Using tricks to sidestep the app store’s restrictions, malware operators pillaged passwords, keystrokes, and other data.
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Since 2017, Microsoft has offered its Office suite to Chromebook users via the Google Play store, but that is set to come to an end in a few short weeks.
As of September 18, Microsoft is discontinuing support for Office (which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Outlook) on Chromebook. Microsoft is not, however, abandoning the popular mobile device altogether. Instead of an app that is downloaded, Microsoft is encouraging users to go to the web instead.
“In an effort to provide the most optimized experience for Chromebook customers, Microsoft apps (Office and Outlook) will be transitioned to web experiences (Office.com and Outlook.com) on September 18, 2021,” Microsoft wrote in a statement emailed to TechCrunch.
Microsoft’s statement also noted that “this transition brings Chromebook customers access to additional and premium features.”
The Microsoft web experience will serve to transition its base of Chromebook users to the Microsoft 365 service, which provides more Office templates and generally more functionality than what the app-based approach provides. The web approach is also more optimized for larger screens than the app.
In terms of how Microsoft wants Chromebook users to get access to Office and Outlook, the plan is for customers to, “…sign in with their personal Microsoft Account or account associated with their Microsoft 365 subscription,” according to the statement. Microsoft has also provided online documentation to show users how to run Office on a Chromebook.
Chromebooks run on Google’s Chrome OS, which is a Linux-based operating system. Chromebooks also enable Android apps to run, as Android is also Linux based, with apps downloaded from Google Play. It’s important to note that while support for Chromebooks is going away, Microsoft is not abandoning other Android-based mobile devices, such as tablets and smartphones.
For those Chromebook users that have already downloaded the Microsoft Office apps, the apps will continue to function after September 18, though they will not receive any support or future updates.
Mobile field service startup Youreka Labs Inc. raised an $ 8.5 million Series A round of funding co-led by Boulder Ventures and Grotech Ventures, with participation from Salesforce Ventures.
The Maryland-based company also officially announced its CEO — Bill Karpovich joined to lead the company after previously general manager at IBM Cloud & Watson Platform.
Youreka Labs spun out into its own company from parent company Synaptic Advisors, a cloud consulting business focused on the customer relationship management transformations using Salesforce and other artificial intelligence and automation technologies.
The company is developing robotic smart mobile assistants that enable frontline workers to perform their jobs more safely and efficiently. This includes things like guided procedures, smart forms and photo or video capture. Youreka is also embedded in existing Salesforce mobile applications like Field Service Mobile so that end-users only have to operate from one mobile app.
Youreka has identified four use cases so far: healthcare, manufacturing, energy and utilities and the public sector. Working with companies like Shell, P&G, Humana and the Transportation Security Administration, the company’s technology makes it possible for someone to share their knowledge and processes with their colleagues in the field, Karpovich told TechCrunch.
“In the case of healthcare, we are taking complex medical assessments from a doctor and pushing them out to nurses out in the field by gathering data into a simple mobile app and making it useful,” he added. “It allows nurses to do a great job without being doctors themselves.”
Karpovich said the company went after Series A dollars because it was “time for it to be on its own.” He was receiving inbound interest from investors, and the capital would enable the company to proceed more rapidly. Today, the company is focused on the Salesforce ecosystem, but that can evolve over time, he added.
The funding will be used to expand the company’s reach and products. He expects to double the team in the next six to 12 months across engineering to be able to expand the platform. Youreka boasts 100 customers today, and Karpovich would also like to invest in marketing to grow that base.
In addition to the use cases already identified, he sees additional potential in financial services and insurance, particularly for those assessing damage. The company is also concentrated in the United States, and Karpovich has plans to expand in the U.K. and Europe.
In 2020, the company grew 300%, which Karpovich attributes to the need of this kind of tool in field service. Youreka has a licensing model with charges per end user per month, along with an administrative license, for the people creating the apps, that also charges per user and per month pricing.
“There are 2.5 million jobs open today because companies can’t find people with the right skills,” he added. “We are making these jobs accessible. Some say that AI is doing away with jobs, but we are using AI to enhance jobs. If we can take 90% of the knowledge and give a digital assistant to less experienced people, you could open up so many opportunities.”
James Evans, Richard Freling and Vinay Ayyala, co-founders at CommandBar, were working on a software product when they hit a wall while trying to access certain functionalities within the software.
That’s when the lightbulb moment happened and, in 2020, the team shifted to building an embeddable search widget to make software easier to use.
“We thought this paradigm feels like it could be useful, but it is hard to build well, so we built it,” Evans told TechCrunch.
On Monday, CommandBar emerged from beta and announced its $ 4.8 million seed round, led by Thrive Capital, with participation from Y Combinator, BoxGroup and a group of angel investors including, AngelList’s Naval Ravikant, Worklife Ventures’ Brianne Kimmel, StitchFix president Mike Smith and others.
CommandBar’s business-to-business tool, referred to as “command k,” was designed to make software simpler and faster to use. The technology is a search interface that sits on top of web-based apps so that users can access functionalities by searching simple keywords. It can also be used to boost new users with recommended prompts like referrals.
Companies integrate CommandBar by pasting in a line of code and using configuration tools to quickly add commands relevant to their apps. The product was purposefully designed as low-code so that product and customer success teams can add configurations without relying on engineering support, Evans said.
Initially, it was a difficult sell: One of the more challenging parts in the early days of the company was helping customers and investors understand what CommandBar was doing.
“It was hard to describe over the phone, we had to try to get people on Zoom so they could see it,” he said. “It is easier now to sell the product because they can see it being used in an app. That is where many new users come from.”
CommandBar is already being used by companies like Clubhouse.io, Canix and Stacker that are serving hundreds of thousands of users. The most common use case for CommandBar so far is onboarding new software users.
He intends to use the new funding to grow the team, hiring across engineering, sales and marketing. The beta testing was successful in receiving good feedback from the early customers, and Evans wants to reflect that in new products and functionalities that will come out later this year.
Vince Hankes, an investor at Thrive Capital, was introduced to CommandBar through one of its pre-seed investors.
His interest is in B2B software companies and applications, and one of the things that became obvious to him while looking into the space was the natural tension between the simplicity and functionality of apps.
Apps are sometimes hard for even a power user to navigate, he said, but CommandBar makes something as simple as resetting a password easier by being able to search for that term and go right to that page if it is configured that way by the company.
“The types of companies interested in their product are impressive,” Hankes said. “We began to see demand from a broad range of companies that weren’t obvious. In fact, they are using CommandBar as a tool for deeper customer engagement.”
This Week in Apps: In-app events hit the App Store, TikTok tries Stories, Apple reveals new child safety plan
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.
Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters
Apple to scan for CSAM imagery
Apple announced a major initiative to scan devices for CSAM imagery. The company on Thursday announced a new set of features, arriving later this year, that will detect child sexual abuse material (CSAM) in its cloud and report it to law enforcement. Companies like Dropbox, Google and Microsoft already scan for CSAM in their cloud services, but Apple had allowed users to encrypt their data before it reached iCloud. Now, Apple’s new technology, NeuralHash, will run on users’ devices, tatformso detect when a users upload known CSAM imagery — without having to first decrypt the images. It even can detect the imagery if it’s been cropped or edited in an attempt to avoid detection.
