This Week in Apps: TikTok goes to Congress, apps connect to ChatGPT, Microsoft’s mobile games store plan

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

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

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

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

Top Stories

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

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testifying

Image Credits: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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

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

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

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

Image Credits: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Microsoft plans a mobile games store

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

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

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

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



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


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

App Updates


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

Adobe Firefly

Image Credits: Adobe  

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

Image Credits:


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

Instagram's new Reminder Ads

Image Credits: Instagram

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


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


Productivity / Learning

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


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

WhatsApp groups features

Image Credits: WhatsApp



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

Government, Policy and Lawsuits

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

Funding and M&A

Image Credits: Flash

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



Image Credits: Zigazoo

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


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

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

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


Image Credits: Woolly

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

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

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

This Week in Apps: AI-powered productivity apps, US weighs TikTok ban, SVB crash boosts crypto apps

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

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

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

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

Top Stories

Our Everyday Apps Get AI

While the announcement wasn’t necessarily targeted toward mobile, the sweeping AI-fueled changes that are coming to the biggest productivity apps from Microsoft and Google will have a wider impact on the productivity app industry. That is, they’re now raising the stakes for what a productivity app should be able to do. It will no longer be enough to simply offer an elegant, refined, and efficient note-taking tool, docs editor, spreadsheet, slideshow maker, and so on — the apps will also need to have baked-in AI smarts.

This week, in case you missed it, both Microsoft and Google announced the new generation of their productivity software products. Microsoft, which calls its digital helper a “Copilot,” is bringing AI to everyday tools like Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, Teams, and more. It’s integrating a new Business Chat feature that understands what a knowledge worker has in their inbox, calendar, chats, and across their files, and can be prompted to do things like create a status report on a project that’s then shared to the team. It’s even leveraging AI to help workers build their own line-of-business apps using natural language prompts.

Elsewhere, Microsoft-owned LinkedIn expanded its generative AI assistant to recruitment ads and writing profiles. The company’s AI-powered writing suggestions are built on advanced GPT models, including GPT-4 (profiles) and GPT-3.5 (job descriptions).

Google, meanwhile, said it would bring AI tools to Workspace, its productivity suite that includes Gmail, Docs, Sheets, Meet, Slides, and Chat. Though the company hasn’t fully shared its vision for Chat — saying only that it will “enable workflows for getting things done” — it’s likely aiming to keep up with Microsoft’s plans. In addition, Google is leveraging generative AI to create auto-generated images, audio, and video in Slides, which is an interesting angle on modern productivity — and, potentially, a threat to the one-off tools built to address each individual generative AI use case.

These enhancements to users’ everyday apps, from emails to docs to spreadsheets and more, will help to bring AI to mainstream users in a way that a ChatGPT-powered Bing alone cannot. The new tech is now just baked in, under the hood, offering additional functionality to the end user. It may eventually even reduce the working hours required to complete various tasks, as productivity users lean more on AI to write and edit for them, create presentations, take meeting notes, manage inboxes, and more.

But to what end? Will workers now be expected to fill their newly freed hours with ever more work or will technology finally fulfill its original promise of allowing us to lead more comfortable lives? Do we still need to work 40 hours a week when AI can work for us?

TikTok’s fate up in the air in U.S.

Will they or won’t they…ban TikTok? That’s the question sure to be on the minds of ByteDance execs as they weigh their decision to either spin off the U.S. operations of the TikTok app or risk being fully banned in the U.S. The anti-TikTok sentiment in Congress has rare bipartisan support at a time when the two sides can’t seem to agree on anything, which makes the potential for a ban look more likely. It’s not helping ByteDance’s case that the FBI and DOJ are investigating ByteDance’s use of TikTok to spy on journalists, either.

Other Western markets are also taking steps to limit TikTok’s threat, not just the U.S. This week, New Zealand banned TikTok from government devices days after the U.K. did the same. The moves follow lawmakers’ banning of the app in Canada and Belgium and in the E.U.

TikTok, for the time being, is hoping to assure lawmakers of its safety, even offering an audit by U.S. tech giant Oracle.

But while a full ban may put an end to lawmakers’ immediate concerns about the potential for CCP surveillance of U.S. citizens or the potential to manipulate the populace with pro-China propaganda, the real concern here is lawmakers’ inability to pass regulations over U.S. user data privacy for all our apps, not just those from China.

Expect next week’s Congressional hearing with TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew to be an interesting one to watch!

SVB meltdown hits app makers, boosts crypto apps

Silicon Valley Bank’s failure was the biggest story of this week, as numerous tech companies, large and small, and their investors had funds tied up in the bank, which is now under regulator control and whose parent company is officially filing for bankruptcy. Among the public companies with exposure to SVB were big names like Roku, Roblox, Quotient, Vimeo, Rocket Lab, SoFi, Life360, Sezzle, Unity, AppLovin, Wish, and many others.

While there were several factors that played into the eventual bank run, from bad bets to bad decisions, the ability to stoke fear and panic on Twitter played a notable role, with some investors tweeting in ALL CAPS that people should be ABSOLUTELY TERRIFIED RIGHT NOW.

U.S. lawmakers have since taken notice of how bad actors on Twitter factored into the bank’s collapse, even going so far as to blame VCs and others for using social media apps and online chats to coordinate their SVB withdrawals, effectively ensuring the bank’s failure.

“I’ve been supportive of the venture capital community — I was a venture capitalist before — but I think there were some bad actors in the VC community who literally started to spur this run by virtually crying fire in a crowded theater in terms of rushing all these deposits out,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) in a report by The Hill. 

“No matter how strong capital and liquidity supervision are, if a bank has an overwhelming run that’s spurred by social media or whatever so that it’s seeing deposits flee at that pace, the bank can be put in danger of failing,” Treasury secretary Janet Yellen also said.

Whether the bank’s failure — and the subsequent failures of crypto-friendly banks Signature and Silvergate — will lead to new, retightened regulations remains to be seen, but one category of apps did benefit from the chaos.

Despite the seeming contagion to crypto banks, Apptopia reported the top crypto apps’ downloads rose over 15% following SVB’s collapse. At the same time, the top 10 traditional banks and top 10 “digital first” bank app downloads fell by about 5% and 3%, respectively. This begs the question of whether the people shouting FIRE! last weekend were also those who were heavily invested in crypto and therefore would have benefited from negative public sentiment toward traditional banking.

Though the fed is making SVB’s depositors whole, the crisis also exposed the reach of SVB’s tendrils beyond the Valley and the potential for a banking collapse to disproportionately impact some groups over others. The effects were felt as wide as the African startup ecosystem and highlighted the inequities in the broader tech industry. On one side, you have startups whose founders could self-fund their companies while waiting on a resolution, and on the other, there were serious concerns over missing payroll and business stoppage.

Many suspect we’ll see continuing fallout from SVB in terms of raising venture debt, something SVB was known for. Whether it opens up the floor to new entrants or drives up the cost of venture debt is being debated, but we’re sure to feel the impacts of this failure for months to come.



  • Apple rolled out its fourth developer betas for iOS 16.4, iPadOS 16.4, watchOS 9.4, and tvOS 16.4.
  • Apple launched a new way to shop for iPhones with help from a live specialist. The sales rep cannot see you but you can see them while asking questions about models, features, offers, trade-ins and more.
  • Apple is reportedly moving forward with its AR/VR headset this year.
  • Apple AI experiments? According to a new report from The New York Times, many teams at Apple, including those working Siri, have been testing “language-generating concepts.” A former Apple engineer told the paper Siri’s development had been slow because of clunky code, which made it harder to update. It’s not known if Apple is now building its own LLMs or adopting an existing model.


  • Google said its Google Play Games for PC service, which brings Android games to Windows users, will roll out to Japan and to European markets and will gain new titles and tools for game developers. Over the next couple of months, the service will add several popular games, including Garena Free Fire, Ludo King (a popular board game in India), and MapleStory M. It will also introduce early access to machine translation in the Play Console for translating games into 8 languages.
  • Missed the Google for Games Developer Summit? Google has a recap here.

App News

Social Apps

Snapchat content filtering

Image Credits: Snapchat

  • Snapchat added new parental controls that block “sensitive” and “suggestive” content from viewing by younger teens. The company said it’s introducing content filtering capabilities that will allow parents to restrict teens from being exposed to content that’s not prohibited but shouldn’t be recommended to younger users across Stories (Discover) and Spotlight. The feature still requires parents to access these parental controls in the Family Center, which they may not know exists.
  • Pinterest is partnering with America’s largest publisher Dotdash Meredith on exclusive video content from brands such as Better Homes & Gardens, Southern Living, Brides, Food & Wine, Serious Eats, Allrecipes and Martha Stewart. Pinterest recently announced a similar deal with Condé Nast.
  • Meta is focusing on its “year of efficiency” by cutting another 10,000 jobs.
  • Meta also gave up on NFTs, shutting down the NFT and digital collectible features on Instagram and Facebook.
  • Instagram tests a feature that makes it easier to reshare Reels you sent to friends.
  • Meta launched paid verification on Instagram and Facebook in the U.S. Meta Verified is $11.99 per month on the web or $14.99 per month on mobile. The feature delivers a verified badge, proactive impersonation protection and direct access to customer support.
  • Twitter starts showing how many times a tweet has been bookmarked, initially on iOS. The company promises it won’t display who is bookmarking tweets, though. It’s not clear whether anyone cares how many bookmarks a tweet has, but the goal is likely aimed at making Twitter look more engaging.
  • Twitter’s API packages are getting pricey. The company’s new Enterprise Packages start at $42,000/mo for 50 million tweets.

Entertainment & Streaming

TikTok's new refresh feature

Image Credits: TikTok


  • The FTC finalizes Epic’s $245 million settlement over sketchy Fortnite purchases. “Fortnite’s counterintuitive, inconsistent, and confusing button configuration led players to incur unwanted charges based on the press of a single button,” the FTC wrote. It also criticized Epic for allowing kids to make unauthorized purchases without their parents’ permission.
  • Unreal Editor for Fortnite (UEFN) is set to launch on March 22, according to a tweet from an official Fortnite account.


  • Be My Eyes, an app that allows blind and low-vision people to ask sighted people to describe what their phone sees, is gaining AI capabilities powered by GPT-4. The app’s new “Virtual Volunteer” will be able to answer questions about images users snap and provide instantaneous visual assistance for a wide variety of tasks.
  • Language learning app Duolingo debuted a Max subscription for $30/month or $168/year that offers GPT-4 features for English speakers taking Spanish and French courses. The AI feature is rolling out to iOS first.


Security Concerns

  • Twitter’s dumb decision to make SMS 2FA a paid feature will kick in this weekend. Here’s how to protect yourself.
  • Google warns users to take action to protect against remotely exploitable flaws in popular Android phones. Google’s security research unit sounded the alarm about a set of vulnerabilities found in certain Samsung chips included in dozens of Android models, wearables and vehicles.
  • Firefox launched Total Cookie Protection, which stops cookies from tracking you around the web, to its Firefox Android app.

Funding and M&A

Image Credits: Sidechat & Yik Yak logos, image via TechCrunch

  • Anonymous app Sidechat picks up rival Yik Yak…and users aren’t happy. A quiet acquisition involving two press-shy companies was unveiled by a publisher name change on the App Store and users complained about being forced to move to Sidechat.
  • NYC-based transportation startup Via will acquire London-based Citymapper, a Google Maps alternative for planning journeys in a city using public transportation. Citymapper has around 50 million global users. Financial terms are not being disclosed but are a mix of cash and stock. Sources said the deal is mostly a washout for investors.
  • Walmart invested $200 million in Indian mobile payments giant PhonePe.
  • Meal delivery startup Entrée raised $2.5 million in pre-seed funding led by M25 with participation from investors, including Hustle Fund, Pillar VC and The Community Fund. The app offers fine dining meals delivered to the home with an average order volume of over $60.
  • Bloomberg reports that Abu Dhabi–based G42 has acquired a $100 million+ stake in ByteDance at a ~$220 billion valuation. This valuation is down from the $300 billion valuation ByteDance set during a recent share buyback program.
  • Ho Chi Minh City–based prescription delivery app Medigo raised $2 million in new funding from East Ventures, with participation from Pavilion Capital and Touchstone Partners.

Government, Policy and Lawsuits


Camo 2

A popular webcam app for PC and Mac is returning. Camo was originally launched in 2020 to allow iPhone users to use their phones as a webcam. Now, Camo 2 is out, offering support for any webcam, including regular webcams as well as built-in devices, monitors with built-in cameras, DSLR and mirrorless cameras, inputs from capture cards and HDMI dongles, action cameras and other software virtual cameras.


Image Credits: Mavn

Reports Lauren Forristal: Mavn is “a new female-founded startup that connects content creators with brands and other businesses.” The new app gives users “access to a variety of experiences, from PR packages and paid posts to campaigns, photoshoots, events, dining at fancy restaurants and more.” The app is available for both iOS and Android.

Petey: AI assistant brings ChatGPT to the Apple Watch

Image Credits: Petey


The app was previously called watchGPT, but Apple’s crackdown on GPT apps led the developer to have issues getting the app approved. So the name was changed, and boom, the app went live. As the name implies, Petey offers a ChatGPT-like experience from your Watch, allowing users to ask questions either with or without typing and have the answers read out to you via text-to-speech. The app also includes a complication so you can quickly open the assistant with a tap on your watch face.


ghost app

Image Credits: Ghost

A new startup called Ghost believes that putting in extra guardrails around the anonymous experience will allow users to have fun, without the usual downsides. To test this theory, the company has launched its Ghost messaging app that allows users to share an anonymous message in a group chat with friends in order to flirt, joke, or ask questions without revealing their identity. The app also includes a range of other features, including the ability to ask ChatGPT a question directly within the group chat, among other things.

This Week in Apps: AI-powered productivity apps, US weighs TikTok ban, SVB crash boosts crypto apps by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

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

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

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

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

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

Top Stories

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

Image Credits: Spotify

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The changes are radical — and potentially controversial, too.

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


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

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

Image Credits: Spotify screenshot

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

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

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

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

Still, it’s a big risk.

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

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

Image Credits: Spotify

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

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

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

More from Spotify

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corporate takeover of the Fediverse?

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

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

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



Image Credits: Google

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


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

App Updates


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

Image Credits: Telegram

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


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

Image Credits: Roku

Entertainment & Streaming

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

SoundCloud feed on two smartphone screens

Image Credits: SoundCloud

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


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

Image Credits: Microsoft

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

Government, Policy and Lawsuits

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

Funding and M&A

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


Apple Music Classical (preorder)

Image Credits: Apple

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top Stories

Social apps & “pseudo” teen protections

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

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

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

Image Credits: Instagram

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

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

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

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

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

TikTok Family Pairing updates shown on 3 smartphone screens

Image Credits: TikTok

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Image Credits: Google

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


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

App Updates


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

Snapchat's new AI chatbot

Image Credits: Snapchat

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


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

VSCO new features

Image Credits: VSCO

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

Image Credits: Instagram

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

Streaming & Entertainment

Image Credits: TikTok

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

Image Credits: Spotify

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


Pokemon GO Scarlet and Violet

Image Credits: The Pokémon Company

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


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


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

Travel & Transportation

Cariad-VW Group-app store

Image Credits: Cariad/VW Group

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


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

Government, Policy and Lawsuits

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

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

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

US Capitol building

Capitol building. Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

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

Funding and M&A

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



Mammoth app on three smartphone screens

Image Credits: Mammoth

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

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

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

This Week in Apps: Meta’s paid verifications, Instagram’s founders’ new app and Spotify’s AI DJ

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

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

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

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

Top Stories

Meta starts selling blue badges…but also security and customer service

Meta's suit in Kenya to continue

Image Credits: Bloomberg / Contributor / Getty Images

In a stealth announcement over the weekend, Meta announced a radical change to Facebook and Instagram with news that it would offer to sell its blue verified badge to customers, taking a play from Elon Musk’s Twitter playbook. The paid subscription includes other features as well, including improved impersonation protection and direct access to customer support, plus more visibility through upranked posts. It’s initially rolling out to Australia and New Zealand.

Twitter’s initial attempt at paid verification proved problematic, as users bought the badge then changed their name and profile picture to troll other high-profile accounts (including Musk) and businesses. Twitter had to pause the service and readjust.

Seemingly learning from Twitter’s mistakes, Meta’s paid badge has a few more rules in place.

For starters, users must verify their identity with a government-issued ID card, and then won’t be able to change their profile name, username, date of birth or photo after paying for verification. If they later want to make a change, they’ll need to unsubscribe and then get reverified. This dramatically cuts down on bad actors, though could be a bit of a pain for creators who like to refresh their photos from time to time. However, it may not always be this way — Meta said it’s working on a feature that will eventually allow users to change these settings through a new verification process that won’t require them to cancel and resubscribe… it’s just not ready yet.

Also of note: Meta Verified won’t verify users across Facebook and Instagram — users will have to buy separate plans for the two apps, and Facebook’s subscription, for now, is only sold on the web. That means customers will be shelling out $27 per month at the current prices for access to this badge and other perks across Meta’s apps. (The subscription is $11.99 per month on the web and $14.99 per month on iOS or Android.)

The trend toward paid verification is a potentially fraught move for social networks like Meta and Twitter, as they’re now responsible for services that users believe should be free — things like safety, security and customer service. Being able to identify an account as authentic is seen as a feature the networks should provide to ensure that their users can trust who they’re interacting with. And being able to get help with problems like impersonation or other customer support issues is also considered something that should be a part of the social network’s core service. By stratifying these features into pay-to-play tiers, the networks are setting up a system where people with money have a better class of service than those with less to spend. But security and trust shouldn’t be sold as if they’re upgraded seats on an airplane, they should be baked into the core offering.

Instagram co-founders launch their new app… and it’s for news

Artifact displayed on smartphone laid on colored tiles/blocks

Image Credits: Artifact

Artifact, the personalized news reader built by Instagram’s co-founders, is now open to the public, no sign-up required. Last month, Instagram’s creators Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger unveiled their latest venture as an invite-only experience, promising their news app would later evolve to include social elements, like being able to discuss the news with friends. With this week’s launch, Artifact is dropping its waitlist and phone number requirements, introducing the app’s first social feature and adding feedback controls to better personalize the news reading experience, among other changes.

In preparation for expanded social features, the company will now allow users to upload their contacts to see when articles are becoming popular with people in their network. But unlike a similar feature on Twitter, it won’t show you who is reading them.

Image Credits: Artifact personalization and stats

Artifact will also now give users more visibility into their news reading habits with a newly added stats feature that shows you the categories you’ve read as well as the recent articles you read within those categories, plus the publishers you’ve been reading the most. But it will also group your reading more narrowly by specific topics. In other words, instead of just “tech” or “AI,” you might find you’ve read a lot about the topic “ChatGPT,” specifically.

The launch of a brand-new app from Instagram’s founders, and particularly one focused on news, was a surprise — especially given the difficulties of launching a news reader here in the U.S., where it would have to compete with offerings from the tech giants, like Google News, Apple News and, of course — from the founders’ earlier employer — Meta’s own News Feed. But Systrom believes that the underlying machine learning technology being used will help Artifact differentiate itself from others — it’s leveraging the transformer advances that are also powering new AI tools like ChatGPT.

While users are likely curious about the app because of its founders’ pedigree, it remains to be seen if there’s room for another news reader to carve out a niche under the tech giants’ shadow. Before the waitlist was lifted, the app had around 47,000 installs, according to As of late this past week, it had climbed to No. 4 in the U.S. App Store’s News category, but hadn’t broken into the Top Free Charts.

Spotify launches an AI DJ

Image Credits: Spotify screenshot

Ah, what a time to be alive! Music streaming service Spotify this week launched an AI DJ to personalize the music listening experience for its users. Similar to a radio DJ, Spotify’s DJ feature will deliver a curated selection of music alongside, in its case, AI-powered spoken commentary about the tracks and artists you like, using what Spotify says is a “stunningly realistic voice.” (The voice is based on Spotify’s Head of Cultural Partnerships Xavier “X” Jernigan, who had hosted Spotify’s morning show podcast, “The Get Up.”)

To access the DJ, you’ll head to the Music Feed on the Home page of Spotify’s iOS or Android app, then tap Play on the DJ card to begin. The DJ will then begin to play a lineup of music and short commentary. As listeners engage with the DJ feature, they’ll be presented with a personalized stream of songs that will include both newer tracks and old favorites, and a variety of genres. But it’s not a long-running playlist. After you move through one style of music or selection (like your summer throwbacks), you’re then presented with another (like your favorite hip-hop tracks). This experience feels more like Spotify tied its personalized playlists together, then interspersed them with commentary.

The interesting thing here is that Spotify said it’s leveraging Generative AI through the use of OpenAI technology to create the commentary, which is meant to scale its in-house music experts’ insights about music, artists and genres. Meanwhile, its AI voice comes from its 2022 Sonantic acquisition. Spotify has led the market for years with its personalization tech for crafting playlists, but now its rivals have their own versions of this type of experience. By adding an AI DJ, Spotify hopes to attract and retain users who want a more lean-back experience while introducing a new feature that can’t be quickly copied by the competition.




App Updates


  • Elon Musk tweeted Twitter would open source its algorithm next week. We’ll believe it when we see it, Twitter!
  • Twitter also laid off dozens more sales and engineering staff last week.
  • Snapchat rolled out new features for Sounds that let users add licensed song clips, excerpts from TV shows and movies, or their own original audio to Snaps and Stories. One new feature will let you tap an icon to be suggested relevant Sounds to add to a Snap. Another lets you create montage videos that are automatically in rhythm to the beat of audio tracks.
  • A new study of U.S. adults found that 14% of Gen Z adults start researching news on TikTok, versus 2% of all adults. I guess when Google said TikTok was a threat to its business, it was right.
  • Tumblr’s parody of paid verification delivered a 125% boost in iOS in-app purchase revenue since November, according to a new analysis of the app’s in-app consumer spending by The company had launched a sort of tongue-in-cheek rebuttal to the idea that subscription-based verification had any real value by launching paid “double checkmarks” as an IAP. Consumer spending on Tumblr’s iOS app increased since the November 2022 launch of the feature, now totaling $263,000 in net revenue. A small figure, but a boost nonetheless.

Media & Entertainment

  • Spotify is planning to launch a TikTok-style feed for music discovery in its app, according to Bloomberg, which said the news would be announced at the company’s upcoming Stream On event in March. Spotify previewed the feature at its Investor Day last June.
  • Podcasts are coming to YouTube Music. YouTube announced that ad-supported podcasts would be made available on YouTube Music, with support for background listening included for free. The feature will include both audio and video podcasts, initially for users in the U.S.
  • YouTube Music’s redesign brought a new feature that lets users create their own automatically generated radio stations by picking up to 30 artists and then applying mood filters. The stations can also be further refined with other specific filters like “new discoveries” or “chill songs,” for example.

YouTube Music's new radio experience

Image Credits: YouTube

  • Nexstar Media Group launched a free NewsNation app for streaming devices, including Apple TV, Roku, Fire TV and others.
  • Spotify re-org’d again. After last month’s departure of Dawn Ostroff, who oversaw podcast content and advertising, Spotify’s head of audio talk shows and partnerships Max Cutler is also leaving the company on May 1 as part of a larger re-org. Cutler notably oversaw deals with top creators like Joe Rogan and Alex Cooper (“Call Her Daddy”), after joining the company when it bought his network Parcast.  Julie McNamara, who oversaw originals, will now manage exclusives too as Cutler departs.
  • Clubhouse is adding a “Mutals” feature that lets you see who you know in common with other participants in one of its live audio rooms. The company said it could serve as a good icebreaker for chatting up new folks.
  • Spotify began testing playlists that could only be unlocked by NFT holders. The feature was being tested by the metaverse band Kingship and communities like Overlord, Fluf and Kevin Rose’s Moonbirds.
  • YouTube launched a new multi-language audio feature that allows creators to add dubbing to their videos after creating the dubbed tracks with a third-party partner. The feature was tested by select creators, like MrBeast, and is now expanding to thousands more creators for use in long-form videos.
  • Celeb greetings app Cameo named Meta vet Matty de Castro as its GM of Enterprise Sales, Cameo for Business.
  • Xiaomi is shutting down its short-form video app Zili next month, citing an “operational adjustment.”


  • ASO matters! Rovio said it’s delisting Angry Birds on Google Play and renaming it on the App Store because the older game is taking away attention and downloads from its newer versions, like Angry Birds 2, Angry Birds Friends and Angry Birds Journey. The older App Store game will be renamed to Red’s First Flight in order to redirect search traffic to the newer titles. The game will remain playable on devices it’s been downloaded to even after the rebranding and removal.
  • Unreal sneak peek ahead. Epic Games said it’s returning to the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco on March 22 to give a glimpse of the future of game development with its Unreal Engine. The company promises to “look at some new projects” and “dive into the latest Epic tech.” The keynote will be livestreamed on Twitch and YouTube.


  • WhatsApp was spotted developing a “private newsletter tool which would expand on its existing broadcast functionality to allow users to broadcast via newsletter, as well. The reveal follows Meta’s launch of a broadcast channels feature that lets users send a one-to-many message to Instagram users. The same feature is also being tested in Messenger.
  • Messenger was spotted internally testing another BeReal clone, “Roll Call.” The feature asks users to add a photo or video to a prompt with a timed countdown to share what they’re up to at the moment with a group of friends in a chat.
  • Google rebranded its chat features in the Google Messages app as “RCS Chat” and now refers to a “Chat Message” as an “RCS Message,” among other changes. The subtle shift in branding is meant to highlight Google’s adoption of the next-gen communication protocol meant to replace SMS. Apple has steadily refused to implement it on its own devices, as RCS offers many iMessage-like features and would reduce its grip on the blue bubble-demanding market.


  • Two weeks after launching the new AI-enabled Bing on desktop, the new Bing became available in the Bing mobile app and through Microsoft’s Edge browser for Android and iOS. Skype, Microsoft’s messaging app, also now allows you to bring Bing into a text conversation to add additional information with the @Bing command. Bing’s AI has seen some drama since its launch as users trolled and tested the AI’s limits, which pushed Microsoft to adjust some parameters around things like the length of conversations and other things. Unfortunately, that means the AI is now restricting users to six turns per conversation and 60 total queries today.

Image Credits: Microsoft

  • Google Photos made its AI-powered Magic Eraser photo editing feature available to Android and iOS users with a Google One paid subscription. The feature was previously Pixel-only. The company also rolled out a small handful of other editing tools, as well, like a new HDR video effect and exclusive collage styles.

Image Credits: Google


  • Amazon’s Alexa app was updated with a new feature that allows users to manage and move their music between multiple Echo devices or groups of speakers within the app instead of using voice commands.
  • Google said it will begin the big Google Tasks merger in March. This will allow users to manage all the tasks created across Google apps like Gmail, Docs and Chat in the Tasks app itself. On May 22nd, it will also move reminders from Calendar and Assistant into Tasks too.
  • Samsung’s Bixby mobile assistant added a new feature that lets users clone their own voice with AI to answer phone calls, but it’s only available in Korean for now.
  • Stripe’s Tap to Pay arrived on Android in six countries, including the U.S., Canada, the U.K., New Zealand, Australia and Singapore. The feature supports payment methods using Google Pay, Mastercard, Visa and American Express debit and credit cards. Last year, Stripe was Apple’s first payment partner for “Tap to Pay.”

Travel and Transportation


  • Researchers found bugs that would have allowed attackers to bypass Apple’s sandbox on iOS and Mac, allowing them to access messages, photos and call history. Apple fixed the bugs before the disclosure was made public.
  • Twitter dumbly made SMS 2FA a paid subscription feature only…which we suppose is in keeping with the new social networking model where security and customer support are only available to paying customers now.
  • Apple removed scammy authenticator apps from the App Store which couldn’t even scan QR codes until users subscribed to their service. Some also used dark patterns that should have never gotten through App Review — like tapping on the X to close the paywall would prompt a subscription confirmation.

Government, Policy and Lawsuits

  • Florida’s Republican AG wrote letters to Apple and Google pushing the companies to label the country of origin of the apps on their app stores. The political move follows some lawmakers’ increasing concerns about China’s surveillance, which led to bans of the TikTok app from government officials’ phones.
  • AliveCor and Apple will take their latest dispute to an appeals court. In December, the International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled Apple infringed on AliveCor patents around wearable electrocardiograms and called for a ban on Apple Watch sales. But that order had been on hold as the Patent Trial and Appeal Board ruled the patents were invalid. President Biden’s administration, however, has now upheld the ITC ruling, setting the stage for a broader legal battle to take place.
  • The European Commission (EC) issued a directive instructing all EC employees to remove TikTok from their corporate devices as well as on any personal devices that get used for work purposes. The news follows similar rulings among U.S. lawmakers as the threat of Chinese surveillance looms.
  • The U.S. DoJ has been meeting with Google’s competitors and customers for an antitrust lawsuit over Google Maps and its dominant position in the digital maps market.

This Week in Apps: Meta’s paid verifications, Instagram’s founders’ new app and Spotify’s AI DJ by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

This Week in Apps: Twitter alternative winners and losers, BeReal declines, iOS web apps to get notifications

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

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

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

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

This week’s theme seems to be a decline in growth for some much-buzzed-about apps, including a group of Twitter alternatives, AI photo apps and even the BeReal. Let’s dive in.

Top Stories

How are the Twitter alternatives faring now?

Concept illustration depicting Twitter in a federated world

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

Was there a Twitter exodus or just a Twitter pause? Did it even matter? This week, TechCrunch dug into new data in order to take a look at how a range of “Twitter alternatives” have fared in the months following Elon Musk’s acquisition of the popular microblogging network, now that the burst of new installs driven by his takeover has tapered off. The data indicates that many apps continue to grow to a lesser degree while other apps have seen growth decline. But it also shows that Twitter itself was never significantly impacted, at least in terms of new app installs.

Of course, app installs is only one window into this data. But private companies don’t often share figures related to active usage, so tracking consumer demand through app downloads is one way to determine market interest. What’s interesting here is that we found Twitter installs have trended back up after earlier declines. Downloads grew from 16.6 million installs in October to 18.6 million in November as Musk took over, then dropped in December to 16.9 million. Last month, they again jumped back to 18.6 million installs, giving Twitter the same 24.8% growth rate it had in November.

Meanwhile, other Twitter alternatives have seen drop-offs in growth. While our report examined Reddit and Discord, neither of these seem to have had their fortunes directly tied to Twitter’s ups and downs, as it turned out. Other alternatives like Hive, GETTR and Tribel have seen their growth slow. Tribel, for instance, only added 1,100 new downloads in January. Tumblr certainly had a November bump driven by the Twitter exodus as well but is still up slightly higher in December (510,000 installs) and January (480,000) compared with September and October.

Mastodon’s installs were down quite a bit from November’s peak of 2.9 million monthly downloads. It still managed to gain 180,000 new installs in January — that’s 169,000 more installs than it had in September 2022. So it’s not in decline yet.

If anything, the biggest boost to the wider Twitter alternative app ecosystem hinges on new user awareness of the Fediverse and Mastodon. Even if the Mastodon app itself hasn’t transformed into a dominant force, it’s early days. Fediverse growth could ultimately be a trend that plays out over a longer period of time than just a few months post-Twitter acquisition, as more apps join the decentralization movement.

Web apps will get to act more like real apps on iPhone

One of the more notable changes coming out of the iOS 16.4 beta is the news that Apple will now allow mobile web applications to function more like native applications by providing them access to iOS’s push notification system. That means web apps that get added to a user’s Home Screen can request permission to receive push notifications if the user opts in — for instance by tapping on a subscribe button to receive updates, as a post on the WebKit blog explains. This would then allow the end user to manage their push notifications for the app in their Settings, just as they would for any other native iOS or iPadOS app.

The notifications would work just like native notifications, too, appearing in all areas where you’d expect to see them, like the Notification Center, Lock Screen and on a paired Apple Watch. The web apps’ icon can also display a badge with a badge count and will work with Focus Modes. What’s more, users can even add multiple versions of the same web app to their Home Screen, each with their own settings — something that can be useful for separating work and personal use of some apps or multiple accounts, the post notes.

Push notifications tied to web browsers is not new technology, but it’s interesting to see Apple embrace the feature now that it’s under pressure to demonstrate that it’s not engaging in anti-competitive behavior. With this change, the company can point to web apps as an alternative to its App Store, claiming they have the same ability to target and reach iPhone and iPad users as native apps do.

Are we still Being Real?

Is the shine wearing off BeReal? Interesting data out this week from Apptopia (via Business of Apps) indicates that BeReal may have already peaked. The app is estimated to have hit 20 million daily active users in October 2022, but that’s since dropped to 10.4 million. In addition, its monthly downloads fell from 12 million in September 2022 to 3.3 million in January, the report noted, citing data from AppMagic.

TechCrunch previously reported there were indications that BeReal wasn’t gaining enough ground to maintain its high ranks after going viral. The app in October was said to be seeing only 9% of its Android users open it daily. The app demands little of its users’ time — its push notification prompts a one-time use per day, and the majority weren’t even giving it that. Some may have felt that data was unfair or unhelpful, particularly given BeReal’s traction with U.S. teens and young adults, most of whom are on iPhone. But in combination with the new data, it’s perhaps more of a concern.

The company has faced challenges as its once-daily notification gimmick has been ripped off by Instagram, Snapchat and BeReal. Meanwhile, the app itself has remained unchanged. There’s nothing to addict or re-engage users — which is kind of the point. The founders’ goal is to create a new type of social experience that doesn’t demand huge chunks of time and strives for authenticity. But they also haven’t laid out a vision for its future, despite a $60 million Series B — a number that suggests a grand plan should be in store or at least monetization. It’s not a lifestyle business, after all. It’s unclear where BeReal is going next at this point.

The AI photo app trend has fizzled

Speaking of apps in decline, that’s where the AI photo app trend has ended up.

Over the past several months, AI-powered photo apps had been going viral on the App Store as consumers explored AI-powered experiences like Lensa AI’s “magic avatars” feature and other apps promising to turn text into images using AI tech. But new data indicates consumer interest in AI photo apps has fallen as quickly as it rose.

At their height of popularity, the top AI photo apps topped 4.3 million daily downloads and ~$1.8 million per day in consumer spending via in-app purchases. As of this past week, the same group of apps saw only around 952,000 combined downloads and around $507,000 in consumer spending, and the numbers continue to fall.

Consumers seemed to respond to the ethical concerns being raised around the apps. As TechCrunch had reported at the time, some people began to leave comments on AI photos and profile pictures posted on social media to tell people not to use an app that steals from artists. This backlash likely quelled some of the demand for AI art. After all, it’s not much fun to use an AI pic for your profile if you’re essentially being accused of theft when doing so.



  • Apple released iOS 16.3.1, iPadOS 16.3.1 and macOS Ventura 13.2.1 to patch a WebKit vulnerability. On its security update page, Apple wrote that it “is aware of a report that this issue may have been actively exploited.
  • Apple released iOS 16.4’s first beta, which brings a number of new features, including 31 new emojis like the pink heart and shaking face; the ability for web apps on iPhone and iPad to access push notifications and display badges; support for rich content previews of Mastodon posts in iMessage; and new features for Apple Podcasts including a new “Channels” section and CarPlay updates.
  • The first macOS Ventura 13.3 beta was released as well, along with tvOS 16.4 and watchOS 9.4.
  • Apple is making it easier for registered developers to install iOS betas by allowing them to register their accounts in order to be opted into a new option that lets them install betas directly from Software Updates. The system will replace the profiles previously required. But this change means only registered developers can install the developer beta — those who aren’t registered can only install the public beta instead.
  • Apple officially released iOS 16 adoption figures, demonstrating it’s higher than iOS 15 with 81% of all iPhones from 2019 and on running the newest software. In addition, 72% of all iPhones are running iOS 16. Not as many iPads have updated, though, as only 50% of all iPads are running iPadOS 16, while 53% of those introduced in the last four years are.


  • Google said a small percentage of Android 13 devices will be enrolled in the beta trials of its new privacy sandbox, an interest-based ad-targeting system. Initial ad partners for the trial include TechCrunch’s parent Yahoo, mobile games maker Rovio, mobility firm Wolt, cross-platform games engine Unity and mobile marketing platforms AppsFlyer, InMobi Exchange and Adjust.
  • Google announced that Play Games Services (PGS) is rolling out next-generation Player IDs. With this change, says Google, “the first time a user plays a game, they will always be assigned a unique next-generation Player ID that will remain consistent regardless of the device or platform a user plays a game on, but which will vary from game to game.”
  • Samsung’s Galaxy S23 Android phone’s new Message Guard feature is said to prevent zero-click exploits via messaging apps.

App Updates


  • At its investor day, Snap announced that Snapchat now has 750 million+ monthly active users, up 25% from April 2022 and noted 150 million of those users are in North America. Among a bevy of metrics it shared, it also said its Snapchat+ $3.99/month subscription now has 2.5 million subscribers. The company said it would focus more on its Direct Response ads business going forward, invest in AR and continue M&A. It spoke little about its Spectacles and declined to answer a question on how the latest in AI would impact its business.
  • TikTok may be developing a paywalled product where creators could charge $1 or more for videos. It’s also said to be working on a revamped Creator Fund which would pay creators with 100,000+ followers.
  • Popular Mastodon client Ivory got something Twitter users waited eons for: an edit button.
  • Twitter began allowing cannabis ads on its platform in U.S. states where it’s legal. The ads will promote brands and offer info but not facilitate direct sales. The move comes after many larger Twitter advertisers put their campaigns on pause, forcing Twitter to recoup its business elsewhere.
  • Instagram launched Instagram Channels, a broadcast chat feature that allows creators to share public, one-to-many messages with fans and followers. The feature supports both text and images and is initially available to creators in the U.S.
  • TikTok added new dedicated feeds alongside its For You and Following feeds that let users browse videos by categories like  “Sports,” “Fashion,” “Gaming” and “Food.”


Snap launches ray tracing technology

Image Credits: Snap

  • Snapchat said it’s adding ray tracing support to its AR Lens Studio for developers globally. The technical capability allows for realistic renderings of light and shine on AR artifacts. Snap is partnering with Tiffany & Co. to let users try on and purchase bracelets using AR using this new feature.


  • Following Facebook, Instagram will shut down its live shopping feature on March 16, 2023 to instead put its focus on ads that allow users to discover businesses and Shops on the app. With the change, Instagram users will no longer be able to tag products while livestreaming — a capability that has been broadly available to U.S. businesses and creators since 2020.
  • Meanwhile, TikTok has more brands testing out its own in-app commerce features with TikTok Shop in the U.S. While the tests have been underway since November, TikTok confirmed more companies like PacSun, Revolve and Willow Boutique, as well as beauty brand KimChi Chic, are now on board, follow an Ad Age report.

Media and Entertainment

  • Big news in the world of YouTube as Susan Wojcicki announced she’s stepping down as YouTube CEO after nine years. The exec, Google’s 16th employee, has worked at the company for nearly 25 years, having led YouTube through the launch of new products like YouTube Premium YouTube TV, and other creator products and services, as well as through challenges around moderation issues and increased lawmaker scrutiny of Big Tech.
  • Spotify was caught in a backlash after audiobook narrators discovered a clause that let Apple use audiobooks from Findaway Voices to train its synthetic voices. Spotify acquired Findaway in June 2022. Apple launched audiobooks narrated by synthetic voices just last month.
  • TikTok is launching TikTok Trivia, a livestream trivia quiz game that has a $500,000 prize pool. The game will be hosted daily between February 22 and 26 and will be open to users in the U.S. aged 18 or older. During the first three days, TikTok Trivia will have two live sessions per day that are each an hour long. The first session will begin at 8 p.m. ET, and will have 12 questions. Winners split a $30,000 reward. The second session is at 9 p.m. ET., and winners split a $70,000 reward. After completing “survival rounds” the last group standing will split a $100,000 reward.


  • China’s games industry shrank for the first time in years, according to the country’s top gaming industry association. The market grossed 265.9 billion yuan ($39 billion) from video gaming sales in 2022, a 10.33% drop year-over-year. The decline was due to a number of factors, including its video game crackdowns, pause on issuing permits and the now lengthier process to become compliant.
  • The Google Home app can now control the Xbox Series S or Series X, allowing the app to serve as a touch remote for the console.
  • The Information reported on how Amazon’s Luna gaming service is losing steam, noting that its library has shrunk by about 30% since October, and dozens more titles were on track to exit in the weeks ahead.
  • Roblox is testing a tool that lets players use natural language to create or change the appearance of their avatars and environment.


  • Match-owned dating app Hinge rolled out its new $50/month subscription called HingeX, which offers continually boosted profiles, getting likes seen first, enhanced recommendations and all the other perks of the next tier down, Hinge+ (previously Hinge Preferred).
  • Relationship app Flamme, previously known as Sparks, introduced a new AI-powered Ask Me Anything tool which caters to couples looking to introduce new and fun experiences to their lives, and also improve communication in their relationship.
  • TechCrunch rounded up a new group of dating app startups, CandidDitto and IRLY, that are incorporating video in different ways, including for profiles, calls and even as a sort of TikTok for dating.
  • Dating app installs have fallen, Sensor Tower reported around Valentine’s Day. Download levels returned to those seen in 2019 and 2021, and then dropped further in 2022, making last year the lowest number of installs over the past four years, even as revenues grew, peaking at $374 million in gross revenue in Q1 2022. Social discovery apps, however, have been a more dynamic group with most of the top 10 swapping places from 2021-2022.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower


  • Tile introduced a new anti-theft mode that requires biometric data, a government ID and new Terms of Service that allow the company to share users’ personal info with law enforcement. The changes are meant to serve as a deterrent to the criminal use of trackers for things like stalking and theft. But the company says it won’t wait for a subpoena to turn over data to police — which may deter consumer adoption too.
  • Two-year-old crypto app Bakkt is shutting down on March 16. The company had partnered with Starbucks, Best Buy and Choice Hotels on its efforts to tie crypto with digital assets, like gift cards, loyalty points and airline miles.
  • Google Photos’ app began crashing after the release of iOS 16.3.1, requiring a quick update to fix.
  • Google rolled out new features including partial custom tabs and auto-filling passwords to make in-app browsing on Android a better experience.
  • Reddit is reportedly looking to IPO later this year, The Information said, but it will likely be worth less than the $15 billion it had hoped for when it originally filed in Dec. 2021.
  • Firefox for Android gained an extension that allows users to listen to articles read aloud, and others for hiding email addresses and removing tracking elements before sharing a URL.

Government, Policy and Lawsuits

  • The Wall Street Journal offered an update on the Department of Justice’s antitrust investigation against Apple, noting the government had now added more litigators to the investigation and increased its consultations with companies related to issues at hand in recent months.
  • The Washington Post featured an interview with TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew who’s trying to convince U.S. lawmakers that TikTok is not a national security threat.

Funding and M&A

  • Singapore-based neobank Aspire raised $100 million in Series C funding from investors including Lightspeed, Sequoia Capital SEA, PayPal, Tencent, LGT Capital Partners, and others. Over the past 12 months, the startup tripled its annualized TPV to $12 billion and now reaches over 15,000 businesses in Southeast Asia.
  • Triller closed on its acquisition of influencer marketing firm Julius for an undisclosed sum. New York-based Julius had raised a total of $23.8 million. It’s unclear how Triller has the funds after dealing with multiple lawsuits from UMG, Sony Music and Verzuz in recent months.

This Week in Apps: Twitter alternative winners and losers, BeReal declines, iOS web apps to get notifications by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

This Week in Apps: AI apps, Bing hits the Top Charts, Google and Mozilla test non-WebKit browsers

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

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

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

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

Top Stories

AI’s impact on apps

Image Credits: Bloomberg (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

More AI apps are on the way. It was a big week for AI news as both Microsoft and Google took the stage at competing events to intro their AI developments to the public. Microsoft fared a little better with its news that OpenAI’s ChatGPT-like tech was coming to Bing, pushing its companion mobile app up into the App Store’s top ranks. Meanwhile, Google flubbed a bit with its rival AI, Bard, which, in a published demonstration of the technology, shared an incorrect answer to a question about the James Webb Space Telescope (it was NOT the first to take a picture of an exoplanet, NASA says).

While both AI models will frequently and confidently get things wrong at times, Google’s failure to fact-check the answers it was showing off seemed to indicate the company was rushing out the tech in reaction to Microsoft’s move into its territory…which it was.

Google should have been far ahead in this AI race, having invested in and developed AI technology for years with help from some of the top experts in the field. But it’s been caught off guard — and not only by OpenAI.

Before this current AI race, Amazon’s Alexa became the household name for AI-powered voice assistants. Google, on the other hand, got burned when it showed off some of its more impressive consumer applications of AI. It faced backlash over its consideration of AI ethics when it showed off Duplex’s ability to call restaurants to book reservations while pretending to sound human. Google also often builds neat AI tools — like an AI that can generate music from text descriptions — but won’t release them.

The company has seemed to be slow to move on AI — likely hesitant to upset its search and advertising cash cow that relies on ads sold atop a list of links. Microsoft doesn’t care about that, though, noting that every 1% of search ad share gain it makes is a $2 billion revenue opp.

That’s why what we’ve gotten from Google around AI has been a sort of steady stream of smaller AI-powered feature drops over time, not some big and expensive overhaul of search that could have killed its margins.

Instead, we get things like multisearch, which expands web search to include text and images combined. Google this week announced it was going global and the nearby option, multisearch near me, was also rolling out more broadly.

The company also rolled out other AI-powered improvements to things like translation and Google Maps. For example, Google at this week’s event spoke about its new “immersive view” maps offering more true-to-life scenes, which are created by leveraging an AI technique called neural radiance fields (NeRF). But these maps are only available in a handful of cities. And as cool as they are, they feel more like an iteration on Street View rather than a major AI leap.

Meanwhile, Google used its event to show off a range of other features that weren’t AI search demos or ChatGPT rivals. It introduced Maps’ AR-powered Live View, which Google said is hitting a few more cities. (This requires users to hold up their phones and scan the area — not really a subtle gesture if you’re trying to hide the fact that you’re a tourist or even possibly lost!) And it talked about new EV Maps.

Microsoft, on the other hand, used its press event to fully focus on AI as the next evolution of search. It demoed its ChatGPT-like AI in Bing which is also integrated with its Edge web browser. And it talked in detail about the next-gen OpenAI large language model it’s using, calling it “more powerful than ChatGPT,” which certainly excited consumers.

The company also cleverly introduced a waitlist for the AI-powered Bing that required people to set Microsoft defaults on their PC and download the Bing app. As a result, the Bing app is now ranked in the top 10 on the U.S. App Store and is the No. 2 Productivity app behind Gmail. To put this in perspective, the Bing app ahead of the AI news had been ranked No. 160 on the U.S. App Store’s Productivity apps chart — in other words, practically invisible.

Google, meanwhile, lost $100 billion in market value as Alphabet’s stock fell after the ad with the AI’s mistake aired ahead of the company’s event.

While the big race in AI apps is still between Google and Microsoft (via OpenAI), AI will soon find its way into a number of mobile apps through integrations. Already, we’ve seen the fake ChatGPT apps arrive and belatedly get the boot from the app stores. Today, a search for the term “ChatGPT” still returns numerous apps that imply they’re associated with OpenAI or simply presume users won’t care, as long as they offer a ChatGPT-like experience. And we’ve seen the AI image generators go viral. Quora this week also introduced an AI playground called Poe, which features a handful of AI chatbots from OpenAI and Anthropic. (See “Downloads” section below.)

Consumers are clearly hungry to see AI put to use in apps. The developments also enliven what’s become a stale App Store over the years, as Apple blocked other new tech, like NFTs, blockchain transactions and Web3 technologies from being fully functional on its App Store, forcing startups to build their own.

An end to Apple’s ban on non-WebKit browsers?

Image Credits: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Some browser makers believe they’ll be able to release their own, non-WebKit-powered browser apps in the future, thanks to expected regulations that would force Apple to open up its App Store to more competition.

This week, multiple stories emerged that top browser makers like Mozilla and Google have been working on the development of non-WebKit browser apps for iOS. Google Chromium developers, for instance, have begun building an iOS browser that uses Google’s Blink engine — an app that today would not be allowed on the App Store, as Apple’s guidelines specifically state that browser apps “must use the appropriate WebKit framework and WebKit Javascript.”

Google, however, downplayed the news, claiming it was only a prototype meant to help it learn about iOS performance.

In a statement, a spokesperson told us, “This is an experimental prototype that we are developing as part of an open-source project with the goal to understand certain aspects of performance on iOS. It will not be available to users and we’ll continue to abide by Apple’s policies.”

Google isn’t the only one dabbling in this area. When reached for comment, Mozilla was far more transparent about its plans when it was spotted working on a Gecko-based version of Firefox for iOS, clearly indicating that its work is in anticipation of a more competitive landscape.

“We abide by Apple’s iOS app store policies, and are simply doing some exploratory work to understand the technical challenges for Gecko-based browsers on iOS if those policies were to change,” a Mozilla spokesperson told us. “We hope the day will come when people can freely decide to use the browser of their choice, including the opportunity to select the engine that underpins it.”

Of course, even if Apple were to open up to non-WebKit browsers, it could theoretically impose other limits on competing apps to dictate how they’re allowed to use system resources. That would be another reason for the companies to experiment now so they’ll be ready to meet any such requirement if and when the App Store opens up.

Kids’ TikTok usage again tops YouTube

TikTok logo displayed on a smartphone

Image Credits: Jonathan Raa/NurPhoto / Getty Images

TikTok once again found itself as the social app kids and teens are spending the most time using throughout the day, even outpacing YouTube. According to an ongoing annual review of kids’ and teens’ app usage and behavior globally, the younger demographic — minors ranging in ages from 4 through 18 — began to watch more TikTok than YouTube on an average daily basis starting in June 2020, and TikTok’s numbers have continued to grow ever since.

In June 2020, TikTok overtook YouTube for the first time, with kids watching an average of 82 minutes per day on TikTok versus an average of 75 minutes per day on YouTube, according to new data from parental control software maker Qustodio.

This past year, the gulf between the two widened, it said, as kids in 2022 saw their average daily use of TikTok climb to a whopping 107 minutes, or 60% longer than the time they spent watching video content on YouTube (67 minutes).

Image Credits: Qustodio

TikTok was also used more, in terms of average daily minutes, than other social apps like Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.

The study was published in advance of a TikTok-focused Congressional hearing. In March, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew will testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee about the app’s data security, ties to China, privacy concerns and impacts on children.

Social media concerns also got a shoutout during President Biden’s State of the Union address this week when he pressed Congress to pass legislation to protect consumers from Big Tech. “We must finally hold social media companies accountable…It’s time to pass bipartisan legislation to stop Big Tech from collecting personal data on kids and teenagers online, ban targeted advertising to children, and impose stricter limits on the personal data these companies collect on all of us.”



  • A redesigned Home app is due to arrive in the forthcoming iOS 16.4 update. The feature had originally appeared in iOS 16.2 but was pulled out before launch.
  • Apple’s tvOS and HomePod software was updated to 16.3.1.
  • Some users have been complaining about iCloud backup issues after updating to iOS 16.3.


  • Google released the first Developer Preview of Android 14, which supports a range of devices, including tablets and foldable form factors. Among the changes are a lot of background optimizations, support for larger fonts (users can scale them up to 200%), per-app language preferences, various privacy and security updates, customization features, the ability to block the installation of apps (with a targetSdkVersion lower than 23) to protect against malware, passkeys support and more.
  • Android TV 13 was also finally released. Android 13 has been available for phones and tablets for nearly a year and a half.
  • Google announced the alpha release of Credential Manager, a new Jetpack API that allows app developers to simplify users’ authentication journey while also adding support for passkeys.
  • It also rolled out the latest version of the Google Mobile Ads SDK (10.0.0).

App Updates


Image Credits: Cyan Worlds

  • A remastered version of the classic puzzle game Myst arrived on iOS. The new game, Myst Mobile, is based on the remastered game that was already released on Oculus VR headsets and the PC, but has been rebuilt for Apple’s M1 and M2 chipsets on newer devices. The game is free to download and explore the first location but to continue, you’ll need to pay $14.99.
  • Activision provided insight into its mobile gaming portfolio during Q4 earnings, noting that Call of Duty Mobile grew by double-digits YoY and set a new quarterly record and 10-year-old Candy Crush Saga saw 20% YoY net bookings growth. Overall, King’s revenue grew 6% YoY with net bookings up 9%.
  • Rogue Games announced multiple new titles coming exclusively to Netflix, including a twin-stick Roguelite shooter Dust & Neon, which won the overall Best of Show award at PAX West; and Highwater, an atmospheric adventure/strategy hybrid. Both games will be available on mobile as well as PC and console, but the Netflix deal provides the games to iOS and Android subscribers for free with no in-app purchases.

Image Credits: Rogue Games


  • Zenly co-founder Antoine Martin says he’s returning to the social app market with the launch of a new company called Amo. The former Zenly CEO is working with ex-Zenly managing director Michael Goldenstein and others on the new startup, whose goal is to fix the problems with today’s social networks by focusing on connecting friends in the real world, not connecting the whole world. Details are still quiet for the time being, but the company is collecting sign-ups on a waitlist now.

Amo splash screen

Image Credits: Amo

Image Credits: Instagram

  • After announcing new API pricing starting with a $100 basic tier, Twitter blocked access to its developer community website. Developers used to access the site for announcements and to ask questions. Twitter did not explain if the block was intentional or a bug (like one related to its API issues earlier this week).
  • Some Mastodon users have gone back to Twitter, it seems. Wired reported the decentralized social app and Twitter alternative has seen its MAUs drop from 2.5 million to now 1.4 million as of the end of January. But Techdirt took issue with the characterization of this as a “slump,” as Wired had called it, noting that Mastodon had grown significantly since Musk took over Twitter, even with the drop. Plus, the Fediverse as a whole, not just Mastodon, is up to around 2.6 million MAUs users, much higher than the 600,000 it has in the pre-Musk era. “I’m not sure how going from 600k to 2.6 million in just a couple of months can be deemed ‘a slump.’ It sure looks like pretty damn good retention overall,” scoffed Techdirt’s Mike Masnick.
  • Facebook creators gained new moderation tools, including the ability to search comments by keywords, emojis, commenter names and, dates, and take bulk actions, such as liking or hiding.
  • During Q4 earnings, Pinterest reported 450 million MAUs, up 4% YoY but its $877 million in revenue missed expectations. The company said it would focus on shoppable videos.


WhatsApp status updates

Image Credits: WhatsApp

  • WhatsApp added the ability to post a Status to a private audience along with 30-second Voice Status messages, Status reactions and more across iOS, Android and the web.
  • Telegram added a new profile photo maker that turns stickers or animated emoji into your pfp, plus tools to translate entire chats, support for sorting emoji by categories, detailed pie charts for viewing network usage and other features in its latest update.


OkCupid's ChatGPT questions

Image Credits: OkCupid

  • ChatGPT for finding love? OkCupid began testing match questions that were generated by ChatGPT. The questions help daters find compatibility with others across a range of innocuous questions, like “are you a morning person or a night person?” (Yes, the bot came up with that one!)
  • Tinder added an incognito mode that lets you browse that only shows your profile to those you’ve liked. It also added a “block profile” feature for hiding yourself from people you know when you encounter them in the app among other privacy changes.


Image Credits: Netflix

  • Netflix’s password crackdown isn’t going well as a number of angry customers are now planning to boycott the changes by canceling their service. 
    • Users are particularly upset over the rules that impact extended families from sharing accounts — like parents who pay for their college students’ accounts or grown children who pay for their elderly parents’ access — plus, families where a member regularly travels for work (or is deployed overseas). The changes also impact people with multiple homes. Subscribers say they are already paying for extra screens and that should be enough.
    • Netflix claims that all anyone has to do is reauthenticate once per month with the app at the household’s main location, but consumers see that requirement as a burden — and an impossibility in some cases. If they don’t, though, the “traveling” account could lose access. Netflix will force people to pay extra for the freeloaders or they can choose to migrate to a new account with a profile transfer feature. It remains to be seen if Netflix will keep these same rules in the U.S., as the rollout has been external to its home market for now.
  • Spotify now lets you block playlists from impacting your “taste profile.” This would allow people to block certain playlists, like those used for studying, sleeping, working out or those favored by the kids, from influencing their recommendations.

Spotify's new exclude from taste profile feature

Image Credits: Spotify


  • Sensor Tower reported on the state of fitness apps, noting that Health and Fitness apps in Europe reached 232 million installs last year, up 16% from 2019. The firm said it now takes nearly $4 million in gross revenue in a given month to become the No. 1 ranked Health and Fitness app on the app stores, up 23% from the $3.5 million required in 2021.
  • Robinhood said it’s going to buy up to 55 million shares, or 7%+ of its outstanding shares, that had been bought by Sam Bankman-Fried in 2022. The company reported $380 million in revenue in Q4, up 5% YoY and a net loss down 61% to $166 million. 2022 revenue was down 25% YoY to $1.36 billion.
  • Brave’s iOS and Android apps added support for Solana’s DApp in its built-in web3 wallet.
  • DoorDash integrated with gas savings app GasBuddy to allow its drivers to find the cheapest nearby gas.
  • Flipboard’s iOS and Android apps were updated with support for its new Notes feature that lets Flipboard magazine curators dialog with their readers through short notes, intros and polls.
  • PayPal is getting a new CEO as Dan Schulman prepares to leave at year’s end. The company also reported Q4 revenue up 7% YoY to $7.33 billion and TPV up 5% to $357.4 billion.
  • Uber integrated its driver app with Apple CarPlay. Better late than never.
  • Fantastical’s popular calendar app added support for Live Activities so you can now see upcoming events on the Lock Screen.

Government, Policy and Lawsuits

  • Japan’s Fair Trade Commission issued a new report regarding its investigation of Apple and Google’s app stores. The report accuses both companies of “abuse of a superior bargaining position,” and makes several recommendations, including those around commissions and in-app payments and says the companies should not take advantage of features not made available to developers. It doesn’t explicitly say the platforms need to host third-party app stores, however.
  • The Indian government offered further details about its ban on more than 90 lending apps, including its concerns over Chinese influence. China investors were on the cap tables of some of the banned apps, it said, and apps were storing user data outside the country. Money laundering and other loan practices were also a concern. Later in the week, it lifted the ban on PayU’s LazyPay, Kissht, KreditBee, Indiabulls’ Home Loans, mPokket, Buddy Loan and Faircent after reviewing their cap tables for Chinese investors.
  • Google Play began requiring regulatory approval for loan apps in Nigeria and Kenya as of January 31, matching similar rules in India, Indonesia and the Philippines.
  • U.S. policymakers are concerned about TikTok’s plan to allow oversight of its algorithm as an alternative to a ban, noting that it would be technically challenging and there could still be backdoors that allowed China’s government to manipulate content on the platform.
  • Utah is pushing through new bills that would require social media companies to verify users’ ages and give parents access to their kids’ accounts.
  • In a presentation to the EU, Meta showed data that indicated that pop-up content warnings reduced the sharing of flagged posts by 25% on Facebook and 38% on Instagram. TikTok, for comparison, reports a reduction of 29%.

Funding and M&A

  • Lunar, a Danish neobank last valued at $2.2 billion, raised $38 million from undisclosed investors to continue to build its banking and financial services platform. The company last year raised a Series D extension that brought its total funding then to €280 million.
  • Meta got the go-ahead to acquire VR software maker Within, despite FTC concerns. The company’s flagship app is the VR fitness app Supernatural.
  • Fintech app Fierce, which offers free stock trading, checking and later crypto, launched on iOS after receiving $10 million in seed funding from investors including Pendrell, AP Capital, Wheelhouse Digital Studios, Space Whale Capital and other angels.



Quora Poe

Image Credits: Quora

Q&A platform Quora opened up public access to its new AI chatbot app, Poe, which lets users ask questions and get answers from a range of AI chatbots, including those from ChatGPT maker OpenAI, and other companies like Anthropic. Beyond allowing users to experiment with new AI technologies, Poe’s content will ultimately help to evolve Quora itself. If and when Poe’s content meets a high enough quality standard, it will be distributed on Quora’s site itself, where it has the ability to reach Quora’s 400 million monthly visitors, the company said.

At launch, there are three general knowledge chatbots: Sage, Claude and Dragonfly. Both Sage and Dragonfly are powered by OpenAI while Claude is powered by Anthropic technology. All have their own limitations at present. For instance, Sage and Claude don’t have knowledge of events after 2021, and Dragonfly may refuse to answer some questions. All three have also been known to make incorrect statements — which is another reason why Quora itself isn’t immediately integrating Poe into its service. Developers will also be able to add their own bots to Poe in the future.

Epic Games’ Postparty

Fortnite Postparty app and in-game skins

Image Credits: Epic Games

Fortnite maker Epic Games launched a new clip-sharing app called Postparty on iOS and Android that gives gamers a way to easily share their clips on social media. The app allows for sharing from Xbox, Switch, PlayStation and PC for Fortnite users and just Xbox and PlayStation for Epic’s Rocket League. Fortnite users will see the app promoted after an in-game kill, prompting them to download the app so they can share clips. The app was created by Houseparty developer Life on Air, acquired by Epic in 2019. (Houseparty shut down in 2021.) After sharing their first clip from the app, Fortnite users will get special in-game skin, spray and wrap.


Image Credits: Spillt

A former Instagram engineer launched a new recipe app called Spillt, covered by The Information, which helps users find, organize and cook recipes — the latter by helpfully keeping the phone’s screen on during the recipe’s prep. That’s a feature the popular Pestle app also has, along with its voice-powered guided cooking, however. But Spillt’s value proposition is that it offers a way for users to see which recipes their friends are saving in a News Feed of sorts. It remains to be seen if it can actually gain traction amid a sea of recipe apps, but it’s at least differentiated from the set of “TikTok for cooking” apps that are on the market today.

This Week in Apps: AI apps, Bing hits the Top Charts, Google and Mozilla test non-WebKit browsers by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

This Week in Apps: Instagram’s founders’ new app, another Twitter rival, Biden admin criticizes app stores

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

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

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

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

Top Stories

Instagram’s co-founders launch a Toutiao-like news app

smartphone laid on colored tiles/blocks

Image Credits: Artifact(opens in a new window)

Surprising news this week saw Instagram’s co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger return to the mobile app market with the launch of a news reading app called Artifact. The app is part of a new venture aimed at exploring social apps, a report in The Verge noted.

Artifact itself is not yet publicly available but offers a waitlist where interested users can sign up. As described, it sounds like a modern-day twist on Google Reader, a long-ago RSS newsreader app that Google shut down back in 2013. Except in this case, Artifact is described as a newsreader that uses machine learning to personalize the experience for the end user, while also adding social elements that allow users to discuss articles they come across with friends. (To be fair, Google Reader had a similar feature, but the app itself had to be programmed by the user who would add RSS feeds directly.)

The app presents a curated selection of news stories, which become more attuned to the user’s interests over time. According to a demo version of the app, you’ll need to read at last 25 articles for the app to personalize your feed. (You can track your progress in the app.)

During onboarding, you’ll tap on news interests you want to track to initially customize the experience. Users can also add their own paid news subscriptions for top publishers, like The New York Times and Bloomberg, if they choose. This will then prioritize those outlets in the app’s interface but links open in a web view. There’s no publisher integration or exclusive deals here, it seems.

Future app features will include comment controls, separate feeds for articles posted by people you follow alongside their commentary, and a direct message inbox for discussing posts more privately. But for now, you can thumbs down articles or hide the publisher, save articles to read later, share articles through iOS or Android’s built-in sharing features, report content, view your reading history and read articles in a cleaned-up reader mode.

There are some odd design choices, like the slightly too-small font for a text-heavy app and the italicized font styling on the sign-up page, but the latter isn’t present in the app itself. The app had two news reading tabs, which is strange, as one is a scrollable list of headlines, similar to an RSS reader like Feedly, while the other is a browsable page, similar to Apple News’ Today tab, but with categories at the top.

The app doesn’t immediately feel original, as it overlaps with other news readers and read-it-later apps, like Flipboard, SmartNews, Newsbreak, Pocket and Matter, plus other RSS readers and the default news apps from Apple and Google. It seems as if the company is hoping to reproduce the success of something like ByteDance’s Toutiao, but in the U.S. that’s difficult to do. The new market is more competitive here, where consumers also rely heavily on getting news from Google Search and Facebook — a platform not available in China. Plus, as TechCrunch’s Catherine Shu previously reported, many people in the country skipped the PC and first went online with their phones, paving the way for a mobile news app to eat up market share.

It will be interesting to track how well Artifact fares in this environment.

The Biden administration calls out app stores as anticompetitive

Capitol building

Capitol building. Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

The Biden administration called out Apple and Google’s app stores for stifling competition. A new report, issued on Wednesday by the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), said it had investigated the competitive conditions in the mobile app ecosystem and found that it’s “not a level playing field, which is harmful to developers and consumers.”

The report also made several policy suggestions that could improve the ecosystem and open up competition. These included pushes for more transparent app review process; limits on pre-installed apps and self-preferencing; bans on rules that restrict other means of installing apps, like sideloading; support for third-party payments; support for links to developers’ websites from apps; and more.

The recommendations, however, are just that — ideas, not policy. The report only helps to solidify and clarify the Biden administration’s position on app store competition. As the report points out, “Congress should enact laws” and “relevant agencies should consider measures” to limit anticompetitive conduct.

The Biden administration, so far, has seen mixed success in actually holding tech giants accountable. On the one hand, the Department of Justice is now suing Google over its digital ad monopoly, while on the other, Meta is winning against the FTC to move forward with its latest acquisition. The DoJ has yet to sue Apple, though it has been building a case and weighing in on Epic Games’ antitrust lawsuit. In the meantime, record lobbying spending from tech giants, including Apple and Google, has helped to block bipartisan bills that would curb anti-competitive behavior from advancing in Congress.

Another decentralized social app launches to take on Twitter, then gets kicked out of the China App Store

Damus app displayed om mobile phones

Image Credits: Damus

Twitter has another competitor, with this week’s arrival of Damus, a decentralized social networking application that’s powered by an open and decentralized social networking protocol known as Nostr, which is based on cryptographic key pairs.

Last year, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey donated around $245,000 in bitcoin (then roughly 14 BTC) to fund the development of Nostr even though he’s already investing in a different decentralized protocol with his Bluesky project.

Though there are some venture-backed Twitter rivals coming onto the scene, like Spill, T2 and Post, Damus is not one of them. It’s an experiment in decentralized social networking. The app’s promise is a social network without a central authority that makes decisions about the network’s content or who’s allowed to participate, as Facebook or Twitter do. Explains the app’s homepage, “you are in control…there is no platform that can ban or censor you. You are in control of your data,” it reads.

There’s no requirement to sign up with a phone number, email or name because of how the Nostr works. That’s a big point of differentiation with the federated platform, Mastodon, where a user’s account is attached to a particular server and admins have some control over their server’s registered users. That means issues with the Mastodon server you’re using — like an outage — could impact your ability to use the network. And you could risk losing data if that shutdown was sudden or permanent.

The new app also includes end-to-end encrypted messaging — something Twitter does not have, and which has concerned users in the wake of the Musk takeover. Messages are distributed through decentralized relays — in fact, the name Nostr is an acronym for “Notes and Other Stuff Transmitted by Relays.” And users can tip one another thanks to Bitcoin Lightning Network integrations.

The decentralization and promise of anonymity brought a flood of Chinese users to the app at launch, as typical social networks in China have censorship tools to eliminate content that’s illegal or banned in the country. Plus, anonymity is not allowed. Not surprisingly, China’s government soon took action on Damus and the iOS app was pulled from the App Store in China just two days after its launch.

App Updates

Apple News

Apple logo

Image Credits: Emmanuel Dunand / AFP / Getty Images

  • Apple missed on earnings. The company reported fiscal Q1 revenue that was down 5% year-over-year to $117.2 billion, its largest annual quarterly revenue decline since 2016 and below expectations of $121.10 billion. Net income was down 13% year-over-year to $30 billion.
  • Except for Services (up 6.4%) and iPad (up 30%), all business lines were down, including iPhone (down 8%), Mac (down 29%), Wearables/Home/Accessories (down 8%). Revenue in Greater China also fell 7.3% year-over-year to $23.9 billion.
  • Apple said it now has more than 2 billion active devices worldwide and 935 million paid subscriptions. Services, including iCloud, Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade, Apple News+, Apple Fitness+, Apple One and Apple Pay, brought in $20.8 billion in the quarter.
  • Apple will raise the App Store app and IAP prices in the U.K. and some other markets on February 13. The company said it’s adjusting for taxes and conversion rate changes. Additional countries impacted include Colombia, Egypt, Hungary, Nigeria, Norway and South Africa. Prices in Uzbekistan will decrease to reflect a reduction of the value-added tax rate from 15% to 12%, the company also noted. Meanwhile, proceeds are being adjusted in Ireland, Luxembourg, Singapore and Zimbabwe due to tax changes, but prices aren’t changing.
  • Apple’s Support app adds Bulgarian, Croatian and Greek and expanded into 118 new markets.

Google/Android News

  • Spotify, an earlier tester of Google’s User Choice Billing option for third-party payments, said during earnings the offering has now expanded to more than 140 markets worldwide. The streamer didn’t say which markets were included nor how much of a commission cut it receives, but Google had previously said the program would reduce commissions by 4%.
  • Google’s new policy requiring digital lenders in Kenya to submit proof of license to operate has taken effect. The policy aims to cut down on the rogue loan apps that have been offering unsecured personal and business loans. Some apps have been sharing contact info from browsers with third-party debt collectors without consent.


  • Meta reported Q4 earnings, with revenue down 4% year-over-year to $32.2 billion and net income down 55% year-over-year to $4.7 billion. However, the company said its family daily active users were up 5% year-over-year to 2.96 billion and Facebook had 2 billion daily active users, after adding 16 million DAUs in the quarter. WhatsApp had passed 2 billion DAUs in October. The stock jumped up by 24%+ after earnings, and is now up 110%+ since November, adding $250 billion to its market cap. (Apple observer John Gruber suggested that maybe Meta should maybe now stop “whining” about ATT!)
  • Instagram’s newly launched Notes feature, which lets users post a status update that can be seen at the top of their inbox, expanded to global markets outside the U.S., including the EU, U.K. and Japan. The feature was already available in Latin America, North America and parts of Asia, and should have become available across all regions sometime during this past week.
  • Instagram’s code reveals new references to a “paid blue badge” and a new subscription suggesting the company could be spinning up its own version of Twitter Blue-like paid verification.
  • Debt-laden Twitter made its first interest payment under Elon Musk to seven banks, led by Morgan Stanley, on the $12.5 billion Musk borrowed to take the company private last year. The payment was around $300 million, Bloomberg reported.
  • One of Meta’s last apps built by the experimental projects group, NPE Team, is shutting down. The company announced its social to-do list app Move will close down on March 2, 2023.
  • Snap reported mixed Q4 earnings. The company missed on revenue ($1.30 billion versus $1.31 expected) but beat on earnings per share (14 cents versus 11 cents expected). The app now has global daily active users of 375 million, close to expectations of 375.3 million. Snap’s stock plunged following the results as investors reacted to the net loss of $288 million and lack of official guidance for Q1.
  • Among Snap’s earnings highlights, it announced its subscription service Snapchat+ topped 2 million paid users and talked about how AI could be used in AR glasses in the future.


  • Spotify reported its Q4 earnings with revenue up 18% year-over-year to €3.2 billion and a €270 million loss, up from €39 million year-over-year. Paid subscribers were up 10 million to reach 205 million.
  • Investors asked Spotify about the tests of a new Friends tab in the app, which suggests the company has expanded social ambitions as fewer young people use Facebook, which is what powers Spotify’s existing social features.
  • Netflix’s “Kids Mystery Box” feature hit Android devices. The discovery tool works similarly to the Shuffle button offered to adult viewers but offers kids the ability to find new content in a more playful way.
  • Apple rolled out Apple Music Replay 2023, its annual collection of the top songs by year. The playlist is made available to the music app’s subscribers alongside a website that offers personalized details, like your top albums, songs and artists of the year.
  • Apple launched MLS Season Pass in more than 100 territories, offering soccer fans access to all MLS matches, playoffs and more for $14.99/mo or $99/year. The subscription service is available through the Apple TV app and can be shared with up to six family members with Apple’s Family Sharing.


  • EA surprised investors this week with the news that it’s pulling the plug on “Apex Legends Mobile,” which was just named Game of the Year by both Apple and Google. According to CEO Andrew Wilson, the issue was that the game failed to keep enough casual players engaged. The decision also led the company to kill the planned mobile version of “Battlefield.”
  • Sony added support for Discord voice calls in beta on its PS5 in the U.S., Canada, Japan and the U.K., similar to support on the Xbox. The Xbox version was recently updated to allow for direct joining from the console itself without needing a phone or PC.
  • Roblox is going to host a free virtual Super Bowl concert featuring Saweetie. The concert will take place at 7:00 pm ET in Warner Music Group’s Rhythm City, a new destination on Roblox that was announced earlier this week.


  • 1Password previewed new features coming to its iOS app, including the ability to reorder fields and sections inside items, the (returning) ability to search within any list of items, PIN unlock on mobile, improved Face ID unlock, better VoiceOver support and more.
  • A victim of the recent Google Fi hack had his Coinbase and 2FA app, Authy, hijacked by hackers, raising concerns about further potential fallout from the Google Fi data breach, which was likely related to the recent security incident at T-Mobile.
  • Password manager Dashlane published its source code to GitHub in a new transparency push. The published code includes the Android app code, iOS app code and code related to the Apple Watch and Mac apps. It plans to later publish the code for its web extension, too.


  • Samsung reported a ~$1.38 billion mobile profit in Q4 2022, down from $2.15 billion in the year-ago quarter. Its operating profit was down 69% year-over-year to ~$3.5 billion, its lowest since Q3 2014. Revenue was down 8% year-over-year to ~$57.3 billion, due to weak chip and smartphone demand.
  • Samsung’s SmartThings iOS app now supports Matter devices.
  • Some users of queer dating app Lex are complaining about the company’s new focus on friends and community, as they preferred its prior raunchy nature.


Funding and M&A

  • Twitter rival Spill, being built by former Twitter employees, raised $2.75 million in a pre-seed round of funding after receiving 60,000 handle reservations.
  • Egyptian fintech and e-commerce MNT-Halan raised up to $400 million in equity and debt financing. A large portion of the equity, about $200 million, was provided by Abu Dhabi-based Chimera Investments. MNT-Halan runs the Halan digital wallet app offering bill pay, e-commerce, ride-hailing and loans.
  • Meta won a ruling against the FTC in a closely watched case over its proposed acquisition of VR software company Within. A U.S. district court judge denied the FTC’s request to block Meta’s purchase of Within, which makes a VR fitness app called Supernatural. The FTC had said Meta’s purchase would help the company dominate in VR, potentially creating a monopoly in the market.
  • U.K. neobank Zopa raised £75 million (around $93 million) in an all-equity investment round, without a lead investor. The company said it was an inside round from existing investors including IAG Silverstripe, Uprising and Augmentum, but not SoftBank.
  • Mexican employee wellness company Minu raised $30 million in a combination of equity and debt. The round includes $10 million in a bridge round from Coppel Capital, Besant Capital and Enea Capital, plus existing investors FinTech Collective, QED and Salkantay, and $20 million of debt from Accial Capital.



Waverly Labs Forum app on a smartphone held in a hand

Image Credits: Waverly Labs

TechCrunch’s Ivan Mehta took a look at Forum, a new app from Waverly Labs, the company behind wearables focused on translation. With Forum, users can translate and transcribe audio in real time across 20 languages and 42 dialects, including Arabic, Dutch, English, Hindi, German, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese and Spanish. Users can switch to a new language in the middle of a session to get both a text and audio translation. The app also works with video calling apps like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet.


Image Credits: Rewind

A new app called Rewind wants to make it easier for music fans to explore the top songs of decades past. Hoping to cater to consumer demand for nostalgic music experiences, Rewind allows users to “time travel” through the music charts from 1960 through 2010 to learn about how older songs have influenced today’s hits. Users can explore the music from a given year by top albums and top music videos, in addition to growing the top Billboard charts. It also delves into relevant trends from a given time period — like 1991’s selection of “grunge-defining records.”

Other sections present tracks that saw major radio airtime that year, highly anticipated releases and newly formed bands that emerged that year, and so on. A TikTok-like feed lets you swipe through the year’s top songs quickly.

There’s also a “news” section that includes major events and moments from the year, and “ads” that give the app a retro feel. For example, in 1965, listeners will see ads for the first distortion guitar pedal while users browsing the 1980s might see ads for new synth instruments that helped shape 80s sounds. The app, a side project from a TIDAL developer, integrates only with TIDAL for now. Everyone else can hear 30-second song clips.

This Week in Apps: Instagram’s founders’ new app, another Twitter rival, Biden admin criticizes app stores by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

This Week in Apps: Temu’s hot streak, Walmart’s m-commerce & an Apple XR App Store

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

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

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

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

Top Stories

Temu’s continued rise

Image Credits: Temu

Temu, a shopping app from Chinese e-commerce giant Pinduoduo, has been having quite the run as the No. 1 app on the U.S. app stores. The mobile shopping app hit the top spot on the U.S. App Store in September and has continued to hold a highly ranked position in the months that followed, including as the No. 1 free app on Google Play since December 29, 2022. More recently, Temu once again snagged the No. 1 position on the iOS App Store on January 3 and hadn’t dropped since as of earlier this week.

Offering cheap factory-to-consumer goods, Temu provides access to a wide range of products, including fast fashion, and pushes users to share the app with friends in exchange for free products, which may account for some of its growth. The app has seen 5 million U.S. installs this January alone, up 19% from 4.2 million in the prior 22 days from December 10 through December 31, Sensor Tower says. This brings it to a total of 19 million lifetime installs across the App Store and Google Play, more than 18 million of which came from the U.S.

The growth now sees Temu outpacing rival Shein in terms of daily installs. In October, Temu was averaging around 43,000 daily installs in the U.S., the firm said, while Shein averaged about 62,000. In November, Temu’s average daily installs grew to 185,000 while Shein’s climbed to 70,000, and last month, Temu averaged 187,000 installs while Shein saw about 62,000.

The app appears to be leveraging a similar growth strategy to TikTok, which heavily spent on marketing to gain users. According to Meta’s ad library, Temu has run some 8,900 ads across Meta’s various platforms just this month. The ads promote Temu’s sales and its extremely discounted items, like $5 necklaces, $4 shirts and $13 shoes, among other deals. These ads appear to be working to boost Temu’s installs. But dig into the app’s reviews and you’ll find similar complaints to Wish, including scammy listings, damaged and delayed deliveries, incorrect orders and lack of customer service. Without addressing these issues, which helped bring down Wish, Temu seems more likely to go the way of Wish, not TikTok, no matter what it spends.

Walmart’s chatbot shopping didn’t go well

Image Credits: Screenshot of Walmart Text to Shop

Walmart recently introduced a new way to shop: via text. Last month, the retail giant launched its “Text to Shop” experience, which allows mobile consumers across both iOS and Android devices to text Walmart the items they want to purchase from either their local stores or, or easily reorder items for pickup, delivery or shipping. However, the chat experience as it stands today does not come across as fully baked, our tests found. The chatbot said confusing things and the user interface at times was difficult to navigate, despite aiming to be a simpler, text-based shopping experience.

We tested the experience, which leverages Apple’s Message app on iPhone, and it did not go well. The bot responded twice at times, offered only a few options for generic requests like “eggs,” asked everytime if an item was for pickup or delivery, provided inaccurate responses and spoke nonsense when confused — like when it returned options for “la croix organic eggs.” We’d say stick with the Walmart app for now.

Read the full review here.

Apple’s Reality Pro details

Could the next big app platform be Apple’s AR/VR headset? That’s the news from Bloomberg, which leaked details of Apple’s upcoming headset, the $3,000 Reality Pro due out later this year. The headset will attempt to create a 3D version of Apple’s operating system, the report said, and will include features like FaceTime videoconferencing (with avatars), the ability to watch immersive videos, play VR games and use Apple’s apps — including the Safari web browser, photos, mail, messages, calendar, App TV+, Apple Music, Podcasts and the App Store.

The report described an interface with a grid of app icons and widgets, and said Siri could be used when you needed to input text. However, the interesting details involved how users could interact with on-screen items. Apparently, the device would have external sensors to analyze the user’s hands and sensors inside to track the user’s eyes. This would allow the user to select items on the screen by looking at them, then pinch their thumb and forefinger together to activate the task — without needing to hold additional hand controllers like rival headsets, Bloomberg said. It may also have its own Digital Crown, like Apple Watch, for switching between AR and VR and its iOS-like interface.

Additionally, Apple is reported to be building software that allows users, including those who don’t know how to code, to build their own AR apps for its upcoming mixed-reality headset.

There are of course still a lot of unanswered questions about the headset’s capabilities, though it does sound like a very “Apple” attempt at getting VR right. But the device’s price point will make it a premium product for the time being — and one launching during a down economy — which could limit its growth.

App Updates

Apple Updates

  • The new iOS 16.3 update included notable security features like the expansion of the new Advanced Data Protection for iCloud feature to markets outside of the U.S. The update also added Security Keys for Apple ID and a change to the Emergency SOS call system that now requires users to hold the side button with the up or down volume button and then release it in order to prevent inadvertent emergency calls. The update also fixed a CarPlay bug, among other things.
  • The iPhone 5S also received a security update with iOS 12.5.7, which addresses a vulnerability that may have been actively exploited, Apple said.

Google/Android Updates

  • Google announced it’s shutting down Optimize and Optimize 360 — tools that helped marketers run A/B tests to improve their website or app’s user experience. The tools will no longer be available after September 30, 2023. However, Google clarified that Firebase A/B Testing, which is powered by Optimize and used for testing app experiences, will continue to be supported in the future and will not be impacted by this change.
  • A deadline to target the latest Android API level is arriving. Originally, Google’s deadline for developers was November 1, 2022, but it was extended to January 31, 2023 to give devs more time. The change was announced last year, when Google also said that as of November 1, 2022, existing apps that didn’t target an API level within two years of the latest major Android release version will not be available for discovery or installation for new users with devices running Android OS versions higher than apps’ target API level.



  • Netflix and Bumble partnered on a new dating app experience that lets users bond over popular TV shows. The dating app will launch a weekly Netflix question-and-answer game that users can play against their match to break the ice.

Image Credits: Bumble

  • YouTube Music launched a new beta testing program called “Listening Room,” where it invited users to try out new features. The program was almost immediately filled up.
  • Clubhouse introduced a new feature called Instant Invite, which lets users invite their friends to join House rooms and lounge conversations with a one-tap invite link. The company hopes the feature will reduce the friction involved with joining the app.


Messenger end-to-end encryption experience

Image Credits: Meta

  • Facebook Messenger expanded its tests of end-to-end encryption. The app will also allow users to take advantage of features like themes, chat emoji, reactions, group profile photos, link previews and active status while in E2EE chats. Millions of people will be alerted over the coming months as the E2EE option becomes available.
  • WhatsApp launched a beta version of its macOS app with native Apple Silicon support. Mac users with Apple’s own chip and macOS 11 Big Sur or newer will be able to try it, as well as Intel Macs that can run apps built with Catalyst.


  • Instagram introduced a new profile photo feature that lets users showcase both their profile photo and their avatar by offering an interface where you can flip between both options.
  • Meta is exploring the use of AI tools to make its ad systems less dependent on user data, after Apple’s ATT privacy changes impacted its ads business, The WSJ reported. AI tools have already helped boost Reels viewership by 20%.


  • RevenueCat released a massive report digging into data around the subscription economy, powered by its insights into 22,000 subscription-based apps. The report offers actionable insights and never-before-seen benchmarks around factors like app pricing, retention, conversion, renewals, trial strategies and much more. The whole thing is worth a look here.
  • Top U.S. banks are again planning a mobile wallet to compete with Apple Pay and PayPal, The WSJ said. The wallet will be developed by Early Warning Services, which is also behind Zelle. The banks tried and failed to get a similar initiative (CurrentC) off the ground in years past.
  • Dating app Match Group revamped its executive leadership team. Among the changes was the addition of former vice president of Product at Snap, Will Wu, who will now become Match’s CTO, in a newly created role.
  • Read-it-later app Pocket, acquired by Mozilla in 2017, revamped its mobile reading experience with new features. One addition adds more organization and recommendations to the Home tab. It’s also rebranding its “My List” tab as “Saves” and enhancing its functionality with filters and bulk edit tools. The features are launching on Android first.
  • Popular wearable Oura Ring updated its mobile app to integrate with another wearable, Apple Watch. The companion app can display info like Readiness, Activity, Sleep Scores, heart rate, body temperature, ring battery level and more, similar to the iPhone counterpart.
  • Samsung users are advised to update the Galaxy Store app on their devices due to the discovery of vulnerabilities that would allow a hacker to install any app from the store on their phone without their knowledge.
  • Uber Eats added a new feature that shows users how much of their personal information is shared with the delivery person when they place an order on the app. Uber proper already had a similar feature called “View as Driver.”

Government, Policy and Lawsuits

  • France’s privacy regulator, the CNIL, fined French hypercasual game developer Voodoo €3 million for violating the French Data Protection Act. The fine was issued over Voodoo’s use of the IDFV, or ID for Vendors, without user consent on iOS devices.
  • The FTC finalized a consent order settling charges that the credit services company Credit Karma had used dark patterns to misrepresent that consumers were “pre-approved” for credit card offers.
  • The FBI and DoJ are investigating Snapchat’s role in the spread of fentanyl-laced pills as part of a counterfeit drug probe underway.
  • TikTok has shifted its approach in its dealings with U.S. officials in the wake of government bans, after two years of confidential talks with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States about ByteDance’s relationship with the Chinese government, The NYT reported. The video app is now going on the PR offensive, more aggressively lobbying and speaking out more publicly, the report noted.

Funding and M&A

  • Strava, an activity tracking and social community platform used by more than 100 million people globally, acquired European 3D mapping company Fatmap for an undisclosed sum. Strava aims to integrate Fatmap’s core platform into its app eventually, but for now they’ll remain separate products.
  • Voice AI company SoundHound raised $25 million in equity from undisclosed investors after laying off 40% of staff. Part of the funding will be used to provide laid off employees with severance.


Ivory goes live

Image Credits: Tapbots

Tapbots, the makers of the popular third-party Twitter app Tweetbot that was recently killed by Twitter’s API changes, this week publicly launched the company’s next new product. Hoping to fill the void that Tweetbot leaves behind, the company is now making its anticipated Mastodon client app Ivory available on the App Store as an Early Access release.

The “Early Access” label is a subtitle that Tapbots put on its release to indicate there will still be features missing as it debuts, the company told us. However, by launching publically on the App Store, Tapbots is able to put Ivory into more people’s hands after filling up the limited number of TestFlight slots it had for its test version.

For longtime Tweetbot users, Ivory will offer a familiar experience. But instead of serving as a client for Twitter’s network, the company has now embraced the promising open source platform Mastodon. Though not quite as simple to use or understand as Twitter, Mastodon has gained traction in the months following Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter.

At launch, it sports dozens of features, ranging from support for baseline functionality to clever bells and whistles, like being able to theme the app or change its icon.

The app also supports multiple accounts, and lets you view your local and federated timelines, trending posts, post statistics, notifications and more. It also enables Mastodon-specific options that weren’t available on Twitter — like the ability to add content warnings to posts — as well as more common features, like the ability to post GIFs and polls.

There are other thoughtful touches designed to appeal to power users, too, like hashtag tracking, mute filters with regex support and timeline filters that let you show or hide posts that meet certain criteria you set. This could appeal to Mastodon’s older users, as well, who may want to mute and avoid some of the posts shared by Mastodon newcomers who are bringing Twitter’s culture to the platform, leading to unwanted posts without content warnings in their timelines.

Pestle (Update)

Image Credits: Pestle

Pestle, a handy and well-designed recipe app for iOS is getting a notable update on January 28. The app is adding a number of features for power users, including “Smart Folders,” which are automatically created folders that organize recipes based on user-set criteria, plus PDF and image import features. The latter allows users to import the recipes they had saved in other formats, while Smart Folders simplify the otherwise tedious process of organizing recipes. For instance, you could create Smart Folders that automatically add any saved recipe with a specific ingredient, or a dessert folder with additional rules. The app itself is a free download but offers subscriptions of $1.99/mo or $19.99/year (or $39.99 lifetime) for pro users.

This Week in Apps: Temu’s hot streak, Walmart’s m-commerce & an Apple XR App Store by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

This Week in Apps: Twitter kills third-party apps, Instagram adds Quiet Mode, Google’s antitrust trial gets a date

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

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

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

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

Top Stories

The end of the Twitter app era

It’s incredible how third-party Twitter clients had been able to survive Twitter’s ups and downs over the years, including its various API changes and constantly fluctuating business objectives and policies, only to be unceremoniously killed in 2023 by the whims of a billionaire. This week, in what has been one of the more depressing moments in tech history, longtime Twitter apps like IconFactory’s Twitterific, Tapbot’s Tweetbot and others like Birdie, Fenix, Echofon and many more were unceremoniously cut off from being able to access Twitter’s API and serve their customer base.

Instead of warning developers that Twitter’s policies were changing and giving them time to wind down their operations and communicate with their longtime users and subscribers, Twitter quietly, callously and deliberately revoked their API access. They “fixed the glitch,” so to speak.

Users and developers found out about the change as the apps stopped working, but not because of any official communication from Twitter itself. As backlash and outrage grew, Twitter then made matters worse by trying to gaslight its community about the situation. The company tweeted it was only enforcing its “long-standing” rules, then rushed to update its documentation to reflect what those rules actually were.

Of course, there was a time when Twitter tried to shut down the Twitter app ecosystem: you know, 12 years ago. Following its acquisition of Tweetie, which became Twitter’s own native app, the company in 2011 told developers they should stop trying to compete with Twitter on clients and instead focus on other API use cases, like data and verticals. It was the sort of classic, misguided move Twitter always seemed to make. The company never quite got a grip on the power Twitter had as a platform, and how an ecosystem of tools and apps that worked with Twitter was a better investment of its resources than spending eons trying to do things like tweak the structure of a thread or adding other bells and whistles that users didn’t really care about.

At the time of the proposed shutdown over a decade ago, those Twitter apps had been responsible for 42% of tweets on the platform. While slightly down from the 55% of tweets made in 2009 (or as high as 60% in 2010, another analysis found), the apps still served a large audience of power users that Twitter wanted to simply cut off and walk away from.

As entrepreneur Nova Spivack warned Twitter back then, its failure to incorporate its API into its future plans could ultimately hamper its potential as a company:

I think Twitter’s current strategy may take them in a direction where they end up missing out on their biggest potential win. If Twitter continues to go down the media company path, without incorporating their API into the plan, that could not only force a large part of their ecosystem to go elsewhere, but it could deprive them of a much larger potential infrastructure revenue opportunity, and could even end up costing them the company. After all, Silicon Valley is littered with the burned out wreckage of once-great media companies that failed create and keep third-party app ecosystems: AOL, Friendster, MySpace, Yahoo – to name a few. It’s very hard to maintain leadership as an online media company without an ecosystem of outside apps increasing reach, innovation, and stickiness.

He was right. Twitter over the years struggled to grow its daily active user base, even making up its own metrics, and trying to convince Wall Street that its business should be evaluated by something besides user growth. It didn’t work.

Twitter historically often ignored the innovation emerging from its ecosystem of apps, even as those apps contributed meaningfully to what Twitter would become. Twitterific coined the word “tweet,” was the first to use the bird icon and delivered the first native Mac and iOS apps, among other things. Tweetie introduced the pull-to-refresh gesture. Brizzly made it possible to tweet photos, long before Twitter did. And all, arguably, demonstrated the market for premium apps (Tweetbot for Mac was $20 in 2012!) and app subscriptions, despite arriving at a time when Twitter’s focus was on cramming ads into its timeline — something that was once dubbed its #dickbar feature.

The company could have found an altogether different trajectory if it had embraced the innovation taking place in the broader app ecosystem, instead of constantly trying to squash it. Twitter users for years had no choice but to sit back and watch as their favorite third-party apps were slowly pruned. Long before TikTok, an app that began as a “video Twitter,” Seesmic, had to exit back in 2012. Favstar, a popular app for tracking top tweets, closed up shop in 2018. Twitter acquired TweetDeck, then abandoned it, despite surveys that indicated users would be willing to pay for premium features and subscriptions. Twitter almost seemed to revel in destroying various parts of its ecosystem. It bought Vine (a TikTok precursor) and Periscope (an early livestreamer), and killed them. (And when Twitter managed to come up with creative ideas of its own — like a music discovery app called #Music — it would give up on them, too. Now music discovery takes place on TikTok.)

Despite its fumbling, third-party Twitter clients managed to survive and even thrive, thanks to dedicated user bases, all while the company kept tweaking its API to make them less useful. In 2018, for example, the app makers told their customers they would have to disable or degrade certain features. And yet, the apps’ customers remained.

Now, at a perilous time in Twitter’s history — when analysts are predicting it will lose some 32 million users by 2024 — Twitter is removing access to some of its most beloved entry points to its ecosystem. And while these clients may not be the powerhouses of a decade ago, they deserved the opportunity to close up shop in a dignified manner that reflected the impact they had on Twitter’s own history and community.

What’s ironic here is that Twitter in more recent years almost seemed as if it was trying to right the ship. It was revamping its API and bringing back its developer conference. Its head of product for the developer platform, Amir Shevat, understood the potential. The company was beginning to spin up in-Twitter apps users could interact with and was even toying with ideas around a Twitter app store. But his team was cut from 100 people to two amid the Twitter layoffs, signaling the end of Twitter’s platform ambitions. And, we should have realized then, the end of the Twitter ecosystem of apps, too.

As Shevat warned in December: “Let this be my personal notice to Twitter developers: The team is gone; the investment has been undone. Love does not live here anymore.”

Trial set in Epic & Match’s antitrust case against Google

A date has been set for a trial by jury in a significant antitrust case against Google involving its alleged abuses of power in the Android app market. Fortnite maker Epic Games and dating app giant Match Group, joined by more than three dozen state attorneys general, have accused Google of unfairly leveraging its market dominance and harming competition through its Google Play Store terms and practices. In particular, the plaintiffs take issue with the commissions Google requires on app sales and in-app purchases as well as the control Google has over Android app distribution in general. The case will now proceed to a jury trial on November 6, 2023, a judge in the Northern District of California has ruled.

Epic and Match filed to amend their complaint in October by adding new antitrust counts to their case. Google in October asked the court to disallow these requests, saying, among other things, the claims were filed too late. (The court granted the motion to amend the complaint in November.)

The Android ecosystem antitrust case is a bit different from the Epic-Apple battle because Google allows Android apps to be sideloaded. The app makers will instead aim to prove other ways the company leveraged its market power — like paying developers to not leave the Play Store, for instance.

In a more recent hearing related to this case, a California federal judge criticized Google for not preserving evidence from employee chats, after learning internal communications were taking place in Google Chat, where messages were automatically deleted after 24 hours. Though employees can change the auto-delete setting, Google apparently did not enforce this setting to be turned on. The U.S. District Judge James Donato asked the parties how many of the 260 Google employees who received a litigation hold notice had chosen not to preserve their chats, according to a report from Law360.

The judge also threatened Google with a “substantial, trial-related penalty” if the court found evidence related to the trial was destroyed. This should be an interesting trial to watch, it seems.

Instagram adds a “Quiet Mode”

Instagram announced this week it’s expanding its selection of time management tools with the launch of a new feature called “Quiet Mode.” The feature aims to reduce users’ anxiety about taking time off from the app by silencing incoming notifications, auto-replying to DMs and setting your status to “In Quiet Mode” to inform friends that you’re not active on the app at present. The company said it will prompt teen users to enable the feature if they’re using the app late at night.

With the new Quiet Mode feature, the app is aiming to address the real-world impacts that accompany trying to step away for a bit from an app that you regularly use — and one where others expect you to be available.

The launches come as Instagram works to make its app less of a target for regulators and lawmakers who have been concerned with social media’s potential harms, particularly for teenage users. To date, Instagram has added several teen safety features, including those to protect teens’ privacy and reduce unwanted adult contact, limit ad targetingrestrict teens’ access to mature content and others to help parents monitor and manage their teens’ Instagram use through parental controls.

The update is one of several changes that rolled out, which also included tweaking its parental control tools and adding other tools to manage recommendations. For example, you’ll now be able to remove things from your Explore page and block terms from influencing your recommended content, too.

Weekly News

Android Updates

  • Google fixed the issue that led to missing app changelogs on the Play Store’s website.
  • Google’s clock app for Android now lets you record your own alarm sound. That could be fun. (Also ripe for pranks).

Apple News

  • Apple seeded the release candidates (RCs) for iOS 16.3, iPadOS 16.3, tvOS 16.3 and watchOS 9.3. The release signals the public version is now likely days away.
  • The iOS 16.3 public release will bring the new iCloud Advanced Data Protection feature to users worldwide. The opt-in feature offers end-to-end encryption for nearly all iCloud data, including messages, photos, device backups and more.
  • Apple commemorated Black History Month with exclusive content, including a special-edition Apple Watch Black Unity Sport Loop, a new matching watch face and iPhone wallpaper.
  • Apple is reportedly working on an iPad-bases smart display with smart home controls, FaceTime and video support. It’s also developing a faster Apple TV, reported Bloomberg.


  • Roblox’s estimated bookings grew 17-20% year-over-year, to $430 million-$439 million and daily actives jumped 18% to 61.5 million, Roblox said in its December 2022 metrics report.
  • Google officially shut down its cloud gaming service Stadia this week, only two months shy of its third birthday. Though Stadia users were disappointed, Google did do some things right by offering both hardware and software refunds, save game transfers and more.
  • 45% of game developers said they don’t believe in the promise of the metaverse, a new industry survey shows.
  • Nintendo is increasing production of its six-year-old Switch console starting in April 2023, as consumer demand remains strong.


  • Netflix made waves with the news that its founder and co-CEO Reed Hastings would step down after two decades of running the company. The news came on the heels of solid earnings, where the company reported adding 7.66 million subscribers, jumping to 230.75 million globally, and revenue of $7.85 billion, in line with estimates.
  • Netflix also gave its iPhone app a makeover. The revamp included a new billboard layout, new card transitions, new animation for both the launch and profile screens, updated haptics and more.
  • Wattpad Webtoon Studios signed with talent agency UTA for worldwide representation. The deal aims to help the global entertainment and publishing arm of Webtoon and Wattpad as it further expands into TV, movies, animation and more.
  • YouTube TV refreshed its Live Guide and Library with a new design and the addition of recommendations on what to watch.
  • Audio chat room app Clubhouse brought its “House Lounges” to the web. The always-on feature allows users to catch up, message and hang out with friends in private rooms. The feature first launched on mobile.
  • TikTok expanded the reach of its “state-controlled media” label to more than 40 additional countries, to alert users when videos they’re seeing on the app are being published by entities whose “editorial output or decision-making process” is subject to influence by a government.
  • Spotify, Deezer, Proton, Basecamp and others wrote a letter to the EU’s antitrust regulator’s Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, urging the Commission to take action against Apple over antitrust practices. The Commission has been investigating the claims for years, following Spotify’s filing of an antitrust complaint in 2019.
  • Amazon is increasing its Amazon Music Unlimited’s monthly prices by $1 and £1 to $10.99 and £10.99 in the U.S. and U.K. on February 21. The new prices will match the increase Apple Music implemented last fall.

Security & Privacy

  • Period tracker Flo added an “anonymous mode” that lets users track their period without providing their name, email or other identifiers. Period tracker privacy has become a hot-button topic following the reversal of Roe v. Wade, as app users are worried how their private data could be used against them.

Twitter Drama

  • Twitter launched an annual subscription for Twitter Blue that costs $84 per year, but is only available on the web. The subscription saves users 12% over a monthly web subscription or 36% over an iOS subscription, where the price is jacked up to cover App Store fees.
  • The next day, it launched Blue for Android users, at the same pricey $11 per month it charges iOS users. The subscription is $3 per month cheaper on the web.
  • Twitter killed off third-party clients, claiming it was only enforcing its long-standing API rules. But internal messages showed Twitter targeted the clients specifically, impacting classic apps like Tweetbot, Twitterific and others.
  • A reverse engineer claims Twitter could be working on a video chat feature, based on findings in the app’s code.
  • An ad industry leak indicated that Twitter’s fourth-quarter revenue had fallen 35% year-over-year to $1.025 billion, or 72% of its Q4 goal. It expects to earn $732 million in the first quarter this year, which would be down by 39% year-over-year.
  • Twitter’s referral traffic to 12 major news outlets fell 12%, on average, from November to December 2022, per Similarweb data. The only two outlets that gained during this time were Fox News and NY Post.


  • Fintech Robinhood tapped tech editor Josh Topolsky to run Sherwood Media, an independent brand that will serve as the home to Robinhood’s Snacks newsletter.
  • Dating app Hinge is testing a $50-60 per month premium tier, its equivalent of Tinder Platinum.


  • Music app SoundHound laid off around 200 people, or nearly 50% of staff, with two weeks of severance that will only be paid if the company raises more money.
  • Fandom laid off staff across its properties, including GameSpot, Metacritic and Giant Bomb. Most of Fandom’s properties are websites, but it also runs a Fandom News app for mobile devices.
  • In addition to the Big Tech layoffs this week impacting Google (12,000 people), Amazon (18,000 people) and Microsoft (10,000 people), Amazon-owned comics publisher and distributor ComiXology laid off around 50% of staff, as well. The company offers an app that allows users to experience 23,000 comics, manga and graphic novels on mobile devices.
  • Indian food delivery service Swiggy is cutting 380 jobs after raising $700 million in January 2022. The company has around 6,000 people employed.

Government & Policy

  • The U.K. Online Safety bill was amended to make senior execs criminally liable for their companies’ failure to protect minors from harmful content.
  • India’s Supreme Court declined to block an antitrust order that would require Google to change its Android business model, in a major setback for the tech giant. The Competition Commission of India ruled in October that Google exploited its market power by forcing device makers to pre-install Google’s apps. It had also fined Google $161 million. Google said it will challenge the ruling but will cooperate with the authorities “on the way forward.”
  • Meta’s WhatsApp has been fined €5.5 million (just under $6 million) for failing to comply with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rules around data processing.
  • Brazil’s antitrust regulator, CADE, is now investigating a complaint against Apple over alleged App Store antitrust issues, similar to investigations by other antitrust authorities in other markets.
  • More TikTok bans cropped up in the U.S. Following crackdowns by numerous state governments, the video app has been banned on some college campuses, including Texas A&M University and the University of Texas at Austin, as well as Arkansas State University, the University System of Georgia’s dozens of universities and colleges, the Montana University System and Boise State University, NBC reported. Some experts believe the bans, which now reach more than two dozen U.S. states, are an overreaction.
  • China’s government gave Didi the right to republish its apps on app stores after more than a year in regulatory limbo.

Funding and M&A

  • Discord bought teen compliments app Gas for an undisclosed sum. Gas is an anonymous app that sent teens compliments purportedly from their peers. Founder Nikita Bier previously sold his app tbh to Facebook.
  • Another teen compliments app, Slay — this one based in Germany — raised a $2.63 million (€2.5 million) pre-seed funding round led by Accel. Other investors included 20VC, Supercell co-founder and CEO Ilkka Paananen, Behance founder Scott Belsky, football star Mario Götze, Kevin Weil (Scribble Ventures) and musician Alex Pall (The Chainsmokers).
  • Chinese fast fashion shopping app Shein is said to be raising up to $3 billion from Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund Mubadala, Sequoia and PE firm General Atlantic, at a $64 billion valuation, the FT reported. That would be down from its $100 billion valuation as of its last funding round in April.
  • Walmart-backed Indian payments app PhonePe raised $350 million from General Atlantic at a $12 billion+ valuation, and plans to raise as much as $1 billion in tranches.
  • Zitti, an app offering food costs and other insights for restauranteurs, raised $3.5 million in a seed round from Oceans Ventures, Serena Ventures and Crossbeam. In total, the company has raised $7.5 million to date.
  • Cloud services provider Shadow made its first acquisition with a deal for French Android emulation startup Genymobile, the company behind Genymotion. Deal terms weren’t disclosed.
  • Share Creators, a platform that helps game developers store and manage large media assets, raised $5 million in funding, including $3 million from China’s 5Y Capital and $2 million from PDF reader Foxit.



Image Credits: Smores

This week, TechCrunch’s Ivan Mehta took a look at a new iOS app, Smores, that allows users to discover new music through a TikTok-like feed. The app lets you listen to a short clip of a song, recommended based on your own listening history. You can then swipe through the vertical feed to skip to the next song clip, or like the current song with the heart button, which saves the like to your Spotify account. The liked tracks will appear in a new playlist called “Smores Discovery,” or you can add the track to another pre-existing playlist if you choose. The team says they may later bring the app to Apple Music or Android users.

Ice Cubes

Image Credits: Ice Cubes

This new Mastodon client for iPad, iPhone and Mac was oddly rejected from the App Store numerous times on its path to launching, as Daring Fireball highlighted, but the SwiftUI app from developer Thomas Ricouard looks like a solid addition to the Mastodon app ecosystem, which includes several new apps built by former Twitter app makers, including apps like Ivory from Tapbots and Mammoth from Aviary’s app developer. (Both are still in TestFlight.)

Ice Cubes, however, promises to bring a fast and reliable Mastodon experience to the desktop, allowing users to browse their timelines, interact with posts (“toots”) and even quote toot — a feature Twitter expats have been missing. You can also access more advanced functions like lists, filters, an explore tab and more.

This Week in Apps: Twitter kills third-party apps, Instagram adds Quiet Mode, Google’s antitrust trial gets a date by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch