This Week in Apps: Google goes visual, Twitter copies TikTok, OG app drama

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

Global app spending reached $65 billion in the first half of 2022, up only slightly from the $64.4 billion during the same period in 2021, as hypergrowth fueled by the pandemic has diminished. But overall, the app economy is continuing to grow, having produced a record number of downloads and consumer spending across both the iOS and Google Play stores combined in 2021, according to the latest year-end reports. Global spending across iOS and Google Play last year was $133 billion, and consumers downloaded 143.6 billion apps.

This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and much more.

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Top Stories

So we’re just TikTok-ing all the things now

The TikTok-ification of today’s web is nearly overwhelming. Already we’ve seen top social apps like Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube clone the vertical feed format in their own apps. And it seems not a day goes by when some other app announces its own TikTok-like feed has arrived. This week, it was the NBA app that added a vertical video feed of sports content, for some reason, while Twitter announced the introduction of a TikTok-inspired feed for watching videos on its app.

It’s all starting to get a little ridiculous, isn’t it?

Twitter video feed

Image Credits: Twitter

Still, there’s something more going on here, it seems.

This isn’t just about adopting a new format — as apps did when Stories became popular, for example. What’s really happening is that there’s a broader shift in how younger people are using the web, and apps are rushing to adapt. Younger users are looking for more immersive content, visual experiences and easy access to information through intuitive user interfaces that allow for fast scrolling or simple navigation.

Throwing a TikTok feed into an app is a quick way to address these users’ unique interests, but they’re certainly not the only way.

Google Goes Visual

Image Credits: Google

Google, to its credit, has identified this shift as a threat to its core business. It understands that the days when people taught themselves how to use Boolean operators to narrow search results, then clicked back and forth through dozens of blue links, are now behind us.

At an event this week, Google introduced how it’s revamping its products as a result of these behavioral changes, starting with Google Search and Maps.

One of the most notable updates is how Google now plans to redesign Google Search for the TikTok generation.

Instead of starting with a list of links, some Google searches will return highly visual results, where pieces of information are presented in colorful cards alongside other imagery and videos — including both YouTube content and TikToks. For instance, if you search for a place, you might see maps and directions, weather, photos and snippets from Wikipedia all placed in boxes at the top of the search results. And all this could be interspersed with creator-based content that shows off famous landmarks, sights, tourist attractions, places to dine and other ideas.

The changes follow Google’s recent acknowledgment that it had been losing younger users to apps like Instagram and TikTok for some types of searches. This is its attempt to bring those users back to its search engine instead.

The idea now is that you wouldn’t just come to Google to be informed, but to also discover and be inspired — much like you do on social video apps.

The company will cater to users’ interest in visual content in other ways as well, including with shopping searches, where it will integrate more 3D imagery, allow users to browse through “shoppable looks” where they can buy outfits, not locate individual pieces, and have their experiences customized to their own interests in terms of product categories and favorite brands.

Meanwhile, in Google Maps the company is allowing users to explore cities in an “Immersive View” that leverages a combination of computer vision and AI technology to fuse Street View and aerial imagery together. This gives users a way to more visually explore an area, like a bird in flight, then glide down to the street level. Here, users can even go inside places, like restaurants, to get a sense of what they look like inside, layered with “busy-ness” data — so you know if the restaurant would be likely to have a table for you at that time.

Google Maps is also updating its new Live View feature — the AR experience that overlays information atop the real world in Maps just by holding up your phone’s camera. With Live View, you can find places like shops, restaurants or ATMs highlighted over the view of the street your camera displays. And now, you can search within Live View, too.

Another interesting feature is Neighborhood Vibe — a way for Google Maps users to get a sense of the most popular and trendy places in a given neighborhood by adding reviews, photos and videos directly atop Google Maps. (Why turn to TikTok, after all, if you can open a real maps app and watch videos there, attached to exact locations?)

Then there’s the feature that seemingly sets the stage for an AR future — multisearch near me.

This allows you to view items in the real world and find out where to find them nearby. For instance, you could point your phone’s camera (and maybe one day, your AR glasses) toward a dress, then find out which shops in your town carry it. This is a step beyond video-based e-commerce experiences, as seen on TikTok or YouTube, because you’re instead shopping from the real world — not a recorded version of it.

Now, whether Google’s investments will pay off in the long term remain to be seen, of course. These are broader bets on the future of search and discovery. But at least we can say this for it — it’s not ignoring the market shifts or thinking that simply cramming a TikTok-like feed into its apps will keep it relevant.

OG Drama

Instagram on mobile

Image Credits: Un1feed

Hoping to cater to user demand for a more classic version of Instagram without the clutter from ads and suggested posts, a pair of developers built a customized app for viewing Instagram content, called OG App. While users may have briefly appreciated the experience of what felt like the old Instagram experience, the app’s existence was short-lived and filled with drama.

Apparently, the company didn’t exactly have permission to use Instagram’s API the way it was doing. Because soon after the app launched, Meta took enforcement actions against the app, confirming it was in violation of its policies. Apple also then removed the app from its App Store as a result of its behavior, noting that its rules state that apps displaying content from third-party services must do so in accordance with the service’s own terms of use.

OG App had already racked up nearly 10,000 downloads by the time of its removal, after just a couple of days of availability.

While this particular app is no more, it does serve as a test case for consumer interest in an algorithm-free photo-sharing experience that looks and feels more like Instagram once did.

Of course, a number of apps have entered the market hoping to capture users’ interest on that front, but have failed to gain significant traction. Among those were apps like Poparazzi, Later Cam and the ill-fated Dispo, which offer some sort of spin on analog photo-sharing — like replicating the disposable camera experience or only allowing friends to post pics of you. Then there were the apps that try to elevate photo-sharing, like Glass.

But many users either churned out of these experiences or never joined to begin with. Instead, users found a variation on casual, social photo-sharing with the app BeReal. But its notification-based “time to post” trick still needs to prove it can be a successful draw in the long term — and that’s not a given.

That’s why, as we said last week, now is a great time for developers to test the waters by building other privacy-focused social networking experiences — including those centered around photos.

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

  • Apple’s latest iOS 16 developer beta allows Stage Manager to work with older iPad Pro models, but that support doesn’t allow extending the display to an external monitor. The feature was previously only compatible with the M1-powered iPad Air and the 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro models released last year.
  • Apple pulled from its App Store apps owned by the Russian tech giant VK, including the music service VK Music. Apple said the apps have been removed due to new U.K. sanctions on Russian-owned companies. Apple also terminated the developer accounts associated with these apps.
  • References to Apple Music Classical, a new Apple Music service, were spotted in the latest iOS beta.
  • Apple rolled out iOS 16.1 beta 3, iPadOS 16.1 beta 4, watchOS 9.1 beta 3, tvOS 16.1 and macOS Ventura beta 9. It appears that iOS 16.1 could bring Adaptive Transparency to the original AirPods Pro, reports said.
  • Apple launched a new App Store Foundations Program in the U.K., with a focus on supporting women developers. The program will feature both one-on-one and group sessions with App Store leaders across the U.K. and Europe.
  • Apple News partner Fast Company’s account was hacked, leading the Apple News app to send offensive news notifications to users.

Platforms: Google

Image Credits: Google

  • Google officially announced the Play Store reorg that has been rolling out for some days. The changes make it easier to filter for and remotely install non-phone apps, including those for watches, tablets, cars and smart TVs.
  • Google upgraded its Speech Services by Google speech engine to provide “more natural voices.” The company says all 421 voices in 67 languages have been updated with a new voice model and synthesizer.

E-commerce and Food Delivery

Image Credits: Walmart

  • Walmart updated its AR feature, View in Your Home, to all users to view TV models to see if the set they liked looks good in their space.
  • Instagram began a new test in its app that ditches the Shopping tab. In one version, Messages takes the place of Shopping on the app’s home screen, while others saw the Notifications tab in its place.
  • iFood in Brazil controls more than 80% of the delivery market. A new report by Rest of World analyzes the impact of the government’s own delivery app Valeu on the market.
  • Shopify announced new mobile hardware, POS Go, that allows merchants to take payments anywhere via their phone, including through tapping, swiping or an integrated reader for chip cards.

Fintech

  • Robinhood debuted a new non-custodial crypto wallet with Polygon, Robinhood Wallet. The crypto wallet, the company’s first international app, was initially rolled out to 10,000 beta testers on its waitlist. It expects to reach over a million users at the beta test’s end before the end of 2022.
  • Public.com added support for alternative asset investing, which includes contemporary art, high-end trading cards, luxury items, vintage comics and more. Users can manage these new investments alongside their portfolio of stocks, crypto and ETFs.
  • Square added support for Tap to Pay on iPhone, which allows users to accept contactless payments directly in the Square Point of Sale app for iOS.

Social

  • TikTok is said to be bleeding U.S. executives, Forbes reported, because China is still calling the shots. Ex-employees said their ability to lead departments was minimized in the U.S. because of corporate reorgs that had them reporting to ByteDance leadership in Beijing, rather than TikTok leadership.
  • TikTok said it removed 33.6 million fake accounts in the past quarter, a 61% increase from the 20.8 million accounts it removed in the prior quarter. TikTok’s fake account removal rate has grown by more than 2,000% over 12 months.
  • Meta is testing a new interface that allows users to more easily create, manage and switch between multiple Facebook and Instagram accounts. When logged into either Facebook or Instagram’s app, users will be able to toggle between the two apps now through the profile menu.
  • Meta said all Facebook and Instagram users in the U.S. can now share NFTs and cross-post between both apps, after announcing the start of the rollout last month.

Meta Instagram NFT

Image Credits: Meta

  • Snapchat is going to pay out $100,000 to creators across 12 Spotlight Challenges from October 3 through the end of the month. Most will focus on Halloween or fall themes and will be used to help promote Snapchat features.
  • Twitter said Elon Musk has failed to provide Signal messages, with Marc Andreessen, relevant to the case involving Musk’s attempt to exit the $44 billion acquisition. It also said Musk’s own data scientists had estimated Twitter spam at 5-11% of users. Meanwhile, other court filings provided insight into Musk’s conversations ahead of the deal, including exchanges with former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, revealing that Dorsey had wanted to give Musk a board seat.
  • Twitter rolled out a redesigned DM experience on Android, catching up to iOS with an improved composer, better forwarding, clearer read receipts and more.

Photos

Messaging

Image Credits: WhatsApp

  • WhatsApp rolled out a way to share links for video calls, similar to apps like FaceTime or Zoom. The new link is found under the calls tab and can be sent to family and friends so they can tap to join the call. The company additionally confirmed it’s now testing 32-person encrypted video calls as well.
  • Intel announced the Unison app that allows Intel PC users to text, take calls and send files to their iOS and Android devices. The app will launch with 12th-gen PCs this fall.
  • The U.S. SEC and CFTC fined 16 financial firms $1.1 billion and $710 million in penalties, respectively, for employees’ use of unauthorized messaging apps. Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America were among those fined.

Dating

  • The NYT examined the dating market in China, where the number of apps with over 1,000 downloads grew to 275 in 2022, up from 81 in 2017 and have received $5.3 billion in funding in 2021, up from $300 million in 2019. Despite a nationwide crackdown on tech, the dating app market has been allowed to flourish, the report found.
  • Dating app Inner Circle launched a new group of anti-ghosting features called “The Date Conscious Suite.” The toolset includes things like anti-ghosting reminders, end conversation options, closure messages, pinned conversations and decision prompts.

Streaming & Entertainment

  • An iOS 16 bug appears to be impacting videos recorded in Cinematic Mode, which are no longer recognized by iMovie and Final Cut Pro, users are reporting.
  • YouTube added support for narration voiceovers for Shorts on iOS, copying another popular feature from TikTok’s app.
  • Even the NBA app is copying TikTok. The updated app includes a “For You” vertical video feed that offers highlights from NBA games and behind-the-scenes footage, content from influencers, NBA clips and more.
  • Deezer launched a new technology called SongCatcher music ID, which can search for songs based on humming, whistling and singing.
  • Twitter rolled out podcasts to its Twitter Blue subscribers on Android after first launching the feature on iOS a few weeks ago.

Gaming

  • Google is shutting down its cloud-based game streaming service Stadia. The service allowed users to stream games across platforms, including Chromecast Ultra, Android TV, computers, Google Chrome’s browser, Chromebook and Chrome OS tablets, the Stadia app for Android phones and on iOS via a progressive web app. Subscribers will have access to their games library through January 18 and refunds will be issued. The company says it will apply Stadia’s technology to other areas, including Google Play, YouTube and AR in the future.
  • Netflix is establishing an internal games studio based in Helsinki, Finland, led by the former co-founder and general manager of the Zygna Helsinki game development studio, Marko Lastikka. The studio will be the fourth for Netflix, joining others including Next Games, Night School Studio and Boss Fight Entertainment, each designed to develop games catering to different tastes.
  • India’s financial crimes agency searched the premises of Coda Payments India, the distributor of Sea’s Free Fire — a game banned by the government earlier this year over its China ties. The Enforcement Directorate said it searched three premises as part of an “ongoing investigation” into the distributor.
  • Android’s share of hypercasual game advertising spending reached a record high of 57%, according to a report from Tenjin.
  • Walmart launched metaverse experiences in Roblox, including Walmart Land and Walmart’s Universe of Play, designed to reach younger shoppers. The virtual worlds let Roblox players collect new virtual merchandise, play games featuring toys and characters, earn toys from a blimp, attend live concerts, win fashion competitions and more.

Image Credits: Walmart

Health & Fitness

  • YouTube announced a new feature called “Personal Stories” that will appear in search results when users enter health-related queries. When people now search for certain health conditions on the app, YouTube will display a panel featuring videos from people who are diagnosed with those disorders.

Utilities

  • Microsoft says it will end support for the predictive keyboard app SwiftKey on iOS and remove it from the App Store on October 5 but will continue to support the app on Android.
  • Apple’s Dark Sky weather app has been removed from the App Store. The app was supposed to be available through January 1, 2023, according to a prior notification display in the app, making its removal ahead of schedule. The app’s technology had been merged into Apple’s own Weather app following the acquisition.

Government & Policy

  • South Korean antitrust officials raided Apple’s offices in the country to investigate allegations raised by mobile game developers that Apple is actually taking a 33% cut of their business, due to the way it handles the local sales tax — or VAT (value added tax).
  • TikTok is facing a $29 million fine in the U.K. for “failing to protect children’s privacy.” The U.K.’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) provisionally said the company breached child data protection laws for a two-year period by processing data for kids under 13 without parental consent, among other things.
  • The North London Coroner’s Court has concluded that social media, including content on Instagram and Pinterest, played a role in the death of a 14-year-old British girl, who died by suicide in November 2017. The coroner will now compile a report laying out the concerns, which will be shared with the government and Ofcom, which will be responsible for regulating content under the Online Safety Bill.

Security & Privacy

  • Researchers found 75 apps on Google Play and 10 on the App Store that were engaging in ad fraud. The apps collectively had 13 million installs before their removal by the app stores.
  • WhatsApp warned users of a critical vulnerability, now patched, that could impact users on older versions of the app that haven’t been updated. The bug could allow an attacker to execute their own code on a victim’s phone.

Funding and M&A

💰 Milan-based developer Bending Spoons, makers of apps like Splice and Remini, raised $340 million from Italian banks Intesa Sanpaolo and Banco BPM, plus Ryan Reynolds’ Maximum Effort Holdings, the former CEO of Vimeo Kerry Trainor, and others.

💰 Scout, a mobile app that helps Gen Z invest in cars, food, games and other “themes,” raised $2.6 million in seed funding led by Chingona Ventures. The app is iOS only for now. It doesn’t charge transaction fees, but rather a subscription of $1/mo. for users with less than $1,000 AUM or 1% of AUM for larger accounts.

💰 Solvo, a new fintech app allowing users to invest in cryptocurrencies and cryptocurrency-related financial products, raised $3.5 million in seed funding from Index Ventures and others. The app, launching in October, was founded by two former Revolut employees and will feature 10 cryptocurriences to start.

💰 A new group camcorder app, Studio, raised $3.3 million in seed funding led by GV for an app that allows groups of friends to privately share everyday videos in albums.

💰 Triller said it raised $310 million from Luxembourg-based investment group Global Emerging Markets ahead of its IPO. The company, however, is not obligated to draw the entire amount — it can issue stock to investors on each draw, as needed.

 

This Week in Apps: Google goes visual, Twitter copies TikTok, OG app drama by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

TikTok breaks records as top grossing app in Q3, as overall app store revenue declines

Consumers reduced their mobile app spending in the third quarter of 2022 by roughly 5%, but the social video app TikTok just delivered another record-breaking quarter on this front. For the fourth straight quarter in a row, TikTok continued its streak as the app that has ever generated the most revenue in a quarter.

These new findings, in a report published today by Sensor Tower, see TikTok again becoming the highest-grossing app in the world even as the overall market is seeing a slight decline. However, the report does combine TikTok revenue with its Chinese version, known as Douyin — so it’s technically the revenue generated by the two apps offering the same feature set of short-form, vertical videos — not one.

TikTok’s global app along with Douyin on iOS together retained the position as the top-grossing non-game app across the App Store and Google Play combined, with approximately $914.4 million in consumer spending in the quarter.

Reached for comment, Sensor Tower explained that Douyin alone had generated approximately $433.5 million in consumer spending, or about 47% of that total.

On the App Store, TikTok was the No. 1 top-grossing non-game app, while it was No. 2 on Google Play, behind Google’s own storage subscription service, Google One, which had generated just over $330 million in the quarter.

To date, TikTok and Douyin’s apps have generated around $6.3 billion in total revenue, the report notes.

Across the broader app market, the trends weren’t quite as positive.

Consumer spending across in-app purchases, subscriptions and paid app downloads on both the App Store and Google Play dropped by 4.8% year-over-year to $31.6 billion in Q3, while app downloads fell a slight 1% to 35.3 billion.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

The App Store continues to contribute to the vast majority of consumer spending, at more than double that of Google Play. In Q3, Apple’s App Store pulled in $21.2 billion, which was down 2.3% year-over-year from the $21.7 billion seen in the year-ago quarter. Google Play’s decline was even sharper, down $9.6% year-over-year from $11.5 billion to now $10.4 billion.

In the games segment, specifically, consumer spending fell 12.7% year-over-year to $19.3 billion. On the App Store, game spending was down 9.8% year-over-year to $11.9 billion while Google Play revenue was down 16.9% to  $7.4 billion.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Meanwhile, app installs only dropped slightly. But as Google Play is responsible for driving downloads, the nearly 1% decline in terms of app installs was largely due to its 2.2% drop to 27 billion downloads in the quarter. The App Store had actually saw app installs grow by 3.8% to 8.2 billion, but this couldn’t cancel out Google Play’s larger decline.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

TikTok was again the most downloaded non-game app with 196.5 million installs across both app stores combined and on iOS. But when Google Play is examined alone, Facebook moved into the No. 1 spot with 150.3 million installs, replacing Instagram.

TikTok breaks records as top grossing app in Q3, as overall app store revenue declines by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

iPhone theming app ScreenKit gets ready for the iOS 16 Lock Screen with over 100 new widgets

ScreenKit, an iPhone personalization app that’s topped 12 million downloads to date, is ready to embrace the new Lock Screen customization options shipping with the release of iOS 16 on September 12. Already a comprehensive solution for theming your iPhone or iPad with wallpapers, custom widgets and icons, the soon-to-be updated ScreenKit app will now expand into Lock Screen widgets, with a sizable update that brings over 100 new widget options to iPhone owners.

Unlike some other planned Lock Screen widget apps which focus on a single Lock Screen widget type — like a contacts or countdown widget, for example — ScreenKit will be coming out of the gate with a collection of over 100 custom widgets across over 200 pre-made Lock Screen themes, the company says.

This is in addition to the over 500 Home Screen themes and over 200 Home Screen widgets the app already offers across a range of styles, and its over 5,000 custom app icons.

The Lock Screen widget collection includes around 25 major categories, the company says, each of which can be customized in 5 to 10 different ways, depending on the widget type.

After iOS 16 arrives, the updated app will introduce the following Lock Screen widgets: a clock, time, date, battery, calendar, music, steps, utilities (volume, brightness, storage, Wi-Fi, CPU, device storage, etc.), weather, room temperature, a medication shortcut, bedtime clock, time spent, heart rate, emoticons, bit-icons, text, photos, reminders, an event tracker, astrology, moon phase, year progress or countdown, contact launcher, app launcher, stickers, motivational quotes, and Bible verses.

Image Credits: Screen Kit

The company says its Lock Screen widgets will be designed to coordinate with its existing lineup of widgets and themes, so users’ final, customized designs remain consistent.

We’ve also found it interesting that some Lock Screen widget makers, ScreenKit included, have been expanding beyond informative widgets to include actionable ones in the form of app shortcuts.

ScreenKit won’t be the only one to introduce this type of widget with its updated experience. For example, we’ve been testing a pre-release app called Launchify, currently available through the app testing playground Airport, that’s doing something similar. The solution requires some setup, but afterward, you can directly access your favorite app with just a tap on the Lock Screen. (You’ll still need to authenticate with Face ID, Touch ID or a passcode, however).

ScreenKit’s app will continue to be a free download with a one-time upgrade option of $9.99 that opens up access to the premium version, with expanded access to its collection of icon kits and themes. However, the company will kick off the iOS 16 Monday launch with 2 free weeks of the premium features and pro customization options.

ScreenKit isn’t the only app planning to address the needs of users in search of Lock Screen customization options that ship with iOS 16, but it is one of the larger offerings in terms of both its collection and its reach. The company claims to add around 300,000 new users per month to its platform. It also offers a separate app, StyleKit, which also includes app icon themes, calendar wallpapers, and Lock Screen animations that appear when the phone is charging.

The company says it plans to launch its app as soon as iOS 16 is released on Monday, but it may not arrive on the App Store immediately due to App Review delays out of its control.

iPhone theming app ScreenKit gets ready for the iOS 16 Lock Screen with over 100 new widgets by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

Latana secures cash injection to grow its mobile platform for product research

In 2013, Nico Jaspers, who previously founded market research firm Dalia Research, began noticing a shift in consumer behavior: More people were easily reachable via their smartphones. He realized that phones could become a key way to reach people for product research purposes, opening the door to opportunities to hear new points of view.

Armed with this insight, Jaspers teamed up with Fernando Guillén to launch Latana, a platform that bids on mobile ad space to deliver short research surveys to users. In a sign investors continue to believe in the idea, Latana today closed a €36 million (~$35.79 million) Series B funding round — €10 million (~$9.94 million) of which was debt — led by Oxx with participation from Balderton Capital and Kreos.

“Brand marketing is probably the only remaining large cost item at consumer businesses that is not well understood and measured,” Jaspers said. “We’re solving that problem and providing more visibility not just for brand marketers but also for executives who usually take a keen interest in understanding brand performance … [Latana] helps them understand their target audiences, and evaluate what makes people buy from them rather than their competitor.”

To this end, Latana collects data from the mobile-optimized surveys it distributes, using an AI system to identify trends that brands might wish to know about their target audiences. The platform attempts to ensure the changing composition of the surveys — e.g. the makeup of respondents — doesn’t impact the empirical results, and it applies algorithms so that drilling down to audience segments doesn’t vastly increase the margin of error.

Latana

Image Credits: Latana

“We’re currently building what will be the world’s largest database on brand performance, tracking over 100,000 brands across the globe,” Jaspers continued. “We see a huge increase in demand for analytics solutions that create more visibility on brand performance, and expect this to continue.”

Latana isn’t alone in the space. Established rivals include Ipsos, Kantar and YouGov, as well as startups like Attest, Streetbees and Quantilope. But Jaspers argues that few focus on brand analytics, which is Latana’s specialty.

“Through our platform, we’re collecting tens of millions of answers per month from millions of users across the world,” Jaspers said — noting that the platform doesn’t store personal data. “Now was a good time to raise [new capital] because in light of tightening marketing budgets, the topic of marketing efficiency is top of the agenda for most companies, and many brands search for solutions. We want to accelerate our go-to-market.”

Oxx general partner and Latana board member Mikael Johnsson added in a statement: “Powered by novel sampling methods and advanced statistical processing techniques Latana is disrupting this paradigm by providing brand marketers with accurate, timely and affordable brand marketing data. This provides for an enormous market opportunity and we’re convinced that Nico and the Latana team are in pole position to build a really large company.”

Latana currently employs a team of about 70 people, and it plans to double headcount next year. The company’s total capital raised to date stands at €44 million ($43.75 million).

Latana secures cash injection to grow its mobile platform for product research by Kyle Wiggers originally published on TechCrunch

Apple unveils the A16 Bionic, its most powerful mobile chip yet

At a jam-packed event in Cupertino this morning, Apple revealed details of the chip powering the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max: the A16 Bionic. The successor to the A15 Bionic (which can be found in the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus), it packs more transistors — 16 billion, manufactured on a 4nm process — and components specially-designed to accelerate AI and other tasks across smartphone apps and iOS.

Apple says that the A16 Bionic has a multi-core processor with six high-performance and two efficiency cores, a five-core GPU and a 16-core neural engine for performing up to 17 trillion operations per second. The company further claims the high-performance cores use 20% less power compared to the A15 Bionic’s performance cores, while the efficiency cores use a third of the power of unnamed competitor chips.

The GPU has up to 50% more memory bandwidth, and overall, Apple says that A16 Bionic is upwards of 40% faster than rival chipsets.

Other standout features include a custom image signal processor that powers the iPhone 14 Pro’s camera system. The processor, GPU, neural engine and image signal processor in the A16 Bionic work together to support the new camera hardware and perform up to 4 trillion operations per photo. Meanwhile, a new display engine enables 1 Hz refresh rates, high peak brightness, features like always-on display and antialiasing to smooth out rough edges in display graphics.

read more about Apple's fall event, September 7, 2022

Apple unveils the A16 Bionic, its most powerful mobile chip yet by Kyle Wiggers originally published on TechCrunch

Robin Games enters the market with Playhouse, an interior design game you can both play and shop

Women-led mobile gaming startup Robin Games raised funding around the idea of carving out a new niche in the market of “lifestyle gaming.” The idea, the company explained at the time of its 2020 public debut, was to create a fantasy gaming experience that’s more sophisticated and stylish — something more in line with the sort of content you’d typically find in a lifestyle magazine or Instagram influencer’s profile. Today, the startup is releasing its first title to tackle this concept with the launch of a mobile game, PLAYHOUSE, which combines both gameplay and shopping in one experience.

Available on iOS and Android, PLAYHOUSE is a DIY design game that allows players to drag-and-drop furniture and décor into spaces to create original looks for rooms using elements like wall art, sofas, chairs, tables, plants, and more. This alone doesn’t make the app unique — the interior design genre is a popular sub-genre within the Simulation Games category on today’s app stores where competitors like Playtika’s Redecor, SayGames’ Decor Life — Home Design Game, and Crowdstar’s Design Home: Dream Makeover can be found in the Top Charts.

Instead, where PLAYHOUSE differentiates itself from others is in both its technology and its partnerships.

The company allows users to drag-and-drop pieces into the space but also move, rotate, resize and even layer items as they style the space in a much more freeform manner than some other games allow. In addition, the company is working with real-life furniture brands to make the items in its game shoppable in real life.

At launch, PLAYHOUSE features shoppable experiences that connect players to brands like Arhaus, Article, 1stDibs, Chairish, One Kings Lane, ABC Carpet & Home, Jenni Kayne, Society6, Bloomscape, Room & Board, and Lulu & Georgia, among others. In other words, the game’s goal isn’t just to provide a creative outlet for art and interior design fans, but to also drive the discovery of new furniture and decor.

Image Credits: Robin Games

Robin Games says that, at launch, there are over 6,000 pieces of real furniture and décor available from more than 100 home design brands available inside the app. Players can choose to purchase the actual items they’re using to create their designs by visiting the retailer’s website.

This concept is somewhat like Pinterest’s new collage-making app Shuffles, which allows its players to create custom art experiences using their own photos and Pinterest Pins. While the Shuffles app is primarily being used as a creative tool before publishing to TikTok or Instagram, the items featured in the collages link to their Pin’s page on Pinterest — where they’re also connected with the retailer’s website and can be purchased, similar to PLAYHOUSE.

“One of the main reasons we wanted to make PLAYHOUSE, and ‘Lifestyle Games’ in general, is because we see a hole in the market for truly expressive, creative games,” Robin Games co-founder and CEO Jill Wilson told TechCrunch. “It’s unusual to think of an interior design-focused game as a fantasy game but we do — it’s a different type of fantasy from what is typically explored in games. Getting to design spaces with beautiful pieces as if you are an interior designer is a real-world fantasy for many people, and our company is devoted to giving players that experience,” she added.

In addition, PLAYHOUSE users can submit their design projected to be rated by other players, which allows them to earn tickets, coins and gems as well as other décor pieces that help them to level up. The company also partnered with content creators including design enthusiasts, artists, Airbnb hosts and others to create limited-time “hosted projects” aimed at inspiring players’ own designs.

And it’s working with editorial publishing houses Condé Nast, Hearst (House Beautiful), Leaf Group (Hunker), and Design Milk who will be active hosts who create design challenges and other inspiring content, the company says. House Beautiful, for instance, will host a series of design challenges based on the articles it publishes on its website.

Image Credits: Robin Games

During its soft launch period, the team refined the game mechanics, play controls, onboarding experience and the in-game economy, which is free-to-play with in-app purchases. While you can move forward without playing, players can choose to pay to unlock additional pieces with gems they purchase instead of waiting to earn them in the game through achievements. Limited-timed bundles around a particular theme are also sometimes available for purchase — like a bundle of special plants and plant-themed items that are only available in the bundle.

So far, over 1 million design challenges were submitted with the most devoted players participating in every project released daily and sticking around long-term, Wilson says.

Following its $7 million seed, Robin Games closed on a $14 million Series A in 2020 and continued to develop PLAYHOUSE in the months that followed. While being a women-led startup has given them an advantage in a game that’s marketed primarily to women, Wilson believes it’s the team’s diversity that will help it to get ahead.

Image Credits: Robin Games

“I like to make games that I’d want to play myself and believe that surrounding myself with a diverse group of talented people who also want to play the game we’re making gives us the best chance of success,” Wilson explains. “At Robin Games, we have over 50% women on our board, management team, and team overall — and the majority of all our team members are passionate about design. Putting creative decision-making in the hands of potential players is the key to our authenticity and why we believe true design lovers will love what we’ve made. While we anticipate our audience will be primarily women, we have tried to make it as inclusive as possible and hope that everyone who loves design will enjoy it,” she says.

PLAYHOUSE is live today on both iOS and Android as a free download.

This Week in Apps: Whistleblowing drama, Instagram’s teen safety features, Twitter adds podcasts

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

Global app spending reached $65 billion in the first half of 2022, up only slightly from the $64.4 billion during the same period in 2021, as hypergrowth fueled by the pandemic has decreased. But overall, the app economy is continuing to grow, having produced a record number of downloads and consumer spending across both the iOS and Google Play stores combined in 2021, according to the latest year-end reports. Global spending across iOS and Google Play last year was $133 billion, and consumers downloaded 143.6 billion apps.

This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and much more.

Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters

Top Stories

Twitter whistleblower’s impact (or lack thereof!) on the Elon Musk lawsuit

The headlines this week were dominated by Twitter’s former head of security, Peiter “Mudge” Zatko’s, explosive whistleblower complaint.

The former Twitter employee accused the company of cybersecurity negligence that ranged from a lack of basic security controls to national security threats and foreign intelligence risks. But one more immediate question on everyone’s minds is whether or not Zatko’s statements about bots on the platform will help or hurt Elon Musk’s case.

To some, it may appear that Zatko has backed up Musk’s claims when he notes that there are millions of active accounts on the platform which Twitter is not including in its mDAU metric — a metric Twitter itself invented to count only those users it could monetize by way of advertisements. (That is, mDAUs are mostly people, not spambots.)

“These millions of non-mDAU accounts are part of the median user’s experience on the platform,” states the complaint. “And for this vast set of non-mDAU active accounts, Musk is correct: Twitter executives have little or no personal incentive to accurately ‘detect’ or measure the prevalence of spam bots,” it reads.

The complaint then goes on to say that Twitter, when asked in 2021, couldn’t identify the total number of spam bots on its platform, and couldn’t provide an accurate upper bound on that figure.

Ah ha!, right? Even Twitter doesn’t know how much spam it has!

Well, maybe that’s not the smoking gun you might think.

Musk’s legal argument is that Twitter has been misleading its users and investors about the number of bots on its platform, which the company has estimated to be less than 5%. (Because surely this all hasn’t come about because Musk overpaid for the deal and now wants out!)

However, Twitter has been reporting to the SEC that spam and bots are less than 5% of its mDAUs — a figure that’s essentially already scrubbed of bots so advertisers know how many real eyeballs they’re able to reach. What’s more, while Zatko may have a point that this sort of made-up, proprietary metric is ripe for manipulation, he also says in the complaint that Twitter execs are “incentivized to avoid counting spam bots as mDAUs.” In other words, it seems likely that Twitter’s statements to the SEC are correct when Twitter says its mDAU figures are “less than 5%” spam.

Plus, even if Twitter doesn’t know how much total spam is on the platform at any given time, that doesn’t mean it can’t figure out how much spam is in its mDAU figure — a figure Twitter has explained it calculates using private data. Twitter looks at things like IP addresses, phone numbers, geolocation, client/browser signatures and more, CEO Parag Agrawal noted in a Twitter thread. This helps it to come up with its mDAU figure, by classifying accounts that appear to belong to “real” users as such.

It’s worth noting the total spam on Twitter’s platform is always in flux — when Twitter does a big sweep for spam and bots, users have noticed their follower counts drop. However, Twitter wasn’t monetizing based on those bots nor was it reporting inflated user metrics to the SEC by including spambots in its user figures — at least, not since its invention of the mDAU in 2019.

And while it’s true that mDAUs are not a representation of the spam-filled Twitter user experience today — an experience, remember, that Musk claimed he was buying Twitter to fix! — they are an indicator of how many real people are on the site. And that’s what a new owner would want to know anyway, right?

Whether or not mDAUs represent Twitter as it truly is misses the point. Sure, mDAUs may be a non-standard metric. It might not be comparable to the metrics used by other social platforms. It may even be a bad metric! But that’s not relevant to the case. The fact is, it’s not a new metric. Twitter defined it years ago and was using mDAUs long before Musk committed to buying Twitter. It’s what Twitter reports to the SEC.

So good luck using this as proof of being lied to, Mr. Musk. Can’t wait to see how that works in court!

In other news, Twitter expands into podcasting

Image Credits: Twitter

While the whistleblower news may have been the biggest news story of the week, Twitter dropped some pretty significant product news as well. It’s turning itself into a podcast app.

The company announced an update to its Twitter Spaces tab that would see it integrating podcasts into a revamped experience where content is now organized into hubs called “Stations.” These Stations group content by topics — like news, sports, music and more. The app will also make recommendations based on who you follow and how you engage with content. Twitter Spaces — including both live and prerecorded audio — will also continue to be available in the Spaces tab.

TechCrunch had previously reported that Twitter was developing Stations and a personalized audio digest as part of a makeover coming to its Spaces tab, but we didn’t know the extent of the podcast integrations at the time. The company tells us it’s making over 2 million podcasts available at launch, which are programmatically recommended to users.

Podcasts are ingested as RSS feeds, which means the 2 million figure is not a hard limit — Twitter could expand. Still, it’s a notable out-of-the-gate start, as Spotify today has more than 4 million podcasts, many of which are produced in-house, exclusives or shows recorded in its Anchor app.

Twitter, of course, is home to its own sort of exclusives, known as Twitter Spaces. These live audio programs can be recorded for later listening — similar to podcasts. If the creator doesn’t download, edit and package the Space to send it out to other services on a podcast RSS feed, then these Spaces remain something you could only find on Twitter. (Of note, Twitter says it would include both the recorded Twitter Space and the resulting podcast of that Space in its app — allowing it to count the same show twice.)

Twitter will make recommendations of podcasts to individuals based on how they listen and engage with people and topics. This could also be a competitive advantage of sorts.

As to why it felt the need to do podcasts? That’s less clear. Twitter told us it wants to be “the home for audio conversations.” It also sees an overlap between podcast listeners and Twitter users. Based on its own internal research, 45% of U.S. Twitter users listen to podcasts monthly. More realistically, it likely sees the ability to monetize audio with ads — if this effort pays off.

However, Twitter falls short in terms of key features that would make its app an alternative to your favorite podcast player. There’s no offline listening, no download capability, no support for paid podcasts and no exclusive partnerships. So who, exactly, does the podcast feature serve — those so addicted to Twitter they can’t even leave the app to stream a favorite program, we suppose.

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

  • Apple announced its iPhone event will take place on September 7 at 10 AM PT. The company is expected to announce a new iPhone 14 with an improved camera and a faster chip. An updated Apple Watch may also show up along with…maybe…a AR/VR headset?!
  • Apple confirmed iPadOS 16 is delayed. Bloomberg originally reported it and macOS Ventura would have a slightly later release this year.
  • Apple shipped the seventh beta of iOS 16, likely a final or near-final version before the official September launch of the new OS. It also released the seventh betas for watchOS 9 and tvOS 16, as well as the first beta of iPadOS 16.1.

Platforms: Google

  • Android Auto 8.0 arrived, but lacks the redesign Google teased in May that would introduce a three-section split screen layout and better adaptability with regard to supporting differently shaped car infotainment screens.
  • Google launched a developer Preview of the new Cross device SDK for Android, first announced during Google I/O. The new SDK allows developers to build “rich multi-device experiences with a simple and intuitive set of APIs,” Google says.

E-commerce

  • Beauty Retail and Direct-to-Consumer Apparel apps are driving more DAUs in the last 30 days than they did during the peak of 2021 holiday shopping, according to Apptopia. Daily users engaging with D2C Apparel apps have increased 5% from December 2021, and 2% for Beauty Retail apps, a report found.
  • 65% of social networking app users consider Meta apps a shopping destination according to a commerce report from SimplicityDX. This data excludes Facebook Marketplace. If the marketplace is kept in the equation, the figure jumps to 83%.
  • Walmart’s mobile app is getting a cashback feature — but only for Walmart+ subscribers. Via a partnership with Ibotta, Walmart+ members will be able to save offers, then scan a QR code at checkout to automatically receive money back in the in-app wallet, which they can use on a later purchase.

Image Credits: Walmart

Social

  • Instagram updated its teen safety features, which will now default users under the age of 16 to the app’s most restrictive content setting. It will also prompt existing teen users to do the same, and will introduce a new “Settings check-up” feature that guides teens to update their safety and privacy settings. Teens under 18 can only choose between the “Standard” and “Less” options for how much sensitive content they want to see on the app. But even though new users will be defaulted to the most restrictive setting, they can still change it. The features, first announced in December before Instagram’s Senate testimony, are rolling out to global users now. Privacy advocates say they’re a good first step, but suggest that Instagram should route its youngest users to the most restrictive setting, including if it suspects they’re younger than they indicated when signing up. And they point out that Instagram’s list of what it considers sensitive content doesn’t include content that promotes self-harm or disordered eating.

Image Credits: Instagram

  • It’s not a verified label but…Twitter began tests of a special tag that would highlight accounts that had a verified phone number. This signals the account is less likely to be spam. Also this week the team working on spam bots, the Twitter service team, merged with those working to reduce toxic content, the platform health experience team.
  • TikTok tries out a “Nearby” feed that displays local content to users. The test is only live in Southeast Asia and is currently limited in scope. When available, the feed is shown as a third option alongside For You and Following on the app’s homepage.
  • Snap settled an Illinois class action lawsuit that accused Snapchat’s filters and lenses of violating the Biometric Information Privacy Act. The settlement totaled $35 million and will go toward individual payouts that are estimated to be between $58 and $117. Users who think they may be eligible for compensation can submit a claim online. Despite settling the claims, Snap still denies it violated the BIPA, saying its Lenses “do not collect biometric data that can be used to identify a specific person, or engage in facial identification.”
  • Instagram added a feature that allows users to share anyone’s posts or Reels through a QR code. Users also can share a QR code location through its searchable Map experience.
  • Pinterest confirmed it’s facing a probe by California’s Civil Rights Department over unlawful discrimination. The department reached out to former Pinterest employee Ifeoma Ozoma and others as possible witnesses, all of them women. Ozoma and another former Pinterest employee, Aerica Shimizu Banks, had accused the company around two years ago of discrimination and retaliation.

Messaging

Image Credits: WhatsApp

  • WhatsApp confirmed that users in select markets are gaining access to WhatsApp Communities, its new group discussions platform offers admin controls, sub-groups, file sharing, 32-person group calls and emoji reactions.
  • WhatsApp is working on a feature to make Stories — or, as it’s known on the app, Status Updates — a bigger part of the experience by adding blue rings around users’ profile photos in the main chat list that link to their updates. It’s also planning to add the ability to retrieve deleted messages and let admins erase messages from group chats, reports said.
  • Telegram founder Pavel Durov said he wants to integrate web3 into the messaging app, TechCrunch reported. Specifically, Durvo referenced the TON project and how it’s used for domain name/wallet auctions. He said he’d be inclined to try out TON’s blockchain on Telegram.
  • Facebook Messenger received an update making it compatible with M1 and M2 Macs.

Photos

Image Credits: Lightricks

Dating

  • Match Group’s COO and CFO Gary Swidler has warned that Tinder signups aren’t back at pre-pandemic levels and new user acquisition remains a challenge, per The FT.
  • Tinder’s parent company Match filed a new antitrust case in India against Apple over its App Store fees, calling them excessive.

Streaming & Entertainment

  • YouTube TV is developing a new viewing mode that would allow users to watch four different streams at once in a mosaic interface. It’s also said to be working on a way to bring YouTube Shorts to the TV.
  • A hacker compromised Plex’s streaming media platform and was able to access usernames, emails and encrypted passwords. Plex informed users by email and suggested a password reset.
  • SiriusXM began offering a bundle that combines Stitcher Premium with its SiriusXM Platinum Plan.

Gaming

Heads Up games on Netflix

Image Credits: Netflix

  • Netflix launched its own version of the popular Heads Up! game to subscribers, which features decks referencing popular Netflix shows like “Bridgerton,” “Selling Sunset,” “Stranger Things,” “Squid Game” and others.
  • Netflix job postings suggest the company is expanding into cloud gaming. So far, the streamer’s some two-dozen mobile games are only used by less than 1% of its subscriber base, according to third-party data.
  • The New York Times integrated its popular word game app, Wordle, into its existing NYT’s Crossword app. This now allows it to rank above other Wordle clones and copycats in app store searches.
  • Google launched its Google Play Games for PC program into open beta in South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand and Australia. The program had only been available through a waitlist, previously. It now offers more than 50 PC-compatible games for Windows users — including Summoners War, Cookie Run: Kingdom, Last Fortress: Underground and Top War. The games can be played using the same Google ID on Windows as on users’ Android devices.
  • Valve is now beta testing a redesigned Steam mobile app for iOS and Android, which includes a rebuilt framework and modernized design. The app hasn’t gotten a major revamp in years. Valve says the beta will help it learn what users like and don’t, and find bugs that need to be fixed.

Productivity

  • Microsoft is introducing more ads inside its Outlook Mobile app for iOS and Android. Before, the company only included ads in the “Other” tab of the inbox — the one with all the junk — for those who use the two-tabbed mode for filtering their emails. It will now include ads in the inbox for those who use a single inbox interface, too.

Travel & Transportation

  • Google’s Waze is shutting down its six-year-old service Waze Carpool starting next month. The company said driving behaviors changed following the pandemic as more people are working from home, which reduced the need for a service aimed at commuters.

Utilities

  • Bloomberg doubled down on its earlier reporting of more ads coming to Apple’s first-party apps with confirmation that Apple Maps will start serving ads next year.
  • Apple kicked off fundraising for U.S. National Parks through Apple Pay donations running August 21-28. As a part of this initiative, it also rolled out a new national parks guide to highlight those that honor Native American heritage inside the Apple Maps app. While these sort of initiatives may help to drive users to Apple Pay, the company may no longer need to do this in the future as now three-quarters of U.S. iPhone users have enabled Apple Pay on their devices. 
  • Both Yelp and Google Maps rolled out updates to make it clearer which listings were abortion providers versus crisis pregnancy centers. Yelp labeled the latter as providing “limited medical services” while Google labeled abortion care providers as “provides abortions.” It’s not taking action on crisis pregnancy centers, however.
  • Google Wallet (previously known as Google Pay) rolled out to six more regions, making the app available now in 45 global markets.
  • Apple’s Wallet app can be deleted in iOS 16.1, code suggests, as Apple responds to regulatory pressure focused on how it may push its first-party apps on iPhone users.

Security & Privacy

  • VICE goes hands-on with Pretty Good Phone Privacy, a data service for Android that offers increased security when using mobile phone networks. They concluded the service could be suited to those who want a layer or two of additional protections but cautioned PGPP was still in early phases and a little buggy.
  • Food delivery app DoorDash confirmed a data breach that exposed customers’ personal information, including names, email addresses, delivery addresses and phone numbers. A subset of users also had partial payment card information stolen.
  • Twilio confirmed the same hackers compromised the accounts of some users of its 2FA app, Authy, as part of a wider breach of its systems.
  • Google said it has pulled over 2,000 personal loan apps from its Play Store in India this year amid a crackdown on apps engaged in predatory lending practices and abuse and harassment of their users.

Reading Rec’s

  • How the Find My App Became an Accidental Friendship Fixture — The New York Times dug into how young people are using Apple’s Find My app to keep up with their friends, no matter the cost to personal privacy and interpersonal dynamics.
  • It’s a modern-day Facebook’ – how BeReal became Gen Z’s favourite app”— this hot Gen Z app is profiled by The Guardian, which dubs it the “modern-day Facebook” for keeping up with real-life friends.
  • Authenticator app developer Kevin Archer detailed in a Twitter thread how he continues to face subscription scammers on the App Store who have copied his legitimate app, then beg for reviews during onboarding and push a subscription on consumers before users even start using the app. Archer says they’ve reported the scam several times using the “Report a Problem” feature and Apple has not taken action.

Funding and M&A

💰 Consumer social app maker 9count raised an additional $6 million on top of its $21.5 million Series A to help fund development of its flagship app, Wink, and its newer dating app, Summer.

💰 Bengaluru-based healthcare app Mojocare raised $20.6 million in Series A funding led by B Capital Group. The app offers consultations with doctors, therapists and nutritionists and sells products.

💰 Dubai-based Zywa, a neobank aimed at Gen Z users, raised $3 million in seed funding at over $30 million (110 million AED) valuation. The startup aims to expand further into Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

💰 Seattle mental health Alongside raised $5.5 million for its in-development adolescent mental health app. The app would allow users to interact with a chatbot and guide them to resources.

Downloads

Shuffles

Pinterest Shuffles collage

Image Credits: Pinterest

Collage-style video “mood boards” are going viral on TikTok — and so is the app that is making them possible. Pinterest’s recently soft-launched collage-maker Shuffles has been climbing up the App Store’s Top Charts thanks to demand from Gen Z users who are leveraging the new creative expression tool to makepublish and share visual content. These “aesthetic” collages are then set to music and posted to TikTok or shared privately with friends or with the broader Shuffles community.

Despite being in invite-only status, Shuffles has already spent some time as the No. 1 Lifestyle app on the U.S. App Store.

During the week of August 15-22, 2022, Shuffles ranked No. 5 in the Top Lifestyle Apps by downloads on iPhone in the U.S., according to metrics provided by app intelligence firm data.ai — an increase of 72 places in the rankings compared to the week prior. It was the No. 1 Lifestyle app on iPhone by Sunday, August 21st, and broke into the Top 20 non-gaming apps on iOS as a whole in the U.S. that same day, after jumping up 22 ranks from the day prior.

But this app isn’t available to all. You need to know someone with an invite to get in. You can try our invite codes FTSNFUFC or L5JI8QCS to try to get in.

Read more about Shuffles here on TechCrunch

Netflix tests ‘game handles’ in select mobile titles amid development of social gaming features

Netflix is developing features that would allow members to play its mobile games with one another and competitively rank themselves on gaming leaderboards. The company, starting last month, quietly launched the ability for users to create unique “game handles” in a subset of its mobile games, including Into The Breach, followed by Bowling Ballers, Mahjong Solitaire and Heads Up!. In addition, references uncovered in the Netflix app point to expanded gaming ambitions, including the ability to invite other users to play games with you and a feature that would let you see where you rank on leaderboards, among other things.

The company confirmed it’s exploring various gaming features in a statement provided to TechCrunch but couldn’t speak to which features, beyond game handles, would be publicly rolled out to users or when that would occur.

“We are always looking to improve our member’s experience on the service and are exploring different features to enrich the Netflix mobile games experience,” Netflix spokesperson Kumiko Hidaka said. “We don’t have anything else to share at this time.”

The additions suggest Netflix is looking toward a future that isn’t just about making mobile games available to its subscribers, but one that encourages members to participate in gaming by playing with others. The news follows the recent reveal that Netflix has been hiring engineers and product managers with backgrounds in cloud gaming.

According to the findings, first discovered by developer Steve Moser, Netflix is allowing users to set up something called a “game handle,” which is described as “a unique public name for playing games on Netflix.”

Netflix first began its tests of game handles in the game Into The Breach starting on July 19, 2022, before expanding the option to other titles.

Additionally, Netflix explains to app users that: “Your profile icon and name will not be visible to others playing Netflix Games.” (In other words, you can be known by a nickname instead of your Netflix name and identity.)

While the game handles test has rolled out, code in the app suggests Netflix plans to later allow users to see where they are on leaderboards and represent the user across Netflix Games. And the handles will be used when “you play with other members,” the code states.

Another section makes references to the ability for users to display to others if they’re online, if they want to play and offers the ability to invite members to play with them, as well.

Adding more social components is likely one of the ways Netflix aims to better attract and retain subscribers.

But, so far, Netflix hasn’t seen outsized demand for its mobile games.

App data firm Apptopia recently found that Netflix games were only averaging 1.7 million daily users, CNBC had first reported. In total, the two dozen-plus games in Netflix’s catalog had seen just 23.3 million downloads to date. Netflix, for comparison, has 221 million subscribers.

Of course, some of Netflix’s games had built-in user bases before being acquired by Netflix. But while that could account for some uncounted downloads, the engagement levels are fairly low.

Whether Netflix has made a strategic error by moving into gaming remains to be seen, as it’s still early days.

To its credit, Netflix found a workaround to Apple’s rule that apps on its App Store platform can’t host their own app stores — Netflix lists its games as separate downloads and just points to them from its main app, which is permitted. The games then require your Netflix credentials to sign in.

However, mobile consumers may not think to look to Netflix for this sort of entertainment any more than they think to launch Netflix when they’re in the mood for TikTok-like short-form videos — the latter Netflix promotes in its main navigation as “Fast Laughs.

The streamer’s premise seems to be that it must boost its lagging subscriber numbers by offering more avenues for entertainment. But the broader feedback from critics and users alike is that what they really want from Netflix isn’t games or TikToks, just more quality shows.

9count, maker of Wink and new dating app Summer, scores an additional $27.5M

Alex Hofmann once served as Musical.ly’s president, overseeing the North and South American markets for the TikTok precursor, then leaving shortly after the app exited to Chinese tech giant ByteDance in 2017. For his next act, the startup exec returned to the consumer social space with the launch of 9count — the maker of the popular friend-finder Wink, mobile dating app Summer (previously Spark), and others.

Though it’s typically difficult for new consumer social apps to gain widespread adoption, 9count’s apps have already seen some early traction — and investors have taken notice.

As a result, the company is today announcing an additional $27.5 million in new funding from GGV Capital Redpoint, Signia, Greycroft, Progression, Crosscut Grishin Robotics, I2BF, and Waverley Capital, among others. The round is an extension of 9count’s earlier Series A and includes only its existing investors.

In particular, 9count’s backers were impressed with the metrics coming out of Summer, which launched as Spark back in May but later rebranded. The dating app targets a younger demographic, ages 18 and up. But unlike traditional swipe-based dating apps, Summer’s differentiator is its grid that displays many users at once — an experience meant to more closely mimic the way it feels to walk into a crowded space in real life, like a bar or a party, for example.

“[Summer is retaining users] better than the top apps, especially in our strongest markets,” Hofmann says. “That just tells us that we’re on the right path with this product.

The 9count co-founder says Summer hit the No. 1 position in the App Store in two markets immediately following its launch and now has over 300,000 monthly active users, only a few months later. If looking at growth metrics alone, Hofmann claims it’s the fastest-growing dating app to hit the market since Bumble arrived in 2014. When he showed these figures to current investors, they wanted to double down on the app’s growth.

The company plans to use a large portion of the new investment to fuel marketing efforts for Summer after it launches on Android next month. This will include some in-person events in the startup’s hometown of L.A. 9count will also use the funds to expand its 35-person team, though Hofmann says they haven’t yet determined the exact headcount they plan to add.

Image Credits: 9count, Alex Hofmann and Joe Viola

But more than betting on Summer’s success alone, investors seem interested in the model 9count espouses.

Founded in January 2019 by both Hofmann and an experienced product manager, Joe Viola, 9count isn’t focused only on developing a single app and perfecting it. Instead, it’s co-developing multiple consumer products at once, iterating using data and customer feedback, then cross-promoting the apps within its portfolio. In addition to Wink and Summer, the startup has also developed social arcade app Juju, motivational app Everland, creator-fan connection app Popstream, and more.

This multi-product approach is something Hofmann is familiar with, thanks to his time spent at Musical.ly.

There, the team ran four different products: Musical.ly, its live-streaming counterpart known as Live.ly, and two others that weren’t as well known to the public. This model, Hofmann notes, is popular in Asia, where tech companies often operate multiple products — including TikTok’s parent company ByteDance, as well as Tencent, Alibaba, and others.

To benefit from this method, 9count tests and iterates on its products using a combination of A/B testing, data analysis, and user feedback. It additionally hosts employee hackathons and runs a “labs” division where it can try out new ideas to see if anything sticks.

“The learnings we have by rolling out new products are just tremendous,” Hofmann notes. “We can either make them into a standalone product or feed them into existing products.”

Image Credits: 9count

In fact, this model is what led the company to develop Summer in the first place, the co-founder explains.

He says some Wink users were asking for a way to use the social app for dating purposes. But Wink also caters to minors aged 13 to 17 (who aren’t allowed to interact with adult users, we should note). This focus skews the app toward a younger crowd, which wouldn’t be appropriate for online dating, even if it’s what some of the older users wanted. That prompted the team to break out the feature request into its own, new product — the app that has since become Summer.

Today, 9count claims its new dating app has already attracted over 500,000 downloads, over a million registered users, and more than 300,000 monthly actives. This makes it the sixth most popular dating app in the U.S. and the fourth in Canada, Hofmann said. (App intelligence firm Sensor Tower confirmed this with TechCrunch, saying Hofmann’s statement is correct based on App Store and Google Play downloads for July 2022.)

In addition, the video chat app Wink reportedly has over 2 million monthly active users, remaining 9count’s largest app to date.

In total, 9count’s app portfolio now reaches over 10 million users, the company says. Sensor Tower data indicated an even higher figure of 16 million-plus downloads across all their products launched to date. Wink was the largest chunk of this with over 15 million lifetime downloads.

Image Credits: 9count team photo

“Alex and Joe are building a next-generation social application company at 9count, consolidating disparate products under one banner, with one team to find what works for the next generation,” said Hans Tung, managing partner at GGV Capital, a 9count board member and early investor in Musical.ly. “The team at 9count is poised to experience rapid growth among their user base and we’re excited to partner with them to bring their vision to reality,” he added.

The new investment is also another signal that there’s an increased willingness from VCs to again back the often difficult consumer social app market.

Historically, it’s been near impossible to unseat Facebook and Meta’s other products from the top of the App Store. But TikTok has proven Facebook’s hold on the market could be winding down. The Meta-owned social network is no longer popular with Gen Z users, who are also growing frustrated with Instagram’s clutter and its continual attempt to force video on them through Reels.

Hungry for new experiences, today’s younger users are sampling a range of social apps, like the chart-topper BeReal, the home screen widget provider Locket, and the video chat app Yubo — a Wink rival. Not surprisingly, these apps have also pulled in VC backing. BeReal was valued at $600 million following its Series B this past spring, for instance. Locket announced this month it has closed on $12.5 million across two seed stage rounds. And Yubo banked $47.5 million in its 2020 Series C. Even Pinterest’s brand-new experimental app Shuffles has rocketed to the top of the App Store’s “Lifestyle” charts, despite being in invite-only status.

According to Hofmann, fueling this trend is younger users’ demand for apps offering them “niche” experiences.

“[9count’s team] looked at the market and realized that in the last ten years, there were really just — in our opinion — two major consumer social products. One is Musical.ly/TikTok, the other one is Discord. We realized that to build products that connect people, it might not be a one-product approach, but a multi-product approach,” the co-founder explains. “We see this trend towards…niche desires and niche preferences. We realized that very few products can serve a larger audience and bring them joy and happiness,” Hofmann says.

This Week in Apps: Android 13 arrives, apps plan for midterms, Amazon copies TikTok

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

Global app spending reached $65 billion in the first half of 2022, up only slightly from the $64.4 billion during the same period in 2021, as hypergrowth fueled by the pandemic has slowed. But overall, the app economy is continuing to grow, having produced a record number of downloads and consumer spending across both the iOS and Google Play stores combined in 2021, according to the latest year-end reports. Global spending across iOS and Google Play last year was $133 billion, and consumers downloaded 143.6 billion apps.

This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and much more.

Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters

Top Stories

Android 13 arrives

Image Credits: Google

Big news for Android users this week as Google rolled out the new version of its mobile operating system, Android 13, initially to all Pixel devices, following the beta launch a month ago. The OS will reach other non-Pixel Android devices sometime later this year, including Samsung Galaxy, Asus, HMD (Nokia phones), iQOO, Motorola, OnePlus, Oppo, Realme, Sharp, Sony, Tecno, vivo, Xiaomi and others.

As mobile platforms have standardized, the latest efforts from both Google and Apple have been focused on personalization elements. In iOS 16, this now includes a customizable Lock Screen with widgets, while Android is doubling down on its Material You UI. With the prior version of Android, users could theme their device to match their background. With the latest update, they can now also match their non-Google apps to their chosen theme and color schemes. This is a much simpler and more elegant solution than the icon customization on iOS today, where apps like Brass, Themify, Aesthetic, Color Widgets and many others have to leverage a combination of configuration profiles and shortcuts to do the same.

In another personalization move, Android 13 allows users to set the languages used for different apps — useful for those who speak multiple languages.

Other improvements include the ability to copy content (e.g. URLs, photos, videos, text) between Android devices, better multitasking features on tablets, an expanded bedtime mode with dimmed wallpaper and a dark theme, HDR video support on third-party camera apps, BLE Audio, Spatial Audio on supported headphones, an upgraded media player widget that showcases album artwork and includes a dancing playback bar and more. On the privacy side, there are changes to permissions that allow users to more narrowly select images and videos to be shared with third-party apps and the OS now prevents unwanted access to your clipboard.

Another big benefit of the upgraded mobile OS for end users is that they can more easily block apps from annoying them with notifications. Now, apps users download will need explicit permission to send notifications, rather than being allowed to send notifications by default. This change sees Android finally catching up with iOS, which has offered this type of setting for years. (Many, many years.)

The Android source has also been pushed to the Android Open Source Project (AOSP).

This week TechCrunch’s Frederic Lardinois also sat down with James Ward, Google’s product manager for Kotlin, to talk about the language’s role in the Android ecosystem and its future plans. You can read that here.

TechCrunch’s new spyware lookup tool

This week, TechCrunch launched a new product in service to its readers who are concerned about security risks related to mobile spyware.

The spyware lookup tool can check to see if an Android device is one of the hundreds of thousands that’s been hacked by one of several spyware apps, including TheTruthSpy — the subject of a months-long investigation into consumer-grade spyware apps. The apps are installed by someone with physical access to your mobile device and are designed to stay hidden from home screens. They give the attacker the ability to see the victim’s phone data in real time, including calls, messages, contacts, location data, photos and more.

The new lookup tool will check against the leaked list of unique device identifiers, like IMEI numbers and advertising IDs, and is available free of charge to anyone who wants to ensure their phone has not been compromised.

TikTok caught keylogging?

A new privacy analysis warns that TikTok’s in-app browser may be engaged in keylogging. Research by developer Felix Krause found that the TikTok iOS app was injecting code that would allow it to monitor all keyboard inputs and taps that took place on third-party websites that were rendered inside the app. Concerningly, this information could include users’ passwords or payment card information when they’re buying something promoted on TikTok. The researcher couldn’t prove that TikTok was actually doing anything malicious with the access — that is, he couldn’t confirm the data was collected, transferred or determine how it may be used. Users should be aware, however, and opt to open links outside of the TikTok app to be safe.

TikTok refuted the claims saying the JavaScript code is only used for debugging, troubleshooting and performance monitoring — like checking to see how quickly a page loaded or if it crashed. The company also pointed to several other reasons as to why the report’s claims were overblown. The researcher also accused Meta of modifying third-party sites loaded in their in-app browsers, which has since led Ireland’s Data Protection Commission, the lead data protection regulator for Meta and TikTok under the GDPR in Europe, to request a meeting with the tech giant to discuss.

Amazon gets TikTok-ified

It’s official, the TikTok vertical video feed format is now the mobile app user interface to knock off if you’re building a new social experience. How do we know? Because this week, Amazon of all places, was found to be testing its own TikTok clone. The feed, called “Inspire,” appears in the bottom nav bar of the Amazon app.

Image Credits: Watchful via The Wall Street Journal

Amazon, of course, has no interest in competing as a new social or entertainment experience with other big tech companies. But it does copycat the latest, hottest formats when it builds out new shopping features. In years past, that’s seen the company cloning other social apps like Pinterest or Instagram or steaming live shopping videos. Now that TikTok’s feed is the go-to, Amazon has adopted it as well.

For now, the Inspire feed is being tested and is not publicly available to all users.

In Other News…

Apple Updates

  • Apple’s next iPhone event will reportedly be held on September 7, per a Bloomberg report. The company is expected to unveil its iPhone 14 line featuring camera upgrades and a faster chip. Apple has not made a formal announcement of the event at this time.
  • Apple’s iOS 16 beta 5 added a nifty feature to again show the battery percentage in the status bar on iPhone after being removed for notched models when the iPhone X debuted.
  • Apple noted prices of apps and IAPs will increase in Ghana and Turkey. 

Augmented Reality

Snap and HBO partnership for House of the Dragon

Image Credits: Snap

  • Snap and HBO Max partnered on a new AR experience for HBO’s “House of the Dragon” premiere, which includes a new selfie and worldview Lens in Snapchat’s app, as well as new Landmarker Lenses. Users can immerse themselves in the fantasy world by turning themselves into dragons or watching them fly around you, among other things.
  • Universal Studios launched the Dinotracker AR app (iOS/Android) built by Trigger XR and Niantic Labs to promote the new movie, “Jurassic World Dominion.” Users have to try to find dinosaurs around them. The app is using Niantic’s new Lightship ARDK to place 10 dinosaurs in the user’s environment. The technology features include semantic understanding, environmental awareness, walkable planes, occlusion and hand-tracking, among others. Other partners include LG Uplus, Qualcomm and KOCCA in Korea.

Image Credits: NBCUniversal Media

Social Networking

  • ⭐ Twitter, Meta and TikTok all outlined their policies related to their plans on handling the 2022 U.S. midterm elections. Twitter said it’s rolling out redesigned tweet labels and “prebunks” on misleading content. TikTok is offering state-by-state information in an Elections Center and will label and fact-check videos. Facebook said it will disable new political ads a week before the midterms.

Photos

  • Pixelmator Photo, a photo-editing app from the company behind graphic design app Pixelmator Pro, is bringing its iOS app to the Mac. The company also said it’s moving to a subscription pricing model to better sustain its business.
  • Snapchat’s selfie-recording drone Pixy is already being killed off after just launching in April. The drone project is a causality of re-prioritization of resources at Snap amid economic concerns.

3 teens with a drone

Image Credits: Snap

Messaging

  • Messenger began testing end-to-end encryption for individual Messenger chats. The news was announced after it was revealed Meta turned over private messages to aid in the prosecution of a Nebraska teen’s abortion.
  • Telegram’s founder slammed Apple for delaying a major update to the messaging app, saying it had been stuck in review for two weeks with no explanations.
  • WhatsApp now allows users to delete a private or group chat message up to two and half days after sending it. Before, the limit was 1 hour, 8 mins, and 16 seconds. The app also introduced a new privacy option that allows people to use the app without being visible online except to selected contacts they choose. It’s additionally testing screenshot blocking and will soon allow users to leave groups privately without sending out a notification.
  • WhatsApp also launched its native Windows app out of beta. The app now works without requiring users to link a phone. A similar Mac app is underway.
  • Facebook and Instagram added a new “Add Yours” sticker to Reels that lets people start trends others can add to with their own content; the trend will have its own landing page in the app.
  • Google kicked off a public campaign, “Get the Message,” designed to pressure Apple to adopt messaging standard RCS in its own Messages app. The communication protocol would support a better messaging experience between Android and iOS users, but would also make iMessage a less compelling alternative than it is today.

Google RCS campaign

Image Credits: Google

Streaming & Entertainment

  • HBO Max rolled out new mobile (and desktop) apps, promising an improved user experience with features like SharePlay support, a shuffle button for mobile, a dedicated home for downloads, tablet support in portrait and landscape modes, a better screen reader, split screens where supported, improved navigation and overall better performance.
  • Apple signed a first-look deal with Pulitizer Prize-winning Futuro Studios to bring more original podcast content to its Podcasts app, and possibly, allow it to turn those shows into Apple TV+ programs further down the road.
  • Spotify began selling live concert tickets directly to fans in a new Tickets website. The company previously only worked with partners like Ticketmaster and Eventbrite. Spotify’s home screen also gained new discovery feeds for music and podcasts. The separate feeds will direct users to the type of content they’re looking for at the time. It’s also been testing the ability to record reactions to podcasts.
  • An analysis of Spotify usage by Sensor Tower showed how engaging the app is compared with its competition; 10% of its mobile app users engage with the app daily, more than the 4% who engage with YouTube Music or 1% who engage with Pandora. (Apple Music was not included.)

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

  • Google Meet introduced a new feature that allows users to watch YouTube or stream Spotify together.
  • Apple-owned Shazam celebrated its 20th anniversary with a curated playlist of the most Shazamed songs of every year. The app now has 225 million global monthly users, Apple also noted, and has surpassed 70 billion song recognitions as of this week.
  • Netflix’s upcoming ad-supported tier may not offer offline viewing, according to findings in the app’s code.
  • Plex introduced a new social experience in its streaming apps called Discover Together, which includes the ability to add friends and see what they’re watching, bookmarking and how they’re rating shows and movies.

Image Credits: Plex

Gaming

  • Netflix’s games have seen 23.3 million downloads and average 1.7 million daily active users, per Apptopia data. This represents less than 1% of Netflix’s 221 million subscribers.
  • Google began testing a way to allow users to launch games from its cloud gaming service Stadia, as well as from Xbox Cloud Gaming and Amazon’s Luna directly from its Google Search results.
  • Fortnite maker Epic Games’ appeals case against Apple is set to be heard starting on October 21. The game maker wants to be able to sell games outside the App Store and use its own payment systems.
  • Roblox’s earnings report revealed shifting demographics for games. The fastest growing group was people ages 17-24. The company said male 17- to 24-year-olds would become the biggest tracked category in terms of users and engagement hours in the U.S. and Canada over the next couple of months.

Dating

  • Bumble reported Q2 2022 earnings with revenue up 18% YoY to $220.5 million, above estimates, but a higher net loss of $6.4 million versus $2.6 million estimated.
  • As part of the larger revamp of its “Bumble BFF” friend-finding feature, Bumble has also been developing a new “communities” offering it’s calling “Hive,” which may include support for features like group chat, polls and video calls.

Health & Fitness

  • Fitbit to end Mac and PC syncing on October 13, 2022 and will instead move file transfers to its smartphone app and local music and playlists over to Pandora and Deezer.
  • Meditation and wellness app Calm laid off 20% of staff, or 90 people out of around 400. The company had been valued at $2 billion in 2020.
  • A Mozilla study found that 18 out of 25 top reproductive apps and wearables, like Clue, Flo, Glow and Eve, didn’t have strong privacy protections. Most didn’t say if they would share data with law enforcement, either.

Travel & Transportation

  • Lyft Media is a new business unit designed to consolidate Lyft’s ad offerings, which will focus on showing more ads in cars, on the Lyft mobile app and at bike-sharing stations.
  • Uber sunset its free loyalty program Uber Rewards in favor of subscription membership, Uber One. The membership costs 9.99 per month or $99.99 per year, and offers perks like 5% off certain rides or delivery orders and unlimited $0 delivery fees on food orders of over $15 and grocery orders of more than $30.
  • Airbnb launched anti-party technology which includes an algorithm that looks at signals, like the history of positive reviews, how long the user has been on the platform, the length of the trip, the distance to the listing and weekday versus weekend booking. Potential rule-breakers will be prevented from booking an entire property, and will instead direct them to results where they can rent a room where hosts are physically present.

Utilities & Productivity

  • Meta launched the Duet Display app which allows Portal owners to turn their smart screen devices (Portal Plus Gen 2 and Meta Portal Go) into a second screen for their Mac and PC. The company said it would also launch the Meta Portal Companion app on Mac for Meta Portal touch-based devices (Meta Portal Go, Meta Portal Plus, Meta Portal and Meta Portal Mini) to allow for screen-sharing on video calls. Meta is said to be phasing out its consumer Portal devices.

Adtech

  • Bloomberg reported Apple is considering rolling out ads to more places across iOS, including Maps (which was explored internally) and possibly other apps like Books or Podcasts. Currently, Apple’s ad revenue is around $4 billion.
  • A new report by FT noted many small businesses reliant on personalized ads have cut back on marketing efforts, in part due to Apple’s ATT changes, as they now face rising customer acquisition costs.
  • The WSJ reported that before launching ATT, Apple and Meta had engaged in discussions about revenue-sharing agreements, including one that would see Apple taking a cut of “boosted posts” via IAP and an ad-free Facebook subscription.
  • TikTok rolled out new ad solutions as part of its commerce ad suite called “Shopping Ads.” The company is currently testing three formats of Shopping Ads, including Video Shopping Ads, Catalog Listing Ads and LIVE Shopping Ads.

Government & Policy

  • South Korean regulators have begun to investigate Apple and Google over possible violations of the country’s in-app payment rules. The Korea Communications Commission (KCC) is also investigating SK Group’s homegrown app store called ONE Store. If the KCC discovers the companies have violated the law, it will issue fines which can be up to 2% of the company’s annual revenue.
  • The EU is set to make a final decision related to a privacy complaint regarding Instagram’s handling of children’s data in the region. The decision is expected at the end of August, with a hard deadline of the first week of September.
  • Google was fined A$60 million (around $42.7 million USD) in Australia over Android settings it had applied around five years ago which were found to have misled consumers about its location data collection.
  • China’s internet regulator published a list of 30 algorithms used in popular apps including WeChat, Taobao, Meituan and Douyin, which includes a brief description of their usage.

Security & Privacy

Funding and M&A

📉 Unity rejected a takeover offer from AppLovin that would have valued the company at $58.85 per share, an 18% premium over Unity’s stock price at the time. The deal would have been valued at $17.54 billion. Unity said it would proceed with its own deal to acquire ironSource for $4.4 billion in stock. Its shares dropped 7% after the board rejected the acquisition.

🤝 Unity announced a deal to create a JV, Unity China, in partnership with Alibaba, China Mobile, Oppo, and Douyin Group. The deal valued at $1 billion will allow Unity to expand into the world’s largest games market.

💰 European encrypted messaging app Wire, focused on enterprise use, raised €24 million in Series C funding led by growth equity firm Cipio Partners and Iconical.

💰 She Matters, a health app for Black women, raised $1.5 million in pre-seed funding. The app recently expanded its resources and support for postpartum healthcare.

🤝 DNSFilter acquired the iOS firewall app Guardian for an unknown sum in order to expand its web-based threat detection capabilities. Guardian was founded in 2013 by Will Strafach, a security researcher and former iPhone jailbreaker. Its iPhone app blocks apps from sharing users’ personal information with third parties, such as IP addresses and location data, by using a VPN.

💰 FullStory raised $25 million in new funding from Permira to help companies spot issues in their websites and apps. FullStory says it analyzed more than 15 billion user sessions in 2021, including nearly 1 trillion clicks, text highlights and scrolls.

💰 Infrastructure-as-a-service platform maker Mobot raised $12.5 million in Series A funding to expand its suite of robots that bug-test mobile apps. The robots can run through custom-designed testing flows to tap, swipe and rotate mobile devices, and more. The system integrates with standard dev tools like Jira and provides clients with results and reports.

💰 Meme-based dating app Schmooze recently raised $3.2 million in seed funding led by Inventus Capital and Silicon Valley Quad. The app lets users swipe left or right on people they like and up to love memes presented to them. The latter will help to inform match selections.

💰 Meta invested in Take App, a Singaporean startup founded by former Facebook engineering manager Youmin Ki. The app offers an easy way for users to set up simple websites for online orders, with a shopping cart, payments and a direct connection to WhatsApp for managing and tracking orders. The investment size was undisclosed but came in via the company’s NPE Team, which had previously developed social apps and more recently shifted to investments.

💰 New York-based family journaling app Qeepsake has raised $2 million in seed funding led by LaunchCapital. The company, which has 700,000 registered users, plans to invest in its marketing and engineering teams.

💰 Indian fintech app Jar raised $22.6 million in Series B funding led by Tiger Global. The app helps millions of Indians save small amounts to invest in digital gold and is planning to expand into insurance, mutual funds and lending.

💰 Sofy, the maker of a testing platform for mobile apps, closed on $7.75 million in seed funding led by Voyager Capital. The startup has raised a total of $9.5 million to date.

🤝 Just Eat sold its 33% stake in the Latin American joint venture iFood to Prosus for $1.8 billion. Prosus will now fully own the Brazilian food delivery company and app maker as a result.

Downloads

Along

Image Credits: Along

A new video creation app called Along has launched into beta testing to offer a way to create “infinite-length” collaboration videos with multiple creators. The app introduces a concept called “tapes” which begins with one creator’s video that others can then add their own clips to, which the original creator approves. The idea is similar to the “Add This” feature that Meta recently rolled out to its short-form video offering, Reels. Except in Along’s case, users are collaborating on a video “tape,” curated by the original poster, not simply contributing to a trend page.

The app is currently in private, invite-only testing but TechCrunch readers can access the app early here: along.video/invite/techcrunch. (This is not an ad — just an invite!)

You can read more about the app here on TechCrunch.