Mmhmm raises $100M, which is a fun thing to say to people who don’t follow tech

If you’re a frequent TechCrunch reader, you probably already know about mmhmm, the startup with the name you likely either love or hate. It’s Phil Libin’s second act after Evernote, and it’s a startup born of the pandemic maybe more so than any other, providing improved video chat tools including automatic background removal and advanced presentation features. The company, which is just over a year old, has now raised a total of around $140 million thanks to a fresh injection of $100 million first reported by Bloomberg on Tuesday, which is somewhat astounding if you remember using the first early beta versions like me.

Startups with silly names raising lots of money is hardly an exceptional occurrence in tech, but Libin’s startup earns extra credit for barely having a name at all (it’s really just a sound). The company was built on the idea that current video tools really fail to provide users with access to all the potential that modern technology offers, particularly when it comes to presentations. Mmhmm’s core presenter tools help your meetings look more like professional newscasts than warmed over digital versions of transparency slideshows and whiteboard scrawls, and the company has steadily been adding features and improving its performance through frequent iterations since its founding.

As it stands, mmhmm works in tandem with the existing video services that people use for virtual meetings, including Zoom. But Bloomberg says it’s going to go standalone as well, and introduce a mobile app version. That sounds like a good use of the new funds, which come from SoftBank’s Vision Fund, Sequoia Capital and more.

Even projecting forward to a post-pandemic world where virtual meetings are less important, they’re probably still a permanent part of the working world. But mmhmm’s feature set also seems to almost define the concept of ‘feature, not product’ that is presented as a cautionary tale to startups crafting wings of wax and soaring as high as they can in terms of raises and valuation.

#evernote, #mmhmm, #phil-libin, #presentation-software, #sequoia-capital, #softbank, #softbank-group, #startups, #tc, #video-conferencing, #video-services

Apple’s new App Store Guidelines aim to crack down on fraud and scams

Apple today is releasing a new version of its App Store Review Guidelines, its lengthy document which dictates the rules which apps must abide by in order to be published to its App Store. Among the more notable changes rolling out today are several sections that will see Apple taking a harder stance on App Store fraud, scams and developer misconduct, including a new process that aims to empower other developers to hold bad actors accountable.

One of the key updates on this front involves a change to Apple’s Developer Code of Conduct (Section 5.6 and 5.6.1-5.6.4 of the Review Guidelines).

This section has been significantly expanded to include guidance stating that repeated manipulative or misleading behavior or other fraudulent conduct will lead to the developer’s removal from the Apple Developer Program. This is something Apple has done for repeated violations, it claims, but wanted to now ensure was clearly spelled out in the guidelines.

In an entirely new third paragraph in this section, Apple says that if a developer engages in activities or actions that are not in accordance with the developer code of conduct, they will have their Apple Developer account terminated.

It also details what, specifically, must be done to restore the account, which includes providing Apple with a written statement detailing the improvements they’ve made, which will have to be approved by Apple. If Apple is able to confirm the changes has been made, it may then restore the developer’s account.

Apple explained in a press briefing that this change was meant to prevent a sort of catch and release scenario where a developer gets caught by Apple, but then later reverts their changes to continue their bad behavior.

As part of this update, Apple added a new section about developer identity (5.6.2). This is meant to ensure the contact information for developers provided to Apple and customers is accurate and functional, and that the developer isn’t impersonating other, legitimate developers on the App Store. This was a particular issue in a high-profile incident of App Store fraud which involved a crypto wallet app that scammed a user out of his life savings (~$600,000) in Bitcoin. The scam victim had been deceived because the app was using the same name and icon as a different company that made a hardware crypto device, and because the scan app was rated 5 stars. (Illegitimately, that is).

Related to this, Apple clarified the language around App Store discovery fraud (5.6.3) to more specifically call out any type of manipulations of App Store charts, search, reviews and referrals. The former would mean to crack down on the clearly booming industry of fake App Store ratings and reviews, which can send scam app up higher in charts and search.

