This Week in Apps: YouTube TV cancels Apple’s rev share, more bad news for mobile voting, WhatsApp hits 2B users

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads in 2019 and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019, according to App Annie’s recently released “State of Mobile” annual report. People are now spending 3 hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

In this Extra Crunch series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.

This week, we look at YouTube TV’s decision to stop revenue-sharing with Apple, another mobile voting app with serious flaws, new Apple launches in coding and AR, Microsoft’s game-streaming service Project xCloud arrival on iOS and other notable app news and trends, including WhatsApp’s big 2 billion user milestone, and more.


YouTube TV fights back against Apple’s cut of in-app subscription revenue

This week, YouTube emailed customers subscribed to its YouTube TV service by way of Apple’s in-app purchases to let them know that this subscription offering will be discontinued starting on March 13, 2020. Current subscribers will have their subscription canceled automatically on their billing date after March 13, the letter said.

This is a pretty severe way for Google to end its subscription revenue-sharing with Apple, however. Most companies that decide to shut off in-app subscriptions still continue to honor those from existing subscribers — they just stop selling to new customers. In YouTube TV’s case, it’s actually ending its relationship with all its customers on Apple devices with the hope they’ll return and resubscribe. That’s quite a risk, given that YouTube TV is not the only streaming TV service out there, and customers getting their subscription canceled may take this opportunity to shop around. The timing is also poorly thought-out, given that YouTube TV just picked up new subs following Sony’s PlayStation Vue shutdown — and now it’s kicking them out.

The move makes Google the latest company to rebel against Apple’s 30% cut of all in-app payments (which drops to 15% in year two). A growing number of app publishers are refusing to share a cut of their revenue with Apple — even saying that Apple’s decision to charge this fee is anti-competitive. For example, Spotify believes Apple’s fee makes it more difficult to compete with Apple’s built-in music service, and has raised the issue repeatedly to regulators. Netflix also stopped paying the “Apple tax” over a year ago.

Mobile voting app Voatz, used by several states, was filled with security flaws

Above: Voatz, via The NYT

Last week, we looked at how a smartphone app meant to tabulate votes from the caucuses really screwed things up in Iowa. This week, MIT researchers took a look at mobile voting app Voatz, which has been used to tally votes for federal elections in parts of West Virginia, Oregon, Utah and Washington as part of various mobile voting pilot programs. The researchers found the app was riddled with security flaws that would let attackers monitor votes or even change ballots or block them without users’ knowledge. Attackers could also create a tainted paper trail, making a reliable audit impossible — despite Voatz’s promise of using blockchain technology to increase security. One security expert, speaking to VICE, called the app “sloppy” and filled with “elementary” mistakes.

Coming on the heels of the Iowa caucus mobile voting disaster, this latest news delivers another huge blow to the promise of mobile voting in the U.S.

It’s unfortunate that these companies built such poorly designed and badly secured apps, as they’re ruining mobile’s reputation as a reliable voting mechanism. Mobile voting is something that could give disenfranchised voters a chance to more easily participate in the political process, even if they can’t get to their polling place due to disabilities, health issues or work schedules, among other things.

Apple expands Quick Look to enable better AR shopping

Apple upgraded its “Quick Look” tool this week, which allows retailers to sell their products using augmented reality via Safari, Messages, Mail or the retailer’s own iOS app. Before, Quick Look allowed shoppers to tap a button to view products in AR. Now, retailers can customize this button to do more. For example, they could turn it into a payment button that uses Apple Pay, launch a customer support chat, check inventory or take other actions. The feature is also gaining support for spatial audio, meaning if the product in the 3D model makes noise, like a speaker or toy, the sound will shift as it’s moved around the room. The upgrades are meant to make AR more useful and seem more realistic to customers, which can encourage sales.

GameSnacks lets you embed fast, casual games in apps aimed at developing markets

A new project called GameSnacks launched this week from Google’s in-house incubator, Area 120, with the goal of bringing fast-loading, casual online games to users in developing markets. Though billions are coming online by way of mobile devices, they’re often unable to participate in mobile gaming due to issues with device memory, bandwidth and network reliability.

GameSnacks uses technology to speed up load time and performance of web games. It does so by reducing the size of the initially loaded HTML page, compressing additional assets like scripts, images and sounds, then waiting to load them until necessary. This results in games that load in seconds, even on connections as slow as 500 Kbps.

The company is currently working with Gojek, a leading technology platform in Southeast Asia, to get distribution. But it’s also pitching its game tech to mobile app developers, who would be willing to embed their games into their own apps, where they could be customized to their app’s experience.

OK, boomer, you can now use Uber

Uber finally decided to cater to older adults who can’t figure out how these darned smartphone things work. The company announced this week it would pilot a feature where people could dial a 1-800 number to order an Uber by speaking to an actual person. The test will initially launch in Arizona, by way of 1-833-USE-UBER. It’s interesting to see Uber moving in this direction, given that Uber is one of the breakout examples of how mobile apps can revolutionize entire markets. Its success contributed to a whole range of “Uber for X” spin-offs, as more businesses realized the push-button ease Uber offered made sense for them, too.

Nextdoor takes on Facebook with app catering to public agencies

One of the big reasons people can’t leave Facebook is because they receive so many critical updates by way of Facebook Pages and Facebook Groups. By following the local police, sheriff and government officials, they’re able to stay informed on local news, events, warnings, alerts and other information. Parents also follow their child’s school and district. Without Facebook, there’s not an easy way to get all these updates in one place, as not all public agencies are on Twitter and local news doesn’t centralize information in a way that’s personalized to individual readers.

This week, Nextdoor dealt a blow to Facebook’s stranglehold over local updates with the launch of a new Nextdoor for Public Agencies app. The app lets police and fire departments, public schools and City Hall agencies post updates to Nextdoor, including alerts geo-targeted to reach specific neighborhoods — like extreme weather warnings, plus community event alerts, public education campaigns, safety alerts, school closings, meeting times and more.

The app also offers a benefit that Facebook and Twitter don’t — they don’t need to build a follower base in order to reach their audience. That’s because Nextdoor already has everyone’s address by way of its user onboarding, so it can help these agencies target the right people.

Nextdoor, valued at $2 billion as of its last funding, doesn’t share user numbers, but comScore estimated it had roughly 27 million as of a year ago. That’s nowhere near Facebook’s size, but the app is continuing to grow.

Microsoft’s game streaming service Project xCloud comes to iOS

Last year, Microsoft launched a preview of Project xCloud, its ambitious game streaming service that aims to deliver games to any screen — console, PC or mobile. However, the service until now has only been available to mobile users on Android. This week, Project xCloud’s preview came to iOS devices by way of Apple’s TestFlight.

Because of TestFlight limitations, only 10,000 testers can try out xCloud at the same time. To work around this issue, Microsoft says it will boot out testers after some time in order to bring in new ones. Game streaming is something many are trying, including Google with its Stadia service. But it’s not clear if consumer demand for game streaming is yet there in these early days. However, cross-platform gaming is a trend that’s not slowing down, thanks to the massive popularity of titles like Fortnite, Minecraft, Roblox, PUBG and others.

Apple restores app making anti-competitive complaints

BlueMail has been raising a ruckus after its email app was pulled from the Mac App Store. Apple claims the app was removed for security reasons, noting the developer, Blix, was “proposing to override basic data security protections which can expose users’ computers to malware that can harm their Macs and threaten their privacy.” Blix, however, believes there’s another motive. The company is suing Apple for patent infringement over the “Sign in with Apple” system. This makes BlueMail’s claims seem suspect, as the idea for email aliases is not at all new, and certainly not invented by either it or Apple. Using this brouhaha for attention undermines the more legitimate complaints from developers whose ideas have actually beensherlocked” by Apple over the years — like Duet Display and Luna Display, PCalc, Swype, Tile (apparently) and other utilities like period trackers, flashlights, voice memos and more.

WhatsApp joins the 2 billion-user club

Facebook-owned WhatsApp this week revealed how large the mobile messaging app has become. The app now has 2 billion users, up from the 1.5 billion it had two years ago. It only monetizes by way of business tools, not advertising or subscriptions. That may seem like a missed opportunity for Facebook, but it’s also the reason for WhatsApp’s massive growth to become one of the world’s most-used apps, along with its support for encryption. With the 2B milestone under its belt, WhatsApp is in a comfortable position that allows Facebook to turn the dials on monetization if it so chooses.

70% of time spent in top 5 streaming apps is in YouTube

App Annie shared some interesting metrics in its report on video streaming this week. Notably, it showed how dominant YouTube’s app is in the video streaming market. Seventy percent of time spent in the top 5 streaming apps was spent in YouTube, with Tencent News, Tencent Video, iQIYI and Xigua Video snagging much smaller percentages.

Apple brings Swift Playgrounds to Mac as a Catalyst app

Apple this week launched a Catalyst-based version of Swift Playgrounds for Mac users, built from the existing iPad app. The new app helps would-be developers learn the basics of coding using Swift by way of a variety of exercises, puzzles, experiments and challenges. The app is only available for Catalina, however, but it’s still a big plus to finally have it offered on a computer where the majority of coding today still takes place.

TikTok moves another app up the charts

TikTokers randomly discovered a weird, older app called Poop Map, which lets you record and share where you…um…went. Thanks to TikTok’s viral videos, the now two-year-old app surged as high as No. 18 on the App Store this week. It’s now No. 26, as of the time of writing.

We’ve begun to see more evidence of TikTok’s sway over the top charts. Last week, we saw TikTok move Lens, an Instagram client for Apple Watch, up to No. 7 Overall. But the TikTok bump doesn’t seem to be having any staying power — Lens is now No. 160 as the fickle teens have moved on to their next find.

Fundings and M&A:

  • Meditation app Headspace raised $93 million in equity and debt in order to pursue clinical studies and grow its business. It’s another example of the booming meditation app market where the top 10 apps generated $195 million in revenue last year.
  • MoEngage, based in SF and Bangalore, raised $25 million for its customer engagement platform offering insights into how users are engaging with a business’s apps or websites. The company competes with several others on some if not all features, including Amplitude, Pendo, CleverTap, Mixpanel, WebEngage and many more.
  • SiriusXM gives SoundCloud $75M to continue to grow its business by investing in product development and new services. The deal buys SoundCloud more time, but also a way out — potentially by an acquisition at some point. The two companies were already working together as Pandora (owned by SiriusXM) sells ads on SoundCloud thanks to an earlier partnership.
  • Azerion has now fully acquired Netherlands-based Spil Games after previously having purchased only its mobile division and taking a 5% stake in its gaming portals business. With the full acquisition, Azerion’s games will be added to Spil’s portals and 15,000 Spil games will be added to Azerion’s Game Distribution company.
  • Tamatem, the leading mobile games publisher in the MENA region, raised $3.5 million to expand to other underserved markets worldwide while also double-downing on its efforts in the Middle East.
  • Simsim raised $16 million for its social commerce app in India. The app uses short-form videos produced in local languages by influencers who pitch beauty products, apparel and more.
  • Stuttgart, Germany-based startup Flip raised $4 million for its employee messaging app. The app is also GDPR-compliant and has secured customers including Porsche, Bauhaus, Edeka, Junge IG Metall and Wüstenrot & Württembergische. Parts of Sparkasse and Volksbank are also among the customer base.
  • Vedantu, a Bangalore-based startup, raised $24 million for its live tutoring app for students grades 6-12.
  • Love, a sex tips app, raises $5 million — including from Tinder founder Sead Rad


Pokémon Home, a new cloud gaming service from the Pokémon Company, arrived this week across Switch, iOS and Android. The app lets you manage and trade all your Pokémon from mobile and Switch games, including Pokémon Sword and Shield, Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu and Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee. AR title Pokémon GO will arrive later. The app got as high as No. 5 on the App Store and No. 7 on Google Play. According to reviews, the app may have had a bit of a rough start, as users reported a number of bugs. Others weren’t happy with the subscription model. But the app is performing decently enough with a 4.1-star rating on the App Store. 

Tweet(s) of the Week

Farewell, HockeyApp

Btw, did everyone see this crazy AR piano iOS app?