This Week in Apps: ChatGPT comes to iPhone, Bing AI efforts expand, Instagram’s Twitter clone

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 economy in 2023 hit a few snags, as consumer spending last year dropped for the first time by 2% to $167 billion, according to’s “State of Mobile” report. However, downloads are continuing to grow, up 11% year-over-year in 2022 to reach 255 billion. Consumers are also spending more time in mobile apps than ever before. On Android devices alone, hours spent in 2022 grew 9%, reaching 4.1 trillion.

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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Top Stories

ChatGPT comes to the iPhone

Image Credits: OpenAI (App Store screenshot)

ChatGPT is going mobile. On Thursday, OpenAI announced the launch of an official iOS app that allows users to access its popular AI chatbot on the go, months after the App Store was filled with dubious, unofficial services. The new ChatGPT app will be free to use, free from ads and will allow for voice input via Whisper, the company says, but will initially be limited to U.S. users at launch. Support for other markets will be available in the “coming weeks,” OpenAI said, without offering further details. An Android version is also promised to come “soon.”

Like its desktop counterpart, the new ChatGPT app allows users to interact with an AI chatbot to ask questions without running a traditional web search, plus get advice, find inspiration, learn, research and more. Given the issues with Apple’s own voice assistant, Siri, and its own lack of AI progress, the new release could push more users to try ChatGPT on their phones as their main mobile helper. This could potentially impact Google, as well, as the search engine today benefits from being the default search engine in Safari on Apple’s iPhone.

Consumer interest in AI has been growing, which led to the top 10 mobile AI apps generating double-digit millions in consumer spending before the first quarter of this year even wrapped, but far too many of today’s apps claiming to offer ChatGPT access were effectively scams that tricked users into high-priced subscriptions. Apple doesn’t always promptly take down fleeceware like this, despite the harm to consumers. (Some believe it’s not incentivized to do so given it benefits financially by leaving scam apps up where it can take a cut of the subscription payments.)

Now that there’s an official (and free!) ChatGPT app on the market, there’s little need for consumers to download a paid alternative. If people want more functionality — like faster response times or access to GPT-4 — they can pay OpenAI directly for a ChatGPT Plus subscription.

It remains to be seen how the launch will impact the wider AI chatbot market, or if Apple will begin to quietly pull down some of the more unscrupulous ChatGPT scam apps from the App Store. The app may also shift consumer behavior away from relying on voice assistants like Siri and, later, Google Assistant, as users turn to ChatGPT to answer more of their everyday questions and direct them to new information.

For the time being, the new ChatGPT app is No. 1 on the top free apps chart in the App Store and is also being featured at the top of the App Store’s Apps tab, and in a list of “Must-have” apps for iPhone. However, internally at Apple, staff has been banned from accessing ChatGPT over fears of leaked confidential data.

Microsoft expands AI features across its mobile apps

Open AI may have been the big news this week, but Microsoft also rolled out a number of AI updates to its suite of mobile apps as competition with Google and others heats up.

The company announced a number of changes to Bing, including the rollout of several of the features that it had detailed earlier this month. Across desktop and mobile, this included videos, Knowledge Cards, graphs, better formatting and social sharing capabilities in Bing Chat. Chat history is also arriving across desktop and mobile, allowing users to look back and view a list of their recent activity. (Mobile will receive the feature first, Microsoft says.)

Image Credits: Microsoft

Plus, users will now be able to add a Bing Chat widget to their iOS or Android Home Screen, for faster access to Bing Chat. Later, users will be able to also click the Bing app icon to be taken directly to chat or tap a microphone icon to ask a question.

Users will also be able to start a Bing Chat conversation on the desktop and then continue it on their smartphone — a feature that should arrive by next week. The company says it’s expanded the country and language support for voice input, as well.

In addition, Microsoft is adding Bing Chat to the mobile version of its Edge browser app, which lets you ask questions related to the mobile website you’re viewing, including for it to summarize the article or page. When reading, you’ll soon be able to highlight a word or phrase and have it open a conversation with Bing to learn more about the topic.

The updates included other apps, too, like the SwiftKey keyboard app, which gained the ability to compose text for you, based on the parameters you suggest related to the subject matter, tone, format and length. Microsoft suggests this could be used for writing emails, for example. The feature is coming to iOS and Android in a couple of weeks. An AI-powered translator is also being built into the SwiftKey keyboard.

Image Credits: Microsoft

Meanwhile, Skype users can now use Bing in their group chats.

The pace of app updates here is worth noting. Microsoft only debuted Bing Chat 100 days ago, it noted in its announcement on Tuesday, and it has continuously shipped new features since. The latest round of updates follows news from Google’s I/O developer event, where it opened up access to its AI chatbot Bard, which is now available without a waitlist.

It should be interesting to see how quickly Google follows to add Bard access across its own suite of mobile apps, as Bing is doing, or integrate Bard into its own home screen widgets. For now, Google is testing AI features through Search Labs, where today it houses a handful of projects, including AI-powered Google search features, AI in Google Workspaces, smart note-taking project Tailwind and generative music maker MusicLM.

What we know about Instagram’s Twitter clone

More details are emerging about Instagram’s Twitter clone due out later this summer. The decentralized social app will allow users to authenticate with their existing credentials in order to post short updates, including text, links, photos and videos, to the platform. Their account details, like usernames, profile photos and even block lists are said to carry over to the new experience, which will also interoperate with decentralized apps like Mastodon.

This week, we understand Meta has been reaching out to celebs and high-profile influencers to get them on board as early adopters. Athletes, actors, producers, showrunners and comedians are said to be the early priorities. In addition, one leak involved screenshots of the new app — or at least mock-ups. These show an app that has a very Twitter-like look and feel, with text posts, likes and comments, but in more of a timeline view that’s less media-heavy that an Instagram feed.

What do you think about Instagram’s Twitter app? Let me know what you’re thinking and hearing via email ( or Signal (415.234.3994) 



  • Apple released updated versions of its operating systems, including iOS 16.5, iPadOS 16.5, macOS Ventura 13.4, watchOS 9.5, tvOS 16.5, and HomePod 16.5. The updates bring new Pride Wallpaper and watch faces, plus bug fixes around unresponsiveness in Spotlight, Screen Time and Podcasts in CarPlay, as well as a security fix for an actively used exploit. However, one of the bigger consumer-facing changes is the addition of a new Sports Tab in Apple News that gives you access to stories, scores, standings and more, as well as a My Sports score feature and scheduled cards that take you directly to game pages for more detail.
  • On Apple TV 4K, Apple officially launched its new multiview feature for sports fans, allowing viewers to watch up to four simultaneous streams at once. The feature was previously in beta and is currently limited to watching select sports content, including Major League Soccer matches, Friday Night Baseball games and certain MLS and MLB live shows.
  • Georgia is the latest U.S. state to add support for driver’s licenses and state IDs in Apple Wallet.
  • Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman shares more details about Apple’s upcoming mixed reality headset expected at WWDC, including how the device has deviated from Tim Cook’s initial vision of unobtrusive glasses to a headset that resembles ski goggles and has a separate battery pack.
  • Apple introduced new accessibility features including Live Speech, Personal Voice and others, like Assistive Access which combines Phone and FaceTime apps and uses larger icons. However, people have been particularly intrigued by Personal Voice, which has users first spend about 15 minutes reading selected text prompts into their microphone. The tool then leverages machine learning on the local device to create a text-to-speech voice that sounds like you.

Apple accessibility displayed on iPad and

Image Credits: Apple


  • Google is moving forward with its in-app billing policy in India after complaints from developers who said the service wasn’t compliant with regulations that require Google to let developers offer third-party billing. The developers had argued the new system still requires them to pay a high service fee of 11% or more, despite using their own billing systems. But Google says the 4% fee reduction (from 15% originally) is fair and legal.
  • After Google mistakenly launched an internal build of its Personal Safety app to the Play Store, the site 9to5Google grabbed screenshots of a new “Dashcam” feature that will record video while you’re driving, helping to protect drivers in the event of an accident or other situations where video could be helpful.

App News

Media & Entertainment

Image Credits: NYT

The NYT launched its own audio app. The launch capitalizes on The Times’ acquisition of audio journalism app Audm in 2020, which served as the basis for the new offering. In the newly launched New York Times Audio, the company combines the publication’s top podcasts, like “The Daily,” “The Ezra Klein Show,” “Hard Fork,” “Modern Love,” “The Run-Up” and others, with those made exclusively for the new platform. Thanks to its $25 million acquisition of the production studio behind “Serial,” the app includes content related to that deal, as well, like the namesake show itself, plus new shows from the studio like “The Trojan Horse Affair,” “The Coldest Case in Laramie” and others, as well as “This American Life,” hosted by Ira Glass. Sports talk from The Athletic is also ne included along with Audm’s long-form narrated journalism from non-NYT sources. Audm will now shut down and its subscribers will be moved to NYT Audio. The app arrives following the success of other standalone mobile properties, like NYT Cooking and Games, but it’s unclear if it will see similar traction as users tend to enjoy streaming podcasts in a dedicated app that provides access to all their shows.

More in media…

  • Apple said a change in Google’s podcast search results now allows users to click a button to start listening to podcasts directly in the Apple Podcasts app on their iPhone or iPad, via a deep linking. The change follows Google’s announcement in February that it was winding down a feature that would allow users to play podcasts directly in its search results.
  • YouTube clarified that Google’s recently announced plan to delete inactive accounts will not impact YouTube’s digital archives. Many had been worried that YouTube videos associated with older Google accounts, including those that belonged to people who had died, would be removed as part of this change.
  • Spotify’s AI DJ feature is now available in the U.K. and Ireland. The feature was only available in the U.S. and Canada at launch.
  • Entertainment discovery app Likewise launched a ChatGPT plugin that helps users find TV shows, movies, books and podcasts they may like. The plugin is available through the ChatGPT Plus plugin store, but is not yet a feature in the mobile app itself.
  • Apple brings new concert discovery features to Apple Music and Maps. On the Apple Music app, fans will gain access to Set Lists, which let you browse and listen to the set lists from favorite artists on tour, and read more about their productions. On Apple Maps, Apple is adding over 40 new Guides curated by Apple Music editors that will highlight music venues initially across 10 cities worldwide.

Apple Music app displayed on two smartphones

Image Credits: Apple

  • An audio journalism app Curio, which turns expert journalism into professionally narrated content, launched an AI helper that can create customized audio episodes, based on your prompts. The AI, powered by OpenAI technologies, leverages Curio’s catalog of high-quality journalism licensed from partners like The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Bloomberg, New York Magazine and others. This allows users to now ask the AI, “Rio,” a question they want to learn more about, then have it create a bespoke audio episode that includes only fact-checked content from these sources.

Social Media

  • Twitter increased its video upload limits for Twitter Blue subscribers from one hour and 2GB to two hours and 8GB on the heels of Tucker Carlson’s announcement that he plans to publish his show directly on the platform. Soon after, Twitter users began to test the limits of the feature by uploading full-length movies, but so far, these posts have been pulled down with error messages that cite copyright claims.
  • Instagram announced support for GIFs in comments (on both posts and Reels) and support for collaborators in broadcast channels. The latter was introduced by CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who invited Instagram head Adam Mosseri into the channel to chat. Here, Mosseri teased other upcoming Instagram plans, like a lyrics feature for Reels. But the exec stayed silent on Instagram’s upcoming Twitter rival app, now in early development. When asked if he had anything to announce there, Mosseri just said “Nope.”

Image Credits: Meta

  • A Pew study conducted five months after Elon Musk’s acquisition asked if users had taken a break from Twitter over the past year. As it turns out, many had. The study, which was conducted in March, found that a majority of U.S. adult Twitter users, or 60%, said they have taken a break from Twitter for a period of “several weeks or more” over the past year. This doesn’t necessarily point a finger at Musk as the reason, as “the past 12 months” includes a large stretch of before he owned the social app. Still, what’s cause for concern is that a quarter of users also said they didn’t see themselves using Twitter a year from now.

Image Credits: Pew Research Center

  • Meta has started refunding advertisers for an April glitch that caused them to overspend, but small advertisers claim they’re not getting the same attention.
  • Meta expanded its paid verification service to the U.K. after launching in Australia and New Zealand, then the U.S.
  • Right-wing video site Rumble acquired podcasting and livestreaming service Callin from PayPal’s former COO David Sacks, who will now join Rumble’s board. The app had previously raised $12 million in Series A funding.
  • Twitter reportedly acquired a recruiting startup, Laskie, in its first acquisition during the Elon Musk era, Axios reported. The company had raised $6 million.
  • TikTok’s new creator fund will pay creators who make popular AR effects. The $6 million fund pays out based on user engagement. When an effect is used in 500,000 unique videos within 90 days of being published, a creator gets $700 USD. For every 100,000 videos published thereafter within the same 90 days, creators collect an additional $140.
  • Spotify and Bumble team up on a new feature that lets dating app users share their favorite artists on their profiles. Daters can display their Top 10 list, helping matches find things they have in common.
  • Digital creation app maker Picsart introduced new in-app social communities called Spaces that are dedicated to specific topics and interests. The spaces allow for social collaboration, similar to group forums or group chats, where users can browse, post and like and comment on each other’s posts.

Picsart's new Spaces feature

Image Credits: Picsart


Krafton to relaunch BGMI mobile game in India, a year after ban

Image Credits: Soumyabrata Roy / NurPhoto / Getty Images

  • South Korean tech giant Krafton won the approval from Indian authorities to resume operations of the popular India-focused battle royale mobile game, Battlegrounds Mobile India after the government banned PUBG in the region over its links to China. The new title has been granted a three-month trial approval, given Krafton’s move to address data security issues and the location of its servers. A final decision will be made later.
  • Fortnite and Unreal Engine maker Epic Games invested in CLO Virtual Fashion, a digital garment solutions provider offering 3D garment design software, a digital CMS and collaboration platform, and a marketplace for selling designs. The two companies said they purchased shares in each other, but declined to disclose terms.

News & Reading

  • News aggregator Artifact added a new feature that lets journalists and writers claim their profiles, so fans of their work can follow them on the app to see their content surfaced in recommendations. Writers who claim their profiles will be able to see how many people follow them and how many reads their articles have gained through the app. More metrics may be added in time. The company believes writers want a way to better connect with their audiences — beyond Twitter, that is — and this feature could allow them to gain a following that stays with them, even if they move between publications. (One issue? I followed all my TC colleagues to be supportive of them and found my Artifact homepage looking very much like TechCrunch afterward. I guess I need to diversify!) 

Image Credits: Artifact screenshot

  • Mozilla-owned read-it-later app Pocket added the ability to create lists of news articles, initially for U.S. users, with global support to come. The feature was one of several new additions, alongside the rollout of the redesigned app on iOS and better article-jumping features for Android.


  • Neobanking service Step takes on Apple’s new Savings Account offering with the launch of a 5% rate on its own savings account. Like Apple, there are no monthly fees and no minimum balance requirements and the funds are FDIC-insured up to $250,000. But there is a catch: to get the new rate, users will have to set up a monthly direct deposit of $500 or more from either a payroll provider or employer — effectively making Step their primary bank.
  • Apple introduced Tap to Pay on iPhone in Australia, enabling secure, contactless payments for businesses.
  • Online brokerage apps catering to Chinese users who want to invest overseas were pulled from Chinese app stores. Futu and Tiger Brokers agreed to stop accepting new customers from mainland China, The WSJ reported.
  • Investing platform Public introduced a new project called Alpha, designed to “enhance your investing experience with artificial intelligence powered by GPT-4.” Alpha aims to save users time researching and tracking stocks, ETFs, crypto and alternative assets by receiving instant answers to your questions. The feature is rolling out to all Public members. ChatGPT-4 subscribers, will also now have access to Alpha through the OpenAI plugin network.

