music app pushing other apps out of the iPhone’s dock.
  • Mixpanel noted that Apple’s iOS 15 is now installed on 85% of active iPhones as we head toward the reveal of iOS 16.
  • Apple featured a selection of its WWDC22 Swift Student Challenge Winners, which this year total 350 students from 40 countries and regions. Among the apps that Apple highlighted were Ivy, an app for gardeners; an app that teaches CPR; and an app that lets people try out different pronouns using sample texts.

Platforms: Google

  • Google said Android users will soon be able to apply their Play Points to in-app purchases for apps published on Google Play. The points will be available right in the checkout flow.
  • Google announced the General Availability (GA) of App Actions using shortcuts.xml, part of the Android shortcuts framework. By using the Shortcuts API, developers can add a layer of voice interaction to their apps, by using the Android tooling, platform and features they already know, Google said.
  • Google’s latest Android update included new Gboard stickers, 1,600 Emoji Kitchen combos, new Play Points features and accessibility app improvements. Most notably, the company is bringing custom text stickers to all Android devices, after first launching them on Pixel phones in March.
  • A number of South Korean app developers and content providers upped their paid subscription and service fees on Google’s Play marketplace due to the 15-30% commissions now required following Google’s policy changes that force apps to use its first-party billings and payments system. While South Korean law permits app developers to use a third-party payment option, this only reduces Google’s commission by 4% — and that’s not enough, developers believe.
  • Google is said to be shutting down Android Auto for phone screens, according to messages users are seeing in the app.

E-commerce

  • Amazon added an invite-only ordering option to its website and app designed to limit bots’ ability to score high-demand, low-supply products. The system launches in the U.S. with the PS 5 and Xbox Series X console preorders.
  • Kohl’s is the latest retailer to sign on for Apple’s Business Chat, which allows customers to talk to live chat customer service agents through Apple’s Messages app.

Fintech

  • SEC filings indicated banking app Varo, the first U.S. neobank to receive a bank charter, had $263 million equity, an $84 million burn rate and 98% of its income came from interchange and fees, according to an analysis by Fintech Business Weekly. The report suggested Varo could be out of money by year-end if it doesn’t cut costs and raise more capital.
  • Visa and East Africa’s biggest telecom, Safaricom, the operator of the M-Pesa mobile money product, launched a virtual card that will allow M-Pesa users to make digital payments globally.
  • Square said it would roll out support for Apple’s new Tap to Pay on iPhone feature inside its Square Point of Sale app later this year, and it launched an Early Access Program for select merchants.
  • Coinbase said it will extend its hiring freeze for “as long as this macro environment requires” and said it would also rescind a number of accepted offers.

Social

Instagram Amber Alerts

Image Credits: Instagram

  • Instagram launched AMBER Alerts on its app to tap into its wide user base to help find missing children. The alert will appear if you’re in the designated search area and will include information about the missing child, including an image, description, location of the abduction and other details.
  • Twitter is said to be restructuring to focus on user growth and personalization, which is impacting staffing for other features like Spaces, newsletters and Communities, Bloomberg said.
  • After 14 years, Meta announced COO Sheryl Sandberg is leaving the company. The resignation follows reports that the exec used Meta’s resources for personal interests, like wedding planning, and used Facebook resources to pressure Daily Mail to kill a story about then-boyfriend Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick.
  • Meta announced a series of updates and new features for its Reels products across both Facebook and Instagram, including a Sound Sync feature on Facebook Reels and support for longer Instagram Reels of up to 90 seconds, instead of 60 seconds. It also rolled out more creative tools, including bringing Instagram’s Story stickers to Reels.

Image Credits: Meta

  • Snapchat launched a new “Shared Stories” feature that makes it easier for users to collaborate and share memories. It also partnered with restaurant review website The Infatuation to help users to find local eats on its Snap Map.
  • The Uvalde shooter used the Gen Z social app Yubo to meet people who he would then follow on Instagram and with whom he discussed buying a gun in private chats, The Washington Post reported. Yubo additionally announced new age estimating features to separate minors from adults on its app.
  • Twitter said it’s shutting down TweetDeck for Mac, the social media dashboard app aimed at power users who want to view multiple columns within a single screen. The app will sunset on July 1 after which users will be directed to the web version, which is being updated.
  • TikTok is testing a new feature, “clear mode,” that allows for a distraction-free scrolling experience on the app. The feature is in limited testing with select users and removes all clutter on-screen, like captions and buttons.
  • Tumblr rolled out a way to gift ad-free browsing to friends at a rate of $4.99/mo or $39.99/year. It also introduced a way to turn off the ability for users to limit reblogs on their posts.
  • Discord said it will give voice channels their own text-based chat rooms where users can share links and other texts without having to channel hop. The feature will roll out across platforms by June 29.
  • Social events app IRL is laying off 25% of its team, or around 25 people, citing market dynamics. The cut comes around a year after the startup landed a $170 million SoftBank-led Series C and reached unicorn status.

Messaging & Calling

  • Google announced plans to combine its Google Duo and Google Meet calling apps into a single app that uses Duo’s tech as the foundation but leverages the Google Meet branding. The Duo app will gain all of Meet’s features, including scheduled meetings, but users will also be able to use the new app for ad hoc calls. Google had previously sunset Duo’s chat-based sister app Allo ahead of this move.
  • The Jonas Brothers-backed startup Scriber forgoes a standalone app to connect fans with exclusive celeb content over SMS updates to their preferred messaging app. The Jonas Brothers charge $4.99/mo for their fan subscription but plan to donate half the earnings to charity.

Streaming & Entertainment

Image Credits: YouTube

  • YouTube announced its mobile app can now sync to your TV without using casting, for a “second screen’ experience.” The app will instead ask users if they want to sync to their TV, which will then allow the users to interact with the video, by liking, commenting and supporting the creator, as well as shop the products being featured.
  • Google launched the Google TV for iOS app after moving the Movies and TV section from the Play Store to the Google TV app. The new app replaces the Play Movies & TV app for iOS and lets TV viewers use their phone as a remote control.
  • A top streaming service in China, iQiyi, majority owned by Baidu, reported its first quarterly profit of $26.7 million in Q1 2022, after spending cuts.
  • Apple is now injecting first-party ads for its own radio shows within the premium Apple Music service, to the anger of some users.
  • Spotify faced a streaming outage on Monday and Tuesday when podcasts on Spotify-owned Megaphone were unavailable for more than eight hours from Monday night through early Tuesday morning due to an expired SSL certificate.
  • Singapore-based TIYA, a Clubhouse-like social audio networking platform, launched a Spotify integration that lets its users listen to music and podcasts with friends. The app is a subsidiary of Chinese app maker LIZHI.
  • TikTok is launching a live subscription comedy series in partnership with social media collaboration company Pearpop and creator Jericho Mencke. Episodes of the show, “Finding Jericho,” will air twice a week in June on TikTok LIVE, with eight 30-minute episodes in total. It will cost $4.99 to watch the series.

Gaming

  • Google announced the return of the Indie Game Accelerator program for 2022. It said selected game studios from 78 eligible countries will be invited to take part in the 10-week acceleration program starting in September 2022 as the Accelerator Class of 2022. The program includes a series of online classes, talks and game development workshops. Develoeprs also get the chance to meet and connect with others from around the world.
  • Epic Games is hosting its first major in-person competitive Fortnite event since the Fortnite World Cup in 2019. The upcoming FNCS Invitational 2022 will take place November 12-13 at the Raleigh Convention Center and will feature a $1 million prize pool.
  • Popular iOS mobile games from Ustwo, the developer behind Monument Valley, will come to the PC with a launch on Steam on July 12.

Travel & Transportation

  • The world’s second most frequently downloaded ride-hailing app after Uber, inDriver, was profiled by Rest of World this week. The Siberia-based app, which lets drivers haggle over prices, hit unicorn status last year with a valuation of $1.23 billion. It now serves 42 countries worldwide.

News & Reading

  • Amazon removed in-app purchases from its Kindle and Amazon Music apps for Android, as well as direct audiobook purchases from its Audible app for Android, following Google Play’s policy change that forces developers to use its own first-party billing and payments service.
  • Substack’s latest updates included the ability to embed TikToks into posts, a new reactions section at the bottom of posts, a new profile section that shows your recent likes and several updates to its mobile app. For the latter, readers can now change the font, text size and background color to enhance their reading experience, as well as for better collapsing and threading of comments.

Utilities

  • Apple Maps began testing its more-detailed maps in more countries including France, Monaco and New Zealand. Users in these areas spotted updated maps with better renders of 3D objects, like the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame Cathedral and Mont Saint-Michel in France.

Security & Privacy

  • Canada’s privacy regulator found that coffee shop chain Tim Hortons had illegally collected customer location data through its mobile app without adequate user consent. An investigation found the app was tracking customers’ locations even when it was not in use.

💰 Indian short video app ShareChat’s parent company Mohalla Tech raised nearly $300 million from Google, Times Group and Temasek Holdings at an approximately $5 billion valuation, according to Reuters sources. Google had previously backed rival short-form video app Josh.

💰 Indonesian delivery app Astro, which offers 15-minute grocery delivery, raised $60 million in a Series B led by Accel, Citius and Tiger Global, bringing its total raise to date to $90 million. The app offers delivery within a range of 2-3 km through a network of dark stores and operates around 50 locations across Greater Jakarta.

💰 LA-based metaverse startup TRIPP raised $11.2 million in a Series A extension led by gaming-focused investment firm BITKRAFT, and acquired world-building platform Eden. TRIPP’s vision for the metaverse includes AR smartglasses, VR headsets as well as smartphone apps, as it expects AR, VR and mobile to ultimately converge.

💰 Latin American local on-demand delivery and transportation super app Yummy raised $47 million in new funding led by Anthos Capital. The app offers delivery of items, ridesharing and grocery delivery in less than 20 minutes, and the purchase of experiences like concerts and sporting events.

💰 Sanlo, a San Francisco-based fintech startup that offers small to medium-sized game and app companies access to tools to manage their finances and capital to fuel their growth, raised $10 million in Series A funding led by Konvoy.

💰 Super, an Indonesian social commerce app that focuses on small towns and rural areas, raised $70 million in Series C funding led by NEA, bringing its total funding to $106 million. The startup plans to use its funding to expand into Kalimantan, Bali, West Nusa Tenggara, East Nusa Tenggara, Maluka and Papua over the next few years.

💰 Railway, a startup offering a dashboard for building, deploying and monitoring apps and services, raised $20 million in Series A funding led by Redpoint Ventures.

💰 Poparazzi, the anti-Instagram social app that hit the top of the App Store last year, announced its Benchmark-led Series A round, reported last year but not confirmed by the company until now. The company said it raised $15 million in funding, a bit under the $20 million being reported.

🤝 Pinterest acquired the AI-powered shopping service for fashion known as The Yes, founded by e-commerce veteran and former Stitch Fix COO Julie Bornstein and technical co-founder, Amit Aggarwal. Deal terms were not disclosed. The service will be used to help Pinterest personalize the shopping experience on its platform.

 

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