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 decreased. 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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After years of user demand for an edit button, Twitter’s news this week that such a feature was now entering testing felt a little anticlimactic.
Twitter broke its own embargo over the impending launch. There weren’t any interviews. Instead, Twitter just casually noted the edit feature was being tested internally, it said in a tweet published ahead of its blog post announcement. Here’s a feature you wanted. I guess we’ll ship it.
And though the feature will roll out to users later this month, it won’t be broadly available. Instead, users can pay for a Twitter Blue subscription to access the edit feature, Twitter said. But only “some” Twitter Blue subscribers will even see the option, as it will still be in a test mode at first. Then there’s the fact that Twitter Blue subscribers have already been somewhat placated by the “Undo Tweet” feature — an option that lets you quickly unsend a tweet when you spot a typo. (It’s actually a delay to post, which makes the “unsending” possible.) This reduces the need for an edit button in many cases, as it turns out.
A true edit feature, meanwhile, introduces a layer of complexity on top of the increasingly cluttered social app. Although Twitter says the feature will have an edit log to minimize abuse, there’s concern that people will re-write tweets knowing that many won’t ever look at the past versions.
If anything, the demand for an edit button had become more a meme than a true user request. It was just sort of unfathomable to some Twitter users that a basic feature like this was not being built. But over the years, people have learned to work around the lack of editing. We’d delete and retweet things. We’d reply with a correction, cursing the lack of an edit button as we did. And then we moved on. Now Twitter wants everyone to pay for this long-requested functionality? Ouch.
Image Credits: Snapchat
Remember when every social app was copying Snapchat’s Stories — Instagram successfully so? More recently, that sort of copy-and-paste development cycle has been focused on shoehorning a TikTok-like vertical video feed into every other social app, including Instagram and Facebook (Reels), YouTube (Shorts), Snapchat (Spotlight) and others — even Twitter gave it a shot for a time.
But now, the top social apps have set their sights on BeReal, the scrappy social app for unfiltered sharing that’s been sitting just a bit too long at the top of the App Store to keep calling it a “trend.” That has the major social platforms worried about the impact the newcomer is having on their respective user bases. In particular, BeReal seems to be succeeding in appealing to a younger, Gen Z audience in search of a more authentic social networking experience. It allows them to connect with their friends without all the embellishments that, for years, have been the hallmarks of social apps — filters, AR and advanced editing tools resulting in a curated, idealized feed. Instead, BeReal users are in search of imperfection — yet another nail in the coffin for the old “Instagram aesthetic” that’s since been replaced by intentionally poorly shot photos and lo-fi selfies.
Last week, we saw Instagram building out a new feature that’s clearly designed to be a BeReal clone, as it would send Instagram users a notification after which they’d have two minutes to capture and share an “IG Candid” photo to their Story. This is essentially the same mechanic BeReal uses today. Before that, it built a Dual camera feature that lets users shoot from both cameras at once. But that one missed the key component to BeReal’s draw: connecting with friends.
#Instagram is working on IG Candid Challenges, a feature inspired by @BeReal_App 👀
ℹ️ Add other's IG Candid to your story tray. And everyday at a different time, get a notification to capture and share a Photo in 2 Minutes. pic.twitter.com/caTCgUPtEV
— Alessandro Paluzzi (@alex193a) August 22, 2022
Now Snapchat is jumping on the BeReal bandwagon, with the launch of its own Dual Camera feature. Similar to BeReal, the new mode also lets users capture photos and videos from both their front and back cameras at the same time. But in its case, the app allows users to customize where and how their selfie photo appears — either picture-in-picture, in a horizontal or vertical side-by-side layout or in a unique “image cutout” mode. This latter option cuts out your selfie from the background, then overlays it on top of the footage from the back camera. This differentiates Snap’s feature from BeReal as it could inspire a different type of image-sharing experience to emerge.
It’s also the latest example of how advances in machine learning technologies have been allowing technology companies to do more with users’ photos. Apple, for instance, is introducing an image cutout feature in iOS 16 that lets you cut and paste the subject of a photo into other apps — like texting a picture of your dog’s image cutout in iMessage. This technology is also powering other areas involving photos across iOS — like the “copy subject” feature in mobile Safari or “remove background” in Files, for example.
Elsewhere, Pinterest’s buzzy new app Shuffles is also using image cutouts to allow users to grab images from their Pins for use in collages.
But whether or not an image cutout feature will prove a draw for Snapchat users is still unknown. After all, the dual camera photo-taking tech itself is not driving demand for BeReal — it’s the social connections it enables.
Lawmakers in California have passed a bill, the California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act, that would require apps and websites to increase protections for children, in the absence of any sort of federal standards. The legislation supports the implementation of a range of design changes and features across sites and apps. For instance, companies would have to turn on the highest privacy settings for minors by default — something apps like Instagram have begun doing for minor users (at least new ones), in anticipation of such legislation.
