This Week in Apps: Microsoft’s app store principles, TikTok’s new safety policies, Apple reveals ‘Tap to Pay’ – TechCrunch

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 number of downloads and consumer spending across both the iOS and Google Play stores combined in 2021, according to the latest year-end reports. App Annie says global spending across iOS, Google Play and third-party Android app stores in China grew 19% in 2021 to reach $170 billion. Downloads of apps also grew by 5%, reaching 230 billion in 2021, and mobile ad spend grew 23% year-over-year to reach $295 billion.
In addition, consumers are spending more time in apps than ever before — even topping the time they spend watching TV, in some cases. The average American watches 3.1 hours of TV per day, for example, but in 2021, they spent 4.1 hours on their mobile device. And they’re not even the world’s heaviest mobile users. In markets like Brazil, Indonesia and South Korea, users surpassed five hours per day in mobile apps in 2021.
Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours, either. They can grow to become huge businesses. In 2021, 233 apps and games generated over $100 million in consumer spend, and 13 topped $1 billion in revenue, App Annie noted. This was up 20% from 2020 when 193 apps and games topped $100 million in annual consumer spend, and just eight apps topped $1 billion.
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 suggestions about new apps and games to try, too.
Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters
When Microsoft this week outlined its 11 “app store principles,” it was hoping to get ahead of regulation and win the FTC’s approval for its $68.7 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard, which will be the largest deal in the company’s history if it goes through. As described, Microsoft’s app store principles align with several proposals found in the Open App Markets Act bill, including those that allow developers to use third-party payment processors, a commitment to not rank the company’s own apps over its competitors and a promise not use app store data to give itself an advantage. In other words, it’s a way for Microsoft to distance itself from the app store upheaval impacting tech giants, like Apple and Google, by agreeing to the law before it’s even approved.
TikTok updates its policies with focus on minor and LGBTQ safety, age appropriate content and more

Sure, Microsoft’s missive was published in the context of the Xbox store and its massive Activision Blizzard deal, but it could still help push the broader tech industry toward a more open app store ecosystem by helping establish a set of baseline rules that others are willing to agree to.
However, the decision to commit to these guidelines is a calculated one on Microsoft’s part — and one that comes from experience. (The company, of course, remembers the impact that antitrust regulation can have on a business.) But Microsoft also takes a moment amid its attempt to play nice with regulators to also calmly point out that the legislation being written now is focused on mobile app stores, not consoles. And just how correct that is, too! They’re so different! Microsoft hopes by agreeing upfront to similar guidelines as Apple and Google may have to, regulators will give it a pass in the future to run its own “app store” business as it sees fit.

Image Credits: TikTok

Image Credits: TikTok
In another attempt to get ahead of regulation, TikTok announced a series of policy updates and plans for new features and technologies aimed at making the video-based social network a safer and more secure environment, particularly for younger users. The changes attempt to address some concerns raised by U.S. senators during their inquiries into TikTok’s business practices, including the prevalence of eating disorder content and dangerous hoaxes on the app, which are particularly harmful to teens and young adults. In addition, TikTok is laying out a roadmap for addressing other serious issues around hateful ideologies with regard to LGBTQ and minor safety — the latter which will involve having creators designate the age-appropriateness of their content.
Notably, the new policy specifies that practices like deadnaming and misgendering, misogyny or content supporting or promoting conversion therapy programs will not be permitted on TikTok.
One of the interesting changes is that TikTok will try to assess content on the backend and assign a level of content maturity to it, in order to direct adult-focused content — even if just boring “workplace tips” — away from the app’s younger users. It will also allow creators to specify if their content is more appropriate for an adult audience so they can grow their community by reaching the right users’ For You feeds.
TikTok updates its policies with focus on minor and LGBTQ safety, age appropriate content and more

And TikTok says it will implement tech to pop people’s “filter bubbles” a bit more, so it can direct users away from content that could send them down dangerous paths. For example, watching diet and exercise videos here and there can be fine, but when a user starts to watch a lot of these in a row, it could lead to an eating order diagnosis, the company notes.
The new policies sound good on paper, but enforcement here is critical — and difficult. In the past, TikTok has allowed misogyny and transphobic content to slip through the cracks, repeatedly. At times, violative content was even promoted by TikTok’s algorithms, according to some tests.

Image Credits: Apple

Image Credits: Apple
Apple formally introduced a new capability for iPhone that will soon allow U.S. merchants to accept Apple Pay, credit and debit card payments, and other digital wallets, with just a tap of one iPhone to another. The NFC-powered feature would mean there would no longer be a need for a separate payment terminal — a move that some positioned as a Square killer, though that’s not quite correct. It would potentially eliminate some of the need in the market for payment dongles and terminals, but companies like Square aren’t just selling hardware. They offer businesses and merchants a suite of tools and services in addition to payment processing. Apple says new functionality will be available to payment platforms and app developers in an upcoming iOS software update.
Stripe will be one of the first payment platforms to offer Tap to Pay on iPhone to their business customers, including the Shopify Point of Sale app, starting this spring. Other payment platforms and apps will follow later this year. The timing for this launch may be right, as now Apple Pay has reached over 90% acceptance by U.S. retailers and the pandemic has pushed more people to learn how to use contactless payments, as well.
Apple announces ‘Tap to Pay’ feature that will allow iPhones to accept contactless payments

Image Credits: Google

Image Credits: Google

Image Credits: Google

Image Credits: Google

Image Credits: Instagram

Image Credits: Instagram

airtag stalking

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch
💰San Diego-based travel app Sēkr raised a $2.25 million seed round to bring campsite inventory online in its mobile app for campers, outdoors enthusiasts and #VanLife wanderers. The company says it has 10,000 user sessions per week.
💰Computer vision startup Scandit raised $150 million in Series D funding for its tech that scans barcodes, ID cards or other physical objects to trigger automated responses. The company has 1,700 business customers in verticals like retail, travel, transportation, healthcare and more.
💰Egyptian investment app Thndr raised $20 million in Series A funding from Tiger Global, Dubai-based BECO Capital and Prosus Ventures. The app, which allows users to invest in Egyptian stocks and mutual funds, has more than 300,000 downloads.
🤝India’s ShareChat and MX Player agreed to merge their short-form video apps, Moj and MX TakaTak, in a deal valued at $900 million. The combined app would reach over 300 million users.
🤝 To better compete with Spotify, Apple quietly acquired a London-based startup, AI Music, which generates personalized soundtracks and music recommendations based on users’ input and data.
🤝Investing app Betterment acquired crypto investing startup Makara, which also offers a robo-investing feature for crypto similar to Betterment’s robo-investing feature for traditional investment. Deal terms weren’t disclosed.
💰Spain’s Rosita Longevity, an app designed to help seniors be more active, raised €2.4 million ($2.8 million) in seed funding led by Barcelona-based impact fund Ship2B Ventures. The app offers human coaching digital classes, nutritional info, and more, and is now expanding to the U.S.
💰Koho, a challenger bank that lets Canadian users access up to 50% of their paycheck every day, raised a CAD$210 million Series D in equity and debt led by Eldridge.
💰Berlin-based financial super app and challenger bank Vivid Money raised €100 million ($114 million) in a Series C round of funding led by Greenoaks Capital. The funds value the startup, which plans to have 1 million users by year-end, at €775 million ($886 million).
💰Female-founded lung-health startup Respira Labs, which makes a hardware-connected device that works with an iOS app, raised $2.8 million in a combination of funding and grants to continue building its acoustic resonance technology for assessing lung function.
Joe Danger is relaunching on iOS today 🥳
Remastered with improved visuals, high frame rate, ProMotion and Gamepad support
Still one of the best looking games on iOS 😍
It's all because of a fan mail we received… 🧵https://t.co/iv0XJ8vHgU pic.twitter.com/uOYtKjWG2H
— Sean Murray (@NoMansSky) January 27, 2022

Well, this one got to me! Hello Games (No Man’s Sky) founder Sean Murray posted to Twitter as to why the company decided to re-release the older iOS game Joe Danger. He said they received fan mail from a parent of an autistic child who loved the game, which had sadly stopped working on newer versions of iOS. The child often received game time with Joe Danger as a reward and had bonded with family and friends over the game, too. The game also served as a coping mechanism when he was in uncomfortable situations, like crowed rooms or loud places.
“As game devs it’s so easy to underestimate the impact even your smallest games can have,” Murray wrote. “It blows my mind that something you make can be someone’s first game they played, hit at an important time or even be their favorite thing for a while.”
The new version has been remastered with improved visuals, high frame rates, ProMotion and Gamepad support, and now works on newer versions of iOS.

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