Meanwhile, on iPhone and iPad, the company will roll out protections to Messages app users that will filter images and alert children and parents if sexually explicit photos are sent to or from a child’s account. Children will not be shown the images but will instead see a grayed-out image instead. If they try to view the image anyway through the link, they’ll be shown interruptive screens that explain why the material may be harmful and are warned that their parents will be notified.
Some privacy advocates pushed back at the idea of such a system, believing it could expand to end-to-end encrypted photos, lead to false positives, or set the stage for more on-device government surveillance in the future. But many cryptology experts believe the system Apple developed provides a good balance between privacy and utility, and have offered their endorsement of the technology. In addition, Apple said reports are manually reviewed before being sent to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).
The changes may also benefit iOS developers who deal in user photos and uploads, as predators will no longer store CSAM imagery on iOS devices in the first place, given the new risk of detection.
In-App Events appear on the App Store
Though not yet publicly available to all users, those testing the new iOS 15 mobile operating system got their first glimpse of a new App Store discovery feature this week: “in-app events.” First announced at this year’s WWDC, the feature will allow developers and Apple editors alike to showcase directly on the App Store upcoming events taking place inside apps.
The events can appear on the App Store homepage, on the app’s product pages or can be discovered through personalized recommendations and search. In some cases, editors will curate events to feature on the App Store. But developers will also be provided tools to submit their own in-app events. TikTok’s “Summer Camp” for creators was one of the first in-app events to be featured, where it received a top spot on the iPadOS 15 App Store.
Apple expands support for student IDs on iPhone and Apple Watch ahead of the fall semester. Tens of thousands more U.S. and Canadian colleges will now support mobile student IDs in the Apple Wallet app, including Auburn University, Northern Arizona University, University of Maine, New Mexico State University and others.
Apple was accused of promoting scam apps in the App Store’s featured section. The company’s failure to properly police its store is one thing, but to curate an editorial list that actually includes the scams is quite another. One of the games rounded up under “Slime Relaxations,” an already iffy category to say the least, was a subscription-based slime simulator that locked users into a $ 13 AUD per week subscription for its slime simulator. One of the apps on the curated list didn’t even function, implying that Apple’s editors hadn’t even tested the apps they recommend.
This is infuriating. How is Apple *featuring* these scams?
Let's take a look at one of these apps!
"Jelly: Slime simulator, ASMR"
— Simeon (@twolivesleft) August 5, 2021
Tax changes hit the App Store. Apple announced tax and price changes for apps and IAPs in South Africa, the U.K. and all territories using the Euro currency, all of which will see decreases. Increases will occur in Georgia and Tajikistan, due to new tax changes. Proceeds on the App Store in Italy will be increased to reflect a change to the Digital Services Tax effective rate.
Game Center changes, too. Apple said that on August 4, a new certificate for server-based Game Center verification will be available via the publicKeyUrl.
Robinhood stock jumped more than 24% to $ 46.80 on Tuesday after initially falling 8% on its first day of trading last week, after which it had continued to trade below its opening price of $ 38.
Square’s Cash app nearly doubled its gross profit to $ 546 million in Q2, but also reported a $ 45 million impairment loss on its bitcoin holdings.
Coinbase’s app now lets you buy your cryptocurrency using Apple Pay. The company previously made its Coinbase Card compatible with Apple Pay in June.
An anonymous app called Sendit, which relies on Snap Kit to function, is climbing the charts of the U.S. App Store after Snap suspended similar apps, YOLO and LMK. Snap was sued by the parent of child who was bullied through those apps, which led to his suicide. Sendit also allows for anonymity, and reviews compare it to YOLO. But some reviews also complained about bullying. This isn’t the first time Snap has been involved in a lawsuit related to a young person’s death related to its app. The company was also sued for its irresponsible “speed filter” that critics said encouraged unsafe driving. Three young men died using the filter, which captured them doing 123 mph.
TikTok is testing Stories. As Twitter’s own Stories integrations, Fleets, shuts down, TikTok confirmed it’s testing its own Stories product. The TikTok Stories appear in a left-hand sidebar and allow users to post ephemeral images or video that disappear in 24 hours. Users can also comment on Stories, which are public to their mutual friends and the creator. Stories on TikTok may make more sense than they did on Twitter, as TikTok is already known as a creative platform and it gives the app a more familiar place to integrate its effects toolset and, eventually, advertisements.
Facebook has again re-arranged its privacy settings. The company continually moves around where its privacy features are located, ostensibly to make them easier to find. But users then have to re-learn where to go to find the tools they need, after they had finally memorized the location. This time, the settings have been grouped into six top-level categories, but “privacy” settings have been unbundled from one location to be scattered among the other categories.
A VICE report details ban-as-a-service operations that allow anyone to harass or censor online creators on Instagram. Assuming you can find it, one operation charged $ 60 per ban, the listing says.
TikTok merged personal accounts with creator accounts. The change means now all non-business accounts on TikTok will have access to the creator tools under Settings, including Analytics, Creator Portal, Promote and Q&A. TikTok shared the news directly with subscribers of its TikTok Creators newsletter in August, and all users will get a push notification alerting them to the change, the company told us.
Discord now lets users customize their profile on its apps. The company added new features to its iOS and Android apps that let you add a description, links and emojis and select a profile color. Paid subscribers can also choose an image or GIF as their banner.
Twitter Spaces added a co-hosting option that allows up to two co-hosts to be added to the live audio chat rooms. Now Spaces can have one main host, two co-hosts and up to 10 speakers. Co-hosts have all the moderation abilities as hosts, but can’t add or remove others as co-hosts.
making it easier to manage your Space…introducing co-hosting!
– hosts have two co-host invites they can send
– the table just got bigger: 1 host, 2 co-hosts, and 10 speakers
– co-hosts can help invite speakers, manage requests, remove participants, pin Tweets and more! pic.twitter.com/s76JFbhTL2
— Spaces (@TwitterSpaces) August 5, 2021
Tencent reopened new user sign-ups for its WeChat messaging app, after having suspended registrations last week for unspecified “technical upgrades.” The company, like many other Chinese tech giants, had to address new regulations from Beijing impacting the tech industry. New rules address how companies handle user data collection and storage, antitrust behavior and other checks on capitalist “excess.” The gaming industry is now worried it’s next to be impacted, with regulations that would restrict gaming for minors to fight addiction.
WhatsApp is adding a new feature that will allow users to send photos and videos that disappear after a single viewing. The Snapchat-inspired feature, however, doesn’t alert you if the other person takes a screenshot — as Snap’s app does. So it may not be ideal for sharing your most sensitive content.
Telegram’s update expands group video calls to support up to 1,000 viewers. It also announced video messages can be recorded in higher quality and can be expanded, regular videos can be watched at 0.5 or 2x speed, screen sharing with sound is available for all video calls, including 1-on-1 calls, and more.
Streaming & Entertainment
American Airlines added free access to TikTok aboard its Viasat-equipped aircraft. Passengers will be able to watch the app’s videos for up to 30 minutes for free and can even download the app if it’s not already installed. After the free time, they can opt to pay for Wi-Fi to keep watching. Considering how easy it is to fall into multi-hour TikTok viewing sessions without knowing it, the addition of the addictive app could make long plane rides feel shorter. Or at least less painful.
Chinese TikTok rival Kuaishou saw stocks fall by more than 15% in Hong Kong, the most since its February IPO. The company is another victim of an ongoing market selloff triggered by increasing investor uncertainty related to China’s recent crackdown on tech companies. Beijing’s campaign to rein in tech has also impacted Tencent, Alibaba, Jack Ma’s Ant Group, food delivery company Meituan and ride-hailing company Didi. Also related, Kuaishou shut down its controversial app Zynn, which had been paying users to watch its short-form videos, including those stolen from other apps.
Twitch overtook YouTube in consumer spending per user in April 2021, and now sees $ 6.20 per download as of June compared with YouTube’s $ 5.60, Sensor Tower found.
Spotify confirmed tests of a new ad-supported tier called Spotify Plus, which is only $ 0.99 per month and offers unlimited skips (like free users get on the desktop) and the ability to play the songs you want, instead of only being forced to use shuffle mode.
The company also noted in a forum posting that it’s no longer working on AirPlay2 support, due to “audio driver compatibility” issues.
Mark Cuban-backed audio app Fireside asked its users to invest in the company via an email sent to creators which didn’t share deal terms. The app has yet to launch.
YouTube kicks off its $ 100 million Shorts Fund aimed at taking on TikTok by providing creators with cash incentives for top videos. Creators will get bonuses of $ 100 to $ 10,000 based on their videos’ performance.
Match Group announced during its Q2 earnings it plans to add to several of the company’s brands over the next 12 to 24 months audio and video chat, including group live video, and other livestreaming technologies. The developments will be powered by innovations from Hyperconnect, the social networking company that this year became Match’s biggest acquisition to date when it bought the Korean app maker for a sizable $ 1.73 billion. Since then, Match was spotted testing group live video on Tinder, but says that particular product is not launching in the near-term. At least two brands will see Hyperconnect-powered integrations in 2021.
The Photo & Video category on U.S. app stores saw strong growth in the first half of the year, a Sensor Tower report found. Consumer spend among the top 100 apps grew 34% YoY to $ 457 million in Q2 2021, with the majority of the revenue (83%) taking place on iOS.
Pokémon GO influencers threatened to boycott the game after Niantic removed the COVID safety measures that had allowed people to more easily play while social distancing. Niantic’s move seemed ill-timed, given the Delta variant is causing a new wave of COVID cases globally.
Health & Fitness
Apple kicked out an app called Unjected from the App Store. The new social app billed itself as a community for the unvaccinated, allowing like-minded users to connect for dating and friendships. Apple said the app violated its policies for COVID-19 content.
Google Pay expanded support for vaccine cards. In Australia, Google’s payments app now allows users to add their COVID-19 digital certification to their device for easy access. The option is available through Google’s newly updated Passes API which lets government agencies distribute digital versions of vaccine cards.
COVID Tech Connect, a U.S. nonprofit initially dedicated to collecting devices like phones and tablets for COVID ICU patients, has now launched its own app. The app, TeleHome, is a device-agnostic, HIPAA-compliant way for patients to place a video call for free at a time when the Delta variant is again filling ICU wards, this time with the unvaccinated — a condition that sometimes overlaps with being low-income. Some among the working poor have been hesitant to get the shot because they can’t miss a day of work, and are worried about side effects. Which is why the Biden administration offered a tax credit to SMBs who offered paid time off to staff to get vaccinated and recover.
Popular journaling app Day One, which was recently acquired by WordPress.com owner Automattic, rolled out a new “Concealed Journals” feature that lets users hide content from others’ viewing. By tapping the eye icon, the content can be easily concealed on a journal by journal basis, which can be useful for those who write to their journal in public, like coffee shops or public transportation.
Recently IPO’d language learning app Duolingo is developing a math app for kids. The company says it’s still “very early” in the development process, but will announce more details at its annual conference, Duocon, later this month.
Educational publisher Pearson launched an app that offers U.S. students access to its 1,500 titles for a monthly subscription of $ 14.99. the Pearson+ mobile app (ack, another +), also offers the option of paying $ 9.99 per month for access to a single textbook for a minimum of four months.
News & Reading
Quora jumps into the subscription economy. Still not profitable from ads alone, Quora announced two new products that allow its expert creators to monetize their content on its service. With Quora+ ($ 5/mo or $ 50/yr), subscribers can pay for any content that a creator paywalls. Creators can choose to enable a adaptive paywall that will use an algorithm to determine when to show the paywall. Another product, Spaces, lets creators write paywalled publications on Quora, similar to Substack. But only a 5% cut goes to Quora, instead of 10% on Substack.
Google Maps on iOS added a new live location-sharing feature for iMessage users, allowing them to more easily show your ETA with friends and even how much battery life you have left. The feature competes with iMessage’s built-in location-sharing feature, and offers location sharing of 1 hour up to 3 days. The app also gained a dark mode.
Security & Privacy
Controversial crime app Citizen launched a $ 20 per month “Protect” service that includes live agent support (who can refer calls to 911 if need be). The agents can gather your precise location, alert your designated emergency contacts, help you navigate to a safe location and monitor the situation until you feel safe. The system of live agent support is similar to in-car or in-home security and safety systems, like those from ADT or OnStar, but works with users out in the real world. The controversial part, however, is the company behind the product: Citizen has been making headlines for launching private security fleets outside law enforcement, and recently offered a reward in a manhunt for an innocent person based on unsubstantiated tips.
Funding and M&A
Square announced its acquisition of the “buy now, pay later” giant AfterPay in a $ 29 billion deal that values the Australian firm at more than 30% higher than the stock’s last closing price of AUS$ 96.66. AfterPay has served over 16 million customers and nearly 100,000 merchants globally, to date, and comes at a time when the BNPL space is heating up. Apple has also gotten into the market recently with an Affirm partnership in Canada.
Gaming giant Zynga acquired Chinese game developer StarLark, the team behind the mobile golf game Golf Rival, from Betta Games for $ 525 million in both cash and stock. Golf Rival is the second-largest mobile golf game behind Playdemic’s Golf Clash, and EA is in the process of buying that studio for $ 1.4 billion.
U.K.-based Humanity raised an additional $ 2.5 million for its app that claims to help slow down aging, bringing the total raise to date to $ 5 million. Backers include Calm’s co-founders, MyFitness Pal’s co-founder and others in the health space. The app works by benchmarking health advice against real-world data, to help users put better health practices into action.
YELA, a Cameo-like app for the Middle East and South Asia, raised $ 2 million led by U.S. investors that include Tinder co-founder Justin Mateen and Sean Rad, general partner of RAD Fund. The app is focusing on signing celebrities in the regions it serves, where smartphone penetration is high and over 6% of the population is under 35.
London-based health and wellness app maker Palta raised a $ 100 million Series B led by VNV Global. The company’s products include Flo.Health, Simple Fasting, Zing Fitness Coach and others, which reach a combined 2.4 million active, paid subscribers. The funds will be used to create more mobile subscription products.
Emoji database and Wikipedia-like site Emojipedia was acquired by Zedge, the makers of a phone personalization app offering wallpapers, ringtones and more to 35 million MAUs. Deal terms weren’t disclosed. Emojipedia says the deal provides it with more stability and the opportunity for future growth. For Zedge, the deal provides….um, a popular web resource it thinks it can better monetize, we suspect.
Mental health app Revery raised $ 2 million led by Sequoia Capital India’s Surge program for its app that combines cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia with mobile gaming concepts. The company will focus on other mental health issues in the future.
London-based Nigerian-operating fintech startup Kuda raised a $ 55 million Series B, valuing its mobile-first challenger bank at $ 500 million. The inside round was co-led by Valar Ventures and Target Global.
Vietnamese payments provider VNLife raised $ 250 million in a round led by U.S.-based General Atlantic and Dragoneer Investment Group. PayPal Ventures and others also participated. The round values the business at over $ 1 billion.
Mastodon for iPhone
Fans of decentralized social media efforts now have a new app. The nonprofit behind the open source decentralized social network Mastodon released an official iPhone app, aimed at making the network more accessible to newcomers. The app allows you to find and follow people and topics; post text, images, GIFs, polls, and videos; and get notified of new replies and reblogs, much like Twitter.
@_666eveITS SO COOL FRFR do u guys want a tutorial? #fypシ #醒图 #醒图app♬ original sound – Ian Asher
TikTok users are teaching each other how to switch over to the Chinese App Store in order to get ahold of the Xingtu app for iOS. (An Android version is also available.) The app offers advanced editing tools that let users edit their face and body, like FaceTune, apply makeup, add filters and more. While image-editing apps can be controversial for how they can impact body acceptance, Xingtu offers a variety of artistic filters which is what’s primarily driving the demand. It’s interesting to see the lengths people will go to just to get a few new filters for their photos — perhaps making a case for Instagram to finally update its Post filters instead of pretending no one cares about their static photos anymore.
Facebook still dominating top charts, but not the No. 1 spot:
The most downloaded app worldwide for July 2021 was @tiktok_us with more than 63M installs. @Facebook, @instagram, @messenger, and @WhatsApp rounded out the top 5: https://t.co/H9RMR5Pg9P #tiktok #topapps #mobileapps #mobilegrowth pic.twitter.com/srlDI07FeD
— Sensor Tower (@SensorTower) August 5, 2021
Not cool, Apple:
Apple promoting these slime apps again.
A few of them have $ 10+ weekly subscriptions.
One of them doesn’t even do anything.https://t.co/d0dKLCkiVF
— Beau Nouvelle (@BeauNouvelle) August 4, 2021
This user acquisition strategy:
Great feedback, wanna use/test @FlightyApp? Looks like you fly some based on your profile, and good feedback is my lifeblood.
— Ryan Jones (@rjonesy) August 4, 2021
Maybe Stories don’t work everywhere:
This Week in Apps: Instagram restricts teens’ accounts, Elon Musk criticizes App Store fees, Google Play’s new policies
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 in Apps will finally be a newsletter! It will launch on August 7. Sign up now!
Google Play updates its policies
Did you hear the one about Google Play banning sugar daddy dating apps? Google this week updated its terms to clarify that apps where users offer sex acts in exchange for money, or “sugar dating,” as the new terms state, are no longer allowed as of September 1, 2021.
Developers will have to disclose to users whether their app uses security practices like data encryption, whether it follows Google Play’s Families policy for apps aimed at kids, whether users have a choice in data sharing, whether the app’s safety section had been verified by a third party, and if the app allowed users to request data deletion at the time of uninstalling, among other things.
Apps that don’t disclose won’t be able to list or update until the problems are fixed.
The safety section wasn’t the only Google Play policy news to be announced this week.
Google also reminded developers that it was making a technical change to how advertising IDs work. Now, when users opt out of interest-based advertising or ads personalization, their advertising ID is removed and replaced with a string of zeros. The change, however, is a phased rollout, affecting apps running on Android 12 devices starting late 2021 and expanding to all apps running on devices that support Google Play in early 2022.
Google also said it will test a new feature that notifies developers and ad/analytics service providers of user opt-out preferences and is prohibiting linking persistent device identifiers to personal and sensitive user data or resettable device identifiers. Kids apps will also not be able to transmit an ad ID.
Another policy update includes a plan to close dormant accounts. Google says if the account is inactive or abandoned after a year, it will be closed. This will include accounts where the developer has never uploaded an app or accessed Google Play Console in a year.
Apple tries to fix the Safari mess
In response to feedback and complaints, Apple is clearly trying to fix some of the issues that arose from this change. It re-added a Share button to the tab bar and put additional controls under that menu. There’s also once again a reload button in the tab bar next to the domain name, though it’s a bit smaller, and a Reader Mode button will appear in the tab bar when Reader is available
On iPad, Safari also reverted back to the traditional separate row of tabs, instead of the new compact experience.
— Apple Software Updates (@AppleSWUpdates) July 27, 2021
Elon Musk sides with Epic Games
Elon Musk sided with Fortnite maker Epic Games in the Apple App Store antitrust lawsuit, as the Tesla CEO tweeted on Friday that Apple’s App Store fees were “a de facto global tax on the Internet.” The lawsuit alleges Apple is abusing its platform power with how it commissions apps and in-app purchases on its App Store platform — fees that add up to big numbers for a game like Fortnite, which arguably doesn’t need an App Store for discovery, marketing, payments and distribution. But there’s no other way to sell to iOS users today. On Android, apps can at least be sideloaded. It’s not currently clear why Musk has decided to take a stand on the issue, as none of his companies’ apps are dramatically impacted by Apple’s fees at present.
Other Platform News (Apple & Google)
Apple announced plans to end support for a number of SiriKit intents and commands, including those that could impact major apps — like ride-sharing app Uber. In total, there are over 20 SiriKit intent domains that will be deprecated and no longer supported in new and existing OS releases, Apple says.
Apple tweaked the controversial iOS 15 Safari changes in the latest betas (iOS 15 and iPadOS 15, beta 4). The new Safari design had moved the tab bar (URL bar) to the bottom of the screen — a fairly radical change for one of the iPhone’s most used apps. It was meant to make the controls easier to reach but critics said that the change made other often used features — like the reload button or Reader Mode — harder to find and use, impacting the overall usability of the browser itself.
Google this week launched version 1.0 of Jetpack Compose, Android’s new, native UI toolkit aimed at helping developers build better apps faster. The tool had been in beta since March. The new production release is built to integrate with the Jetpack libraries developers already use, and offers an implementation of Material Design components and theming. New features include Compose Preview and Deploy Preview, which require Android Studio Arctic Fox, which is also out now in a stable release.
Google also announced the availability of the CarHardwareManager API via the Android for Cars App Library as part of Jetpack.
Twitter launched a U.S. e-commerce pilot test that will help determine the current appetite for online shopping on its platform. The test allows brands and businesses to feature a “Shop Module” with various products for sale at the top of their Professional Profile, a business-friendly version of a profile page with support for things like an address, hours, phone number and more. Users can click on the Shop Module to go to a retail website and transact. Early testers include Game Stop and Arden Cove. The feature itself is somewhat bare bones for now, as it’s really just an image that launches an in-app browser. That’s not enough to really compete with something like Instagram Shop or Shopify’s Shop and the integrated, native checkout experience those types of app offers.
Fintech giant Robinhood raised $ 2.1 billion in its IPO this week. The IPO valued the trading app at $ 31.8 billion, making it larger that traditional rivals like Charles Schwab, even though the offering priced at the bottom of its range. The stock dropped 8% during its first day’s trading, however. Robinhood now has 21.3 million MAUs.
PayPal during its second-quarter earnings call announced its new “super app” is now code-complete and ready to roll out. The app will feature early direct deposit, check cashing, high yield savings, budgeting tools, improved bill pay, crypto support, subscription management, buy now, pay later functionality, mobile commerce, and person-to-person messaging features. The latter hadn’t yet been announced and would allow users to chat outside of the payments process.
Code found in Apple’s Wallet app indicates that iOS 15 will require users to verify their identities by taking a selfie when they add their driver’s license or other state identification card to the iPhone.
Instagram announced a series of significant changes to how it handles the accounts of younger teens. The company says it will now default users to private accounts at sign-up if they’re under the age of 16 — or under 18 in certain locales, including in the EU. It will also push existing users under 16 to switch their account to private if they have not already done so. In addition, Instagram is rolling out new technology aimed at reducing unwanted contact from adults — like those who have already been blocked or reported by other teens — and it will change how advertisers can reach its teenage audience. The changes give the company a way to argue to regulators that it’s capable of self-policing as it attempts to roll out a version of Instagram to younger users under the age of 13.
Twitter rolls out an update to its live audio platform, Twitter Spaces, that will make it easier to share the audio room with others. Users will be able to compose a tweet right from the Space that links to the room and includes any accompanying hashtags. iOS users also received new guest management controls for hosts.
Snapchat resolved an outage that was stopping people from logging in on Thursday. Unlike other app blips, which fix themselves often without users’ awareness, Snap told users to manually update their app if the issues continued.
Snapchat also this week added a “My Places” feature to Snap Map, which allows users to log their favorite spots, share them with friends and find recommendations. The feature supports over 30 million businesses and allows Snap to differentiate its map from a utility like Google Maps or Apple Maps, because it’s about personal recommendations from people you know and trust: your friends.
Instagram added support for 60-second videos to its TikTok clone, Reels. Previously, only Reels of up to 30 seconds were supported. Sixty seconds is in line with other platforms like YouTube Shorts and Snapchat’s Spotlight. But TikTok is now inching into YouTube territory, as it recently expanded to support three-minute videos.
TikTok expanded its LIVE platform with a huge lineup of new features including the ability to go live with others, host Q&As, use moderators and improved keyword filters, and more. For viewers, TikTok is adding new discovery and viewing tools, including picture-in-picture mode and ways to jump to LIVE streams from the For You and Following feeds. Some markets, including the U.S. already had access to LIVE Events, but the feature is now expanding. Meanwhile, the co-host feature currently supports going live with one other creator, but TikTok says it’s now testing multiple hosts.
Discord launched a new feature, Threads, which will make it easier to read through longer conversations on busy servers. Now, any server with “Community” features enabled will be able to transform their messages into threaded conversations across mobile and desktop. The threads will be designated by their own subject name and can be created by selecting a new hashtag symbol that appears in the menu when hovering over messages or by pressing the + sign in the chat bar.
Pinterest shares dropped by more than 12% after the company reported its second-quarter earnings on Thursday. Despite beating on estimates with revenue of $ 613.2 million and earnings per share of 25 cents, investors were disappointed by the miss on user growth. The company reported monthly active user growth of just 9% to reach 454 million, when analysts were expecting 482 million. Pinterest blamed COVID impacts for the slowdown. The news follows Pinterest’s launch of new tools for creators to monetize their content, with Ideas Pins — the recently launched video-first format that lets creators show off their work. Now, creators can make their pins “shoppable” and take commissions on those purchases.
WhatsApp is testing support for higher image upload quality on iOS devices. The feature was discovered on WhatsApp’s TestFlight version for iOS but is not yet public and offers three options: auto, best quality or data saver.
Streaming & Entertainment
Spotify’s Clubhouse clone, Greenroom, is off to a slow start. The app has only been downloaded 140,000+ times on iOS and 100,000+ on Android, including installs from its earlier life as Locker Room, an app that Spotify acquired to move into live audio. Meanwhile, Spotify has 365 million monthly active users on its flagship streaming app.
Spotify also reported its Q2 earnings this week, where it posted a $ 23.6 million loss and failed to reach its forecast for total MAUs, despite growing MAUs 22% YOY to 365 million. It now has 165 million paying subscribers, which is up 20% YOY.
In a change to its app, Spotify added an attention-grabbing “What’s New” feed that offers personalized updates about new releases and new podcast episodes. The feature is available through a notification bell icon and uses a blue dot to indicate when there’s something new to see. Dots like this are a psychological hacks popularized by social apps like Facebook and Instagram to addict users, which could impact user engagement time on Spotify’s app.
Apple’s GarageBand app for iOS and iPadOS now lets you remix tracks from top artists and producers like Dua Lipa and Lady Gaga. There are also new Producer Packs with beats, loops and instruments created for GarageBand by top producers, including Boys Noize, Mark Lettieri, Oak Felder, Soulection, Take A Daytrip, Tom Misch and TRAKGIRL.
Google TV’s mobile app was updated with new services and personalized recommendations, following last fall’s launch of the Google TV user experience for Chromecast devices. The app now sports 16:9 widescreen movie and show posters, and added new providers Discovery+, Viki, Cartoon Network, PBS Kids, Boomerang, plus on-demand content from live TV services, including YouTube TV, Philo and fuboTV.
Epic Games announced that Fortnite will host another in-game event it’s calling the “Rift Tour,” which kicks off Friday, August 6 and runs through Sunday, August 8. What it hasn’t yet said is what the Rift Tour is, beyond a “musical journey into magical new realities” that will feature a “record-breaking superstar.”
Health & Fitness
Facebook’s Oculus division is exploring an integration of Oculus Workouts with Apple’s Health app, according to the app’s code. An integration would allow users to store their workout data in Health.
Usage of mobile video conferencing apps like Zoom grew by 150% in the first half of 2021, according to a report from Sensor Tower. Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet saw a surge in usage, collectively climbing to nearly 21x higher than in H1 2019, the firm found.
Google Voice’s app was updated with a few refinements, including a way to see the reason for a missed call or dropped call, and an easy way to redial. iOS users can now show their Google Voice number as their caller ID when they get a calling through a forwarding number. Another change will allow users to delete multiple SMS messages at once.
Language learning app Duolingo raised $ 521 million in its U.S. IPO, priced above the marketed range. The company priced 5.1 million shared at $ 102, after first marketing them at $ 95 to $ 100.
Amazon this week rolled out an update to its Alexa iOS app that allows users to add an Alexa widget to their iOS homescreen. The widget lets you tap on a button to speak to the virtual assistant and issue commands. Watch out Siri! (Ha, just kidding.)
Google Maps also updated its iOS app this week to add support for a homescreen widget. There are two different widgets sizes to choose from — one that gives info like weather and traffic, while another is more of a shortcut to nearby places like gas stations, restaurants, work and home.
Google is working on a”Switch to Android” app for iOS users that will copy over data and apps from an iPhone to bring them to a new Android device. Apple already offers a similar app, called “Move to iOS” for Android users.
Parking app usage has popped to pre-pandemic levels, Apptopia reported. Apps in this space help users find availability in lots and garages nearby and facilitate payments. Browsing time in apps was up 57% YOY in July, and overall parking app usage is now 6.2% above Jan. 2020 pre-pandemic levels.
Moovit integrated Lime’s electric scooters, bikes and mopeds into its transit-planning app that’s live in 117 cities across 20 countries and continents, including the United States, South America, Australia and Europe.
Government & Policy
Tencent’s WeChat suspended new user registrations in China to comply with “relevant laws and regulations.” The move comes amid a broad crackdown on tech companies by Chinese regulators, related to data collection and other harmful practices.
Recently, China ordered Tencent and 13 other developers to fix problems related to pop-ups inside their apps, as part of the tech crackdown. The regulator also said it would tighten controls on misleading and explicit content used for marketing, and issued fines for offensive content to Tencent, Kuaishou and Alibaba.
Security & Privacy
Apple released patches for iOS, iPadOS and macOS to address a zero-day vulnerability that had been exploited in the wild. Apple said the exploit could exploit the vulnerability known as CVE-2021-30807 to execute arbitrary code with kernel privileges on a vulnerable and unpatched device.
Google Play Protect failed an Android security test, according to a report from Bleeping Computer. The mobile threat protection solution ranked last out of 15 Android security apps tested over a span of six months, between January to June 2021.
Funding and M&A
Product insights and analytics startup Pendo raised $ 150 million at a $ 2.6 billion valuation, ahead of its expected IPO. The round was led by B Capital, the firm from Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, and included new investor Silver Lake Waterman, alongside existing backers. Pendo’s platform helps companies gather data on how customers use their apps, including clients like Okta, Toast and others.
Twitter “acqui-hired” the team from subscription news app, Brief, who will now join Twitter’s Experience.org group, which works on Twitter Spaces and Explore. Brief had offered a non-biased news app that allowed you to get both sides of a story and all the necessary facts. Deal terms weren’t disclosed.
Delivery app Gopuff confirmed its $ 1 billion fundraise at a $ 15 billion valuation, aimed at expanding its instant delivery service. TechCrunch previously reported the news when the Series H was still being closed.
Indian travel app Ixigo raised $ 53 million (Rs 395 crore), prepping the business for a valuation of $ 750 million-$ 800 million for its upcoming IPO. The round was led by Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC.
Mobile-first digital wallet Valora native to the Celo network raised $ 20 million in Series A funding led by Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), a Celo backer, to become a global gateway to crypto.
Crypto wallet company Eco, backed by a16z, raised $ 60 million in new funding led by Activant Capital and L Catterton. Eco offers a digital wallet with rewards and no fees, and has average deposits of around $ 6,000.
Search API startup Algolia, which lets developers integrate real-time search in apps or websites, raised $ 150 million in Series D funding, valuing the business at $ 2.25 billion, post-money. The round was led by Lone Pine Capital. Algolia now has over 10,000 customers, including Slack, Stripe, Medium, Zendesk and Lacoste.
Brain Technologies raised $ 50+ million for Natural, a natural language search engine and super app for iOS, which wants users to stop switching between apps to order food, groceries or go shopping. Backers include Laurene Powell Jobs’ Emerson Collective, Goodwater Capital, Scott Cook and WTT Investment.
Messaging app Element, built on the decentralized Matrix protocol, raised $ 30 million in a Series B round of funding. Investors include open-source R&D lab Protocol Labs and Metaplanet. a fund from Skype co-founder Jaan Tallinn, as well as past investors Automattic and Notion.
Indonesia-based grocery app HappyFresh raised $ 65 million in Series D funding in a round led by Naver Financial Corporation and Gafina B.V. The app offers an Instacart-like grocery delivery service for parts of Asia, which today operates in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.
Indian D2C beauty brand MyGlamm, which sells products through an app and website, raised $ 71.3 million in Series C financing, from Amazon, Ascent Capital and Wipro.
Developer Kosta Eleftheriou may have taken on Apple in legal battles and on Twitter, as he points out the numerous app scams on the App Store, but that hasn’t stopped him from building new apps.
This week, Eleftheriou introduced Nanogram, a Telegram client app that works on the Apple Watch without needing an iPhone connection. Eleftheriou said he was inspired to build Nanogram because he wanted a Telegram app for his LTE Apple Watch and didn’t like the official version that didn’t provide “basic and reliable messaging functionality.” So he built his own app from scratch using the Telegram SDK, which allows you to send, receive and view all your messages and notifications right from your wrist — even if you don’t have your phone nearby. The app also supports Eleftheriou’s FlickType Swipe Keyboard for faster replies while on the go.
Eleftheriou notes the app doesn’t collect any personal information and requires an Apple Watch Series 3 or later, running watchOS 7 or later.
Lightricks’ Videoleap for Android
After seeing a 70% yearly increase for its iOS version, Lightricks brought its Videoleap app to the Google Play Store. The app has grown popular with online creators for offering professional quality editing tools on mobile, including those that let you apply artistic effects, mix videos with images, add text and layer transformations and more. The company says Videoleap users are now creating 35 million pieces of content per month, and 47% of users are exporting their creations to TikTok in pursuit of monetizing their content further. The app, like others from Lightricks (which also makes FaceTune and others), monetizes by way of in-app subscriptions.
Apple app store fees are a de facto global tax on the Internet. Epic is right.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 30, 2021
There’s a total of *six* different touch targets in the iOS 15 beta 4 tab bar in Safari.
These exclude the ability to long-press the tab bar, swipe across it to change tabs, and swipe it up to open the Tabs view.
I’m…starting to think a single, small toolbar just won’t do. pic.twitter.com/EiD2mekVRL
— Federico Viticci (@viticci) July 27, 2021
Shortcuts has a new “Return to Home Screen” action in iOS 15 developer beta 4 – this has been long requested from the community and is great to see! pic.twitter.com/8E3ZB7FIYX
— Matthew Cassinelli (@mattcassinelli) July 27, 2021
I've been fascinated to watch the reaction to Safari in iOS 15 because in 2016-2017, I worked on a similar redesign for mobile Chrome that we never launched. Finally decided to tell a bit of that story here: https://t.co/gF4hepQM5V
— Chris Lee (@cleerview) July 25, 2021
something fun & playful our team has been working on. what are *creative* ways we can utilize voice for more engaging convos on Spaces? how would you use these tools?
— Danny Singh (@Mr_DannySingh) July 22, 2021
Memory.ai, the startup behind time-tracking app Timely, raises $14M to build more AI-based productivity apps
Time is your most valuable asset — as the saying goes — and today a startup called Memory.ai, which is building AI-based productivity tools to help you with your own time management, is announcing some funding to double down on its ambitions: It wants not only to help manage your time, but to, essentially, provide ways to use it better in the future.
The startup, based out of Oslo, Norway, initially made its name with an app called Timely, a tool for people to track time spent doing different tasks. Aimed not just at people who are quantified self geeks, but those who need to track time for practical reasons, such as consultants or others who work on the concept of billable hours. Timely has racked up 500,000 users since 2014, including more than 5,000 paying businesses in 160 countries.
Now, Memory.ai has raised $ 14 million as it gears up to launch its next apps, Dewo (pronounced “De-Voh”), an app that is meant to help people do more “deep work” by learning about what they are working on and filtering out distractions to focus better; and Glue, described as a knowledge hub to help in the creative process. Both are due to be released later in the year.
The funding is being led by local investors Melesio and Sanden, with participation from Investinor, Concentric and SNÖ Ventures, who backed Memory.ai previously.
“Productivity apps” has always been something of a nebulous category in the world of connected work. They can variously cover any kind of collaboration management software ranging from Asana and Jira through to Slack and Notion; or software that makes doing an existing work task more efficient than you did it before (e.g. Microsoft has described all of what goes into Microsoft 365 — Excel, Word, PowerPoint, etc. — as “productivity apps”); or, yes, apps like those from Memory.ai that aim to improve your concentration or time management.
These days, however, it feels like the worlds of AI and advances in mobile computing are increasingly coming together to evolve that concept once again.
If the first wave of smartphone communications and the apps that are run on smartphone devices — social, gaming, productivity, media, information, etc. — have led to us getting pinged by a huge amount of data from lots of different places, all of the time, then could it be that the second wave is quite possibly going to usher in a newer wave of tools to handle all that better, built on the premise that not everything is of equal importance? No-mo FOMO? We’ll see.
In any case, some bigger platform players also helping to push the agenda of what productivity means in this day and age.
For example, in Apple’s recent preview of iOS 15 (due to come out later this year) the company gave a supercharge to its existing “do not disturb” feature on its phones, where it showed off a new Focus mode, letting users customize how and when they want to receive notifications from which apps, and even which apps they want to have displayed, all organized by different times of day (e.g. work time), place, calendar items and so on.
“Today, iPhone plays so many roles in our lives. It’s where we get information, how people reach us, and where we get things done. This is great, but it means our attention is being pulled in so many different directions and finding that balance between work and life can be tricky,” said Apple’s Craig Federighi in the WWDC keynote earlier this month. “We want to free up space to focus and help you be in the moment.” How well that gets used, and how much other platforms like Google follow suit, will be interesting to see play out. It feels, in any case, like it could be the start of something.
And, serendipitously — or maybe because this is some kind of zeitgeist — this is also playing into what Memory.ai has built and is building.
Mathias Mikkelsen, the Oslo-based founder of Memory.ai, first came up with his idea for Timely (which had also been the original name of the whole startup) when he was working as a designer in the ad industry, one of those jobs that needed to track what he was working on, and for how long, in order to get paid.
He said he knew the whole system as it existed was inefficient: “I just thought it was insane how cumbersome and old it was. But at the same time how important it was for the task,” he said.
The guy had an entrepreneurial itch that he was keen to scratch, and this idea would become the salve to help him. Mikkelsen was so taken with building a startup around time management, that he sold his apartment in Oslo and moved himself to San Francisco to be where he believed was the epicenter of startup innovation. He tells me he lived off the proceeds of his flat for two years “in a closet” in a hacker house, bootstrapping Timely, until eventually getting into an accelerator (500 Startups) and subsequently starting to raise money. He eventually moved back to Oslo after two years to continue growing the business, as well as to live somewhere a little more spacious.
The startup’s big technical breakthrough with Timely was to figure out an efficient way of tracking time for different tasks, not just time worked on anything, without people having to go through a lot of data entry.
The solution: to integrate with a person’s computer, plus a basic to-do schedule for a day or week, and then match up which files are open when to determine how long one works for one client or another. Phone or messaging conversations, for the moment, are not included, and neither are the contents of documents — just the titles of them. Nor is data coming from wearable devices, although you could see how that, too, might prove useful.
The basic premise is to be personalised, so managers and others cannot use Timely to track exactly what people are doing, although they can track and bill for those billable hours. All this is important, as it also will feed into how Dewo and Glue will work.
The startup’s big conceptual breakthrough came around the same time: Getting time tracking or any productivity right “has never been a UI problem,” Mikkelsen said. “It’s a human nature problem.” This is where the AI comes in, to nudge people towards something they identify as important, and nudge them away from work that might not contribute to that. Tackling bigger issues beyond time are essential to improving productivity overall, which is why Memory.ai now wants to extend to apps for carving out time for deep thinking and creative thinking.
While it might seem to be a threat that a company like Apple has identified the same time management predicament that Memory.ai has, and is looking to solve that itself, Mikkelsen is not fazed. He said he thinks of Focus as not unlike Apple’s work on Health: there will be ways of feeding information into Apple’s tool to make it work better for the user, and so that will be Memory.ai’s opportunity to hopefully grow, not cannibalize, its own audience with Timely and its two new apps. It is, in a sense, a timely disruption.
“Memory’s proven software is already redefining how businesses around the world track, plan and manage their time. We look forward to working with the team to help new markets profit from the efficiencies, insights and transparency of a Memory-enabled workforce,” said Arild Engh, a partner at Melesio, in a statement.
Kjartan Rist, a partner at Concentric, added: “We continue to be impressed with Memory’s vision to build and launch best-in-class products for the global marketplace. The company is well on its way to becoming a world leader in workplace productivity and collaboration, particularly in light of the remote and hybrid working revolution of the last 12 months. We look forward to supporting Mathias and the team in this exciting new chapter.”
With vaccination rates slowing in the U.S., the White House is getting creative about getting shots in arms. Beyond protecting yourself and others from a deadly disease, the latest incentive to get vaccinated could help you find love (or get laid).
The White House COVID-19 response team announced Friday that a number of popular dating apps would offer new perks for users who get vaccinated, with Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, Match, OkCupid, BLK, Chispa, Plenty of Fish and Badoo all participating in the promotional push. The White House hopes to make inroads with the 50 million users across those dating apps where they’re already spending time.
On Tinder, anyone who adds a sticker to their profile promoting their vaccination status between June 2 and July 4 will be gifted a free Super Like. (Proof of vaccination isn’t necessary, but really, you should get vaccinated if it’s available where you live.) Tinder and other apps will also add vaccination site resources from Vaccine.gov to help people figure out where they can get the shot nearby.
“Nothing like fireworks to signal a new spark and a new start for those looking to meet new people IRL this summer,” Tinder CEO Jim Lanzone said.
According to OkCupid, getting vaccinated might help with that. The company found that people who displayed their vaccination status were 14% more likely to find a match. On OkCupid, vaccinated users will get a free boost, a perk that promotes their profile to potential matches. The other apps participating in the White House initiative are handing out their own premium perks to give users a competitive edge.
The effort is part of a push by the White House to get 70% of adults vaccinated by the Fourth of July. To reach more Americans, the Biden administration has also coordinated with popular entertainment companies like NASCAR and country music channel CMT to promote vaccination.
“Social distancing and dating were always a bit of a challenging combination,” White House Senior COVID Advisor Andy Slavitt said during a press event Friday. He characterized the vaccine push through dating apps as those companies “responding to the president’s call to action” rather than calling it an official partnership.
“We have finally found the one thing that makes us all more attractive,” Slavitt said. “A vaccination.”
The explosion in productivity software amid a broader remote work boom has been one of the pandemic’s clearest tech impacts. But learning to use a dozen new programs while having to decipher which data is hosted where can sometimes seem to have an adverse effect on worker productivity. It’s all time that users can take for granted, even when carrying out common tasks like navigating to the calendar to view more info to click a link to open the browser to redirect to the native app to open a Zoom call.
Slapdash is aiming to carve a new niche out for itself among workplace software tools, pushing a desire for peak performance to the forefront with a product that shaves seconds off each instance where a user needs to find data hosted in a cloud app or carry out an action. While most of the integration-heavy software suites to emerge during the remote work boom have focused on promoting visibility or re-skinning workflows across the tangled weave of SaaS apps, Slapdash founder Ivan Kanevski hopes that the company’s efforts to engineer a quicker path to information will push tech workers to integrate another tool into their workflow.
The team tells TechCrunch that they’ve raised $ 3.7 million in seed funding from investors that include S28 Capital, Quiet Capital, Quarry Ventures, UP2398 and Twenty Two Ventures. Angels participating in the round include co-founders at companies like Patreon, Docker and Zynga.
Kanevski says the team sought to emulate the success of popular apps like Superhuman, which have pushed low-latency command line interface navigation while emulating some of the sleek internal tools used at companies like Facebook, where he spent nearly six years as a software engineer.
Slapdash’s command line widget can be pulled up anywhere, once installed, with a quick keyboard shortcut. From there, users can search through a laundry list of indexable apps including Slack, Zoom, Jira and about 20 others. Beyond command line access, users can create folders of files and actions inside the full desktop app or create their own keyboard shortcuts to quickly hammer out a task. The app is available on Mac, Windows, Linux and the web.
“We’re not trying to displace the applications that you connect to Slapdash,” he says. “You won’t see us, for example, building document editing, you won’t see us building project management, just because our sort of philosophy is that we’re a neutral platform.”
The company offers a free tier for users indexing up to five apps and creating 10 commands and spaces; any more than that and you level up into a $ 12 per month paid plan. Things look more customized for enterprise-wide pricing. As the team hopes to make the tool essential to startups, Kanevski sees the app’s hefty utility for individual users as a clear asset in scaling up.
“If you anticipate rolling this out to larger organizations, you would want the people that are using the software to have a blast with it,” he says. “We have quite a lot of confidence that even at this sort of individual atomic level, we built something pretty joyful and helpful.”
- Progressive web apps (PWAs) offer app-like experiences without requiring users to download anything from an app store
- PWAs are also much less of a burden for developers than native apps, which require ongoing updates, review management, and shared profits with app stores
- Nick Chasinov, Founder and CEO of Teknicks, outlines a few of the major business benefits of using PWAs
If Apple was threatened by “Fortnite” trying to bypass the App Store, it’s not going to be happy when progressive web apps take off. PWAs disrupt the tech giant’s granular control over the Apple App Store because they offer app-like experiences without the need to download an actual app. They’re designed for the everyday website user but provide many features that are exclusive to native apps.
Although many companies love the idea of building a native app, this approach can be a hassle for developers. You have to update them, manage reviews, attract downloads, and pay most stores a 30 percent cut of every sale — this includes paid apps and in-app purchases, which can add up quickly. Apple raked in $ 64 billion from the App Store in 2020.
That’s part of the reason Google is an advocate for PWAs, encouraging developers to build and distribute them. The search engine also leads Project Fugu, which aims to expand browser capabilities and help web apps “do anything native apps can“. This dream could become a reality: Almost 65 percent of internet users already rely on Chrome, and its open-source Chromium foundation lets other browsers use its PWA technology.
Since the pandemic has been sending more people online than ever before, much of the focus in 2021 will remain on the user experience. So, would you rather take cues from Apple or Google? The PWA vs. native app war has begun, and if you’re looking to stand out and get a leg up on the competition, then a PWA may be the way to go.
The business benefits of PWAs
PWAs provide users with numerous benefits. For example, they are smaller files than native apps, which frees up space on people’s devices. However, PWAs can also impact your goals and bottom line as a business. Here are three key advantages of progressive web apps:
1. Rapid connections
Consumers have options: There are plenty of places to browse news, buy clothes, and watch videos. If your website isn’t up to speed (literally), people will take their attention and spending power elsewhere. For instance, the Forbes website used to take anywhere from three to 12 seconds to fully load, those delays caused 53 percent of users to abandon the website. Once the company switched to a PWA, browsing sessions increased by 43 percent.
PWAs can increase speed for all users, but the acceleration is particularly important for browsers on slow connections. By caching content after the first visit, PWAs make it possible for more people to access your products. That increase in speed also translates to improvements in discoverability for all users. According to Google’s 2018 announcement, mobile speed factors heavily into overall page ranking.
2. SEO capabilities
Aside from the fact that speed affects your page rankings, PWAs are also SEO-friendly. Because they live on the web, their content is visible to search engines. This can boost your ability to generate traffic and leads. For example, when Alibaba turned its website into a PWA, it saw 76 percent more conversions.
Native apps are limited to the SEO constraints of app stores. Typically, only the app profile page is listed in Google search results, forcing companies to rely on the app’s description, pictures, and positive reviews to improve visibility and land more downloads.
With a PWA, you have the same unlimited flexibility as a website to create custom user experiences and optimized resourceful content that will rank on Google and showcase your app’s features and benefits. App store optimization is limited, but a PWA enables you to execute all SEO strategies.
3. Engagement opportunities
PWAs support push notifications, creating opportunities for companies to reach out to their customers with personalized product recommendations, news updates, and other relevant communications. This can improve customer engagement and help increase brand loyalty.
PWAs can also boost engagement with your social media pages because they’re able to use device tools like cameras and Global Positioning System (GPS). And as augmented reality (AR) becomes available on PWAs, all kinds of exciting possibilities will open up. Imagine a customer trying on your company’s latest apparel in AR and then sharing their selfies on social media — all without a native app that has to be developed for multiple operating systems and tweaked to support dozens of devices.
Decreasing coronavirus case numbers and accelerating vaccine distribution efforts are contributing to optimism in many parts of the world. Still, it will likely be a while before life returns to normal. As people continue to spend more time at home (and on the internet), organizations need to prioritize their digital transformation strategies.
For the reasons above, this should include building PWAs. While web apps aren’t new developments, they are uniquely positioned to help companies achieve their goals in the current environment. Companies can focus their efforts on one web app that prioritizes the user experience instead of wasting energy on multiple native apps designed for different operating systems with limited search engine visibility.
Nick Chasinov is the Founder and CEO of Teknicks, a research-based agile internet marketing agency certified by Google in Analytics, Tag Manager, and Ads.
The post Why progressive web apps (PWAs) are poised to dominate moving forward appeared first on Search Engine Watch.
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