It would also restrict companies from collecting users’ precise locations — a privacy protection that, coincidentally, just went viral on TikTok, as users warned each other how to disable precise location for Instagram’s app in their phone’s Settings. This prompted Instagram head Adam Mosseri to refute the claims users were making, noting that the app was not actually tracking users or sharing their location with others.
Wanted to share this 🧵 for clarity. Location Services is a device setting on your phone, not a new feature from Instagram, and it powers things like location tags. We don’t share your location with other people. https://t.co/6R6XMOCppj
— Adam Mosseri (@mosseri) August 25, 2022
Additionally, the bill calls for protections around data collection, prohibiting companies from collecting any data beyond what’s absolutely necessary or using the data collection in a way that would negatively impact the physical or mental health of minors. Apps and sites would also have to have the strongest privacy protections in place, disabling features that personalize the experience based on prior behavior or browsing history, which could affect numerous apps using recommendation algorithms, like TikTok. And it could restrict apps in other ways, like limiting messaging with strangers, and disallowing techniques designed to addict kids into spending hours with the service, among other things.
While such guidelines sound good on paper, the broad and vague language used in the bill could create complications in implementing some of the changes, critics have argued. In addition, privacy advocates pointed out that this could increase the use of age-verification tech, which often requires users to submit personal data in order to use a service.
If signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom, the bill could become law by 2024.
Apple settles lawsuit with developer over App Store rejections and scams
Google blocks Truth Social from the Play Store — Will Apple be next?
Image Credits: WhatsApp
Image Credits: Meta
Image Credits: Twitter
Zenly is still hugely popular, so why’s Snap shutting it down?
Image Credits: Made With Friends
This dating app fought scammers with bots… hilarity ensued
‘Dateline NBC’ Apple Podcasts subscription channel gives true crime fans ad-free episodes
🤝 Sony acquired mobile game developer Savage Game Studios for an undisclosed sum. The company will join Sony’s newly created and independently operating PlayStation Studios Mobile Division, which will focus on creating games based on new and existing PlayStation IP.
💰 OneSignal, a startup that helps businesses automate SMS, email and in-app campaigns, raised $50 million in Series C funding, led by BAM Elevate. The company has raised $80 million to date and counts around 6,000 paying customers.
💰 Investing app Landa, which lets users make fractional investments in rental properties, emerged from stealth with an $8 million seed and $25 million Series A, co-led by NFX, 83North and Viola. To date, users have invested in around 400 properties in the app across NYC and Atlanta. It’s soon launching in Charlotte, Birmingham, Tampa, Orlando and Jacksonville, Florida.
💰 PsycApps, a gamified mental health app for teens and adults, raised $1.7 in seed funding from U.S.-based Morningside Ventures. The startup has been through clinical trials, allowing it to secure contracts with schools in the U.K., including Regional College and Paragon Skills.
🤝 Reddit acquired audience contextualization company Spiketrap to boost its ads business for an undisclosed sum. Reddit says Spiketrap’s AI-powered contextual analysis and tools will help Reddit to improve in areas like ad quality scoring and will boost prediction models for powering auto-bidding.
🤝 Grocery delivery app Instacart is acquiring Eversight, an AI-powered pricing and promotions platform for Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) brands and retailers, for an undisclosed sum.
💰 Triller reportedly raised $200 million in debt and equity per a report by The Wrap, and is targeting a $3 billion valuation in its expected IPO this year.
Image Credits: Robin Games
Women-led mobile gaming startup Robin Games raised funding around the idea of carving out a new niche in the market of “lifestyle gaming” by creating a fantasy gaming experience that’s more sophisticated and stylish — something more in line with the sort of content you’d typically find in a lifestyle magazine or Instagram influencer’s profile. This week, the startup released its first title to tackle this concept with the launch of a mobile game, PLAYHOUSE, which combines both gameplay and shopping in one experience.
Available on iOS and Android, PLAYHOUSE is a DIY design game that allows players to drag-and-drop furniture and décor into spaces to create original looks for rooms using elements like wall art, sofas, chairs, tables, plants and more. Unlike some competing design games, the pieces can be moved, rotated, resized or layered to create a unique look. But what makes this experience even more interesting is that users can shop the items in the game by clicking through to the retailer’s website. At launch, it’s partnering with over 100 brands like Arhaus, Article, 1stDibs, Chairish, One Kings Lane, ABC Carpet & Home, Jenni Kayne, Society6, Bloomscape, Room & Board and Lulu & Georgia, and others.
The app monetizes as a free-to-play title with in-app purchases, however, not affiliate commissions. (Read the full review on TechCrunch.)
Language learning app maker Duolingo has launched its latest creation, Duolingo Math, announced during its Duocon conference — after first being teased at the event the year prior. Similar to how Duolingo turns language learning into mini-games, the new app will teach third-grade math to users in a snack-sized experience aimed at making learning fun and accessible. The company says the new app will initially be available to iPhone and iPad users who sign up for the waitlist.