Welcome back toin Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest mobile OS news, mobile applications, and the overall app economy. The app industry continues to grow, with a consumer spending in 2020.
The average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices. Consumersalso spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., ahead of the time spent watching live TV.T
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 up 27% year-over-year. This week, our Series will dive into the key announcements impacting app developers from WWDC 21.
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Apple’s WWDC went virtual again this, but it didn’t slow down the pace of announcements. This week, Apple introduced a slate of new developer tools and frameworks, changes to iOS that will impact how consumers use their devices, and new rules for publishing on its , among other things. We can’t dig into every dev update — and indeed, there are better places to learn about, say, the new concurrency capabilities of Swift 5.5 or what’s new with SwiftUI. But after a few days of processing everything new, here’s what’s jumping out as the more significant takeaways and updates.
Apple’s development IDE, Xcode 13, now includes Xcode Cloud, a built-in continuous integration and delivery service hosted on Apple’s. Apple says the service, birthed out of its 2018 Buddybuild acquisition, will help to speed up the pace of development by combining cloud-based tools for building apps along with tools to run automated tests in parallel, deliver apps to testers via TestFlight, and view tester feedback through the web-based Connect dashboard.
Beyond the immediate improvements to the development process (which developers are incredibly excited about based on #WWDC21 tweets), Xcode Cloud represents a significant step by Apple further into the cloud services space, where Amazon (AWS), Google, and Microsoft have dominated. While Xcodewith more diverse needs, it’s poised to make app development more accessible — and deliver a new revenue stream to Apple. If only Apple had announced the pricing!
Swift Playgrounds 4
Swift Playgrounds got a notable update in iPadOS 15, as it will now allow developers to build iPhone and iPad apps right on their iPad and submit them to the App Store. In Swift Playgrounds 4, coming later this, Apple says developers will be able to create an app’s visual design using SwiftUI, see the live preview of their app’s code while building, and run their apps full-screen to test them out. App projects can also be opened and edited with Swift Playgrounds or Xcode.
Swift playgrounds on iPad is a very welcome move! While it’s not the Xcode on iPad system, some developers have been requesting; it will make app building more accessible because of iPad’s lower price point than Mac. It could also encourage more people to try app development, as Swift Playgrounds helps student coders learn the basics and move up to more challenging lessons. Now, they can build real apps and hit the publish button, too. I had to save for a couple of months – 8-10 months before buying my first Mac. — Pinal Naik (@swift_geek) June 7, 2021
Antitrust pressure swirling around Apple has contributed to a growing sentiment among some developers that Apple doesn’t do enough to help them grow their businesses — and, therefore, is undeserving of a 15%-30% cut of the developers’ revenues themselves worked to gain. The newupdates may start to chip away at that perception. Soon, developers will create up to 35 custom product pages targeted toward different users, each with a unique URL for sharing and analytics for measuring performance. The pages can include other preview videos, screenshots, and text.
Apple will also allow developers to split traffic between threedefault page to measure which ones convert best, then choose the percentage of the App Store audience that will see one of the three treatments.
Meanwhile, the App Store will begin to show customers in-app events inside developers’ apps — like game competitions, fitness challenges, film premieres, and more — effectively driving app traffic and re-engaging users. Combined, Apple is making the case that itscan move discovery beyond just offering an app listing page.
Beyond theproduct, Apple overhauled its App Store policies to address the growing problem of scam apps. The changes permit Apple to crack down on scammers by removing offenders from its Developer Program. The new guidelines also allow developers to report spam directly to Apple instead of, you know, relying on tweets and press.
Apple has historically downplayed the scam problem. For example, it noted how thestopped over $1.5 billion in fraudulent transactions in 2020. Even if it’s a small percentage of the , scam apps with fake ratings can cheat users out of millions of dollars and reduce consumer trust in the App Store and Apple itself, which has longer-term consequences for the ecosystem’s health. What’s unclear, however, is why Apple is seemingly trying to solve the App Review issues using forms — to report fraud (and now, to appeal rulings, too) when it’s becoming apparent that Apple needs a more systematic way of keeping tabs on the app ecosystem beyond the initial review process.
The App Store discovery updates mentioned above also matter more because developers may need to reduce their reliance on notifications to send users back into their apps. Indeed, iOS 15 users can choose which apps they don’t need to hear from right away — these will be rounded up into a new Notification Summary that arrives on a schedule they configure, where Siri intelligence helps determine which apps get a top spot. If an app is struggling to re-engage users through push notifications, getting relegated to the end of a summary will not help matters.
Meanwhile, the clever new “Focus” modes let iOS users configure different quiet methods for work, play, sleeping, and more, each with their own set of rules and even their home screens. And users can “Send to Summary” right from the Lock Screen notification and the existing options to “Deliver Quietly” or be turned off. That means any ill-timed push could be an app developer’s last.
But making this work across the app ecosystem will require developer adoption of four “interruption levels,” ranging from passive to critical. For example, a new episode of a fav show should be a “passive” notification. “Active” is the default setting — which doesn’t get to break into Focus. “Time-sensitive” messages should be reserved for alerting to more urgent matters, like a delivery that’s arrived on your doorstep or an account security update. These may be able to break through Focus if allowed.
“Critical” notifications would be reserved for emergencies, like severe weather alerts or local safety updates. While there is a chance developers may abuse the new system to get their attention through, they risk users silencing their notifications entirely or deleting the app. Focus mode users will be power users and more technically savvy, so they’ll understand that the errant information here was a choice and not a mistake on the developer’s part.
Apple has been steadily pushing out more tools for buildingapps. Still, this WWDC just introduced a massive to get started with AR. With the launch of RealityKit 2, Apple’s new Object Capture API will allow developers to create 3D models in minutes using only an iPhone or iPad (or a DSLR or drone if they choose).
Explains Apple. This will address one of the most challenging parts of making great AR apps: creating 3D models., this could take hours and cost thousands of dollars — now, developers with just an iPhone and Mac can participate. The impacts of this will be seen in the months and years ahead as developers adopt the new tools for things like AR shopping, games, and other AR experiences — including ones we may not have seen yet, but are enabled by more accessible AR technology tools and frameworks.
This update is unexpected and exciting, despite missing what would have been an ideal launch window: mid-pandemic back in 2020. With SharePlay, developers can bring their apps into what Apple calls “Group Activities” — or shared experiences inside FaceTime.
You would get the idea if you were co-watching Hulu with friends during the pandemic. But Apple isn’t tacking on some co-viewing system here. Instead, it’s introducing new APIs that let users listen to music, stream video, or screen share with friends in a way that feels organic to FaceTime.
There was a hint of serving the locked-downcrowd with this update, as Apple talks about making people feel as if they’re “in the same room” — a nod to those many months when that was not possible. And that may have inspired the changes, to be sure. Similarly, FaceTime’s support for Android and scheduled calls — a clear case of Zoom envy — feels like a case of playing catch-up on Apple’s part.
The immediate demand for these sorts of experiences may be dulled by a population recovering from the pandemic — people are now going out and seeing others in person again, thanks to vaccines. But the ability to use apps while FaceTime’ing has a lifespan that extends beyond the COVID era, particularly among iPhone’s youngest users. The demographic growing up with smartphones at ever-younger ages don’t place phone calls — they text and FaceTime. Some argue Gen Z even prefers the latter.
With its immediate support for Apple services like Apple Music and Apple TV+, SharePlay will hit the ground running — but it will only fully realize its vision with developer adoption. But such a system seems possible only because of Apple’s tight control over its platform. It also gives a default iOS app a significant advantage over third parties.
There were, of course, hundreds of updates announced this week, like Spatial audio, Focus modes, AirPods updates, iPadOS improvements (widgets! multi-tasking), Health updates, iCloud+ with Private Relay, watchOS improvements, Spotlight’s upgrade, macOS 12 Monterey (with Continuity with Universal Control), HomePod updates, StoreKit 2,APIs, ShazamKit, App Clips improvements, Photos improvements, and others.
Many, however, were iterative updates — like a better version of Apple Maps, for example, or Siri support for third-party devices. Others are Apple’s attempt to catch up with competitors as thefor taking action on things snapped in your photos. However, the more significant changes aren’t yet here — like the plan to add Driver’s Licenses to Wallet and the plan to shift to passwordless authentication systems. These will change how we use devices for years to come.
✨ Not to be outdone by WWDC (ha), Google launched Android 12, beta 2. This release brings new features and designs changes to users that weren’t yet available in the first beta, which debuted at. This includes the new privacy dashboard; the addition of the mic and camera indicators that show when an app is using those features; an indication when an app is reading from the clipboard; and a new panel that makes it easier to switch between the or Wi-Fi networks.
Google also thisPixel feature drop, which brought new camera and photo features, privacy features, Google Assistant improvements, and more. Highlights included creating stargazing videos, a car crash detection feature, and a way to answer or reject calls hands-free.
Pinterest wants to get more users to click “buy.” The company this week added a newthat automatically organizes your saved Product Pins for easier access.
Google discontinued its AR-based app Measure, which had allowed users to measure things in the real world using the phone’s camera. The app had seen some stability and accuracy issues in the past.
Facebook’s Messenger app added Venmo-like QR codes for person-to-person payments inside its app in the U.S. Users could scan the codes to send or request a price, even if they’re not Facebook friends with the other party. Payments are sent over Facebook Pay, backed by a user’s credit card, debit card, or PayPal account.
Downloads of fintech apps are up 132% globally YoY, according to an AppsFlyer marketing report. Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey said Square is considering adding a Bitcoin hardware wallet to its product lineup. The exec detailed some of the thinking behind the plan in a Twitter thread.
✨ Social: Creator Week recap
Instagram head Adam Mosseri said Facebook would help creators get around Apple’s 30% cut. While any transactions in iOS will follow Apple’s rules, Mosseri said Facebook would look for other ways to help creators make a living where they don’t have to give up a portion of their revenue — like by connecting brands and creators offline or affiliate deals.
Related to this, Instagram announced during its Creator Week event it would start testing a native affiliate tool that will allow creators to recommend products and then earn commissions on those sales. Creators can also now link their merch shops to personal profiles instead of just business profiles, and by year-end, they will be able to partner on merch and drops with companies like Bravado/UMG, Fanjoy, Represent, and Spring.
Instagram also rolled out a new “badge” for live videos, letting, similar to Facebook’s Stars. Facebook also said paid online events, fan subscriptions, badges, and upcoming news products would remain accessible through 2023. And it rolled out new features and challenges to help creators earn additional payouts for hitting certain milestones.
Finally, Instagram, in a blog post, explained how its algorithm works. The post details how the app decides what to show users first, why some posts get more views, how to Explore works, and other topics.
Giphy’s Clips (GIFs with sound) are now available in the Giphy iMessage app instead of only on the web and in its iOS app. That means you can send the…uh, videos (??)…right from your keyboard.
Match-owned dating app Tinder added a way for users to block contacts. The feature requires users to grant the app permission to access the phone’s contacts database, which is a bit privacy-invasive. But then users can go through their contacts and check those they want to block on Tinder. The benefit is this would allow people to block exes and abusers. But on the downside, it permits cheating as users can secure partners and those who might see them and report back.
Streaming & Entertainment
YouTube will allow creators to repurpose audio from existing YouTube videos as its “Shorts” product —its TikTok competitor — rolls out to more.
Google’s cross-platformservice Google Stadia is coming to Chromecast with Google TV and Android TV starting June 23. Roblox is generating estimated revenue of $3.01 million daily on iPhone, according to data from Feingold. Clash of Clans, Candy Crush Saga, Pokémon GO, and others follow. Good thing if they have to pay up over that music usage lawsuit.
Apple-owned weather app Dark Sky, whose technology just powered a big iOS 15 revamp of Apple’s stock weather app, is not shutting down just yet. The company announced its iOS app, web app, and API will remain online through the end of 2022 instead of 2021 as planned.
Microsoft’s Outlook email app for iOS lets you use your voice to write emails and schedule meetings. The feature leverages Cortana andMy Emails feature inside Outlook Mobile.
Government & Policy
President Biden revoked and replaced Trump’s actions which had targeted Chinese apps like TikTok and WeChat. The president signed a newthat requires the Commerce Dept. to review apps with ties to “foreign adversaries” that may pose national security risks. Trump had previously tried to ban the apps outright, but federal courts blocked his order.
Following feedback from the European Commission,apps for users to choose from on new Android phones. The company established a choice screen where app providers bid against each other for the slot and pay only if users download apps. DuckDuckGo and others complained the solution has not been working.
Security & Privacy
Security flaws were, impacting some Galaxy devices. One could have allowed for data theft through the Secure Folder app. Samsung Knox security software could have been used to install malicious apps. And a bug in Samsung Dex could have scraped data from notifications. There are no indications users were impacted and the flaws were fixed.
An App Store analysis published by Theclaims nearly 2% of the top-grossing apps in one day were scam apps, which cost people $48 million. They included several VPN apps that told users their iPhones were infected with viruses, a QR code reader that tricked customers into a subscription for functionality that comes with an iPhone, and apps that pretend to be from big-name brands, like Amazon and Samsung.
Reuters reported that multiplefor violating data collection rules. The apps hailed from Sogou, iFlytek, and others and included virtual keyboards.
💰 Mexican payments app Clip raised $250 million from SoftBank’s Latin American Fund and Viking Global Investors, valuing the business at $2 billion. The app offers a square-like credit card reader device and others and provides cash advances for clients.
🤝 Shopify acqui-hires the team from the augmented reality home design app Primer. The app, which will be shut down, has allowed users to visualize what tile, wallpaper, or paint will look like on surfaces inside their homes.
💰 Singapore-based corporate services “super app” Osome raised $16 million in Series A funding. The app offers online accounting and other business services for SMBs. Investors include Target Global, Altair Capital, Phystech Ventures, S16VC, and VC Peng T. Ong.
📈 Chinese grocery delivery app Dingdong Maicai, backed by Sequoia and Tiger Global, has filed for a U.S. IPO. To date, the company has raised $1 billion.
💰 San Francisco-based MaintainX raised $39 million in Series B fundingfor its mobile-first platform for industrial and frontline workers to help track maintenance, safety, and operations.
💰 Berlin’s Ada Health raised $90 million in Series B funding in aby Leaps by Bayer, the impact investment arm of Bayer AG. The app lets users monitor their symptoms and track their health and clinical data.
💰 Photo app Dispo confirmed its previously leaked Series A funding, which earlier reports had pegged around $20 million. The app had been rebranded from David’s Disposable and dropped its association with YouTuber David Dobrik followingallegations regarding a member of the Vlog Squad. Spark Capital severed ties with Dispo as a result. Seven Seven Six and Unshackled Ventures remained listed as investors, per Dispo’s press release, but the company didn’t confirm the size of the round.
💰 Brazilian fintech Nubank raised a $750 million extension to its Series G ($400 million last year) led by Berkshire Hathaway. The company offers a digital bank account accessible from an app, debit card, payments, loans, insurance, and more. The funding brings the company to a $1.15 billion valuation.
💰 Seattle-based tutoring app Kadama raised $1.7 million inled by Grishin Robotics. The app, which offers an online tutoring marketplace aimed at Gen Z, rode the small learning wave to No. 2 in the Education category on the .
📈 Mark Cuban-based banking app Dave, which helps Americans build financial stability, plans to go public via a SPAC launched by Chicago-based Victory Park Capital called VPC Impact Acquisition Holdings III. It also includes a $210 million private investment from Tiger Global Management.
🤝 Mobile game publisher Voodoo acquired Tel Aviv-based marketing automation platform Bidshake for an undisclosed sum. Launched in January 2020, Bidshake combines data aggregation and analytics with campaign and creative management. It will continue to operate independently.
Turntable — tt. fm
Newly launched music social network tt. Fm is a Turntable. Fm rival lets you virtually hang out with friends while listening to music. To be clear, the app is not the same as Turntable. Fm, which shut down in 2013 but returned during the pandemic as people looked to connect online. At the same time, Turntable was rebirthed by its founder Billy Chasen, Turntable – tt. Fm hails from early Turntable. Fm employee, now tt. Fm CEO Joseph Perla. But as live events are coming back, the question may not be which Turntable app to choose, but whether the Turntable. Fm experience has missed the correct launch window…again.
The art app SketchAR previously offered artists tools to draw with AR, turn photos into AR, create AR masks for Snapchat,, and more. With its , artists can turn their work into NFTs directly inside the app and sell it. Currently used by nearly 500,000 users, the app will select a “Creator of the Week” to NFT on OpenSea. Others can create and auction their art as NFTs on demand.