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.
Global app spending reached $65 billion in the first half of 2022, up only slightly from the $64.4 billion during the same period in 2021, as hypergrowth fueled by the pandemic has slowed down. But overall, the app economy is continuing to grow, having produced a record number of downloads and consumer spending across both the iOS and Google Play stores combined in 2021, according to the latest year-end reports. Global spending across iOS and Google Play last year was $133 billion, and consumers downloaded 143.6 billion apps.
This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and much more.
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Kanye West to acquire Parler
Kanye West announced on October 17 that he has entered a deal to buy Parler, the “free speech” platform where the rapper, who also goes by Ye, believes he can’t be “canceled” as on other social apps — aka being held accountable for his antisemitic posts in violation of platform policies. West had accused Twitter and Meta of censoring his conservative opinions. Parler, meanwhile, is a known haven for conservatives to the point that it had been pulled down from the App Store and Google Play following the January 6 Capital riots for its role in inciting violence. Apple allowed the app back in earlier this year, but Google only recently did the same.
Assuming the deal goes through, it could be a good outcome for Parler. To date, the startup had raised $56 million — what West paid, however, is unknown.
TikTok to add “adult-only” livestreams
TikTok is venturing into new territory with the addition of adult-only livestreams. This change will allow creators to target only TikTok users ages 18 and up in order to broadcast about topics that aren’t appropriate for children or may just be uninteresting to them. The company is not going to compete with OnlyFans, however — these adult streams won’t be featuring actual adult content, as that’s still against TikTok’s policies.
In addition, TikTok will now require users to be at least 18 years old before they’re allowed to go live on the platform.
While the changes seem sound in theory, TikTok users — kids, often — do lie about their ages when joining the app. There’s no good solution for this problem, beyond the use of age-verification technologies like video selfies, which come with their own set of issues around privacy.
BeReal’s B round
TechCrunch learned that the startup closed a $60 million Series B round earlier this year. The round values Paris, France-based BeReal at a valuation north of €600 million — which at today’s exchange rates is just under $587 million. (BeReal’s valuation was previously reported by Insider and then The Information.)
A source told TechCrunch the company now has around 20 million DAUs. For comparison, The Information noted that the app had 7.9 million users as of July of this year. We also heard the app had around 2 million DAUs as of this April.
BeReal is facing competition now from social giants TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat, which have all cloned its main feature of dual photos (photos taken at the same time using the front and back cameras). But the DAU growth indicates BeReal may still be the one to beat when it comes to capturing the attention of the younger Gen Z audience.
- Apple is rolling out iOS 16.1 on Monday, October 24. The update, which comes alongside macOS Ventura, will include the launch of Apple Fitness+ for iPhone, which will allow subscribers to use the service for the first time without an Apple Watch. In addition, iOS 16.1 will include the multitasking feature Stage Manager, Live Activities for third-party apps, iCloud Shared Photo Library, Key Sharing in the Wallet app, Clean Energy Charging, support for Matter, the newly announced Apple Card savings account option and more.
- Apple announced a set of major hardware updates, including a new M2 iPad Pro (arriving October 26), new Apple TV 4K with a performance bump and lower price and the new entry-level iPad.
- Google announced Android 13 (Go edition) this week, which includes several premium features for affordable smartphone lineups, including the Material You design, Discover feed, Notficiations Permissions, per-app language settings and a way for users to receive essential updates to Android without having to wait for manufacturers to release them, along with other things. The update will now require at least 2GB of RAM and 16GB of flash storage. Google said 250 million devices run the Android Go OS.
- Google introduced a refreshed Family Link parental controls app and a web version. The updated app includes a three-tabbed redesign showcasing highlights of the child’s device usage, an overview of their limits and a controls tab for setting the limits. There’s also a new feature, “Today’s Limit,” which lets parents adjust the day’s screen time without having to change their ongoing schedule. And the app can now track kids’ locations when they arrive at specific places, like school.
- Klarna launched a new Klarna Creator app for retailers and influencers to collaborate on brand campaigns and to track earnings, performance and sales. Over 500,000 vetted creators have access to leading brands and retailers, the company said. On the app, retailers can direct-message a creator they want to partner with and send them products for content. The app also has a tracking feature for sales and commissions.
- A new app called Drivr introduces a crowdsourced tipping platform that uses data science to map last-mile delivery drivers to neighborhoods to allow shoppers to tip their regular delivery drivers.
- PayPal launched a revamped rewards program that combines Honey’s discounts with other ways to earn. Honey, acquired by PayPal for $4 billion in 2019, will continue to offer Honey Gold, but it’s being rebranded as PayPal Rewards. Consumers will be able to collect rewards via the Honey browser extension, the PayPal app and, in the future, various card products.
- Jane Technologies’ cannabis marketplace launched in a dedicated iOS app that lets consumers browse local cannabis dispensaries and make purchases.
- TechCrunch Disrupt Startup Battlefield company Staax pitched its app that attempts to onboard a younger generation of stock investors using peer-to-peer payments of stock.
- Jack Dorsey’s Bluesky detailed its plans for decentralized social networks that would limit governmental and corporate influence on the future of social media.
- Solana co-founder Anatoly Yakovenko, speaking at TechCrunch Disrupt, described the upcoming web3-focused smartphone Saga as a moonshot aimed at taking on Apple and Google by offering a distribution channel for mobile crypto developers. The phone will allow developers to maintain digital ownership rights instead of paying the Apple (and Google) tax of 30%.
- Pinterest partnered with record labels to bring popular music to its TikTok rival, Idea Pins. The company is now working with Warner Music Group, Warner Chappell Music, Merlin and BMG to offer users access to thousands of songs from top artists, accessible in the Pinterest app for iOS and Android.
- Instagram is expanding its “Hidden Words” feature, which lets you filter out abusive DMs using keywords and emoji, to also cover replies to Stories and catch intentional misspellings made to avoid filters. It also expanded its preventative blocking tool to proactively block more accounts from the abuser and added more nudges to remind users about to post a harmful comment to be kind.
- Instagram is also now testing an in-app scheduling tool for posts and Reels, which would be helpful to creators and brands who want to queue up posts in advance.
- Over 3 million Reddit users created crypto wallets to buy NFT avatars, Reddit chief product officer Pali Bhat said this week at TechCrunch Disrupt. Reddit’s Vault blockchain wallet was used to create the crypto wallets. And most — 2.5 million — were created to purchase NFT avatars that can be used as their Reddit profile pics.
- Snapchat updated its Snapchat+ subscription with three new features, including those that allow subscribers to have their Snapchat Stories expire at different intervals instead of 24 hours, add new camera color borders that appear when taking photos with the in-app camera and use different custom notification sounds for when a friend Snaps them. Snapchat+ now has more than 1 million subscribers and over a dozen exclusive features.
- A new “relationship app” (as opposed to a dating app) called Sparks launched to help couples find things to do together, like choosing movies, restaurants, vacations, activities and more.
- Google updated its RCS-powered Messages app with several new features, including the ability to react to texts sent from an iPhone, set reminders and have an in-app YouTube video player to watch videos without leaving the app.
Streaming & Entertainment
- Spotify’s lyrics provider, Musixmatch, launched a new platform for podcast transcriptions using AI models and NLP. The service is meant to help people search by topics to get accurate matches of related podcasts when using its app.
- Netflix reversed its downward trend with its Q3 earnings by adding 2.41 million subscribers in the quarter, higher than analyst estimates and its own forecast of just 1 million subs. It also pulled in $7.93 billion in revenue — more than analysts’ predictions of $7.85 billion.
- The company also announced at TechCrunch Disrupt this week that it’s “seriously exploring” a cloud gaming effort to complement its mobile gaming efforts, and is opening a fifth gaming studio in Southern California.
- Google introduced a set of parental controls and other features to its streaming platform Google TV, including the ability for parents to add titles to kids’ watchlists, AI-powered suggestions and a supervised experience that allows kids to access the YouTube app with the appropriate content restrictions in place.
- Apple is bringing its immersive surround sound, Spatial Audio, to cars, starting with Mercedes-Benz and Universal Music Group.
- Microsoft revealed it’s building an Xbox mobile gaming store to challenge Apple and Google, according to filings made with the U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority. The company said part of the motivation for its purchase of Activision Blizzard would be to establish an Xbox mobile gaming platform and store.
- Discord launched an app directory that will allow server admins to build out their server with useful or fun utilities. Some developers will also be able to sell premium app subscriptions within the platform.
- Roblox reported DAUs of 57.8 million in September, up 23% year-over-year. Hours engaged were 4 billion, up 16%, and estimated bookings came in between $212-219 million.
Health & Fitness
- Subscription-based mindfulness app Calm announced its first mental health offering, Calm Health, offered through payers, providers and self-insured employers. The service, built on its acquisition of Ripple Health Group, connects users with different healthcare options.
Productivity & Utilities
- Google announced its new Lock Screen widgets for iOS 16 are officially available. These include widgets for Gmail, News, Search, Maps and Chrome. It also launched a YouTube Music Lock Screen widget for accessing recently played songs, and finally launched YouTube Home Screen widgets that let you watch Shorts and other videos, or access your subscriptions with a tap.
- Google also rolled out an update to Chrome that makes the browser better suited to Android tablets. The release includes new features like a side-by-side view for improved tab navigation and the ability to drag and drop information out of Chrome and into other apps like Gmail, Keep and Photos.
Travel & Transportation
- Uber officially launched its advertising division and a new in-app ad experience, Journey Ads, on Wednesday. The company will sell ad space inside its ride-hailing and Uber Eats apps, and elsewhere.
Government & Policy
- Wired reports on how China’s WeChat app has become a hotbed for misinformation ahead of the U.S. elections. Activists are concerned the falsehoods will distort the vote or surpass turnout, the media outlet said.
- India fined Google $162 million for anti-competitive practices on Android. The Competition Commission of India said that Google requiring device manufacturers to pre-install its entire Google Mobile Suite and mandating prominent placement of those apps was unfair competition.
- A server room fire shut down Korean tech giant Kakao’s apps, impacting Kakao Pay, Kakao T (ride-hailing) and messaging service Kakao Talk, leading to concerns about Kakao’s grip on the market. As the services were coming back online after the outages, President Yoon Suk-yeol said his administration would investigate whether Kakao was a monopolist.
- Apple restored Russian apps for VKontakte and Mail.ru to the App Store after removing them three weeks prior due to U.K. sanctions. Apple’s statement said the developer provided documentation to verify they were not in violation of the U.K. sanctions — that is, they are not majority owned or controlled by a sanctioned entity.
- Meta has been ordered by the U.K.’s competition authority to sell the animated GIF platform Giphy. The regulator believes Meta’s purchase of Giphy would limit choice for U.K. social media users and reduce innovation in U.K. display advertising.
Funding and M&A
💰 Nexta, an Egyptian fintech that plans to launch its banking app in the coming months, raised $3 million from eFinance Group, a state-owned provider of digital payments solutions.
💰 French app Revyze, a TikTok for educational videos, raised a $2 million pre-seed round (€2 million) from more than 100 business angels earlier this year. It’s aiming to reach 500,000 users by year-end and expand to the U.S.
💰 Amsterdam-based Crisp, an app-only supermarket, raised €75 milliom in a round of funding from both new and existing investors.