Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.
Global app spending reached $65 billion in the first half of 2022, up only slightly from the $64.4 billion during the same period in 2021, as hypergrowth fueled by the pandemic has slowed down. But overall, the app economy is continuing to grow, having produced a record number of downloads and consumer spending across both the iOS and Google Play stores combined in 2021, according to the latest year-end reports. Global spending across iOS and Google Play last year was $133 billion, and consumers downloaded 143.6 billion apps.
This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and much more.
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Image Credits: Cloudytronics (opens in a new window) / Getty Images
Where to even begin? This week Twitter became one of the most chaotic, most disastrous social networks in history — and arguably, also the most interesting, in a sort of rubbernecking kind of way. There was something new taking place either on the platform directly or within the company itself at nearly every minute.
In just a handful of days since Musk’s takeover, Twitter has seen the following:
One can argue that Musk was right to take a new approach at Twitter, which was losing money and failing to grow its user base. Coming in with fresh ideas and swapping out the executive team isn’t that unusual in a takeover, nor are widespread layoffs when a company is in financial trouble. New product experimentation is also to be expected. And revamping Twitter Blue, which has so far failed to attract subscribers, makes sense too.
But it’s not the what that’s the issue here, really — it’s the how. Musk clearly had not thought through the impact of his changes and he laid off people who could have offered deeper insight. His move to immediately make deep cuts across Twitter (after weird ideas about code reviews, apparently), meant he missed the opportunity to actually listen to current staff who could explain what Twitter has tried, what’s failed and why they’re doing the things they are. Even if Musk disagreed with Twitter’s current direction, those understandings could be used to better inform his future decisions.
Instead, he’s approached Twitter as a toy to be played with, saying even “Twitter will do lots of dumb things in coming months.” And it already has.
Please note that Twitter will do lots of dumb things in coming months.
We will keep what works & change what doesn’t.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 9, 2022
Living up to its promise, the first project Twitter landed on saw it reinventing the wheel.
Musk, having only perceived the value of a blue Verified badge as a status symbol, believed a wide swath of Twitter users would pay for the privilege of owning one. What he didn’t understand (unlike most of Twitter’s user base), is that Verification is actually a service the platform provides its community, not just an ego-pleasing checkmark. In fact, many of those with the original badge don’t see it as a status symbol, and wouldn’t pay for the “honor” of having one. Instead, the original blue badge was a way to quickly see that someone is who they claim to be or that they’re a trusted source of news and information.
Musk, on the other hand, thinks “citizen journalists” and everyday folks (or as he likes to call them, “peasants“) deserve some sort of verification, too. Which is…well, okay, he’s free to have that opinion and test it out as a paid product after spending $44 billion on this thing, I guess. (We don’t have space to talk about his misunderstandings around citizen journalism right now!)
But it could have been implemented in a different way — perhaps as a verified badge of a different shade or symbol, or even just as a system that would boost Twitter Blue subscribers’ tweets and replies on the platform above the non-paying users. After all, this is the core value Musk envisions for Twitter Blue, believing this is what would appeal to subscribers. Not to mention, such a system would make sense to test, given that it’s one that’s already been proven to work elsewhere. Paid elevation is a monetization lever other social networks utilize — like YouTube and Instagram, where products like YouTube’s Super Chat and IG Badges allow people to have their posts highlighted above others.
Twitter’s twist could have been that paid elevation like this wouldn’t necessarily be about getting the attention of top creators, per se, but would gain subscribers entry into everyone’s Verified tab or at least bumped to the top of the “All” notifications tab. Or, a secondary filter on the Verified tab could allow people to toggle on or off the visibility of “official” accounts, addressing complaints that the Verified tab is now no longer useful when checkmarks are for sale.
What a great thing this would have been to A/B test with a small percentage of the audience before fully diving in! But alas.
@elonmusk, from one entrepreneur to another, for when you have your customer service hat on. I just spent too much time muting all the newly purchased checkmark accts in an attempt to make my verified mentions useful again. Hope this helps.
— Mark Cuban (@mcuban) November 10, 2022
Rather than moving forward more thoughtfully, Musk simply trashed the existing Verification program — and without seemingly foreseeing the potential for widespread abuse. He then retroactively realized that identifying “Official” accounts had value for the wider community and for those who wanted a certain type of experience in the Verified tab itself.
His haphazard leadership led to new products launching, being shut off, then relaunching in a matter of hours and days. As a result, Twitter became a dumpster fire of sorts — and one that could have been avoided if Musk simply listened and learned before acting.
Image Credits: SOPA Images / Contributor / Getty Images
Google announced it’s expanding its user choice billing pilot, which allows Android app developers to use other payment systems besides Google’s own. The program will now become available to new markets, including the U.S., Brazil and South Africa, and Bumble will now join Spotify as one of the pilot testers.
The company first announced its intention to launch a third-party billing option back in March of this year, with Spotify as the initial tester. Now, Spotify says it will begin rolling out its implementation of this program with Google’s blessing.
The user choice billing program has steadily expanded over the course of the year. Last month, for example, Google invited non-game developers to apply for the user choice billing program in select markets, including India, Australia, Indonesia, Japan and the European Economic Area (EEA). The company also introduced a similar policy for developers in the EEA region in July, but the new guidelines raised the commission discount from 3% to 4% for developers who opted in. With today’s expansion, user choice billing will be made available to 35 countries worldwide.
Google says it’s been working with Spotify to help develop the experience and now the streaming music service will begin to put the new features into action in supported markets. The experience could still change over time, Google warned, as this is still the early days of the pilot test. In addition, Bumble has now joined Google to test user choice billing in its own app, with plans to roll out the options to users in select countries in the coming months.
It’s not clear what sort of deal Spotify and Bumble have received as Spotify won’t say beyond noting it meets the company’s standards of fairness.
In the meantime, not all developers think the deal is a good one.
Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney, who is suing both Apple and Google for alleged monopolistic practices, called the new system a sham as Google still takes 26% of the revenue — a reference to the 4% discount for switching to another payment provider.
“This is Google’s dishonest attempt to thwart EU and Korean regulators by feigning compliance with their new rules for billing competition, while still collecting their monopoly rent and rendering competing payment services non-viable,” Sweeney wrote.
Now Google Play is rolling out its sham “user choice billing” in which developers can use their own payment systems for in-app purchases, with Google taking 26% of the revenue in exchange for doing exactly nothing. https://t.co/nNqDldxLW4
— Possibly Tim Sweeney (@TimSweeneyEpic) November 11, 2022
The drama at Twitter has seen some users looking for an exit. In recent days, alternative social and microblogging platforms have seen strong gains, including, most notably, the open source decentralized Twitter alternative Mastodon. The service’s founder and CEO recently announced Mastodon had topped 1 million monthly active users, as more than half a million users joined the network since October 27.
App intelligence firm Sensor Tower noted Mastodon has seen approximately 322,000 installs from U.S. app stores in the 12 days following the acquisition (October 27 through November 7), which is more than 100 times the 3,000 it saw in the prior 12-day period. Globally, the app grew 657% to 1 million installs during that same October 27-November 7 time frame, up from 15,000 in the 12 days prior.
Other third-party Mastodon clients saw a bump, too, with Metatext and Tootle both growing from less than 1,000 installs to 19,000 and 7,000, respectively, between the two periods.
But Mastodon isn’t the only network seeing an uptick in installs, as it turns out.
Tumblr also saw its U.S. installs grow 96% from 47,000 to 92,000 between the two timeframes and saw global installs grow 77% from 170,000 to 301,000.
Image Credits: Sensor Tower
Alternative social app CounterSocial also grew 2,300% to 24,000 installs in U.S. app stores in the 12 days following the acquisition, and grew 3,200% globally, with 33,000 installs.
Another app intelligence firm, data.ai, sliced the data in a different way. It examined various social apps’ worldwide download growth during a seven-day period following the acquisition (October 27 through November 2), then compared that with the prior seven-day period. Its data also confirmed the sizable gains made by Mastodon and CounterSocial in terms of global install increases between the two timeframes. Mastodon’s installs jumped 2,200% and CounterSocial’s grew 1,200%.
Data.ai saw a number of other social apps seeing bumps, as well, beyond direct Twitter alternatives. This included David’s Disposable (up 83%), nFollowers (up 50%), CocoFun (up 46%), Substack Reader (up 24%), Tribel (up 11%), Tumblr (up 7%) and Pinterest (up 2%).
Read more about this here.
Image Credits: Apple
Image Credits: Pinterest
Image Credits: Telegram
Image Credits: Signal
? Paris-based photo-editing app PhotoRoom raised $19 million in Series A funding led by Balderton Capital for its app that allows users to quickly remove the background from photos of objects so e-commerce listings look more professional. The app has 7 million MAUs and plans to add generative AI.
? Mem, an app that uses AI to organize notes, raised $23.5 million in funding led by the OpenAI Startup Fund, valuing the startup at $110 million. The app’s workflow revolves around search and a chronological timeline, and lets users attach topic tags, tag other users and add recurring reminders to notes. Mem is available across desktop and mobile, and has raised $29 million to date.
? Seattle-based BrightCanary raised $4 million in seed funding led by Trilogy Equity Partners for its app that helps parents track their children’s activity on services like YouTube, Instagram and TikTok.
? Travel app Hopper raised $96 million in follow-on investment from Capital One, bringing the company’s total raise to $740 million. Capital One led Hopper’s Series F and will now work with the company to create new travel products aimed at Capital One customers.
? Game engine maker Unity and adtech company ironSource completed their merger in a $4.4 billion all-stock deal. Unity’s stock is down around 75% and ironSource’s stock is down ~50% year-to-date. Both Unity and ironSource were impacted by Apple’s ATT and believed pooling their resources could help them address their declines. Unity earlier rejected an offer by AppLovin.
? African super app Yassir raised $150 million in Series B funding for its platform offering ride-hailing, food and grocery delivery, and payments. The funding was led by Mary Meeker’s Bond. Yassir has raised $193.25 million since its 2017 founding.
? Car rental app Kyte raised $60 million in Series B funding, led by InterAlpen Partners. The company now has access to a few thousand cars across 14 cities and is looking to expand. The startup to date has raised $300 million in both equity and debt.
Image Credits: Pineapple
TechCrunch’s Aisha Malik this week reviewed the launch of Pineapple, a new iOS app that aims to offer Gen Z users a new professional networking platform that relies on visual stories. The app allows users to create profiles that are a cross between LinkedIn and Instagram and showcase the user’s experience, projects and more using visuals. Users can also join Communities to connect with other members around topics and engage in thread conversations called “Jams.”
Pineapple feels TikTok-inspired with a main For You type of page where users keep up with their connections. The app has raised $1.1 million in a pre-seed round, which included investors like F7 Ventures, 500 Global, Bradley Horowitz (VP of product at Google) and Julie Zhou (former VP of design at Facebook).
Meet Pineapple, the platform aiming to reshape professional networking for Gen Z
Image Credits: Apple
Though not yet launched to the public, Apple’s new whiteboarding app, Freefrom, is now available in the iOS 16.2 and macOS 13.1 betas. TechCrunch’s Ivan Mehta took the app for a spin this week, testing out its ability to use multiple media formats — like text, images, videos, notes, docs and more — all in one space and collaborate with others. The app may not replace professional tools like Figma, but could be useful for everyday design tasks, including things like event planning, home redesigns, journaling, making charts and more.
Apple’s Freeform aims to be a collaborative whiteboard for everyone