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.
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.
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.
Bothapps, 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.
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.
Location-based services may have had their day as a salient category for hot apps or innovative tech leveraging the arrival of smartphones, but that’s largely because they are now part of the unspoken fabric of how we interact with digital services every day: we rely on location specific information when we are on search engines, when we are using maps, or weather apps, or taking and posting photos and more.
Still, there remain a lot of gaps in how location information links up with accurate information, and so today a company that’s made it its business to address that is announcing some funding as it scales up its service.
Uberall, which works with retailers and other brick-and-mortar operators to help them update and provide more accurate information about themselves across the plethora of apps and other services that consumers use to discover them, is announcing $115 million in funding. Alongside that, the Berlin startup is making an acquisition: it’s buying MomentFeed, a location marketing company based out of Los Angeles, CA, to continue scaling its business.
The funding is being led by London-based investor Bregal Milestone, with Level Equity, United Internet and Uberall management also participating. From what we understand from sources, the funding values Uberall at around $500 million, and the deal for MomentFeed was made for between $50 million and $60 million.
The business combination is building way more scale into the platform: Uberall said that together they will manage the online presence for 1.35 million business locations, making the company the biggest in the field, with customers including the gas station operator BP, KFC, clothes and food chain Marks and Spencer, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut.
Florian Hübner, the CEO and co-founder of Uberall, noted in an interview that the companies have quite a lot of overlap, and in fact prior to the deal being made the companies worked together closely in the U.S. market, but all the same, MomentFeed has built some specific technology that will enrich the wider platform, such as a particularly strong tool for measuring sentiment analysis.
“Managing the online presence” is not a company’s website, nor is it its apps, but may nevertheless be its most common digital touchpoints when it comes to actually engaging with consumers online. It includes how those companies appear on local listings services like Yelp or TripAdvisor, or mapping apps like Google’s — which provide not just listings information like addresses and opening hours but also customer reviews — or social apps or location-based advertising. Altogether, when you are considering a company with multiple locations and the multiple touchpoints a consumer might use, it ends up being a complicated mess of places that need to be managed and kept up to date.
“We are the catalyst for this huge ecosystem where we enable the brands to use everything that the other tech platforms are offering in the best possible way,” Hübner told me. The tech platforms, meanwhile, are willing to work with middle-ware companies like Uberall to make the information on their services more accurate and complete by connecting with businesses when they have not manage to do so directly on their own. (And if you’ve ever been caught out by the wrong opening times on a Google Maps entry, or any other entry or piece of information elsewhere, you know this is an issue.)
And of course expecting any company with potentially hundreds of locations to provide the right details without a tool is also a non-starter. “Casually updating 100,000 profiles is super hard,” Hübner said.
It also provides services to update information about vaccine and Covid-19 testing clinics, as well as other essential services that also have to contend with the same variations in location, opening hours and customer feedback as any other business on a site like Google Maps.
Altogether, Uberall has built out a platform that essentially connects up all of those end points, so that an Uberall customer can use a dashboard to provide updates that populate automatically everywhere, and also to read and respond to reviews.
Conversely, Uberall also can look out for instances where a company is being unofficially represented, or mis-represented and locks those down. Alongside those, it has built a location-based marketing service that also serves ads for its customers. It is somewhat akin to social media management tools, which let you manage social media accounts and social media marketing campaigns, except that it’s covering a much more fragmented and disparate set of places where a company might appear online.
The bigger picture here is that just as location-based marketing is a fragmented business, so is the business of providing services to manage it. This move reduces down that field a little more and improves the efficiency of scaling such services.
“As we saw the market trending towards consolidation, we considered several potential companies to merge with. Uberall was by far our most preferred,” said MomentFeed CEO Nick Hedges in a statement. “This combination makes enormous strategic sense for our customers, who represent the who’s-who of leading U.S. omni channel brands. It helps accelerate our already rapid pace of innovation, giving customers an even greater edge in the hyper-competitive world of ’Near Me’ Marketing.” After the deal closes, Hedges will become Uberall’s chief strategy officer and EVP for North America.
“We are thrilled to partner with the Uberall team for this next phase of growth. Our strategic investment will significantly accelerate Uberall’s ambition to become the leading ‘Near Me’ Customer Experience platform worldwide. Uberall’s differentiated full-suite solution is unsurpassed by competition in terms of integration and functionality, providing customers with a real edge to reach, interact with, and convert online customers. We look forward to supporting Florian, Nick and their talented team to deliver on their exciting innovation and expansion roadmap.” said Cyrus Shey, managing partner of Bregal Milestone, in a statement.
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.
The UK’s competition watchdog will take a deep dive look into Apple and Google’s dominance of the mobile ecosystem, it said today — announcing a market study which will examine the pair’s respective smartphone platforms (iOS and Android); their app stores (App Store and Play Store); and web browsers (Safari and Chrome).
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is concerned that the mobile platform giants’ “effective duopoly” in those areas might be harming consumers, it added.
The study will be wide ranging, with the watchdog concerns about the nested gateways that are created as a result of the pair’s dominance of mobile ecosystem — intermediating how consumers can access a variety of products, content and services (such as music, TV and video streaming; fitness tracking, shopping and banking, to cite some of the examples provided by the CMA).
“These products also include other technology and devices such as smart speakers, smart watches, home security and lighting (which mobiles can connect to and control),” it went on, adding that it’s looking into whether their dominance of these pipes is “stifling competition across a range of digital markets”, saying too that it’s “concerned this could lead to reduced innovation across the sector and consumers paying higher prices for devices and apps, or for other goods and services due to higher advertising prices”.
The CMA further confirmed the deep dive will examine “any effects” of the pair’s market power over other businesses — giving the example of app developers who rely on Apple or Google to market their products to customers via their smart devices.
The CMA said both those existing investigations are examining issues that fall within the scope of the new mobile ecosystem market study but that its work on the latter will be “much broader”.
It added that it will adopt a joined-up approach across all related cases — “to ensure the best outcomes for consumers and other businesses”.
It’s giving itself a full year to examine Gapple’s mobile ecosystems.
It is also soliciting feedback on any of the issues raised in its statement of scope — calling for responses by 26 July. The CMA added that it’s also keen to hear from app developers, via its questionnaire, by the same date.
That earlier market study has been feeding the UK government’s plan to reform competition rules to take account of the market-deforming power of digital giants. And the CMA suggested the new market study, examining ‘Gapple’s’ mobile muscle, could similarly help shape UK-wide competition law reforms.
Last year the UK announced its plan to set up a “pro-competition” regime for regulating Internet platforms — including by establishing a dedicated Digital Markets Unit within the CMA (which got going earlier this year).
The legislation for the reform has not yet been put before parliament but the government has said it wants the competition regulator to be able to “proactively shape platforms’ behavior” to avoid harmful behavior before it happens” — saying too that it supports enabling ex ante interventions once a platform has been identified to have so-called “strategic market status”.
Germany already adopted similar reforms to its competition law (early this year), which enable proactive interventions to tackle large digital platforms with what is described as “paramount significance for competition across markets”. And its Federal Cartel Office has, in recent months, wasted no time in opening a number of proceedings to determine whether Amazon, Google and Facebook have such a status.
The CMA also sounds keen to get going to tackle Internet gatekeepers.
Commenting in a statement, CEO Andrea Coscelli said:
“Apple and Google control the major gateways through which people download apps or browse the web on their mobiles – whether they want to shop, play games, stream music or watch TV. We’re looking into whether this could be creating problems for consumers and the businesses that want to reach people through their phones.
“Our ongoing work into big tech has already uncovered some worrying trends and we know consumers and businesses could be harmed if they go unchecked. That’s why we’re pressing on with launching this study now, while we are setting up the new Digital Markets Unit, so we can hit the ground running by using the results of this work to shape future plans.”
The European Union also unveiled its own proposals for clipping the wings of big tech last year — presenting its Digital Markets Act plan in December which will apply a single set of operational rules to so-called “gatekeeper” platforms operating across the EU.
The clear trend in Europe on digital competition is toward increasing oversight and regulation of the largest platforms — in the hopes that antitrust authorities can impose measures that will help smaller players thrive.
Critics might say that’s just playing into the tech giants’ hands, though — because it’s fiddling around the edges when more radical intervention (break ups) are what’s really needed to reboot captured markets.
Apple and Google were contacted for comment on the CMA’s market study.
A Google spokesperson said: “Android provides people with more choice than any other mobile platform in deciding which apps they use, and enables thousands of developers and manufacturers to build successful businesses. We welcome the CMA’s efforts to understand the details and differences between platforms before designing new rules.”
According to Google, the Android App Economy generated £2.8BN in revenue for UK developers last year, which it claims supported 240,000 jobs across the country — citing a Public First report that it commissioned.
The tech giant also pointed to operational changes it has already made in Europe, following antitrust interventions by the European Commission — such as adding a choice screen to Android where users can pick from a list of alternative search engines.
Earlier this month it agreed to shift the format underlying that choice screen from an unpopular auction model to free participation.
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, our series will take a dive into the key announcements impacting app developers from WWDC 21.
Apple’s WWDC went virtual again this year, but it didn’t slow down the pace of announcements. This week, Apple introduced a slate of new developer tools and frameworks, changes to iOS that will impact how consumers use their devices and new rules for publishing on its App Store, among other things. We don’t have the bandwidth to dig into every dev update — and truly, there are better places to learn about, say, the new concurrency capabilities of Swift 5.5 or what’s new with SwiftUI.
But after a few days of processing everything new, here’s what’s jumping out as the bigger takeaways and updates.
Apple’s development IDE, Xcode 13, now includes Xcode Cloud, a built-in continuous integration and delivery service hosted on Apple’s cloud infrastructure. Apple says the service, birthed out of its 2018 Buddybuild acquisition, will help to speed up the pace of development by combining cloud-based tools for building apps along with tools to run automated tests in parallel, deliver apps to testers via TestFlight and view tester feedback through the web-based App Store Connect dashboard. Beyond the immediate improvements to the development process (which developers are incredibly excited about based on #WWDC21tweets) Xcode Cloud represents a big step by Apple further into the cloud services space, where Amazon (AWS), Google and Microsoft have dominated. While Xcode Cloud may not replace solutions designed for larger teams with more diverse needs, it’s poised to make app development easier — and deliver a new revenue stream to Apple. If only Apple had announced the pricing!
Swift Playgrounds got a notable update in iPadOS 15, as it will now allow developers to build iPhone and iPad apps right on their iPad and submit them to the App Store. In Swift Playgrounds 4, coming later this year, Apple says developers will be able to create the visual design of an app using SwiftUI, see the live preview of their app’s code while building and can run their apps full-screen to test them out. App projects can also be opened and edited with either Swift Playgrounds or Xcode.
While it’s not the Xcode on iPad system some developers have been requesting, it will make app building more accessible because of iPad’s lower price point compared with Mac. It could also encourage more people to try app development, as Swift Playgrounds helps student coders learn the basics then move up to more challenging lessons over time. Now, they can actually build real apps and hit the publish button, too.
I had to save for a couple of months – 8-10 months before buying my first Mac. Swift playgrounds on iPad is a very welcome move!
Antitrust pressure swirling around Apple has contributed to a growing sentiment among some developers that Apple doesn’t do enough to help them grow their businesses — and therefore, is undeserving of a 15%-30% cut of the revenues the developers themselves worked to gain. The new App Store updates may start to chip away at that perception.
Soon, developers will be able to create up to 35 custom product pages targeted toward different users, each with their unique URL for sharing and analytics for measuring performance. The pages can include different preview videos, screenshots and text.
Image Credits: Apple
Apple will also allow developers to split traffic between three treatments of the app’s default page to measure which ones convert best, then choose the percentage of the App Store audience that will see one of the three treatments.
Meanwhile, the App Store will begin to show to customers in-app events taking place inside developers’ apps — like game competitions, fitness challenges, film premieres and more — effectively driving traffic to apps and re-engaging users. Combined, Apple is making the case that its App Store can drive discovery beyond just offering an app listing page.
Beyond the App Store product itself, Apple overhauled its App Store policies to address the growing problem of scam apps. The changes give Apple permission to crack down on scammers by removing offenders from its Developer Program. The new guidelines also allow developers to report spam directly to Apple, instead of, you know, relying on tweets and press.
Apple has historically downplayed the scam problem. It noted how the App Store stopped over $1.5 billion in fraudulent transactions in 2020, for example. Even if it’s a small percentage of the App Store, scam apps with fake ratings not only can cheat users out of millions of dollars, they reduce consumer trust in the App Store and Apple itself, which has longer-term consequences for the ecosystem health. What’s unclear, however, is why Apple is seemingly trying to solve the App Review issues using forms — to report fraud (and now, to appeal rulings, too) when it’s becoming apparent that Apple needs a more systematic way of keeping tabs on the app ecosystem beyond the initial review process.
The App Store discovery updates mentioned above also matter more because developers may need to reduce their reliance on notifications to send users back into their apps. Indeed, iOS 15 users will be able to choose which apps they don’t need to hear from right away — these will be rounded up into a new Notification Summary that arrives on a schedule they configure, where Siri intelligence helps determine which apps get a top spot. If an app was already struggling to re-engage users through push notifications, getting relegated to the end of a summary is not going to help matters.
And users can “Send to Summary” right from the Lock Screen notification itself in addition to the existing options to “Deliver Quietly” or be turned off. That means any ill-timed push could be an app developer’s last.
Image Credits: Apple
Meanwhile, the clever new “Focus” modes let iOS users configure different quiet modes for work, play, sleeping and more, each with their own set of rules and even their own home screens. But making this work across the app ecosystem will require developer adoption of four “interruption levels,” ranging from passive to critical. A new episode of a fav show should be a “passive” notification, for example. “Active” is the default setting — which doesn’t get to break into Focus. “Time sensitive” notifications should be reserved for alerting to more urgent matters, like a delivery that’s arrived on your doorstep or an account security update. These may be able to break through Focus, if allowed.
Image Credits: Apple
“Critical” notifications would be reserved for emergencies, like severe weather alerts or local safety updates. While there is a chance developers may abuse the new system to get their alert through, they risk users silencing their notifications entirely or deleting the app. Focus mode users will be power users and more technically savvy, so they’ll understand that an errant notification here was a choice and not a mistake on the developer’s part.
Image Credits: Apple
Apple has been steadily pushing out more tools for building augmented reality apps, but this WWDC it just introduced a huge update that will make it easier for developers getting started with AR. With the launch of RealityKit 2, Apple’s new Object Capture API will allow developers to create 3D models in minutes using only an iPhone or iPad (or a DSLR or drone if they choose).
Explains Apple this will address one of the most difficult parts of making great AR apps, which was the process of creating 3D models. Before, this could take hours and cost thousands of dollars — now, developers with just an iPhone and Mac can participate. The impacts of this update will be seen in the months and years ahead, as developers adopt the new tools for things like AR shopping, games and other AR experiences — including ones we may not have seen yet, but are enabled by more accessible AR technology tools and frameworks.
This update is unexpected and interesting, despite missing what would have been an ideal launch window: mid-pandemic back in 2020. With SharePlay, developers can bring their apps into what Apple is calling “Group Activities” — or shared experiences that take place right inside FaceTime.
If you were co-watching Hulu with friends during the pandemic, you get the idea. But Apple isn’t tacking on some co-viewing system here. Instead, it’s introducing new APIs that let users listen to music, stream video or screen share with friends, in a way that feels organic to FaceTime. There was a hint of serving the locked-down COVID-19 pandemic crowd with this update, as Apple talks about making people feel as if they’re “in the same room” — a nod to those many months where that was not possible. And that may have inspired the changes, to be sure. Similarly, FaceTime’s support for Android and scheduled calls — a clear case of Zoom envy — feels like a case of playing catch-up on Apple’s part.
Image Credits: Apple
The immediate demand for these sorts of experiences may be dulled by a population that’s starting to recover from the pandemic — people are now going out and seeing others in person again thanks to vaccines. But the ability to use apps while FaceTime’ing has a lifespan that extends beyond the COVID era, particularly among iPhone’s youngest users. The demographic growing up with smartphones at ever-younger ages don’t place phone calls — they text and FaceTime. Some argue Gen Z even prefers the latter.
Image Credits: Apple
With its immediate support for Apple services like Apple Music and Apple TV+, SharePlay will hit the ground running — but it will only fully realize its vision with developer adoption. But such a system seems possibly only because of Apple’s tight control over its platform. It also gives a default iOS app a big advantage over third-parties.
Not to be outdone by WWDC (ha), Google this week launched Android 12, beta 2. This release brings more of the new features and design changes to users that weren’t yet available in the first beta which debuted at Google I/O. This includes the new privacy dashboard; the addition of the mic and camera indicators that show when an app is using those features; an indication when an app is reading from the clipboard; and a new panel that makes it easier to switch between internet providers or Wi-Fi networks.
Google also this week released its next Pixel feature drop which brought new camera and photo features, privacy features, Google Assistant improvements and more. Highlights included a way to create stargazing videos, a car crash detection feature and a way to answer or reject calls hands-free.
Pinterest wants to get more users clicking “buy.” The company this week added a new Shopping List feature which automatically organizes your saved Product Pins for easier access.
Google discontinued its AR-based app Measure, which had allowed users to measure things in the real world using the phone’s camera. The app had seen some stability and accuracy issues in the past.
Facebook’s Messenger app added Venmo-like QR codes for person-to-person payments inside its app in the U.S. Users can scan the codes to send or request a payment, even if they’re not Facebook friends with the other party. Payments are sent over Facebook Pay, which is backed by a users’ credit card, debit card or a PayPal account.
Downloads of fintech apps are up 132%globally YoY according to an AppsFlyer marketing report.
Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey said Square is thinking about adding a bitcoin hardware wallet to its product lineup. The exec detailed some of the thinking behind the plan in a Twitter thread.
Square is considering making a hardware wallet for #bitcoin. If we do it, we would build it entirely in the open, from software to hardware design, and in collaboration with the community. We want to kick off this thinking the right way: by sharing some of our guiding principles.
Instagram head Adam Mosseri said Facebook will help creators get around Apple’s 30% cut. While any transactions that take place in iOS will follow Apple’s rules, Mosseri said Facebook will look for other ways to help creators make a living where they don’t have to give up a portion of their revenue — like by connecting brands and creators offline or affiliate deals.
Related to this, Instagram announced during its Creator Week event it will start testing a native affiliate tool that will allow creators to recommend products and then earn commissions on those sales. Creators can also now link their merch shops to personal profiles instead of just business profiles, and by year-end, will be able to partner on merch and drops with companies like Bravado/UMG, Fanjoy, Represent and Spring.
Image Credits: Instagram
Instagram also rolled out a new “badge” for live videos which lets viewers tip creators, similar to Facebook’s Stars. Facebook also said paid online events, fan subscriptions, badges and its upcoming news products will remain free through 2023. And it rolled out new features and challenges to help creators earn additional payouts for hitting certain milestones.
Finally, Instagram in a blog post explained how its algorithm works. The post details how the app decides what to show users first, why some posts get more views than others, how Explore works and other topics.
Giphy’s Clips (GIFs with sound) are now available in the Giphy iMessage app, instead of only on the web and in its iOS app. That means you can send the…uh, videos (??)…right from your keyboard.
Image Credits: Tinder
Match-owned dating app Tinder added a way for users to block contacts. The feature requires users grant the app permission to access the phone’s contacts database, which is a bit privacy-invasive. But then users can go through their contacts and check those they want to block on Tinder. The benefit is this would allow people to block exes and abusers. But on the downside, it permits cheating as users can block partners and those who might see them and report back.
Streaming & Entertainment
YouTube will allow creators to repurpose audio from existing YouTube videos as its “Shorts” product — basically, its TikTok competitor — rolls out to more global markets.
Roblox is generating estimated revenue of $3.01 million daily on iPhone, according to data from Finbold. Clash of Clans, Candy Crush Saga, Pokémon GO and others follow. Good thing if they have to pay up over that music usage lawsuit.
Image Credits: Finbold
Apple-owned weather app Dark Sky, whose technology just powered a big iOS 15 revamp of Apple’s stock weather app, is not shutting down just yet. The company announced its iOS app, web app and API will remain online through the end of 2022, instead of 2021 as planned.
Microsoft’s Outlook email app for iOS now lets you use your voice to write emails and schedule meetings. The feature leverages Cortana, and follows the launch of a Play My Emails feature inside Outlook Mobile.
Government & Policy
President Biden revoked and replaced Trump’s actions which had targeted Chinese apps, like TikTok and WeChat. The president signed a new executive order that requires the Commerce Dept. to review apps with ties to “foreign adversaries” that may pose national security risks. Trump had previously tried to ban the apps outright, but his order was blocked by federal courts.
Google has agreed to show more mobile search apps for users to choose from on new Android phones following feedback from the European Commission. The company had been showing a choice screen where app providers bid against each other for the slot, and pay only if users download apps. DuckDuckGo and others complained the solution has not been working.
Security & Privacy
Security flaws were found in Samsung’s stock mobile apps impacting some Galaxy devices. One could have allowed for data theft through the Secure Folder app. Samsung Knox security software could have been used to install malicious apps. And a bug in Samsung Dex could have scraped data from notifications. There are no indications users were impacted and the flaws were fixed.
An App Store analysis published by The Washington Post claims nearly 2% of the top grossing apps on one day were scam apps, which cost people $48 million. They included several VPN apps that told users their iPhones were infected with viruses, a QR code reader that tricked customers into a subscription for functionality that comes with an iPhone, and apps that pretend to be from big-name brands, like Amazon and Samsung.
Multiple apps were removed from the Chinese app store for violating data collection rules, Reuters reported. The apps hailed from Sogou, iFlytek and others, and included virtual keyboards.
Funding and M&A
Mexican payments app Clip raised $250 million from SoftBank’s Latin American Fund and Viking Global Investors, valuing the business at $2 billion. The app offers a Square-like credit card reader device and others, and has begun to offer cash advances to clients.
Shopify acqui-hires the team from the augmented reality home design app Primer. The app, which will be shut down, had allowed users to visualize what tile, wallpaper or paint will look like on surfaces inside their home.
Singapore-based corporate services “super app” Osome raised $16 million in Series A funding. The app offers online accounting and other business services for SMBs. Investors include Target Global, AltaIR Capital, Phystech Ventures, S16VC and VC Peng T. Ong.
Chinese grocery delivery app Dingdong Maicai, backed by Sequoia and Tiger Global, has filed for a U.S. IPO. To date, the company has raised $1 billion.
San Francisco-based MaintainX raised $39 millionin Series B funding led by Bessemer Venture Partners for its mobile-first platform for industrial and frontline workers to help track maintenance, safety and operations.
Berlin’s Ada Health raised $90 millionin Series B funding in a round led by Leaps by Bayer, the impact investment arm of Bayer AG. The app lets users monitor their symptoms and track their health and clinical data.
Photo app Dispo confirmed its previously leaked Series A funding, which earlier reports had pegged as being around $20 million. The app had been rebranded from David’s Disposable and dropped its association with YouTuber David Dobrik, following sexual assault allegations regarding a member of the Vlog Squad. Spark Capital severed ties with Dispo as a result. Seven Seven Six and Unshackled Ventures remained listed as investors, per Dispo’s press release, but the company didn’t confirm the size of the round.
Brazilian fintech Nubank raised a $750 million extension to its Series G (which was $400 million last year) led by Berkshire Hathaway. The company offers a digital bank account accessible from an app, debit card, payments, loans, insurance and more. The funding brings the company to a $1.15 billion valuation.
Seattle-based tutoring app Kadama raised $1.7 million in seed funding led by Grishin Robotics. The app, which offering an online tutoring marketplace aimed at Gen Z, rode the remote learning wave to No. 2 in the Education category on the App Store.
Mark Cuban-based banking app Dave, which helps Americans build financial stability, is planning to go public via a SPAC launched by Chicago-based Victory Park Capital called VPC Impact Acquisition Holdings III. It also includes a $210 million private investment from Tiger Global Management.
Mobile game publisher Voodoo acquired Tel Aviv-based marketing automation platform Bidshake for an undisclosed sum. Launched in January 2020, Bidshake combines data aggregation and analytics with campaign and creative management. It will continue to operate independently.
Turntable — tt.fm
Image Credits: tt.fm on iPhone/Brian Heater
Newly launched music social network tt.fm is a Turntable.fm rival that lets you virtually hang out with friends while listening to music. To be clear, the app is not the same as Turntable.fm, which shut down in 2013 but then returned during the pandemic as people looked to connect online. While that Turntable was rebirthed by its founder Billy Chasen, Turntable – tt.fm hails from early Turntable.fm employee, now tt.fm CEO Joseph Perla. But as live events are coming back, the question now may be not which Turntable app to choose, but whether the Turnable.fm experience has missed the correct launch window…again.
The art app SketchAR previously offered artists tools to draw with AR, turn photos into AR, create AR masks for Snapchat, play games and more. With its latest update, artists can now turn their work into NFTs directly inside the app and sell it. The app, now used by nearly 500,000 users, will select a “Creator of the Week” to NFT on OpenSea. Others can create and auction their art as NFTs on-demand.
Today is Launch Day
Introducing OldOS — iOS 4 beautifully rebuilt in SwiftUI.
* Designed to be as close to pixel-perfect as possible. * Fully functional, perhaps even usable as a second OS. * Fully open source for all to learn, modify, and build on. pic.twitter.com/K0JOE2fEKM
Apple announced a batch of accessibility features at WWDC 2021 that cover a wide variety of needs, among them a few for people who can’t touch or speak to their devices in the ordinary way. With Assistive Touch, Sound Control, and other improvements, these folks have new options for interacting with an iPhone or Apple Watch.
We covered Assistive Touch when it was first announced, but recently got a few more details. This feature lets anyone with an Apple Watch operate it with one hand by means of a variety of gestures. It came about when Apple heard from the community of people with limb differences — whether they’re missing an arm, or unable to use it reliably, or anything else — that as much as they liked the Apple Watch, they were tired of answering calls with their noses.
The research team cooked up a way to reliably detect the gestures of pinching one finger to the thumb, or clenching the hand into a fist, based on how doing them causes the watch to move — it’s not detecting nervous system signals or anything. These gestures, as well as double versions of them, can be set to a variety of quick actions. Among them is opening the “motion cursor,” a little dot that mimics the movements of the user’s wrist.
Considering how many people don’t have the use of a hand, this could be a really helpful way to get basic messaging, calling, and health-tracking tasks done without needing to resort to voice control.
Speaking of voice, that’s also something not everyone has at their disposal. Many of those who can’t speak fluently, however, can make a bunch of basic sounds, which can carry meaning for those who have learned — not so much Siri. But a new accessibility option called “Sound Control” lets these sounds be used as voice commands. You access it through Switch Control, not audio or voice, and add an audio switch.
Image Credits: Apple
The setup menu lets the user choose from a variety of possible sounds: click, cluck, e, eh, k, la, muh, oo, pop, sh, and more. Picking one brings up a quick training process to let the user make sure the system understands the sound correctly, and then it can be set to any of a wide selection of actions, from launching apps to asking commonly spoken questions or invoking other tools.
For those who prefer to interact with their Apple devices through a switch system, the company has a big surprise: Game controllers, once only able to be used for gaming, now work for general purposes as well. Specifically noted is the amazing Xbox Adaptive Controller, a hub and group of buttons, switches, and other accessories that improves the accessibility of console games. This powerful tool is used by many, and no doubt they will appreciate not having to switch control methods entirely when they’re done with Fortnite and want to listen to a podcast.
Image Credits: Apple
One more interesting capability in iOS that sits at the edge of accessibility is Walking Steadiness. This feature, available to anyone with an iPhone, tracks (as you might guess) the steadiness of the user’s walk. This metric, tracked throughout a day or week, can potentially give real insight into how and when a person’s locomotion is better and worse. It’s based on a bunch of data collected in the Apple Heart and Movement study, including actual falls and the unsteady movement that led to them.
If the user is someone who recently was fitted for a prosthesis, or had foot surgery, or suffers from vertigo, knowing when and why they are at risk of falling can be very important. They may not realize it, but perhaps their movements are less steady towards the end of the day, or after climbing a flight of steps, or after waiting in line for a long time. It could also show steady improvements as they get used to an artificial limb or chronic pain declines.
Exactly how this data may be used by an actual physical therapist or doctor is an open question, but importantly it’s something that can easily be tracked and understood by the users themselves.
Image Credits: Apple
Among Apple’s other assistive features are new languages for voice control, improved headphone acoustic accommodation, support for bidirectional hearing aids, and of course the addition of cochlear implants and oxygen tubes for memoji. As an Apple representative put it, they don’t want to embrace differences just in features, but on the personalization and fun side as well.
This spring, Facebook confirmed it was testing Venmo-like QR codes for person-to-person payments inside its app in the U.S. Today, the company announced those codes are now launching publicly to all U.S. users, allowing anyone to send or request money through Facebook Pay — even if they’re not Facebook friends.
The QR codes work similarly to those found in other payment apps, like Venmo.
The feature can be found under the “Facebook Pay” section in Messenger’s settings, accessed by tapping on your profile icon at the top left of the screen. Here, you’ll be presented with your personalized QR code which looks much like a regular QR code except that it features your profile icon in the middle.
Underneath, you’ll be shown your personal Facebook Pay UR which is in the format of “https://m.me/pay/UserName.” This can also be copied and sent to other users when you’re requesting a payment.
Facebook notes that the codes will work between any U.S. Messenger users, and won’t require a separate payment app or any sort of contact entry or upload process to get started.
Users who want to be able to send and receive money in Messenger have to be at least 18 years old, and will have to have a Visa or Mastercard debit card, a PayPal account or one of the supported prepaid cards or government-issued cards, in order to use the payments feature. They’ll also need to set their preferred currency to U.S. dollars in the app.
After setup is complete, you can choose which payment method you want as your default and optionally protect payments behind a PIN code of your choosing.
The QR code is also available from the Facebook Pay section of the main Facebook app, in a carousel at the top of the screen.
Facebook Pay first launched in November 2019, as a way to establish a payment system that extends across the company’s apps for not just person-to-person payments, but also other features, like donations, Stars, and e-commerce, among other things. Though the QR codes take cues from Venmo and others, the service as it stands today is not necessarily a rival to payment apps because Facebook partners with PayPal as one of the supported payment methods.
However, although the payments experience is separate from Facebook’s cryptocurrency wallet, Novi, that’s something that could perhaps change in the future.
Image Credits: Facebook
The feature was introduced alongside a few other Messenger updates, including a new Quick Reply bar that makes it easier to respond to a photo or video without having to return to the main chat thread. Facebook also added new chat themes including one for Olivia Rodrigo fans, another for World Oceans Day, and one that promotes the new F9 movie.
If you’ve ever bought a subscription inside an iOS app and later decided you wanted to cancel, upgrade or downgrade, or ask for a refund, you may have had trouble figuring out how to go about making that request or change. Some people today still believe that they can stop their subscription charges simply by deleting an app from their iPhone. Others may dig around unsuccessfully inside their iPhone’s Settings or on the App Store to try to find out how to ask for a refund. With the updates Apple announced in StoreKit 2 during its Worldwide Developers Conference this week, things may start to get a little easier for app customers.
StoreKit is Apple’s developer framework for managing in-app purchases — an area that’s become more complex in recent years, as apps have transitioned from offering one-time purchases to ongoing subscriptions with different tiers, lengths, and feature sets.
Image Credits: Apple
Currently, users who want to manage or cancel subscriptions can do so from the App Store or their iPhone Settings. But some don’t realize the path to this section from Settings starts by tapping on your Apple ID (your name and profile photo at the top of the screen). They may also get frustrated if they’re not familiar with how to navigate their Settings or the App Store.
Meanwhile, there are a variety of ways users can request refunds on their in-app subscriptions. They can dig in their inbox for their receipt from Apple, then click the “Report a Problem” link it includes to request a refund when something went wrong. This could be useful in scenarios where you’ve bought a subscription by mistake (or your kid has!), or where the promised features didn’t work as intended.
Apple also provides a dedicated website where users can directly request refunds for apps or content. (When you Google for something like “request a refund apple” or similar queries, a page that explains the process typically comes up at the top of the search results.)
Still, many users aren’t technically savvy. For them, the easiest way to manage subscriptions or ask for refunds would be to do so from within the app itself. For this reason, many conscientious app developers tend to include links to point customers to Apple’s pages for subscription management or refunds inside their apps.
But StoreKit 2 is introducing new tools that will allow developers to implement these sort of features more easily.
One new tool is a Manage subscriptions API, which lets an app developer display the manage subscriptions page for their customer directly inside their app — without redirecting the customer to the App Store. Optionally, developers can choose to display a “Save Offer” screen to present the customer with a discount of some kind to keep them from cancelling, or it could display an exit survey so you can ask the customer why they decided to end their subscription.
When implemented, the customer will be able to view a screen inside the app that looks just like the one they’d visit in the App Store to cancel or change a subscription. After cancelling, they’ll be shown a confirmation screen with the cancellation details and the service expiration date.
If the customer wants to request a refund, a new Refund request API will allow the customer to begin their refund request directly in the app itself — again, without being redirected to the App Store or other website. On the screen that displays, the customer can select which item they want refund and check the reason why they’re making the request. Apple handles the refund process and will send either an approval or refund declined notification back to the developer’s server.
However, some developers argue that the changes don’t go far enough. They want to be in charge of managing customer subscriptions and handling refunds themselves, through programmatic means. Plus, Apple can take up to 48 hours for the customer to receive an update on their refund request, which can be confusing.
“They’ve made the process a bit smoother, but developers still can’t initiate refunds or cancellations themselves,” notes RevenueCat CEO Jacob Eiting, whose company provides tools to app developers to manage their in-app purchases. “It’s a step in the right direction, but could actually lead to more confusion between developers and consumers about who is responsible for issuing refunds.”
In other words, because the forms are now going to be more accessible from inside the app, the customer may believe the developer is handling the refund process when, really, Apple continues to do so.
People could write in after uninstalling the app. Or have subscribed on a device they no longer have. There are so many cases that this ignores.
This is only a marginal improvement over opening the manage subscriptions URL.
Some developers pointed out that there are other scenarios this process doesn’t address. For example, if the customer has already uninstalled the app or no longer has the device in question, they’ll still need to be directed to other means of asking for refunds, just as before.
For consumers, though, subscription management tools like this mean more developers may begin to put buttons to manage subscriptions and ask for refunds directly inside their app, which is a better experience. In time, as customers learn they can more easily use the app and manage subscriptions, app developers may see better customer retention, higher engagement, and better App Store reviews, notes Apple.
The new additions to SwiftUI, been wanting Pull to Refresh and to improve accessibility. Then surprisingly StoreKit 2, especially for users requesting refunds and managaging subscriptions seamlessly (also great for Buffer).
The StoreKit 2 changes weren’t limited to APIs for managing subscriptions and refunds.
Developers will also gain access to a new Invoice Lookup API that allows them to look up the in-app purchases for the customer, validate their invoice and identify any problems with the purchase — for example, if there were any refunds already provided by the App Store.
A new Refunded Purchases API will allow developers to look up all the refunds for the customer.
Sounds like StoreKit can validate receipts on device and allow users to request refunds. Didn’t have those on my bingo card but wow those are some nice quality-of-life updates!
And a new Renewal Extension API will allow developers to extend the renewal data for paid, active subscriptions in the case of an outage — like when dealing with customer support issues when a streaming service went down, for example. This API lets developers extend the subscription up to twice per calendar year, each up to 90 days in the future.
Another change will help customers when they reinstall apps or download them on new devices. Before, users would have to manually “restore purchases” to sync the status of the completed transactions back to that newly downloaded or reinstalled app. Now, that information will be automatically fetched by StoreKit 2 so the apps are immediately up-to-date with whatever it is the user paid for.
Very interesting changes to StoreKit. Apps will now be able to automatically restore and sync purchases, so users won't need to restore when the app is reinstalled or downloaded on a new device! https://t.co/WSs6L9rTvK
While, overall, the changes make for a significant update to the StoreKit framework, Apple’s hesitancy to allow developers more control over their own subscription-based customers speaks, in part, to how much it wants to control in-app purchases. This is perhaps because it got burned in the past when it tried allowing developers to manage their own refunds.
As The Verge noted last month while the Epic Games-Apple antitrust trial was underway, Apple had once provided Hulu will access to a subscription API, then discovered Hulu had been offering a way to automatically cancel subscriptions made through the App Store when customers wanted to upgrade to higher-priced subscription plans. Apple realized it needed to take action to protect against this misuse of the API, and Hulu later lost access. It has not since made that API more broadly available.
On the flip side, having Apple, not the developers, in charge of subscription management and refunds means Apple takes on the responsibilities around preventing fraud — including fraud perpetrated by both customers and developers alike. Customers may also prefer that there’s one single place to go for managing their subscription billing: Apple. They may not want to have to deal with each developer individually, as their experience would end up being inconsistent.
These changes matter because subscription revenue contributes to a sizable amount of Apple’s lucrative App Store business. Ahead of WWDC 21, Apple reported the sale of digital goods and services on the App Store grew to $86 billion in 2020, up 40% over the the year prior. Earlier this year, Apple said it paid out more than $200 billion to developers since the App Store launched in 2008.
With the upcoming release of iOS 15 for Apple mobile devices, Apple’s built-in search feature known as Spotlight will become a lot more functional. In what may be one of its bigger updates since it introducedSiri Suggestions, the new version of Spotlight is becoming an alternative to Google for several key queries, including web images and information about actors, musicians, TV shows and movies. It will also now be able to search across your photo library, deliver richer results for contacts, and connect you more directly with apps and the information they contain. It even allows you to install apps from the App Store without leaving Spotlight itself.
Spotlight is also more accessible than ever before.
Years ago, Spotlight moved from its location to the left of the Home screen to become available with a swipe down in the middle of any screen in iOS 7, which helped grow user adoption. Now, it’s available with the same swipe down gesture on the iPhone’s Lock Screen, too.
Apple showed off a few of Spotlight’s improvements during its keynote address at its Worldwide Developer Conference, including the search feature’s new cards for looking up information on actors, movies and shows, as well as musicians. This change alone could redirect a good portion of web searches away from Google or dedicated apps like IMDb.
For years, Google has been offering quick access to common searches through its Knowledge Graph, a knowledge base that allows it to gather information from across sources and then use that to add informational panels above and the side of its standard search results. Panels on actors, musicians, shows and movies are available as part of that effort.
But now, iPhone users can just pull up this info on their home screen.
The new cards include more than the typical Wikipedia bio and background information you may expect — they also showcase links to where you can listen or watch content from the artist or actor or movie or show in question. They include news articles, social media links, official websites, and even direct you to where the searched person or topic may be found inside your own apps. (E.g. a search for “Billie Eilish” may direct you to her tour tickets inside SeatGeek, or a podcast where she’s a guest).
Image Credits: Apple
For web image searches, Spotlight also now allows you to search for people, places, animals, and more from the web — eating into another search vertical Google today provides.
Image Credits: iOS 15 screenshot
Your personal searches have been upgraded with richer results, too, in iOS 15.
When you search for a contact, you’ll be taken to a card that does more than show their name and how to reach them. You’ll also see their current status (thanks to another iOS 15 feature), as well as their location from FindMy, your recent conversations on Messages, your shared photos, calendar appointments, emails, notes, and files. It’s almost like a personal CRM system.
Image Credits: Apple
Personal photo searches have also been improved. Spotlight now uses Siri intelligence to allow you to search your photos by the people, scenes, elements in your photos, as well as by location. And it’s able to leverage the new Live Text feature in iOS 15 to find the text in your photos to return relevant results.
This could make it easier to pull up photos where you’ve screenshot a recipe, a store receipt, or even a handwritten note, Apple said.
Image Credits: Apple
A couple of features related to Spotlight’s integration with apps weren’t mentioned during the keynote.
Spotlight will now display action buttons on the Maps results for businesses that will prompt users to engage with that business’s app. In this case, the feature is leveraging App Clips, which are small parts of a developer’s app that let you quickly perform a task even without downloading or installing the app in question. For example, from Spotlight you may be prompted to pull up a restaurant’s menu, buy tickets, make an appointment, order takeout, join a waitlist, see showtimes, pay for parking, check prices and more.
The feature will require the business to support App Clips in order to work.
Image Credits: iOS 15 screenshot
Another under-the-radar change — but a significant one — is the new ability to install apps from the App Store directly from Spotlight.
This could prompt more app installs, as it reduces the steps from a search to a download, and makes querying the App Store more broadly available across the operating system.
Developers can additionally choose to insert a few lines of code to their app to make data from the app discoverable within Spotlight and customize how it’s presented to users. This means Spotlight can work as a tool for searching content from inside apps — another way Apple is redirecting users away from traditional web searches in favor of apps.
However, unlike Google’s search engine, which relies on crawlers that browse the web to index the data it contains, Spotlight’s in-app search requires developer adoption.
Still, it’s clear Apple sees Spotlight as a potential rival to web search engines, including Google’s.
“Spotlight is the universal place to start all your searches,” said Apple SVP of Software Engineering Craig Federighi during the keynote event.
Spotlight, of course, can’t handle “all” your searches just yet, but it appears to be steadily working towards that goal.
Google today launched the second beta of Android 12. The first beta, which launched at Google’s I/O conference in May, introduced us to the first glimpses of Google’s new ‘Material You’ design system, though many of the promised new features and design tweaks weren’t part of this first beta yet. With this new beta, Google is bringing more of these to its testers (you can sign up for the beta here), including its new privacy dashboard that makes it easier for users to see which apps recently used a phone’s microphone, camera and location.
Other new features available in the beta are the addition of microphone and camera indicators that show users if an app is using those, as well as new Quick Setting toggles to disable app access to them. When access is toggled off, apps will receive blank audio and camera feeds. Related to this, Google is also bringing a clipboard read notification to Android that shows readers when an app is reading from the clipboard.
Image Credits: Google
Also new in beta 2 is a new Internet Panel that makes it easier for you to switch between internet providers, wifi networks, etc.
Image Credits: Google
With this release, Google is now one release away from reaching platform stability in August. As the company notes, now would be a good time for developers to finish their compatibility testing and release compatible versions of their apps, SDK and libraries. Given the current monthly release cadence, we’ll likely see a final release of Android 12 in September.
Like before, you’ll need a compatible device to try out the beta. Unlike with some the earlier preview releases, this list includes a lot of non-Google devices, with Sharp joining the beta program today, for example. You can find a full list of supported devices — and instructions for how to get started on non-Google devices — here.
Sinch — the Swedish company that provides a suite of services for companies to build communications and specifically “customer engagement” into their services by way of APIs — has made yet another acquisition in its global march to scale up its business and compete more squarely with Twilio. The company today announced that it has acquired MessageMedia, a provider of SMS and other messaging services for businesses to manage customer relations, user authentication, alerts and more.
The acquisition is being made for $1.3 billion — comprised of $1.1 billion in cash and the rest in shares (or in Sweden’s currency, SEK10,745 in total based on Sinch’s share price and yesterdays exchange rate). The deal is expected to close in the second half of this year.
The deal is notable not just for giving Sinch a major inroad into the world of business SMS, but also because of the timing. Less than a month ago, Sinch’s big rival Twilio announced that it would acquire ZipWhip, another big player in the same area of business SMS, for $850 million.
MessageMedia, based out of Melbourne, Australia, is currently operational also in New Zealand, the U.S. and Europe, and it focuses on providing services primarily to the SMB market with a self-service platform where customers can build and operate services, with the option of using a web portal provided by MessageMedia to handle the traffic.
It has some 60,000 customers and handles 5 billion+ messages annually, Sinch said. Growth is particularly strong in the U.S. market, where MessageMedia is adding 1,500 new customers each month. Alongside SMS, it also provides tech for companies to build MMS experiences and mobile landing pages, and it also provides them with tools to integrate other features as well as an API gateway.
Sinch itself says it handles some 150 billion mobile customer engagements for its customers annually, and it has 8 of the 10 biggest tech companies as customers.
Given the size of this deal announced today, now we know which deal Sinch had in mind. It would be interesting to know whether Sinch’s move to buy MessageMedia predated Twilio’s for ZipWhip, which definitely do not feel like a coincidence.
“Sinch powers mobile customer engagement for some of the largest brands and technology platforms in the world. With the acquisition of MessageMedia, Sinch will now be able to bring the benefits of enhanced mobile customer engagement to every small business on the planet,” CEO Oscar Werner said to TechCrunch. “No longer will you need the deep pockets of an enterprise or the technical skills of an engineer to deliver first-class customer experiences.”
Sinch has been on a fast pace of buying up companies in recent times to scale up its existing business, tapping not just into the huge surge of people using phones and the internet to communicate in these pandemic-stricken times, but also to bulk up and have more economies of scale in the communications industry, essentially a business built on aggregating incremental revenues.
That fact has led to a lot of consolidation, with Twilio also buying up strategic, smaller businesses in quick order.
In this regard, MessageMedia is a strong buy for Sinch because it’s generating strong cash. MessageMedia is expected to make $151 million in profits for the year ending June 30, with gross profits of $94 million and Ebitda of $51 million, Sinch said. Sinch itself is also profitable.
For its part, MessageMedia very much plays into and is a product of the same API economy that has lifted the likes of Twilio, Stripe and many others built on the premise of knitting together very complex services, which customers can then use by way of simple lines of code that they integrate into their own digital operations, be it websites, apps, or internal systems.
Communications, and specifically messaging API-based systems are estimated to be a $9-13 billion market, Sinch said, with the U.S. accounting for 30% of that, and the global market projected to grow between 25-30% until 2024. SMBs, who might lack the resources to build such tools from the ground up, are a big part of that activity.
“Mobile messaging delivers tremendous ROI but smaller businesses often lack tools that cater to their specific needs,” said Paul Perrett, MessageMedia CEO, in a statement. “Serving these customers presents a tremendous opportunity, and with Sinch we can build a global leader in our field.”
Apple in 2018 closed its $400 million acquisition of music recognition app Shazam. Now, it’s bringing Shazam’s audio recognition capabilities to app developers in the form of the new ShazamKit. The new framework will allow app developers — including those on both Apple platforms and Android — to build apps that can identify music from Shazam’s huge database of songs, or even from their own custom catalog of pre-recorded audio.
Many consumers are already familiar with the mobile app Shazam, which lets you push a button to identify what song you’re hearing, and then take other actions — like viewing the lyrics, adding the song to a playlist, exploring music trends, and more. Having first launched in 2008, Shazam was already one of the oldest apps on the App Store when Apple snatched it up.
Now the company is putting Shazam to better use than being just a music identification utility. With the new ShazamKit, developers will now be able to leverage Shazam’s audio recognition capabilities to create their own app experiences.
There are three parts to the new framework: Shazam catalog recognition, which lets developers add song recognition to their apps; custom catalog recognition, which performs on-device matching against arbitrary audio; and library management.
Shazam catalog recognition is what you probably think of when you think of the Shazam experience today. The technology can recognize the song that’s playing in the environment and then fetch the song’s metadata, like the title and artist. The ShazamKit API will also be able to return other metadata like genre or album art, for example. And it can identify where in the audio the match occurred.
When matching music, Shazam doesn’t actually match the audio itself, to be clear. Instead, it creates a lossy representation of it, called a signature, and matches against that. This method greatly reduces the amount of data that needs to be sent over the network. Signatures also cannot be used to reconstruct the original audio, which protects user privacy.
The Shazam catalog comprises millions of songs and is hosted in cloud and maintained by Apple. It’s regularly updated with new tracks as they become available.
When a customer uses a developer’s third-party app for music recognition via ShazamKit, they may want to save the song in their Shazam library. This is found in the Shazam app, if the user has it installed, or it can be accessed by long pressing on the music recognition Control Center module. The library is also synced across devices.
Apple suggests that apps make their users aware that recognized songs will be saved to this library, as there’s no special permission required to write to the library.
Image Credits: Apple
ShazamKit’s custom catalog recognition feature, meanwhile, could be used to create synced activities or other second-screen experiences in apps by recognizing the developer’s audio, not that from the Shazam music catalog.
This could allow for educational apps where students follow along with a video lesson, where some portion of the lesson’s audio could prompt an activity to begin in the student’s companion app. It could also be used to enable mobile shopping experiences that popped up as you watched a favorite TV show.
ShazamKit is current in beta on iOS 15.0+, macOS 12.0+, Mac Catalyst 15.0+, tvOS 15.0+, and watchOS 8.0+. On Android, ShazamKit comes in the form of an Android Archive (AAR) file and supports music and custom audio, as well.
At its Worldwide Developer Conference, Apple announced a significant update to RealityKit, its suite of technologies that allow developers to get started building AR (augmented reality) experiences. With the launch of RealityKit 2, Apple says developers will have more visual, audio, and animation control when working on their AR experiences. But the most notable part of the update is how Apple’s new Object Capture technology will allow developers to create 3D models in minutes using only an iPhone.
Apple noted during its developer address that one of the most difficult parts of making great AR apps was the process of creating 3D models. These could take hours and thousands of dollars.
With Apple’s new tools, developers will be able take a series of pictures using just an iPhone (or iPad or DSLR, if they prefer) to capture 2D images of an object from all angles, including the bottom.
Then, using the Object Capture API on macOS Monterey, it only takes a few lines of code to generate the 3D model, Apple explained.
Image Credits: Apple
To begin, developers would start a new photogrammetry session in RealityKit that points to the folder where they’ve captured the images. Then, they would call the process function to generate the 3D model at the desired level of detail. Object Capture allows developers to generate the USDZ files optimized for AR Quick Look — the system that lets developers add virtual, 3D objects in apps or websites on iPhone and iPad. The 3D models can also be added to AR scenes in Reality Composer in Xcode.
Apple said developers like Wayfair, Etsy and others are using Object Capture to create 3D models of real-world objects — an indication that online shopping is about to get a big AR upgrade.
Wayfair, for example, is using Object Capture to develop tools for their manufacturers so they can create a virtual representation of their merchandise. This will allow Wayfair customers to be able to preview more products in AR than they could today.
Image Credits: Apple (screenshot of Wayfair tool))
In addition, Apple noted developers including Maxon and Unity are using Object Capture for creating 3D content within 3D content creation apps, such as Cinema 4D and Unity MARS.
Other updates in RealityKit 2 include custom shaders that give developers more control over the rendering pipeline to fine tune the look and feel of AR objects; dynamic loading for assets; the ability to build your own Entity Component System to organize the assets in your AR scene; and the ability to create player-controlled characters so users can jump, scale and explore AR worlds in RealityKit-based games.
One developer, Mikko Haapoja of Shopify, has been trying out the new technology (see below) and shared some real-world tests where he shot objects using an iPhone 12 Max via Twitter.
Developers who want to test it for themselves can leverage Apple’s sample app and install Monterey on their Mac to try it out.
Apple's Object Capture on a Pineapple. One of my fav things to test Photogrammetry against. This was processed using the RAW detail setting.
Last month, Apple announced it would soon add lossless audio streaming and Spatial Audio with support for Dolby Atmos to its Apple Music subscription at no extra charge. That upgrade has now gone live, Apple announced this morning — though manynoticed the additions actually rolled out yesterday, following the WWDC keynote.
The entire Apple Music catalog of 75+ million songs will support lossless audio.
The lossless tier begins at CD quality — 16 bit at 44.1 kHz, and goes up to 24 bit at 48 kHz, Apple previously said. Audiophiles can also opt for the high-resolution lossless that goes up to 24 bit at 192 kHz. Apple has said you’ll need to use an external, USB digital-to-analog converter to take advantage of the latter — simply plugging in a pair of headphones to an iPhone won’t work.
Apple Music subscribers will be able to enable the new lossless option under Settings > Music > Audio quality. Here, you’ll be able to choose the different resolutions you want to use for different connections, including Wi-Fi, cellular, and download.
When you make your selection in Settings, iOS warns that lossless files will use “significantly more space” on your device, as 10 GB of storage would allow you to store approximately 3,000 songs at high quality, 1,000 songs with lossless, or 200 songs with high-res lossless.
Image Credits: Apple
Meanwhile, Spatial Audio will be enabled by default on hardware that supports Dolby Atmos, like Apple’s AirPods and Beats headphones with an H1 or W1 chip. The latest iPhone, iPad, and Mac models also support Dolby Atmos. Spatial Audio on Apple Music will also be “coming soon” to Android devices, Apple said.
To kick off launch, Apple Music is today rolling out new playlists designed to showcase Spatial Audio. These include:
Apple is also adding a special guide to Spatial Audio on Apple Music, which will help music listeners hear the difference. This will include tracks from artists like Marvin Gaye and The Weeknd, among others. And Apple will air a roundtable conversation about Spatial Audio featuring top sound engineers and experts, hosted by Zane Lowe at 9 am PT today on Apple Music.
Because songs have to be remastered for Dolby Atmos specifically, these guides and playlists will help music fans experience the new format without having to hunt around. Apple says it’s working with artists and labels to add more new releases and the best catalog tracks in Spatial Audio. To help on this front, Apple notes there are various initiatives underway — including doubling the number of Dolby-enabled studios in major markets, offering educational programs, and providing resources to independent artists.
Apple also said it will build music-authoring tools directly into Logic Pro. Later this year, the company plans to release an update to Logic Pro that will allow any musician to create and mix their songs in Spatial Audio for Apple Music.
Apple’s keynote was essentially what happens when the big tech companies get huge; they have so many projects that they can’t just detail a few items. They have to run down their entire parade of platforms, dropping packets of news concerning each.
But despite the obvious indication that Apple has been hard at work on the critical software side of its business, especially its services-side (more here), Wall Street gave a firm, emphatic shrug.
Investors care about future cash flows, at least in theory. Those future cash flows come from anticipated revenues, which are born from product updates, driving growth in sales of services, software, and hardware. Which, apart from the hardware portion of the equation, is precisely what Apple detailed today.
And lo, Wall Street looked upon the drivers of its future earnings estimates, and did sayeth “lol, who really cares.”
Shares of Apple were down a fraction for most of the day, picking up as time passed not thanks to the company’s news dump, but because the Nasdaq largely rose as trading raced to a close.
Presuming that you are not a ChartMaster, those might not mean much to you. Don’t worry. The charts say very little all-around so you are missing little. Apple was down a bit, and the Nasdaq up a bit. Then the Nasdaq went up more, and Apple’s stock generally followed. Which is good to be clear, but somewhat immaterial.
So after yet another major Apple event that will help determine the health and popularity of every Apple platform — key drivers of lucrative hardware sales! — the markets are betting that all their prior work estimating the True and Correct value of Apple was dead-on and that there is no need for any sort of up-or-down change.
That, or Apple is so big now that investors are simply betting it will grow in keeping with GDP. Which would be a funny diss. Regardless, more from the Apple event here in case you are behind.
Apple is rolling out some updates to iCloud under the name iCloud+. The company is announcing those features at its developer conference. Existing paid iCloud users are going to get those iCloud+ features for the same monthly subscription price.
In Safari, Apple is going to launch a new privacy feature called Private Relay. It sounds a bit like the new DNS feature that Apple has been developing with Cloudflare. Originally named Oblivious DNS-over-HTTPS, Private Relay could be a better name for something quite simple — a combination of DNS-over-HTTPS with proxy servers.
When Private Relay is turned on, nobody can track your browsing history — not your internet service provider, anyone standing in the middle of your request between your device and the server you’re requesting information from. We’ll have to wait a bit to learn more about how it works exactly.
The second iCloud+ feature is ‘Hide my email’. It lets you generate random email addresses when you sign up to a newsletter or when you create an account on a website. If you’ve used ‘Sign in with Apple’, you know that Apple offers you the option to use fake iCloud email addresses. This works similarly, but for any app.
Finally, Apple is overhauling HomeKit Secure Video. With the name iCloud+, Apple is separating free iCloud users from paid iCloud users. Basically, you used to pay for more storage. Now, you pay for more storage and more features. Subscriptions start at $0.99 per month for 50GB (and iCloud+ features).
More generally, Apple is adding two much needed to iCloud accounts. Now, you can add a friend for account recovery. This way, you can request access to your data to your friend. But that doesn’t mean that your friend can access your iCloud data — it’s just a way to recover your account.
The last much-needed update is a legacy feature. You’ll soon be able to add one or several legacy contacts. Data can be passed along when you pass away. And this is a much needed feature as many photo libraries become inaccessible when someone close to you passes away.
During the virtual keynote of WWDC, Apple shared the first details about iOS 14, the next major version of iOS that is going to be released later this year. There are four pillars with this year’s release: staying connected, focusing without distraction, using intelligence and exploring the world.
“For many of us, our iPhones have become indispensable,” SVP of Software Engineering Craig Federighi said. “Our new release is iOS 15. It’s packed with features that make the iOS experience adapt to and complement the way you use iPhone, whether it’s staying connected with those who matter to you most. Finding the space to focus without distraction, using intelligence to discover the information you need, or exploring the world around you.”
FaceTime gets a bunch of new features
Apple is adding spatial audio to FaceTime. Now the voices are spread out depending on the position of your friends on the screen. For instance, if someone appears on the left, it’ll sound like they’re on the left in your ears. In other FaceTime news, iOS now detects background noise and tries to suppress it so that you can hear your friends and family members more easily. That’s an optional feature, which means that you can disable it in case you’re showing a concert during a FaceTime call for instance.
Another FaceTime feature is ‘Portrait mode’. Behind this term, Apple means that it can automatically blurs the background, like in ‘Portrait mode’ photos. In case you want to use FaceTime for work conferences, you can now generate FaceTime links and add it to a calendar invite. FaceTime will also work in a web browser, which means that people without an Apple device can join a FaceTime call.
FaceTime is a big focus as Apple is also introducing SharePlay. With this feature, you can listen together to a music album. Press play in Apple Music and the music will start for everyone on the call. The queue is shared with everyone else, which means anyone can add songs, skip to the next track, etc.
SharePlay also lets you watch movies and TV shows together. Someone on the call starts a video and it starts on your friend’s phone or tablet. It is also compatible with AirPlay, picture-in-picture and everything you’d expect from videos on iOS.
This isn’t just compatible with Apple TV videos. Apple said there will be an API to make videos compatible with SharePlay. Partners include Disney+, Hulu, HBO Max, Twitch, TikTok and more. Here’s a screenshot of the initial partners:
Now let’s switch to Messages. The app is getting better integration with other Apple apps like News, Photos and Music. With items shared via Messages showing up in there. In other words, Messages (and iMessage) is acting as the social layer on top of Apple’s apps.
A new notification summary
Apple is going to use on-device intelligence to create summaries of your notifications. Instead of being sorted by apps and by date, it is sorted by priority. For instance, notifications from friends will be closer to the top.
When you silence notifications, your iMessage contacts will see that you have activated ‘Do not disturb’. It works a bit like ‘Do not disturb’ in Slack. But there are new settings. Apple calls this Focus mode. You can choose apps and people you want notifications from and change your focus depending on what you’re doing.
For instance, if you’re at work, you can silence personal apps and personal calls and messages. If it’s the weekend, you can silence your work emails. Your settings sync across your iCloud account if you have multiple Apple devices. And it’ll even affect your home screen by showing and hiding apps and widgets.
New smart features
Apple is going to scan your photos for text. Called Live Text, this feature lets you highlight, copy and paste text in photos. It could be a nice accessibility feature as well. iOS is going to leverage that info for Spotlight. You can search from text in your photos directly in Spotlight. These features are handled on device directly.
With iOS 15, memories are getting an upgrade. “These new memories are built on the fly. They are interactive and alive,” Chelsea Burnette, Senior Manager, Photos Engineering. Memories are those interactive movies that you can watch in the Photos app. Now, you can tap with your finger to pause the movie. While music still plays in the background, your photo montage resumes when you lift your finger.
You can now search for a specific song to pair with a memory. It’s going to be interesting to see in details what’s new for the Photos app.