Image Credits: Public

Travel & Transportation

  • In an interview with TechCrunch, Uber head of rides Camiel Irving talks about all the avenues the company is pursuing to move beyond being only a ride-hailing app, including its expansions into areas like boats, groceries, supporting teen riders and more.
  • In addition to the private chartered boat bookings and teen rider support, Uber announced a new way to hail a car via a phone call (1-833-USE-UBER). 
  • Porsche added support for Apple Maps EV routing, allowing Porsche Taycan drivers to use Apple Maps via CarPlay. The announcement follows GM’s plan to ditch CarPlay in all its future EVs in favor of working with Google instead.
  • Comedian Hasan Minhaj will be the newest personal navigator in Google’s Waze app, entertaining drivers with commentary on traffic, self-deprecating jokes and other funny insights.


  • Shein raised $2 billion at a $66 billion valuation, down from $100 billion in April 2022, The WSJ reported. Investors included Sequoia, General Catalyst and Mubadala. The e-commerce company generated $23 billion in 2022.


  • WhatsApp announced a new feature called “Chat Lock” that lets you lock down your chats from prying eyes. When used, the feature takes the thread out of the inbox and puts it in its own folder that can only be accessed with your device password or biometric, like a fingerprint.


  • Popular Android TV boxes being sold on Amazon, including AllWinner and RockChip, were found to be laced with malware. The boxes’ listings have thousands of good reviews and four out of five stars in their ratings. But security researchers discovered they were actually communicating with command-and-control servers as part of a larger botnet.
  • Twitter’s new encrypted DMs aren’t as safe as you think, security researchers are saying. Though Twitter had already acknowledged the feature doesn’t protect against man-in-the-middle attackers, researchers have pointed out that Twitter has the means to subvert the end-to-end nature of the conversation if it chose — but not without alerting users to that fact. While some encryption is better than none, it’s still worth using an app like Signal or WhatsApp if you wanted secure chats.
  • Apple touted its fraud-fighting capabilities in a recent Newsroom post as the tech giant aims to litigate its right to collect commissions from app developers in the court of public opinion. The company says it stopped over $2 billion in fraudulent transactions in 2022, blocked nearly 3.9 million credit cards, closed 428,000 developer accounts and stopped nearly 105,000 developer program enrollments over suspected fraud.

Image Credits: Apple

Government and Policy

  • The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Twitter and Google in a lawsuit that attempted to hold social platforms liable for dangerous content — specifically their hosting of content that promoted the terrorist organization ISIS. The case aimed to leverage an anti-terrorism law to open up the platforms to legal liability, but the court determined they were not responsible for aiding and abetting ISIS. The ruling on Twitter was applied to a related case on Google. The case was noteworthy because it had the potential to impact how Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act was applied. Currently, the law shields tech companies from being liable for the content they post, but a different decision could have carved out an exception for terrorist content.
  • Twitter owner Elon Musk threatened to sue Microsoft over an agreement regarding Microsoft’s use of Twitter data. In a letter to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Twitter said Microsoft had used more data than it was supposed to and shared it with government agencies without permission. The letter appears to be an attempt to get Microsoft to pay for data access via Twitter’s new API fees. The microblogging app maker claimed that Microsoft products, including Xbox One, Bing, Azure, Power Platform and Microsoft Ads, had “retrieved over 26 billion tweets in 2022 alone.” In a tweet, Musk said that Microsoft had “trained illegally using Twitter data. Lawsuit time,” in a reference to Microsoft using Twitter data to train its AI. He also accused Microsoft of demonetizing the Twitter database and selling the data to others.
  • A group of TikTok creators is suing to overturn Montana’s new law that bans TikTok starting January 1, 2024, citing First Amendment violations. The state says it expected a legal challenge and is prepared to defend the new law. Montana’s new law bans apps tied to foreign adversaries including also Telegram, WeChat and Temu.
  • Ovulation tracking app Premom settled with the FTC and state AGs for $200,000 over its sharing of user information with third parties without gaining consent.


Skylight, from the makers of Halide

Image Credits: SkyLight via Lux

The creators of the popular iPhone camera app Halide are out this week with a new creation: Skylight Forecast, an app that predicts when you can see a spectacular sunset. The app uses dozens of atmospheric factors to make its intelligent predictions about whether you’ll see a great sunset, an average glow or nothing at all. The app also includes Home Screen and Lock Screen widgets and includes several nice touches. For instance, the app lights up in dynamic colors depending on the quality of the sunset, and the icons are adaptive to the circumstances, changing around based on condition. At launch, the app costs $1.99 per month, or $9.99 per year. Though typically the company offers one-time purchase options, it says it can’t do that in this case because of the ongoing costs for weather data.

Carrot Weather (Update: version 5.11)

Missing Dark Sky? The updated version of Carrot Weather out this week brings improved rain alerts via server-side push notifications as to when the rain will start and stop. You can also set a minimum delivery interval to receive these updates more or less often. It also added several new data sources for Europe and Japan, including OpenWeather and other regional sources. Plus, you can see monthly averages for any locations in the Location Details scene or time travel up to 80 years in the past or a year in the future, to compare weather trends, among other things. Some of these features are reserved for Premium subscribers, while others require a Premium Ultra subscription.

This Week in Apps: ChatGPT comes to iPhone, Bing AI efforts expand, Instagram’s Twitter clone by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

Bluesky invites become a hot commodity as demand for the Twitter alternative outstrips access

Consumer demand for the Jack Dorsey-backed Twitter alternative Bluesky is outstripping access, according to the latest App Store data and figures published today by the company. In a new FAQ on Bluesky’s website, the company shares that its community has topped 50,000 users. However, estimates provided to TechCrunch by app intelligence company indicate the decentralized Twitter clone has seen over 375,000 worldwide installs on iOS as of April 26, 2023, and has been ranking highly on Apple and Google’s app stores’ top charts by downloads.

Excitement for Bluesky has also been climbing in recent weeks, thanks to a combination of exclusivity — the app still requires a hard-to-find invite to get in — and the culture its community is creating. The latter has seen the app embrace what has been described as “early Twitter” energy, thanks in part to the numerous meme accounts and shitposting. This results in a sort of frenetic, chaotic, vibe to Bluesky that’s attracting many former Twitter users and particularly those who haven’t quite meshed well with the more serious and structured environment found in the other decentralized Twitter alternative, Mastodon.

But for the time being, Bluesky isn’t capitalizing on the outsized consumer demand for its app.

While other would-be Twitter alternatives like Post and T2 have broadened access to their respective networks, Bluesky invites have become such a hot commodity they’ve been selling for anywhere between $120 to as much as $400 on eBay in recent days.

Image Credits: eBay screenshot

Image Credits: eBay screenshot

Some sellers are now even testing the market for higher prices, as Bluesky demand increases.

(Above: sold invites. Below: Bluesky invites for sale as of May 2, 2023).

Image Credits: eBay screenshot

Consumer interest in the app has also been fueling its rise across the app stores’ top charts,’s analysis indicates.

The firm found that Bluesky has gained over 375,000 iOS downloads globally, having peaked on April 15th with 66,000 downloads in a single day thanks to becoming the No. 1 app across all categories in Thailand. Before that, the highest level of daily iOS downloads was more than 22,000 on March 22, 2023.

This 375,000 figure is up from the 240,000 iOS installs Bluesky had as of April 20th, 135,000 of which had come just that month, had recently reported.

The app launched on Google Play in late April, so insights into its traction on Android devices is still forthcoming.

But the analysis indicates that, despite consumers’ lack of access to the new social network, Bluesky has managed to trend on the downloads charts across both Apple’s App Store and Google Play in several markets.

In Japan, for example, Bluesky reached as high as No. 3 among social apps on Google Play by downloads on April 24 after previously reaching No. 8 among social apps on iOS on March 4.

In the U.K., the app was No. 10 among social apps by Google Play downloads on April 26, shortly after reaching No. 10 among social apps by iOS downloads on April 23.

The U.S., meanwhile, has been responsible for much of Bluesky’s more recent growth, the firm said. That’s helped the app reach No. 22 among social apps by Google Play downloads on April 26 and up to the No. 11 spot among social apps by iOS downloads on April 24.

Because of its relative newness, said it’s not yet able to accurately predict the number of daily or monthly active users at this time.

The rankings are impressive not just because the app is still fresh out of the gate, but because its community is still quite small.

As of a few days ago, Bluesky accounts that aim to follow all the app’s users were following north of 45,000 people. However, according to the FAQ published by Bluesky today, the company says the community now has north of 50,000 users.

The FAQ also attempts to clarify how access to invite codes will be distributed, noting that existing users receive just one invite every 2 weeks they’re on the app. Plus, the company shared that it periodically monitors the social graph, and if it finds that certain users are inviting “other trustworthy participants,” they’ll receive more invites.

This aspect of the invite system makes Bluesky feel even more exclusive than if it were just slowly rolling out access to its waitlist. Instead, getting in now feels like a function of who you know. This has led to existing Bluesky users being asked daily — often by multiple folks — if they have any invite codes to spare. (In other words, your best bet to get a Bluesky invite is to become an existing user’s best friend for the next two weeks!)

Bluesky says it’s limiting access to grow the network “organically,” but if that were the case, it would roll out a few more codes or increase the frequency in order to capitalize on the real-world demand, because that would still be considered organic growth. At this point, restricting invites to 1 every 2 weeks is artificially slowing the app’s growth.

That appears to be by design. The company explains its thinking in the FAQ, saying that it needs to limit bad actors up front.

“Social networks can be abused by spammers and bad actors who might want to manipulate the public conversation. It’s much easier to limit sign-ups and let them spread through an existing social graph than to try to retroactively clean up rampant network abuse,” the post reads. “Long-term, we view this invite code system as a piece of the open source tooling we’re building to help server admins (people running services) to help curate and moderate their communities,” it says.

It’s not clear if the company believes its existing user base can’t be trusted to give out invites responsibly, or if it wants to have more of a hand in who gets in — and who stays out. But with Bluesky invites now selling to the highest bidder on eBay, the company’s plans for keeping out bad actors could be disrupted.

The FAQ details other aspects of Bluesky’s plans, including its AT Protocol for decentralization, and its differentiators from Twitter, like algorithmic choice and composable moderation.

It also tries to clear up the nature of Bluesky’s relationship to Twitter, as it was originally incubated in Twitter while Jack Dorsey was CEO. It was later spun out as an independent company (a PBLLC), having received $13 million from Twitter to kickstart its launch. Now, the FAQ notes that “Twitter closed its service agreement with Bluesky in 2022.” Jack Dorsey is still on Bluesky’s board.

Bluesky was asked for comment on the new figures, but an automated response to press inquiries only pointed us to the new FAQ.

Bluesky invites become a hot commodity as demand for the Twitter alternative outstrips access by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

This Week in Apps: Newsrooms leave Twitter, Reels expands, Android 14 arrives

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 economy in 2023 hit a few snags, as consumer spending last year dropped for the first time by 2% to $167 billion, according to’s “State of Mobile” report. However, downloads are continuing to grow, up 11% year-over-year in 2022 to reach 255 billion. Consumers are also spending more time in mobile apps than ever before. On Android devices alone, hours spent in 2022 grew 9%, reaching 4.1 trillion.

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.

Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here:

Finally, finally, newsrooms leave Twitter

Image of Elon Musk with a Twitter bird on his finger

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

This week was one of the more interesting ones for Twitter since Elon Musk’s takeover, as multiple newsrooms finally had enough of Elon Musk’s antics. After Musk labeled NPR and others as “state-affiliated media” — a label previously reserved for state propaganda accounts, like the Kremlin-backed Russia Today and China’s XinhuaNPR and PBS have stopped tweeting.

After backlash to NPR’s new label, Twitter shifted to a newly made-up designation, “government-funded media.”

In addition to NPR, the news organizations PBS and the BBC received the new labels as well. The BBC objected, too, and Twitter changed its label to “publicly funded” instead. (PBS and NPR remain labeled as “government-funded” as of the time of writing.)

Musk’s capricious decision to lump independent news organizations alongside state-supported propaganda accounts is both misleading and dangerous. NPR, for instance, receives “less than 1 percent of its $300 million annual budget from the federally funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting.” PBS receives more of its funding from the public and philanthropic organizations than it does from the small amount it gets from government subsidies.

More importantly — unlike in state regimes where government officials heavily influence the spread of information to the people — NPR and PBS are editorially independent.

Whether you like the nature of their reporting is, of course, a subjective matter. But an objective analysis puts the two in the middle of the Ad Fontes media bias chart.

Musk, however, wanted to sully their brands by suggesting the U.S. government has influence over their reporting. That’s what labeling them “state media” or “government-funded” does, and he certainly knows it.

The Twitter owner delights in dragging down the media, having already done so on numerous occasions. He has tweeted conspiracies and called The NYT’s news “fake.” He banned reporters who commented on his own ban of a bot that tracked his private jet. He has shown so little regard for the media that he set Twitter’s press email to respond to inquiries with a poop emoji.

What he gets from these sorts of antics is unclear, because it’s not good for the business he runs.

The erratic billionaire seems more interested in performing stunts for his fans — followers who cheer on dumb things like this — than ensuring Twitter’s own brand can stay afloat.

But so far, the real-world fallout has been minimal. Not this week. To actually target media like this — by marring their brands on Twitter’s platform — was the last straw for some.

In addition to NPR and PBS, other news organizations have also now abandoned ship, including Boston NPR affiliate WBUR, Hawaii Public Radio and LA-based local news source LAist. You can be sure many others are reconsidering the extent of their investments.

What Musk may not understand is that, despite journalists’ own addictions to the app, Twitter actually sends very little traffic to news sites. And what it does send is declining. Largely, media organizations get inbound views from much bigger platforms, like Facebook, Google Search and Google News.

They can, in fact, live without Twitter. And now they will.

What’s more, if more newsrooms are to follow suit, Twitter’s reputation will be harmed. The app, after all, is not listed in the Social Networking category on the App Store, but in “News.” The network, if anything, is known as the first place news lands, not only from traditional media organizations but from on-the-ground, live tweets by regular people witnessing news events, too.

But if the news leaves Twitter, what will Twitter become?

Death by a thousand cuts: The Twitter alternatives grow

At the same time, Twitter alternatives are siphoning off portions of the user base, including those interested in discussions around news and other topical events.

This week, for instance, Twitter and Substack got into it over Substack’s launch of Notes, its new Twitter-like discussions feature for newsletter authors and their readers. In response, Twitter throttled Substack links, put up warnings and prevented users from liking, replying or retweeting posts with Substack links.

Musk also accused Substack of trying to download a massive portion of its user base to bootstrap Substack Notes.

In an exceedingly awkward interview with The Verge, where Substack CEO Chris Best should have been able to take a victory lap as a viable Twitter threat, he instead fully dropped the ball. The exec dodged questions over content moderation, making it clear to anyone following that Substack would permit all kinds of speech — potentially losing the company new subscribers who would have otherwise considered joining.

For example, when pressed about whether or not racist speech would be allowed on Substack, Best would not respond with an affirmative “no.” Instead, he replied, “We have content policies that are deliberately tuned to allow lots of things that we disagree with, that we strongly disagree with.” When pressed further, he wouldn’t even respond to a question as to whether or not it would allow “overt racism” on the platform. “I’m not going to engage in speculation,” he said.

