Apple

Auto Added by WPeMatico

iOS 15 adds all the little features that were missing

The release of iOS 15 should be a major event for mobile operating systems. And yet, this year, there’s no breakthrough feature or overarching theme that makes this release stand out. Apple has focused on quality-of-life updates as well as new features for its own apps.

The result is a solid update that is not going to be controversial. Some people are going to take advantage of the new Focus feature. They’ll spend a lot of time customizing their phone to make it as personal as possible. Other people are just going to miss or dismiss the new features.

This year’s update is also a bit different because you don’t have to update to iOS 15. If you’re fine with iOS 14, Apple won’t force you to make the jump to iOS 15. You’ll still receive security patches. Some people will simply dismiss iOS 15 altogether.

It seems like a small change but it actually says a lot about the current state of iOS. Apple considers iOS as a mature platform. Just like you don’t have to update your Mac to the latest version of macOS if you don’t want to, you can now update at your own pace.

iOS should also be considered as a mature platform for app developers. iOS 15 adoption will be slower than usual as people won’t necessarily update to iOS 15 right away. Apps should potentially work on older iOS versions for longer.

Of course, users will ‘update’ to a new version of iOS when they buy a new iPhone and replace their old iPhone. But Apple has And people who pre-ordered the iPhone 13 will get iOS 15.

Image Credits: Apple

Focusing on you instead of your phone

One of the biggest change in iOS 15 is the ability to change your Focus from Control Center. It’s a surprisingly powerful feature with a lot of options and tweaks. I would say it doesn’t feel like an Apple feature.

But it’s definitely one of the most interesting features of iOS 15. Chances are you spend a lot of time with your phone and your device requires a lot of attention from you. With this new feature, it reverses the balance and puts you back in charge.

‘Do Not Disturb’ users are already quite familiar with the idea that you can silence notifications when you don’t want them. If you want to keep using ‘moon mode’ with iOS 15, you don’t have to change anything.

But you can now create additional Focuses. By default, Apple suggests a few Focuses — Work, Sleep, Driving, Fitness, Gaming, Mindfulness, Personal and Reading. Each Focus is customizable to your needs and you can create new Focuses from scratch.

When you turn on a specific Focus, it basically blocks notifications by default. You can then add people and apps so that notifications from those people and apps still go through. App developers can also mark a notification as time sensitive so that it always goes through. I hope they won’t abuse that feature.

There are three more settings that you can activate. First, you can optionally share that your notifications are currently silenced in Messages and compatible third-party apps. Second, you can hide home screen pages altogether. Third, you can hide notifications from the lock screen and hide badges from the home screen.

Focus gets particularly interesting when you realize that you can couple specific Focuses with automation features. For instance, you can automatically turn on ‘Sleep’ at night or you can automatically turn on ‘Work’ when you arrive at work.

Power users will also have a lot of fun setting up a Focus and pairing it with a Shortcut. For instance, you could use Shortcuts to open the Clock app when you turn on Sleep mode. You get it, this new feature has a lot of depth and beta users have just started scratching the surface.

Image Credits: Apple

Update all apps

With iOS 15, Apple has improved nearly all the default apps. Some additions are definitely nice improvements. Others have been a bit more controversial.

Let’s start with the controversial one, Safari’s design has been updated. But what you saw at WWDC in June doesn’t look at all like what’s shipping today. Essentially, Apple has listened to feedback and changed the user interface of its web browser during the summer.

By default, the address bar is now at the bottom of the screen, right above the row of buttons that let you open bookmarks, share the current page or go to the previous page. I think it works better. But if you really don’t want the address bar at the bottom, you can move it back to the top of the screen.

Other than that, Safari changes are all good improvements. For instance, the browser now supports traditional web extensions. It’s going to be interesting to see if popular Google Chrome extensions eventually come to Safari. Another nice new feature is the ability to create tab groups and find your tab groups from your other devices.

FaceTime has become a versatile video-conferencing service. You can now create links, share them with friends and add them to calendar invites. For the first time, people who don’t own an Apple device will be able to join FaceTime calls from a web browser. There’s also a new Zoom view… I mean, grid view.

Unfortunately, the big new FaceTime feature is not ready for prime time just yet. SharePlay, the feature that lets you sync audio and video playback with your friends, is going to be released later this Fall.

The Weather app has also been redesigned. It is now packed with a lot more information, such as precipitation maps, next-hour precipitation notifications and a new UV index. It has become a solid alternative to third-party weather apps. I still use Snowflake but differences are smaller and smaller.

Messages is now better integrated with other Apple apps. Whenever someone sends you an article, a photo album, a podcast or a song, you’ll see those recommendations in Apple’s other apps — Apple News, Photos, Apple Podcasts, Apple Music, etc. Once again, this is a nice addition in my testings but it’s not going to change the way you use your phone.

Apple Maps is getting better and better, especially if you live in San Francisco. If you haven’t used it in a few years, I encourage you to try it again. It’s now a solid alternative to Google Maps.

Some cities, such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and London, are receiving new detailed maps with 3D buildings, bus lanes, sidewalks and more. It feels like navigating a video game given how detailed it is. The app has also been redesigned with new place cards, a new driving user interface and settings in the app.

Photos is also receiving a bunch of improvements. Every year, the company is refining Memories. I’m not sure a ton of people are using this feature, but it’s better than before. There are now more information if you swipe on a photo as well, such as the shutter speed and lens that were used.

But the biggest change to your photo library is that you can now search for text in your photo. iOS is scanning your photos to find text and save it for Spotlight searches.

Similarly, you can now point your camera at text and select text from there. It is incredibly convenient if you’re looking for the restaurant address on the menu and want to share it with a friend or if you’re traveling and you want to translate some text.

Image Credits: Apple

Tips and tricks

There are a ton of small changes that make iOS 15 better than iOS 14. Let me list some of them:

  • If you have a compatible home key, hotel key, office key or ID card, you can now add all of those to the Wallet app.
  • You can share some health data with someone else. It can be useful if you’re living far away from your loved ones or if you want to update your healthcare team.
  • If you pay for iCloud, you’re now an iCloud+ users. In addition to storage, you get additional features. iCloud Private Relay, which is available as a beta feature, lets you browse the web with increased privacy. Hide My Email lets you create randomly generated email addresses to create new accounts around the web.
  • Similarly, if your family is using iCloud for their email addresses, you can now set up a personal domain name and set it up in iCloud.
  • iOS uses on-device speech recognition, which means that you can dictate text much faster.
  • But that’s not all, iOS processes some Siri requests on your device directly, which means that you can start a timer, set an alarm or change the music instantly. It has changed the way I use Siri.
  • You can add an account recovery contact in case you get locked out of your iCloud account. This is important to convince more people to use two-factor authentication.
  • Talking about two-factor authentication, Apple’s built-in password manager called ‘Passwords’ can now save 2FA details and auto-fill 2FA fields. It works pretty much like 2FA in 1Password.
  • You can set up a legacy person for your Apple ID. I encourage you to look at that feature carefully. I’ve talked with several persons who couldn’t get their loved one’s photos after they passed away because Apple couldn’t just hand out the photos.
  • Apple has added tags to Reminders and Notes. You can also @-mention people in Notes.

As you can see, the list of changes in iOS 15 is quite long. But it’s up to you to decide whether you want to update to iOS 15. When Apple added cut, copy and paste with iPhone OS 3, it was an obvious decision. I personally like the new features and it was worth updating. And I hope this review can help you decide whether to update or not.

The GoPro-ification of the iPhone

Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review!

Last week, we talked about some sunglasses from a company that many people do not like very much. This week, we’re talking about Apple and the company 1,600 times smaller than it that’s facing similar product problems.

Thanks for joining in — follow my tweets @lucasmtny for more.


(Photo by Brooks Kraft/Apple Inc.)

the big thing

When you get deep enough into the tech industry, it’s harder to look at things with a consumer’s set of eyes. I’ve felt that way more and more after six years watching Apple events as a TechCrunch reporter, but sometimes memes from random Twitter accounts help me find the consumer truth I’m looking for.

As that dumb little tweet indicates, Apple is charging toward a future where it’s becoming a little harder to distinguish new from old. The off-year “S” period of old is no more for the iPhone, which has seen tweaks and new size variations since 2017’s radical iPhone X redesign. Apple is stretching the periods between major upgrades for its entire product line and it’s also taking longer to roll out those changes.

Apple debuted the current bezel-lite iPad Pro design back in late 2018 and it’s taken three years for the design to work its way down to the iPad mini while the entry-level iPad is still lying in wait. The shift from M1 Macs will likely take years as the company has already detailed. Most of Apple’s substantial updates rely on upgrades to the chipsets that they build, something that increasingly makes them look and feel like a consumer chipset company.

This isn’t a new trend, or even a new take, it’s been written lots of times, but it’s particularly interesting as the company bulks up the number of employees dedicated to future efforts like augmented reality, which will one day soon likely replace the iPhone.

It’s an evolution that’s pushing them into a similar design territory as action camera darling GoPro, which has struggled again and again with getting their core loyalists to upgrade their hardware frequently. These are on laughably different scales, with Apple now worth some $2.41 trillion and GoPro still fighting for a $1.5 billion market cap. The situations are obviously different, and yet they are both facing similar end-of-life innovation questions for categories that they both have mastered.

This week GoPro debuted its HERO10 Black camera, which brings higher frame rates and a better performing processor as it looks to push more of its user audience to subscription services. Sound familiar? This week, Apple debuted its new flagship, the iPhone 13 Pro, with a faster processor and better frame rates (for the display not the camera here, though). They also spent a healthy amount of time pushing users to embrace new services ecosystems.

Apple’s devices are getting so good that they’re starting to reach a critical feature plateau. The company has still managed to churn out device after device and expand their audience to billions while greatly expanding their average revenue per user. Things are clearly going pretty well for the most valuable company on earth, but while the stock has nearly quadrupled since the iPhone X launch, the consumer iPhone experience feels pretty consistent. That’s clearly not a bad thing, but it is — for lack of a better term — boring.

The clear difference, among 2.4 trillion others, is that GoPro doesn’t seem to have a clear escape route from its action camera vertical.

But Apple has been pushing thousands of employees toward an escape route in augmented reality, even if the technology is clearly not ready for consumers and they’re forced to lead with what has been rumored to be a several-thousand-dollar AR/VR headset with plenty of limitations. One of the questions I’m most interested in is what the iPhone device category looks likes once its unwieldy successor has reared its head. Most likely is that the AR-centric devices will be shipped as wildly expensive iPhone accessories and a way to piggy back off the accessibility of the mobile category while providing access to new — and more exciting — experiences. In short, AR is the future of the iPhone until AR doesn’t need the iPhone anymore. 


Image Credits: Tesla

other things

Here are the TechCrunch news stories that especially caught my eye this week:

Everything Apple announced this week
Was it the most exciting event Apple has ever had? Nah. Are you still going to click that link to read about their new stuff? Yah.

GoPro launches the HERO10 Black
I have a very soft spot in my heart for GoPro, which has taken a niche corner of hardware and made a device and ecosystem that’s really quite good. As I mentioned above, the company has some issues making significant updates every year, but they made a fairly sizable upgrade this year with the second-generation of their customer processor and some performance bumps across the board.

Tesla will open FSD beta to drivers with good driving record
Elon Musk is pressing ahead with expanding its “Full Self-Driving” software to more Tesla drivers, saying that users who paid for the FSD system can apply to use the beta and will be analyzed by the company’s insurance calculator bot. After 7 days of good driving behavior, Musk says users will be approved.

OpenSea exec resigns after ‘insider trading’ scandal
NFTs are a curious business; there’s an intense amount of money pulsating through these markets — and little oversight. This week OpenSea, the so-called “eBay of NFTs,” detailed that its own VP of Product had been trading on insider information. He was later pushed to resign.

Apple and Google bow to the Kremlin
Apple and Google are trying to keep happy the governments of most every market in which they operate. That leads to some uncomfortable situations in markets like Russia, where both tech giants were forced by the Kremlin to remove a political app from the country’s major opposition party.


Gitlab logo

Image Credits: Gitlab

extra things

Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch subscription service this week:

What could stop the startup boom?
“…We’ve seen record results from citiescountries and regions. There’s so much money sloshing around the venture capital and startup worlds that it’s hard to recall what they were like in leaner times. We’ve been in a bull market for tech upstarts for so long that it feels like the only possible state of affairs. It’s not…”

The value of software revenue may have finally stopped rising
“…I’ve held back from covering the value of software (SaaS, largely) revenues for a few months after spending a bit too much time on it in preceding quarters — when VCs begin to point out that you could just swap out numbers quarter to quarter and write the same post, it’s time for a break. But the value of software revenues posted a simply incredible run, and I can’t say “no” to a chart…

Inside GitLab’s IPO filing
“…The company’s IPO has therefore been long expected. In its last primary transaction, GitLab raised $286 million at a post-money valuation of $2.75 billion, per PitchbBook data. The same information source also notes that GitLab executed a secondary transaction earlier this year worth $195 million, which gave the company a $6 billion valuation…”


Thanks for reading, and again, if you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny

Lucas Matney

Apple and Google bow to pressure in Russia to remove Kremlin critic’s tactical voting app

Apple and Google have removed a tactical voting app created by the organization of jailed Kremlin critic, Alexei Navalny, from their respective mobile app stores in Russia.

Earlier this week Reuters reported that the Russian state had been amping up the pressure on foreign tech giants ahead of federal elections — appropriating the language of “election interference” to push US companies to censor the high profile political opponent to president Putin.

On Twitter today, a key Navalny ally, Ivan Zhdanov, tweeted that his organization is considering suing Apple and Google over removal of the apps — dubbing the act of censorship a “huge mistake”.

Zhdanov has also published what he says is Apple’s response to Team Navalny — in which the tech giant cites the Kremlin’s classification of a number of pro-Navalny organizations as “extremist” groups to justify its removal of the software.

(Image credit: Screengrab of detail from Apple’s notification to the developer, via Zhdanov’s tweet)

Apple and Google routinely say they comply with ‘all local laws’ in the countries where they operate.

However in Russia that stance means they have become complicit in acts of political censorship.

“We note that the Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation and the Prosecutor’s Office of the City of Moscow have also determined that the app violates the legislation of the Russian Federation by enabling interference in elections,” Apple writes in the notification of takedown it sent to the developer of the tactical voting app.

“While your app has been removed from the Russia App Store, it is still available in the App Stores for the other territories you selected in App Store Connect,” Apple adds.

Apple and Google have been contacted for comment on the removal of Navalny’s app.

Формальное основание удаления приложений: признание ФБК экстремистской организацией.
То, как ФБК признавали экстремистской организацией – было не судом, а издевательством над здравым смыслом. @google @Apple совершают огромную ошибку. pic.twitter.com/3AG4tHXdZp

— Ivan Zhdanov (@ioannZH) September 17, 2021

 

Also via Twitter, Zhdanov urged supporters to focus on the tactical voting mission — tweeting a link to a video hosted on Google-owned YouTube which contains recommendations to Russians on how to cast an anti-Putin vote in the parliamentary elections taking place today until Sunday.

Navalny’s supporters are hoping to mobilize voters across Russia to cast tactical ballots in a bid to unseat Putin by voting for whatever candidate has the best chance of defeating the ruling United Russia party.

Their tactical voting strategy has faced some criticism — given that many of the suggested alternatives are, at best, only very weakly opposed to Putin’s regime.

However Navalny’s supporters would surely point out they are having to operate within a flawed system.

After Apple and Google initially refused to remove Navalny’s ‘Smart Voting’ app, last month, the Russian state has been attempting to block access to his organization’s website.

It has even reportedly targeted Google docs — which supporters of Navalny have also been using to organize tactical voting efforts.

Screengrab of the Smart Voting app on the UK iOS app store (Image credits: Natasha Lomas/TechCrunch)

Earlier this month Reuters reported that Russia’s communications regulator, Roskomnadzor, had threatened Apple and Google with fines if they did not remove the Smart Voting app — warning that failure to comply could be interpreted as election meddling.

Russian press has also reported that Apple and Google were summoned to a meeting at the Federation Council on the eve of the election — as Putin’s regime sought to force them to do his anti-democratic bidding.

According to a report by Kommersant, the tech giants were warned the Russian Federation was preparing to tighten regulations on their businesses — and told to “come to their senses”, facing another warning that they were at a “red line”.

The last ditch effort to force the platforms to remove Navalny’s app did then pay off.

In recent weeks, Roskomnadzor has also been targeting VPN apps in the country for removal — making it hard for Russians to circumvent the local ban on Navalny’s app by accessing the software through the stores of other countries.

Local search giant, Yandex, has also reportedly been ordered not to display search results for the Smart Voting app.

Earlier this year, Putin’s regime also targeted Twitter — throttling the service for failing to remove content it wanted banned, although Roskomnadzor claimed the action was related to non-political content such as minors committing suicide, child sexual exploitation and drug use.

Apple adds Fitness+ updates, including a group workout feature

After unveiling the Apple Watch Series 7, Apple shared updates that are coming to Fitness+, its fitness service designed around Apple Watch.

Currently, the $9.99/month service is available in six countries, like the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. But at its press event today, Apple announced that the service will become available in many more countries this fall, including Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, France, Italy, Russia and more. Content will be subtitled in six languages.

Here are the countries that are getting Apple Fitness+. pic.twitter.com/Z0RNlcSIjA

— MacRumorsLive (@macrumorslive) September 14, 2021

Apple also announced that it will add new pilates and guided meditation content for Fitness+ subscribers starting in the fall. Every day, Fitness+ will add guided meditations that focus on gratitude, mindfulness, and calming. These experiences will be available in both video and audio form, and could pose competition to apps like Headspace and Calm.

Also in the fall, Fitness+ will roll out Group Workouts, powered by Share Play. This enables subscribers to exercise alongside their friends via FaceTime or a group message thread, no matter where they are in the world. Up to 32 people can exercise together at once.

Read more about Apple's Fall 2021 Event on TechCrunch

Watch Apple unveil the new iPhone live right here

Apple is set to announce new iPhone models today. The company is holding a (virtual) keynote at 10 AM PT (1 PM in New York, 6 PM in London, 7 PM in Paris). And you’ll be able to watch the event right here as the company is streaming it live.

Rumor has it that there will be a new generation of iPhone models. Reports suggest that the company is going to call it the iPhone 13 and that there will be four different models just like last year. Today, you can expect to learn more about the iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Mini, iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max.

When it comes to new features, it’s safe to say that there will be big camera upgrades. This year, the company seems to be focused on video improvements in particular. The iPhone 13 should also come with a better display and a faster chip.

But that’s not all. Apple is likely to use this opportunity to announce a new Apple Watch model. There will be bigger design changes with the Apple Watch Series 7 with sharp edges.

There could be more product announcements as Apple has been working on the AirPods 3. They will replace or complement the entry-level AirPods 2 in the audio lineup. The AirPods Pro and AirPods Max will remain unchanged for now.

Finally, there’s a small chance that we get to hear more about new Macs with custom designed Apple chips as well as new iPad models…

You can watch the live stream directly on this page, as Apple is streaming its conference on YouTube.

If you have an Apple TV, you can open the TV app and look for the ‘Apple Special Event’ section. It lets you stream today’s event and rewatch old ones.

And if you don’t have an Apple TV and don’t want to use YouTube, the company also lets you live stream the event from the Apple Events section on its website. This video feed now works in all major browsers — Safari, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge and Google Chrome.

We’ll be covering the event and you can follow our liveblog for live commentary.

Read more about Apple's Fall 2021 Event on TechCrunch

Apple patches a NSO zero-day flaw affecting all devices

Apple has released security updates for a newly discovered zero-day vulnerability that affects every iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple Watch. Citizen Lab, which discovered the vulnerability and was credited with the find, urges users to immediately update their devices.

The technology giant said iOS 14.8 for iPhones and iPads, as well as new updates for Apple Watch and macOS, will fix at least one vulnerability that it said “may have been actively exploited.”

Citizen Lab said it has now discovered new artifacts of the ForcedEntry vulnerability, details it first revealed in August as part of an investigation into the use of a zero-day vulnerability that was used to silently hack into iPhones belonging to at least one Bahraini activist.

Last month, Citizen Lab said the zero day flaw — named as such since it gives companies zero days to roll out a fix — took advantage of a flaw in Apple’s iMessage, which was exploited to push the Pegasus spyware, developed by Israeli firm NSO Group, to the activist’s phone.

Pegasus gives its government customers near-complete access to a target’s device, including their personal data, photos, messages and location.

The breach was significant because the flaws exploited the latest iPhone software at the time, both iOS 14.4 and later iOS 14.6, which Apple released in May. But also the vulnerabilities broke through new iPhone defenses that Apple had baked into iOS 14, dubbed BlastDoor, which were supposed to prevent silent attacks by filtering potentially malicious code. Citizen Lab calls this particular exploit ForcedEntry for its ability to skirt Apple’s BlastDoor protections.

In its latest findings, Citizen Lab said it found evidence of the ForcedEntry exploit on the iPhone of a Saudi activist, running at the time the latest version of iOS. The researchers said the exploit takes advantage of a weakness in how Apple devices render images on the display.

Citizen Lab now says that the same ForcedEntry exploit works on all Apple devices running, until today, the latest software.

Citizen Lab said it reported its findings to Apple on September 7. Apple pushed out the updates for the vulnerability, known officially as CVE-2021-30860. Citizen Lab said it attributes the ForcedEntry exploit to NSO Group with high confidence, citing evidence it has seen that it has not previously published.

John Scott-Railton, a researcher at Citizen Lab, told TechCrunch that messaging apps, like iMessage, are increasingly a target of nation states hacking operations and this latest find underlines the challenges in securing them.

When reached, Apple declined to comment. NSO Group did not immediately comment.

Rezilion raises $30M help security operations teams with tools to automate their busywork

Security operations teams face a daunting task these days, fending off malicious hackers and their increasingly sophisticated approaches to cracking into networks. That also represents a gap in the market: building tools to help those security teams do their jobs. Today, am Israeli startup called Rezilion that is doing just that — building automation tools for DevSecOps, the area of IT that addresses the needs of security teams and the technical work that they need to do in their jobs — is announcing $30 million in funding.

Guggenheim Investments is leading the round with JPV and Kindred Capital also contributing. Rezilion said that unnamed executives from Google, Microsoft, CrowdStrike, IBM, Cisco, PayPal, JP Morgan Chase, Nasdaq, eBay, Symantec, RedHat, RSA and Tenable are also in the round. Previously, the company had raised $8 million.

Rezilion’s funding is coming on the back of strong initial growth for the startup in its first two years of operations.

Its customer base is made up of some of the world’s biggest companies, including two of the “Fortune 10” (the top 10 of the Fortune 500). CEO Liran Tancman, who co-founded Rezilion with CTO Shlomi Boutnaru, said that one of those two is one of the world’s biggest software companies, and the other is a major connected device vendor, but he declined to say which. (For the record, the top 10 includes Amazon, Apple and Alphabet/Google.)

Tancman and Boutnaru had previously co-founded another security startup, CyActive, which was acquired by PayPal in 2015; the pair worked there together until leaving to start Rezilion.

There are a lot of tools out in the market now to help automate different aspects of developer and security operations. Rezilion focuses on a specific part of DevSecOps: large businesses have over the years put in place a lot of processes that they need to follow to try to triage and make the most thorough efforts possible to detect security threats. Today, that might involve inspecting every single suspicious piece of activity to determine what the implications might be.

The problem is that with the volume of information coming in, taking the time to inspect and understand each piece of suspicious activity can put enormous strain on an organization: it’s time-consuming, and as it turns out, not the best use of that time because of the signal to noise ratio involved. Typically, each vulnerability can take 6-9 hours to properly investigate, Tancman said. “But usually about 70-80% of them are not exploitable.” That represents a very inefficient use of the security team’s time and energy.

“Eight of out ten patches tend to be a waste of time,” Tancman said of the approach that is typically made today. He believes that as its AI continues to grow and its knowledge and solution becomes more sophisticated, “it might soon be 9 out of 10.”

Rezilion has built a taxonony and an AI-based system that essentially does that inspection work as a human would do: it spots any new, or suspicious, code, figures out what it is trying to do, and runs it against a company’s existing code and systems to see how and if it might actually be a threat to it or create further problems down the line. If it’s all good it essentially whitelists the code. If not it flags it to the team.

The stickiness of the product has come out of how Tancman and Boutnaru understand large enterprises, especially those heavy with technology stacks, operate these days in what has become a very challenging environment for cybersecurity teams.

“They are using us to accelerate their delivery processes while staying safe,” Tancman said. “They have strict compliance departments and have to adhere to certain standards,” in terms of the protocols they take around security work, he added. “They want to leverage DevOps to release that.” He said Rezilion has generally won over customers in large part for simply understanding that culture and process and helping them work better within that. “Companies become users of our product because we showed them that, at a fraction of the effort, they can be more secure.” This has special resonance in the world of tech, although financial services and others that essentially leverage technology as a significant foundation for how they operate, are also among the startup’s user base.

Down the line, Rezilion plans to add in remediation and mitigation into the mix to further extend what it can do with its automation tools, which is part of where the funding will be going, too, Boutnaru said. But he doesn’t believe it will ever replace the human in the equation.

“It will just focus them on the places where you need more human thinking,” he said. “We’re just removing the need for tedious work.”

In that grand tradition of enterprise automation, then, it will be interesting to watch which other automation-centric platforms might make a move into security alongside the other automation they are building. For now, Rezilion is forging out an interesting enough area for itself to get investors interested.

“Rezilion’s product suite is a game changer for security teams,” said Rusty Parks, senior MD of Guggenheim Investments, in a statement. “It creates a win-win, allowing companies to speed innovative products and features to market while enhancing their security posture. We believe Rezilion has created a truly compelling value proposition for security teams, one that greatly increases return on time while thoroughly protecting one’s core infrastructure.”

Billogram, provider of a payments platform specifically for recurring billing, raises $45M

Payments made a huge shift to digital platforms during the Covid-19 pandemic — purchasing moved online for many consumers and businesses; and a large proportion of those continuing to buy and sell in-person went cash-free. Today a startup that has been focusing on one specific aspect of payments — recurring billing — is announcing a round of funding to capitalize on that growth with expansion of its own. Billogram, which has built a platform for third parties to build and handle any kind of recurring payments (not one-off purchases), has closed a round of $45 million.

The funding is coming from a single investor, Partech, and will be used to help the Stockholm-based startup expand from its current base in Sweden to six more markets, Jonas Suijkerbuijk, Billogram’s CEO and founder, said in an interview, to cover more of Germany (where it’s already active now), Norway, Finland, Ireland, France, Spain, and Italy.

The company got its start working with SMBs in 2011 but pivoted some years later to working with larger enterprises, which make up the majority of its business today. Suijkerbuijk said that in 2020, signed deals went up by 300%, and the first half of 2021 grew 50% more on top of that. Its users include utilities like Skanska Energi and broadband company Ownit, and others like remote healthcare company Kry, businesses that take invoice and take monthly payments from their customers. (There are others that the company is under NDA with that it cannot disclose.)

While there has been a lot of attention around how companies like Apple and Google are handling subscriptions and payments in apps, what Billogram focuses on is a different beast, and much more complex: it’s more integrated into the business providing services, and it may involve different services, and the fees can vary over every billing period. It’s for this reason that, in fact, even big companies in the realm of digital payments, like Stripe, which might even already have products that can help manage subscriptions on their platforms, partner with companies like Billogram to build the experiences to manage their more involved kinds of payment services.

I should point out here that Suijkerbuijk told me that Stripe recently became a partner of Billograms, which is very interesting… but he also added that a number of the big payments companies have talked to Billogram. He also confirmed that currently Stripe is not an investor in the company. “We have a very good relationship,” he said.

It’s not surprising to see Stripe and others wanting to more in the area of more complex, recurring billing services. Researchers estimate that the market size (revenues and services) for subscription and recurring billing will be close to $6 billion this year, with that number ballooning to well over $10 billion by 2025. And indeed, the effort to make a payment or any kind of transaction will continue to be a point of friction in the world of commerce, so any kinds of systems that bring technology to bear to make that easier and something that consumers or businesses will do without thinking about it, will be valuable, and will likely grow in dominance. (It’s why the more basic subscription services, such as Prime membership or a Netflix subscription, or a cloud storage account, are such winners.)

Within that very big pie, Suijkerbuijk noted that rather than the Apples and Googles of the world, the kinds of businesses that Billogram currently competes against are those that are addressing the same thornier end of the payments spectrum that Billogram is. These include a wide swathe of incumbent companies that do a lot of their business in areas like debt collection, and other specialists like Scaleworks-backed Chargify — which itself got a big investment injection earlier this year from Battery Ventures, which put $150 million into both it and another billing provider, SaaSOptics, in April.

The former group of competitors are not currently a threat to Billogram, he added.

“Debt collecting agencies are big on invoicing, but no one — not their customers, nor their customers’ customers — loves them, so they are great competitors to have,” Suijkerbuijk joked.

This also means that Billogram is not likely to move into debt collection itself as it continues to expand. Instead, he said, the focus will be on building out more tools to make the invoicing and payments experience better and less painful to customers. That will likely include more moves into customer service and generally improving the overall billing experience — something we have seen become a bigger area also during the pandemic, as companies realized that they needed to address non-payments in a different way from how their used to, given world events and the impact they were having on individuals.

“We are excited to partner with Jonas and the team at Billogram.” says Omri Benayoun, General Partner at Partech, in a statement. “Having spotted a gap in the market, they have quietly built the most advanced platform for large B2C enterprises looking to integrate billing, payment, and collection in one single solution. In our discussion with leading utilities, telecom, e-health, and all other clients across Europe, we realized how valuable Billogram was for them in order to engage with their end-users through a top-notch billing and payment experience. The outstanding commercial traction demonstrated by Billogram has further cemented our conviction, and we can’t wait to support the team in bringing their solution to many more customers in Europe and beyond!”

Apple prohibited from blocking outside payment in Epic ruling

A judge this morning issued a ruling in California’s Epic v. Apple case, siding with the Fortnite maker on the topic of third-party payments. Effectively, the judge has ruled that Apple cannot prohibit developers from adding links for alternative payments beyond Apple’s App Store-based monetization.

The mobile giant’s control over fees on iOS has long been a sticking point for Epic and the veritable cash cow of its in-gaming micro-transactions.

The ruling notes, in part,

Apple Inc. and its officers, agents, servants, employees, and any person in active concert or participation with them (“Apple”), are hereby permanently restrained and enjoined from prohibiting developers from (i) including in their apps and their metadata buttons, external links, or other calls to action that direct customers to purchasing mechanisms, in addition to In-App Purchasing and (ii) communicating with customers through points of contact obtained voluntarily from customers through account registration within the app.

We’ve reached out to Apple and Epic for comment on this morning’s ruling.

Developing…

Apple Music is using Shazam to solve the streaming industry’s problem with DJ mixes

Apple Music announced today that it’s created a process to properly identify and compensate all of the individual creators involved in making a DJ mix. Using technology from the audio-recognition app Shazam, which Apple acquired in 2018 for $400 million, Apple Music is working with major and independent labels to devise a fair way to divide streaming royalties among DJs, labels, and artists who appear in the mixes. This is intended to help DJ mixes retain long-term monetary value for all creators involved, making sure that musicians get paid for their work even when other artists iterate on it. And, as one of Apple’s first major integrations of Shazam’s technology, it appears that the company saw value in

Historically, it’s been difficult for DJs to stream mixes online, since live streaming platforms like YouTube or Twitch might flag the use of other artists’ songs as copyright infringement. Artists are entitled to royalties when their song is played by a DJ during a live set, but dance music further complicates this, since small samples from various songs can be edited and mixed together into something unrecognizable.

Apple Music already hosts thousands of mixes, including sets from Tomorrowland’s digital festivals from 2020 and 2021, but only now is it formally announcing the tech that enables it to do this, even though Billboard noted it in June. As part of this announcement, Studio K7!’s DJ Kicks archive of mixes will begin to roll out on the service, giving fans access to mixes that haven’t been on the market in over 15 years.

“Apple Music is the first platform that offers continuous mixes where there’s a fair fee involved for the artists whose tracks are included in the mixes and for the artist making those mixes. It’s a step in the right direction where everyone gets treated fairly,” DJ Charlotte de Witte said in a statement on behalf of Apple. “I’m beyond excited to have the chance to provide online mixes again.”

Image Credits: Apple Music

For dance music fans, the ability to stream DJ mixes is groundbreaking, and it can help Apple Music compete with Spotify, which leads the industry in paid subscribers as it surpasses Apple’s hold on podcasting. Even as Apple Music has introduced lossless audio, spatial audio, and classical music acquisitions, the company hasn’t yet outpaced Spotify, though the addition of DJ mixes adds yet another unique music feature.

Still, Apple Music’s dive into the DJ royalties conundrum doesn’t necessarily address the broader crises at play among live musicians and DJs surviving through a pandemic.

Though platforms like Mixcloud allow DJs to stream sets and monetize using pre-licensed music, Apple Music’s DJ mixes will not include user-generated content. MIDiA Research, in partnership with Audible Magic, found that user-generated content (UGC) — online content that uses music, whether it’s a lipsync TikTok or a Soundcloud DJ mix — could be a music industry goldmine worth over $6 billion in the next two years. But Apple is not yet investing in UGC, as individuals cannot yet upload their personal mixes to stream on the platform like they might on Soundcloud. According to a Billboard report from June, Apple Music will only host mixes after the streamer has identified 70% of the combined tracks.

Apple Music didn’t respond to questions about how exactly royalties will be divided, but this is only a small step in reimagining how musicians will make a living in a digital landscape.

While these innovations help get artists compensated, streaming royalties only account for a small percentage of how musicians make money — Apple pays musicians one cent per stream, while competitors like Spotify pay only fractions of cents. This led the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers (UMAW) to launch a campaign in March called Justice at Spotify, which demands a one-cent-per-stream payout that matches Apple’s. But live events remain a musician’s bread and butter, especially given platforms’ paltry streaming payouts — of course, the pandemic hasn’t been conducive to touring. To add insult to injury, the Association for Electronic Music estimated in 2016 that dance music producers missed out on $120 million in royalties from their work being used without attribution in live performances.

Epic Games asks Apple to reinstate Fortnite in South Korea after new law

Epic Games has asked Apple to rejoin its Fortnite developer account in South Korea as the U.S. game maker plans to re-release Fortnite on iOS in South Korea, offering both Epic and Apple payments side-by-side, said in a tweet on September 10.

Epic has asked Apple to restore our Fortnite developer account. Epic intends to re-release Fortnite on iOS in Korea offering both Epic payment and Apple payment side-by-side in compliance with the new Korean law.

— Fortnite (@FortniteGame) September 9, 2021

This request comes after South Korea passed a bill, the updated Telecommunications Business Act, in late August that will force Apple and other tech giants to let developers use their third-party payment systems.

“Epic intends to re-release Fortnite on iOS in Korea offering both Epic payment and Apple payment side-by-side in compliance with the new Korea law,” according to the official Fortnite Twitter account.

“As we’ve said all along, we would welcome Epic’s return to the App Store if they agree to play by the same rules as everyone else. Epic has admitted to breach of contract and as of now, there’s no legitimate basis for the reinstatement of their developer account,” said a spokesperson at Apple.

Epic would also have to agree to comply with Apple’s App Store Review Guidelines regarding all apps, but Epic has not consistently abided by the Guidelines, and their request of Apple does not indicate any change in Epic’s position, added Apple’s statement.

Even if the South Korean legislation, which is not yet effective, were to become law in the country, it would impose no obligation on Apple to approve any developer program account application, which includes any requests for reinstatement of a developer program account terminated prior to the legislation’s effective date, based on Apple’s statement.

In August 2020, Apple kicked Fortnite off the App Store after Epic introduced a direct payment system in Fortnite that violated Apple’s in-app purchase requirement. The two companies have been embroiled in a legal dispute over the Apple Store’s payment system.

Apple is changing its app policy to allow developers to link to external websites and it also has reached a settlement with Japan for allowing developers of “reader” apps to link to their own websites.

An Epic Games spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

 

Apple has reportedly appointed wearable chief Kevin Lynch to lead its car division

Apple has reportedly appointed a new executive to lead the development of its secretive self-driving car division. According to Bloomberg, the company has tapped Kevin Lynch to oversee Project Titan following the departure of executive Doug Field, who left the iPhone maker for Ford earlier this week.

The name may not be familiar, but if you’ve watched any Apple event in recent years, you’ve seen Lynch on stage. After a stint at Adobe, he joined Apple in 2013 to oversee the company’s wearable and health unit and has frequently been the one to present whatever new features Apple is working on for watchOS.

Bloomberg reports Lynch joined the division earlier in the year but is now overseeing the entire unit. The outlet notes Lynch’s appointment suggests Apple is likely focusing on underlying software that a self-driving car would need to navigate the road, instead of a vehicle that we could see the company release anytime soon.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Engadget.

Apple’s dangerous path

Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review.

Last week, we dove into the truly bizarre machinations of the NFT market. This week, we’re talking about something that’s a little bit more impactful on the current state of the web — Apple’s NeuralHash kerfuffle.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny


the big thing

In the past month, Apple did something it generally has done an exceptional job avoiding — the company made what seemed to be an entirely unforced error.

In early August — seemingly out of nowhere** — the company announced that by the end of the year they would be rolling out a technology called NeuralHash that actively scanned the libraries of all iCloud Photos users, seeking out image hashes that matched known images of child sexual abuse material (CSAM). For obvious reasons, the on-device scanning could not be opted out of.

This announcement was not coordinated with other major consumer tech giants, Apple pushed forward on the announcement alone.

Researchers and advocacy groups had almost unilaterally negative feedback for the effort, raising concerns that this could create new abuse channels for actors like governments to detect on-device information that they regarded as objectionable. As my colleague Zach noted in a recent story, “The Electronic Frontier Foundation said this week it had amassed more than 25,000 signatures from consumers. On top of that, close to 100 policy and rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, also called on Apple to abandon plans to roll out the technology.”

(The announcement also reportedly generated some controversy inside of Apple.)

The issue — of course — wasn’t that Apple was looking at find ways that prevented the proliferation of CSAM while making as few device security concessions as possible. The issue was that Apple was unilaterally making a massive choice that would affect billions of customers (while likely pushing competitors towards similar solutions), and was doing so without external public input about possible ramifications or necessary safeguards.

A long story short, over the past month researchers discovered Apple’s NeuralHash wasn’t as air tight as hoped and the company announced Friday that it was delaying the rollout “to take additional time over the coming months to collect input and make improvements before releasing these critically important child safety features.”

Having spent several years in the tech media, I will say that the only reason to release news on a Friday morning ahead of a long weekend is to ensure that the announcement is read and seen by as few people as possible, and it’s clear why they’d want that. It’s a major embarrassment for Apple, and as with any delayed rollout like this, it’s a sign that their internal teams weren’t adequately prepared and lacked the ideological diversity to gauge the scope of the issue that they were tackling. This isn’t really a dig at Apple’s team building this so much as it’s a dig on Apple trying to solve a problem like this inside the Apple Park vacuum while adhering to its annual iOS release schedule.

illustration of key over cloud icon

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch /

Apple is increasingly looking to make privacy a key selling point for the iOS ecosystem, and as a result of this productization, has pushed development of privacy-centric features towards the same secrecy its surface-level design changes command. In June, Apple announced iCloud+ and raised some eyebrows when they shared that certain new privacy-centric features would only be available to iPhone users who paid for additional subscription services.

You obviously can’t tap public opinion for every product update, but perhaps wide-ranging and trail-blazing security and privacy features should be treated a bit differently than the average product update. Apple’s lack of engagement with research and advocacy groups on NeuralHash was pretty egregious and certainly raises some questions about whether the company fully respects how the choices they make for iOS affect the broader internet.

Delaying the feature’s rollout is a good thing, but let’s all hope they take that time to reflect more broadly as well.

** Though the announcement was a surprise to many, Apple’s development of this feature wasn’t coming completely out of nowhere. Those at the top of Apple likely felt that the winds of global tech regulation might be shifting towards outright bans of some methods of encryption in some of its biggest markets.

Back in October of 2020, then United States AG Bill Barr joined representatives from the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, India and Japan in signing a letter raising major concerns about how implementations of encryption tech posed “significant challenges to public safety, including to highly vulnerable members of our societies like sexually exploited children.” The letter effectively called on tech industry companies to get creative in how they tackled this problem.


other things

Here are the TechCrunch news stories that especially caught my eye this week:

LinkedIn kills Stories
You may be shocked to hear that LinkedIn even had a Stories-like product on their platform, but if you did already know that they were testing Stories, you likely won’t be so surprised to hear that the test didn’t pan out too well. The company announced this week that they’ll be suspending the feature at the end of the month. RIP.

FAA grounds Virgin Galactic over questions about Branson flight
While all appeared to go swimmingly for Richard Branson’s trip to space last month, the FAA has some questions regarding why the flight seemed to unexpectedly veer so far off the cleared route. The FAA is preventing the company from further launches until they find out what the deal is.

Apple buys a classical music streaming service
While Spotify makes news every month or two for spending a massive amount acquiring a popular podcast, Apple seems to have eyes on a different market for Apple Music, announcing this week that they’re bringing the classical music streaming service Primephonic onto the Apple Music team.

TikTok parent company buys a VR startup
It isn’t a huge secret that ByteDance and Facebook have been trying to copy each other’s success at times, but many probably weren’t expecting TikTok’s parent company to wander into the virtual reality game. The Chinese company bought the startup Pico which makes consumer VR headsets for China and enterprise VR products for North American customers.

Twitter tests an anti-abuse ‘Safety Mode’
The same features that make Twitter an incredibly cool product for some users can also make the experience awful for others, a realization that Twitter has seemingly been very slow to make. Their latest solution is more individual user controls, which Twitter is testing out with a new “safety mode” which pairs algorithmic intelligence with new user inputs.


extra things

Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch subscription service this week:

Our favorite startups from YC’s Demo Day, Part 1 
“Y Combinator kicked off its fourth-ever virtual Demo Day today, revealing the first half of its nearly 400-company batch. The presentation, YC’s biggest yet, offers a snapshot into where innovation is heading, from not-so-simple seaweed to a Clearco for creators….”

…Part 2
“…Yesterday, the TechCrunch team covered the first half of this batch, as well as the startups with one-minute pitches that stood out to us. We even podcasted about it! Today, we’re doing it all over again. Here’s our full list of all startups that presented on the record today, and below, you’ll find our votes for the best Y Combinator pitches of Day Two. The ones that, as people who sift through a few hundred pitches a day, made us go ‘oh wait, what’s this?’

All the reasons why you should launch a credit card
“… if your company somehow hasn’t yet found its way to launch a debit or credit card, we have good news: It’s easier than ever to do so and there’s actual money to be made. Just know that if you do, you’ve got plenty of competition and that actual customer usage will probably depend on how sticky your service is and how valuable the rewards are that you offer to your most active users….”


Thanks for reading, and again, if you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny

Lucas Matney

Report: India may be next in line to mandate changes to Apple’s in-app payment rules

Summer is still technically in session, but a snowball is slowly developing in the world of apps, and specifically the world of in-app payments. A report in Reuters today says that the Competition Commission of India, the country’s monopoly regulator, will soon be looking at an antitrust suit filed against Apple over how it mandates that app developers use Apple’s own in-app payment system — thereby giving Apple a cut of those payments — when publishers charge users for subscriptions and other items in their apps.

The suit, filed by an Indian non-profit called “Together We Fight Society”, said in a statement to Reuters that it was representing consumer and startup interests in its complaint.

The move would be the latest in what has become a string of challenges from national regulators against app store operators — specifically Apple but also others like Google and WeChat — over how they wield their positions to enforce market practices that critics have argued are anti-competitive. Other countries that have in recent weeks reached settlements, passed laws, or are about to introduce laws include Japan, South Korea, Australia, the U.S. and the European Union.

And in India specifically, the regulator is currently working through a similar investigation as it relates to in-app payments in Android apps, which Google mandates use its proprietary payment system. Google and Android dominate the Indian smartphone market, with the operating system active on 98% of the 520 million devices in use in the country as of the end of 2020.

It will be interesting to watch whether more countries wade in as a result of these developments. Ultimately, it could force app store operators, to avoid further and deeper regulatory scrutiny, to adopt new and more flexible universal policies.

In the meantime, we are seeing changes happen on a country-by-country basis.

Just yesterday, Apple reached a settlement in Japan that will let publishers of “reader” apps (those for using or consuming media like books and news, music, files in the cloud and more) to redirect users to external sites to provide alternatives to Apple’s proprietary in-app payment provision. Although it’s not as seamless as paying within the app, redirecting previously was typically not allowed, and in doing so the publishers can avoid Apple’s cut.

South Korean legislators earlier this week approved a measure that will make it illegal for Apple and Google to make a commission by forcing developers to use their proprietary payment systems.

And last week, Apple also made some movements in the U.S. around allowing alternative forms of payments, but relatively speaking the concessions were somewhat indirect: app publishers can refer to alternative, direct payment options in apps now, but not actually offer them. (Not yet at least.)

Some developers and consumers have been arguing for years that Apple’s strict policies should open up more. Apple however has long said in its defense that it mandates certain developer policies to build better overall user experiences, and for reasons of security. But, as app technology has evolved, and consumer habits have changed, critics believe that this position needs to be reconsidered.

One factor in Apple’s defense in India specifically might be the company’s position in the market. Android absolutely dominates India when it comes to smartphones and mobile services, with Apple actually a very small part of the ecosystem.

As of the end of 2020, it accounted for just 2% of the 520 million smartphones in use in the country, according to figures from Counterpoint Research quoted by Reuters. That figure had doubled in the last five years, but it’s a long way from a majority, or even significant minority.

The antitrust filing in India has yet to be filed formally, but Reuters notes that the wording leans on the fact that anti-competitive practices in payments systems make it less viable for many publishers to exist at all, since the economics simply do not add up:

“The existence of the 30% commission means that some app developers will never make it to the market,” Reuters noted from the filing. “This could also result in consumer harm.”

Reuters notes that the CCI will be reviewing the case in the coming weeks before deciding whether it should run a deeper investigation or dismiss it. It typically does not publish filings during this period.

Apple announces new settlement with Japan allowing developers to link to external website  

Apple has made a settlement with Japanese regulator that it will allow developers of “reader” apps link to their own website for managing users account. The change goes to effect in early 2022.

This settlement comes after the Japan Fair Trade Commission (JFTC) has forced Apple to make a change its polices on the reader apps, like Netflix, Spotify, Audible and Dropbox, that provide purchased content or content subscriptions for digital magazines, newspapers, books, audio, music, and video.

