This Week in Apps: WWDC 21 highlights, Instagram Creator Week recap, Android 12 beta 2 arrives

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.

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WWDC 21 Wrap-Up

Image Credits: Apple

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.

Xcode Cloud

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 #WWDC21 tweets) 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 4

Image Credits: Apple

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.

App Store

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.

Notifications overhaul

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

Augmented Reality

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.

SharePlay

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.

More

There were, of course, hundreds of updates announced this week, like Spatial audio, Focus modes, AirPods updates, iPadOS improvements (widgets! multi-tasking), Health updates, iCloud+ with Private Relay, watchOS improvements, Spotlight’s upgrade, macOS 12 Monterey (with Continuity with Universal Control), HomePod updates, StoreKit 2, Screen Time APIs, ShazamKit, App Clips improvements, Photos improvements and others.

Many, however, were iterative updates — like a better version Apple Maps, for example, or Siri support for third-party devices. Others are Apple’s attempt to catch up with competitors, like the Google Lens-like “Live Text” update for taking action on things snapped in your photos. The more significant changes, however, aren’t yet here — like the plan to add Driver’s Licenses to Wallet and the plan to shift to passwordless authentication systems. These will change how we use devices for years to come.

Weekly News

Platforms: Google

✨ 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.

E-commerce

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.

Augmented Reality

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.

Fintech

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.

✨ Social: Creator Week recap

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.

Messaging

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.

Dating

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.

Gaming

Google’s cross-platform cloud gaming service Google Stadia is coming to Chromecast with Google TV and Android TV starting on June 23.

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

Utilities

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.

Productivity

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 million in 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 million in 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.

Downloads

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.

SketchAR

SketchAR

SketchAR

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.

Tweets

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Here are a bunch of iOS 15 features that Apple didn’t mention earlier

As Apple’s annual WWDC conference wraps up, we have a whole week of developer sessions and press briefings to look back on, plus a bunch of bullet points on Apple’s various feature pages to sort through.

The result? There are a bunch of interesting features coming to iPhones in iOS 15 that Apple didn’t highlight during its public-facing keynote event on Monday.

We’re not going to list them all, as there are far too many little changes in the upcoming software updates. If you want to review the complete list, Apple has published detailed feature pages on its site.

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Apple announces its 2021 Apple Design Award winners

Apple incorporated the announcement of this year’s Apple Design Award winners into its virtual Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) online event, instead of waiting until the event had wrapped, like last year. Ahead of WWDC, Apple previewed the finalists, whose apps and games showcased a combination of technical achievement, design and ingenuity. This evening, Apple announced the winners across six new award categories.

In each category, Apple selected one app and one game as the winner.

In the Inclusivity category, winners supported people from a diversity of backgrounds, abilities and languages.

This year, winners included U.S.-based Aconite’s highly accessible game, HoloVista, where users can adjust various options for motion control, text sizes, text contrast, sound, and visual effect intensity. In the game, users explore using the iPhone’s camera to find hidden objects, solve puzzles and more. (Our coverage)

Image Credits: Aconite

Another winner, Voice Dream Reader, is a text-to-speech app that support more than two dozen languages and offers adaptive features and a high level of customizable settings.

Image Credits: Voice Dream LLC

In the Delight and Fun, category, winners offer memorable and engaging experiences enhanced by Apple technologies. Belgium’s Pok Pok Playroom, a kid entertainment app that spun out of Snowman (Alto’s Adventure series), won for its thoughtful design and use of subtle haptics, sound effects and interactions. (Our coverage)

Image Credits: Pok Pok

Another winner included U.K.s’ Little Orpheus, a platformer that combines storytelling, surprises, and fun and offers a console-like experience in a casual game.

Image Credits: The Chinese Room

The Interaction category winners showcase apps that offer intuitive interfaces and effortless controls, Apple says.

The U.S.-based snarky weather app CARROT Weather won for its humorous forecasts, unique visuals, and entertaining experience, which is also available as Apple Watch faces and widgets.

Image Credits: Brian Mueller, Grailr LLC

Canada’s Bird Alone game combines gestures, haptics, parallax, and dynamic sound effects in clever ways to brings its world to life.

Image Credits: George Batchelor

A Social Impact category doled out awards to Denmark’s Be My Eyes, which enables people who are blind and low vision to identify objects by pairing them with volunteers from around the world using their camera. Today, it supports over 300K users who are assisted by over 4.5M volunteers. (Our coverage)

Image Credits: S/I Be My Eyes

U.K.’s ustwo games won in this category for Alba, a game that teaches about respecting the environment as players save wildlife, repair a bridge, clean up trash and more. The game also plants a tree for every download.

Image Credits: ustwo games

The Visuals and Graphics winners feature “stunning imagery, skillfully drawn interfaces, and high-quality animations,” Apple says.

Belarus-based Loóna offers sleepscape sessions which combine relaxing activities and atmospheric sounds with storytelling to help people wind down at night. The app was recently awarded Google’s “best app” of 2020.

Image Credits: Loóna Inc

China’s Genshin Impact won for pushing the visual frontier on gaming, as motion blur, shadow quality, and frame rate can be reconfigured on the fly. The game had previously made Apple’s Best of 2020 list and was Google’s best game of 2020.

Image Credits: miHoYo Limited

Innovation winners included India’s NaadSadhana, an all-in-one, studio-quality music app that helps artists perform and publish. The app uses A.I. and Core ML to listen and provide feedback on the accuracy of notes, and generates a backing track to match.

Image Credits: Sandeep Ranade

Riot Games’ League of Legends: Wild Rift (U.S.) won for taking a complex PC classic and delivering a full mobile experience that includes touchscreen controls, an auto-targeting system for newcomers, and a mobile-exclusive camera setting.

Image Credits: Riot Games

The winners this year will receive a prize package that includes hardware and the award itself.

A video featuring the winners is here on the Apple Developer website.

“This year’s Apple Design Award winners have redefined what we’ve come to expect from a great app experience, and we congratulate them on a well-deserved win,” said Susan Prescott, Apple’s vice president of Worldwide Developer Relations, in a statement. “The work of these developers embodies the essential role apps and games play in our everyday lives, and serve as perfect examples of our six new award categories.”

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0

Apple announces iCloud+ with privacy-focused features

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.

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Apple unveils iOS 15 with new features for FaceTime and better notifications

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.

Wallet, Weather and Maps

This is a developing story…

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Equity Monday: Jeff’s going to space, and everyone wants a piece of Flipkart

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest private market news, talks about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here.

It’s WWDC week, so expect a deluge of Apple news to overtake your Twitter feed here and there over the next few days. But there’s a lot more going on, so let’s dig in:

And that’s your start to the week. More to come from your friends here on Wednesday, and Friday. Chat soon!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 AM PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

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Live from Apple’s WWDC 2021 keynote

And we’re back. Well, not back-back. But we’re here in the San Jose McEnery Convention Center of the mind. The parking is awful and the hotels all got booked up five months ago, so we’re taking the CalTrain in from Redwood City (of the mind).

We’ve got a full house at this morning’s virtual kick off to Apple’s annual developer conference. And good thing, too. It’s shaping up to be a packed event. You can read more about that here. You can also check out Apple’s own livestream here. And, of course, we’ll be breaking out the biggest news into bite-sized chunks.

As always, the kickoff event is focused on Apple’s (numerous) operating systems: iOS/iPadOS, macOS, watchOS, tvOS and, perhaps, a new homeOS. Often times that also comes with some new hardware. After all, you’ll need something to run those operating systems on.

Matthew will be leading the show, with help from various the TC team. Things kick off today at 10AM PT/1PM ET.

 

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This Week in Apps: WWDC Prep, F8 recap, TikTok goes after biometric data

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 was a busy one. Facebook held its developer conference F8 which delivered a lot of app-related news across its platform. Now, WWDC is just days away. We also broke a few big app stories this week, including one about TikTok’s privacy policy and its newly added permission to collect biometric data on U.S. users, including “faceprints and voiceprints.” Twitter added a subscription service, and Tinder tested group video chat.

And in our downloads section, we have a treat for readers: a time-sensitive and exclusive invite code to get into one of the hottest new apps for sneakerheads: Sole Retriever. 

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WWDC 21 Prep

Image Credits: Apple

WWDC’s big keynote is kicking off next week on June 7 at 1 PM ET. The livestream page is here. While we may see new MacBook Pros, what software developers will care about are the forthcoming details about Apple’s latest OS releases and other new technologies. As to what they may include? Bloomberg reported that iOS 15 will introduce a way for users to set different notification preferences and automatic replies, based on their current status (driving, working, sleeping, etc.) and an updated Lock Screen where this menu of choices would be accessible. iMessage may be upgraded to be more social, to better compete with Messenger and WhatsApp. Meanwhile, iPadOS could be getting the App Library and an upgraded Home Screen with support for widgets. (And you can fill the screen with just widgets, if you choose.) Or who knows! Until it’s official, it’s all a maybe!

But one potentially interesting rumor to watch for would be a new privacy feature that would show users which apps were collecting data about them. This builds on Apple’s investments in App Tracking Transparency and could make it more difficult for shady SDKs to stay in business.

There will likely be some updates coming to other Apple’s own apps, Siri, watchOS and more. It’s going to be a packed week — stay tuned!

Ahead of WWDC, Apple also updated its report (conducted on its behalf via the Analysis Group) on App Store commerce. The company says the App Store facilitated $643 billion in billings and sales in 2020, up 24% from the $519 billion seen the year prior. It also noted that about 90% of the billings and sales facilitated by the App Store actually took place outside its walls, meaning Apple took no commission on those purchases. This is up from the 85% figure reported last year. The full report delves into other trends related to the pandemic’s impact, small and large businesses, and more. Apple initially commissioned the report to demonstrate how little business on the App Store is actually subject to App Store fees, but now it’s updated the report a year later. It’s interesting how much understanding Apple has about its App Store, especially when Tim Cook claimed to know so little about several crucial figures.

Image Credits: Apple

Apple also this week unveiled its 2021 Apple Design finalists. The awards honor apps and games that offer a combination of innovation, ingenuity and technical achievement — the latter which often means making great use of Apple technologies. The finalists span six categories: Inclusivity, Delight and Fun, Interaction, Social Impact, Visuals and Graphics, and Innovation.

Among the prospective winners are apps including snarky weather app Carrot Weather as well as the unique (Not Boring) Weather, short-form news service Brief, mental wellness app and Google Play award winner Loona, Editor’s Choice Genshin Impact, Snowman’s new kids app Pok Pok Playroom and summertime fun music app Poolside FM, and many others.

Weekly News

Platforms: Google

Google this week opened submissions for two of its annual developer programs: the Indie Games Accelerator and the Indie Games Festival. The programs are designed to help small games studios grow on Google Play. This year, the programs will include more eligible markets and will be fully digital experiences.

Google will restrict third-party apps from customizing the native Android Sharesheet in Android 12. Currently, the UI of the Sharesheet can differ from app to app, but XDA Developers reports it will become more iOS-like, by offering a consistent menu across apps.

Google is taking a cue from Apple by allowing users to opt out of personalization using the advertising ID in the Android Settings. Once users opt out, the advertising ID is disabled. The ID is a unique, user-resettable identifier provided by Google Play services. As part of a coming Google Play services update in late 2021, the advertising identifier will be removed when the user opts out of tracking, and any attempt to access the identifier will only return a string of zeros. Google says ad and analytics service partners will receive notifications about a user’s preferences to help them with compliance. The change will roll out in late 2021 and will impact apps running on Android 12 devices initially, with an expansion to devices that support Google Play in early 2022.

Platforms: Huawei (!!)

Image Credits: Wang Chenglu, president of Huawei Consumer Business Group’s software department

Two years after Huawei was put on a list of Chinese companies banned from doing business with U.S. organizations, it launched its proprietary operating system, HarmonyOS, for smartphones. The OS is designed to power phones, tablets and smart devices. Smartphone maker Meizu has already hinted it may adopt the new OS.

Augmented Reality

Image Credits: Facebook

Facebook’s flagship AR creation software, Spark AR, has already been used by more than 600,000 creators from over 190 countries to publish over 2 million AR effects. At Facebook’s F8 event this week, the company announced Multipeer API for video calls on Messenger, Instagram and Portal. The API will allow developers to create “shared AR” effects that apply to all the call participants — like a party hat that shows up on everyone’s heads for a birthday call, for instance.

E-commerce/Retail

Convenience store-style on-demand delivery startup JOKR launched in New York City to provide 15-minute or less delivery of items you might otherwise find in small stores and local delis. Except instead of dealing with stores, JOKR has its own strategically placed micro-hubs. The startup was founded by Ralf Wenzel, who previously founded Foodpanda, which later merged with Delivery Hero.

Image Credits: Walmart

Walmart is handing out over 740,000 new Samsung Galaxy XCover Pro smartphones (retail $499) to its employees, saying that “constant communication” is essential to its business. The phones will run Walmart’s proprietary Me@Walmart app, where employees clock in, adjust schedules, use the voice assistant “Ask Sam,” and communicate with others via push-to-talk. Employees will be allowed to use the phone for personal use after work hours, and Walmart will not have access to their personal data, the retailer says.

Fintech

Image Credits: Kraken

Coinbase rival Kraken launched a mobile app in the U.S. that allows users to buy and sell more than 50 crypto tokens from their mobile phone. Kraken is the world’s fourth-largest digital currency exchange, in terms of trading volume.

Venmo now lets users hide their friend list for additional privacy. The change to the app came after BuzzFeed News found President Biden’s Venmo account using public friend lists. Digital rights groups had called the design a “security nightmare.”

Japan-based Line Corp. is launching its digital banking platform in Indonesia, which means it will now offering banking services in three of its biggest overseas markets: Indonesia, Thailand and Taiwan.

Coinbase Card, which allows users to spend their crypto while on the go, now works with Apple Pay and Google Pay. The card will offer up to 4% in crypto rewards for everyday purchases.

Chime has established itself as the No. 1 neobank in the U.S., according to eMarketer. The banking app will have 13.1 million U.S. accounts this year, up 30.7% from 2020. Current will have 4 million, double from the 2.1 million it had last year. Aspiration is in third place, with 3 million, followed by Varo, at 2.7 million.

Social

✨ Scoop: Tinder tested a group video chat feature ahead of parent company Match’s move into social discovery with its $1.73 billion acquisition of Seoul-based Hyperconnect. The feature was only tested briefly in New Zealand and then shut down, but may have served as a way to gain valuable data about younger users’ interest in social discovery apps and services as Match moves into that market which it says is double the size of the dating market.

Image Credits: Twitter

Twitter Blue officially launched. Will you pay for better Twitter? Twitter’s new premium subscription brings tools to organize your bookmarks, read threads in a clutter-free format and take advantage of an “Undo Tweet” feature — which is the closest thing Twitter will have to the long-requested “Edit” button. It also offers a few other perks, like custom app icons, colorful themes and subscription customer support. Unfortunately, the service is only live in Canada and Australia for the time being.

Twitter redesigned its mobile app to put its Clubhouse rival, Twitter Spaces, in the middle of its navigation bar. Initially, only around 500 people from the original Spaces beta test will first see the new Spaces discovery tab, but it will expand to more people over time. The tab will help people keep track of Spaces they want to listen to and manage notifications, among other things.

Twitter began rolling out Birdwatch fact checks inside tweets. Birdwatch is Twitter’s pilot program that aims to crowdsource fact-checking of tweets, as an alternative to relying on fact-checkers. The program’s goal will be to append more info to misinformation online in real time.

TikTok reamined the top non-game app worldwide in May 2021 by downloads. According to Sensor Tower, TikTok was No. 1 on both the App Store and Google Play with 80 million combined installs. Brazil accounted for 16% of those, and China 12%.

Facebook at its developer conference F8 also introduced Facebook Login Connect with Messenger. For businesses that have already integrated with Facebook Login, this allow users to log in to their app using their Facebook credentials and opt in to chat with businesses over Messenger, all in the Facebook Login flow. The tool is in closed beta.

Facebook also updated its Business Suite with a new feature that will allow developers to build “business apps,” which are tools made by third-party developers that work alongside the Business Suite. These “apps” could do things like bring in content from a catalog to their Facebook page or Instagram account. The platform already has 30 developers working on it and integrates with e-commerce platforms, like BigCommerce.

Image Credits: Facebook

Messaging

WhatsApp reversed course and now says it won’t reduce the app’s functionality if users don’t agree to its new privacy policy. The rollout had led to a lot of backlash as it revealed the messaging app would begin sharing more info with Facebook.

As part of its F8-related announcements, WhatsApp said it would update its Business API to make it quicker for business to get started with its service. WhatsApp will make it faster to set up a business account (5 minutes instead of weeks), and will allow businesses to respond faster to inbound messages, as well as send messages to users who opted in. The business tool for customer care will allow up to 10 pre-written messages, among other updates.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told popular news outlet/leaker WaBetaInfo that WhatsApp will add multi-device support for connecting up to four devices to one account. He also said WhatsApp will introduce a “view once” disappearing feature for photos and videos, and is working on an iPad app. The method of delivering this news is worth noting — WaBetaInfo is not a traditional news outlet, but more of an independent news portal of sorts. Zuckerberg has been taking Facebook news to non-traditional (and often far friendlier) channels as of late, including popping up in Clubhouse rooms and other independent outlets. Facebook clearly feels mainstream press has turned on it when they…[checks notes]…held Facebook accountable for its actions.

Facebook also announced the general availability of the Messenger API for Instagram. First announced last fall and rolling out in phases, the API offers a more efficient way for larger brands to handle a high volume of messages by allowing them to integrate Instagram messaging into the tools and applications they’re already using in-house to manage their Facebook conversations.

Community social network Nextdoor launched a new feature called Free Finds that helps its users unload their unwanted stuff on others in their neighborhood. Notably, the feature doesn’t require you to be a Nextdoor member to access the listings, but eventually, those users may convert.

Streaming & Entertainment

Image Credits: Spotify

Spotify rolled out a sort of mid-year version of Wrapped with the launch of the new personalized experience, Only You. The feature offers insights about your music history in a sharable format, like your musical dinner party or audio birth chart, and other fun finds. Why now? Perhaps Spotify is heading off Apple Music news to come with a feature that reminds users it does personalization best?

Spotify also added Blend, a way to create a playlist with any other Spotify user. The company offers a similar feature for users on its Family and Duo plans, but this new tool doesn’t require users to be in the same household.

Apple tried to acquire livestreaming music platform Verzuz, which later sold to video social network Triller, Bloomberg reported. Apple didn’t engage in a bidding war and offered a lower price than what Triller paid, it said.

The Apple TV app launched on Android devices. Like Apple Music, Apple TV is a service that needs to work across platforms in order to compete with rivals. The Android app’s arrival followed the Apple TV app’s debut on Nvidia’s Shield TV, which means it’s now available across all major Android TV-based devices.

Health & Fitness

Amazon updated its Halo health app with a new feature called Movement Health, which will use computer vision and machine learning to asses users’ posture, mobility and stability and then suggest exercises to improve them.

Peloton slashed the pricing for its fitness app, normally $12.99/mo, for students, teachers, healthcare workers and military. Students can pay $6.99/mo while the others can pay $9.99/mo. Military members and their families can lock in that rate for life. The company is facing a PR crisis after recalling treadmills that injured 70 and led to one infant death.

Utilities

Image Credits: App Annie

A TikTok trend where users prank people by spamming them on text has driven the app that makes that possible, Paste Keyboard, to the top of the App Store. Mashable noted the app’s rise, but couldn’t figure out why. Nor could App Annie. It’s kids, y’all. Honestly, the App Store needs a new “viral” chart at this point.

AirTag support is coming to Android. Apple announced some changes to AirTag, including the period of time they’ll make a sound when moved. The time will change from three times per day to a random time between 8-24 hours. Apple believes the shortening of the window will serve as a better deterrent against bad actors using AirTag to track someone.  Alongside this announcement, Apple said it will later this year launch an Android application that will allow users to detect AirTag or other Find My network-enabled accessories that are separated from its owner and may be traveling with a user.

Firefox revamped its Mac and iOS app this week with a what it claims is a more distraction-free design, featuring streamlined toolbar and menus, expanded privacy protections, a new look for tabs, updated notifications and alerts, easier muting, and more.

 

Ring added “Request for Assistance posts” on its Neighbors app, claiming this will allow public safety agencies (e.g. police) to ask communities for help in investigations. The Request for Assistance posts can only be issued from verified public safety agency profiles, Ring says. Of course, this isn’t the only way police can acquire Ring videos, as the company has many police partnerships across the U.S. that let them acquire footage without a warrant.

Auto/Transportation

Toyota added a data privacy portal to its apps. The feature is available in the Account Settings of the Toyota and Lexus apps and works with vehicles offering connected services that were built in the 2013 model year or later. It also allows consumers who own multiple Toyota or Lexus vehicles to customize privacy and data-sharing settings for each.

Gokada is launching its ride-hailing service in two more Nigerian cities as part of its super app plans. The company is merging its ride-hailing service with food delivery platform GShop. In the past year, Gokada crossed $100 million in annualized transaction value, and helped onboard 30,000 merchants.

Reading

Image Credits: Apptopia

The top reading and writing apps grew their IAP revenue 50% YoY in May 2021, Apptopia reported. This group includes apps for writing novels or comic books, or reading the works from others, like Webtoon, Wattpad, Dreame, GoodNovel, Webnovel, Tapas and Radish. As a grouping, these apps have also grown IAP revenue 15% over the past six months. Since January 2020, Webtoon and Dreame combined accounted for 56.3% of the grouping’s total IAP revenue.

Government & Policy

Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, LinkedIn and startups ShareChat and Koo have now either fully or partially complied with India’s IT rules that require them to appoint and share contact details of representatives tasked with compliance, nodal point of reference and grievance redressals to address on-ground concerns. Twitter, whose offices were raided by police in Delhi, has not yet complied.

EU will review TikTok’s Terms of Service following child safety complaints. Areas of concern include hidden marketing, aggressive advertising techniques targeted at children and contractual terms in the company’s policies that could be misleading or confusing for consumers.

Security & Privacy

The TikTok logo is seen on an iPhone 11 Pro max

The TikTok logo is seen on an iPhone 11 Pro max

✨ Scoop: TikTok just gave itself permission to collect biometric data on U.S. users, including “faceprints and voiceprints.” A change to TikTok’s U.S. privacy policy on Wednesday introduced a new section that says the social video app “may collect biometric identifiers and biometric information” from its users’ content, including things like “faceprints and voiceprints.” Reached for comment, TikTok could not confirm what product developments necessitated the addition of biometric data to its list of disclosures about the information it automatically collects from users, but said it would ask for consent in the case such data collection practices began.

The biometric data collection details were introduced in the newly added section, “Image and Audio Information,” found under the heading of “Information we collect automatically” in the policy.

 

Alibaba’s UC Browser app has been found to be harvesting the private web activity of users across Android or iOS when incognito mode is turned on. The browser is the fourth largest in the world, with 500 million Android downloads alone. Before being banned in India over security concerns related to Chinese apps, it was also one of the most popular in India, as well.

Funding and M&A

💰 Miami-based NUE Life Health raised $3.3 million for its telemedicine platform and app in the U.S., where it combines mental wellness solutions that employ psychedelic-assisted therapies with a graph database-driven app. The app was backed by investors who recently left SV for Miami, including Jack Abraham, Shervin Pishevar, Martin Varsavsky, Jon Oringer, James Bailey and Christina Getty.

🤝 Etsy acquired secondhand e-commerce startup Depop for more than $1.6 billion. Depop, which caters to a Gen Z crowd, saw 2020 gross merchandise sales and revenue of approximately $650 million and $70 million, respectively.

💰 Social network platform Venn raised $60 million in Series B funding led by Group 11. The startup provides technology that allows building owners and other real estate partners and communities to provide social networking services to their tenants, with tools for organizing buy/sell groups, organizing community activities, connecting with neighbors and more.

💰 Digital health management company Hello Heart raised $45 million Series C led by IVP. The company’s app is marketed by employers as part of their benefit programs and helps patients manage heart health and blood pressure, medications and more.

💰 Personal finance app Truebill raised $17 million in Series C funding led by Accel, valuing the business at $500 million. The app helps consumers get better control over their finances by helping them cancel subscriptions, negotiate bills, view credit reports, budget, and access spending insights, among other things.

💰 Newly launched stock trading app Lightyear disclosed it raised $1.5 million pre-seed funding in a round co-led by the new unnamed fund formed by Wise co-founder Taavet Hinrikus and Teleport co-founder Sten Tamkivi. The app was the fund’s first investment.

💰 Istanbul-based grocery delivery app Getir raised $550 million in new funding, tripling its valuation to $7.5 billion. New investors include DisruptAD and Mubadala Funding Firm (both being arms of Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth funds) as well as Silicon Valley-based Silver Lake.

Downloads

Sole Retriever

Image Credits: Sole Retriever

Sole Retriever is a newly launched app that aims to be a sneakerhead’s dream.

The app offers a one-stop shop for all things sneaker — including sneaker news, sneaker releases, sneaker raffles, a calendar of upcoming drops and more. The company says its goal is to democratize access to sneaker drops by making this info more accessible and convenient for consumers. Before its mobile launch, Sole Retriever had offered its service via the web only. Now it’s live on both iOS and Android.

Unique to the mobile experience is the ability to customize your alerts so you only hear about the raffles you want to know about — like those in the U.S., or only those that are in-store or online, for example. It also makes entering raffles easier with autofill features. Custom profiles that let you save the info for others who have agreed to let you enter their name and address to increase your chances of winning. And the app can save your logins for different retailers to make shopping easier.

Sole Retriever is currently only available as a waitlist, but TechCrunch readers can bypass the waitlist! Here’s how! 

After downloading the app and logging in, when you reach the waitlist screen, you can redeem a special code — “TWIA” (in all caps!), which lets you bypass the entire waitlist and gain instant access to start your seven-day free trial for the app. The code is only valid for 24 hours after this post goes live so hit it quickly!

Apple Developer app

Image Credits: Apple

The Apple Developer app is not new. But it is the must-have download for the week ahead, as it will provide mobile developers with access to everything needed to navigate WWDC 21’s all-digital event. The app was updated this week with details about the agenda, sessions, pavilions, labs, coding and design challenges, and more. Developers can also sign up for labs inside the app and get notifications about their appointments. There are also new WWDC 21 iMessage stickers for some added fun.

Reading Recommendations

  • Marco.org: Developer Relations. Marco Arment has some harsh words for Apple ahead of WWDC. He accuses the iPhone maker of undervaluing what apps mean for iOS beyond their IAP revenue. And he points out that developers themselves bring in a good number of customers through their own marketing efforts, not because of their App Store listing.
  • Pew Research: Mobile Technology and Home Broadband 2021. Pew takes a look at U.S. trends, including smartphone ownership adoption. Eighty-five percent of U.S. adults now own a smartphone, which is more than have broadband (77%) at home.
  • Donny Wals: The iOS Developer’s Guide to WWDC 2021. Wals reminds developers to not get caught up in the WWDC chaos, pace themselves and focus on what matters to their business. He also makes suggestions about what to not overlook during WWDC week.

Tweets

#android, #app-stores, #apple, #apps, #developers, #facebook, #google, #google-play, #instagram, #ios, #mobile, #sneakers, #tc, #this-week-in-apps, #tiktok, #twitter, #wwdc

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What to expect from WWDC 2021

All things considered, Apple put together a pretty slick all-virtual WWDC last year. Where other companies like Microsoft and Google have opted for a more live (or live-style) experience, the company was parading its execs through a series of smooth drone shots and slick transitions. And with the first year under its belt, it will be fun to see how the company outdoes itself.

As far as news goes, the WWDC keynote kickoff is always packed — and this year is no different. In fact, there’s a good chance that we could see even more. In addition to the standard developer-focused updates to iOS/iPadOS, watchOS, macOS, tvOS and the like, we could well see some new hardware dropping at the event.

As ever, we’ll be breaking the news live, and this time out, we’re bringing back the liveblog. So, you know, lots of different ways to follow along live. The event kicks off at 10AM PT/1PM ET on Monday, June 7.

Speaking of, you can also check out the YouTube livestream here:

As usual, iOS is the tentpole attraction here — if nothing else, because Apple sells more iPhones than anything else. That was certainly the case last year, when the company’s latest 5G devices provided much needed relief in an otherwise flagging mobile market.

At least right off the bat, iOS 15 doesn’t look like as radical an update as the latest version of Android. But a lot can happen between today and Monday morning. The top line issue (at least for now) seems to be updates to notifications. According to reports, the new version of the mobile operating system will offer customizable notifications based on status — meaning things like sleeping, working and driving.

The operating system is also believed to be getting a whole slew of new accessibility features.

Apple 2021 iPad Pro overview

Image Credits: Apple

Perhaps even bigger news is a long-awaited update to iPadOS 15. The dated software was a sticking point in our latest iPad Pro review, and it seems the company is finally making some key strides to further distance its tablet operating system from the mobile one. For most intents and purposes, the current execution is effectively a scaled-up version of iOS for the tablet.

Not a ton of details yet, but the home screen is reportedly set to get some major updates, including widgets. One imagines the company will be pushing to make better use of all that added real estate. It should also be getting some of the new iOS updates, including those new notifications and a big overhaul for iMessage.

a new iPhone 12 package on top of a MacBook Pro package.

YOKOHAMA, KANAGAWA, JAPAN – 2020/10/31: In this photo illustration a new iPhone 12 package on top of a MacBook Pro package. (Photo Illustration by Stanislav Kogiku/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

After the big overhaul that was Big Sur, we’re expecting smaller waves from macOS 12. The big news here may be hardware. Rumors surround an update to Apple’s blazing-fast M1 chip. The M1X (as it’s currently being called) could well arrive alongside brand new 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros, which would finally put a little sunlight between the high and low end of Apple’s laptop line.

Apple Watch Series 5

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Also, watchOS seems due for a big update, even if information is pretty scant so far. New health features are always a sure bet — especially now that Apple is competing with the newly combined Google and Fitbit (not to mention that recently announced assist from Samsung).

Then there’s homeOS, the most intriguing mystery of the bunch. Job listings have pointed to the mysterious operating system — that could have just been a typo (later changed to “HomePod” in the listing).

Image Credits: Apple

This being a rumor roundup, we’ll point the compelling possibility that it might be something larger — perhaps a more unifying home operating system designed to work with existing and forthcoming Apple home products. Perhaps something that integrates a bit more closely with tvOS. A longstanding rumor centers around a new Apple TV device, but so far we’ve not seen a lot of confirmation on that front.

Other rumors involve a new Mac Mini (though we just saw a refresh late last year). Rumors around Beats Studio Buds are enticing as well. After all, when LeBron is seen sporting your unannounced hardware, people are going to talk. Traditionally, however, Apple has opted to let the Beats team do its own announcements, saving these big events for its own self-branded audio products like AirPods.

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Apple’s “homeOS” slip fits with prior rumors about new smart home products

A smart speaker about the size of a mason jar.

Enlarge / Apple’s discontinued HomePod. (credit: Jeff Dunn)

A reference to “homeOS” was recently found in an Apple job listing, suggesting that Apple may have plans to change how it classifies and presents the software running on devices like the HomePod mini in the future.

Twitter user Javier Lacort discovered the terminology in an Apple Music-related job listing and posted a screenshot to Twitter. “You’ll get to work with system engineers across Apple, learning the inner-workings of iOS, watchOS, tvOS, and homeOS,” the posting reads. “The Apple Music Frameworks team owns the technology stack that enables the system-integrated Apple Music experience on all of our mobile platforms: iOS, watchOS, and homeOS,” it adds shortly afterwards.

The job listing appeared to later be updated to say “HomePod” instead of “homeOS” in the first case and “tvOS” instead of “homeOS” in the second case.

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Apple’s App Store facilitated $643 billion in commerce, up 24% from last year

In its antitrust trial with Epic Games, which has just adjourned, Apple argued it doesn’t evaluate its App Store profit and loss as a standalone business. But today, the company put out new figures that indicate it does have a good understanding of the money that flows through its app marketplace, at the very least. The company has now released an updated version of a study performed by the economists at the Analysis Group, which claims the App Store ecosystem facilitated $643 billion in billings and sales in 2020, up 24% from the $519 billion seen the year prior. The new report focuses on the pandemic impacts to apps and the small business developers the App Store serves, among other things.

It also noted that about 90% of the billings and sales facilitated by the App Store actually took place outside its walls, meaning Apple took no commission on those purchases. This is up from the 85% figure reported last year, and is a figure Apple has been using in antitrust battles to paint a picture of an App Store that facilitates a lot commerce where it doesn’t take a commission.

The study then broke down how the different categories of App Store billings and sales were distributed.

Apple takes a commission on the sales of digital goods and services, which were $86 billion in 2020, or 13% of the total. But another $511 billion came from the sale of physical goods and services through apps — think online shopping, food delivery, ride hailing, etc. — or 80% of the total. These aren’t commissioned. And $46 billion came from in-app advertising, or 7% of the total.

The larger point being made with some of these figures is that, while the dollar amount flowing through apps being commissioned is large, it’s much smaller than most of the business being conducted on the App Store.

The report also noted how much of that business originates from China, which accounted for 47% of total global billings and sales ($300B) versus the U.S.’s 27% ($175+B).

Apple app store iOS

Image Credits: TechCrunch

The study additionally dove into how some App Store categories had been heavily impacted by the pandemic — particularly those apps that helped businesses and schools move online, those that offered ways to shop from your phone, or helped consumers stay entertained and healthy, among other things.

This led to an over 40% increase in billings and sales from apps offering digital goods and services, while sales in the travel and ride hailing sectors decreased by 30%. While the latter may gradually return to pre-pandemic levels, some of the acceleration driven by the pandemic in other categories — like online shopping and grocery delivery — could be here to stay.

To break it down further, general retail grew to $383 billion in 2020, up from $268 billion last year. Food delivery and pickup grew from $31 billion in 2019 to $36 billion in 2021. Grocery shopping jumped from $14 billion to $22 billion. But travel fell from $57 billion in 2019 to $38 billion in 2020, and ride hailing dropped from $40 billion to $26 billion. (None of these categories are commissioned.)

The study then continued with a deep dive into how the App Store aided small businesses.

Highlighting how smaller businesses benefit from a tech giant’s ecosystem is a tactic others have taken to, as well, in order shore up support for their own operations, which have similarly been accused of being monopolies in recent months.

Amazon, for example, raves about the small businesses benefitting from its marketplace and its sales event Prime Day, even as it stands accused of leveraging nonpublic data to compete with those same small business sellers. Facebook, meanwhile, pushed the small business impact angle when Apple’s new privacy protections in iOS 14 allowed customers to opt out of being tracked — and therefore out of Facebook’s personalized ads empire.

In Apple’s case, it’s pointing to the fact that the number of small developers worldwide has grown by 40% since 2015. This group now makes up more than 90% of App Store developers. The study defines this group of “small” developers as those with fewer than 1 million downloads and less than $1 million in earnings across all their apps. It also excludes any developers that never saw more than 1,000 downloads in a year between 2015 and 2020, to ensure the data focuses on businesses, not hobbyists. (This is a slightly different definition than Apple uses for its Small Business Program, we should note.)

Among this group, more than 1 in 5 saw at least an increase in downloads of at least 25% annually since their first full year on the App Store. And 1 in 4 who sold digital goods and services saw an earnings increase of at least 25% annually.

The study also connected being on the App Store with growing a business’s revenue, noting that only 23% of large developers (those with more than $1 million in earnings in 2020) had already earned more than $1 million back in 2015. 42% were active on the App Store in 2015 but hadn’t crossed the $1 million threshold, and another 35% were not even on the App Store — an indication their success has been far more recent.

The research additionally identified over 75 businesses in the U.S. and Europe, where iOS was essential to their business, that went public or were acquired since 2011. Their valuation totaled nearly $500 billion.

Finally, the study examined how apps transact outside their home market, as around 40% of all downloads of apps from small developers came from outside their home countries and nearly 80% were operating in multiple storefronts.

Image Credits: Apple WWDC 2021 imagery 

While the antitrust scrutiny may have pushed Apple into to commissioning this type of App Store research last year, it’s interesting to see the company is now updating the data on an annual basis to give the industry a deeper view into the App Store compared with the general developer revenue figure it used to trot out at various events and occasions.

Like last year’s study, the updated research has been released in the days leading up to Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference. It’s a time of the year when Apple aims to renew its bond with the developer community as it rolls out new software development kits (SDKs), application programming interfaces (API)s, software and other tools — enhancements it wants remid developers are made possible, in part, because of its App Store fees.

Today, Apple notes it has more than 250,000 APIs included in 40 SDKs. At WWDC 2021, it will host hundreds of virtual sessions, 1-on-1 developer labs, and highlight App Store favorites.

“Developers on the App Store prove every day that there is no more innovative, resilient or dynamic marketplace on earth than the app economy,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook, in a statement about the research. “The apps we’ve relied on through the pandemic have been life-changing in so many ways — from groceries delivered to our homes, to teaching tools for parents and educators, to an imaginative and ever-expanding universe of games and entertainment. The result isn’t just incredible apps for users: it’s jobs, it’s opportunity, and it’s untold innovation that will power global economies for many years to come,” he added.

#app-ecosystem, #app-store-research, #app-stores, #app-store, #apple, #apple-inc, #apps, #developers, #mobile, #mobile-app, #mobile-apps, #tc, #tim-cook, #wwdc, #wwdc-2021

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Apple just dropped a whole bunch of OS updates and WWDC info

How’s your Monday going? If you’re Apple, the answer is probably somewhere between “very busy” to “gaaaaaaah.” The company just dropped a whole bunch of new OS updates today, including iOS, macOS, watchOS and tvOS, all ahead of the upcoming Worldwide Developers Conference, which kicks off (virtually) on June 7.

Indeed, iOS and iPadOS are the headliners here — if for no other reason than the fact that they’ll impact the most devices. The public release of iOS/iPadOS 14.6 brings a couple of biggish features, including the addition of paid podcast subscriptions and Apple Card Family, both announced at a recent hardware event.

The former allows podcasters to charge for subscriptions to their show (imagine that!), with Apple taking a 30% commission for the first year. That will halve in a year. The latter, meanwhile, makes it possible for Apple Card owners to effectively split a card, with the various responsibilities that entails.

CEO Tim Cook noted at the time of announcement:

One of the things that became apparent to us in the beginning [of launching Apple Card] was a lack of fairness in the way the industry calculated credit scores when there were two holders of a credit card. One of you got the benefit of building a good credit history, and the other did not. We want to reinvent the way this works.

MacOS 11.4 brings support for additional graphics cards, a number of bug fixes and, like the new iOS, support for paid podcast subs. Ditto that last part and Apple Card Family for the new watchOS 7.5, along with support for additional health features in Malaysia and Peru, as well as expense tracking for the Apple Card. TVOS/HomePod 14.6, meanwhile, are getting bug fixes and some color balance changes for the former.

Along with all of this, the company also announced the slate of programming for this year’s virtual WWDC. Things will kick off on June 7 at 10 a.m. PT with the keynote. That’s where the big news on the latest version of all of the above will be announced — and, hopefully, some hardware, as well. At 2 p.m. the company will be offering more information with its annual Platforms State of the Union.

The full schedule is available here.

#apple, #apps, #events, #ios, #macos, #tvos, #wwdc, #wwdc-2021

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Apple will reveal the next versions of iOS, macOS at WWDC21, starting June 7

A disembodied cartoon head sure is excited.

Enlarge / Apple’s splash image for WWDC 2021, which references a meme from last year. (credit: Apple)

Apple will host its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) on schedule this year, with the event kicking off on June 7 and concluding on June 11. Like last year, it will be an online-only affair as the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic. All the event’s offerings will be free for anyone who has an Apple developer account.

The company typically uses this event to announce new versions of its various operating systems (macOS, iPadOS, iOS, watchOS, and tvOS) and detail the software’s new features and changes. WWDC is sometimes, though not always, used to announce new hardware products, too, and it’s often the event Apple uses to explain very major changes in direction, should they be imminent. For example, Apple revealed the details of its custom-made silicon transition at last year’s conference.

Apple’s press release notes that the usual components will be there. There will be a keynote to kick things off, followed by “state of the union” presentations that drill deeper on each platform. Then, Apple will offer video sessions on specific features—using the Metal graphics API to make augmented reality applications, in one hypothetical example—throughout the week. The conference will also include one-on-one lab appointments “offering technical guidance” to developers, Apple says.

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Apple’s WWDC stays online-only, kicking off June 7

Apple this morning announced that it will be returning to an all-virtual format for a second year. The company went online-only for the first time in 2020, as Covid-19 ground in-person events to a halt. While vaccine rollouts have begun in much of the world, the return of the in-person event industry still seems iffy for most of the rest of the year. The event will run June 7-11.

“We are working to make WWDC21 our biggest and best yet, and are excited to offer Apple developers new tools to support them as they create apps that change the way we live, work, and play,” Developer Relations VP Susan Prescott said in a release tied to the news.

The virtual format certainly has its advantage — accessibility being at the top of the list. Apple said last year’s was its “biggest ever,” and expects roughly 28 million developers from around the world at this one. In addition to not having to deal with traveling — not to mention the South Bay hotel crunch — the company offers up free access to the event for all qualified developers.

The event spans Apple’s different operating systems, bringing new versions of iOS/iPadOS, macOS, watchOS and tvOS. Last year also delivered the big, long awaited arrival of Apple’s transition to first-part silicon for its Macs. Hardware news has otherwise been fairly hit or miss at the event, but after a bottleneck in H1 2020, the company could have some surprises on the way on that front.

Along with the big keynote and a week’s worth of developer-themed programming, the company hosts events like the Swift Student Challenge, a competition focused on young coders. Apple notes that it will also being using the opportunity to donate $1 million to SJ Aspires, an education initiative based in San Jose, where the in-person event has been held in recent years.

#apple, #apps, #events, #wwdc

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Mobile developer Tru Luv enlists investors to help build a more inclusive alternative to gaming

Developer and programmer Brie Code has worked at the peak of the video game industry – she was responsible for many of the AI systems that powered non-player character (NPC) behavior in the extremely popular Assassin’s Creed series created by Ubisoft. It’s obvious that gaming isn’t for everyone, but Code became more and more interested in why that maxim seemed to play out along predictable gender lines, leading her ultimately to develop and launch #SelfCare through her own independent development studio TRU LUV.

#SelfCare went on to win accolades including a spot of Apple’s App Store Best of 2018 list, and Code and TRU LUV was also the first Canadian startup to attend Apple’s Entrepreneur Camp program. Now, with over 2 million downloads of #SelfCare (without any advertising at all), Code and TRU LUV have brought on a number of investors for their first outside funding including Real Ventures, Evolve Ventures, Bridge Builders Collaborative and Artesian Venture Partners.

I spoke to Code about how she came up with and created #SelfCare, what’s next for TRU LUV, and how the current COVID-19 crisis actually emphasizes the need for an alternative to gaming that serves many similar functions, but for a previously underserved groups of people for whom the challenges and rewards structures of traditional gaming just don’t prove very satisfying.

“I became very, very interested in why video games don’t interest about half of people, including all of my friends,” Code told me. “And at that point, tablets were becoming popular, and everyone had a phone. So if there was something universal about this medium, it should be being more widely adopted, yet I was seeing really clear patterns that it wasn’t. The last time I checked, which was maybe a couple years ago, there were 5 billion mobile users and around 2.2 billion mobile gamers.”

Her curiosity piqued by the discrepancy, especially as an industry insider herself, Code began to do her own research to figure out potential causes of the divide – the reason why games only seemed to consistently appeal to about half of the general computer user population, at best.

“I started doing a lot of focus groups and research and I saw really clear patterns, and I knew that if there is a clear pattern, there must be an explanation,” Code said. “What I discovered after I read Sheri Grainer Ray’s book Gender Inclusive Game Design, which she wrote in 2004, in a chapter on stimulation was how, and these are admittedly gross generalizations, but men tend to be stimulated by the sense of danger and things flashing on screen. And women, in her research, tended to be stimulated by something mentioned called a mutually-beneficial outcome to a socially significant situation. That’s when you help an NPC and they help you, for instance. In some way, that’s more significant, in the rules of the world than just the score going up.”

TRU LUV founder and CEO Brie Code

Code then dug in further, using consumer research and further study, and found a potential cause behind this divide that then provided a way forward for developing a new alternative to a traditional gaming paradigm that might prove more appealing to the large group of people who weren’t served by what the industry has traditionally produced.

“I started to read about the psychology of stimulation, and from there I was reading about the psychology of defense, and I found a very simple and clear explanation for this divide, which is that there are two human stress responses,” she said. “One of them, which is much more commonly known, is called the ‘fight-or-flight’ response. When we experience the fight-or-flight response, in the face of challenge or pressure or danger, you have adrenaline released in your body, and that makes you instinctively want to win. So what a game designer does is create these situations of challeng,e and then give you opportunities to win and that leverages the fight-or-flight response to stress: That’s the gamification curve. But there is another human stress response discovered at the UCLA Social Cognitive Neuroscience lab in 2000, By Dr. Shelly Taylor and her colleagues. It’s very prevalent, probably about half of stress responses that humans experience, and it’s called tend-and-befriend.”

Instead of generating an adrenaline surge, it releases oxytocin in the brain, and instead of seeking a victory over a rival, people who experience this want to take care of those who are more vulnerable, connect with friends and allies, and find mutually beneficial solutions to problems jointly faced. Seeking to generate that kind fo response led to what Code and TRU LUV call AI companions, a gaming alternative that is non-zero sum and based on the tend-and-befriend principal. Code’s background as an AI programmer working on some of the most sophisticated virtual character interactions available in modern games obviously came in handy here.

Code thought she might be on to something, but didn’t anticipate the level of #SelfCare’s success, which included 500,00 downloads in just six weeks, and more than 2 million today. And most of the feedback she received from users backed up her hypotheses about what the experience provided, and what users were looking for an an alternative to a mobile gaming experience.

Fast forward to now, and TRU LUV is growing its team, and focused on iterating and developing new products to capitalize on the clear vein of interest they’ve tapped among that underserved half of mobile users. Code and her team have brought on investors whose views and portfolios align with their product vision and company ethos, including Evolve Ventures which has backed a number of socially progressive ventures, and whose managing director Julius Mokrauer actually teaches a course on the subject at Columbia Business School.

#SelfCare was already showing a promising new path forward for mobile experience development before COVID-19 struck, but the product and TRU LUV are focused on “resilience and psychological development,” so it proved well-suited to a market in which mobile users were looking for ways to make sustained isolation more pleasant. Obviously we’re just at the beginning of feeling whatever impacts come out of the COVID-19 crisis, but it seems reasonable to expect that different kinds of mobile apps that trigger responses more aligned with personal well-being will be sought after.

Code says that COVID-19 hasn’t really changed TRU LUV’s vision or approach, but that it has led to the team moving more quickly on in-progress feature production, and on some parts of their roadmap, including building social features that allow players to connect with one another as well as with virtual companions.

“We want to move our production forward a bit faster than planned in order to respond to the need,” Code said.”Also we’re looking at being able to create social experiences a little bit earlier than planned, and also to attend to the need of people to be able to connect, above and beyond people who connect through video games.”

#app, #apps, #developer, #gaming, #ios, #mobile, #self-care, #social, #startups, #tc, #wwdc

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Apple began work on the Watch’s hand washing feature years before COVID-19

Handwashing for the Apple Watch happily slotted alongside face masks for Memojis in the list of COVID-19-related features the company introduced at last week’s WWDC keynote. It’s a pedestrian action, something we take entirely for granted the several times a day we do it. Over the past five months, however, handwashing has taken on a kind of central importance to our daily lives — something to focus on and obsess over.

We all read the WHO and CDC guidelines and shared (and perhaps even created) some of the millions of song lyric memes highlighting the proper length of time required to sufficiently clean one’s hands and avoid virus transmission. We’ve all also become painfully aware of just how long 20 seconds can feel when you’re standing in front of the bathroom sink.

Unlike other rush initiatives undertaken by the company once the virus hit, however, the forthcoming Apple Watch handwashing app wasn’t built overnight. The feature was the result of “years of work,” VP of Technology Kevin Lynch told TechCrunch. In typical Apple fashion, the product was a result of years of trial and error, according to the executive.

Image Credits: Apple

Certainly it’s not the first smartwatch app to tackle this one banal action. Samsung was quick to the market to introduce a Galaxy Watch app designed for users wash their hands for the allotted time. But Apple’s version slots alongside such health features as the Noise app, and leverages the device’s built-in sensors to provide clever applications that contribute to the wearable’s overall health focus.

The feature, which is built directly into the forthcoming version of watchOS, is designed to work like fitness tracking in a number of ways. For starters, if the user opts into it, it’s designed to automatically trigger when handwashing is detected, starting a countdown timer of 20 seconds. The accelerometer is the key piece of hardware here, waiting for the specific handwashing pattern — which apparently adopts a number of different methods, depending on who’s actually doing the scrubbing.

The system uses machine learning models to tackle different methods, but the system gets an additional nudge from the Watch’s microphone. Along with motion, the app listens for the sound of running water. Even that’s not enough, though — after all, eco sinks have become increasingly popular, meaning that there’s often less water sound to be listening for. The sound of squishing soap takes care of that last bit. It’s got a unique enough audio signature so as to confirm that handwashing is taking place.

The feature flashes images of soap bubbles and buzzes the watch’s haptics to encourage the wearer to go the distance — offering “polite encouragement” if they pause. Like fitness tracking, that information is recorded in Apple’s health app. Again, what might otherwise feel like a silly little feature is suddenly taking on a much deeper importance as suddenly we all find ourselves obsessing over germ transmission.

The feature inadvertently joins a number of other COVID-19-related initiatives from Apple introduced over the past several months. The company has donated masks and built face shields and been a key player in contact-tracing initiatives.

Image Credits: Apple

On the Watch front specifically, it has opened remote usage for doctors looking to monitor patients’ ECG readings without risking exposure to the virus for either party. Apple currently makes no claims about the Watch’s potential for helping to diagnose the virus, however. “While we haven’t studied specifically how Apple Watch can track COVID, we’re happy to support the research the medical community is doing. We really support their initiatives by enabling our colleagues in the space, and we’re excited to see what they learn,” Apple’s VP of Health, Sumbul Ahmad Desai, tells TechCrunch.

The company doesn’t have anything specific to share on that front, at the moment, but it’s easy to see how researchers would be interested in leveraging such a widely used wearable in the detection and diagnoses of such a viral and deadly disease. Back in May, Fitbit announced that it was in the early stages of working with researchers on precisely that.

#apple, #apple-watch, #apps, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #wwdc, #wwdc-2020

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Gaming on Apple platforms is set for some big changes—here are a few

<em>Beyond a Steel Sky</em>, a sequel to a beloved game from the 90s, hit Apple Arcade today.

Enlarge / Beyond a Steel Sky, a sequel to a beloved game from the 90s, hit Apple Arcade today. (credit: Apple)

WWDC 2020 has concluded, and that means it’s time to glean some insights from all the documentation, sessions, and other materials that Apple released. We’re going to do this on a few topics in the coming weeks, but to start, we’re looking at the new initiatives and features Apple has announced for game developers on the iOS, iPadOS, tvOS, and macOS platforms.

We’re starting here in part because this was a red-letter week for gaming on Apple platforms (and also because some of Apple’s gaming centric-sessions were among the first scheduled during the week). Some enormous changes are coming, and playing games on Apple devices is going to look markedly different going forward.

The first change we’ll go over is a doozy: the transition of the Mac from a PC-centric gaming platform to a mobile-centric one.

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#apple, #apple-arcade, #ar, #augmented-reality, #beneath-a-steel-sky, #beyond-a-steel-sky, #boot-camp, #game-center, #ipad, #ipados, #mac, #macos, #rosetta, #tech, #u1, #ultra-wideband, #wwdc, #wwdc-2020

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Apple Maps to tell you refine location by scanning the skyline

With iOS 14, Apple is going to update Apple Maps with some important new features, such as cycling directions, electric vehicle routing and curated guides. But the app is also going to learn one neat trick.

In dense areas where you can’t get a precise location, Apple Maps will prompt you to raise your phone and scan buildings across the street to refine your location.

As you may have guessed, this feature is based on Look Around, a Google Street View-inspired feature that lets you… look around as if you were walking down the street. It’s a bit more refined than Street View as everything is in 3D so you can notice the foreground and the background.

Look Around is only available in a handful of U.S. cities for now, such as San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Washington, DC, Las Vegas, etc. But the company is still expanding it with Seattle coming on Monday and major Japanese cities this fall. Some areas that are only accessible on foot will also be available in the future.

When you scan the skyline to refine your location, Apple doesn’t send any data to its servers. Matching is done on your device.

When it comes to guides, Apple has partnered with AllTrails, Lonely Planet, The Infatuation, Washington Post, Louis Vuitton and others to add curated lists of places to Apple Maps. When you tap on the search bar and scroll down on the search card, you can see guides of nearby places.

When you open a guide, you can see all the places on the map or you can browse the guide itself to see those places in a list view. You can share places and save them in a user-made guide — Apple calls it a collection in the current version of Apple Maps.

You can also save a curated guide altogether if you want to check it out regularly. Places get automatically updated.

Image Credits: Apple

As for EV routing, Apple Maps will let add your car, name it and choose a charger type — Apple has partnered with BMW and Ford for now. When you’re planning a route, you can now select the car you’re going to be using. If you select your electric car, Apple Maps will add charging spots on the way. You can tap on spots to see if they are free or paid and the connector type.

Waze users will also be happy to learn that Apple Maps will be able to warn you if you’re exceeding the speed limit. You can also view speed and red light cameras on the map.

In some cities with congestion zones and license plate access, you’ll be able to add your license plate. The information is kept on the device. It’ll refine directions for those cities.

Image Credits: Apple

Finally, my favorite new feature is cycling directions. It’s only going to be available in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Shanghai and Beijing at first. Apple ticks all the right boxes, such as taking into consideration cycling paths and elevation. Turn-by-turn directions look slightly different from driving directions with a different framing and a more vertical view.

Google Maps also features cycling directions, but they suck. I can’t wait to try it out to see whether cycling directions actually make sense in Apple Maps. The new version of Apple Maps will ship with iOS 14 this fall.

Image Credits: Apple

#apple, #apple-maps, #apps, #mobile, #wwdc, #wwdc-2020

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Apple will let you port Google Chrome extensions to Safari

Apple unveiled macOS 11 Big Sur earlier this week and talked about some of the improvements for Safari. In addition to native extensions, Apple is adding support for web extensions. It’s going to make it much easier to port an existing extension from Chrome, Firefox or Edge.

The company shared more details about how it’s going to work in a WWDC session. Safari already supports extensions, but if you’re using Safari, you know that there aren’t a ton of extensions out there.

On iOS and macOS, you can install content blockers and apps that feature a share extension. Content blockers let you provide a list of content to block when you load web pages, such as trackers and ads.

Share extensions let you add features in the share menu in Safari. For instance, Pocket or Instapaper take advantage of share extensions to run JavaScript on a web page and return the result to the app.

On macOS, developers can also take advantage of app extensions. 1Password uses that to integrate its password manager with Safari.

“These are great if you’re a native app developer already familiar with Swift or Objective-C,” Safari engineer Ellie Epskamp-Hunt said.

Other browsers have taken a different approach. They leverage web technologies, such as JavaScript, HTML and CSS. That’s why Apple is adding another type of extension with Safari Web Extensions.

Like other Safari extensions, web extensions designed for Safari are packaged with native apps. It means that developers will submit extensions to the App Store. Users will download an app that comes with an extension. The app doesn’t have to do anything, it can just be a place holder.

Apple is shipping an extension converter to let you port your extension quickly. When you run it, it’ll tell you if everything is going to work as expected. You can then package it in an Xcode project, sign it and submit it to the App Store.

Some extensions require a ton of permissions. They can essentially view all web pages you visit. That’s why Apple lets you restrict extensions to some websites, or just the active tab. You can also choose to activate an extension for a day so that it doesn’t remain active forever.

The user will get a warning sign the first time an extension tries to access a site and there will be a big warning banner in Safari settings before you activate an extension that can access all your browsing data.

This change could potentially mean that there will be a lot more extensions for Safari in the future. Many Chrome users don’t want to leave Chrome because they can’t find the same extensions. If developers choose to port their extensions to Safari, Apple could convince more users to switch to Safari.

#apple, #developer, #safari, #wwdc, #wwdc-2020

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