Wow, just wow.

And yet, Best’s obvious signaling here could appeal to a certain toxic-leaning crowd that still hangs out on Twitter.

It’s clear at least that Elon Musk must view Substack as a threat to Twitter’s business because of its appeal to self-identified free speech enthusiasts who now rally around Musk himself.

Substack isn’t alone in targeting Twitter’s users with a new discussion platform at this time.

Though arguably aiming for a different demographic, the news aggregator app Artifact from Instagram’s founders this week rolled out commenting.

Like Substack Notes, the feature could appeal to those who want to engage in discussions around the news, though perhaps those of a more civil nature. Artifact promises it will engage in moderation, bans if needed, and it curates its news sources upfront. And with the app’s newly Reddit-like comment upvoting features and user reputation scores, it’s incentivizing people to spend their time building up a name for themselves on its platform, instead of over on Twitter.

Then there are the many, many Twitter alternatives to contend with, including Mastodon (and its app ecosystem), Bluesky, T2, Post and others still to emerge.

While most are being built as Twitter clones, Post’s idea is to create a feed that caters to news publishers by allowing for micropayments that let users read otherwise paywalled articles. The idea is interesting but, like all newcomers, the question is one of scale.

Still, as newsrooms scramble for Twitter’s exit doors, Post’s platform could look more appealing. And if the news orgs come, the people may follow.

Even if these alternatives only pull a few thousand users away from Twitter at first, those numbers could grow over time as each individual network grows. It’s too soon to say if any will pull ahead as the default “new Twitter,”  but they could deliver death by a thousand cuts, so to speak.

Why Twitter won’t die

That begs the question as to if or when Twitter itself will ever actually die. And the answer is that it may not for quite some time.

Myspace still lived long after Facebook took over. (In fact, you can still sign up.)

Google Plus became a barren wasteland long before Google pulled the plug. (It was even hacked and no one cared!)

BlackBerry phones were sold well into the iPhone era. (Kim Kardashian still carried one for years.)

In other words, we won’t just wake up one day to find Twitter has suddenly gone offline. It will slowly become less relevant, barring major changes to get it back on track, and when it dies we may not even notice.

Already, Twitter is morphing into something new. Today’s Twitter is nothing like its predecessor. Across every front, the app is being made over, often for the worse.

Musk revamped Twitter Blue with the goal of democratizing verification, only to create a system where something that was once a feature that made Twitter better, was now a curse. Verification previously served the purpose of confirming people were who they claimed. Now, it’s open to anyone, including bad actors, who want to masquerade as others or cause trouble. What’s more, Twitter says it plans to make the main For You (algorithmic) timeline only available to those who pay — a move that would make Twitter far less useful.

Musk also cut off API access to app developers, then updated its API pricing to make building simple Twitter tools, like helpful bots, out of reach. Apps and bots have since shut down.

He also reinstated controversial accounts, like those of white supremacists, and now generally uses Twitter to create chaos, leading to continual confusion among users as to what the state of the network is on any given day.

Twitter currently keeps itself in the news by being in a constant state of flux. 

Over the past several days, for instance, Twitter announced it would reduce Twitter Blue subscribers’ ad load; saw Twitter Circle bugs that allowed others to see private tweets; got sued by its ex-CEO and other execs over unpaid legal bills; announced a new date (4/20 ofc) to remove legacy checkmarks; rebranded Super Follows to Subscriptions, promising creators it won’t keep any of their money at first; partnered with the investment platform eToro to show real-time information about stocks and crypto prices; and added support for 10,000-character-long tweets.

All this activity masks what’s actually going on: Twitter’s slower, quieter demise.

Musk can claim all he likes that the company is now breaking even. The fact is, it’s been losing money compared to where it was before.

Over the past two months,the top 50 Twitter advertisers spent $83 million, down from $102 million year-over-year, and major brands including Mars, AT&T, VW and Stellantis haven’t returned. Traffic to Twitter’s ad portal was down 18.7% year-over-year, indicating declining interest from marketers. The percentage of Americans who reported using Twitter dropped from 32.4% to 29.5% from pre-Elon to post-Elon, one survey said.

Advertisers aren’t just on pause. They’ve also seemingly lost trust in Twitter, as Quartz reported this week with the damning headline Elon Musk is personally ruining Twitter’s ad business.” The article notes the company is expected to bring in 28% less revenue this year than in 2022, or $2.98 billion down from $4.14 billion.

Despite everything, Twitter has perservered, and will likely take some time before it reaches its inevitable end. Widespread company-wide layoffs and Twitter’s refusal to pay its bills or its rent have helped it stay afloat in the near term.

But the company can’t run on Musk’s hopes and dreams about becoming a super app called “X” forever. Twitter will require funds to stay alive. And if cash isn’t flowing in from advertisers, then perhaps Musk will dig into his own pockets or those of its Saudi investors to keep the tweet engine going for a bit longer.

In other words, don’t hold your breath awaiting Twitter’s coming demise.

But feel free to withhold your attention.

Weekly News



  • iOS 16.4.1 was released with bug fixes related to emoji skin tone variations and Siri — the latter addressing issues that caused Siri to not respond at times; iPadOS 16.4.1 accompanied the release.
  • Apple also released security updates for its older operating systems, including iOS 15.7.5, iPadOS 15.7.5, macOS Monterey 12.6.5 and macOS Big Sur 11.7.6.
  • New beta builds rolled out, too, including iOS 16.5 Beta 2 and iPadOS 16.5 Beta 2, as well as macOS 13.4, watchOS 9.5 and tvOS 16.5.


Image Credits: Brian Heater

  • ⭐ ANDROID 14 ⭐ After two developer previews, Google launched the first of four planned public beta releases of Android 14. The beta is also the first release that anyone can install over the air if they have a supported Pixel device. There are only a couple of user-facing changes in the beta, including a new back arrow that matches your wallpaper or theme. Developers will also be able to add custom actions to the system sharesheet, which will now be smarter about how it ranks sharing targets.
  • Google made a series of announcements at KotlinConf, where it was a gold-level sponsor. A summary of the latest news can be found here, including news that the K2 compiler will be released in Kotlin 2.0, Compose for iOS is in Alpha, the Gradle Kotlin DSL will be the default for new builds, Kotlin Multiplatform will become stable this year, and more.
  • Google says that Play Store apps that allow for account creation will also have to add features that let users “initiate account and data deletion” from their app and online. The change is being rolled out slowly to give developers time to comply.

Image Credits: Google

  • Starting May 31, Google will restrict personal loan apps from accessing sensitive user data like photos, videos, precise location, call logs, external storage and contacts after many app makers’ engaged in predatory behavior by harassing borrowers in India and Kenya. Google also introduced rules to ban unlicensed loan apps from the Google Play Store.
  • Google brings its AirPlay-like Nearby Share feature to Windows so you can transfer files between Android and PCs.
  • Google’s Android is gaining a new auto-archive feature for apps. The company says the feature will reduce unnecessary uninstalls and help users successfully install new apps. “Once a user opts in, auto-archive can help them automatically free up to nearly 60% of an app’s storage space, without removing the app presence or users’ data from the device,” said Google.

App Updates


  • Baidu sued various app developers and Apple over the numerous fake apps pretending to be its Ernie AI bot on the App Store. Launched last month, Ernie — a Chinese version of something like the U.S.-based ChatGPT — does not have an official app. At the time of the announcement, there were at least four fake apps found.
  • Snapchat added new guardrails around its AI chatbot. The app had been criticized for responding in an unsafe and inappropriate manner shortly after its launch in February. Now, the AI bot will include an age filter and insights for parents and guardians about their children’s interactions with the chatbot in its parent controls hub, Family Center.
  • The $4.99 ChatGPT app for Apple Watch, Petey AI, expanded to the iPhone with a recent update. The new app is faster than the watch-based counterpart and supports Dynamic Island and Live Activities. You can also switch out Siri with Petey using Siri Shortcuts.

Image Credits: Petey

  • Poe’s AI chatbot app, made by Quora, now lets users make their own chatbots using prompts combined with an existing bot, like ChatGPT, as the base. Initially, Poe debuted with support for a handful of general knowledge chatbots, including Sage and Dragonfly, powered by OpenAI technology, and Claude, powered by Anthropic. Last month, Poe rolled out subscriptions that allow users to pay to access the more powerful bots based on new language models, including GPT-4 from OpenAI and Claude+ from Anthropic. The new chatbot feature will only work with Claude and ChatGPT as the base bots and works on both web and mobile.
  • User spending on AI apps increased by more than 4,000% year-over-year, according to Apptopia data. Downloads also increased by 1506% year-over-year, reaching nearly 20 million in March. Multiple similarly named apps like Nova AI, Genie AI and Chat with Ask AI have broken into top charts. Chat with Ask AI was on the top 10 free apps list on iOS in multiple countries.

Image Credits: Apptopia

  • The European Parliament is close to finalizing new AI measures that will require chatbot makers to reveal if they use copyrighted material, the FT reported citing sources.
  • Pixelmator Photo rebranded as Photomator and introduced a new AI-powered subject selection feature, as well as others around selective adjustments, brush selections, gradient mask tools and more.
  • Microsoft added three AI features to its SwiftKey keyboard app on iOS and Android: web search results, a tone option where AI writes text, and its AI chatbot. The features were previously available in Bing. The company also announced Bing recently hit 100 million daily users (and 100 million chats).


Instagram Reels

Image Credits: Instagram

  • ⭐  Instagram Reels gained a number of new features in a significant update. ⭐ Among the changes are features that help creators see what’s trending in terms of both audio and hashtags, new tools that make it easier to edit reels in the app, an expansion of gifts to more markets outside the U.S., updates to Reels insights with two new metrics (total watch time and avg. watch time) and a new way to see how your reels are contributing to your growth.

Instagram's new Reels metrics

Image Credits: Instagram

  • Pinterest expanded its Creator Inclusion Fund to 5 more countries: Canada, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and France. The program began in 2021 to help communities that Pinterest said have been “disproportionately underrepresented — including Black, Latiné, LGBTQIA+, Asian, Indigenous people and people with disabilities.” The fund has already supported creators in the U.S., U.K. and Brazil.
  • Reddit posts on its main feeds were revamped to now have a cleaner layout with less unused space and more emphasis on community. The company said the changes will make it “easier for redditors to find the conversations they’re looking for.”
  • Yik Yak users are angry about the changes being made to the anonymous chat app after its acquisition by Sidechat. Its new parent company revamped the Yik Yak app to look and function like the anonymous college chat app, when Yik Yak before was more community-based. The apps appear to now run on the same servers and users are asked for their student ID, which they worry will identify them or allow for targeted ads.
  • Snapchat’s Lenses have arrived in Microsoft Teams. With the launch, Teams users gain access to a collection of 26 popular Lenses during meetings. The Lenses let you do things like turn yourself into a cartoon character or add fun backgrounds to your video calls.
  • Snap also signed new music licensing deals to expand its Sounds library, which offers music that can be used in Snaps and Stories.
  • Instagram added new features to its creator marketplace via new APIs to make it easier for brands to discover and work with creators on the third-party creator marketing platforms they already use. It also expanded access to brand agencies.
  • Artifact, the recently launched personalized news app from Instagram’s founders, launched a social discussions feature. Previously in private testing, the feature introduces a way for users to comment and engage in conversations around news articles they’re reading on the service, which can then be up and downvoted by others, similar to Reddit. Users will also gain a visible reputation score based on their activity.
  • Following last month’s NBC News investigation into Pinterest that exposed how pedophiles had been using the service to curate image boards of young girls, the company on Tuesday announced further safety measures for its platform, including a new set of parental controls and updated age verification policies, among other things. However, the company also said that it would soon re-open some of its previously locked-down features for teens to allow them to once again message and share content with others after approving contacts.


Streaming & Entertainment

  • Spotify shut down its Clubhouse-style live audio app Spotify Live, previously known as Locker Room ahead of its acquisition. Spotify bought the company in its €57 million acquisition of Betty Labs in March 2021.
  • Spotify also said it’s shutting down Heardle, the Wordle-like music guessing game it acquired last year, saying its new focus will be on the discovery features it introduced recently at Stream On, including the new TikTok-like recommendation feeds.
  • Spotify and activity tracking app Strava teamed up on a new in-app integration that lets users easily access their Spotify music, podcasts and audiobooks from the Strava app while tracking activities.
  • Warner Bros. Discovery announced its new streaming service Max that will combine HBO Max and Discovery+ content into a single destination. The company promised a better-performing, more personalized app across platforms, which will include a range of new titles, including more spin-offs from Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, True Detective, Big Bang Theory and others, as well as more DC Comics movies. The HBO Max will automatically update to become Max on most platforms on May 23, but Discovery+ users will be allowed to remain in their same app if they choose.

Image Credits: Warner Bros. Discovery

Image Credits: YouTube

  • The popular music player Winamp is coming to iOS and Android after a big revamp, but it won’t be what users expect. Now owned by a company called Llama Group, the online player doesn’t look like the old Winamp at all. Instead, it will work as a streaming service where users only follow their favorite artists, who they also support in a sort of Patreon-like model of subscriptions. Currently, only some indie European and Vietnamese bands and singers were available. The player is available on the web for now, with mobile apps arriving in Q3.
  • Sling TV came to the Amazon Echo Show 8 and 10, nearly two years after Amazon first announced it would.
  • Spotify finally added an iPhone Lock Screen widget that offers an icon that will provide easy access to the app. The icon of the Spotify logo, when tapped, launches the iOS app before unlocking the phone.

Image Credits: Spotify


  • Nintendo and app developer DeNA officially launched Nintendo Systems, the joint venture first unveiled back in November, which is meant to help reinforce Nintendo’s business and “create value-added services,” the companies said. It’s not yet known what exactly the two companies are currently working on, as no games or software have been announced.
  • Nintendo is pulling Mario away from the mobile gaming market. In a Variety report, Nintendo designer Shigeru Miyamoto said that “mobile apps will not be the primary path of future Mario games.” The company had earlier launched two moderately successful iOS titles and others, Dr. Mario World, that was removed two years after its release. Super Mario Run grossed $60 million in its first year and 2019’s Mario Kart Tour has generated $300 million.
  • Pokémon GO is sidestepping the App Store and Google’s Play Store by selling its PokéCoins via its new Pokémon GO Web Store. The company emailed it users to notify them of the launch where it’s selling the bundles. The U.S., however, was not among the countries supported at launch.
  • Messenger introduced 14 free-to-play games you can play during video calls in the messaging app on the web, iOS or Android. Among the titles were Words With Friends, Card Wars, Exploding Kittens, Mini Gold FRVR and more.

Image Credits: Facebook Gaming


  • Social finance app Hyve opened to the public after earlier raising $2.25 million in a pre-seed round in January 2022 from an investor group that included The Flying Whale VC, MoreVC and the founders of Guardio. The app is targeting Gen Z and young millennials with tools to pay down debt, save and invest with the help of friends and family.
  • Visa announced a new interoperable peer-to-peer (P2P) payment offering, Visa+, that allows people to transfer money to friends even if they use a different payment service. The service will later this year power a new integration that lets Venmo and PayPal users transfer money between their users — both are owned by PayPal, however. Other companies that have committed to Visa+ include Western Union, TabaPay, i2C and DailyPay.


Image Credits: Visa


  • Hackers used spyware created by an under-the-radar Israeli spyware maker QuaDream to create malicious calendar invites in order to hack the iPhones of journalists, political opposition figures and one NGO worker.
  • WhatsApp introduced new device verification and account protection features, including new defenses against SIM jacking and other social engineering attacks. The downside of the changes is that moving WhatsApp to a new phone may become more difficult with added steps.
  • Several security experts found malware on Chinese shopping app Pinduoduo that exploited vulnerabilities in the Android OS. The exploits were said to be used to spy on both users and competitors in an effort to boost sales and were found in off-Play Store versions of the app, as Google Play Protect would have likely identified the malware. The team working on the app was then moved to Temu, now a top U.S. shopping app.


  • You can now order a Domino’s pizza from your car thanks to the app’s new CarPlay support.
  • Amazon removed systemwide hands-free Alexa access on Alexa Built-In smartphones, including a handful of models from OnePlus, as well as models from brands like Motorola, Sony, LG and Moto.
  • Truecaller rolled out an update that will finally provide live caller ID support on iOS, available to people using its paid tiers. However, the system comes with a catch — it only works via a Siri interaction, due to Apple’s limitations on third-party caller ID apps.
  • Opera, the makers of an ad-blocking web browser, rolled out an updated version of its iOS app that now includes its free VPN. Previously available on Mac, Windows, Linux and Android, the iOS release now makes Opera the first browser to offer a free VPN service across all major computing platforms, the company said.
  • ComiXology vets return to startups with DSTLRY, a next-gen comics publisher that will distribute both in print and digitally via an app that will launch further down the road.
  • Google Maps introduced new features to make it easier for users to navigate national parks, including trail maps that show the entire route, not just a pin.

Government & Policy

  • Apple won an appeal against a U.K. antitrust regulator that wanted to open an investigation of the iPhone makers’ mobile browser and cloud gaming service. The Competition Appeals Tribunal (CAT) ruled the regulator was too late in deciding to open the probe. “We are pleased with the Competition Appeal Tribunal’s decision and will continue working to deliver support for developers and a safe and secure experience for users,” said Apple.
  • TikTok was fined £12.7 million (~$15.7 million) for breaching U.K. data protection law, including rules intended to protect children. Per the ICO, TikTok had an estimated 1.4 million underage U.K. users during a two-year period (May 2018 and July 2020), contrary to the terms of service stating users must be 13 or older.
  • Australia is the latest country to ban TikTok on government devices. Other countries with bans include New Zealand, the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Belgium and others in the EU.
  • Germany’s antitrust authority confirmed Apple meets its test for special abuse controls — saying the company has “paramount significance for competition across markets”. The designation stands for five years and allows Apple to face an inquiry into its possible antitrust abuses. Apple plans to appeal.
  • Vietnam’s Ministry of Information and Communications is opening a probe into TikTok over harmful content and false information. The ministry said TikTok’s Vietnam arm had taken down 2.43 million videos uploaded by Vietnamese users in Q1 2023 over violations of community guidelines related to “nudity, sexual acts involving minors or inciting violence” and “for frightening content, harassment, bullying, suicides, and others.” Now the office believes that removal may not be enough and should be subject to tougher rules.
  • South Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) fined Google $32 million for blocking developers from releasing games on a Korean Play Store competitor called One Store. Google allegedly required Korean video game makers to exclusively release their new games in the Play Store from June 2016 to April 2018, in violation of fair competition laws.
  • Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a bill that requires that social media companies verify new users’ ages and get a parent’s consent for users under 18. The state is now the second to create its own laws to regulate social media, following Utah, due to the lack of federal oversight.

Funding and M&A

  • Right-wing social media platform Parler was acquired by digital media conglomerate Starboard, which recently changed its name from Olympic Media. The company will temporarily shut down the app ahead of a revamp and relaunch of an updated version. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.
  • U.S.-based savings and investing startup Acorns acquired London-based GoHenry for an undisclosed sum. Acorns was most recently valued at $2 billion; GoHenry was believed to be valued at between $250 million and $500 million in October 2022.
  • Savvy Games Group, a games and esports company that is part of the Saudi government’s Public Investment Fund, is acquiring mobile games studio Scopely for $4.9 billion. Scopley’s top games include Yahtzee With Buddies, Star Trek Fleet Command, Marvel Strike Force, Stumble Guys and Scrabble Go.
  • Emirates Telecommunications acquired a 50.03% stake in the super app Careem from Uber’s Middle East unit for $400 million. Uber will keep Careem’s ride-hailing business as part of this deal.
  • SMB growth app Zeely’s raised a $1 million seed round from Ukrainian VC Vesna.Capital, Angel One Fund (a Ukrainian fund), Imaguru Ventures, and angels Murat Abdrakhmanov (an investor in Udemy), Adrian J. Slywotzky (a partner at Oliver Wyman) and ZAS Ventures. Zeely’s app can generate a web store quickly on a mobile, as well as allow a business to promote itself across social media platforms like TikTok quickly and easily.
  • General Atlantic invested another $100 million in PhonePe, three months after leading a $350 million investment in the Indian fintech startup. At a $12 billion valuation, PhonePe is India’s most valuable fintech and competes with Google Pay and Paytm.

This Week in Apps: Newsrooms leave Twitter, Reels expands, Android 14 arrives by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

Opera brings its free VPN to iOS to rival Apple and Google’s paid alternatives

Opera, the makers of an ad-blocking web browser, whose most recent claim to fame is having TikTok built-in, announced today it’s rolling out an updated version of its iOS app that now includes its free VPN. Previously available on Mac, Windows, Linux, and Android, the iOS release now makes Opera the first browser to offer a free VPN service across all major computing platforms, the company touted in its announcement.

The news is particularly timely given that, late last year, Opera’s largest competitor Google expanded its own VPN tool to desktop users on Mac and PC, after earlier supporting iOS and Android. But in Google’s case, its VPN is available only to paid subscribers on its Google One Premium plans. Apple also offers a tool for encrypting an internet connection with its iCloud Private Relay feature, though it’s not really a VPN. But like Google, it’s also only available as part of a paid subscription (iCloud+).

Image Credits: Opera

Opera’s VPN, meanwhile, does not require a subscription. The company says users don’t have to create an account to log in or use the feature. Opera also notes it doesn’t collect any personal information or data relating to the user’s browsing habits or their originating IP address. And the service doesn’t require any additional extensions to use — users can activate it from the main menu in the app to begin encrypting their VPN traffic.

The company is able to offer free tools to end users because it generates revenue through other channels, including search and ad revenues, as well as technology licensing fees. It’s projecting $370-390 million in revenues for 2023, for instance.

Still, some users may not feel comfortable with Opera’s VPN service given the Norwegian company was sold to a Chinese consortium in 2016. The nature of U.S.-Chinese relations now has the government weighing a ban on TikTok and other Chinese-owned apps, which could potentially complicate Opera’s future plans. Some security researchers have also criticized Opera’s default privacy setting with regard to advertising and personalization and raised other security concerns.

For iOS users, the Opera mobile browser app aims to differentiate itself beyond the new VPN feature alone. The app includes other unique tools, like a “My Flow” for file sharing between devices, a native Crypto Wallet feature, a built-in ad blocker, and a security-focused cryptojacking protection feature, among others.

With today’s update, the iOS app is gaining a couple of other additions, too, including a new Bookmarks feature for organizing favorite content, and a Live Scores feature for tracking sports teams’ latest scores via a scoreboard on the browser’s homepage.

However, Opera cautions that while the features including the VPN are launching starting today, the full rollout will actually take place over the weeks ahead. That means you may not immediately see the new VPN feature when you launch the iOS app, but should soon.

Opera brings its free VPN to iOS to rival Apple and Google’s paid alternatives by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

This Week in Apps: TikTok goes to Congress, apps connect to ChatGPT, Microsoft’s mobile games store 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 economy in 2023 hit a few snags, as consumer spending last year dropped for the first time by 2% to $167 billion, according to’s “State of Mobile” report. However, downloads are continuing to grow, up 11% year-over-year in 2022 to reach 255 billion. Consumers are also spending more time in mobile apps than ever before. On Android devices alone, hours spent in 2022 grew 9%, reaching 4.1 trillion.

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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Top Stories

TikTok tries to avoid a ban in U.S. congressional hearing

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testifying

Image Credits: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Thursday’s testimony by TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew before the U.S. House Committee on Energy & Commerce was largely unproductive. Representatives were often more interested in sharing their own opinions, posturing and shouting over the CEO’s answers to their questions, rather than attempting to learn any real intel about how TikTok works or what it does to protect its youngest users from harm.

Overall, it seemed the hearing was more for show than any sort of fact-finding mission — these reps already had their minds made up, for the most part, about whether or not the app should be banned.

During the hearing, however, a few legitimate questions were raised that had troubling responses. On the matter of Project Texas — TikTok’s plan to move all U.S. user data off of its own servers over to Oracle servers in the U.S. — it wasn’t clear how that would fully separate TikTok from its Chinese parent company ByteDance. As one line of questioning pointed out, TikTok employees use an internal software program known as Lark — a sort of Chinese Slack — to communicate with their ByteDance colleagues. TikTok’s CEO reports to ByteDance’s CEO, Liang Rubo. Chew also admitted that even under Project Texas there were exceptions that would allow data to leave the country for “interoperability purposes” and he would have to “get back to your team” on the specifics there. And when directly questioned about what sort of other software or IT services would still connect TikTok to ByteDance under Project Texas, Chew again said he would have to “get back to you” with his answers.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew Testifies At U.S. House Hearing

Image Credits: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

In addition, the exec couldn’t confirm where TikTok sells its data. Chew said he didn’t “believe” they sold to data brokers, but said he would have to “get back” to Congress on who they may actually sell to.

While Chew may be correct that today’s TikTok isn’t doing more data collection than U.S. social giants, it’s being held to different standards. As a Chinese company with its hands on this data, there’s the potential for the CCP to meddle in TikTok’s operations, the politicians believe. Though that may not have happened yet, there is a threat posed by China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law, which compels businesses to assist in intelligence-gathering operations, if asked. TikTok claims it wouldn’t comply, but how could it not, if ByteDance is its parent?

The House reps also asked a range of questions about minor safety. Ironically, it was TikTok that led the way in this area by being the first of the big social apps in the U.S. to roll out in-app parental controls and lock down teen accounts. Still, dangerous challenges have proliferated on its platform (though Meta was later revealed to have had a hand in which ones made the news!). And like other algorithmic-based platforms, there’s always a danger that its recommendations could surface harmful content at times.

However, some of the dangers of social media aren’t unique to TikTok alone. Social media usage overall is contributing to increased anxiety, depression, body dissatisfaction, disordered eating and other troubles, including suicide ideation, which is why it needs regulation or at least some basic guidelines. But today’s politicians don’t seem to be able to do the hard work of actually getting laws passed in this area, despite their bipartisan interest in doing so. They’d rather put on a show in Congress to make themselves look good to their potential voters so they can win their next election.

OpenAI launches ChatGPT plugins, and some of your favorite apps are already on board

OpenAI this week launched plugins for ChatGPT, which allow the bot to access third-party databases and other sources of knowledge, including those on the web. The company said it would start with a small set of users before rolling out access to the still now alpha stage product more broadly. OpenAI is also hosting its own plugins, including a web browser and code interpreter and is now extending plugin access to developers on its waitlist.

A number of companies consumers know and love have already built plugins for ChatGPT, including Expedia, FiscalNote, Instacart, Kayak, Klarna, Milo, OpenTable, Shopify, Slack, Speak, Wolfram and Zapier. For example, OpenTable’s plugin can search across restaurants for available bookings, while the Instacart plugin can place orders from local stores.

To get started, users pick a plugin to enable when they start a conversation on In a demo on OpenAI’s website, it shows a user asking in plain language for “one great restaurant suggestion on Saturday” and ” a simple recipe for Sunday” involving vegan food. The OpenTable plugin finds a local restaurant with a reservation, then follows detailed requests for returning the recipe info and ordering ingredients on Instacart. (If only this technology was available in Siri!) It’s easy to imagine a future where you could one day interact with these services through AI commands, not by tapping around on apps’ screens. And being able to talk naturally to the AI could make services easier to use for everyone, not just the technically inclined.

Microsoft plans a mobile games store

Microsoft is betting that incoming tech regulations will allow it a way to compete in the mobile gaming market alongside Apple and Google (and likely Epic Games, if things go its way). In an interview with the Financial Times this week, Microsoft gaming head Phil Spencer noted that the EU’s Digital Market Act (DMA) is expected to go into effect next March, which would allow companies to load their own app stores on Apple and Android devices. And Microsoft wants to do just that.

“We want to be in a position to offer Xbox and content from both us and our third-party partners across any screen where somebody would want to play,” Spencer told the FT.

Microsoft had already hinted at its plans to launch an Xbox-branded mobile game store that would leverage content from Activision Blizzard — assuming that deal gains regulatory approval. The game maker’s IP could help Microsoft seed a new game store thanks to its titles like Call of Duty Mobile and those from the Candy Crush franchise. Microsoft has also acquired a number of gaming studios over the past several years, including Ninja Theory, Playground Games and Bethesda owner Zenimax Media.

If things progress as planned, the mobile apps and games market could have an entirely different shape in the years ahead. Netflix is also seemingly betting on this change, prepping its own vast library of games that come with a Netflix membership. For the time being, the games are just a perk of membership, but if one day Netflix could launch its own games store and fill it with titles, it seems it may choose to expand to paid games as well.



  • Google says it prevented over $2 billion in fraudulent and abusive transactions via Play Commerce last year, in an update likely designed to convince developers to not switch to third-party billing.
  • Google took down hundreds of loan apps from the Play Store in Kenya following the launch of a new policy, which requires digital lenders in the East African country to submit proof of a license to operate. The new policy went into effect in January.
  • Samsung said its devices will get up to four generations of One UI and Android OS upgrades. The company had previously promised 3 upgrades. The expanded commitment will be offered on select Galaxy S series, Z series smartphones, A Series and tablets.
  • Three large Android manufacturers in China — Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo — announced a partnership to make it easier to switch devices. The companies will offer a migration tool that will help consumers in China move their files and other phone data between the companies’ various smartphone models.
  • Google flagged several apps made by Chinese e-commerce giant Pinduoduo as malware, alerted users who had the apps installed and suspended the company’s official app for security concerns while it investigates. Google Play Protect, the Android security mechanism, was also set to block users from installing the malicious apps.


  • Apple issues the Release Candidate versions of iOS 16.4, iPadOS 16.4, watchOS 9.4, tvOS 16.4 and macOS Ventura 13.3.
  • Apple’s iOS 16.4 includes new features like voice isolation for calls, which “prioritizes your voice and blocks out ambient noise around you,” says Apple’s release notes. It also sees the return of Apple Books’ curling animation and brings duplicate detection to iCloud Shared Photo Libraries.
  • Code in the iOS 16.4 beta also leaked what seem to be references to new AirPods and Beats earphones.
  • Apple fixed a bug that was allowing some Apple Music users to see other people’s playlists in their libraries.

App Updates


  • Adobe embraces generative AI. The company this week launched its new Firefly family of generative AI models and generative AI tools aimed at marketers, with its enterprise offering, Adobe Sensei Generative AI Services. Firefly offers a model designed to generate images and text effects from descriptions. The model will soon be able to create content across Adobe apps, including Express, Photoshop, Illustrator and Adobe Experience Manager after being given a text prompt. For now, it’s web-only while in beta.

Adobe Firefly

Image Credits: Adobe  

  • According to a new analysis of the AI app ecosystem from analytics provider, consumers this year have now spent more than $14 million in the 10 highest-earning apps that advertise their use of ChatGPT or OpenAI technologies. In February 2023, these 10 apps combined accounted for nearly $5.9 million in global consumer spending, the firm says. And within the first 20 days of March, the apps were averaging $232,000 in daily consumer spending, up 11% from the average of $210,000 in February.

Image Credits:


  • Snap unveiled a new business, AR Enterprise Services, which offers the company’s AR Lenses and Filters to brands. The SaaS business includes Snap tech like AR try-on, a 3D product viewer, Snap’s SDK for AR experiences, and more. Snap will work with clients to help customize their solutions, which can also be integrated directly into the business’ own apps and websites. The company says 250+ million people out of its 375 million daily active users now engage with AR on Snapchat.

Instagram's new Reminder Ads

Image Credits: Instagram

  • Ahead of its congressional hearing, TikTok rolled out updates to its community guidelines. The company said it overhauled the guidelines to make them easier to understand, and added new policies on AI and climate misinformation. Plus, it added more detail about its existing policies regarding civil and election integrity, age restrictions and expanded a section covering deepfakes.
  • TikTok also announced it had 150 million MAUs in the U.S., up from 100 million in August 2021. The company has over 1 billion MAUs globally.


  • Epic Games announced new animation tools that make it possible to create realistic facial animations using video captured from an iPhone, the Verge reported from GDC. The tools are an expansion of the company’s MetaHuman creator tools first introduced in 2021.
  • Epic also launched its Unreal Editor for Fortnite (UEFN) on the Epic Games Store as a public beta. The software includes many of the same tools Epic uses to create Fortnite, it said.
  • Plus, Epic announced it will now share 40% of Fortnite revenue with anyone who designs “islands” in the game, which includes the money the company earns from its in-game currency V-Bucks.
  • Roblox rolled out new AI tools, including Code Assistant, which allows game creators to use text prompts to create code, and Material Generators for creating 2D surfaces in games.
  • Netflix announced plans to release 40 more games this year and add Monument Valley to its lineup in 2024. Among the new titles are Ubisoft’s Mighty Quest: Rogue Palace, an unnamed Super Evil Megacorp game, and others. Monument Valley’s addition is interesting as that means the game will still be a paid download for non-Nextflix members and available through subscription on Apple Arcade and Google Play Pass.


Productivity / Learning

  • Microsoft debuted Loop, a Notion competitor that offers a hub for managing tasks and projects that also syncs across Microsoft 365 apps and workspaces on the web. The debut version is available to users with a Microsoft Account or Azure Active Directory account, but will “soon” arrive on iOS and Android.
  • Duolingo, a language learning app with over 500 million users, is working on a music app, TechCrunch learned. A job description seemingly confirms this plan, as it describes a candidate who is an “expert in music education who combines both theoretical knowledge of relevant learning science research and hands-on teaching experience.”


  • WhatsApp announced a new Windows client that brings performance improvements and better calling features. The app will allow for video calls with up to eight people and audio calls with up to 32 people, similar to its mobile counterpart. The company also said it will increase the number of people allowed in group calls going forward.
  • WhatsApp also updated its Communities product with new controls for group admins that give them the ability to decide who is able to join a group. It will also now make it easier to see which groups you have in common with someone.

WhatsApp groups features

Image Credits: WhatsApp



  • Spotify’s still relatively new audiobooks service expanded to Canada, bringing the experience to both English and French-speaking customers. The service now has 350,000 titles available and is live in the U.S. and other English-speaking markets.
  • Twitch said it’s laying off 400 employees as part of parent company Amazon’s larger plan to lay off 9,000 workers across divisions, including AWS and advertising.

Government, Policy and Lawsuits

  • Utah’s Gov. Spencer Cox signed two bills that regulate social media apps, making it the first U.S. state to impose restrictions on the industry. The lack of federal regulation will likely see more states take the same path, which could become a massive headache for compliance, as each state’s rules may differ. Utah’s new regulations say that social media companies will have to age-verify all users, receive parents’ permission before minors can open social media accounts, restrict minors’ usage of social media from 10:30 pm to 6:30 am unless a parent changes the settings, limit personal data collection from minors and allow parents to access a minor’s accounts, including all their posts and private messages. Fines can be imposed for non-compliance. We guess Utah teens will be returning to texting pretty soon!
  • The subscription economy may be headed for a crackdown. The FTC this week proposed a “click to cancel” rule that would require sellers offering subscriptions to make it as easy for consumers to cancel their enrollment as it was to sign up. Watch out, Match and every meal delivery service ever invented!

Funding and M&A

Image Credits: Flash

  • Newly launched Indian startup Flash offers a mobile app where consumers can create an email to be used on all shopping sites, allowing them to earn coupons and cash back instead of bogging down their inbox. The company raised $5.8 million in seed funding from a number of investors, including Global Founders Capital (GFC), White Venture Capital and Zinal Growth, and others.
  • OP3N, a startup described as the “Web3 version of WhatsApp meets Amazon,” and makers of blockchain chat app Superapp, raised $28 million in Series A funding, valuing the company at $100 million. The round was led by Animoca Brands and included Dragonfly Capital, SuperScrypt, Creative Artists Agency and NEA’s Connect Ventures, Republic Crypto, Avalanche’s Blizzard Fund, Galaxy Digital and Warner Music Interactive.
  • Snap quietly acquired Amsterdam-based 3D-scanning studio Th3rd in the second quarter of last year. The startup’s tech and team are helping with Snap’s AR efforts.



Image Credits: Zigazoo

Hoping to capitalize on the TikTok drama this week, startup Zigazoo announced the launch of a TikTok-like app for Gen Z users. The company previously offered a similar video app for Gen Alpha kids, but is now expanding to older teens. Its new Gen Z-focused app is a video thread-style platform, but unlike TikTok, it doesn’t allow users to comment. Instead, users can only respond to each other with other videos, which the company believes may reduce trolling. The startup hopes to create a more positive environment where users can share videos featuring dance, music, fashion, gaming, memes and more. You can read TechCrunch’s full review here.


Hipstamatic is back. Amid user complaints over the current state of Instagram, Hipstamatic returned to the App Store today with a relaunch of its social network for iPhone photography enthusiasts. Its refreshed app, which will today replace Hipstamatic X on the App Store, will offer a chronological feed, photo filtering tools, no ads and no TikTok-like feeds or videos. Users will earn stamps instead of likes, and will browse “stacks” of photos, instead of endless feeds.

During its decade-plus existence, the company had rolled out variations on its original concept, like its quirky Hipstamatic X for analog photography lovers, while also maintaining Hipstamatic Classicone of the first apps to receive Apple’s “App of the Year” award.

With its revamped app, the company will try to bring some of its earlier pizazz to a generation that’s chasing retro tech, opting for things like flip phones and wired headphones at times for the “aesthetic.” The app will monetize via a $4.99 per month subscription (or $29.99/year), which unlocks its premium filters, editing features and other perks like claiming your preferred username.


Image Credits: Woolly

The slow but steady Twitter exodus has brought a new abundance of third-party Mastodon apps like IvoryMammoth and Ice Cubes that connect users to the increasingly popular open source and decentralized social network. Today, we can add one more app to that list with the launch of Woolly, another solidly built iOS Mastodon client focused on offering a more customizable home screen, threaded views for reading longer conversations and a TweetDeck-inspired layout for the iPad.

The main differentiator between this app and others is its approach to home screen customization. With Woolly, users can pin things like multiple remote timelines, lists, bookmarks, search, hashtags or even other user profiles directly to the app’s main tab bar, enabling quick and easy access to your favorite content. Plus, on iPad, you can access a landscape view with columns, similar to TweetDeck. Read TechCrunch’s full review here.

This Week in Apps: TikTok goes to Congress, apps connect to ChatGPT, Microsoft’s mobile games store plan by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

The top 10 AI mobile apps have already pulled in over $14 million this year

Consumer demand for AI chatbot experiences has been funneling millions of dollars into mobile apps advertising their association with ChatGPT or OpenAI technologies. According to a new analysis of the AI app ecosystem from analytics provider, consumers this year have now spent over $14 million in the 10 highest-earning apps that advertise their use of ChatGPT or OpenAI technologies. And that demand is continuing to grow.

In February 2023, these 10 apps combined accounted for nearly $5.9 million in global consumer spending, the firm says. And within the first 20 days of March, the apps were averaging $232,000 in daily consumer spending, up 11% from the average of $210,000 in February.

What’s clear is that integrating “AI” features and references to things like ChatGPT or OpenAI has been helping drive demand, as the majority of the apps saw little consumer spend before their AI additions. For example, the same group of apps saw only $1.6 million in global consumer spending in December 2022, which grew 3.7x to reach February’s total. Last month also represented a 55% increase from the $3.8 million spent in January 2023, the analysis indicates.

Image Credits:

There was one exception to this trend: the app Pixelcut AI Photo Editor had been generating decent revenue before the January 2023 launch of its “magic writer” copywriter tool that uses GPT. In December 2022, the app had generated $817,000 in consumer spending. In February, its revenue had dropped slightly to $813,000, per’s estimates. Prior to January 1, 2023, Pixelcut had generated gross spending of $19.8 million globally, so it’s still doing well.

In addition to Pixelcut AI Photo Editor,’s analysis included the top-earning apps Genie – AI Chatbot; AI Chat – Chatbot AI Assistant; AI Chatbot – Open Chat Writer; Apo – AI Personal Assistant; Chat AI Bot – Writing Assistant; ChatOn – AI Chatbot Assistant; AI Chat – Ask Anything; Chat AI – Ask Anything; and GoatChat.

Of these, Genie has generated the most revenue this year, with $3.2 million in global consumer spending so far in 2023. AI Chat and Pixelcut were the No. 2 and No. 3 top apps, with $2.8 million and $2.2 million, respectively.

What’s interesting about this group of apps is that, for the most part, none are trying to establish their own brand and identity to engage consumers. Instead, they’re simply keyword-stuffing their apps’ titles to match the search terms people are likely using when looking for an AI chatbot app of some sort. The consensus seems to be that words like “AI,” “Chat” or “Chatbot” and “Assistant” will help drive downloads — and by the looks of the apps’ revenue totals, they may be right.

The apps in this group also rank highly in App Store searches for the term “OpenAI” we found — an indication of how much ground OpenAI has ceded in the mobile app market by not having its own official mobile app available. Last month, Semafor reported the company was working on a mobile ChatGPT app, which would allow mobile users to access the AI from a dedicated experience instead of the existing web interface. However, the company declined to comment on the report, so it’s unclear what the project’s current status may be.

Apple, playing the role of middleman, has also struggled to deal with the influx of AI-powered apps. In January, both the App Store and Google Play became flooded with dubious ChatGPT apps that were claiming to be associated with OpenAI in order to charge hefty subscription prices for accessing ChatGPT — a service that’s been free via the web. One notable app, “ChatGPT Chat GPT AI With GPT-3” (talk about keyword stuffing!) even made it to the top of the App Store before being removed by Apple.

The company has since battened down the hatches. For instance, one app developer, Hidde van der Ploeg, had created an app that lets you engage with ChatGPT from your Apple Watch but was rejected from the App Store over its use of “GPT” in the app’s original name, WatchGPT. Instead of waiting for an appeal, he rebranded the app “Petey” and it was approved.

The top 10 AI mobile apps have already pulled in over $14 million this year by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

This Week in Apps: TikTok-style feeds come to Spotify and Reddit; Meta’s Fediverse plans

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 economy in 2023 hit a few snags, as consumer spending last year dropped for the first time by 2% to $167 billion, according to’s “State of Mobile” report. However, downloads are continuing to grow, up 11% year-over-year in 2022 to reach 255 billion. Consumers are also spending more time in mobile apps than ever before. On Android devices alone, hours spent in 2022 grew 9%, reaching 4.1 trillion.

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.

Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here:

Top Stories

The TikTok-ification of consumer apps, now including Reddit and Spotify

Image Credits: Spotify

The TikTok model had already infiltrated many consumer apps — Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, Pinterest and several more (even Netflix and Amazon!). Now you can add a handful of other high-profile apps to the list. Most notably, Spotify and Reddit this week announced their own takes on the TikTok feed with significant changes to their respective app’s designs. SoundCloud also introduced video feeds for music as a test.

For Reddit, the changes come only a year into a broader redesign. Reddit on Tuesday unveiled an updated user interface that now separates text-based content and video into separate feeds in the app, dubbed “Read” and “Watch.” The company said that, by doing so, users could switch between text-browsing — Reddit’s historical draw — to a video experience, depending on their current mood. While Reddit had tested other models for integrating video in the app before this change, this puts access to its video feed more front-and-center in the app experience.

Meanwhile, Spotify this week revealed a mobile app overhaul that introduces video-based “discovery” feeds for music, podcasts and audiobooks in an effort to engage users and reclaim some of the time spent on music discovery that had shifted over to TikTok.

What’s interesting about these latest updates is that they involve two apps that aren’t really known for video having found ways to launch their own video-based feeds as key parts of their new user experiences. While it wasn’t as much of a stretch for apps like Instagram or YouTube to adopt short-form video, Spotify and Reddit seemed less likely candidates, as they focused on other types of content, like text and audio.

But Spotify has also watched as TikTok has eaten into its market, becoming a music discovery platform so powerful that it’s now in control of the top charts. TikTok is minting new hits and artists and can even put decades-old music back into rotation when older songs get attached to a viral trend.

This is not great news for Spotify, which wants to be able to sell artists access to marketing tools to get their music found and streamed — and it wants to differentiate itself among consumers by offering better music discovery features. The company’s Discover Weekly playlist is still one of consumer tech’s best products, but it’s no longer enough to sell the service’s ability to connect fans to new music in a world where TikTok now exists.

That brings us to Spotify’s TikTok-ified revamp, which not only introduces video feeds for content discovery but also capitalizes on the format to connect users with their various interests, drilling down different types of music categories, playlists or compilations designed for specific activities. The app’s new feeds introduce video clips from artists (their short, looping Canvas videos, which already accompanied their streams), podcast video clips, podcast audio clips with a static background and animated real-time transcriptions overlaid on top, as well as clips of audiobook narrations.

The changes are radical — and potentially controversial, too.

We’ve already seen long social media threads where users announce how is the last straw — and one that will push them back to Apple Music, they lament. The general sentiment is that they don’t want a TikTok in their music app.


But Spotify’s feeds aren’t really a TikTok clone. There are no creators pushing content for likes and comments. There aren’t viral dances and challenges and trends. Its goals are increasing streams and helping people find new things to enjoy. (Well that…and helping Spotify make more money).

Arguably, a multimedia feed is a better format for serendipitous discovery than a carousel that points to albums or playlists. It’s why Netflix has trailers (even annoying autoplay ones). Hearing and seeing is simply more engaging than reading text. That can be true and users can hate it.

Image Credits: Spotify screenshot

Another key thing to note is that Spotify is also using the video feed format to not only serve as a discovery engine across formats but a starting place for connecting users to the specific type of music they want to hear now — without requiring users to type into a search box. Under the music sub-feed, the app will point you to short-form video feeds focused on various genres or even activities, like relaxing, studying or working out, for example.

This shift targets the changing consumer behavior of a younger generation (Gen Z, and soon, Alpha), which remains Spotify’s core demographic. As Google noted last year, younger people are using the web differently — and it’s a potential crisis for its own business. Speaking at an event, a Google Search exec explained how young people now often begin certain types of searches directly on Instagram and TikTok, bypassing Google Search.

Spotify, if it failed to adapt to changing trends, could have faced the same fate.

It may have seen users heading directly to TikTok to find new music, rather than its own app — no matter how many clever, personalized playlists it offered. Rather than waiting for this to be an existential threat (and one possibly accompanied by the launch of a dedicated TikTok Music app, as has been reported), it embraced the trend.

Still, it’s a big risk.

Some users weren’t necessarily thrilled with the modernized look of Google Search, now filled with colorful cards and videos instead of just a list of links. And similarly, a number of Spotify users may defect from the now video-first app to go back to more “classic” players, like Apple Music.

There’s a bit of old man yells at cloud to this early backlash, however. Internet technology is always changing as is consumer behavior. Spotify could have refused to experiment in this area, but in a way, it has a responsibility to do so as a prominent consumer app. If the changes don’t deliver the results it wants — if consumers cancel subscriptions, if engagement and discovery decline — it would likely dial things back.

Image Credits: Spotify

But if it succeeds, it would be a boon for its bottom line.

Going forward, Spotify says more artists can pay for its controversial Discovery Mode tool, which adds a signal to Spotify’s personalized algorithms — algorithms that now inform its video feeds. The feature includes paying Spotify a commission on streams. It’s not exactly an ad, but rather a tool to manipulate what feels more like an organic experience to the end user. Plus, artists can use a new feature called Showcase to place a mobile card in the new video feeds to introduce their music to potential fans. Longer-term, Spotify could insert more ads into this experience, too.

At least we’ll have to credit Spotify with this: It decided not to merely dabble with its TikTok-style features, it went all in. This is no mere add-on to its product, it’s the face of it. Unlike Reddit, which made visiting its TikTok-inspired feed a more intentional choice, Spotify’s feeds are everywhere. It’s a real test for Spotify’s brand and, as CEO Daniel Ek said at the event, the “biggest change Spotify has undergone since we introduced mobile 10 years ago.” Now the ball is in consumers’ court as to what comes next.

More from Spotify

The app’s changes were among many new features Spotify introduced at its Stream On live event in LA.

Podcasters were also pitched new tools that would give them the option to add interactive features — like Q&As and polls. These were previously reserved for Anchor creators only, but Anchor is now being merged into the larger Spotify for Podcasters dashboard. Spotify also expanded access to video podcasts, which now could hold more appeal given the new video feeds.

Artists, meanwhile, are being offered access to new tools for running campaigns, and promoting concerts and merchandise, as well as new Countdown Pages that let fans presave albums, watch exclusive videos, preorder merch, preview tracklists and watch a timer count down to a new release.

The Countdown pages can also showcase Spotify’s new Clips — under-30-second vertical videos that are uploaded directly to Spotify for Artists. These will appear on artist profiles and album pages, as well.

The feature can be used to share the story behind a song, announce an upcoming release, feature a collaborator, show off merch or, for new artists, as an introduction — or anything else an artist may want to share. Unlike on social media platforms, the goal with Clips is not to generate Likes, but rather streams of the artist’s music instead.

It’s another way Spotify is shifting its app to video outside of the TikTok-style feeds.

Corporate takeover of the Fediverse?

At the start of the week, some in the Fediverse user base were upset about Medium’s entry into their open source, decentralized space with news that Medium’s new Mastodon server would involve a fee. (It’s actually just another perk of a Medium membership.) But by the end of the week, a much bigger threat to the status quo had emerged as Meta confirmed it was working on a decentralized, text-based app. The app would effectively serve as a Twitter alternative, but also seemingly would threaten the growth of the free and decentralized web where platforms like Meta have less control.

The app, codenamed P92, would let users log in using their Instagram credentials and would support ActivityPub. The latter is concerning Fediverse advocates who fear Meta’s real interest in this space has nothing to do with their values but rather is just another example of the “embrace, extend, extinguish” approach big tech takes when there’s a threat to its power.

In the case of the Fediverse, however, there may be a tool for fighting back. Server operators could refuse to federate with any Meta-run instances, essentially carving out a space for social networking outside of big tech’s reach. Or servers could choose only to federate if Meta agreed to certain conditions, like account portability or not screwing around with ActivityPub’s development.



Image Credits: Google

  • Google’s annual I/O developer conference is returning to the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View on May 10. The in-person event is still more scaled-down than in pre-COVID years and the keynotes will be livestreamed. Various talks will focus on Google’s OS efforts, like Android and Wear OS.
  • The second developer preview of Android 14 has shipped, offering new additions that mostly focus on added security and privacy features, rather than consumer-facing ones. One new addition is the updated photo picker which will now ask users if they want to give an app permission to access every photo or only select ones. Android 14 is also adding a credential manager as a platform API, introducing new optimizations to Android’s memory management system, and offering more personalization options to end users for various settings like temperature units and numbering systems.
  • Google’s Play Console will open release tracks dedicated to Wear OS allowing developers to ship Wear OS updates independently of their core Android release.
  • Google began rolling out the first Beta for the new Privacy Sandbox on Android to a small percentage of Android devices. The effort is focused on developing new technologies to enable personalized ads for mobile devices with more respect for consumer privacy.
  • Android 15 will be code-named Vanilla.


  • Apple’s new App Store pricing capabilities, announced in December, are now available across all app and in-app purchase types including paid apps and one-time in-app purchases, Apple announced. That means developers can now use more flexible price points and globally equalized prices. In addition, the company said on May 9, 2023, pricing for existing apps and one‑time in‑app purchases will be updated across all 175 App Store storefronts to take advantage of new enhanced global pricing.
  • Apple’s Emergency SOS feature which connects users to a satellite messaging service when a cell signal is not available is now live in 12 markets, including the U.S. and Canada, after an EU expansion. Newly supported countries include Austria, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands and Portugal.
  • Apple rolled out the third iOS 16.4 public beta, which includes the 31 new emoji, Safari push notifications and minor changes to first-party apps, including Podcasts and Apple Music, among other things. This will also be the last beta to require users to install a certificate — going forward, beta updates will be linked to users’ Apple IDs, instead.
  • Apple released TestFlight 3.3 to its App Store. The company said it includes just stability improvements and bug fixes.
  • A new consumer survey published by The WSJ (via Daring Fireball) noted that Apple is now beating Samsung in Korea in the key demographic of 18- to 29-year-olds.

App Updates


  • Facebook announced it would begin testing the ability for users to access their Messenger inbox within the Facebook app. The company had separated the technologies in 2016 in a push to drive users to the standalone Messenger app.
  • WhatsApp is working on a new anti-spam feature that will allow users to automatically silence incoming calls from unknown numbers.
  • Telegram launched its new Power Saving Mode on iOS alongside other features. The battery saver was first announced on Mac. The feature disables animations and other effects to extend battery life and can be set to automatically turn on when the battery reaches a certain percentage. Now iOS users can also granularly adjust playback speed for videos, podcasts, voice and video messages; can view when messages were read by individual group members; can send invite links as messages; can mark all chats in a folder as read; and more.

Image Credits: Telegram

  • Japanese messaging platform LINE added support for ChatGPT in its app, allowing users to send up to five messages for free per day or upgrade to unlimited messages for around $5/month. The feature was so popular it gained 200,000 users in a day.
  • Discord announced a set of new AI experiences, including an update to its Clyde bot that will integrate OpenAI’s ChatGPT technology. With the release, users will be able to ask Clyde questions, have conversations or ask the bot to perform tasks, like sending you a GIF.
  • Signal and WhatsApp took a stand against the Online Safety Bill in the UK, along with other secure messaging apps, all of which are refusing to undermine the encryption they use to cater to government demands.


  • TikTok is now blocking links to app stores from creators’ bios. The company confirmed that only business accounts would now have this ability, which even extends to include links within link-in-bio services like Linktree. While there’s no charge and no ad product involved, the move seems a push to get businesses to buy ads, rather than partnering with creators on CPI campaigns.
  • Twitter had another outage this week, this time impacting images and links. Maybe they should bring back the fail whale.
  • In addition to Spotify and SoundCloud, Reddit has also now adopted the TikTok-style format for its own app. The company this week launched a redesign of its app, which includes a new Watch feed for videos while another new feed, Read, will focus on text content. The company believes separating the two will allow users to more easily jump into the experience they prefer.
  • In addition, Reddit said it’s closing down its Clubhouse clone, Reddit Talk. The company explained its third-party audio vendor was closing up shop and it didn’t have its own in-house resources ready.
  • Meta said it will stop offering Reels bonuses to creators on Instagram and Facebook after first announcing the incentivized content program in 2021.
  • An NBC News investigation found creeps and pedophiles on Pinterest, pinning images of young girls. The company said it would launch a feature that would allow users to report boards and more optioning for flagging profiles in the near-term and was planning to introduce age-verification measures at a later date.
  • Gowalla, a location-based social networking app first launched in 2009, is coming back. The app is making its return just in time for SXSW (again!) to see if the time is now right for its concept to succeed. The new app has an updated look and hopes to capitalize on the void created by Snap’s shutdown of Zenly.
  • Alongside the new version of its TV OS, which focuses on sports updates and live news, Roku also announced a revamp of its companion mobile app. The company described the new design as more visually immersive and said it would add features that let users access things like account management, privacy and security settings, and devices attached to their Roku account. The app will also now support up to 1,000 photos for photostreams instead of just 100. The new sports experience and “Continue Watching” rows will also be included in the update.

Image Credits: Roku

Entertainment & Streaming

  • Spotify’s not the only app taking inspiration from TikTok. SoundCloud this week also introduced vertical video feeds that highlight song clips in its new TikTok-style “Discover” and “Following” feeds.
  • SoundCloud also gained a new CEO: Eliah Seton, who previously oversaw Creator and Roster divisions, strategy, M&A, content partnerships, biz dev, distribution and artist partnerships. Fred Wilson, founder of Union Square Ventures and member of SoundCloud’s board since 2011, was also been appointed as the new chairman of the board.

SoundCloud feed on two smartphone screens

Image Credits: SoundCloud

  • TikTok gets a paywall. The company introduced a new feature called Series, which allows creators to sell Collections of up to 80 paid videos of up to 20 minutes long. Initially, creators are allowed to keep 100% of the revenue generated.
  • SiriusXM announced layoffs of 475 people, or 8% of its total workforce, citing the “uncertain economic environment.” The company runs the satellite radio service as well as Pandora and Stitcher.
  • Wattpad also announced layoffs of 15% of its staff (42 of 267 people), citing the economic environment.
  • Sonos said it would add support for spatial audio on Apple Music on March 28, making the company the first partner to bring spatial audio into the home.
  • Apple launched its Apple Music Classical app for preorder. (More on that below.)


  • Utah is allowing residents to use the GET Mobile ID app to create a digital identity which can then be used to generate a digital driving license remotely. The mobile driving license (mDL) can be used at TSA checkpoints at Salt Lake City International Airport.
  • Popular widget maker and personalization app Widgetsmith announced it has now topped 100 million downloads since its launch in September 2020.
  • Snoop Dogg is among the co-founders of a new app called Shiller that lets creators promote their NFTs, collect virtual tips and engage with a web3 community.
  • Epic Games is now letting developers self-publish to its Epic Games Store, taking only a 12% commission on game sales and no IAP cut if they use their own payments tool. 
  • Microsoft’s Outlook Mac app is now free, instead of requiring a 365 subscription.

Image Credits: Microsoft

  • Microsoft’s enterprise-focused Azure OpenAI service made ChatGPT available to businesses looking to add the AI model to their own apps. The Azure OpenAI service already offers other OpenAI technology, including GPT-3.5, Codex and DALL-E 2. ChatGPT is priced at $0.002 per 1,000 tokens, or about 750 words, with billing for ChatGPT usage to begin March 13. Snap has already integrated ChatGPT and others, like Instacart and Office Depot, said they will soon.

Government, Policy and Lawsuits

  • A bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced new legislation, the RESTRICT Act, that would allow the administration to restrict or even ban foreign technology, including TikTok if it considers the tech a national security threat. If passed, it would give the Dept. of Commerce the power to “review, prevent and mitigate” software, hardware and services from foreign adversaries.
  • Meanwhile, TikTok announced Project Clover, a charm offensive focused on EU regulators that will include keeping EU user data on servers in Europe and allowing a cybersecurity audit by a European firm.
  • EU regulators also asked Twitter to hire more moderators and fact-checkers, the FT said. The policymakers were worried about the company’s plan to lean on volunteers and AI for moderation.
  • Irish data protection commissioner Helen Dixon said regulators were concerned about Twitter’s decision to roll out its subscription service, Twitter Blue, without notice or discussions with the DPC — a best practice, though not a legal requirement.

Funding and M&A

  • Gaming startup Believer, founded by ex-Riot execs, raised $55 million from Lightspeed, a16z and others in a Series A round. The company is still being cagey about its plans — including what platforms it will support — but is focused on large, multiplayer “open world” games.
  • Alongside the launch of new password manager Uno, the startup disclosed a $3 million seed round led by a16z, with participation from Lookout founder Kevin Mahaffey and Dug Song from Duo Security. The app will work on Mac, Chrome and iOS and aims to improve on the designs of other password managers with a more user-friendly experience and interface.
  • Korean tech giant Kakao made a $1 billion bid to buy one-third of SM Entertainment.
  • Bach, an app for planning group travel and bachelorette trips, raised $9 million in Series A funding led by Pritzker Group Venture Capital. Available on both iOS and Android, the app lets friends chat about trips, plan an itinerary, split expenses, browse curated experiences and more.


Apple Music Classical (preorder)

Image Credits: Apple

Apple announced on Thursday it will soon launch a new music streaming service focused on classical music. Based on its 2021 acquisition of Amsterdam-based streamer Primephonic, the new Apple Music Classical app will offer Apple Music subscribers access to more than 5 million classical music tracks, including new releases in high-quality audio, as well as hundreds of curated playlists, thousands of exclusive albums and other features like composer bios and deep dives on key works.

Users will be able to search by composer, work, conductor or even catalog number, to locate recordings. These can be streamed in high-quality audio of up to 192 kHz/24-bit Hi-Res Lossless. And thousands of recordings will be available in Apple’s immersive spatial audio, as well.

The service will be included with an Apple Music subscription, including Individual ($10.99/mo), Student ($5.99/mo) and Family ($16.99/mo) plans, and the Apple One bundles. At launch, it will be iOS only (iOS 15.4+) with Android to follow “soon.”

The app is available for preorder on the App Store for a March 28 release.

This Week in Apps: TikTok-style feeds come to Spotify and Reddit; Meta’s Fediverse plans by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

This Week in Apps: Jack Dorsey-backed Bluesky, social apps’ teen protections, Twitter clients get help

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 economy in 2023 hit a few snags, as consumer spending last year dropped for the first time by 2% to $167 billion, according to’s “State of Mobile” report. However, downloads are continuing to grow, up 11% year-over-year in 2022 to reach 255 billion. Consumers are also spending more time in mobile apps than ever before. On Android devices alone, hours spent in 2022 grew 9%, reaching 4.1 trillion.

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.

Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here:

Top Stories

Social apps & “pseudo” teen protections

Amid a lack of U.S. regulation over how social media companies should be protecting their teen and minor users, big tech companies are self-policing, hoping to ward off any coming laws that could impact their businesses. But the companies’ so-called teen safety features and protections now being rolled out are doing little to actually limit the negative impacts of teens’ social media use. At best, they present small roadblocks or annoyances that any teen user could easily bypass. At worst, as in the case of Snapchat’s new Streaks pausing feature, they actually force users to pay for the benefit of a less addictive app and better mental health.

Let’s start with Instagram. The company this week was touting its expanded tests of an age verification feature that asks users to verify their age if they attempt to change their age to an adult (18 or older) in the app. The company offers one of three methods to confirm the user’s age: they can upload a government ID, take a video selfie, or get others to vouch for their age. The ID upload is obviously the most accurate method here, as video selfies can be hit or miss. Still, these first two options may feel a bit more invasive in terms of privacy. Plus, many in the under-18 crowd may not yet have a government ID if they haven’t gotten their driver’s license.

That’s why Instagram offers the third option of “social vouching.”

Image Credits: Instagram

But the way it’s implemented puts the control largely in the teen’s hands. A parent or guardian does not have to be asked to verify the teen’s age. Instead, the teen is allowed to hand-select three users among their mutual followers who will vouch that the teen is the age they say they are. Those vouching for the teen will receive a request, which they have to respond to within 3 days. This request presents several options for them to choose from such as “under 13 years old,” “13-17 years old,” “18-20 years old,” “21 years or older” or “I’m not sure.”

Instagram claims these users must also be at least 18 (assuming their age is real in the first place) and they must meet “other safeguards” but nothing about this option is documented in the site’s Help pages. 

In practice, it would be exceedingly simple for a teen to simply ask their three friends to click the “18” option if they were trying to work around the system. As a result, this is not any sort of real preventative measure, it’s simply a roadblock a teen could easily avoid. (And let’s not forget that once the teen is “officially” 18, Instagram can use their data for ad targeting in more expansive and revenue-boosting ways!)

Next, there’s TikTok, which made headlines this week for its new 60-minute limit for teens, if it’s even fair to call it that. While the under-13 users will be blocked from continuing to watch without a parent or guardian’s permission, older teens can choose for themselves.

In the case of the former, the parent would need to enter a passcode to enable 30 more minutes of viewing for their under-13 child. However, all other teens under 18 will simply be prompted to enter a passcode to keep watching TikTok. Even the company acknowledges this isn’t really a limit on TikTok viewing, noting the passcode entry screen is there to require the teens “to make an active decision to extend that time.” It’s also just another roadblock and one designed to be easily bypassed.

TikTok Family Pairing updates shown on 3 smartphone screens

Image Credits: TikTok

But while Instagram and TikTok are at least gesturing toward teen safety and better mental health, Snap has decided to outright charge for it.

As any teen knows, one of the company’s most addictive features is the app’s “Snap Streaks,” which tracks how many days in a row two Snapchat users have sent Snaps back and forth to one another. Teens consider this measurement to be an indication of the strength of their friendship, but in reality, the Streaks have little point beyond encouraging repeat app opens and Snapchat addiction. The problem is so bad among teens that it’s been the focus of government intervention and proposed legislation at various times.

This week, Snap said it would test — not launch, mind you, but test — a new feature that would allow users to pay for Streak Restores.

This option would let them reignite a Streak in the event they accidentally let it drop. The option could potentially fend off customer service requests from teens who are so addicted to streaks that they email the company to beg for them back. In addition, Snapchat+ subscriptions will soon gain a feature that would allow users to freeze their streaks any time they needed a break, the company said.

This is an incredible thumbing of its nose by Snap at all the hubbub around teen safety and mental health protections. Not only is it doing nothing to address the root cause of the problem — that it gamified friendships among a psychologically vulnerable demographic — it’s asking users to pay for the privilege of unwinding from their addiction. The fact that the launch is being widely celebrated is only further proof of how desperate Snap’s users have become to have any options to limit their in-app screen time. It’s like charging opioid addicts for their methadone. Truly mindblowing.

Jack Dorsey-backed Bluesky hits the App Store and other Fediverse news

Bluesky, the Twitter alternative backed by Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey, hit the App Store this week and more testers are gaining access. Though the app is still only available as an invite-only beta, its App Store arrival signals that a public launch could be nearing.

We hadn’t heard much from Bluesky since October 2022, when the team behind the project shared an update on the Bluesky blog, detailing the status of the social protocol that powers its new Twitter-like app, also called Bluesky. Last year, Bluesky said it had received $13 million to ensure it had the freedom and independence to get started on R&D and noted Jack Dorsey was on its board. (Because apparently, Twitter’s own board is asleep at the wheel!)

AT (originally called ADX, or “Authenticated Transfer Protocol,”) is Bluesky’s main effort while the Bluesky mobile app serves to showcase the protocol in action. Similar to the ActivityPub protocol that powers Mastodon, AT offers the means of creating a federated and decentralized social network.

TechCrunch was able to go hands-on with the Bluesky app this week, which you can read more about here, but found it to be a stripped-down Twitter clone for the most part. Its uniqueness is more about the underlying technology rather than its user interface, it seems.

Bluesky has faced some criticism, notably from Mastodon and other developers, who pointed out that ActivityPub — a recommended W3C standard — already powers a large and growing “Fediverse” of interconnected servers. Already, other companies have committed to or have at least discussed plans to adopt ActivityPub, including Flipboard, which announced its Fediverse plans this week, as well as MediumTumblr and possibly Flickr.

If there is any Fediverse momentum, it’s from ActivityPub for the time being.

We also checked in with Tumblr to find out where the company was with its own Fediverse ambitions since we hadn’t heard much about it plans lately. Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg told us the company is actually testing all the protocols, including ActivityPub, Bluesky and Nostr.

“Tumblr is quite large, and we don’t want to break anything in the Fediverse by turning things on willy-nilly, so we’re digging into the protocols,” he said. There’s no ETA yet on when the company might make a decision, however.

Tweetbot & Twitterific ask customers to decline refunds in rare App Store exception

Twitter last month officially banned third-party clients, putting a sudden end to popular apps, including TweetbotTwitterrific, and others. This week, in an unusual turn of events, two developers have updated their shuttered apps with new functionality: They’re asking their subscribers to decline to receive a refund by clicking a new “I don’t need a refund” button in their nonfunctional apps. And, in the case of Tapbots’ Tweetbot app, users can opt to transfer their subscription to the company’s newest app — its Mastodon client Ivory — instead. The options allow subscribers who are sympathetic to these indie developers’ plight to offer support by not asking for their money back.

It’s an unprecedented situation, to say the least, and one most subscription-based iOS apps wouldn’t ever have to face. In most other scenarios, a company’s decision to put an end to API access, as Twitter did, would have been telegraphed well in advance. This would allow the businesses dependent on the API functionality to communicate with their customers about the change and prepare to take the next steps. The third-party Twitter clients, however, had no warning. Their businesses were ruined overnight though they had done no wrong. What’s more, they would have to pay back users’ pro-rated subscriptions out of pocket.

That situation seems to have paved the way for an equally unusual exception to App Store rules, which typically wouldn’t allow developers to solicit customers to decline refunds for non-functional apps. Subscribers can choose to click a button in the app to allow the developers to keep their money — which, we’d advise, everyone to go do now.



Image Credits: Google

  • Google announced new Android features at Mobile World Congress this week, alongside updates for Chromebook and Wear OS. Among the changes, Google said Fast Pair will soon work with Chromebook to connect headphones already configured with an Android device; expanded noise cancellation for Google Meet on more Android devices; a Google Keep widget for Home screens; the ability to use a stylus or touch the screen to annotate PDFs in the Google Drive app for Android; and a way to increase the text size in Chrome up to 300% while preserving the layout. Wear OS will receive two new sound and display modes to improve watch accessibility.
  • Google’s Pixel Watch gained a fall-detection feature that uses motion sensors and on-device machine learning to identify if a user has taken a hard fall. The watch can then connect the user with help, if need be. Apple has offered a similar feature since 2018’s launch of the Apple Watch Series 4.
  • Google announced upcoming policy changes aimed at improving the quality of apps for Wear OS and how they appear in the Google Play Store. The changes speak to how the app should be designed and how features should appear, among other things. The requirements go into effect on August 31. Google also noted all Wear OS apps must target Android 11 (API level 30) by August 31 as well in order to remain discoverable by users with newer Android OS versions.
  • Recommended Reading: TechCrunch’s Brian Heater sat down with Android exec Sameer Samat to talk ecosystems, regulation and competition in a wide-ranging interview. You can dig in here.


  • Apple rolled out iOS 16.4 beta 2 for developers alongside the second developer betas for iPadOS 16.4, tvOS 16.4 and watchOS 9.4. The betas include more hints about Apple Music Classical, the rumored streaming service in development. The software also confirms the coming launch of Apple Pay in South Korea, which had already been given the green light. 
  • The App Store Connect tool was updated to now allow developers to use peer group benchmarks for metrics about their apps. This allows developers to compare their app’s performance with others like them without having to subscribe to a third-party measurement firm’s data.

App Updates


  • Snap introduced My AI, a new in-app chatbot that uses the latest version of OpenAI’s GPT technology. The feature, which is only offered to Snapchat’s paid subscribers (Snapchat+), can do things like suggest birthday gift ideas, help with trip planning, suggest recipes, and other less serious tasks. Users can also personalize the AI by giving it a name and customizing the wallpaper for their chat.

Snapchat's new AI chatbot

Image Credits: Snapchat

  • Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg also announced the company will build a new top-level product group focused on integrating generative AI into its services and developing “AI personas that can help people in a variety of ways.” In the near term, the company said it will begin testing text-based AI tools in WhatsApp and Messenger, likely similar to ChatGPT. It also said it will experiment with AI-aided filters and ad formats on Instagram as well as video and multi-modal experiences.
  • Windows 11 added the new Bing to its taskbar after previously bringing it to its Edge desktop browser followed by the Edge, Bing and Skype mobile apps.
  • Brave Search launched a new “Summarizer” feature, which is powered by different large langue models (LLMs), but not OpenAI’s GPT. the feature will become available within desktop and mobile web browsers but was not yet natively integrated into Brave’s native mobile browser app.
  • TikTok’s newest viral beauty filter, “Bold Glamour,” appears to be AI, notes The Verge. But TikTok wouldn’t confirm. Unlike other filters, Bold Glamour completely alters’ users’ appearances — but in a way that makes the effect look less cartoonish and more subtle. Experts believe the filter is likely using ML, specifically Generative Adversarial Networks, or GANs. The impressive part is that TikTok has been able to bring this technique to mobile with minimal glitches, the report says.


  • Apptopia crunched the numbers on social apps’ in-app purchases. Companies are now looking to direct user payments, including subscriptions and other in-app purchases, as Apple’s ATT changes have cut into their ad revenues. Among the highlights, the report found that TikTok has earned $205 million more than Facebook, Twitter, Snap, and Instagram combined on in-app purchases in 2023 so far. The full group has also grown their collective quarterly IAP revenue 91% since the launch of ATT. Snapchat+ is also outperforming Facebook on daily IAP revenue by 20% on average.
  • VSCO says it’s expanding its social features in Spaces, its collaborative galleries where photographers can upload images around a theme and chat. In mid-March, VSCO will make it possible for users to share text-based posts in Spaces and will allow users to message each other, regardless of follow status. It will also introduce new 9×16 auto-generated images, optimized for Instagram Stories and the like, among other improvements.

VSCO new features

Image Credits: VSCO

  • Reddit added new features including the ability to find comments within a post from the search bar, which will arrive on desktop, iOS and Android. It also noted other improvements, like its subreddit search algorithm that’s been enhanced to surface more relevant subreddits for most searches, updates to autocomplete, and easier ways to browse video results with up and down swipes in video search results.
  • Twitter’s paid subscription Twitter Blue is now available to more than 20 new countries in Europe, including Netherlands, Poland, Ireland, Belgium, Sweden, Romania, Czech Republic, Finland, Denmark, Greece, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Slovakia, Latvia, Slovenia, Estonia, Croatia, Luxembourg, Malta and Cyprus. The expansion makes the $8/mo plan available in a total of now 35 countries, including the U.S.

Image Credits: Instagram

  • Instagram began testing its age verification tools in more countries, including Canada and Mexico. The test initially launched in the U.S., then later rolled out in Brazil and Japan in October. If a user attempted to change their age to 18 or up, the app would require them to verify using one of three methods: uploading an ID, recording a video selfie or asking mutual friends to verify their age.
  • Pinterest is alpha testing a new video advertising product that allows brands to reach consumers from a more prominent position within the company’s mobile app. With the “Premiere Spotlight” ad advertisers will gain access to a premium placement for 24 hours on the Pinterest app’s search page, where they are able to feature an add with Pinterest’s max width video format.
  • TikTok parent company ByteDance launched Lemon8 in the U.S. and U.K., an app that’s a lot like the Chinese social shopping app Xiaoghongshu (Little Red Book). Like TikTok, the app has a Following and For You feed, but is described more as a lifestyle community. The company has been paying creators in the U.K. to post on the app.
  • Meta will now allow for longer Facebook Reels of up to 90 seconds, up from 60 seconds previously. It is also added more creative tools, including a new templates feature that lets users create Reels with trending templates, similar to ByteDance’s CapCut.

Streaming & Entertainment

Image Credits: TikTok

  • Ahead of TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew’s testimony before Congress planned for March, the company introduced more well-being features for teens, including screen time controls, new default settings and expanded Family Pairing controls. Notably, every account belonging to a user under the age of 18 will automatically be set to a 60-minute daily screen time limit, and teens will have to enter a code to continue scrolling. It’s also working on Family Pairing controls that would let parents filter videos by words and hashtags as well as customizable daily screen time controls.
  • A TikTok test in Australia limited the amount of licensed music available to some users on the platform, in an experiment to determine the different ways people interact with the app, Billboard reported. The results could ultimately inform TikTok’s licensing strategy, but users issued numerous complaints over the accompanying “sound removed” messages during the tests.
  • Spotify is killing its “heart” button for liking songs in favor of the plus button. The change will consolidate likes and adding content to playlists into a single button as one tap will like the track and a second tap will add the track to playlists.

Image Credits: Spotify

  • Pinterest’s collage maker app Shuffles expanded to nine more countries, including Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands. The app lets users pull and edit images from Pinterest or their camera roll to make collages they can share with others in-app or post to social media.
  • TikTok launched Sounds for Business, a collection of sounds that are designed as templates for easy use by marketers. The collection includes a mix of music, voice-over and other sound cues to help businesses create engaging content.
  • Twitter outages have gotten worse as further layoffs of senior staff have left the company floundering. Most recently, a global outage this week lasted for over two hours, with the timeline failing to load on mobile and web. But users are now often experiencing lags and errors outside of full outages, as well.
  • Amazon-owned Audible is launching its first-ever singing competition series, “Breakthrough,” as an exclusive podcast featuring artists Sara Bareilles and Kelly Rowland as judges. The series debuts on June 1.
  • Netflix will live stream its first broadcast with Chris Rock’s latest standup, “Chris Rock: Selective Outrage.” The airing will take place on Saturday, March 4, at 10 PM Eastern.
  • Movies Anywhere, a previously Disney-backed app that lets users access their digitally owned movie collection from across services, is shutting down two features, “Screen Pass” and “Watch Together.” The former allowed users to share their movies with friends while the latter was for co-viewing.


Pokemon GO Scarlet and Violet

Image Credits: The Pokémon Company

  • During this week’s Pokémon Presents livestream, the company announced Pokémon Sleep will become available on iOS and Android this summer, offering users a way to track their sleep habits and analyze them. It also announced integrations between its Pokémon Scarlet & Violet games and the Niantic-produced mobile game Pokémon GO.


  • Tinder kicked off a new brand campaign to appeal to Gen Z daters and their inclusive attitudes. It’s also pushing back again at Tinder’s hookup perception, noting that long-term relationships are members’ No. 1 goals — a change from an earlier campaign several years back that had embraced Tinder’s “casual” nature.


  • Microsoft launched Phone Link for iOS which lets iPhone users take calls and respond to iMessage texts from their PC.
  • Telegram updated its Mac App Store app with a new Power Saving Mode that aims to help prevent the app from draining the computer’s battery. The feature will also automatically turn itself on based on the current battery charge.

Travel & Transportation

Cariad-VW Group-app store

Image Credits: Cariad/VW Group

  • The VW Group announced a new in-car app store will be launched by its software subsidiary Cariad. Starting with select Audi vehicles, the app store will bring dozens of apps to vehicles, including Spotify, Amazon Music, TikTok and gaming hubs Vector Unit and FRVR to cars starting this summer. It will later expand across Audi’s portfolio then to Porsche and Volkswagen.
  • Waze killed off its iOS widget in its latest update due to low usage. The widget had been designed for the left-most homescreen and allowed users to jump into navigation. It’s unknown if Waze will bring back the widget as a Lock Screen option or full Home Screen widget instead.
  • Apple Maps’ 3D “Look Around” feature has arrived in Finland, Norway and Sweden.
  • Uber updated its app with updates for its courier feature Shop and Pay to address concerns with out of stock items, digital payments and order clarity before accepting a tip.


  • Indian fintech CRED announced plans to launch a buy now and pay later service and a tap-to-pay feature that will first roll out to NFC-enabled smartphones.
  • Public made its Treasury Accounts available to all members. It said members can now take advantage of the current 5.1% yield of Treasury bills, which is higher than savings accounts,   while also receiving the “flexibility and ease of access to cash” of a typical bank account.
  • All-in-one fintech app Revolut reported its first full year of profit, noting it tripled its revenue between 2020 and 2021 and reached 16+ million users by the end of 2021.
  • The crypto-focused Robinhood Wallet app was officially launched to iOS users globally. The app, which now supports both the Polygon and Ethereum networks, had a waitlist of over 1 million ahead of its launch.
  • Wealthfront announced an expansion into stocks and fractional shares, allowing investors to now buy individual stocks and discover new investment opportunities.
  • Gen Z neobank Step launched stock investing allowing users to now invest as well as earn, save, spend and build credit before they turn 18. The company also announced a milestone of 4 million accounts. 

Government, Policy and Lawsuits

European Commissioner for Europe fit for the Digital Age, Margrethe Vestager, gestures as she speaks during an online news conference on Apple antitrust case at the EU headquarters in Brussels, on April 30, 2021

European Commissioner for Europe fit for the Digital Age, Margrethe Vestager, gestures as she speaks during an online news conference on Apple antitrust case at the EU headquarters in Brussels, on April 30, 2021. Image Credits: GETTY IMAGES / FRANCISCO SECO/POOL/AFP

  • The EU confirmed changes to its antitrust case against Apple, dropping objections over in-app purchases on streaming music providers, and instead focusing on Apple’s policies that prevent apps from telling their users about other subscription options. This could still be good news for Spotify if a final ruling is issued, as it could force Apple to adjust its guidelines in addition to a fine. Spotify, however, is not happy with how long it’s taken to reach a decision on the matter.
  • The Canadian government has followed the U.S.’s lead with an announcement that it plans to ban TikTok from federal mobile devices on February 28 over security concerns.
  • The U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee voted 24 to 16 to give President Joe Biden the power to ban TikTok and other apps. Democrats opposed the bill, which was said to be “dangerously overbroad.” The ACLU said it a TikTok ban would violate citizens’ free speech. The bill will have an uphill battle in the Senate, where Democrats still have a narrow majority. The bill follows moves by federal government and several state governments to ban TikTok from government devices.

US Capitol building

Capitol building. Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

  • U.S. civil liberties and digital rights groups, including the ACLU, Access Now, and Fight for the Future, are speaking out against a potential TikTok ban saying that it would violate people’s First Amendment rights.
  • An open letter penned by Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) called on new Twitter owner Elon Musk to bring the accessibility team back to the company, noting disabled users have “reported increased difficulty and frustration using Twitter” since the layoffs.
  • BetterHelp owner Teladoc Health settled with the FTC for $7.8 million over data mishandling occurring from 2017-2020. The company also agreed to stop sharing data with Meta, Snap, and Pinterest for advertising purposes.
  • In a new filing late last week, the U.S. Department of Justice alleged that Google “routinely destroyed” an entire category of written communications in its antitrust investigation against the company. The communications — chat messages between Google employees — were deleted over the course of several years, as Google allowed employees to set messages to auto-delete. A similar issue had been brought up by Epic Games in its ongoing trial involving the Fortnite maker accusing Google of anticompetitive conduct with its Play Store.

Funding and M&A

  • CollX, a mobile app for trading card collectors, raised $5.5 million in a seed round led by Brand Foundry Ventures. Launched in January 2022, the app claims to have 600,000+ users who have scanned more than 100 million cards.
  • Serena Williams’ Serena Ventures backed community finance company SoLo Funds, which now has 1 million+ registered users and over 1.3 million downloads, the company claims.
  • Recipe app and website SideChef raised another $6 million in Series B funding, bringing its total raise to date to more than $16 million. Investors include LG, Ideate Ventures, AB Electrolux, Peacock Capital Group, and others. The app is free to download with a $4.99/mo premium subscription available and offers over 20K recipes.
  • Chef-prepared meals marketplace Shef, available on web and mobile, raised $73.5 million in Series B funding back in June 2022 (newly announced), including $7 million in debt, led by CRV with participation from a16z and Amex Ventures. The company helps home cooks become small business owners and is now available nationwide.
  • Chinese fast fashion giant Shein had talked with Amazon and Google over a potential investment when negotiating for cloud contracts, but neither firm was interested.



Mammoth app on three smartphone screens

Image Credits: Mammoth

A new Mastodon app called Mammoth gained 10,000 downloads in the first few days of its availability on the App Store. The app was built by a team that includes the developer of the Aviary app for Twitter, which was among those unceremoniously killed by Twitter earlier this year after new owner Elon Musk decided the wider app ecosystem no longer had a need for third-party Twitter clients. The app offers a range of features for using Mastodon from the expected — like being able to browse timelines and post and turn on a dark mode — to the less common, like picture-in-picture for pinning posts to your screen, tools for viewing media in AR, tools for sentiment analysis and more. But key to the experience is how Mammoth intends to make it easier for newcomers to join the Fediverse with simplified onboarding and a suggested users list.

The app is also backed by Mozilla, which led the company’s pre-seed round. The company behind Mammoth had acquired the app from developer Shihab Mehboob (Aviary 2, Vinyls) and is now led by Bart Decrem, previously of Mozilla, Disney, and other entrepreneurial projects, like KyrptoSign and years back, the Flock browser. Other investors include Long Journey Ventures and Salesforce’s Marc Benioff.

This Week in Apps: Jack Dorsey-backed Bluesky, social apps’ teen protections, Twitter clients get help by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

Pinterest is testing a new premium video ad format on its app’s search tab

Pinterest has begun alpha testing a new advertising product that allows brands to reach consumers from a more prominent position within the company’s mobile app. With the “Premiere Spotlight” ad, as the new format is currently being called, advertisers will gain access to a premium placement for 24 hours on the Pinterest app’s search page. This allows them to reach Pinterest users as they use one of the app’s key features — the ability to search for pins, inspiration, and ideas.

You can see the new ad format now in the most recent version of the Pinterest mobile app, where Kohl’s is currently advertising women’s spring apparel.

In addition to a short video that plays overlaid by text, there’s also a button that takes you to Kohl’s website. The site opens within the Pinterest app, not as a separate tab. From there, Pinterest users can browse the retailer’s product suggestions, search for other items, add items to their cart, and check out — just as they could if visiting Kohl’s website directly.

For years, Pinterest has catered to advertisers by allowing them to create Pins featuring products or ideas that they pay to promote and target to different audiences. These pins then appear within the Pinterest home feed and within relevant search results. But many Pinterest users don’t open the app to browse the feed, nor are they looking for a specific product. Instead, they head to the search page to type in a more general query. Today, 97% of searches on Pinterest are unbranded, company data indicates.

The new format would allow advertisers to capture these new customers — including those who may not have previously seen their ad if they weren’t among the targeted audience.

Though the ads are sold in 24-hour blocks, it would be possible for marketers to book the ads back-to-back to hold the top spot even longer.

As an alpha test, the ad pricing is not yet being shared as it could potentially change between now and a more public launch. Kohl’s will be followed by other pilot testers across various categories, including those interested in promoting a product launch or aiming to capitalize on seasonal moments, as Kohl’s is with its spring fashion trends. Likely, there will be some curation in terms of which brands and type of creatives will be permitted here. All ads will also feature Pinterest’s max width video format.

Pinterest confirmed the ad pilot with a statement.

“We’re constantly looking for ways for advertisers to reach the people who come to Pinterest with commercial intent,” a spokesperson said. “As we continue to build a suite of products to drive performance across the full funnel, we’re exploring a new takeover feature that showcases a brand in a new premium, exclusive placement.”

Image Credits: Pinterest app screenshot

Over the past couple of years, Pinterest has been working to adapt to the growing interest in video from both consumers and advertisers alike. While originally an image pinboarding website, the company shifted into video with the launch of Idea Pins in 2021, which offer creators a more TikTok-like experience. Last year, it enabled marketers to turn their Idea Pins into ads. This year, the company pushed further into short-form video territory through a new agreement with Condé Nast, which will produce 160 exclusive videos for the site from top brands, Vogue and Architectural Digest.

During its Q4 earnings call earlier last month, Pinterest remarked that it had grown its supply of video content by 30% quarter-over-quarter, adding that high-quality content would help to better engage users, particularly Gen Z.

“Monetization per user should also be driven by our ads initiatives,” said CEO Bill Ready, who last year joined Pinterest from Google, where he headed its commerce initiatives. “Pinterest is unique because users come to our platform with intent, and we are one of the few places where people can go from seeking inspiration to fulfilling that intent through action,” Ready added.

However, Pinterest’s shares dipped after earnings as it missed on revenue with $877 million versus the expected $886.3 million, and it forecast growth only in the low single digits in the first quarter of 2023.

Despite the revenue struggles — which are not unique to the company given the economic downturn– Pinterest has been seeing more traction with users. It noted its global monthly active users were up 4% year-over-year to 450 million and average revenue per user was up 6% in North America. Gen Z has become particularly fond of the service, and was again Pinterest’s fastest-growing demographic in Q4, also accounting for nearly half of its video content pinned during the quarter.

Video ads may be able to better appeal to those younger users than image Pins, as they’re used to being inspired to shop from video elsewhere, including through TikTok, Reels and YouTube.

Pinterest did not say when the new ad format would be available more broadly.

Pinterest is testing a new premium video ad format on its app’s search tab by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

Mammoth is a free Mastodon app for iOS that makes it easier to get started

A new Mastodon app called Mammoth has already gained 10,000 downloads in the first few days of its availability on the App Store. The app was built by a team that includes the developer of the Aviary app for Twitter, which was among those unceremoniously killed by Twitter earlier this year after new owner Elon Musk decided the wider app ecosystem no longer had a need for third-party Twitter clients.

That decision left longtime Twitter apps in the lurch but prompted several app developers to turn their attention to the open-source, decentralized social network Mastodon instead. Last month, for example, the maker of the popular Twitter client Tweetbot launched a new Mastodon app called Ivory, after Elon Musk’s API changes wiped out the company’s Twitter-focused predecessor with no warning.

Now Mammoth is entering the market to offer users yet another option.

Unlike Ivory, which is an attempt to build a business to replace the losses from Tweetbot’s closure, Mammoth — for the time being, at least — is free without any in-app purchases. However, the company has said it eventually plans to offer a subscription version of Mammoth and its community,, but it hasn’t yet settled on the details.

In the meantime, its near-term goal is to encourage Mastodon adoption, the company explained in a blog post.

Image Credits: Mammoth

“…we don’t think our subscription will be a paywall or that free users will get a read-only version of the app or Simply: we want to contribute to Mastodon having 10m active users, then 100m. It’s early days still, and we don’t want to do anything that slows down adoption,” writes Mammoth co-founder Bart Decrem. “Therefore, we likely will have a subscription, but it won’t stop you from enjoying the app if you’re not paying. We don’t have all the details or the timing figured out yet.”

At launch, the Mammoth app offers access to a broad set of baseline features, like the ability to browse and switch between Mastodon timelines; post content including text, images, GIFs, polls; use features like private messages, lists, and bookmarks; change the app icon and theme; turn on a dark mode; access multiple accounts; and even undo posts with a custom duration, similar to Twitter. There are plenty of gestures and customization options to make Mammoth feel personalized to you.

Image Credits: Mammoth

The app also has an extensive set of less common features, like thread creation tools, picture-in-picture for pinning posts to your screen, tools for viewing media in AR,  tools for sentiment analysis, the ability to hide replies, translation tools while in compose, and more. As an iOS app, users can take advantage of things like Siri Shortcuts, Face ID and Touch ID, Share Extensions, and VoiceOver support. The app will soon come to macOS, too, the company notes.

What’s potentially more interesting than all of Mammoth’s bells and whistles is its approach to user onboarding.

Choosing a server has often been said to be one of the more difficult parts of getting set up on Mastodon. It adds a layer of complexity to the setup process when users expect to be able to just create a username and password like they’re used to on other social networks. But joining a server is part of what it means to participate on Mastodon and the broader group of interconnected servers known as the Fediverse, so it can’t be bypassed.

Image Credits: Mammoth

To make this process easier, Mammoth presents a simplified user interface that walks users through the account setup process, including their profile creation. It also tackles the problem of who to follow on Mastodon by presenting an interface for finding suggested users from across categories — something Twitter also did back in the day.

Image Credits: Mammoth

Mammoth launched just days ago, but its 10K installs indicate there continues to be consumer demand for Mastodon apps, despite the competitive landscape that includes Mastodon’s official client and a number of third-party apps, including the newly launched Ivory from Tapbots.

While some consumer interest in Mastodon may have waned since Musk’s Twitter takeover, interest in the wider Fediverse continues to grow.

Before Musk’s Twitter deal closed, the Fediverse — which includes Mastodon and a range of other social apps — had north of 570K monthly users. Today, the network has around 2.57 million. Companies are beginning to take note, too. Tumblr’s owner has talked of adopting the same protocol that powers Mastodon and Flickr has been considering the same. Blogging site Medium last month established its own foothold in the Fediverse with the launch of its own community.

Mammoth is bullish on the Fediverse’s potential and that of a decentralized internet in general.

The company says it will be open sourcing its code in addition to operating its own instance, and ultimately aims to make Mastodon easier for the next 10 million users, then the next 100 million. It’s an ambitious goal, given Twitter itself had just 237.8 million monetizable daily active users in the last quarter it reported as a public company, compared with Facebook’s 2 billion daily active users as of its most recent earnings. Whether or not a group of decentralized apps can ever carve out a large enough niche amid the shadow of tech giants remains to be seen. But it’s arguably a more promising development than Web3, which has squandered consumer trust by enabling scammers and pyramid schemes to proliferate.

Mammoth is a free download for iPhone and iPad and will come to Mac soon.

Mammoth is a free Mastodon app for iOS that makes it easier to get started by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch