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

This Week in Apps: ChatGPT app scammers, Instagram revamp and a consumer spending slowdown

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

State of Mobile 2023 arrives, consumer spending slows’s anticipated review of the app ecosystem, “State of Mobile 2023,” arrived this week, finding that consumer spending on apps has been hit by the same macroeconomic forces impacting the broader economy. That led to a first-time drop in consumer spending after years of record growth. However, there are some bright spots in the report’s findings. For starters, it seems that non-game apps are more resilient than games in a down economy. Though consumer spend on mobile games dropped 5% to $110 billion, spending on non-game apps increased 6% to $58 billion — driven by streaming subscriptions, dating apps and short-form video apps.

Image Credits:

The data also indicated that despite the tightening of wallets, consumer engagement on mobile continues to grow. Across top mobile markets, consumers were spending 5 hours, 2 minutes per day in 2022 using their apps, up 9% from 2020. That’s remarkable, given that 2020 was the onset of the COVID pandemic, which tied everyone to their phone and rapidly changed consumer behavior. However, there is a caveat to this news: Much of mobile users’ time is monopolized by three app categories, which accounted for half the time spent on mobile: Social Media/Communication (19.5% of total time); Entertainment/Short Video (17% of total time); and Entertainment/Video Sharing (12.7% of total time).

Image Credits:

In addition, while mobile ad spend growth will also slow alongside the economy, it will not decline. is forecasting that mobile ad spend in 2023 will hit $262 billion, up from $336 billion this year as short video apps drive growth. TikTok, for example, became the second-ever non-game app to top $6 billion in all-time consumer spending, the report noted.

The first category — Social Media/Communication — includes WeChat, WhatsApp, Facebook, Messenger, Telegram, LINE and Discord, while the Entertainment and Short Video category is where you’ll find TikTok as well as Kwai, Vido Video, Baidu Haokan and Snack Video. The last category of Entertainment and Video Sharing includes long-form video like YouTube, YouTube Kids and bilibili.

Image Credits:

One finding that jumped out at me is that TikTok this year lost its No. 1 position on the Top Charts by Downloads to Instagram, the Meta-owned social app that has been desperately trying to clone TikTok’s feature set with Reels.’s report indicated that Meta had a bit of a comeback this year, with Instagram bumping TikTok on downloads, though TikTok remained No. 1 by consumer spending. However, in terms of real-world use, TikTok is much further down the charts.

In 2022, the top four non-game apps by monthly active users were all owned by Facebook. In order, they were Facebook, WhatsApp Messenger, Instagram, then Facebook Messenger. TikTok was No. 5. Amazon, which was No. 5 last year, slipped to No. 7 while Telegram moved up to No. 6 from No. 7 in 2021. Twitter, Spotify and Netflix rounded out the charts.

Image Credits:

The report delves into other interesting trends related to specific categories of apps (some of which we may get into later), but one particular area of interest to us involved the detailed habits of Gen Z consumers. Unlike the top apps used by older generations, which tend to be more utilitarian and practical (think Amazon, eBay, Walmart, The Weather Channel, Waze, Ring, PayPal and others), Gen Z is still devoted to video apps, user-generated content and mindfulness apps, said. (Ah, youth!) They also have a preference for Meta’s Instagram over Facebook, TikTok, Snapchat, Netflix and Spotify.

Another trend driven by younger users was the rise of BeReal, a more authentic photo-sharing app that prompts users once a day to take candid photos of themselves and what they’re doing. found that no other social app added more new users in the U.S. over the past five years than the 5.3 million users BeReal gained in August 2022. But the firm suggested BeReal may struggle to grow engagement since the app only asks people to use it for brief periods. However, in speaking with those close to the company, we understand BeReal is purposefully trying to build a non-addictive social app — it just doesn’t know how to monetize that sort of creation.

Another app category driven by Gen Z trends is friend-finding, which includes apps like Yubo, Hoop, Bumble (for its BFF feature), Live Talk and others.

Image Credits:

Meanwhile, in terms of gaming, the Gen Z demographic showed a preference for party, simulation and shooters, and counted Roblox as their No. 1 app. If there’s any wonder why Meta is spending billions trying to develop a virtual gaming landscape with Horizon Worlds, just look at Roblox’s growth and traction among the younger demographic. “Creative Sandbox” games like Roblox as well as Minecraft saw a global increase in time spent last year, up 25% from 2021 to 2022.

Image Credits, above and below:

A few other interesting highlights:

  • The most-searched iOS App Store keywords in the U.S. for entertainment apps were, in order: netflix, disney+, hulu, HBO max, paramount, paramount+, amazon prime, peacock tv, prime video and tubi. Maybe Netflix will be okay after all.
  • Genshin Impact reached $3 billion in in-app purchases in Q2 2022.
  • Game publishers in China drove a third of consumer game spending.
  • Crypto apps’ downloads fell in 2022, even as other fintechs grew.
  • Average MAUs among the top five neobanks in the U.S. climbed from 1.4 million in 2020 to 2.2 million in 2022. Chime is the market leader in both active users and user engagement.

Image Credits:

  • Consumers spent nearly 110 billion hours in shopping apps in 2022, up 9% globally. Cost-conscious shoppers drove growth.
  • Total time spent in social apps climbed 17% year-over-year to over 2 trillion hours on Android phones in 2022. The U.S. accounted for more than one-fourth of social app consumer spending.
  • Sports betting app downloads hit 4.3 million at the start of the 2022-2023 NFL season, up 8% year-over-year from 2021.
  • Language learning apps saw 31% year-over-year growth as travel returned post-pandemic.
  • Consumer spend in dating apps grew 12% year-over-year in 2022, and 91% year-over-year compared to pre-pandemic spend.

Apple let scammy “ChatGPT” apps flood the App Store

What, no I mean, what is going on with App Review? For years, Apple has been caught off guard at times, allowing violative apps to slip through its review process to be published on the App Store until users or the media called out the mistake.

But in the case of the scam “ChatGPT” apps that flooded the App Store over the past couple of weeks, one has to wonder if Apple is even paying attention at all. ChatGPT’s maker OpenAI doesn’t offer a public API, so that should have been a red flag to reviewers about any app claiming a ChatGPT or OpenAI connection in its name or description, then charging money for access. One app, called “ChatGPT Chat GPT AI With GPT-3,” even managed to reach the Top Charts in the productivity category in multiple countries as a result of consumer demand for ChatGPT and Apple’s inattention. (The app was removed shortly after reporters, including ourselves, reached out to Apple for comment. Apple never answered our emails.)

Google Play had the same problem, but frankly, consumers expect more from Apple’s App Store. In fact, Apple’s argument against antitrust concerns, like its ban on sideloading and third-party app stores, has to do with the safety and security of its users. Apple says only it should be trusted to keep consumers safe. But surely that means Apple should also be protecting consumers from scam apps and subscription scams. But it is not.

And while no system is perfect, it seems like the apps that are at the top of the App Store’s charts — or those that quickly moved up the charts for unknown reasons — should go under an additional review by Apple, just to make sure they’re playing by the rules. Developers have long argued that Apple should be cracking down on apps with high-priced subscriptions or those that are charging users for basic utilities or otherwise free features — in other words, the apps that are profiting from scamming users. If it did so, a subscription-based app that appeared to be charging for access to a free service with a non-public API wouldn’t have made the cut.

These things aren’t hard to spot either — third-party app intelligence services can parse customer reviews for negative sentiments and keywords, so surely Apple could implement a system of its own, if it wanted to. In the case of the scammy ChatGPT apps, customer reviews called the apps fake and non-functional, warning others not to get scammed. Where was Apple on this issue? Until the media coverage, it was quietly collecting its cut of the scammers’ subscription revenues.

In other App Store news, activist investors have pressured Apple for more insight into app removals, the FT reported, but their interest lies in wanting a better understanding of when Apple acquiesces to foreign governments’ requests. The company will begin including additional information in its Transparency Report about whether removals are related to local laws and how many apps were pulled in each country.

Goodbye, Instagram Shop. Move over, Reels. 

Image Credits: Instagram

Instagram announced this week it will simplify its in-app navigation after years of confusing changes designed to push various products like Instagram Shop and Reels. The company said, starting in February, it will return the Compose button (the plus sign “+”) to the front and center of the navigation bar at the bottom of the app and it will remove the Shop tab entirely.

As a result, the Reels button will now move over to the right of Compose, losing its prime spot.

The earlier changes that had pushed Reels over Compose had been fairly controversial as Instagram users felt as if the company was forcing them to use the app’s new products at the expense of the overall user experience. Instagram defended the changes in prior years as a way to introduce users to its new products. But in more recent months, there’s been increased backlash over how far Instagram has deviated from its original mission. Even the Kardashians criticized the app for “trying to be TikTok.”

Instagram said shopping on Instagram will continue to be supported despite the removal of the tab. We’ll see.

Weekly News

Android Updates

  • Google is working to fix a Google Play issue impacting missing app changelogs, according to an Android Police report.
  • The latest stable release of the official IDE for building Android applications, Android Studio Electric Eel (2022.1.1), arrived. The release includes updates and new features that cover design, build & dependencies, emulators & devices, and IntelliJ, Google said.
  • Google released the Extension SDK to developers, bringing features like the Android 13 Photo Picker API and AdServices APIs to Android 11 and up.

Apple News

  • Second developer betas for iOS 16.3, iPadOS 16.3, watchOS 9.3, macOS Ventura 13.2 and tvOS 16.3 have arrived. One notable change impacts the new Emergency SOS feature. The “Call with Hold” option is renamed to “Call with Hold and Release,” as now the call to emergency services won’t go through until users let go of the buttons they press down to start the SOS call. More here. The change may be an attempt to address issues over mistakenly triggered calls.
  • Seems like Apple pushed Flickr to update its SafeSearch filtering. The company said it updated the feature so it won’t return results for “bad words” when it’s enabled in order “to act in compliance with Apple’s policies.”
  • Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman reported that iOS 17 is going to be a smaller release with fewer changes as Apple focuses on its mixed-reality headset.
  • Apple Maps now lets businesses update their listings and tout promotions via a new Apple Business Connect portal. No plans yet for any sort of Maps ads offering, however.
  • In a year-end review, Apple announced it has now paid out a record $320 billion to app developers since 2008 — a number that reflects the revenue apps have generated, minus Apple’s commission. The company now has more than 900 million paid subscriptions across Apple services, with subscriptions on the App Store driving a “significant” part of that figure, it said.

Image Credits: Apple


  • Google and Nvidia shared concerns with the FTC as to how Microsoft’s Activision Blizzard deal would give it an unfair advantage in cloud, subscription and mobile gaming.
  • JioGames, part of Reliance Industries’ telecom platform Jio, announced a 10-year strategic partnership with France’s Gamestream. The latter will assist JioGames in bringing cloud gaming to “1.4 billion” Indians by helping scale the JioGamesCloud platform. JioGames’ titles can be played on Android, web (PC, Mac and iPhone), and Jio’s set-top boxes.
  • Roblox could be coming to a new platform: Meta Quest. Sources told The Verge that Roblox will be expanding its VR footprint — it already works on Rift and HTC’s Vive — by releasing to Meta’s Quest, which doesn’t require a PC to play.
  • Stardew Valley’s big update, patch 1.5, finally reached iOS and Android users. The update, which arrived on consoles in 2021, includes a number of new features and changes, including a new beach farm layout, new NPCs and enemies, ostriches (!!) and a new location called Ginger Island.

Stardew Valley screenshot

Image Credits: Stardew Valley

Twitter Drama

  • Twitter’s API began experiencing issues that are impacting third-party Twitter apps like Tweetbot, Echofon and Twitterrific. The app makers confirmed the problems have been causing log-in issues for users and their apps no longer work.
  • Online publishing platform Medium, originally created by Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, announced that it’s embracing the open source Mastodon platform by creating its own instance to support its authors and their publications. Access to the instance will be offered through a Medium membership, which means in a way, it’s the first paid instance to come to Mastodon.
  • Twitter’s Blue subscription, which is the new way to be verified and get your checkmark — degrading the value of checks in the process!rolled out to Japan. Users can subscribe for ¥980 (around $7.40) per month on the web and ¥1,380 ($10.42) per month on iOS, a bit lower than U.S. prices of $8 per month on the web and $11 per month on iOS.
  • Twitter made the algorithmic timeline the default and renamed it the “For You” feed. (Eye roll). You can now swipe between the For You feed and a chronological timeline, as well as lists.


  • TikTok is alpha testing a Talent Manager Portal with select talent agencies. The service would allow creators’ agents and reps to oversee, execute and analyze brand deals their clients are being offered.
  • Apple Music and the Apple TV apps quietly launched on the Microsoft Store — a few months after Microsoft said the apps would be coming to Windows 11.
  • YouTube will begin sharing ad revenue with Shorts creators on February 1, and will update its YPP terms to reflect this. (Take that, TikTok!)


  • Failed discount movie tickets service MoviePass is trying for a comeback with funding from crypto backers, Animoca Brands. 😒
  • Google added emoji reactions to Meet video calls, starting on iOS and web, with Android to follow. The feature was announced last year.
  • Not so super. Tata Group’s super app Tata Neu is expected to meet only half its sales target in its first year — $4 billion versus an $8 billion target. The app had been modeled on successful apps like Alipay and WeChat.
  • Tinder and other Match dating apps will introduce tips on how to avoid romance scams. Someone watched “The Tinder Swindler,” apparently!

Government & Policy

  • TikTok’s CEO, Shou Zi Chew, met with senior European Union lawmakers to answer a number of questions including privacy, data protection, DSA compliance, child safety, Russian disinformation and the transparency of paid political content. The inquiry follows what’s expected to be increased regulatory scrutiny of the app, including possible oversight by the European Commission.
  • After being fined $400 million by Ireland’s Data Protection Commission over how Instagram handled minors’ accounts and data, Meta announced it would remove the ability for advertisers to target teen users by gender. The company will also end personalized ad targeting to users under 18 based on in-app activity, like who they follow on Instagram and what Facebook pages they like.
  • New Jersey and Ohio have now joined 20 other U.S. states in banning TikTok on government-owned devices over security concerns.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court declined to block a lawsuit filed by WhatsApp that challenged the alleged mass phone hacking by Israeli spyware maker NSO Group. The spyware maker had argued the suit should be dropped because it was acting on behalf of a foreign government, but the Supreme Court rejected this claim.


  • A Twitter rival called ‘T2’ raised its first outside funding, with $1.1 million from a group of high-profile angels including Bradley Horowitz, Rich Miner and the former CEO of Wikipedia, Katherine Maher. T2 founder Gabor Cselle has sold startups to Twitter and Google previously.
  • Payments technology platform Butter Payments raised $21.5 million in Series A funding led by Norwest at a ~$100 million valuation. The company leverages AI to help end accidental churn.
  • Kakao Entertainment, which publishes apps for popular animated shows and novels, raised $930 million from Saudi Arabia’s PIF and Singapore’s GIC.
  • A company developing a cognitive behavioral therapy platform for ADHD, Inflow, raised $11 million in Series A funding. Inflow’s self-help app offers daily exercises and challenges focused on habit development, mindfulness techniques, community support and more.
  • Social crypto wallet app The Easy Company raised $14.2 million in seed funding. The iOS and Android app offers an Instagram-like experience for showcasing NFTs.

Image Credits: The Easy Company


  • Tokyo-based news aggregator SmartNews laid off 120 people in the U.S. and China, with plans to implement a voluntary workforce reduction in Japan.
  • Fintech for kids Greenlight, which lets kids use a debit card and app with parental monitoring, laid off 104 employees — or more than 21% of its total headcount of 485 employees.
  • Crime-reporting app Citizen laid off 33 employees, including at least 10 engineers. The app uses public police blotters to notify users about verified incidents in their area, but also allows users in select markets to upload their own reports and livestream.
  • Right-leaning Twitter alternative Parler’s parent company laid off 75% of staff and chief execs, leaving Parler with just 20 employees. Kanye, as many expected, didn’t actually buy it.

This Week in Apps: ChatGPT app scammers, Instagram revamp and a consumer spending slowdown by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

This Week in Apps: AI Art apps top the charts, Instagram adds text-only ‘Notes,’ alternative app stores in EU

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

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

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

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

Top Stories

Apple prepares to allow alternative app stores in EU

App Store icon on iPhone screen

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Bloomberg reported Apple is already making efforts to open up its platforms to enable support for third-party app stores in the EU in advance of new requirements set out by the Digital Markets Act, which companies must comply with by 2024. EU regulators want to level the playing field for app developers and improve the consumer experience — and they believe forcing Apple to compete on merit with other app stores is one way to do it. Apple, of course, has long argued that allowing sideloading or third-party stores introduces too much risk to consumers, in terms of safety, security and privacy issues. Today, Apple handles payment processing for the apps downloaded from its own storefront, which includes battling fraud. And it restricts app makers from tracking users with the new App Tracking Transparency protections and protects user data.

But some of Apple’s privacy focus is a seeming front for its own aims in becoming a bigger competitor in the ads business. And as researchers recently discovered, some of Apple’s protections don’t apply to its own apps. Plus, many would argue, it seems like an imbalance to charge apps that rival Apple’s own services a commission on their businesses — the way it charges Spotify when it runs Apple Music; or how it charges streaming apps commissions, when it runs Apple TV+; and so on. Apple continues to expand into new app markets, too, with subscription services like Apple Fitness+; cloud storage packages through iCloud; news reading and magazines with News+; and others.

But app developers have long felt Apple’s 30% is too high a price for the discovery, distribution and security provided by the App Store. And for larger companies, they’re more than willing and able to market, distribute and sell their own apps themselves. Epic Games, for example, is battling Apple in courts over anti-trust issues, which are now under appeal. It wants to sell its apps like Fortnite directly to consumers and avoid Apple’s fees.

Still, even if the EU forces platforms to open up to more competition, if the laws aren’t precise, it’s possible Apple could find a way to adjust its policies to apply a commission structure to the third-party apps and app distribution systems the new regulations would allow.

It’s a wonder Apple has allowed the problem to get to this point. The company has carved back commissions for a range of apps — from smaller developers to “reader” apps and the like — in obvious attempts to hope soothe regulators and lawmakers’ concerns. But Apple may have ultimately misstepped by not just slashing commissions across the board to quell the developer backlash in the first place. As it turns out, Apple’s greed may ultimately be its downfall as it will now be up to regulators to set the terms, not Apple itself.

Lensa drives more AI art apps to top of App Store

Image Credits: Lensa (mockup by TechCrunch)

Lensa AI’s popularity has had a notable impact on the App Store’s Top Charts this week. The photo and video editing app recently went viral over its new “magic avatars” feature, powered by the open source Stable Diffusion model, allowing users to turn their selfies into styled portraits of themselves as sci-fi, anime or fantasy characters, among other artistic renderings. Consumer demand for the app, and for AI edits more broadly, then pushed numerous other “AI” apps into the U.S. App Store’s Top Charts. By Monday, the top three spots on the U.S. App Store were all held by AI photo editors, and even more AI art apps are newly ranking in the Top 100.

This week, Lensa AI held the No. 1 spot on the U.S. App Store, with its 12.6 million global installs in the first 11 days of December, up 600% from the 1.8 million installs it saw during a similar time frame in November (November 20 through November 30), according to data from app store intelligence firm Sensor Tower. The U.S. accounted for 3.6 million of those new December installs, estimates indicate.

However, more AI apps have been climbing the charts. Data indicated that eight out of the top 100 apps by downloads on the U.S. App Store were AI art apps during the December 1 through December 11 time frame.

These included No. 2 and No. 3 apps, AI Art: AI Image Generator and Dawn – AI Avatars, respectively. The former saw 1.7 million global installs during December 1 through 11, up 229% from the 71,000 it saw during November 20 through 30. Dawn saw around 1.7 million installs, as well, up from the 28,000 it saw in the late November time frame.

Other apps filled the Top Charts, including No. 10 Wonder – AI Art Generator, No. 14 Prequel: Aesthetic AI Editor, No. 39 Voi – AI Avatar App by Wonder, No. 47 Meitu – Photo Editor & AI Art, and more. In select categories, like Graphics & Design, you’d also find Profile AI: Avatar Creator, Inspire – AI Art Generator and Dream by Wombo – AI Art Tool.

Clearly, developers learned to capitalize on consumer demand for AI art by keyword-stuffing their app names and descriptions with terms like “AI,” “Avatar,” “AI Art” and other search terms.

Despite the surge in consumer adoption, some are concerned about the ethics of using AI apps.

Lensa was trained on the Stable Diffusion model, which is controversial for how it used images from artists without their consent. Lensa was also able to be tricked into making NSFW images, TechCrunch found. And MIT Technology Review reported that Lensa created topless images and skimpy and sexualized avatars when tried by one female reporter, who happened to be of Asian heritage — suggesting the AI had been influenced by an overabundance of anime and video characters.

Instagram weighs taking on Twitter with text-based “Notes”

Instagram now supports text updates, as shown on a phone screen

Image Credits: Instagram

Amid backlash over the intrusion of algorithmic, recommended content into Instagram’s feed, Instagram this week introduced a number of new features to make it easier for users to keep up with their real-world friends. Among the new products is an addition called Notes — a feature Meta had considered turning into a Twitter competitor, The NYT recently reported. With Notes, users can update their friends using just text and emoji, adding a different format for social updates beyond the images and videos Instagram is best known for.

Though not a Twitter competitor in terms of the user interface, the idea of leaving text notes for others to read has some overlap with Twitter, or perhaps more specifically with a product like Twitter Circle, where you hand-pick people who can read your posts. In Instagram, however, users can leave notes by going to the top of their inbox, then selecting the followers they follow back (aka mutuals) or others from their existing “Close Friends” list. They’ll then type out the note itself using 60 characters of just text or emoji. The note will appear at the top of friends’ inboxes for 24 hours and replies will arrive as DMs.

What’s interesting is that Meta had considered making Notes a more direct Twitter competitor. The NYT said Meta weighed making Notes its own feed in the Instagram app or even making it its own app. For the time being, however, the company is launching the product — which has been in testing for several months prior — as is. Too bad.

Developer News

  • iOS 16.2 is also bringing a mystery AirTag firmware update. No one knows what it does yet.
  • Apple also released the first betas for iOS 16.3, iPadOS 16.3 and macOS Ventura 13.2.
  • Android 13 for TV has shipped.
  • Compose for Wear OS 1.1 is now stable. 
  • Android 13 QPR2 Beta 1 is now available. The Android 13 Beta is continuing with the next round of updates for its March 2023 release. These Quarterly Platform Releases are delivered to Pixel phones as Feature Drops.
  • Android 13 is now hitting Sony smartphones, according to user reports, including the Xperia 1 IV, the Xperia 5 IV, the Xperia 1 III, the Xperia 5 III and the Xperia Pro-I.
  • Google completed the rollout of the Matter smart home standard to Android and Nest. Apple and Samsung have already rolled out Matter support, and Amazon will support Matter by end of 2022.

App Updates

Image Credits: Flipboard

  • Flipboard is capitalizing on Twitter’s chaos. The social magazine app will now allow its magazine curators to start discussions with readers through a new Notes feature, where they can write posts, share images and links, ask questions and more.
  • Twitter re-launched its subscription service Twitter Blue with different price points for those who subscribe on iOS and those who subscribe on the web. The new subscription will provide the verified checkmark and reduce ads, among other things, but will now have increased protections to prevent spam and impersonation, the company claims. Blue for Business will give businesses on Twitter gold checks instead of blue. (That’s right — Blue will give out gold checks, too. Did anyone think through the branding here?!)
  • Twitter made its community fact-checks visible to worldwide users. (The Community Notes feature was previously called Birdwatch.)
  • Meanwhile, Twitter shut down its newsletter platform Revue, shortly after former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey used it to write a post about the Twitter Files, warning against attacks on Twitter’s staff. He also touched on decentralization and his own effort in that space, Bluesky.
  • Elon Musk suspended a Twitter bot that tracked his jet’s coming and going. For, you know, reasons. After issuing his new jet-tracking-inspired anti-doxing policy, Twitter then begin banning prominent journalists without warning, including those who tweeted about Musk’s decision to also ban Mastodon’s account. Some of the suspended journalists had posted images of the tweet that got the Mastodon account banned — a post that pointed to the bot (ElonJet)’s account on Mastodon.
  • TikTok goes horizontal. The company confirmed it’s testing a horizontal full-screen mode which makes the app more competitive with YouTube.

TikTok's new full screen mode

Image Credits: Screenshot/TechCrunch

  • Microsoft is shutting down its Authenticator app for Apple Watch users in January 2023.
  • A little-known phone monitoring app called Xnspy has stolen data from tens of thousands of devices, TechCrunch reported.
  • A nifty media organizer app, Sofa, was updated with new features like shared lists, Lock Screen widgets, support for Shortcuts and more.
  • Game maker Playtika has laid off 610 employees and is shutting down three titles — MergeStories, DiceLife and Ghost Detective.
  • Netflix launched two more games, this time with top game publisher Annapurna Interactive. One is Kentucky Route Zero, developed by Cardboard Computer and published by Annapurna Interactive. The other is Twelve Minutes, developed by 24 Bit Games. The company also said it’s developing a new game based on its historical drama “Vikings: Valhalla.”
  • Spotify is scaling back its live audio plans. As the Clubhouse frenzy wears off, Spotify is ending several of its live shows, including “Deux Me After Dark,” “Doughboys: Snack Pack,” “The Movie Buff” and “A Gay in the Life.”
  • Tinder launched “Relationship Goals,” similar to sister app Hinge, which allows daters to more specifically say what they’re looking for.
  • YouTube will now notify users whose abusive comments are removed for violating the rules, and will then ban the user from posting for 24 hours if they continue to leave abusive comments.
  • Instagram launched a new hub to help users who suspect their accounts have been hacked, or who can otherwise not log in due to more common problems like a lost password or lost access to two-factor authentication.
  • PayPal and MetaMask teamed up. MetaMask said it’s adding an integration in its crypto wallet that will allow users to buy cryptocurrencies using their PayPal account.

Government, Policy and Lawsuits

  • A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers introduced a bill that would ban any social media company, including TikTok in — or under the influence of — China or Russia or other U.S. adversaries.
  • Triller responded to the Sony Music lawsuit over its unpaid licensing fees, confirming it has been unable to issue payments for a “range of reasons,” but did not disclose what they were.
  • An advisor to France’s privacy authority (The Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés, or CNIL) recommended fining Apple €6 million, saying iOS 14 didn’t meet EU privacy requirements. The issue at hand is that Apple didn’t extend the same tracking protections offered to users (like ATT) to its own first-party apps.
  • Twitter’s lead privacy regulator in the EU, the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC), is reviewing Twitter’s plan to force personalized ads on users unless they pay for a Twitter Blue subscription allowing them to opt-out of ads.
  • The U.S. Senate unanimously passed the No TikTok on Government Devices Act, after 13 states imposed similar bans due to security concerns over use of the app.



Image Credits: Trendio

TechCrunch’s Aisha Malik this week took a look at the new video shopping app Trendio, co-founded by a former Amazon Prime Video executive. The app, designed for shopping makeup and beauty products, offers personalized content and easy ways to purchase beauty products through both live and recorded videos from creators. Supported brands include Merit, Philosophy, Ursa Major, Nudestix, Kjaer Weis, Joanna Vargas, Coola and Avene.

The startup was co-founded by Alex Perez-Tenessa, the former vice president of Prime Video U.S. and head of Beauty at CVS, and startup veteran David Olmos. Also on the team are Amazon Live alum Julie Novak and former Glossier head of Make-up Category Management, Leah Grubb. You can read TechCrunch’s full review here.

This Week in Apps: AI Art apps top the charts, Instagram adds text-only ‘Notes,’ alternative app stores in EU by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

This Week in Apps: Apple App Store’s new pricing, Twitter app makers shift to Mastodon, debate over Lensa AI

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

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

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

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Top Stories

App Store significantly expands pricing options

Apple this week loosened its requirements around how developers have to price their apps as legal and regulatory pressure over its tight control of the App Store intensifies. The company announced an expansion of its App Store pricing system to offer developers access to 700 additional price points, bringing the new total number of price points available to 900. It will also allow U.S. developers to set prices for apps, in-app purchases or subscriptions as low as $0.29 or as high as $10,000, and in rounded endings (like $1.00) instead of just $0.99. Similar new policies to reduce restrictions around price points will roll out in global markets, alongside new tools aimed at helping developers better manage pricing outside their local market.

The changes initially became available starting on December 6, 2022, for auto-renewable subscriptions. They’ll become available to paid apps and in-app purchases in spring 2023.

Developers will also be able to now publish prices that end in $.00 instead of $.99 or €X.99 or those that begin with two repeating digits, like ₩110,000.

Plus, new pricing tools are being made available that allow developers to set their subscription prices in their local currency as the basis for automatically generating pricing across the other 174 storefronts and 44 currencies. When the pricing is set automatically, pricing outside a developer’s home market will update as foreign exchange and tax rates change. Developers can also still choose to set prices manually if they prefer. And they’ll be able to make in-app purchases available by storefront.

The changes rolled out after Apple last year settled a class action lawsuit with U.S. app developers, which included a number of concessions, one of which was an agreement to expand the number of price points available from fewer than 100 to more than 500.

Debate over top app Lensa AI

The photo editing app Lensa AI has been going viral over a new feature that offers to create “magic avatars” from a series of uploaded selfie photos. The avatars are created using the open source Stable Diffusion model to transform your photos into those that look like they were created by a digital artist. But there’s controversy surrounding how these images are made.

The feature isn’t quick or cheap — the processing time can take half an hour or even multiple hours to complete. Lensa’s pricing model is also fairly crafty. It’s either $3.99 for 50 unique avatars (five variations of 10 different styles) if you’re a subscriber, or $7.99 if not. If you want more avatars, it costs $11.99 for 100 unique avatars (10 variations of 10 styles) or $15.99 for 200 avatars (20 variations of 10 styles) — which again, can be discounted by 50% if you subscribe. This sort of hybrid pricing was hailed as both clever and opportunistic. It’s also one of those apps that uses dark patterns to try to get users to subscribe immediately upon first launch, with a pop-up splash screen you have to bypass to use the app for free.

But the big backlash isn’t over the cost, it’s about Stable Diffusion, the AI generator powering the service. The AI was originally trained on 2.3 billion captioned images from the internet, some of which are watermarked and copyrighted works, as well as a number of images from sites like Pinterest, Smugmug, Flickr, DeviantArt, ArtStation, Getty and Shutterstock. The issue at hand is that artists didn’t opt in to have their work included in the training data, nor can they now opt out.

Artists, understandably, are concerned. Now their unique styles are being duped by an AI model, meaning their original art will become lost among the now numerous auto-generated copycats. Some see this not only as an existential threat, but also as a form of unregulated stealing. Consumers, meanwhile, were simply enjoying the photos they had paid for without an understanding of how the tech worked, then became subject to backlash or shaming from those who did. More conscientious objectors soon realized they had just thrown away their money on profile pictures they now didn’t feel ethically comfortable in using. These are complex problems that need more discussion. At least when Instagram first launched its filters, they were donated by an artist, Cole Rise. (While he may have later regretted giving up his art to the company, the filters weren’t stolen.)

In addition, the app maker faced another serious issue, when people discovered it was easy to use to make non-consensual nude images in the app. If users uploaded Photoshopped images of topless models with someone else’s face, for example, the AI disables its NSFW filter and will create higher-quality AI avatars of the person whose face was uploaded on the topless photo. The company said it was working to prevent this from occurring and noted attempting to make NSFW content was in violation of its terms of use.

Lensa AI can be tricked into leaving very little to the imagination. Illustration of a woman's bare shoulder...

Image Credits: Lensa AI

Third-party Twitter app developers are now building for Mastodon

There’s a subtle stirring in the Twitter app ecosystem as third-party developers are beginning to rethink their dependence on Twitter’s API.

Now having grown to 3.3 million+ active users, the open source Twitter alternative Mastodon has been gaining interest from third-party Twitter app developers in recent days. The makers of popular Twitter clients, including Aviary and Tweetbot, have set their sights on building similar apps for the growing Mastodon user base.

Image Credits: Tapbots

App developer Tapbots, known for its popular Twitter app Tweetbot for iOS and Mac, is building an app for the Mastodon community. The app is similar to Tweetbot, which is hailed as one of the third-party Twitter clients that keeps improving with age. This year’s release of Tweetbot 7, for example, added features like picture-in-picture, a stats tab and widgets. Now, Tapbots is working on Ivory, a subscription-based app for Mastodon that includes access to key features like your home timeline, @ mentions, favorites, search and trends, and your own user profile. Tweetbots’ developer Paul Haddad said the goal is to first ship a stable 1.0, then start adding more Mastodon-specific features, as well as some features that he had wanted to add to Tweetbot but couldn’t because of technical limitations.

Aviary’s developer, Shihab Mehboob, meanwhile, is building a Mastodon client, called Mammoth. The new app will be a paid download with a yet-to-be-determined price, and will include the latest Mastodon API features when they’re released, as well as 4.0 features like editing posts and edit history.

App makers aren’t the only developers impacted by the chaos at Twitter. As TechCrunch reported, Typefully, a Twitter thread-making app backed by Ev Williams, is now planning to shift focus to LinkedIn. Scheduler Chirr App is also working on a Mastodon integration, and Tweepsmap just launched a post scheduler for Mastodon, too.

Developer News

  • iOS 16.2 RC has arrived ahead of next week’s public release. This is one of the bigger updates, as it will bring the new Freeform app, the just-announced karaoke experience called Apple Music Sing, the 10-minute AirDrop limit that hit China first, new Sleep and Medication widgets, new Home app architecture and, with iPadOS 16.2, the ability to use Stage Manager on iPads with an external display, among other things. It will also bring 5G support to iPhones in India.
  • A day after Apple revamped its App Store pricing, RevenueCat said it would roll out A/B price testing features.
  • Apple is launching Advanced Data Protection, a feature that offers end-to-end encryption on iCloud backups, Notes, Photos and more in the U.S. in 2022, then globally, including China, in 2023. There will be 23 data categories protected, with the exception of iCloud Mail, Contacts and Calendar, because of the need to interoperate with other systems. The FBI is not happy.
  • Apple also announced an iMessage feature that will help users verify they’re messaging only the people they intended, plus Apple ID support for hardware security keys.
  • However, the company said it’s pausing its efforts in launching a CSAM detection tool for iCloud Photos.
  • The developer series “Ask Apple” is returning December 12-16, for another week of one-on-ones and group Q&As around app building.
  • Google’s Pixel update brings the Google One VPN and Clear Calling (call enhancement) feature to Pixel 7/7 Pro and automatic speaker labels in the Recorder app to Pixel 6 and up. All Pixel devices will also gain a new privacy hub for settings.

App Updates

twitter app icon ios

Image Credits: TechCrunch

  • Reddit rolled out its fun end-of-year Recap experience to users, which includes stats about your time on site, the communities you engage with the most and more. This year, seemingly inspired by the popular Spotify Wrapped experience, Reddit is also doling out personalized, sharable cards that include fun stats, like your most upvoted comment or if you’re team cat or dog, among other things.
  • Snap announced at its annual Lens Fest it now has 300,000 developers building AR products and will soon allow creators to build Lenses that feature digital goods that can be purchased with Snap Tokens. Users will be able to unlock power-ups, AR items and extra tools within select Lenses as part of this test. Snap also announced a partnership ith Adidas for a Bitmoji Fashion Drop.

Image Credits: Snap

  • Twitter is going to launch dual pricing for its upcoming Twitter Blue subscription relaunch. App Store users will pay $11 per month due to the “Apple tax,” while those who pay on the web will only be charged $7 per month.
  • Calm’s meditation app is catering to gamers with the addition of new auditory environments from games like “Halo Infinite” and “Sea of Thieves,” which can help some people focus and boost their mood.
  • Instagram’s latest feature will inform creators and brands if their content is ineligible for recommendation and why.

Instagram account status

Image Credits: Instagram

  • Celeb greetings app Cameo debuted Cameo Kids, offering personalized video messages from popular kids’ characters like Santa and Thomas the Tank Engine.

Image Credits: Cameo

WhatsApp Avatars

Image Credits: WhatsApp

  • TikTok released its year-end trends list. Apparently, a chocolate giraffe was very popular, as was a collection of dumb life hacks.
  • Yelp takes on Angie’s List (now, just called Angi) with a new way to hire service professionals in the app.
  • Amazon Luna now allows Prime members to play already purchased Ubisoft games on Luna without having to subscribe.
  • YouTube is rolling out its own take on Twitch emotes.
  • Snapchat-owned social mapping app Zenly is shutting down. RIP.
  • Facebook Dating is now going to test the same age verification tech that Meta is currently testing on Instagram. ID uploads or selfie videos may be required for users suspected of being underage.
  • Robinhood added a waitlist for a new Robinhood Retirement feature, which will offer IRAs with a 1% match on every dollar contributed.
  • Roblox is going to allow users 13 and up to import their contacts and will introduce friend recommendations.

This Week in Twitter Drama

twitter app icon ios

Image Credits: TechCrunch

A lot happened at the chaotic bird app company this week! In case you haven’t been keeping up with the drama, here’s a quick review:

  • Twitter is trying to lure back advertisers with huge incentives, like matching $500,000 to $1 million in spending, up to $1 million cap. Twitter’s ad revenue is said to be 80% below expectations as of the World Cup’s November 20 start.
  • Elon Musk made a big deal about publishing internal emails over Twitter’s Hunter Biden laptop drama. He’s calling these reveals “The Twitter Files.” But the hyped event fell a little flat as they only seemed to show a company having conversations over difficult content moderation decisions, ultimately resulting in the company taking the unusual step to limit the reach of a news story at the time over concerns it came from a hack and leak campaign by a Russian group and would violate Twitter’s anti-doxing policy. Twitter had already admitted, in hindsight (and with the aid of further information and reporting), the decision was wrong.
  • Twitter’s new VP of Trust and Safety Ella Irwin said the company will now focus on using automation to moderate content, not removals.
  • Twitter later released another “Twitter File” that again showed the company simply doing the difficult business of moderation, in this case conflating shadowbanning with de-amplification, as former Twitter exec Kayvon Beykpour pointed out, calling the characterization either “a lazy interpretation or deliberately misleading.”
  • Additional concerns were raised as to whether or not the reporter tweeting the story (who is not a Twitter employee) was given internal systems access, as she included screenshots of Twitter’s internal systems in the posts.
  • Musk also “exited” deputy general counsel Jim Baker, claiming there were concerns over Baker’s “possible role in suppression of information” related to the so-called Twitter Files.
  • Musk said a later Twitter update will show users if they’ve been shadowbanned and why.
  • Twitter allowed Andrew Anglin, a neo-Nazi and founder of the white supremacist website The Daily Stormer, back on the app.
  • Major brands’ ads appeared on the pages of two white nationalists after their accounts were restored by Musk. Ads from Amazon, Snap, Uber and others were among those impacted. Twitter later emailed advertisers to say it will launch controls to prevent ads from showing up next to certain keywords.
  • Twitter is facing multiple lawsuits over layoffs, which could cost it millions in arbitration fees. Some workers on H-1B visas also said they didn’t get adequate immigration support.
  • Twitter’s iOS app has been facing issues with a number of key security features, including the ability to protect tweets or toggle DM settings.
  • Twitter will offer two different prices for Twitter Blue: a $7 per month subscription if you buy from the website, or $11 if you buy via in-app purchase, to offset the “Apple tax.”
  • In the meantime, it started savagely changing legacy verified users‘ checkmarks to inform users who clicked that “this is a legacy verified account. It may or may not be notable.”
  • Twitter shut down various developer-focused projects like Twitter Toolbox and others.
  • Musk is now promising to delete 1.5 billion inactive accounts to free up usernames.

We’re Thinking About…

Image Credits: Facebook/Meta

A Facebook Twitter clone?

The New York Times took a look at the new startups and social apps capitalizing on Twitter’s chaos after the Musk takeover, also dropping the bombshell reveal that Meta may be cranking up its clone machine to dupe Twitter. The company had already been testing a short message-sharing feature in Instagram called Instagram Notes, but was now wondering if that sort of product should be its own standalone app or another feed within Instagram. While there’s a clear opportunity to gain traction amid Twitter’s transition when some users are looking for an out, we hope Meta doesn’t add even more clutter to the already overwhelmingly busy Instagram app and instead chooses to take a real risk here.

Meta hasn’t successfully launched a new app in years, so it’s easy to see why it wouldn’t want to try now. But it would be so, so interesting if it made a text-heavy, simplified version of Facebook — let’s call it FB Classic, (Gen Z loves nostalgia!) — where the News Feed instead becomes a real-time Twitter-like feed instead. No complicated navigation, no private groups, no Reels, no marketplace or game streams, or all the other detritus of today’s Facebook. Have it all run through Facebook’s existing systems for reporting and moderation. Let people privately post to friends or choose to be more public. Imagine if Facebook’s duped Twitter’s core feature set around posts, replies and threads, favorites and the like, but didn’t take on extra features. Perhaps even offer the ability to sync select posts from Facebook (and the forthcoming IG Notes) to the app’s Twitter-like feed for a minimalistic feed to get everyone started…I mean, I know Meta is building the metaverse now, but…a Twitter 2.0 arms race between Meta and Twitter itself would be wild to watch.

A Microsoft Super App?

Microsoft has discussed debuting a super app with web search, news and shopping to better compete with Google, according to The Information. It’s crazy to imagine how expensive and difficult it would be to get users to download another search app at this point in time, when even Google is complaining it’s losing search market share to TikTok and Instagram. Hey, maybe Microsoft should index TikTok and launch a Gen Z marketing campaign on the app, calling its new super app a better search engine for TikTok videos! Ha! After all, it did consider buying TikTok. Okay, okay, I kid. But if a Microsoft Super App is to succeed, it’s definitely going to need more than Bing (still cannot believe they named it that) to lure in the next generation of users.

Government, Policy and Lawsuits

  • Meta failed in its attempt to annul a $267 million fine over WhatsApp’s breaching of GDPR transparency obligations.
  • Indiana’s attorney general sued TikTok for deceiving users over China’s access to user data and exposing kids to mature content.
  • EU regulators ruled that Meta can’t use its Terms of Service to require users to see personalized ads on Facebook and Instagram.
  • Texas banned TikTok on government-issued devices. Other states have done the same, including South Dakota, South Carolina and Maryland.
  • The SEC is investigating whether or not the social events app IRL misled investors. The company raised $170 million from SoftBank at a $1.17 billion valuation last year, but some employees told The Information they didn’t believe the app had the 20 million users it claimed to.
  • Uber Eats settled a lawsuit with the City of Chicago for listing local restaurants in the Uber Eats and Postmates apps without the restaurants’ consent and charging excess commission fees. Uber will pay $10 million, $5 million of which will go toward paying damages to restaurants.

2023 Predictions released its annual report predicting the next big mobile trends for 2023 (below). The full report is here. Of particular interest is its bet that mobile ad spend will reach $362 billion next year.

Image Credits:

Funding and M&A

💰 Norwegian grocery delivery app Oda raised 1.5 billion Norwegian crowns in equity (about $151 million) in funding at a lowered valuation of $353 million. The service operates in its home market as well as Finland and Germany.

💰 Singapore super app Osome raised $25 million in Series B funding. The app helps business owners with administrative tasks like payroll, accounting and tax reporting and serves over 11,000 businesses.

🤝 Saudi Arabia-based food delivery service Jahez is acquiring The Chefz in a cash and stock deal for $173 million.


Lensa AI

Well, you probably still want to see it! The avatars Lensa AI makes with Stable Diffusion are impressive, despite the controversy. It’s a great demo of a potential use case for AI, even if ethically fraught. Demand for AI avatars is clearly strong. Lensa’s popularity is having a knock-on effect across the App Store’s Top Charts, as now apps like AI Art, Image Generator; Meitu, Photo Editor & AI Art; Wonder, AI Art Generator; Dawn, AI Avatars; and Prequel, Aesthetic AI Editor have all entered the top 30. The apps are benefitting because they have “AI” in their names — and, in some cases, have bought App Store Search ads.


  • Proton: The E2EE cloud storage service launched iOS and Android apps offering 1GB of storage for free, 200GB for $4 per month, or 500GB for $10 per month.
  • Copilot: The popular budgeting and finance app launched a Mac counterpart.

This Week in Apps: Apple App Store’s new pricing, Twitter app makers shift to Mastodon, debate over Lensa AI by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch