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 and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019. People are now spending three 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’re digging into the news of a possible TikTok ban in the U.S. and how that’s already impacting rival apps. Also, both Android and iOS saw beta launches this week — a near-ready Android 11 beta 2 and the public beta of iOS 14. We also look at the coronavirus’ impact on the app economy in Q2, which saw record downloads, usage and consumer spending. In other app news, Instagram launched Reels in India, Tinder debuted video chat and Quibi flounders while Pokémon GO continues to reel it in.
Apple release iOS 14 public beta
The much-anticipated new version of the iOS mobile operating system, iOS 14, became available for public testing on Thursday. Users who join the public beta will be able to try out the latest features, like the App Library, Widgets and smart stacks, an updated Messages app, a brand-new Translate app, biking directions in Apple Maps, upgraded Siri and various improvements to core apps like Notes, Reminders, Weather, Home, Safari and others.
When iOS 14 launches to the general public, it may also include support for QR code payments in Apple Pay, according to a report of new assets discovered in the code base.
Alongside the public beta, developers received their second round of betas for iOS 14, iPadOS 14 and other Apple software.
Google’s efforts in speeding up Android updates has been good news for Android 10
Thanks to various initiatives and changes to how updates are deployed, including the ability to now update components of the OS directly through Google Play system updates, adoption of the Android 10 mobile operating system has been faster than any other previous version of Android. The OS was running on 100 million devices five months after its launch — or 28% faster than Android Pie, Google said. This is good news for developers, who struggle to maintain functional apps for what has been, so far, a fragmented ecosystem.
As U.S. considers TikTok ban, rival apps flourish
This week, reports emerged that the U.S. was considering banning TikTok and other Chinese-owned social media apps, according to statements made by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. TikTok has already been banned in India, along with 58 other Chinese apps, for similar reasons. The app, to date, has topped 2 billion global downloads; 165 million of those installs came from the U.S., as of Q1, following India and China. Today, TikTok is the No. 6 iOS app and No. 2 on Android on U.S. app stores.
On Friday, The Wall Street Journal also reported that executives at TikTok parent ByteDance are considering changing the company’s corporate structure or even establishing a headquarters outside of China to further distance TikTok from China. This is not the first time such discussions have taken place: TikTok also pulled its app out of Hong Kong to further distance itself from its Chinese version, Douyin, which is also used on the mainland. TikTok said it had 150,000 users in Hong Kong as of last September, a tiny share given its 2 billion+ downloads.
Making matters worse, the Federal Trade Commission and U.S. Justice Department are now looking into allegations that TikTok failed to live up to its 2019 agreement over protecting children’s privacy. Amazon also has banned the app from employees’ phones over security risks, Reuters says.
Though nothing has been decided, some of TikTok’s young U.S. users this week fled to rival apps, including Likee, Byte and Dubsmash, bumping them up in the charts.
Byte, for example, jumped from No. 210 in Social Networking in the U.S. App Store on July 5 to No. 1 in Social and No. 1 Overall as of today, thanks to an exodus of primarily Gen Z TikTok users. Dubsmash got as high as No. 10 Overall and Likee got as high as No. 17 during the week, also on iOS. (They’ve fallen a bit since.)
A similar surge of TikTok users fleeing to competitive apps was also seen in India following its ban.
The TikTok community is worried about the potential for losing their favorite app. When Likes and Views broke on Thursday, users believed they were witnessing the beginning of the end of TikTok in the U.S. After the issue was fixed, TikTok said the issue was related to higher than normal traffic on its servers in Virginia, causing temporary service disruptions.
Instagram expands Reels to India following TikTok’s ban
TechCrunch reported on Monday that Instagram had begun testing “Reels” in India, following TikTok’s ban in the country. On Wednesday, Instagram made the news official, saying the feature in India would roll out to a “broad” user base. Similar to TikTok, Reels allows users to create and post 15-second videos set to music or other audio. Like TikTok, the feature offers a set of editing tools — like a countdown timer and those that adjust the video’s speed, for example — that aim to make it easier to record creative content.
Coronavirus impact sends app downloads, usage and consumer spending to record highs in Q2
As the world continued to cope with the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, Q2 2020 became the largest yet for mobile app downloads, usage and consumer spending. According to new data from app store intelligence firm App Annie, mobile app usage grew 40% year-over-year in the second quarter, even hitting an all-time high of over 200 billion hours during April.
Consumer spending in apps, meanwhile, hit a record high of $27 billion in the second quarter. And app downloads reached a high of nearly 35 billion. The growth in app usage has been fueled by social distancing and lockdown measures, as countries around the world try to quell the spread of the novel coronavirus.
A full analysis of the new data is here on TechCrunch.
Apple expands free coding courses and materials for educators (and homeschoolers)
Apple on Thursday announced its plans for a new, free resource aimed at helping educators of all skill levels gain the ability to teach both Swift and Xcode — the latest in Apple’s educational initiatives focused on encouraging more students to learn app development. On July 13, Apple will begin offering free online training to educators that will serve as an introduction to its Develop in Swift curriculum. The course will also add a fifth book this fall. For younger learners, grades 4 through 8, Apple’s Everyone Can Code curriculum instead uses puzzles and games to teach the building blocks of coding in Swift through the Swift Playgrounds app. This course is now being expanded, as well, with a new book titled “Everyone Can Code Adventures.”
Google launches Android 11 Beta 2
Google this week launched Android 11 Beta 2, the latest preview of the upcoming version of the Android OS. This release takes Android 11 to the Platform Stability milestone, which means that Android 11’s APIs and behaviors are finalized, Google noted. For developers, that means it’s time to get started on final compatibility updates and publish them in time for the official release later in Q3. The exact release date hasn’t been announced, but a video published by Google showed a September 8th launch date. The video was pulled down after being spotted.
Quibi crashes after free trials lapse
New mobile streaming service Quibi converted only around 8% of the 910,000 users who signed up for a free trial in the app’s first three days. For comparison, Disney+ converted 11% of users, or 1 million out of 9.5 million users, who signed up during the first three days.
Quibi disputes the data. In a statement to The Verge, which first reported on Sensor Tower’s findings, the company said that over 5.6 million users downloaded the app and it’s seeing conversions “above mobile app benchmarks” from both its 90-day trials and 14-day trials from May and June. Sensor Tower said it only counts first-time installs, not when the app is installed a second time on another device by the same user. It’s unclear how Quibi is counting its “subscribers,” however, given the app has a distribution deal with T-Mobile.
Regardless, the app is not having a good launch, given its concept for on-the-go streaming has largely flopped amid a pandemic where users are staying at home. A story from Vulture implies the problems at Quibi go even deeper than bad timing — the service was getting “A-talent’s B-material, or else producers’ desk-drawer scripts,” that couldn’t otherwise find a buyer, it said.
Tinder launches video chat
Tinder announced this week it will begin to test video chat in its mobile dating app with some members in select worldwide markets, including in the U.S. The feature, which allows Tinder matches to go on “virtual” dates when both opt in, will first be available to users in Virginia, Illinois, Georgia and Colorado in the U.S., as well as some members in Brazil, Australia, Spain, Italy, France, Vietnam, Indonesia, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Peru and Chile.
Parent company Match had first promised it would introduce video chat in Tinder as part of its Q1 2020 earnings report, when it also detailed the pandemic’s impact on its flagship app. Tinder ended Q1 with 6 million subscribers, up from 5.9 million in December 2019 — meaning it only added 100,000 paid subscribers during the quarter. For comparison, in the year-ago quarter it added 384,000 paid users. Tinder’s average revenue per user (ARPU) also grew just 2%, mainly due to purchases of à la carte features.
Tinder claims it has ways to look for any potential abuse of the feature, which bans nudity, sexual content, hate speech and use by minors. Asked for details, Tinder wouldn’t provide specifics, saying only that it “will be testing different technology to detect potential use of the feature that doesn’t adhere to our guidelines.”
App Store Connect gains new API capabilities
Apple announced this week its App Store Connect API gained a number of new features, including the ability to:
- Build and maintain your App Store product page by uploading and managing assets like screenshots, app previews, app description and more.
- Create new versions of your app, set up pre-orders, manage phased releases for version updates and submit your app to App Review.
- Monitor app performance indicators by downloading power and performance metrics and diagnostics logs.
- Manage additional resources associated with your developer account, such as unified software signing certificates, multiplatform App IDs and capabilities.
Pokémon GO passes $3.6B in lifetime revenue
As the AR game celebrates its four-year anniversary, it has surpassed a milestone of $3.6 billion in global player spending, according to Sensor Tower Store Intelligence estimates. The app continues to grow its revenue, the firm reports. 2019 was a record year for player spending, with the game generating $905 million globally. Its previous best year was 2016, when it generated an estimated $832.5 million in just six months following its July launch.
LinkedIn says it will fix iOS keyboard snooping
LinkedIn was one of several apps, including TikTok, that was found to be reading content from users’ clipboards at regular intervals — an issue discovered thanks to a new privacy mechanism in the iOS 14 beta. The company said it wasn’t storing or transmitting clipboard contents, instead chalking up the issue to an equality check between the clipboard contents and the currently typed content in a text box. The company said it would fix the problem
Facebook SDK crashes apps again
A brief outage on Friday impacting top iOS apps like Spotify, Pinterest, TikTok, Tinder, Waze and others was traced to an issue with the Facebook SDK involving Facebook log-ins. Yes, again! As 9to5Mac pointed out, this is the second time this year that a bug in the SDK caused major third-party apps to crash. The timing of these outages isn’t great for Facebook — given that Apple is pushing developers to adopt its Sign in with Apple alternative to social logins.
Funding and M&A
- Sony invests $250 million in Cary, North Carolina-based Epic Games, maker of Fortnite, Houseparty and the Unreal Engine game engine. The funding gives Sony a minority stake in the company, which has raised $1.83 billion to date. According to VentureBeat, this deal is not the one Bloomberg reported in June where Epic Games was seeking to raise $750 million at a pre-money valuation of $16.3 billion.
- K4Connect, a Raleigh-based tech company that brings new tech to aging adults, connect through an app platform powered by its own FusionOS, closes its $21 million Series B. The startup was founded by the entrepreneur who sold his company AuthenTec to Apple, where it become the basis for Touch ID.
- Amie, a new productivity app from an ex-N26 product manager, picked up $1.3 million in pre-seed funding from European VC Creandum and others. The app aims to combine a user’s calendar and to-dos.
- Notarize, a platform for digital document signing and notarization that works across web and mobile, raised $35 million in Series C funding, following a 400% increase in usage due to the coronavirus outbreak. The round closed in March, and was led by Camber Creek and Polaris Partners.
- Ahead, a platform that connects psychiatrists with patients, including via mobile devices, raises $9 million.
- Popshop Live raises $3 million to bring live streaming to shopping, like a modern-day QVC as an app. The round was led by Floodgate and Abstract Ventures.
- India’s most valuable startup, Paytm, and its co-founder and chief executive, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, announced plans to acquire insurance firm Raheja QBE for $76 million.
- Exchange giant Binance acquired crypto wallet app Swipe.io for an undisclosed sum to help boost crypto adoption.
- Uber buys Postmates in an all-stock, $2.65 billion deal.
- SiriusXM to buy Stitcher podcasting unit from Scripps. The was first reported by The WSJ and follows similar moves from Spotify and iHeartMedia.
- A Moment of Clarity Regarding the Raison d’Etre for the App Store: John Gruber worries that Apple has lost its way with App Store noting the pressures that come from being a public company at a time when services have become more important to Apple’s revenue. “What exactly is the point of running a strict approval process for apps if not, first and foremost, to ensure that they’re good apps?” he writes. “An iPad email app that doesn’t support split-screen multitasking for five years is, by definition, not a good app.”
- The best chance of success for your new app might not be with large platforms like the iOS app store: New research from the UCL School of Management and the University of Toronto at Scarborough makes the case for an antitrust investigation into Apple and Google and the way they run their app stores. It claims that app developers may be better off joining smaller app platforms compared to larger stores like the Apple App Store, which favors more established developers and older games. (via Business of Apps)
The team behind the popular Camera+ and Camera+ 2 apps this week announced their latest app, a pro video recorder called REC. The company decided to release REC as a separate app and complement to Camera+ 2 instead of new features within Camera+ 2, in order to prevent bloating.
REC is a video shooting app designed for both expert and casual shooters, offering easy access to resolution, format, codec and frame rate, so you can choose the best technical settings for your project. Focus and exposure can be set automatically, as well. The app offers touch controls and a full manual mode, if preferred.
The app launches on July 17, but can be pre-ordered for $3.99 on the iOS App Store now.
Live Link Face for Unreal Engine
Epic Games this week announced the launch of a new iOS app aimed at game developers. Live Link Face for Unreal Engine allows game developers to capture facial expressions in real time for use with characters in its Unreal Engine. The tracking system leverages Apple’s ARKit and the iPhone’s TrueDepth front-facing camera to interactively track the performer’s face, then transmits this data directly to Unreal Engine via Live Link over a network. The app can be used in professional performance capture pipelines or even by indie developers.
Nearly four years after Portrait Mode arrived on iPhone, a new iOS app is bringing the option to shoot wide aperture with Bokeh effect videos. The app, Focos Live, works on dual camera and triple camera iPhone and offers a wide range of other video editing features as well, including object tracking, auto aperture adjustment, multi-choice simulated aperture diaphragms, layer adjustment control, speed ramping, video reverse option, a standalone audio editor and more.