Meanwhile, the referral crackdown would address consumers being shown incorrect pricing outside the App Store in an effort to boost installs.

Another section (5.6.4) addresses issues that come up after an app is published, including negative customer reports and concerns and excessive refund rates, for example. If Apple notices this behavior, it will investigate the app for violations, it says.

Of course, the question here is: will Apple actually notice the potential scammers? In recent months, a growing number of developers believe Apple is allowing far too many scammers to fall through the cracks of App Review.

One particular thorn in Apple’s side has been Fleksy keyboard app founder Kosta Eleftheriou, who is not only suing Apple for the revenue he’s personally lost to scammers, but also formed a sort of one-man bunco squad to expose some of the more egregious scams to date. This has included the above-mentioned crypto scam; a kids game that actually contained a hidden online casino; and a VPN app scamming users out of $5 million per year, among many others.

The rampant fraud taking place on the App Store was also brought up during Apple’s antitrust hearing, when Georgia’s Senator Jon Ossoff asked Apple’s Chief Compliance Officer Kyle Andeer why Apple was not able to locate scams, given they’re “trivially easy” to identify.

Apple downplayed the concerns then, and continues to do so through press releases like this one which noted how the App Store stopped over $1.5 billion in fraudulent transactions in 2020.

But a new update to these Guidelines seems to be an admission that Apple may need a little help on this front. It says developers can now directly report possible violations they find in other developers’ apps. Through a new form that standardizes this sort of complaint, developers can point to guideline violations and any other trust and safety issues they discover. Often, developers notice the scammers whose apps are impacting their own business and revenue, so they’ll likely turn to this form now as a first step in getting the scammer dealt with.

Another change will allow developers to appeal a rejection if they think there was unfair treatment of any kind, including political bias. Previously, Apple had allowed developers to appeal App Store decisions and suggest changes to guidelines.

Apple told us it has 500 app reviewers covering 81 languages who see new scenarios daily that have to be accounted for in updated guidelines and policies. Apple says it takes what it learns from these individual issues it encounters to invest in its systems, algorithms and training so it can prevent similar issues in the future. The company believes the new Code of Conduct rules, in particular, will give it the tools needed to better crack down on App Store fraud.

The rules about scams are only a handful of the many changes rolling out with today’s updated App Store Review Guidelines.

There are a few others, however, also worth highlighting:

  • Apple clarified rules around “hookup” apps to ensure developers understand porn and prostitution are not allowed on the App Store — often an issue with the fly-by-night hookup apps, which bait and switch users.
  • Creator content apps are instructed that they must follow rules for user-generated content, when applicable, meaning they must have content blocking, reporting and robust moderation.
  • Apple added the ability for licensed pharmacies and licensed cannabis dispensaries to facilitate purchasing provided they’re legal and geogated.
  • Apps that report criminal activity require the developers to work with local law enforcement. (Citizen is a recent example of an app gone awry when users hunted down the wrong person. That level of carelessness may be coming to an end now.)
  • Bait-and-switch marketing and ads about app pricing isn’t allowed.
  • Cellular carrier apps can now include other kinds of subscription apps besides music and video services.
  • Apple clarifies that developers can communicate on email with anyone, but says they can’t target customers acquired through the App Store with messages about how to make purchases outside of the App Store.
  • Apple has enough drinking game apps. Stop sending them in.
  • Apps that offer account creation also have to offer account deletion.
  • Other clarity was added around in-app purchases for gift cards, app metadata, bug fix submissions, and more. But these were not major changes.

read more about Apple's WWDC 2021 on TechCrunch

#app-store, #apple, #apple-inc, #apple-news, #apps, #computing, #epic-games, #georgia, #itunes, #kosta-eleftheriou, #tc, #technology, #video-services, #vpn, #wwdc-2021

Struum launches its ‘ClassPass for streaming’ service to the public

Struum, the new streaming service from former Disney and Discovery execs, is today officially launching to the public. Unlike traditional on-demand streamers, such as Netflix, the Struum model is more akin to a “ClassPass for streaming,” as its plan is to aggregate content from smaller video services then provide access under its own subscription.

Today, the streaming landscape is dominated by larger subscription services, including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, HBO Max, Disney+, and YouTube, who together have a 75% share of the market, according to Nielsen. But Struum believes there’s a potential for another service powered by the long tail of  the over 250 niche and speciality streamers.

Many of these smaller services offer their own subscriptions, but will never achieve Netflix-size scale because of their more limited catalog and scope. Struum offers them an alternative path to revenue. Each month, Struum customers will pay a $4.99 subscription fee to access the Struum app where they’re then provided with 100 “credits” they can use to sample and consume content — just as ClassPass did with gym classes.

Over time, if the customer continues to use their subscription to routinely access content from one service, they can then opt to become a subscriber to that service from within the Struum app. This part of the business isn’t all that different from Amazon Prime Video Channels or others like it. But the difference is that Struum’s sampling model is what helped the customer discover the niche streamer in the first place.

Struum, meanwhile, generates its own revenue from customers’ subscriptions, which it shares with its content partners. It won’t say what sort of cut it takes, however.

Image Credits: Struum

At launch, there are more than 25 partners available through the Struum app, including Tastemade, Tribeca, Cheddar News, Kocowa, Dekkoo, Magellan TV, History Hit, Gusto, Young Hollywood, Indieflix, Filmbox, Echoboom Sports, Social Club TV, Cinedigm, Magnolia Pictures, Little Dot Studios, Group 9, Stingray and SPI/Filmhub.

Later this summer, the lineup will grow to more than 50 partners, with additions that include BBC SELECT, REVOLT, France Channels, InsightTV, Docubay, FuelTV, The Great Courses Signature Collection, Shout Factory TV, OUTtv, SVTV, CGOOD TV and Alchimie.

In total, Struum’s partners will provide customers with access to tens of movies and TV shows across a range of categories and genres, like classic films, indies, foreign content, cult hits, lifestyle programming, reality, true crime, and more.

Image Credits: Struum

Struum’s app guides users to their interests through a simple interface where it curates content into editorial groupings organized much like the rows of recommendations you’d find in Netflix. This includes the company’s own picks (“Struum Selects”), as well as groupings by genre — like Comedy, Action Thrillers, LGBTQ + Documentaries, Class Movies, Incredible Science, and others. You can also browse by type from categories across the top, to filter by only Movies, TV shows or Shorts.

When you find something you want to watch, you can click a button to stream the content for a certain amount of credits. You can then view that content at any time for the next 30 days and even download it for offline access.

At launch, Struum’s service is available on iOS and web, and supports AirPlay and Chromecast. This summer, it will expand to more platforms, including Android, Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Roku.

Image Credits: Struum

The idea for the company comes from founders Lauren DeVillier, the former head of Product for Discovery Ventures; Eugene Liew, former vice president of Product and Technology at Disney+; Paul Pastor, former executive vice president of Strategy, Revenue and Operations at Discovery Networks; and Thomas Wadsworth, the former lead of Advanced Product Development for Walt Disney Imagineering.

The team came together in 2020, just before the Covid-19 pandemic broke out across the U.S., which drove increased demand for streaming content. And though that demand may be here to stay, it remains to be seen whether Struum’s ClassPass-like model makes the best sense for streaming’s long tail.

Despite its unique streaming business model, the service will effectively compete with AVOD (ad-supported video on demand) players in terms of aggregating both older and niche content. AVOD services — like Tubi, Pluto TV, The Roku Channel, IMDb TV, and others — also help users who can’t find anything they want to watch on their preferred paid subscription apps. And they often aid consumers who are in search of a particular movie or show but don’t want to pay for a rental. Struum believes by aggregating content it can encourage these users to pay for yet another subscription.

In other words, Struum will have to convince users to change their existing TV habits in order to find success, and that’s a risky bet.

But Struum believes the fragmentation of the streaming market may actually work in its favor. As consumers get fed up so many different services and content that jumps around as rights owners forge new licensing agreements, Struum could step in as someone’s fourth subscription.

We view ourselves as the ultimate complementary service and a perfect fit for TV and film lovers who are increasingly frustrated by the costs, complexity and effort required to discover and watch what they want,” noted Struum CEO Lauren DeViller.

Struum is backed by a multi-million-dollar investment from former Disney CEO Michael Eisner through his firm, Tornante Company. Other investors include Firstlight Media, whose technology powers the video service, and Gaingels, which focuses on backing LGBTQ+ founders and allies.

#apps, #classpass, #internet-television, #media, #mobile, #streaming, #streaming-service, #struum, #united-states, #video-on-demand, #video-services

App stores saw record 218 billion downloads in 2020, consumer spend of $143 billion

Mobile adoption continued to grow in 2020, in part due to the market forces of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to App Annie’s annual “State of Mobile” industry report, mobile app downloads grew by 7% year-over-year to a record 218 billion in 2020. Meanwhile, consumer spending grew by 20% to also hit a new milestone of $143 billion, led by markets that included China, the United States, Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom.

Consumers also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone, the report found.

In another shift, app usage in the U.S. 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 on their mobile device.

The increase in time spent is a trend that’s not unique to the U.S., but can be seen across several other countries, including both developing mobile markets like Indonesia, Brazil and India, as well as places like China, Japan, South Korea, the U.K., Germany, France and others.

The trend isn’t isolated to any one demographic, either, but is seen across age groups. In the U.S., for example, Gen Z, millennials and Gen X/Baby Boomers spent 16%, 18% and 30% more time in their most-used apps year-over-year, respectively. However, what those favorite apps looked like was very different.

For Gen Z in the U.S., top apps on Android phones included Snapchat, Twitch, TikTok, Roblox and Spotify.

Millennials favored Discord, LinkedIn, PayPal, Pandora and Amazon Music.

And Gen X/Baby Boomers used Ring, Nextdoor, The Weather Channel, Kindle and ColorNote Notepad Notes.

The pandemic didn’t necessarily change how consumers were using apps in 2020, but rather accelerated mobile adoption by two to three years’ time, the report found.

Investors were also eager to fuel mobile businesses as a result, pouring $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year. According to Crunchbase data, 26% of total global funding dollars in 2020 went to businesses that included a mobile solution.

From 2016 to 2020, global funding to mobile technology companies more than doubled compared with the previous five years, and was led by financial services, transportation, commerce and shopping.

Mobile gaming adoption also continued to grow in 2020. Casual games dominated the market in terms of downloads (78%), but Core games accounted for 66% of games’ consumer spend and 55% of the time spent.

With many stuck inside due to COVID-19 lockdowns and quarantines, mobile games that offered social interaction boomed. Among Us, for example, became a breakout game in several markets in 2020, including the U.S.

Other app categories saw sizable increases over the past year, as well.

Time spent in Finance apps in 2020 was up 45% worldwide, outside of China, and participation in the stock market grew 55% on mobile, thanks to apps like Robinhood in the U.S. and others worldwide, that democratized investing and trading.

TikTok had a big year, too.

The app saw incredible 325% year-over-year growth, despite a ban in India, and ranked in the top five apps by time spent. The average monthly time spent per user also grew faster than nearly every other app analyzed, including 65% in the U.S. and 80% in the U.K., surpassing Facebook. TikTok is now on track to hit 1.2 billion active users in 2021, App Annie forecasts.

Other video services boomed in 2020, thanks to a combination of new market entrants and a lot of time spent at home. Consumers spent 40% more hours streaming on mobile devices, with time spent in streaming apps peaking in the second quarter in the west as the pandemic forced people inside.

YouTube benefitted from this trend, as it became the No. 1 streaming app by time spent among all markets analyzed except China. The time spent in YouTube is up to 6x that of the next closet app at 38 hours per month.

Of course, another big story for 2020 was the rise of e-commerce amid the pandemic. This made the past year the biggest ever for mobile shopping, with an over 30% increase in time spent in Shopping apps, as measured on Android phones outside of China.

Mobile commerce, however, looked less traditional in 2020.

Social shopping was a big trend, with global downloads of Pinterest and Instagram growing 50% and 20% year-over-year, respectively.

Livestreaming shopping grew, too, led by China. Downloads of live shopping TaoBao Live in China, Grip in South Korea and NTWRK in the U.S. grew 100%, 245% and 85%, respectively. NTWRK doubled in size last year, and now others are entering the space as well — including TikTok, to some extent.

The pandemic also prompted increased usage of mobile ordering apps. In the U.S., Argentina, the U.K., Indonesia and Russia, the app grew by 60%, 65%, 70%, 80% and 105%, respectively, in Q4.

Business apps, like Zoom and Google Meet among others, grew 275% in Q4, for example, as remote work and sometimes school, continued.

The analysis additionally included lists of the top apps by downloads, spending and monthly active users (MAUs).

Although TikTok had been topping year-end charts, Facebook continued to beat it in terms of MAUs. Facebook-owned apps controlled the top charts by MAUs, with Facebook at No. 1 followed by WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram.

TikTok, however, had more downloads than Facebook and ranked No. 2 by consumer spending, behind Tinder.

The full report is available only as an online interactive experience this year, not a download. The report largely uses data from both the iOS App Store and Google Play, except where otherwise noted.

#amazon, #android, #app-annie, #apps, #argentina, #brazil, #china, #computing, #e-commerce, #facebook, #financial-services, #france, #freeware, #germany, #google, #india, #indonesia, #instagram, #japan, #kindle, #linkedin, #messenger, #mobile-app, #mobile-applications, #mobile-commerce, #mobile-device, #mobile-devices, #mobile-technology, #operating-systems, #pandora, #paypal, #pinterest, #roblox, #russia, #snapchat, #social-media, #software, #south-korea, #spotify, #the-weather-channel, #tiktok, #twitch, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #video-services

Twilio tapped for Zocdoc’s expansion into telehealth video consultations

Twilio’s video player will be used as the backbone for the new video consultation service that Zocdoc is launching for its customers today, the two companies said in a statement.

As the COVID-19 epidemic reshapes healthcare in the U.S. more service providers are going remote with the delivery of healthcare consultations and encouraging entire generations of consumers to make the switch to virtual care.

Like other video services (notably Zoom), usage of Twilio’s video services has surged. The company said it has seen an over 850 percent increase in peak concurrent participants on its video product and a more than 500 percent increase in daily video minutes.

Healthcare customers have boosted their bandwidth on the platform by 90 percent, the company said.

Zocdoc’s new telehealth solution makes it easier for healthcare professionals to utilize video visits in a time where providers and patients need virtual care most,” said Susan Collins, global head of healthcare services at Twilio, in a statement. “Twilio Programmable Video’s software agility and cloud scale enabled Zocdoc to make remote visits available in a matter of weeks. We’re proud to be able to serve our customers and the healthcare providers they serve to help flatten the curve and continue to deliver care to those who need it.”

As part of a pitch to new customers during the pandemic, Twilio is offering three months of free use of its Video product for healthcare, education and nonprofit organizations, so long as they sign up before June 30. 

#articles, #healthcare, #healthcare-industry, #tc, #technology, #telecommunications, #telehealth, #telemedicine, #twilio, #united-states, #video, #video-player, #video-services, #zocdoc