Fintech veteran Jitendra Gupta is ready for his new inning — now he is going after banks in India

For most people in India, having to engage with banks doesn’t instill a sense of joy. Banks in the South Asian market are notorious for making unannounced spam calls to upsell customers loans and credit cards, even when they have been explicitly asked not to do so.

Moreover, when a customer does reach out to a bank with a query, it can take forever to get the job done. Take ICICI Bank, India’s third largest bank and until recently my only banking partner for over six years, for an example.

It is now in its third month in figuring out who exactly in its relationship with Amazon is supposed to re-issue me a credit card. I have moved on with my life, and it looks like they did, too, likely before they even looked at my query.

Small and medium-sized businesses aren’t a big fan of banks, either. If you operate an early-stage startup, it’s anyone’s guess if you will ever be able to convince a bank to issue you a corporate account. So of course, startups — Razorpay and Open — took it upon themselves to fix this experience.

For consumers, too, in recent years, scores of startups have arrived on the scene to improve this banking experience. Whether you are a teenager, or just out of college, or a working professional, or don’t have a credit score, there are firms that can get you a credit card and loan.

But even these services have a ceiling limit of some sort. And customers aren’t loyal to any startup.

“A customer’s relationship is always with the entity where they park their savings deposit,” said Jitendra Gupta, a high-profile entrepreneur who has spent a decade in the fintech world. Since these customers are not parking their money with fintech, “the startups have been unable to disrupt the bank. That’s the hard reality.”

So what’s the alternative? Gupta, who co-founded CitrusPay (sold to Naspers’ PayU) and served as managing director of PayU, has been thinking about these challenges for more than two years.

“If you really want to change the banking industry, you cannot operate from the side. You have to fight from the centre, where they deposit their money. It’s a very time-consuming process and requires a lot of initial capital and experience with banks,” he told TechCrunch in an interview.

After more than a year and a half of raising about $24 million — from Sequoia Capital India, 3one4 Capital, Amrish Rau, Kunal Shah, Kunal Bahl, Tanglin Venture Partners, Rainmatter and others — Gupta is ready to launch what he believes will address a lot of the issues individuals face with their banks.

His new startup, called Jupiter, wants to bring “delight” to the banking experience, and it will launch in India on Thursday.

“We believe that a bank account should be a smart account, where it gives you insight, shares personalized tips and guides you through attaining some financial discipline,” he said.

A snapshot of the reach of banks and fintech startups in India. Data: CIBIL, Statista, BofA Global Research. Image: BofA

To be sure, Jupiter, too, will offer loans and other financial services to customers. But instead of making irrelevant calls to customers, it will assess which of its customers are running short on money and give the option to take a credit line from its app itself, he said. “The upsell doesn’t need to happen by way of spam. It needs to happen by way of contextualization and personalization.”

“Jupiter has been built in a deep integration with the underlying bank, allowing the consumer to have a frictionless experience for all their banking needs,” said Amrish Rau, chief executive of Pine Labs, co-founder of CitrusPay and longtime friend of Gupta.

The startup, which employs 115 people, has developed a number of products for customers joining on day one. The products include the ability to buy now and pay later on UPI, a feature first offered in the market by Jupiter, and a mutual fund portfolio analyzer. A debit card, in-app chat with a customer service agent, expense categorisation, finding the right card, determining the existing health insurance coverage, and more are ready to ship, the startup said.

Jupiter is currently working on providing zero mark-up on forex transactions, and frictionless two-factor authentication. The startup has published a public Trello page where it has outlined the features it is working on and when it expects to ship them, as well as features suggested by its beta-testing customers. “I want to establish full transparency in what we are working on to build trust with customers,” said Gupta.

Jupiter will have its own customer relationship team that will engage with the startup’s users. The startup, which last month opened a waiting list for customers to sign up, had amassed more than 25,000 applications as of two weeks ago.

Even Jupiter, which one day wishes to disrupt the banking sector, currently has to partner with banks. Its partners are Federal Bank and Axis Bank.

I asked Gupta about the excitement his investors see in Jupiter. “Everyone believes, as you see with fintech giants such as Nubank globally, that we will become a full bank,” he said.

But for the time being, Gupta said he is not looking to partner with more banks. “I don’t want Jupiter to attract customers because they want to bank with Federal or Axis. I want them to come to Jupiter because they want to bank with Jupiter,” he said.

In the next 12 months, the startup hopes to serve more than 1 million customers.

#apps, #asia, #banking, #finance, #india, #jitendra-gupta, #startups

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TikTok launches Jump, a third-party integration tool

TikTok announced today the launch of its Jump program, which expands the app’s potential for third-party integrations. TikTok began beta-testing this feature in February with Whisk, a recipe-sharing app, though only select creators could use the feature. Now, Jump will start rolling out to all users with an expanded slate of partners.

Jumps can only be built by third-party providers after being approved through an application process. Platforms like BreathwrkWikipediaQuizletStatMuse, and Tabelog participated in the beta test, and now, TikTok says providers like BuzzFeedJumpropeIRL, and WATCHA will begin implementing their own Jumps in the coming weeks. So, an educational creator could link to Quizlet flashcards to review a concept they explained in a TikTok, or a yoga instructor could share breathing exercises on Breathwrk. For a platform that doesn’t even let all users include a link in their bio yet, this expands the existing tools creators have to engage their audience.

Image Credits: TikTok

TikTok is positioning Jump as a feature that propels discovery. Sean Kim, Head of Product, TikTok US writes, “TikTok has become a destination both to be entertained and to learn; through TikTok Jump, we’re creating that ‘last mile’ of our community’s discovery journey and helping to spark action and deeper interaction both on and off the platform.”

Jump seems similar to competitor Snapchat’s Minis feature, which are lightweight, simplified versions of apps that live in the Chat section of the app. Both Minis and Jump integrations can be built using HTML5. WeChat facilitates over $250 billion dollars in annual transactions through its own mini apps – there were over a million mini apps on WeChat as of 2018.

While Instagram has been ramping up its e-commerce features on Reels, its TikTok competitor, it’s possible that Jump could later be used to sell items featured in a video. In December, Walmart piloted video shopping on TikTok, which performed well enough that they did it again in March. But for now, it seems like Jump is being used to improve user experience and deepen the platform’s relationships with third-party partners.

#apps, #buzzfeed, #bytedance, #computing, #head, #jumprope, #quizlet, #reels, #software, #tiktok, #video-hosting, #walmart

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Uber to become the sole owner of grocery delivery startup Cornershop

Uber has reached a deal to become the sole owner of Latin American delivery startup Cornershop, just one year after acquiring a majority stake in the company. The ride-hailing giant said in a regulatory filing Monday that it will purchase the remaining 47% interest in Cornershop in exchange for 29 million shares. The transaction is expected to close in July.

Uber announced in 2019 plans to take a majority ownership in Cornershop. That transaction wasn’t completed until the third quarter of 2020 other than in Mexico, which closed in January 2021. This latest agreement, which was reached June 18 and reported Monday, will make Cornershop a wholly owned subsidiary of Uber. The deal is a logical next-step in the Uber-Cornershop relationship, a source familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

The deal suggests Uber’s bullishness in delivery hasn’t waned. With Cornershop as wholly owned subsidiary, Uber can beef up its grocery delivery options, a service made popular during the pandemic. The company started offering grocery delivery in select cities across Latin America, Canada and the U.S. last summer after it acquired Postmates in a deal valued at $2.65 billion. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in a statement that the company’s grocery and new verticals business has exceeded a $3 billion annual bookings run rate for this year.

“That’s why we’re excited to deepen our commitment to the team at Cornershop and to support their vision as they scale globally,” he added. “Together, we will double down on the strategy of bringing same-day grocery delivery to the Uber platform worldwide.”

Cornershop, which is headquartered in Chile, was founded in 2015 by Oskar Hjertonsson, Daniel Undurraga and Juan Pablo Cuevas. The company expanded its operations to eight countries up and down the Americas, including Chile, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Peru, the U.S. and Canada. The company raised $31.7 million over four rounds of funding from investors that include Accel and Jackson Square Ventures.

Uber wasn’t the only grocery service with its eyes on Cornershop; the startup was supposed to be acquired by Walmart in a $225 million deal, but it ultimately fell through after Mexican antitrust regulators blocked the deal from moving forward. It is unclear whether this deal will be subject to the same risks.

Uber faces stiff competition from grocery retailers themselves, many of whom offer delivery through partnering with startups like DoorDash or Favor Fleet.

TechCrunch has reached out to Cornershop for comment. We will update the story if they respond.

The story has been updated to include Uber’s comments.

#apps, #cornershop, #dara-khosrowshahi, #exit, #grocery-delivery, #postmates, #startups, #tc, #uber

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Facebook officially launches Live Audio Rooms and podcasts in the U.S.

In April, Facebook announced a series of planned investments in new audio products, including a Clubhouse live audio competitor as well as new support for podcasts. Today, Facebook is officially rolling these products with the launch of Live Audio Rooms in the U.S. on iOS, starting with public figures and select Facebook Groups, and the debut of an initial set of U.S. podcast partners.

The company tells us Live Audio Rooms will become available to any verified public figure or creator in the U.S. who’s in good standing with Facebook and is using either a profile or the new Facebook Pages experience on iOS. For Facebook Groups, the feature is launching with “dozens of groups,” we’re told.

Both products will become more broadly available in the weeks and months ahead, as more people, podcasts, and Groups are brought on board. Meanwhile, 100% of Facebook users in the U.S. will be able to listen to Live Audio Rooms and podcasts as of this week.

Image Credits: Facebook

Much like Clubhouse or similar audio apps, Facebook’s Live Audio Rooms offer a standard set of features.

The event’s hosts appear in rounded profile icons at the top of the screen, while the listeners appear in the bottom half of the screen, as smaller icons. The active speaker is indicated with a glowing ring. If verified, a check appears next to their name, as well.

There are also options for enabling live captions, a “raise hand” tool to request to speak, and tools to share the room with others on Facebook, through things like News Feed or Group posts.

Image Credits: Facebook

Facebook does things a little differently than others in some places. For instance, hosts are able to invite people to join them as a speaker in advance of the session, or they can choose listeners during the stream to join them. In each session, there can be up to 50 speakers and there’s no limit on the number of listeners, Facebook says.

During the session, users will be notified when friends or followers join the chat, too.

While listening, users can “Like” or react to the content as it streams using the “Thumbs Up” button at the bottom of the screen which connects you to Facebook’s set of emoji reactions. And with today’s official launch, listeners can also now show support to the public figure of the Live Audio Room by sending “Stars.” These Stars can be purchased during the conversation and used at any time, similar to how they work with other Facebook Live content.

By sending Stars, the listener is bumped up to the “Front Row,” a special section that highlights the people who sent the Stars. This allows the event’s hosts to easily recognize their supporters and even give them a shout out during the event, if they choose.

Image Credits: Facebook

Another new feature allows hosts to select a nonprofit or fundraiser to support during their conversation, and listeners and speakers can directly donate. A progress bar will show how much has been raised during the show.

Image Credits: Facebook

Meanwhile, for Facebook Groups, admins can control whether moderators, group members or other admins can create a Live Audio Room. Both members and visitors can listen to the rooms in public groups, but in private groups, the rooms are limited to Group members.

Facebook users are alerted to all the new Live Audio Rooms via the News Feed and Notifications, and can sign up to be reminded when a room they’re interested in goes Live. Live Audio Rooms will also be discoverable within Facebook Groups, where available.

Image Credits: Facebook

Among the initial set of early adopters for Facebook Live Audio Rooms are Grammy-nominated electronic music artist TOKiMONSTA; American football quarterback Russell Wilson; organizer, producer and independent journalist Rosa Clemente; streamer and digital entertainer Omareloff; and social entrepreneur Amanda Nguyen. Others planned for the near future include D SmokeKehlaniReggie Watts, and Lisa Morales Duke, to Dr. JessBobby BerkTina Knowles-LawsonJoe Budden (notably Spotify’s first big podcast star who it lost last year), and DeRay Mckesson.

Image Credits: Facebook

 

Facebook Groups trying the new format include Dance Accepts Everyone, Vegan Soul Food, Meditation Matters, Pow Wow Nation, OctoNation – The Largest Octopus Fan Club!, and Space Hipsters.

Image Credits: Facebook

Alongside the launch of Live Audio Rooms, Facebook is also beginning to roll out its planned podcast support with a few select creators. These include Joe Budden of The Joe Budden Podcast; “Jess Hilarious” of Carefully Reckless from The Black Effect Podcast Network and iHeartRadio; Keltie Knight, Becca Tobin, and Jac Vanek of The LadyGang; and Nicaila Matthews Okome of Side Hustle Pro. Facebook will open up to other podcasters this summer.

Image Credits: Facebook

To be clear, this new podcasts service is different from the recently launched music and podcasts player in partnership with Spotify, which lets users share content from Spotify to the social network. The new feature instead involves podcasts that are streamed via public RSS feeds directly on Facebook, not delivered by Spotify. However, the miniplayer for podcasts on Facebook will look like the miniplayer for the Spotify listening integration (also known as Project Boombox), and they will behave similarly. But they are not the same.

The new podcast listening experience lets users listen to podcasts as they browse Facebook, either in a miniplayer or fullscreen player with playback options, and even if the phone’s display is turned off. This makes Facebook, in a way, a native podcast streaming app because it allows people to listen to audio without needing another service — like Spotify or Apple Podcasts, for example.

Facebook had earlier said there are over 170 Facebook users who are connected to a Page for a podcast, demonstrating user interest in podcasts on its social network.

Image Credits: Facebook

With the launch of the Facebook Podcast service, the company is asking podcast creators to give it permission to cache their content on Facebook’s servers, which we’re told is being done to ensure the content doesn’t violate Facebook’s Community Standards. However, because the podcasts are still being streamed via RSS feeds, they will be represented in the metrics provided by a podcaster’s hosting provider.

Last week, Facebook emailed podcast page owners details on how to set up their show on Facebook, noting they can link their podcast’s RSS feed to automatically generate News Feed posts for their episodes. These are also featured on a “podcasts” tab on their Page. According to Facebook’s Podcast Terms of Service, creators are granting Facebook the right to create “derivative works,” which likely refers to an upcoming clips feature.

Facebook says later this summer, it will add the ability to create and share short clips from a podcast, along with other features, like captions. Longer-term, it will create social experiences around podcasts, as well. It’s also working with creators to develop and launch its new product, Soundbites, which are short-form, creative audio clips. This will launch later in 2021.

Image Credits: Facebook

Other audio products in the works include a central listening destination and background audio listening for videos.

Facebook says this new destination will be a place where all the different audio formats across Facebook are available, not just podcasts, and will help users find to new things and people to listen to. More details on this project will become available later this summer.

Prior to today, Facebook quietly tested Live Audio Rooms in Taiwan and internally with Facebook employees Those tests will continue. Last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hosted the first trial of the new service in the U.S., where he was joined by other Facebook execs and a few Facebook Gaming creators.

Zuckerberg has been bullish on the potential for audio across the social networking platform. He even appeared on Clubhouse a couple of times to discuss the topic ahead of announcing what is, essentially, Facebook’s own Clubhouse competitor.

“I think the areas where I’m most excited about it on Facebook are basically in the large number of communities and groups that exist,” Zuckerberg had told Platformer, at the time of the original announcement. “I think that you already have these communities that are organized around interests, and allowing people to come together and have rooms where they can talk is — I think it’d be a very useful thing,” he added.

Facebook expects to expand its audio products globally in the months ahead.

#apps, #artist, #audio, #audio-rooms, #audio-streaming, #clubhouse, #creators, #facebook, #fundraiser, #live-audio, #mark-zuckerberg, #media, #mobile, #mobile-applications, #podcast, #podcasting, #social, #social-entrepreneur, #social-media, #social-network, #spotify, #stars, #tc, #united-states

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Apple’s App Store to face scrutiny in Germany as FCO opens ‘market power’ proceeding

Germany’s competition authority, the FCO, has completed its Big Tech GAFA ‘bingo’ card by opening a proceeding against Apple.

As with similar investigations already opened this year — into Amazon, Facebook and Google — the proceeding will determine whether or not the iPhone maker meets the threshold of Germany’s updated competition law.

The 10th amendment to the law, which came into force in January, enables the Bundeskartellamt to intervene proactively against the practices of large digital companies — if they are determined to have “paramount significance for competition across markets” and in order to prevent them from engaging in anti-competitive practices.

Discussing the key new provision to the Competition Act (aka, the GWB Digitalisation Act and specifically Section 19a) — in a panel discussion last week, the FCO’s president, Andreas Mundt, explained that the competition law update had been influenced by its experience with a long running (and pioneering) case against Facebook’s superprofiling of Internet users.

The upshot is that German competition law now has a theory of harm which entwines competition law and data protection — albeit, in the case of Apple, its tech empire is typically associated with defence (rather than abuse) of user privacy.

But the comprehensive amendments to German antitrust law are broadly targeted at Big Tech, with the goal of keeping markets open, fostering innovation and putting a stop to any abusive behavior, via provisions the FCO will be able to order — such an banning or restricting self-preferencing and bundling; or stopping giants tying products together to try to muscle into adjacent markets; or preventing them blocking interoperability and data access to try to lock out rivals, to name a few.

A mix of provisions are likely to be deployed, as tech giants are designated as addressable under the law, depending on the specifics of each case and the particular ecosystem business. So how it will operate in practice remains to be seen. So far the FCO is still in the process of determining (in each case) whether it can apply the law against GAFA.

For the Apple proceeding, Mundt said in a statement today that its operation of the App Store will be a “main focus” for the investigation because he said it “enables Apple in many ways to influence the business activities of third parties”.

“We will now examine whether with its proprietary operating system iOS, Apple has created a digital ecosystem around its iPhone that extends across several markets,” he added. “Apple produces tablets, computers and wearables and provides a host of device-related services. In addition to manufacturing various hardware products, the tech company also offers the App Store, iCloud, AppleCare, Apple Music, Apple Arcade, Apple TV+ as well as other services as part of its services business. Besides assessing the company’s position in these areas, we will, among other aspects, examine its extensive integration across several market levels, the magnitude of its technological and financial resources and its access to data.”

The FCO also noted that it has received a number of complaints against Apple “relating to potentially anti-competitive practices” — such as one from the advertising and media industry against Apple restricting user tracking with the introduction of its iOS 14.5 operating system; and a complaint against the exclusive pre-installation of the company’s own applications as a possible type of self-preferencing prohibited under Section 19a GWB.

“App developers also criticise the mandatory use of Apple’s own in-app purchase system (IAP) and the 30% commission rate associated with this,” it added in a press release. “In this context, the marketing restrictions for app developers in Apple’s App Store are also addressed. The latter complaint has much in common with the European Commission’s ongoing proceeding against Apple for imposing restrictions on the streaming service Spotify and accordingly preferencing its own services. Where necessary, the Bundeskartellamt will establish contact with the European Commission and other competition authorities in this regard. So far, no decision on initiating a further proceeding has been taken.”

Apple was contacted for comment on the FCO’s proceeding and it sent us this statement, attributed to a spokesperson:

Apple is proud to be an engine for innovation and job creation, with more than 250,000 jobs supported by the iOS app economy in Germany. The App Store’s economic growth and activity have given German developers of all sizes the same opportunity to share their passion and creativity with users around the world while creating a secure and trusted place for customers to download the apps they love with the privacy protections they expect. Germany is also home to Apple’s largest engineering hub in Europe, and a new €1BN investment in our European Silicon Design Center in Munich. We look forward to discussing our approach with the FCO and having an open dialogue about any of their concerns.”

Once issued by the FCO, a ‘paramount significance’ finding lasts for five years — while any legal challenges to orders made under Section 19a are intentionally expedited, with appeals going direct to Germany’s Federal Court of Justice (which is given exclusive competence). The goal being to avoid long drawn out litigations, as has occurred in the FCO’s case against Facebook’s superprofiling — which had legal questions referred to the CJEU back in March, some five years after the Bundeskartellamt began looking into Facebook’s data practices.

The coming months and years could be highly significant to how GAFA is able to operate in Europe’s largest economy — and, likely by extension, further afield in Europe and beyond as a number of jurisdictions are now paying active attention to how to regulate Big Tech.

Back in March, for example, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority opened its own probe into Apple’s App Store. Simultaneously it’s working on reforming national law to create a ‘pro-competition’ for regulating tech giants.

While, last December, European Union lawmakers proposed the Digital Markets Act — also aiming to tackle the power market of so-called ‘gatekeeper’ platforms.

The FTC appointing Lina Khan as chair also appears to signify a change of direction on tech antitrust over in the US.

#andreas-mundt, #antitrust, #apple, #apps, #big-tech, #bundeskartellamt, #competition-law, #europe, #fco, #germany, #platform-regulation, #policy

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Vietnamese financial services app MFast gets $1.5M pre-Series A led by Do Ventures

MFast founders Phan Thanh Long and Phan Thanh Vinh

MFast founders Phan Thanh Long and Phan Thanh Vinh

MFast, a mobile app that lets Vietnamese users in remote areas access financial services, announced it has raised a $1.5 million pre-Series A today. The round was led by Do Ventures, with participation from JAFCO Asia. 

Launched in 2019 by fintech company Digipay, MFast says it has been used by 600,000 people to date. It partners with financial institutions who provide services like loans and insurance, and says it has been used to distribute more than 50 billion VND (about $2.2 million USD) worth of products so far.

The majority, or about 75% to 80% of MFast’s users are in remote provinces or rural areas, which the company says often limits their access to banking and credit-related services. 

The funding will be used to expand MFast to more cities and provinces in Vietnam, develop its technology and partner with more institutions. MFast also plans to enter other markets in the future. 

MFast’s consumer credit partners include Mirae Asset, CIMB, Mcredit and Easy Credit, and its insurance partners include PVI, PTI and BSH. It claims to have a network of more than 350,000 advisors, who offers their services through the app, and that its data analysis tools are able to reduce bad debt and fraud rates. 

#apps, #digipay, #do-ventures, #financial-services, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #jafco-asia, #mfast, #startups, #tc, #vietnam

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This Week in Apps: Spotify debuts a Clubhouse rival, Facebook tests Audio Rooms in US, Amazon cuts Appstore commissions

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 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020. Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

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’s up 27% year-over-year.

This week we’re looking at more Clubhouse competitors, including Facebook’s first test of its Live Audio Rooms in the U.S. and Spotify’s launch of its Greenroom app for live discussions across an array of topics. Also, Amazon is reducing its Appstore fees, after similar moves by Apple and Google.

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Top Stories

Spotify launches its Clubhouse competitor

Image Credits: Spotify

In March, Spotify announced it was acquiring the company behind the sports-focused audio app Locker Room to help speed its entry into the live audio market. This week, the company made good on that deal with the launch of Spotify Greenroom, a new mobile app and likely Clubhouse rival, that allows Spotify users worldwide to join or host live audio rooms, and optionally turn those conversations into podcasts.

The Spotify Greenroom app itself is based on Locker Room’s existing code, with the earlier Locker Room app basically updating to become Greenroom. To join the new app, Spotify users sign in with their current Spotify account information. They’re then walked through an onboarding experience designed to connect them with their interests. Spotify considers the app a soft launch, as it has plans to announce shows later this summer. It’s also funding shows through a new Creator Fund, whose details have not yet been revealed at this time.

Longer-term, the company believes it will be able to take advantage of its personalization tech to make smart recommendations about live shows, based on what music or podcasts a user listens to, and could notify users when favorite creators go live.

The bigger advantage Spotify has here is that its Greenroom sessions are recorded. After a show wraps, the creator can request an audio file which they can then turn into a podcast episode. This ability to straddle both worlds of live and recorded audio could prove to be more useful as the post-COVID world opens up, and users are no longer stuck at home, bored, able to tune in at any time to audio programs.

Amazon lowers its cut of app developer revenues

Amazon this week quietly announced it would follow in the footsteps of app store giants Apple and Google with its introduction of the Amazon Appstore Small Business Accelerator Program. The new program will reduce the commissions Amazon takes on app developer revenues for qualifying smaller businesses. Previously, Amazon’s Appstore took a 30% cut of revenue, including that from in-app purchases. Now, it will take only 20% from developers who earned up to $1 million in the prior calendar year. The company also said developers with less than $1 million in Appstore revenue in a calendar year will receive 10% of their revenue as promotional credit for AWS services, bringing the total program benefits up to an equivalent of 90% of revenue.

The program’s overall structure is similar to Apple’s App Store Small Business Program, announced in late 2020, which reduced Apple’s cut to 15% for developers who earn up to a $1 million threshold, after which they’re moved to the higher 30% standard rate. This rate then continues as they enter the following year. Google, more recently, took a slightly different course, by lowering the commissions to 15% on the first $1 million of developer revenue earned through the Play billing system each year.

The lack of attention to Amazon’s announcement, both in the developer community and by press, demonstrates how inconsequential Amazon’s own Appstore has become in the greater app ecosystem.

Weekly News

Platforms: Google

Android announced several new features which will roll out this summer, including starring text messages to easily find them later, getting contextual Emoji Kitchen suggestions depending on what you’re typing, as well as updates that emphasize security, safety and accessibility. The latter include updates to Google Assistant, Android Auto and Google’s Gaze detection feature.

A teardown of the newly released Google Play Services app (v.21.24.13) suggests Google is working on a “Find My Device” network that would allow Android users to locate your phone and other devices, similar to Apple’s “Find My.”

Google apps will return to Honor devices with the launch of the Honor 50 series devices. The company had not been able to ship Google apps, including the Play store, on its phones due to parent company Huawei’s placement on the U.S.’s entity list, which forced Google to pull its license. But Huawei sold off Honor last year, allowing it to work with Google again.

Google introduced AppSearch in Jetpack, which is now available in Alpha. AppSearch is an on-device search library that provides high-performance and feature-rich full-text search functionality, said Google, and lives completely on-device, allowing for offline search.

E-commerce/Marketplaces

Mobile-first marketplace OfferUp, which connects local buyers and sellers, hired a new CEO. The company brought on former Booking.com managing director Todd Dunlap as CEO, while co-founder and former CEO Nick Huzar will remain as chief product officer.

Social

After lawsuits, injuries and deaths, Snapchat finally removed its controversial “speed filter” which displays how fast a user was going at the time of posting. Critics argued the sticker encouraged reckless driving, as teens would try to post themselves traveling at excess speeds.

Snapchat launched Creative Kit for Spotlight, which will allow third-party apps to publish directly to Snap’s TikTok rival, Spotlight, similar to TikTok’s SDK. Early adopters include Videoleap, Beatleap by Lightricks, Splice, Powder and Pinata Farms.

ByteDance revenues more than doubled in the past year thanks to TikTok. According to an internal memo, ByteDance saw a 111% increase in revenues, to $34.3 billion, and a 93% increase in gross profit, to $19 billion in 2020.

Instagram’s TikTok rival, Reels, is rolling out ads worldwide. The ads will be up to 30 seconds in length, like Reels themselves, and vertical in format, similar to ads found in Instagram Stories. Also like Reels, the new ads will loop, and people will be able to like, comment on, and save them, the same as other Reels videos.

Twitter said it’s considering a new feature that would allow users to untag themselves from tweets, in order to control unwanted attention, like harassment and abuse. The feature could be useful when troll armies attack at scale before a user can block and report attacks or Twitter has a chance to respond.

Messaging

WhatsApp for iOS is making it easier for users to search for stickers. With a coming update, already live on TestFlight, users will be able to type a word or emoji and WhatsApp will animate the sticker button if a matching sticker is found.

Streaming & Entertainment

Image Credits: Apple

Apple Podcasts Subscriptions went live across more than 170 countries and regions this week. First unveiled this spring, subscriptions allow listeners to unlock additional benefits for their favorite podcasts, including things like ad-free listening, early access to new episodes, bonus material, exclusives or whatever else the podcast creator believes will be something their fans will pay for.

✨ Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg this week hosted the first test of Facebook’s Clubhouse competitor, Live Audio Rooms, in the U.S. The exec was joined by Facebook VP and Head of Facebook Reality Labs Andrew “Boz” Bosworth, Head of Facebook App Fidji Simo and three Facebook Gaming creators. It’s pretty incredible that Zuckerberg only months ago was appearing on Clubhouse to talk about the future of audio-based networking before essentially cloning the Clubhouse experience for Facebook’s own platform.

Streaming app Deezer launched a new iOS app, Deezer for Creators, which allows musicians and podcasters to track trends, audience insights and more, similar to Spotify for Artists.

An app for pirated movies and TV that disguised itself as a Sudoku game climbed up the App Store charts this week, before being pulled by Apple. The app, Zoshy+, seems to have circumvented App Review by taking advantage of server-side controls.

In a change that represents a significant shift underway in the creators economy, TikTok signed on as creator conference VidCon’s title sponsor for 2021, taking the spot formerly held by YouTube. The latter will still be involved as a secondary sponsor.

Apple-owned music identification and discovery app Shazam announced this week it had surpassed 1 billion Shazams per month. The company noted it took 10 years for Shazam to reach its first billion tags. Less than 10 years after that, Shazam has crossed 1 billion monthly recognitions and has successfully matched over 50 billion tags with over 51 million songs. At WWDC, Apple announced its plans for Shazam’s future with the launch of ShazamKit, which brings Shazam’s audio identification capabilities to third-party apps.

Gaming

Popular mobile game PUBG Mobile returned to India after being banned more than nine months ago. The game was banned as part of the country’s decision to boot out over 200 apps with links to China due to national security concerns. The new game has been rebranded to Battlegrounds Mobile India, but is largely the same same as before, but “with data compliance, green blood, and a constant reminder that you’re in a ‘virtual world’ with such messaging present as you start a game and when you’re in menus,” said IGN India editor Rishi Alwani.

Pokémon Go creator Niantic is working with Hasbro on a new AR game. Transformers: Heavy Metal, is being built by Very Very Spaceship for Niantic, and is scheduled for a 2021 release. The company has around a dozen games in development, including a collaboration with Nintendo to adapt its Pikmin game, and a game based on the board game Settlers of Catan.

An upcoming Apple Arcade update will bring a new, special edition of Alto’s Odyssey, a new Angry Birds title called Angry Birds Reloaded and a remastered Doodle God Universe. The update will be the largest since April.

Amazon’s cross-platform cloud gaming service Luna will open up priority access during Prime Day, June 21-22, meaning all Prime members will be able to access the service without an invite.

Mobile users worldwide downloaded 30% more games in the first quarter of 2021 than in the fourth quarter of 2019, and spent a record-breaking $1.7 billion per week in mobile games in Q1 2021, up 40% from pre-pandemic levels, per a new App Annie/IDC report.

Image Credits: App Annie

Productivity

An email that surfaced during the Epic trial discussed the issue of Apple’s Files app ranking first when users searched for a competitor’s app, Dropbox, for 11 months. The app had been manually boosted, the emails seemed to reveal. But Apple this week stated the issue was due to the Files app having a Dropbox integration. Apple put Dropbox in the metadata, causing it to rank higher — an explanation that doesn’t match up with the internal emails.

Home Automation

Third-party Alexa devices can now incorporate setup for their products in the Alexa app, thanks to an update to Alexa Voice Services.

Although Samsung’s SmartThings is no longer making its own smart home hardware, the company this week launched a new SmartThings mobile app on Android, which aims to make it simpler to get to actions and automations. The app includes a new Favorites section to replace the existing home screen, a Life section where users can explore new SmartThings services, plus pages for Devices, Automations and a Menu. The iPhone version will arrive soon.

An update to the Wyze mobile app added support for Google Home and Google Assistant, allowing users to control smart home devices with voice commands.

Government & Policy

A report published this week by U.S. advocacy group Fight for the Future and China-based GreatFire highlighted government censorship of LGBTQ+ apps around the world, due to government restrictions. It documented 1,377 cases of app access restrictions across 152 App Stores. However, the study contained several inaccuracies, Apple pointed out. For example, Grindr and Scruff are both available worldwide in the App Store, despite what the report said. Also, none of the 27 apps mentioned in the report with regard to China had been removed by Apple. Of the total 64 apps monitored, only four had been removed by a particular country because of legal issues.

Security & Privacy

A security bug in Google’s Android app, installed over 5 billion times, could have allowed attackers to steal personal data from a user’s device. Google says it fixed the vulnerability last month and found no evidence it had ever been exploited.

Funding and M&A

💰 Messaging social network IRL raised $170 million in a Series C round led by SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2, valuing the social events calendar and group chat app at $1.17 billion. New investor Dragoneer also participated in the oversubscribed round, alongside returning investors Goodwater Capital, Founders Fund and Floodgate. To date, IRL has raised over $200 million.

🤝 Delivery service Gopuff, which is available on web and mobile, acquired fleet management platform rideOS for $115 million. This acquisition comes a few months after the delivery startup announced a $1.15 billion funding round at a $8.9 billion valuation.

🤝 Spotify acquired Podz, a podcast delivery platform focused on solving issues around podcast discovery. Podz has been using machine learning to choose clips that can help introduce shows to new listeners. The startup had raised $2.5 million in pre-seed funding ahead of its acquisition. Deal terms weren’t disclosed.

📈  PUBG Mobile maker Krafton is preparing to raise $5 billion in a South Korean IPO, expected to be the country’s largest ever. The company will sell more than 10 million shares at 458,000 won to 557,000 won apiece, a filing said. It will finalize the price July 9 and list on July 22.

💰 Mobile banking app Novo, which targets an SMB customer base, raised $40.7 million in Series A funding, after growing its user base to 100,000 businesses.

💰 Mobile banking app FamPay, aimed at Indian teens, raised $38 million in Series A funding. Investors include Elevation Capital, General Catalyst, Rocketship VC, Greenoaks Capital, and others, and makes for one of India’s largest Series A rounds to date.

💰 Apna, a jobs app built by an Apple alum, raised $70 million in Series B funding co-led by Insight Partners and Tiger Global, valuing the business at $570 million. The app aims to help blue and gray-collar workers upskill themselves, find communities, and land jobs.

🤝 WordPress.com owner Automattic acquired popular journaling app Day One. The app has been downloaded more than 15 million times since its March 2011 launch on the Mac and iTunes App Store, offering users a private place to share their thoughts. Since then, it’s been awarded the App Store Editor’s Choice, App of the Year and the Apple Design Award, along with praise from various reviewers. Deal terms were not disclosed. Day One had been bootstrapped and self-funded for 10 years. The app will further integrate with other Automattic-owned writing platforms, including WordPress.com and Tumblr.

Recommended Reading

#apps, #this-week-in-apps

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Tiger Global in talks to back BharatPe at $2.5 billion valuation

Indian fintech startup BharatPe is in advanced stages of talks to raise about $250 million in a new financing round led by Tiger Global, two sources familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

The new round, a Series E, is valuing the three-year-old New Delhi-headquartered firm at a pre-money valuation of $2.5 billion, sources said, requesting anonymity as the matter is private. The round hasn’t closed, so terms may change, sources cautioned.

BharatPe, which prior to the new round had raised about $233 million in equity and $35 million in debt, was valued at about $900 million in its Series D round in February this year, and $425 million last year.

Indian news outlet the CapTable first reported about the talks between Tiger Global and BharatPe and said the round would value the startup at over $2 billion. BharatPe declined to comment.

BharatPe operates an eponymous service to help offline merchants accept digital payments and secure working capital. Even as India has already emerged as the second-largest internet market, with more than 600 million users, much of the country remains offline.

Among those outside of the reach of the internet are merchants running small businesses, such as roadside tea stalls and neighborhood stores. To make these merchants comfortable with accepting digital payments, BharatPe relies on QR codes and point of sale machines that support government-backed UPI payments infrastructure.

The startup, which serves more than 6 million merchants, said it had deployed over 50,000 PoS machines by November of last year, and enables monthly transactions worth more than $123 million. It does not charge merchants for universal QR code access, but is looking to make money by lending. Grover said the startup’s lending business grew by 10x in 2020.

On Friday, India’s central bank RBI granted an in-principle licence to Centrum Financial Services to set up a small finance bank. Centrum Financial Services has collaborated with BharatPe for the license, according to local media.

The startup is additionally also working to launch two new B2C apps, one of which will enable credit on QR UPI, another source familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. The new products will launch as soon as this month, the source said.

#apps, #asia, #bharatpe, #finance, #funding, #india, #tc, #tiger-global

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Spotify acquires Podz, a podcast discovery platform

Podcasts are all the rage, but podcast discovery is a challenge. Today, Spotify announced its acquisition of Podz, a startup that’s trying to solve the problem of podcast discovery.

“At Spotify, we are investing to build and scale the world’s best (and most personalized) podcast discovery experience,” the company said. “We believe that Podz’ technology will complement and accelerate Spotify’s focused efforts to drive discovery, deliver listeners the right content at the right time, and accelerate growth of the category worldwide.”

Since podcasts are usually upwards of 30 minutes long, it’s hard for listeners to browse new shows – listening to an episode of a podcast isn’t as easy as trying out a song by a new artist. So, Podz developed what it called “the first audio newsfeed,” presenting users with 60-second clips from various shows. Podcasters often use apps like Headliner to create clips to promote on their social media accounts, and Podz follows the same idea. But instead of podcasters manually choosing how to promote their show, Podz chooses a clip using its machine learning model, which was trained on more than 100,000 hours of audio in consultation with journalists and audio editors.

Podz demo

Image Credits: Podz

Before its acquisition by Spotify, Podz raised $2.5 million in pre-seed funding from M13, Canaan Partners, Charge Ventures, and Humbition. Celebrities like Katie Couric and Paris Hilton also invested.

“Already, the average podcast listener subscribes to seven podcasts but follows almost 30 on Podz,” M13 General Partner Latif Peracha told TechCrunch via email in February. “Early signals make us optimistic the team can build a transformative product in the category.”

This acquisition marks yet another sign of Spotify’s ambition to corner the podcasting market, and audio entertainment in general – just yesterday, Spotify debuted Greenroom, its live audio Clubhouse rival. And when it comes to driving revenue from podcast subscriptions, Spotify and Apple are neck and neck. In April, Apple announced its expansion into podcast subscriptions, and the following week, Spotify began rolling out its subscription platform after teasing it in February. Apple said it will take 30% of podcast revenue in the first year, which will drop to 15% in the second. On the other hand, Spotify’s program won’t take any cut from creators until 2023, when it will take 5%.

Though podcast creators can quickly determine that it might prove more beneficial to surrender 5% of their subscription earnings than 30%, listeners will likely just flock to whatever app provides the best user experience – and if Spotify’s investment in discovery pays off, it could pose trouble for Apple’s longstanding dominance in the podcasting medium.

#apple, #apps, #artist, #canaan-partners, #clubhouse, #katie-couric, #m13, #machine-learning, #microsoft-windows, #operating-systems, #podcast, #spotify, #technology

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Canoo wants to connect owners to all of their vehicles — not just Canoo’s

Electric vehicle startup Canoo detailed some of the features that may be on its app on Thursday, foremost of which is a one-stop shop functionality that customers could use for their Canoo vehicles – and all their other cars, as well.

This unusual approach to its branded vehicle app could potentially pay off big-time for Canoo in terms of user data and revenue via sales on services like tire replacements and insurance. If the average Canoo driver owns two other vehicles, that could mean that 50,000 sold Canoos could yield data on up to 150,000 vehicles total, Canoo’s senior VP of global customer journey and aftersales Christian Treiber said.

“Let’s think about the opportunity overall,” he said. “The Canoo ecosystem, but for the entire customer garage.”

For all vehicles – Canoo or not – that are hooked into the app, the driver will be able to see details on range and battery life for their EVs, as well as the odometer, miles per gallon, and total range for their internal combustion engine vehicles. Treiber said this could be accomplished simply using an ODB connector.

“We know how to translate data in cars, we know how to take that metadata and put in service maintenance, repair and asset information, because that’s what we’ve done, we’ve built a multi billion dollar business doing this,” Canoo CEO Tony Aquila told TechCrunch. “So we can take that data and do that for you. It’s nothing for us on our platform. It’s just an OBD dongle. OEMs spend money on stupid stuff, we’d rather give you a dongle for your second car. If you want to connect it, you can run it all off the same app.”

Aquila took the helm at Canoo in April, after co-founders Stefan Krause and Ulrich Kranz departed in June 2020 and April, respectively. (Kranz was hired by Apple to help with the development of its first car.) Aquila founded Solera Holdings in 2005, a risk management and asset protection software company.

Canoo’s hoping to use its app to drive revenue in other ways as well. For Canoo cars, drivers can access the Maintenance and Upgrades section to instantly upgrade the horsepower of their vehicle, schedule a service appointment or check for software updates. Up to 94% of the electronic control units will have wireless updating capability. The app will also make predictive wear and tear reminders for when you’ll likely need new tires – and it will push special offers for these services in advance.

Drivers will also be able to order other vehicle upgrades for the Canoo, like a roof rack or floor or seat protection.

Much of these features – especially the services for non-Canoo vehicles – will likely come together through partnerships with service providers, insurance companies and vehicle detailers. Trieber hinted at other potential partnerships as well, such as using the Canoo app as a digital wallet to pay for a meal at a restaurant, for example

“The single greatest opportunity for the automotive industry is monetizing data, and we want to be part of it, and we will be part of it,” he said.

The news was announced during the company’s investor day presentation Thursday, where Aquila also revealed Oklahoma as the site for its first factory. That location is expected to open in 2023. Canoo’s debut lifestyle vehicle, which is expected to be delivered in the fourth quarter of 2022, will being manufactured by Netherlands-based contract manufacturer VDL Nedcar while the factory is being built.

#app, #apps, #automotive, #canoo, #electric-vehicles, #transportation

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Amazon joins Apple, Google by reducing its app store cut

The Amazon Fire HD 8 tablet, which runs Amazon's Fire OS.

Enlarge / The Amazon Fire HD 8 tablet, which runs Amazon’s Fire OS. (credit: Amazon)

Apparently following the lead of Apple and Google, Amazon has announced that it will take a smaller revenue cut from apps developed by teams earning less than $1 million annually from their apps on the Amazon Appstore. The same applies to developers who are brand-new to the marketplace.

The new program from Amazon, called the Amazon Appstore Small Business Accelerator Program, launches in Q4 of this year, and it will reduce the cut Amazon takes from app revenue, which was previously 30 percent. (Developers making over $1 million annually will continue to pay the original rate.) For some, it’s a slightly worse deal than Apple’s or Google’s, and for others, it’s better.

Amazon’s new indie-friendly rate is 20 percent, in contrast to Apple’s and Google’s 15 percent. Amazon seeks to offset this difference by granting developers 10 percent of their Appstore revenue in the form of a credit for AWS. For certain developers who use AWS, it could mean that Amazon’s effective cut is actually 10 percent, not 15 or 20 percent.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#amazon, #amazon-appstore, #app-store, #apple, #apple-app-store, #apps, #google, #google-play, #tech

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Following lawsuits, Snapchat pulls its controversial speed filter

Lately, Snapchat’s 3D Cartoon lens has been all the buzz, making all of our friends look like Pixar characters. But since 2013, a staple filter on the ephemeral photo sharing app has been the speed filter, which shows how fast a phone is moving when it takes a photo or video. Today, Snapchat confirmed that it will pull the filter from the app.

NPR first reported this today, calling it a “dramatic reversal” of Snap’s earlier defense of the feature. Over the years, there have been multiple car accidents, injuries, and deaths that were related to the use of the filter. In 2016, for instance, an eighteen-year-old took a Snapchat selfie while driving, then struck another driver’s car at 107 miles per hour. The other driver, Maynard Wentworth, suffered traumatic brain injuries and sued Snap. His lawyer said that the eighteen-year-old “was just trying to get the car to 100 miles per hour to post it on Snapchat.”

Snapchat’s filter-related offenses don’t begin and end here. Last year on Juneteenth, a day that commemorates the end of slavery, Snapchat released a filter that prompted users to “smile to break the chains.” On 4/20 in 2016, Snapchat partnered with Bob Marley’s estate to release a feature that gave users dreadlocks and darker skin, committing blackface. And even after Snapchat’s speed filter was linked to fatal car accidents, it remained available in the app with a simple “don’t snap and drive” warning.

“Today the sticker is barely used by Snapchatters, and in light of that, we are removing it altogether,” a spokesperson from Snap said, adding that the feature had previously been disabled at driving speeds. The company has begun removing the filter, but it might take several weeks to take full effect.

This new stance from Snap comes after the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court found in May that the company can be sued for its role in a fatal car accident.

Generally, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects websites, or “interactive computer services,” from lawsuits like this, providing immunity for these platforms from third-party content posted on them. But in 2019, the parents of two children killed in crashes – Landen Brown and Hunter Morby – filed another lawsuit. They argued that the app’s “negligent design” (including a speed filter to begin with) contributed to the crash. A California judge dismissed the case, citing Section 230, but in May of this year, three judges on the federal Ninth Circuit Appeals Court ruled that Section 230 actually doesn’t apply here. The conflict isn’t with Snapchat’s role as a social media platform, but rather, the app’s design, which includes a demonstrably dangerous speed filter.

So, the sudden removal of the speed filter isn’t as random as it may seem. Now that their Section 230 defense is no longer, it makes sense that keeping the filter isn’t worth the legal risk. You’d think that the filter-related accidents would have been enough for Snapchat to take down the filter years ago, but better late than never.

#apps, #california, #car-accidents, #computing, #driver, #filter, #instant-messaging, #lawsuit, #lawyer, #mobile-applications, #selfie, #snap-inc, #snapchat, #software, #technology, #vertical-video

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Hit game PUBG Mobile returns to India with scores of questions

Krafton, which filed for an IPO earlier this week, has built a gigantic gaming empire. If the firm is able to raise the target $5 billion from the IPO it will be the largest public offering in its home country, South Korea. The firm has something to celebrate elsewhere in the world, too.

On Thursday, it pulled off another feat that no other firm has been able to achieve: Its sleeper hit title, PUBG Mobile, has made a return to India, which banned the title more than nine months ago.

The world’s second-largest internet market banned over 200 apps last year citing national security concerns. All the apps New Delhi blocked in the nation had links to China. The move was seen by many as retaliation as tension between the two nuclear-armed neighboring nations escalated last year.

Every other app that has been banned by India — and pulled by Google and Apple from their respective app stores in the country in compliance with local government orders — remains in that state. ByteDance, whose TikTok app identified India as its largest market, has significantly downsized its team in the country. (ByteDance runs several businesses in India and many remain operational. Employees have been instructed to stay off the radar.)

Which is what makes PUBG Mobile’s return to India all the more interesting. The game, which has been rebranded to Battlegrounds Mobile India in the South Asia market, is available to download from the Play Store for any user in the country — provided they sign up for an early access before the imminent launch.

Even as PUBG Mobile is now using a different moniker, the game follows the same plot, and the identical home screen greets users with the familiar ecstatic background score.

Moreover, users are offered a quick and straightforward option to migrate their PUBG Mobile accounts to the new app.

Rishi Alwani, the quintessential gaming reporter in India who edits IGN India, told TechCrunch that the new game is “essentially PUBG Mobile with data compliance, green blood, and a constant reminder that you’re in a ‘virtual world’ with such messaging present as you start a game and when you’re in menus.”

The changes are likely Krafton’s attempt to assuage previous concerns from the local authorities, some of whom had expressed concerns about the game’s affect on youngsters.

Image Credits: TechCrunch / screen capture

But these on-the-surface changes raise a set of bigger questions that have been a topic of discussion among several startup founders and policy executives in India in recent months:

  • Did the government of India approve the new game?
  • If not, why has Google permitted the app on the Play Store?
  • Assuming the Indian government has approved the new game, what steps did Krafton take that adequately addressed the Indian government’s concerns?
  • Why has no other app been able to make a return to India so far?

Neither the Indian government nor Krafton have publicly said anything on this subject. Krafton, on its part, has taken steps to assuage India’s concerns. For instance, last year the South Korean firm cut ties with its publishing partner Tencent, the only visible Chinese affiliation — if the Indian government was indeed banning just Chinese apps. Krafton also publicly announced that it will be investing $100 million in India’s gaming ecosystem.

The Indian government’s order and the communication and compliance mechanism for concerned entities have been so opaque on this subject that it is unclear on what grounds Krafton has been able to bring the game back.

One explanation — albeit admittedly full of speculation — is that it’s a new app in the sense that it has a new app ID. In this instance, it happens to have a new developer account, too. Remember, India banned apps, and not the firms themselves. Several Tencent and Alibaba apps, for instance, remain available in India.

This would also explain how BIGO has been able to launch a new app — Tiki Video — under a new developer account and plenty of effort to conceal its connection. That app, which was launched in late February, has amassed over 16 million monthly active users, according to mobile insight firm App Annie. The app’s existence and affiliation with BIGO have not been previously reported.

But the question remains, are these simple workarounds enough to escape the ban? To be sure, some apps, including Battlegrounds Mobile India, are also hosting their data in the country now, and have agreed for periodic audits. So is that enough? And if it is, why aren’t most — if not all — apps making a return to India?

Regardless, the return of PUBG Mobile India is a welcome move for tens of millions of users in the country, many of whom — about 38 million last month, according to App Annie — were using workarounds themselves to continue to play the game.

#apps, #asia, #bytedance, #gaming, #india, #krafton, #mobile-gaming, #pubg-mobile, #tc, #tiktok

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Apple AirTags UX teardown: The trade-off between privacy and user experience

Apple’s location devices — called AirTags — have been out for more than a month now. The initial impressions were good, but as we concluded back in April: “It will be interesting to see these play out once AirTags are out getting lost in the wild.”

That’s exactly what our resident UX analyst, Peter Ramsey, has been doing for the last month — intentionally losing AirTags to test their user experience at the limits.

This Extra Crunch exclusive is a simplified conversation around this Built for Mars article, which helps bridge the gap between Apple’s mistakes and how you can make meaningful changes to your product’s UX.

For an industry that’s often soured by privacy concerns, Apple has an unusually strong stance on keeping your data private.

AirTag not reachable

There are two primary purposes of an error message:

  1. To notify the user what has gone wrong (and how it affects them).
  2. To help the user resolve the issue.

Most businesses do a decent job at the first one, but it’s rare that a product will proactively obsess over the second.

Typically, Apple is one of the few examples that do — it’s indisputably one of the leaders in intuitive design. Which is why I was surprised to see Apple’s error message when an AirTag is not reachable:

Image Credits: Built for Mars screenshot

There’s a huge amount of ambiguity in the statement “move around to connect,” and it fails to mention that this error could be because the AirTag’s batteries have been removed.

Instead, Apple should make this message clickable, which opens a modal to learn more about this issue.

#airtag, #apple, #apps, #column, #ec-column, #ec-consumer-applications, #iphone, #privacy, #tc, #user-experience

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Amazon’s Appstore lowers its cut of developer revenue for small businesses, adds AWS credits

Amazon is following in the footsteps of app store giants, Apple and Google, with this week’s introduction of its Amazon Appstore Small Business Accelerator Program. The new program will reduce the commissions Amazon takes on app developer revenues for qualifying smaller businesses. Previously, Amazon’s Appstore took a 30% cut of revenue, including that from in-app purchases. Now, it will take only 20% from developers who earned up to $1 million in the prior calendar year. The program will additionally offer AWS credits.

This program’s structure is similar to Apple’s App Store Small Business Program, announced in late 2020, which reduced Apple’s cut to 15% for developers who earn up to a $1 million threshold, after which they’re moved to the higher 30% standard rate. This rate then continues as they enter the following year. Google, more recently, took a slightly different course, by lowering the commissions to 15% on the first $1 million of developer revenue earned through the Play billing system each year.

Amazon’s cut remains larger at 20%, but that’s because it’s offering developers a different type of perk: AWS credits.

The company says developers with less than $1 million in Appstore revenue in a calendar year will receive 10% of their revenue as promotional credit for AWS services. This includes infrastructure technologies like compute, storage, and databases–to emerging technologies, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, data lakes and analytics, and Internet of Things, notes Amazon. This brings total program benefits up to an equivalent of 90 percent of revenue, Amazon says.

If the developer’s revenue exceeds $1 million during the current year, they’ll revert to the standard royalty rate and no longer receive the AWS credits for the rest of the year.

And if the developer’s revenue in a future year drops below $1 million, they’ll become eligible for the Small Business program again in the next calendar year.

“By helping small businesses get started with AWS through credits, we are making it easier for them to build and grow their app businesses,” noted Amazon Appstore Director, Palanidaran Chidambaram, in an announcement. “AWS gives developers easy access to a broad range of technologies so they can innovate faster and build nearly anything they can imagine,” he added.

The changes to app store commission structures come at a time when tech giants are seeing increasing regulatory pressure over the nature of their businesses, which larger app publishers, including Basecamp, Spotify, Epic Games and others have argued are anticompetitive. Epic is also suing Apple over its app store fees, in a potentially precedent-setting case. In response, Apple and Google lowered fees for smaller businesses as a gesture of goodwill — and one that wouldn’t significantly impact their own app store platform revenues.

Amazon says the new program will launch in Q4 2021, and more details about how to participate will be provided at that time.

#amazon, #amazon-appstore, #amazon-web-services, #app-store, #apps, #developers

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Instagram’s TikTok rival, Reels, rolls out ads worldwide

Instagram Reels are getting ads. The company announced today it’s launching ads in its short-form video platform and TikTok rival, Reels, to businesses and advertisers worldwide. The ads will be up to 30 seconds in length, like Reels themselves, and vertical in format, similar to ads found in Instagram Stories. Also like Reels, the new ads will loop, and people will be able to like, comment, and save them, the same as other Reels videos.

The company had previously tested Reels ads in select markets earlier this year, including India, Brazil, Germany, and Australia, then expanded those tests to Canada, France, the U.K. and the U.S. more recently. Early adopters of the new format have included brands like BMW, Nestlé (Nespresso), Louis Vuitton, Netflix, Uber, and others.

Instagram tells us the ads will appear in most places users view Reels content, including on the Reels tab, Reels in Stories, Reels in Explore, and Reels in your Instagram Feed, and will appear in between individual Reels posted by users. However, in order to be served a Reels ad, the user first needs to be in the immersive, full-screen Reels viewer.

Image Credits: Instagram

The company couldn’t say how often a user might see a Reels ad, noting that the number of ads a viewer may encounter will vary based on how they use Instagram. But the company is monitoring user sentiment around ads themselves, and the overall commercially of Reels, it says.

Like Instagram’s other advertising products, Reels ads will launch with an auction-based model. But so far, Instagram is declining to share any sort of performance metrics around how those ads are doing, based on tests. Nor is it yet offering advertisers any creator tools or templates that could help them get started with Reels ads. Instead, Instagram likey assumes advertisers already have creative assets on hand or know how to make them, because of Reels ads’ similarities to other vertical video ads found elsewhere, including on Instagram’s competitors.

While vertical video has already shown the potential for driving consumers to e-commerce shopping sites, Instagram hasn’t yet taken advantage of Reels ads to drive users to its built-in Instagram Shops, though that seems like a natural next step as it attempts to tie the different parts of its app together.

But perhaps ahead of that step, Instagram needs to make Reels a more compelling destination — something other TikTok rivals, which now include both Snap and YouTube — have done by funding creator content directly. Instagram, meanwhile, had made offers to select TikTok stars directly.

The launch of Instagram Reels ads follows news of TikTok’s climbing ad prices. Bloomberg reported this month that TikTok is now asking for more than $1.4 million for a home page takeover ad in the U.S., as of the third quarter, which will jump to $1.8 million by Q4 and more than $2 million on a holiday. Though the company is still building its ads team and advertisers haven’t yet allocated large portions of their video budget to the app, that tends to follow user growth — and TikTok now has over 100 million monthly active users in the U.S.

Both apps, Instagram and TikTok, now have over a billion monthly active users on a global basis, though Reels is only a part of the larger Instagram platform. For comparison, Instagram Stories is used by some 500 million users, which demonstrates Instagram’s ability to drive traffic to different areas of its app. Instagram declined to share how many users Reels has as of today.

#advertising, #advertising-tech, #apps, #digital-marketing, #instagram, #instagram-reels, #mobile, #mobile-software, #online-advertising, #reels, #short-form-video, #social, #social-media-marketing, #tiktok, #vertical-video, #video, #video-hosting

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A security bug in Google’s Android app put users’ data at risk

Until recently, Google’s namesake Android app, which more than five billion installs to date, had a vulnerability that could have allowed an attacker to quietly steal personal data from a victim’s device.

Sergey Toshin, founder of mobile app security startup Oversecured, said in a blog post that the vulnerability has to do with how the Google app relies on code that is not bundled with the app itself. Many Android apps, including the Google app, reduce their download size and the storage space needed to run by relying on code libraries that are already installed on Android phones.

But the flaw in the Google app’s code meant it could be tricked into pulling a code library from a malicious app on the same device instead of the legitimate code library, allowing the malicious app to inherit the Google app’s permissions and granting it near-complete access to a user’s data. That access includes access to a user’s Google accounts, search history, email, text messages, contacts and call history, as well as being able to trigger the microphone and camera, and access the user’s location.

The malicious app would have to be launched once for the attack to work, Toshin said, but that the attack happens without the victim’s knowledge or consent. Deleting the malicious app would not remove the malicious components from the Google app, he said.

A Google spokesperson told TechCrunch that the company fixed the vulnerability last month and it had no evidence that the flaw has been exploited by attackers. Android’s in-built malware scanner, Google Play Protect, is meant to stop malicious apps from installing. But no security feature is perfect, and malicious apps have slipped through its net before.

Toshin said the Google app vulnerability is similar to another bug discovered by the startup in TikTok earlier this year, which if exploited could have allowed an attacker to steal a TikTok user’s session tokens to take control of their account.

Oversecured has found several other similar vulnerabilities, including Android’s Google Play app and more recently apps pre-installed on Samsung phones.

#android, #app-store, #apps, #computing, #google-allo, #google-play, #mobile-app, #mobile-linux, #mobile-malware, #operating-systems, #oversecured, #security, #software

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Apple‘s Tim Cook: Sideloading is “not in the best interests of the user”

Apple CEO Tim Cook being interviewed remotely by Brut.

Enlarge / Apple CEO Tim Cook being interviewed remotely by Brut. (credit: Brut.)

Apple has been under a mountain of scrutiny lately from legislators, developers, judges, and users. Amidst all that, CEO Tim Cook sat with publication Brut. to discuss Apple’s strategy and policies. The short but wide-ranging interview offered some insight into where Apple plans to go in the future.

As is so common when Tim Cook speaks publicly, privacy was a major focus. His response to a question about its importance was the same one we’ve heard from him many times: “we see it as a basic human right, a fundamental human right.” Noting Apple has been focused on privacy for a long time.

He explained:

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#app-store, #apple, #apple-app-store, #apple-watch, #apps, #ar, #augmented-reality, #ios, #iphone, #privacy, #sideloading, #tech, #tim-cook

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Spotify launches its live audio app and Clubhouse rival, Spotify Greenroom

In March, Spotify announced it was acquiring the company behind the sports-focused audio app Locker Room to help speed its entry into the live audio market. Today, the company is making good on that deal with the launch of Spotify Greenroom, a new mobile app that allows Spotify users worldwide to join or host live audio rooms, and optionally turn those conversations into podcasts. It’s also announcing a Creator Fund which will help to fuel the new app with more content in the future.

The Spotify Greenroom app itself is based on Locker Room’s existing code. In fact, Spotify tells us, current Locker Room users will see their app update to become the rebranded and redesigned Greenroom experience, starting today.

Where Locker Room had used a white-and-reddish orange color scheme, the new Greenroom app looks very much like an offshoot from Spotify, having adopted the same color palette, font and iconography.

To join the new app, Spotify users will sign in with their current Spotify account information. They’ll then be walked through an onboarding experience designed to connect them with their interests.

Image Credits: Spotify

For the time being, the process of finding audio programs to listen to relies primarily on users joining groups inside the app. That’s much like how Locker Room had operated, where its users would find and follow favorite sports teams. However, Greenroom’s groups are more general interest now, as it’s no longer only tied to sports.

In time, Spotify tells us the plan is for Greenroom to leverage Spotify’s personalization technology to better connect users to content they would want to hear. For example, it could send out notifications to users if a podcaster you already followed on Spotify went live on Spotify Greenroom. Or it could leverage its understanding of what sort of podcasts and music you listen to in order to make targeted recommendations. These are longer-term plans, however.

As for Spotify Greenroom’s feature set, it’s largely on par with other live audio offerings — including those from Clubhouse, Twitter (Spaces) and Facebook (Live Audio Rooms). Speakers in the room appear at the top of the screen as rounded profile icons, while listeners appear below as smaller icons. There are mute options, moderation controls, and the ability to bring listeners on stage during the live audio session. Rooms can host up to 1,000 people, and Spotify expects to scale that number up later on.

Image Credits: Spotify

Listeners can also virtually applaud speakers by giving them “gems” in the app — a feature that came over from Locker Room, too. The number of gems a speaker earned displays next to their profile image during a session. For now, there’s no monetary value associated with the gems, but that seems an obvious next step as Greenroom today offers no form of monetization.

It’s worth noting there are a few key differentiators between Spotify Greenroom and similar live audio apps. For starters, it offers a live text chat feature that the host can turn on or off whenever they choose. Hosts can also request the audio file of their live audio session after it wraps, which they can then edit to turn into a podcast episode.

Perhaps most importantly is that the live audio sessions are being recorded by Spotify itself. The company says this is for moderation purposes. If a user reports something in a Greenroom audio room, Spotify can go back to look into the matter, to determine what sort of actions may need to be taken. This is an area Clubhouse has struggled with, as its users have sometimes encountered toxicity and abuse in the app in real-time, including in troubling areas like racism and misogyny. Recently, Clubhouse said it had to shut down a number of rooms for antisemitism and hate speech, as well.

Spotify says the moderation of Spotify Greenroom will be handled by its existing content moderation team. Of course, how quickly Spotify will be able react to boot users or shut down live audio rooms that are in violation of its Code of Conduct remains to be seen.

While the app launching today is focused on user-generated live audio content, Spotify has larger plans for Greenroom. Later this summer, the company plans to make announcements around programmed content — something it says is a huge priority — alongside the launch of other new features. This will include programming related to music, culture, and entertainment, in addition the to sports content Locker Room was known for.

Image Credits: Spotify

The company also says it will be marketing Spotify Greenroom to artists through its Spotify for Artists channels, in hopes of seeding the app with more music-focused content. And it confirmed that monetization options for creators will come further down the road, too, but isn’t talking about what those may look like in specific detail for the moment.

In addition, Spotify is today announcing the Spotify Creator Fund, which will help audio creators in the U.S. generate revenue for their work. The company, however, declined to share any details on this front, either– like the size of fund, how much creators would receive, time frame for distributions, selection criteria or other factors. Instead, it’s only offering a sign-up form for those who may be interested in hearing more about this opportunity in the future. That may make it difficult for creators to weigh their options, when there are now so many.

Spotify Greenroom is live today on both iOS and Android across 135 markets around the world. That’s not quite the global footprint of Spotify itself, though, which is available in 178 markets. It’s also only available in the English language for the time being, but plans on expanding as it grows.

#android-apps, #apps, #audio, #audio-rooms, #clubhouse, #creator-fund, #creators, #ios-apps, #live-audio, #media, #mobile, #mobile-applications, #mobile-apps, #music, #personalization-technology, #podcast, #social, #social-media, #spotify, #streaming, #streaming-service

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Apna raises $70 million to help workers in India secure jobs

Indian cities are home to hundreds of millions of low-skilled workers who hail from villages in search of work. Many of them have lost their jobs amid the coronavirus pandemic that has slowed several economic activities in the world’s second-largest internet market.

Apna, a startup by an Apple alum, is helping millions of such blue and gray-collar workers upskill themselves, find communities and land jobs. On Wednesday it announced its acceptance by the market has helped it raise $70 million in a new financing round as the startup prepares to scale the 16-month-old app across India.

Insight Partners and Tiger Global co-led Apna’s $70 million Series B round, which valued the startup at $570 million. Existing investors Lightspeed India, Sequoia Capital India, Greenoaks Capital and Rocketship VC also participated in the round, which brings Apna’s to-date raise to over $90 million.

The startup, whose name is inspired from a 2019 Bollywood song, at its core is solving the network gap issue for workers. “Someone born in a privileged family goes to the best school, best college and makes acquaintance with influential people. Many born just a few kilometres away are dealt with a whole different kind of life and never see such opportunities,” said Nirmit Parikh, founder and chief executive of Apna, in an interview with TechCrunch.

Apna is building a scalable networking infrastructure, something that doesn’t currently exist in the market, so that these workers can connect to the right employers and secure jobs. “Apna’s focus on digitizing the process of job discovery, application and employer candidate interaction has the potential to revolutionize the hiring process,” said Griffin Schroeder, a partner at Tiger Global, in a statement.

The workers in India “already have a champion them, we are just helping them find opportunities,” said Nirmit Parikh, founder and chief executive of Apna. (Apna)

The startup’s eponymous Android app, available in multiple languages, features more than 70 communities today for skilled professionals such as carpenters, painters, field sales agents and many others.

On the app, users connect to each other and help with leads and share tips to improve at their jobs. The app also offers people the opportunity to upskill themselves, practice with their interview performance, and become eligible for even more jobs. The startup said it’s building Masterclass-like skilling modules, outcome or job based skilling, and also enabling peer-to-peer learning via its vertical communities. It plans to launch career counselling and resume building feature.

And that bet is working. The startup has amassed over 10 million users and just last month it facilitated more than 15 million job interviews, said Parikh. All jobs listed on the Apna platform are verified by the startup and free of cost for the candidates.

Apna has partnered with some of India’s leading public and private organizations and is providing support to the Ministry of Minority Affairs of India, National Skill Development Corporation and UNICEF YuWaah to provide better skilling and job opportunities to candidates.

Apna app (Apna)

More than 100,000 recruiters — including Byju’s, Unacademy, Flipkart, Zomato, Licious, Burger King, Dunzo, Bharti-AXA, Delhivery, Teamlease, G4S Global and Shadowfax — in the country today use Apna’s platform, where they have to spend less than five minutes to post job posts and are connect to hyperlocal candidates with relevant skills in within two days.

Apna has built the “market leading platform for India’s workforce to establish digital professional identity, network, access skills training, and find high quality jobs,” said Nikhil Sachdev, managing director, Insight Partners, in a statement.

“Employers are engaging with Apna at a rapid pace to help find high quality talent with low friction which is leading to best in class customer satisfaction scores. We believe that our investment will enable Apna to continue their steep growth trajectory, scale up their operations, and improve access to opportunities for India’s workforce.”

The startup plans to deploy the fresh capital to scale across India and eventually take the app to international markets, said Parikh. Apna, which has recently seen high-profile individuals from firms such as Uber, BCG  and Swiggy join the firm, is also actively hiring for several tech roles in the South Asian market.

“Our first goal is to restart India’s economy in the next couple of months and do whatever we can to help,” said Parikh, who was part of the iPhone product-operations team at Apple.

#apna, #apps, #asia, #funding, #india, #insight-partners, #recent-funding, #startups, #talent, #tiger-global

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FamPay, a fintech aimed at teens in India, raises $38 million

How big is the market in India for a neobank aimed at teenagers? Scores of high-profile investors are backing a startup to find out.

Bangalore-based FamPay said on Wednesday it has raised $38 million in its Series A round led by Elevation Capital. General Catalyst, Rocketship VC, Greenoaks Capital and existing investors Sequoia Capital India, Y Combinator, Global Founders Capital and Venture Highway also participated in the new round, which brings FamPay’s to-date raise to $42.7 million.

TechCrunch reported early this month that FamPay was in talks with Elevation Capital to raise a new round.

Founded by Sambhav Jain and Kush Taneja (pictured above) — both of whom graduated from Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee in 2019 — FamPay enables teenagers to make online and offline payments.

The thesis behind the startup, said Jain in an interview with TechCrunch, is to provide financial literacy to teenagers, who additionally have limited options to open a bank account in India at a young age. Through gamification, the startup said it’s making lessons about money fun for youngsters.

Unlike in the U.S., where it’s common for teenagers to get jobs at restaurants and other places and understand how to handle money at a young age, a similar tradition doesn’t exist in India.

After gathering the consent from parents, FamPay provides teenagers with an app to make online purchases, as well as plastic cards — the only numberless card of its kind in the country — for offline transactions. Parents credit money to their children’s FamPay accounts and get to keep track of high-ticket spendings.

In other markets, including the U.S., a number of startups including Greenlight, Step and Till Financial are chasing to serve the teenagers, but in India, there currently is no startup looking to solve the financial access problem for teenagers, said Mridul Arora, a partner at Elevation Capital, in an interview with TechCrunch.

It could prove to be a good issue to solve — India has the largest adolescent population in the world.

“If you’re able to serve them at a young age, over a course of time, you stand to become their go-to product for a lot of things,” Arora said. “FamPay is serving a population that is very attractive and at the same time underserved.”

The current offerings of FamPay are just the beginning, said Jain. Eventually the startup wishes to provide a range of services and serve as a neobank for youngsters to retain them with the platform forever, he said, though he didn’t wish to share currently what those services might be.

Image Credits: FamPay

Teens represent the “most tech-savvy generation, as they haven’t seen a world without the internet,” he said. “They adapt to technology faster than any other target audience and their first exposure with the internet comes from the likes of Instagram and Netflix. This leads to higher expectations from the products that they prefer to use. We are unique in approaching banking from a whole new lens with our recipe of community and gamification to match the Gen Z vibe.”

“I don’t look at FamPay just as a payments service. If the team is able to execute this, FamPay can become a very powerful gateway product to teenagers in India and their financial life. It can become a neobank, and it also has the opportunity to do something around social, community and commerce,” said Arora.

During their college life, Jain and Taneja collaborated and built an app and worked at a number of startups, including social network ShareChat, logistics firm Rivigo and video streaming service Hotstar. Jain said their work with startups in the early days paved the idea to explore a future in this ecosystem.

Prior to arriving at FamPay, Jain said the duo had thought about several more ideas for a startup. The early days of FamPay were uniquely challenging to the founders, who had to convince their parents about their decision to do a startup rather than joining firms or startups as had most of their peers from college. Until being selected by Y Combinator, Jain said he didn’t even fully understand a cap table and dilutions.

He credited entrepreneurs such as Kunal Shah (founder of CRED) and Amrish Rau (CEO of Pine Labs) for being generous with their time and guidance. They also wrote some of the earliest checks to the startup.

The startup, which has amassed over 2 million registered users, plans to deploy the fresh capital to expand its user base and product offerings, and hire engineers. It is also looking for people to join its leadership team, said Jain.

#apps, #asia, #elevation-capital, #fampay, #finance, #funding, #general-catalyst, #global-founders-capital, #greenoaks-capital, #neobanks, #recent-funding, #rocketship-vc, #sequoia-capital-india, #startups, #tc, #venture-highway, #y-combinator

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Android announces six new features, emphasizing safety and accessibility

Android shared information today about six features that will roll out this summer. Some of these are just quality of life upgrades, like starring text messages to easily find them later, or getting contextual Emoji Kitchen suggestions depending on what you’re typing. But other aspects of this update emphasize security, safety, and accessibility.

Last summer, Google added a feature on Android that basically uses your phone as a seismometer to create “the world’s largest earthquake detection network.” The system is free, and since testing in California, it’s also launched in New Zealand and Greece. Now, Google will introduce this feature in Turkey, the Philippines, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The company says that they’ll continue expanding the feature this year, prioritizing countries with the highest earthquake risk.

Image Credits: Google

Google is also expanding on another feature released last year, which made Google Assistant compatible with Android apps. In the initial update, apps were supported like Spotify, Snapchat, Twitter, Walmart, Discord, Etsy, MyFitnessPal, Mint, Nike Adapt, Nike Run Club, eBay, Kroger, Postmates, and Wayfair. Today’s update mentioned apps like eBay, Yahoo! Finance, Strava, and Capital One. These features are comparable to Apple’s support of Siri with iOS apps, which includes the ability to open apps, perform tasks, and record a custom command.

When it comes to accessibility, Google is ramping up its gaze detection feature, which is now in beta. Gaze detection allows people to ask Voice Access to only respond when they’re looking at their screen, allowing people to naturally move between talking with friends and using their phone. Now, Voice Access will also have enhanced password input — when it detects a password field, it will allow you to input letters, numbers, and symbols by saying “capital P” or “dollar sign,” for example, making it easier for users to more quickly enter this sensitive information. In October, Google Assistant became available on gaze-powered accessible devices, and in the same month, Google researchers debuted a demo that made it so people using sign language could be identified as the “active speaker” in video calls. Apple doesn’t have a comparable gaze detection feature yet that’s widely available, though they acquired SensoMotoric Instruments (SMI), an eye-tracking firm, in 2017. So, hopefully similar accessibility features will be in the works at Apple, especially as Google continues to build out theirs.

Today’s Android update also lets Android Auto users customize more of their experience. Now, you can set your launcher screen from your phone, set dark mode manually, and more easily browse content on media apps with an A-Z scroll bar and “back to top” button. Messaging apps like WhatsApp and Messages will now be compatible on the launch screen – proceed with caution and don’t drive distracted – and EV charging, parking, and navigation apps will now be available for use.

#android, #apps, #assistant, #california, #computing, #ebay, #etsy, #google, #google-assistant, #google-now, #google-play, #greece, #kazakhstan, #kroger, #mobile-linux, #myfitnesspal, #new-zealand, #nike, #operating-systems, #philippines, #postmates, #siri, #smartphones, #snapchat, #software, #spotify, #turkey, #walmart, #wayfair, #whatsapp, #yahoo

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Apple Podcasts Subscriptions go live worldwide

Apple Podcasts Subscriptions are now live across more than 170 countries and regions, Apple announced this morning. First unveiled this spring, subscriptions allow listeners to unlock additional benefits for their favorite podcasts, including things like ad-free listening, early access to new episodes, bonus material, exclusives or whatever else the podcast creator believes will be something their fans will pay for. Channels allow podcasters to group their shows however they like — for instance, to highlight a set of shows with a shared theme, or to offer different mixes of free and paid content.

The new subscription features were initially set to arrive in May, but Apple later emailed creators that the launch was being pushed to June. This was likely due to a series of back-end issues impacting the service, including things like delayed episodes and malfunctioning analytics, among other things.

At launch, Apple says there are thousands of subscriptions and channels available, with more expected to arrive on a weekly basis.

When listeners purchase a subscription to a show, they’ll automatically follow the show in the redesigned Apple Podcasts app. The show’s page will also be updated with a Subscriber Edition label, so they’ll be able to more easily tell if they have access to the premium experience.

The app’s Listen Now tab will expand with new rows that provide access to paid subscriptions, including their available channels.

In the app, users can discover channels from show pages and through Search, browse through recommendations from the Listen Now and Browse tabs, and share channels with friends through Messages, Mail and other apps.

Apple’s delay to invest in the Podcasts market has given its rivals a head start on growing their own audience for podcasts. At the time of the spring announcement of subscriptions, for example, an industry report suggested that Spotify’s podcast listeners would top Apple’s for the first time in 2021.

Despite the competition, Apple is betting its massive install base will bring in creators. Those creators agree to pay Apple a 30% cut of their subscription revenue in year one, just like subscription-based iOS apps. That cut drops to 15% in year two. Spotify, by comparison, is taking no revenue cut for the next two years while its program gets off the ground. It will then take only a 5% fee.

Based on the debut lineup, it seems many creators and studios believe Apple’s footprint is worth the larger revenue share.

Early adopters of subscriptions include notable names like Lemonada Media, Luminary, Realm and Wondery; media and entertainment brands, including CNN, NPR, The Washington Post and Sony Music Entertainment.

Other studio participants include Audio Up, Betches Media, Blue Wire, Campside Media, Imperative Entertainment, Lantigua Williams & Co., Magnificent Noise, The Moth, Neon Hum Media, Three Uncanny Four, Wondery, Audacy’s Cadence13 and Ramble, Barstool Sports, Jake Brennan’s Double Elvis, Headgum, iHeartMedia’s The Black Effect, Big Money Players, Grim & Mild, Seneca Women, Shondaland, Relay FM, Tenderfoot TV, Radiotopia from PRX, Pushkin Industries, QCODE and others,

Image Credits: Apple

In the news category, there’s also The Athletic, Fox News, Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg Media, Politico and Vox Media, plus channels from other newspapers, magazines, broadcasters, radio stations and digital publishers, including ABC News, Axios, Billboard, Bravo, CNBC, CNN, Crooked Media, Dateline, Entertainment Weekly, Futuro Media, The Hollywood Reporter, LAist Studios, National Geographic, MSNBC, NBC News, NBC Sports, New York Magazine, The New York Times, SiriusXM, SB Nation, Southern Living, The Verge, TODAY, VICE, Vogue, Vox and WBUR.

Kids’ podcasts are also available, including those from GBH, Gen-Z Media, Pinna, Wonkybot Studios, TRAX from PRX and others.

Apple also highlighted independent creators offering subscriptions like “Birthful” with Adriana Lozada, “Pantsuit Politics” with Beth Silvers and Sarah Stewart Holland, “Snap Judgment” with Glynn Washington and “You Had Me At Black” with Martina Abrams Ilunga.

Image Credits: Apple

Meanwhile, international subscriptions and channels are being offered from ABC, LiSTNR and SBS from Australia; Abrace Podcasts from Brazil; CANADALAND and Frequency Podcast Network from Canada; GoLittle from Denmark; Europe 1, Louie Media, and Radio France from France; Der Spiegel, Podimo, and ZEIT ONLINE from Germany; Il Sole 24 Ore and Storielibere.fm from Italy; J-WAVE from Japan; Brainrich from Korea; libo/libo from Russia; Finyal Media from the UAE; and Broccoli Productions, The Bugle, Content Is Queen, the Guardian, Immediate Media, and Somethin’ Else from the U.K.

Subscriptions start at $0.49 U.S. per month and go up, with some popular shows priced at $2.99 per month and some channels, like Luminary, at $4.99 per month, to give you an idea of pricing. Apple Card users get a 3% cash back on their subscriptions, which can be viewed in Apple Wallet.

Once subscribed, you can listen across Apple devices, including iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch, Apple TV, CarPlay, HomePod and HomePod mini.

Subscriptions were announced alongside a redesigned version of the Apple Podcasts app, which has received a number of usability complaints and sent some users in search of third-party apps. Apple has been responding to user feedback and addressed some issues in the iOS 14.6 update with other Library tab updates planned to arrive in future releases, perhaps iOS 14.7.

#apps, #media, #mobile, #tc

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Mobile game spending hits record $1.7B per week in Q1 2021, up 40% from pre-pandemic levels

The Covid-19 pandemic drove increased demand for mobile gaming, as consumers under lockdowns looked to online sources of entertainment, including games. But even as Covid-19 restrictions are easing up, the demand for mobile gaming isn’t slowing. According to a new report from mobile data and analytics provider App Annie in collaboration with IDC, users worldwide downloaded 30% more games in the first quarter of 2021 than in the fourth quarter of 2019, and spent a record-breaking $1.7 billion per week in mobile games in Q1 2021.

That figure is up 40% from pre-pandemic levels, the report noted.

Image Credits: App Annie

The U.S. and Germany led other markets in terms of growth in mobile game spending year-over-year as of Q1 2021 in the North American and Western European markets, respectively. Saudi Arabia and Turkey led the growth in the rest of the world, outside the Asia-Pacific region. The latter made up around half of the mobile game spend in the quarter, App Annie said.

 

The growth in mobile gaming, in part accelerated by the pandemic, also sees mobile further outpacing other forms of digital games consumption. This year, mobile gaming will increased its global lead over PC and Mac gaming to 2.9x and will extend its lead over home games consoles to 3.1x.

Image Credits: App Annie

However, this change comes at a time when the mobile and console market is continuing to merge, App Annie notes, as more mobile devices are capable of offering console-like graphics and gameplay experiences, including those with cross-platform capabilities and social gaming features.

Games with real-time online features tend to dominate the Top Grossing charts on the app stores, including things like player-vs-player and cross-play features. For example, the top grossing mobile game worldwide on iOS and Google Play in Q1 2021 was Roblox. This was followed by Genshin Impact, which just won an Apple Design Award during the Worldwide Developer Conference for its visual experience.

Image Credits: App Annie

The report also analyzed the ad market around gaming and the growth of mobile companion apps for game consoles, including My Nintendo, Xbox Game Pass, PlayStation App, Steam, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox apps. Downloads for these apps peaked under lockdowns in April 2020 in the U.S., but continue to see stronger downloads than pre-pandemic.

Image Credits: App Annie

On the advertising front, App Annie says user sentiment towards in-game mobile ads improved in Q3 2020 compared with Q3 2019, but rewarded video ads and playable ads were preferred in the U.S.

#app-store, #apps, #asia-pacific, #gaming, #germany, #google-play, #mobile-devices, #mobile-game, #nintendo, #nintendo-switch, #roblox, #saudi-arabia, #super-mario-run, #tc, #turkey, #united-states, #xbox

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Messaging social network IRL hits unicorn status with SoftBank-led $170M Series C

Social calendar app IRL has been busy building a messaging-based social network, or what founder and CEO Abraham Shafi calls a “WeChat of the West.” Following its pandemic-fueled growth and further push into the social networking space with group chat and other features, IRL is today announcing a sizable $170 million Series C growth round, led by SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2. The fundraise also mints IRL as a new unicorn with a $1.17 billion valuation.

Besides SoftBank, new investor Dragoneer also participated in the oversubscribed round, alongside returning investors Goodwater Capital, Founders Fund and Floodgate. To date, IRL has raised over $200 million.

The startup began its life as a tool for discovering real-world events — an industry that went to zero almost overnight due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That could have been the end for IRL, but the startup quickly pivoted to prioritize discovery of online events instead. Under COVID lockdowns, users could turn to the app to find things like livestreamed concerts, esports events, Zoom parties and more.

Image Credits: IRL

IRL focused on pulling in popular online events from places like Live Nation, Twitch, YouTube, TikTok and others.

As a result, IRL became more accessible because its audience was no longer limited only to those who had time and money to travel to real-world events.

That focus also helped the app to attract a crowd of younger users who are of the generation that doesn’t use Facebook.

“They essentially use Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok,” explains Shafi. “But there is no groups and events product for that generation,” he points out.

Earlier this year, the company doubled down on its social networking features with the launch of a new site that added things like user profiles, support for group chats, the ability to join group events, personalized recommendations and more. As users could now network with friends across both web and mobile, IRL began to feel more like a social network, not just an event-discovery engine.

Image Credits: IRL

Today, IRL has 20 million users and 12 million who use the app monthly, which are not startling numbers in comparison to major social networks and their billions of users. But the numbers are representative of a steady approach that helped IRL grow 400% over the past 15 months, despite COVID’s impact to real-world events.

But as of recently, things are starting to change. In-person events are starting to return. California, the home state for San Francisco-based IRL, is today re-opening, for example. That opens up IRL to once again focus on connecting people not just online, but also “in real life,” as its name implies.

That could mean helping people better connect around events with not just their own friend group, as is often the case today, but helping them discover new groups in their local area or on campus. The company is even planning to use a portion of its fundraise to help fuel the new events economy by allocating a certain amount of money per city that will go toward helping people put on real-world events. The exact details are still being worked out, Shafi says, but says the idea is that IRL wants to help “bring culture back in cities that are opening up again.”

IRL also plans to expand its international footprint by finding ways to bring in non-U.S. users to its platform — possibly beginning with the events focused on watching the Olympics. (If the Games are not again delayed or canceled due to a COVID surge.)

Shafi says IRL hadn’t been planning to fundraise, but they decided to take the meetings when they were approached.

“The philosophy is not to raise when you have to, but to raise when it makes sense. And we were scaling like crazy to the point where our servers were melting. It made sense to take those discussions very seriously when they came to us,” he says.

The addition of SoftBank and Dragoneer brings some expertise in scaling large social networks to the IRL team. SoftBank’s other notable social networking investment is with TikTok owner’s Bytedance, while Dragoneer has backed Snap. IRL has already has a close relationship with TikTok as it’s worked with the video app to pull in interesting events for discovery. It more recently integrated with TikTok’s new “Login Kit,” too, allowing TikTok users to authenticate with IRL using their TikTok credentials.

Now, IRL plans to add an even deeper TikTok integration — something that caught SoftBank’s attention.

Shafi is cagey on the details, but says more will be announced in the “coming weeks.”

“But what I can say is that we’ve seen a ton of growth of TikTok users linking to IRL group chats and IRL events through their TikTok profiles as a way to communicate and go deeper in relationships,” he says. “If you think about it, right now Instagram has really great messaging…whereas TikTok is still developing that,” he hints.

Image Credits: IRL

Beyond its value to growing social networks for the younger, Facebook-less generation, IRL is thinking about how to build a profitable business without ad revenue. On this front, it sees potential in helping people connect through paid events — although these wouldn’t have to be influencer-driven as on other platforms. In fact, when IRL recently piloted paid group chats, users were willing to pay for access to things like a calc homework help group, for example.

IRL also sees demand for tools that help groups and clubs collect membership dues and other fees, as well as for events that are too small for Ticketmaster or Eventbrite.

“Whether we succeed or fail will be based on our ability to execute on our opportunity,” says Shafi, adding that most social networks today are focused on media more so than helping users make connections. “What we’re building isn’t the media part of social, it’s the real human interaction part of social, because that hasn’t been paid attention to as much.”

“We’re building a messaging social network,” he continues, comparing it to the biggest messaging social network in the world, WeChat. “The big vision that we’re going for is building the WeChat of the West — a messaging super social network. And it starts with people organizing groups and doing things together,” he says.

With the additional funding, IRL will invest in product growth, international expansion and its Creator and Culture Fund, and will grow its now 25-person remotely distributed team to 100 by year-end.

“People are increasingly seeking more in-person social connections and are looking to share meaningful experiences together. As an innovative event-based social network, IRL sits at the intersection of group and event discovery, social calendaring, and group messaging, enabling people to do more together,” added Serena Dayal, director at SoftBank Investment Advisers, in a statement about its investment. “We are excited to partner with Abraham and the IRL team to support their ambition of helping everyone deepen their connections to friends and family.”

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