“We have great respect for the Japan Fair Trade Commission and appreciate the work we’ve done together, which will help developers of reader apps make it easier for users to set up an manage their apps and service, while protecting their privacy and maintaining their trust,” Phill Schiller, who oversees the App Stores at Apple.

Before the change takes into effect next year, Apple will continue to update its guidelines and review process for users of readers app to make sure to be a better marketplace for users and developers alike, according to its statement.

Apple Stores announced last week several updates, which allow developers more flexibility for their customer, and the company also launched the New Partner Program to support local journalists.

Apple will also apply this change globally to all reader apps on the store.

Global lawmakers have been increasingly under scrutiny over the market dominance of Apple and other tech giants. Australia’s Competitions and Consumer Commission is also considering regulations for the digital payment system of Apple, Google and WeChat while South Korea became the first country to curb Apple and Google from imposing their own payment system on in-app purchases.

Apple provides more than 30 million registered developers.

Apple’s rumored iPhone satellite support may be for emergency calls and messages

Mariella Moon
Contributor

Mariella Moon is an associate editor at Engadget.

The rumored satellite features for future iPhones are reserved for emergency uses only, according to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman. A few days ago, a report by well-known analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said the next iPhones will come with support for Low Earth Orbit satellite calls and messages. Gurman’s sources said, however, that Apple isn’t turning its devices into actual satellite phones, at least for now. Instead, the tech giant is reportedly developing at least two emergency-related features relying on satellite networks.

The first feature is called Emergency Message via Satellite and will be added as a third protocol, alongside iMessage and SMS, to the Messages app. It’s apparently codenamed Stewie inside the company and will allow users to text emergency services even when there’s no signal, which sounds especially useful during emergencies in remote locations, such as mountains and forests.

The tool will also give users a way to text their emergency contacts simply by typing Emergency SOS in the recipient line. Messages will be restricted to a shorter length, but the senders’ contacts will get a notification for them even if their phone is set to Do Not Disturb. Satellite messages will appear as gray bubbles instead of blue or green so they can be easily identified. Eventually, the feature could handle phone calls, as well.

Apple is also reportedly working on a second satellite feature that will allow users to report crisis situations like plane crashes and fires. This system will give users a way to report the incident at length and will ask them specifics, such as if anybody needs search-and-rescue services or if anybody in the vicinity is armed. It can also automatically send authorities the reporter’s location and their details from the Health app, such as their medical history, age, medications and information like height and weight. The feature can also a notify the reporter’s emergency contacts for them.

While both features sound useful, their availability is restricted by satellite location and reach. They might not work for some regions, and in some cases, users may have to walk outdoors in a certain direction where their iPhone can connect to a satellite. Also, Gurman’s sources said it’s unlikely that the features will be ready before the year ends, which means the next iPhones expected be announced sometime in September won’t be able to send messages via satellite yet.

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Engadget.

CryptoPunks blasts past $1 billion in lifetime sales as NFT speculation surges

Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review! Last week we dove into Bezos’s Blue Origin suing NASA. This week, I’m writing about the unlikely and triumphant resurgence of the NFT market.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.


The big thing

If I could, I would probably write about NFTs in this newsletter every week. I generally stop myself from actually doing so because I try my best to make this newsletter a snapshot of what’s important to the entire consumer tech sector, not just my niche interests. That said, I’m giving myself free rein this week.

The NFT market is just so hilariously bizarre and the culture surrounding the NFT world is so web-native, I can’t read about it enough. But in the past several days, the market for digital art on the blockchain has completely defied reason.

Back in April, I wrote about a platform called CryptoPunks that — at that point — had banked more than $200 million in lifetime sales since 2017. The little pop art pixel portraits have taken on a life of their own since then. It was pretty much unthinkable back then but in the past 24 hours alone, the platform did $141 million in sales, a new record. By the time you read this, the NFT platform will have likely passed a mind-boggling $1.1 billion in transaction volume according to crypto tracker CryptoSlam. With 10,000 of these digital characters, to buy a single one will cost you at least $450,000 worth of the Ethereum cryptocurrency. (When I sent out this newsletter yesterday that number was $300k)

When I published this back in April, the cheapest CryptoPunks were $30k, today the cheapest one available for sale is just shy of $300k https://t.co/X4iTSl6FjC

— Lucas Matney (@lucasmtny) August 27, 2021

It’s not just CryptoPunks either; the entire NFT world has exploded in the past week, with several billions of dollars flowing into projects with drawings of monkeys, penguins, dinosaurs and generative art this month alone. After the NFT rally earlier this year — culminating in Beeple’s $69 million Christie’s sale — began to taper off, many wrote off the NFT explosion as a bizarre accident. What triggered this recent frenzy?

Part of it has been a resurgence of cryptocurrency prices toward all-time-highs and a desire among the crypto rich to diversify their stratospheric assets without converting their wealth to fiat currencies. Dumping hundreds of millions of dollars into an NFT project with fewer stakeholders than the currencies that underlie them can make a lot of sense to those whose wealth is already over-indexed in crypto. But a lot of this money is likely FOMO dollars from investors who are dumping real cash into NFTs, bolstered by moves like Visa’s purchase this week of their own CryptoPunk.

I think it’s pretty fair to say that this growth is unsustainable, but how much further along this market growth gets before the pace of investment slows or collapses is completely unknown. There are no signs of slowing down for now, something that can be awfully exciting — and dangerous — for investors looking for something wild to drop their money into… and wild this market truly is.

Here’s some advice from Figma CEO Dylan Field who sold his alien CryptoPunk earlier this year for 4,200 Eth (worth $13.6 million today).

Just getting into NFT’s? Welcome!! It’s a fascinating world and this is just the very start 🙂

My unsolicited advice: exercise caution + restraint. There are a lot of speculators in the space right now. Buy things you love / plan to hold forever and don’t expect prices to go up!

— Dylan Field (@zoink) August 28, 2021


Image Credits: Kanye West

Other things

Here are the TechCrunch news stories that especially caught my eye this week:

OnlyFans suspends its porn ban
In a stunning about-face, OnlyFans declared this week that they won’t be banning “sexually explicit content” from their platform after all, saying in a statement that they had “secured assurances necessary to support our diverse creator community and have suspended the planned October 1 policy change.”

Kanye gets into the hardware business
Ahead of the drop of his next album, which will definitely be released at some point, rapper Kanye West has shown off a mobile music hardware device called the Stem Player. The $200 pocket-sized device allows users to mix and alter music that has been loaded onto the device. It was developed in partnership with hardware maker Kano.

Apple settles developer lawsuit
Apple has taken some PR hits in recent years following big and small developers alike complaining about the take-it-or-leave-it terms of the company’s App Store. This week, Apple shared a proposed settlement (which still is pending a judge’s approval) that starts with a $100 million payout and gets more interesting with adjustments to App Store bylines, including the ability of developers to advertise paying for subscriptions directly rather than through the app only.

Twitter starts rolling out ticketed Spaces
Twitter has made a convincing sell for its Clubhouse competitor Spaces, but they’ve also managed to build on the model in recent months, turning its copycat feature into a product that succeeds on its own merits. Its latest effort to allow creators to sell tickets to events is just starting to roll out, the company shared this week.

CA judge strikes down controversial gig economy proposition
Companies like Uber and DoorDash dumped tens of millions of dollars into Prop 22, a law which clawed back a California law that pushed gig economy startups to classify workers as full employees. This week a judge declared the proposition unconstitutional, and though the decision has been stayed on appeal, any adjustment would have major ramifications for those companies’ business in California.


Image of a dollar sign representing the future value of cybersecurity.

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

Extra things

Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch subscription service this week:

Future tech exits have a lot to live up to
“Inflation may or may not prove transitory when it comes to consumer prices, but startup valuations are definitely rising — and noticeably so — in recent quarters. That’s the obvious takeaway from a recent PitchBook report digging into valuation data from a host of startup funding events in the United States…”

OpenSea UX teardown
“…is the experience of creating and selling an NFT on OpenSea actually any good? That’s what UX analyst Peter Ramsey has been trying to answer by creating and selling NFTs on OpenSea for the last few weeks. And the short answer is: It could be much better...

Are B2B SaaS marketers getting it wrong?
“‘Solutions,’ ‘cutting-edge,’ ‘scalable’ and ‘innovative’ are just a sample of the overused jargon lurking around every corner of the techverse, with SaaS marketers the world over seemingly singing from the same hymn book. Sadly for them, new research has proven that such jargon-heavy copy — along with unclear features and benefits — is deterring customers and cutting down conversions…”


Thanks for reading! And again, if you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.

Lucas Matney

Apple will now let App Store developers talk to their customers about buying direct

Apple announced today it has reached a proposed settlement (embedded below) in a lawsuit filed against it by developers in the United States. The agreement, which is still pending court approval, includes a few changes, the biggest one being that developers will be able to share information on how to pay for purchases outside of their iOS app or the App Store—which means they can tell customers about payment options that aren’t subject to Apple commissions. The settlement also includes more pricing tiers and a new transparency report about the app review process.

The class-action lawsuit was filed against Apple in 2019 by app developers Donald Cameron and Illinois Pure Sweat Basketball, who said the company engaged in anticompetitive practices by only allowing the downloading of iPhone apps through its App Store.

In today’s announcement, Apple said it is “clarifying that developers can use communications, such as emails, to share information about payment methods outside of their iOS app. As always, developers will not pay Apple a commission on any purchases taking place outside of their app or the App Stores.”

This would allow developers to communicate with customers by email and “other communication services,” which was difficult to do under the App Store’s rules, which forbid developers from using contact information obtained within an app to contact users outside of the app. The settlement would lift this rule for all app categories, enabling developers to tell consenting users about payment methods that avoid Apple’s commissions.

In terms of pricing tiers, Apple said it will expand the number of price points available to developers from fewer than 100 to more than 500. It also agreed to publish a new annual transparency report that will share information about the app review process, including how many apps are rejected, the number of customer and developer accounts deactivated, “objective data regarding search queries and results,” and the number of apps removed from the App Store.

The company also said it will create a new fund for qualifying developers in America who earned $1 million or less through the U.S. App Store, which includes 99% of developers in America. Hagens Berman, one of the law firms representing plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said the fund will be $100 million, with payments ranging from $250 to $30,000.

Cameron et al v. Apple Inc. proposed settlement by TechCrunch on Scribd

Big Tech pledges billions to bolster U.S. cybersecurity defenses

Tech giants Apple, Google and Microsoft have pledged billions to bolster U.S. cybersecurity following a meeting with President Joe Biden at the White House on Wednesday.

The meeting, which also included attendees from the financial and education sectors, was held following months of high-profile cyberattacks against critical infrastructure and several U.S. government agencies, along with a glaring cybersecurity skills gap; according to data from CyberSeek, there are currently almost 500,000 cybersecurity jobs across the U.S that remain unfilled.

“Most of our critical infrastructure is owned and operated by the private sector, and the federal government can’t meet this challenge alone,” Biden said at the start of the meeting. “I’ve invited you all here today because you have the power, the capacity and the responsibility, I believe, to raise the bar on cybersecurity.”

In order to help the U.S. in its fight against a growing number of cyberattacks, Big Tech pledged to invest billions of dollars to strengthen cybersecurity defenses and to train skilled cybersecurity workers.

Apple has vowed to work with its 9,000-plus suppliers in the U.S. to drive “mass adoption” of multi-factor authentication and security training, according to the White House, as well as to establish a new program to drive continuous security improvements throughout the technology supply chain.

Google said it will invest more than $10 billion over the next five years to expand zero-trust programs, help secure the software supply chain, and to enhance open source security. The search and ads giant has also pledged to train 100,000 Americans in fields like IT support and data analytics, learning in-demand skills including data privacy and security.

“Robust cybersecurity ultimately depends on having the people to implement it,” said Kent Walker, Google’s global affairs chief. “That includes people with digital skills capable of designing and executing cybersecurity solutions, as well as promoting awareness of cybersecurity risks and protocols among the broader population.”

And, Microsoft said it’s committing $20 billion to integrate cybersecurity by design and deliver “advanced security solutions.” It also announced that it will immediately make available $150 million in technical services to help federal, state, and local governments with upgrading security protection, and will expand partnerships with community colleges and non-profits for cybersecurity training.

Other attendees included Amazon Web Services (AWS), Amazon’s cloud computing arm, and IBM. The former has said it will make its security awareness training available to the public and equip all AWS customers with hardware multi-factor authentication devices, while IBM said it will help to train more than 150,000 people in cybersecurity skills over the next five years.

While many have welcomed Big Tech’s commitments, David Carroll, managing director at Nominet Cyber, told TechCrunch that these latest initiatives set a “powerful precedent” and show “the gloves are well and truly off” — some within the cybersecurity industry remain skeptical.

Following the announcement, some infosec veterans noted that many of the vacant cybersecurity jobs the U.S. is looking to fill fall behind on competitive salaries and few, if any, benefits.

“So 500,000 open cybersecurity jobs and almost that same amount or more looking for jobs,” said Khalilah Scott, founder of TechSecChix, a foundation for supporting women in technology, in a tweet. “Make it make sense.”

A new NSO zero-click attack evades Apple’s iPhone security protections, says Citizen Lab

A Bahraini human rights activist’s iPhone was silently hacked earlier this year by a powerful spyware sold to nation-states, defeating new security protections that Apple designed to withstand covert compromises, say researchers at Citizen Lab.

The activist, who remains in Bahrain and asked not to be named, is a member of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, an award-winning nonprofit organization that promotes human rights in the Gulf state. The group continues to operate despite a ban imposed by the kingdom in 2004 following the arrest of its director for criticizing the country’s then-prime minister.

Citizen Lab, the internet watchdog based at the University of Toronto, analyzed the activist’s iPhone 12 Pro and found evidence that it was hacked starting in February using a so-called “zero-click” attack, since it does not require any user interaction to infect a victim’s device. The zero-click attack took advantage of a previously unknown security vulnerability in Apple’s iMessage, which was exploited to push the Pegasus spyware, developed by Israeli firm NSO Group, to the activist’s phone.

The hack is significant, not least because Citizen Lab researchers said it found evidence that the zero-click attack successfully exploited the latest iPhone software at the time, both iOS 14.4 and later iOS 14.6, which Apple released in May. But the hacks also circumvent a new software security feature built into all versions of iOS 14, dubbed BlastDoor, which is supposed to prevent these kinds of device hacks by filtering malicious data sent over iMessage.

Because of its ability to circumvent BlastDoor, the researchers called this latest exploit ForcedEntry.

Citizen Lab’s Bill Marczak told TechCrunch that the researchers made Apple aware of the efforts to target and exploit up-to-date iPhones. When reached by TechCrunch, Apple would not explicitly say if it had found and fixed the vulnerability that NSO is exploiting.

In a boilerplate statement re-released Tuesday, Apple’s head of security engineering and architecture Ivan Krstic said: “Apple unequivocally condemns cyberattacks against journalists, human rights activists, and others seeking to make the world a better place … Attacks like the ones described are highly sophisticated, cost millions of dollars to develop, often have a short shelf life, and are used to target specific individuals. While that means they are not a threat to the overwhelming majority of our users, we continue to work tirelessly to defend all our customers, and we are constantly adding new protections for their devices and data.”

A spokesperson for Apple said BlastDoor was not the end of its efforts to secure iMessage and that it has strengthened its defenses in iOS 15, which is slated for release in the next month or so.

Citizen Lab said the Bahraini government was likely behind the targeting of the Bahraini human rights activist, as well as eight other Bahraini activists between June 2020 and February 2021.

Bahrain is one of several authoritarian states known to be government customers of Pegasus, including Saudi Arabia, Rwanda, the United Arab Emirates and Mexico; though, NSO has repeatedly declined to name or confirm its dozens of customers, citing nondisclosure agreements.

Five of the targeted Bahrainis’ phone numbers were found on the Pegasus Project list of 50,000 phone numbers of potential surveillance targets of the Pegasus spyware, which gives its government customers near-complete access to a target’s device, including their personal data, photos, messages and location.

One of those listed phone numbers belongs to another member of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, which Citizen Lab said was targeted months earlier and with a different zero-click exploit, called Kismet, which predates ForcedEntry. Citizen Lab says Kismet no longer works on iOS 14 and later since BlastDoor was introduced, but still poses a risk to devices running older iPhone versions.

Two other Bahrainis, who now live in exile in London and consented to be named, also had their iPhones hacked.

Moosa Abd-Ali, a photojournalist who was previously targeted by FinFisher spyware sold to the Bahraini government, had his iPhone hacked while living in London. Citizen Lab said it has only seen the Bahraini government spy in Bahrain and in neighboring Qatar, and said it suspects that another foreign government with access to Pegasus may have been responsible for the hack. Recent reporting found the United Arab Emirates, a close ally of Bahrain, is the “principal government” for selecting phone numbers in the U.K. Abd-Ali’s phone number was also on the list of 50,000 phone numbers.

Bahraini activist Yusuf Al-Jamri also had his iPhone hacked, believed by the Bahraini government, some time before September 2019, though it is not known if Al-Jamri’s iPhone was hacked while in Bahrain or the UAE, before he was granted asylum in the U.K. in 2017.

The seven unnamed Bahrainis continue to work in the kingdom despite a long history of human rights violations, internet censorship and widespread oppression. Reporters Without Borders ranks Bahrain’s human rights record as one of the most restrictive in the world, ranked only behind Iran, China and North Korea. A 2020 report by the U.S. State Department on Bahrain’s human rights said the country cited considerable violations and abuses, and noted that the government “used computer programs to surveil political activists and members of the opposition inside and outside the country.”

When reached, NSO Group did not answer specific questions nor would it say if the Bahraini government was a customer. In a statement attributed only as an NSO spokesperson sent via its external public relations firm Mercury, NSO said that it had not seen Citizen Lab’s findings and that it would “vigorously investigate the claims and act accordingly based on the findings.”

NSO recently claimed it cut off five government customers’ access to Pegasus for human rights abuses.

Zainab Al-Nasheet, a spokesperson for the Bahraini government, told TechCrunch in a statement: “These claims are based on unfounded allegations and misguided conclusions. The government of Bahrain is committed to safeguarding the individuals’ rights and freedoms.”

Abd-Ali, who said he was arrested and tortured in Bahrain, said that he thought he would find safety in the U.K. but that he still encounters digital surveillance but also physical attacks, as many victims of spyware experience.

“Instead of protecting me, the U.K. government has stayed silent while three of their close allies — Israel, Bahrain and the UAE — conspired to invade the privacy of myself and dozens of other activists,” he said.


You can send tips securely over Signal and WhatsApp to +1 646-755-8849. You can also send files or documents using our SecureDrop.

Extra Crunch roundup: Corp dev handbook, Chicago startups, Brazil’s e-commerce landscape

If you’re a founder who finds yourself in a meeting with a VC, try to remember two things:

  1. You’re the smartest person in the room.
  2. Investors are looking for a reason to say “yes.”

Even so, many entrepreneurs squander this opportunity, often because they direct questions or fail to understand their BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement).

“As the venture landscape becomes more a meritocratic environment where resumes and institutional affiliations matter less, these strategies can make the difference between a successful fundraise and a fruitless meeting,” says Agya Ventures co-founder Kunal Lunawat.

Whether you’re already in the fundraising process or plan to be in the future, be sure to read “A crash course on corporate development” that Venrock VP Todd Graham shared with us this week.

“If you’re going to get acquired, chances are you’re going to spend a lot of time with corporate development teams,” says Graham. “With a hot stock market, mountains of cash and cheap debt floating around, the environment for acquisitions is extremely rich.”


Full Extra Crunch articles are only available to members.
Use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription.


The cover of "After Cooling On Freon, Global Warming, and the Terrible Cost of Comfort"

On Wednesday, August 24 at 3 p.m. PDT/6 p.m. EDT/11 p.m GMT, Managing Editor Danny Crichton will host a conversation on Twitter Spaces with Eric Dean Wilson, author of “After Cooling: On Freon, Global Warming, and the Terrible Cost of Comfort.”

Wilson’s book explores the history of freon, a common refrigerant that was later banned due to its devastating impact on the ozone layer. After their discussion, they’ll take questions from the audience.

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch this week! I hope you have an excellent weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

Apple is changing Mail Privacy Protection and email marketers must prepare

Image of a yellow envelope with a red notification dot.

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

Apple iPhone, Apple Mail and Apple iPad account for nearly half of all email opens, but the privacy features included with iOS 15 will allow consumers to block marketers from seeing their physical location, IP address and tracking data like invisible pixels.

Email marketers rely heavily on these and other metrics, which means they should prepare now for the changes to come, advises Litmus CMO Melissa Sargeant.

In a detailed post, she shares several action items that will help marketing teams leverage their email analytics so they can “continue delivering personalized experiences consumers crave.”

Let’s make a deal: A crash course on corporate development

Meeting room with a big polished table and arm-chairsOther photos from this business series:

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

Venrock Vice President Todd Graham has some frank advice for founders at venture-backed startups: “It would be wise to generate a return at some point.”

With that in mind, he authored a primer on corporate development that lays out the three most common categories of acquisitions, tips for dealing with bankers, and explains why striking a partnership with a big company isn’t always the best way forward.

Regardless of the path you choose, “you need to take the meeting,” advises Graham.

“In the worst-case scenario, you’ll get a few new LinkedIn connections and you’re now a known quantity. The best-case scenario will be a second meeting.”

When VCs turned to Zoom, Chicago startups were ready for their close-up

The pandemic failed to slow the momentum of venture capitalists pouring money into startups, but Chicago stands out as an “outlying benefactor of accelerating venture capital activity and the rise of remote investing,” Alex Wilhelm and Anna Heim write for The Exchange.

When the world shut down and it didn’t matter if you were in NYC or SF (because everyone was on Zoom), the Windy City was ready to present itself as the venture champion of the Midwest.

What does Brazil’s new receivables regulation mean for fintechs?

Female hand holding brazilian money (Real/Reais)

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

The Brazilian Central Bank made a major reform to the way payments are processed that may throw the doors open for e-commerce in South America’s largest market.

Historically, merchants who accepted credit card payments had two options: Receive the full payment distributed over two to 12 installments, or offer a deep discount to receive a smaller sum up front.

But in June 2021, the BCB created new “registration entities” that permit “any interested receivables buyer/acquirer to make an offer for those receivables, forcing buyers to become more competitive in their discount offers,” says Leonardo Lanna, head of payment products at Monkey Exchange.

The new framework benefits consumers and sellers, but for the region’s startups, “it opens the door to a plethora of opportunities and new business models, from payments to credit.”

As its startup market accelerates, Brazil could be in for an IPO bonanza

An inflow of VC dollars, notable acquisitions and rising unicorn counts are all features of the Brazilian tech startup market, Anna Heim and Alex Wilhelm note in The Exchange.

“The IPO market in Brazil is changing,” they write. “TechCrunch noted last year that in the decade leading up to 2020, just two of the 56 IPOs in Brazil were technology companies. More recently, the number of technology companies listed in the country has swelled to at least 16, up from just four in 2019.”

Insider hacks to streamline your SOC 3 certification application

Digital encrypted Lock with data multilayers. Internet Security

Image Credits: Andriy Onufriyenko / Getty Images

“For good reason, security certifications like the SOC 3 really put you through the wringer,” Waydev CEO Alex Cercei writes in a guest column.

Waydev, a Git analytics tool that helps engineering leaders measure team performance automatically, just attained the SOC 3 certification.

“We learned so much from the process, we felt it was right to share our experience with others that might be daunted by the prospect,” Cercei writes.

“So here’s our advice on how teams can smoothly reach an SOC 3 while simultaneously balancing workloads and minimizing disruption to users.”

Dear Sophie: Tips on EB-1A and EB-2 NIW?

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie,

I’m on an H-1B living and working in the U.S. I want to apply for a green card on my own. I’m concerned about only relying on my current employer and I want to be able to easily change jobs or create a startup. I’ve been looking at the EB-1A and EB-2 NIW.

I’m not sure if I would qualify for an EB-1A, but since I was born in India, I face a much longer wait for an EB-2 NIW.

Any tips on how to proceed?

— Inventive from India

How to establish a health tech startup advisory board

Most startups could use an advisory board, but in health tech, it’s a core requirement.

Founders seeking to innovate in this area have a unique need for mentors who have experience navigating regulations, raising capital and managing R&D, to name just a few areas.

Based on his own experience, Patrick Frank, co-founder and COO of PatientPartner, shared some very specific ideas about who to recruit, where to find them and how to fit them into your cap table.

“You want to leverage these individuals so you are able to focus on the full view of the company to ensure it is something that both the market and investors want at scale,” says Frank.

Crypto world shows signs of being rather bullish

There’s no shortage of tech news to analyze, Alex Wilhelm notes, but this week, he took a fresh look at crypto.

How come?

“Because there are some rather bullish trends that indicate the world of blockchain is maturing and creating a raft of winning players,” he writes.

4 common mistakes startups make when setting pay for hybrid workers

Organization Chart or Organizational Graph for Human Resources

Image Credits: kentoh (opens in a new window) / Getty Images (Image has been modified)

In one recent survey, 58% of workers said they plan to quit if they’re not allowed to work remotely.

Startups that don’t offer employees work-from-home flexibility are at a competitive disadvantage, but figuring out how to pay hybrid workers raises a complex set of questions:

  • Should you localize salaries for workers in different areas?
  • How should you pay workers who have the same job when one is WFH and the other is at their desk?
  • Are you being transparent with your staff about how their compensation is set?

Apple is changing Mail Privacy Protection and email marketers must prepare

Melissa Sargeant
Contributor

Melissa Sargeant is CMO at Litmus, where she runs worldwide marketing initiatives including corporate and product branding, demand generation, product marketing, public relations and event management.

The most critical phase in a marketing team’s mix and overall multichannel strategy happens after you press send on an email campaign: the post-send and performance pillars of email marketing.

During this phase, marketers should gather metrics and data to guide insights impacting future emails and entire marketing campaigns. Email metrics can influence ad messaging and social posts and guide the design, content and product marketing teams. When used strategically, these metrics increase email programs’ ROI while raising marketing channel and workflow efficiency and effectiveness.

As one of the most lucrative channels for reaching target audiences — for every dollar invested in email marketing, brands receive $36 in return — email enables brands to reach their core consumer base: email subscribers.

Just as they adjusted to accommodate the evolution from print to digital, marketers must pivot and accommodate this new disruption to remain competitive — and successful.

They have opted-in to email touch points because they want to hear from the brand. By applying these insights via analytics, marketers optimize marketing spend and messaging to hit business goals.

Email impacts marketing strategy and enables better overall business success. It’s the lifeblood of an effective multichannel campaign. However, Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection — announced earlier this summer with its iOS 15 update — attempts to eliminate metrics and data associated with email.

According to the Litmus Email Client Market Share, in 2020, Apple iPhone, Apple Mail and Apple iPad accounted for nearly half of all email opens. Lacking these insights will create marketing roadblocks for segmented and personalized touch points. Marketers and businesses must prepare by adjusting email strategy and processes before the update occurs.

Companies and consumers have talked about privacy quite a bit lately. Companies fearing breaches, reputation damage and potentially lost revenue want to protect consumer data. Consumer awareness of privacy concerns has grown, too.

In a 2021 survey, over half the respondents expressed more concern about online privacy than in 2020. Consumers expect brands to demonstrate trustworthiness before they willingly share sensitive personal information.

Recognizing an increased desire for better privacy control, Apple revealed new privacy protections in its iOS 15 update, including its Mail Privacy Protection. Apple Mail users may hide their IP addresses, locations and additional data from senders, preventing brands from pulling information like open rates and location. Apple said that “Mail Privacy Protection stops senders from using invisible pixels to collect information about the user.”

What does this update mean for marketers? The potential disappearance of a critical phase in the marketing mix and multichannel strategy: the post-send and performance pillars of email marketing. No open-rate-specific data — the brand will appear to have a 100% open rate.

Apple walks back controversial Safari changes with iOS 15 beta 6 update

Apple is slowly walking back its controversial decision to redesign mobile Safari in iOS 15 to show the address bar at the bottom of the screen, floating atop the page’s content. The revamp, which was largely meant to make it easier to reach Safari’s controls with one hand, had been met with criticism as Apple’s other design choices actually made the new experience less usable than before. With the latest release of iOS 15 beta 6, Apple is responding to user feedback and complaints with the introduction of yet another design that now shows the bottom tab bar below the page content, offering a more standardized experience for those who would have otherwise like the update. More importantly, perhaps, Apple is no longer forcing the bottom tab bar on users.

With the new release, there’s now an option to show the address bar at the top of the page, as before. For all those who truly hated the update, this means they can set things back to “normal.”

Image Credits: Screenshots, tab bar before and after

One significant complaint with the floating tab bar was that it made some websites nearly unusable, as the bar would block out elements you needed to click. (To get to these unreachable parts of the page, you’d have to swipe the bar down — a less-than-ideal experience).

Just another day being unable to order takeout because iOS 15 Safari’s bottom bar makes this checkout button untappable.

thanks Safari for not letting me have that bruschetta 😢pic.twitter.com/e23YTYzGM6

— Federico Viticci (@viticci) July 22, 2021

In iOS 15 beta 6, these and other issues are addressed, as essentially the tab bar looks much like it used to — with the same row of buttons it had before, when it had been available at the top of the screen. And it will no longer get in the way of website content.

Testers had also pointed out that Apple’s original decision to hide often-used features — like the reload button or Reader Mode — under the three-dot “more” menu made Safari more difficult to use than in the past. With the release of iOS 15 beta 4, Apple had tried to solve this problem by bringing back the reload and share buttons, and making Reader Mode appear when available. But the buttons were still small and harder to tap than before.

The new tab bar and the return to normal it offers — regardless of its placement at the top or bottom of the screen — is an admission from Apple that users’ complaints on this matter were, in fact, valid.

Separately, to restore the tab bar to the top of the page, if that’s your preference, you can now find an option under Settings –> Safari to choose between the Tab Bar default and the Single Tab option — the latter which relocates the address bar to the top of the screen. (Doing so means you’ll lose the option to swipe through your open tabs, as you could with the Tab Bar, however.)

It’s fairly common for Apple to offer alternatives to its default settings — like how it allows users to configure how gestures and clicks work on the Mac’s trackpad, for example, or how it allows users to turn off the oncedebated “natural” scroll direction option. But adding the option to return the tab at the top is an admission that some users didn’t want to relearn how to use one of their iPhone’s most frequently-accessed apps — and if forced to do so, they may have switched browsers instead.

As Apple typically releases the latest version of its iOS software in the fall, this update may represent one of the final changes to Safari we’ll see ahead of the public release.

Apple’s sustainability-focused Impact Accelerator invites first 15 Black- and brown-owned companies

Among Apple’s more recent social good initiatives is the Impact Accelerator, an effort launched about a year ago intended to find and elevate minority-owned small businesses taking on sustainability and climate change. The program now has its first 15 participants, gathered from all over the country for a three-month program and a shot at an Apple contract.

The Impact Accelerator is part of the company’s $100M Racial Equity and Justice Initiative, which is being divided between a number of efforts, some directly funding existing programs, some going to venture firms owned by people of color, and generally whatever the Initiative’s team thinks is a good investment.

These companies will take part in a three-month-long virtual program (the details are not discussed in Apple’s announcement post) and then will have the opportunity to become suppliers for Apple’s carbon neutral supply chain goals.

Apple profiles all 15 companies in this list, but here are five that caught my eye:

  • Volt Energy Utility (Co-Founder: Gilbert Campbell III) – Developer of utility-scale solar projects with a focus on underserved communities.
  • Bench-Tek (Founder: Maria Castellon) – A manufacturer of lab benches that focuses on using environmentally friendly materials.
  • Vericool (Founder: Darrell Jobe) – Aims to make sustainable alternatives to Styrofoam and other packaging products, and makes a point of hiring formerly incarcerated folks.
  • Oceti Sakowin Power Authority (Chairman: Lyle Jack) – Not a company per se, but an NGO formed by six Sioux tribes dedicated to developing renewable energy in the Midwest and on reservations.
  • Mosaic Global Transportation (Founder: Maurice H. Brewster) – Supplies employee and event shuttles and other vehicles with an aim to replace gas-operated ones with EVs.

“The businesses we’re partnering with today are poised to become tomorrow’s diverse and innovative industry leaders, creating ripples of change to help communities everywhere adapt to the urgent challenges posed by climate change,” said Apple’s VP of Environment, Policy, and Social Initiatives, Lisa Jackson, in the announcement.

Apple drops its lawsuit against maker of iPhone emulation software

Steve Dent
Contributor

Steve Dent is an associate editor at Engadget.

Apple has settled its 2019 lawsuit with Corellium, a company that builds virtual iOS devices used by security researchers to find bugs in iPhones and other iOS devices, the Washington Post has reported. The terms of the settlement weren’t disclosed, but the agreement comes after Apple suffered a major court loss in the dispute in late 2020.

Corellium’s software allows users to run virtual iPhones on a computer browser, giving them deep access to iOS without the need for a physical device. In addition to accusing Corellium of infringing on its copyright, Apple said the company was selling its product indiscriminately, thereby compromising the platform’s security.

Specifically, Apple accused the company of selling its products to governments that could have probed its products for flaws. When he was employed by another company, Corellium co-founder David Wang helped the FBI unlock an iPhone used by a terrorist responsible for the San Bernardino attacks. 

However, a judge dismissed the copyright claims, calling them “puzzling, if not disingenuous.” He wrote in his ruling that “the Court finds that Corellium has met its burden of establishing fair use,” adding that its use of iOS in that context was permissible.

Corellium started offering its platform to individual subscribers earlier this year, after previously only making it available to enterprise users. Each request for access is vetted individually so that it won’t fall into the wrong hands for malicious purposes, according to the company.

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Engadget.

Interview: Apple’s Head of Privacy details child abuse detection and Messages safety features

Last week, Apple announced a series of new features targeted at child safety on its devices. Though not live yet, the features will arrive later this year for users. Though the goals of these features are universally accepted to be good ones — the protection of minors and the limit of the spread of Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM), there have been some questions about the methods Apple is using.

I spoke to Erik Neuenschwander, Head of Privacy at Apple, about the new features launching for its devices. He shared detailed answers to many of the concerns that people have about the features and talked at length to some of the tactical and strategic issues that could come up once this system rolls out. 

I also asked about the rollout of the features, which come closely intertwined but are really completely separate systems that have similar goals. To be specific, Apple is announcing three different things here, some of which are being confused with one another in coverage and in the minds of the public. 

CSAM detection in iCloud Photos – A detection system called NeuralHash creates identifiers it can compare with IDs from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and other entities to detect known CSAM content in iCloud Photo libraries. Most cloud providers already scan user libraries for this information — Apple’s system is different in that it does the matching on device rather than in the cloud.

Communication Safety in Messages – A feature that a parent opts to turn on for a minor on their iCloud Family account. It will alert children when an image they are going to view has been detected to be explicit and it tells them that it will also alert the parent.

Interventions in Siri and search – A feature that will intervene when a user tries to search for CSAM-related terms through Siri and search and will inform the user of the intervention and offer resources.

For more on all of these features you can read our articles linked above or Apple’s new FAQ that it posted this weekend.

From personal experience, I know that there are people who don’t understand the difference between those first two systems, or assume that there will be some possibility that they may come under scrutiny for innocent pictures of their own children that may trigger some filter. It’s led to confusion in what is already a complex rollout of announcements. These two systems are completely separate, of course, with CSAM detection looking for precise matches with content that is already known to organizations to be abuse imagery. Communication Safety in Messages takes place entirely on the device and reports nothing externally — it’s just there to flag to a child that they are or could be about to be viewing explicit images. This feature is opt-in by the parent and transparent to both parent and child that it is enabled.

Apple’s Communication Safety in Messages feature. Image Credits: Apple

There have also been questions about the on-device hashing of photos to create identifiers that can be compared with the database. Though NeuralHash is a technology that can be used for other kinds of features like faster search in photos, it’s not currently used for anything else on iPhone aside from CSAM detection. When iCloud Photos is disabled, the feature stops working completely. This offers an opt-out for people but at an admittedly steep cost given the convenience and integration of iCloud Photos with Apple’s operating systems.

Though this interview won’t answer every possible question related to these new features, this is the most extensive on-the-record discussion by Apple’s senior privacy member. It seems clear from Apple’s willingness to provide access and its ongoing FAQ’s and press briefings (there have been at least 3 so far and likely many more to come) that it feels that it has a good solution here. 

Despite the concerns and resistance, it seems as if it is willing to take as much time as is necessary to convince everyone of that. 

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

TC: Most other cloud providers have been scanning for CSAM for some time now. Apple has not. Obviously there are no current regulations that say that you must seek it out on your servers, but there is some roiling regulation in the EU and other countries. Is that the impetus for this? Basically, why now?

Erik Neuenschwander: Why now comes down to the fact that we’ve now got the technology that can balance strong child safety and user privacy. This is an area we’ve been looking at for some time, including current state of the art techniques which mostly involves scanning through entire contents of users libraries on cloud services that — as you point out — isn’t something that we’ve ever done; to look through user’s iCloud Photos. This system doesn’t change that either, it neither looks through data on the device, nor does it look through all photos in iCloud Photos. Instead what it does is gives us a new ability to identify accounts which are starting collections of known CSAM.

So the development of this new CSAM detection technology is the watershed that makes now the time to launch this. And Apple feels that it can do it in a way that it feels comfortable with and that is ‘good’ for your users?

That’s exactly right. We have two co-equal goals here. One is to improve child safety on the platform and the second is to preserve user privacy, And what we’ve been able to do across all three of the features, is bring together technologies that let us deliver on both of those goals.

Announcing the Communications safety in Messages features and the CSAM detection in iCloud Photos system at the same time seems to have created confusion about their capabilities and goals. Was it a good idea to announce them concurrently? And why were they announced concurrently, if they are separate systems?

Well, while they are [two] systems they are also of a piece along with our increased interventions that will be coming in Siri and search. As important as it is to identify collections of known CSAM where they are stored in Apple’s iCloud Photos service, It’s also important to try to get upstream of that already horrible situation. So CSAM detection means that there’s already known CSAM that has been through the reporting process, and is being shared widely re-victimizing children on top of the abuse that had to happen to create that material in the first place. for the creator of that material in the first place. And so to do that, I think is an important step, but it is also important to do things to intervene earlier on when people are beginning to enter into this problematic and harmful area, or if there are already abusers trying to groom or to bring children into situations where abuse can take place, and Communication Safety in Messages and our interventions in Siri and search actually strike at those parts of the process. So we’re really trying to disrupt the cycles that lead to CSAM that then ultimately might get detected by our system.

The process of Apple’s CSAM detection in iCloud Photos system. Image Credits: Apple

Governments and agencies worldwide are constantly pressuring all large organizations that have any sort of end-to-end or even partial encryption enabled for their users. They often lean on CSAM and possible terrorism activities as rationale to argue for backdoors or encryption defeat measures. Is launching the feature and this capability with on-device hash matching an effort to stave off those requests and say, look, we can provide you with the information that you require to track down and prevent CSAM activity — but without compromising a user’s privacy?

So, first, you talked about the device matching so I just want to underscore that the system as designed doesn’t reveal — in the way that people might traditionally think of a match — the result of the match to the device or, even if you consider the vouchers that the device creates, to Apple. Apple is unable to process individual vouchers; instead, all the properties of our system mean that it’s only once an account has accumulated a collection of vouchers associated with illegal, known CSAM images that we are able to learn anything about the user’s account. 

Now, why to do it is because, as you said, this is something that will provide that detection capability while preserving user privacy. We’re motivated by the need to do more for child safety across the digital ecosystem, and all three of our features, I think, take very positive steps in that direction. At the same time we’re going to leave privacy undisturbed for everyone not engaged in the illegal activity.

Does this, creating a framework to allow scanning and matching of on-device content, create a framework for outside law enforcement to counter with, ‘we can give you a list, we don’t want to look at all of the user’s data but we can give you a list of content that we’d like you to match’. And if you can match it with this content you can match it with other content we want to search for. How does it not undermine Apple’s current position of ‘hey, we can’t decrypt the user’s device, it’s encrypted, we don’t hold the key?’

It doesn’t change that one iota. The device is still encrypted, we still don’t hold the key, and the system is designed to function on on-device data. What we’ve designed has a device side component — and it has the device side component by the way, for privacy improvements. The alternative of just processing by going through and trying to evaluate users data on a server is actually more amenable to changes [without user knowledge], and less protective of user privacy.

Our system involves both an on-device component where the voucher is created, but nothing is learned, and a server-side component, which is where that voucher is sent along with data coming to Apple service and processed across the account to learn if there are collections of illegal CSAM. That means that it is a service feature. I understand that it’s a complex attribute that a feature of the service has a portion where the voucher is generated on the device, but again, nothing’s learned about the content on the device. The voucher generation is actually exactly what enables us not to have to begin processing all users’ content on our servers which we’ve never done for iCloud Photos. It’s those sorts of systems that I think are more troubling when it comes to the privacy properties — or how they could be changed without any user insight or knowledge to do things other than what they were designed to do.

One of the bigger queries about this system is that Apple has said that it will just refuse action if it is asked by a government or other agency to compromise by adding things that are not CSAM to the database to check for them on-device. There are some examples where Apple has had to comply with local law at the highest levels if it wants to operate there, China being an example. So how do we trust that Apple is going to hew to this rejection of interference If pressured or asked by a government to compromise the system?

Well first, that is launching only for US, iCloud accounts, and so the hypotheticals seem to bring up generic countries or other countries that aren’t the US when they speak in that way, and the therefore it seems to be the case that people agree US law doesn’t offer these kinds of capabilities to our government. 

But even in the case where we’re talking about some attempt to change the system, it has a number of protections built in that make it not very useful for trying to identify individuals holding specifically objectionable images. The hash list is built into the operating system, we have one global operating system and don’t have the ability to target updates to individual users and so hash lists will be shared by all users when the system is enabled. And secondly, the system requires the threshold of images to be exceeded so trying to seek out even a single image from a person’s device or set of people’s devices won’t work because the system simply does not provide any knowledge to Apple for single photos stored in our service. And then, thirdly, the system has built into it a stage of manual review where, if an account is flagged with a collection of illegal CSAM material, an apple team will review that to make sure that it is a correct match of illegal CSAM material prior to making any referral to any external entity. And so the hypothetical requires jumping over a lot of hoops, including having Apple change its internal process to refer material that is not illegal, like known CSAM and that we don’t believe that there’s a basis on which people will be able to make that request in the US. And the last point that I would just add is that it does still preserve user choice, if a user does not like this kind of functionality, they can choose not to use iCloud Photos and if iCloud Photos is not enabled no part of the system is functional.

So if iCloud Photos is disabled, the system does not work, which is the public language in the FAQ. I just wanted to ask specifically, when you disable iCloud Photos, does this system continue to create hashes of your photos on device, or is it completely inactive at that point?

If users are not using iCloud Photos, NeuralHash will not run and will not generate any vouchers. CSAM detection is a neural hash being compared against a database of the known CSAM hashes that are part of the operating system image. None of that piece, nor any of the additional parts including the creation of the safety vouchers or the uploading of vouchers to iCloud Photos is functioning if you’re not using iCloud Photos. 

In recent years, Apple has often leaned into the fact that on-device processing preserves user privacy. And in nearly every previous case and I can think of that’s true. Scanning photos to identify their content and allow me to search them, for instance. I’d rather that be done locally and never sent to a server. However, in this case, it seems like there may actually be a sort of anti-effect in that you’re scanning locally, but for external use cases, rather than scanning for personal use — creating a ‘less trust’ scenario in the minds of some users. Add to this that every other cloud provider scans it on their servers and the question becomes why should this implementation being different from most others engender more trust in the user rather than less?

I think we’re raising the bar, compared to the industry standard way to do this. Any sort of server side algorithm that’s processing all users photos is putting that data at more risk of disclosure and is, by definition, less transparent in terms of what it’s doing on top of the user’s library. So, by building this into our operating system, we gain the same properties that the integrity of the operating system provides already across so many other features, the one global operating system that’s the same for all users who download it and install it, and so it in one property is much more challenging, even how it would be targeted to an individual user. On the server side that’s actually quite easy — trivial. To be able to have some of the properties and building it into the device and ensuring it’s the same for all users with the features enable give a strong privacy property. 

Secondly, you point out how use of on device technology is privacy preserving, and in this case, that’s a representation that I would make to you, again. That it’s really the alternative to where users’ libraries have to be processed on a server that is less private.

The things that we can say with this system is that it leaves privacy completely undisturbed for every other user who’s not into this illegal behavior, Apple gain no additional knowledge about any users cloud library. No user’s Cloud Library has to be processed as a result of this feature. Instead what we’re able to do is to create these cryptographic safety vouchers. They have mathematical properties that say, Apple will only be able to decrypt the contents or learn anything about the images and users specifically that collect photos that match illegal, known CSAM hashes, and that’s just not something anyone can say about a cloud processing scanning service, where every single image has to be processed in a clear decrypted form and run by routine to determine who knows what? At that point it’s very easy to determine anything you want [about a user’s images] versus our system only what is determined to be those images that match a set of known CSAM hashes that came directly from NCMEC and and other child safety organizations. 

Can this CSAM detection feature stay holistic when the device is physically compromised? Sometimes cryptography gets bypassed locally, somebody has the device in hand — are there any additional layers there?

I think it’s important to underscore how very challenging and expensive and rare this is. It’s not a practical concern for most users though it’s one we take very seriously, because the protection of data on the device is paramount for us. And so if we engage in the hypothetical where we say that there has been an attack on someone’s device: that is such a powerful attack that there are many things that that attacker could attempt to do to that user. There’s a lot of a user’s data that they could potentially get access to. And the idea that the most valuable thing that an attacker — who’s undergone such an extremely difficult action as breaching someone’s device — was that they would want to trigger a manual review of an account doesn’t make much sense. 

Because, let’s remember, even if the threshold is met, and we have some vouchers that are decrypted by Apple. The next stage is a manual review to determine if that account should be referred to NCMEC or not, and that is something that we want to only occur in cases where it’s a legitimate high value report. We’ve designed the system in that way, but if we consider the attack scenario you brought up, I think that’s not a very compelling outcome to an attacker.

Why is there a threshold of images for reporting, isn’t one piece of CSAM content too many?

We want to ensure that the reports that we make to NCMEC are high value and actionable, and one of the notions of all systems is that there’s some uncertainty built in to whether or not that image matched, And so the threshold allows us to reach that point where we expect a false reporting rate for review of one in 1 trillion accounts per year. So, working against the idea that we do not have any interest in looking through users’ photo libraries outside those that are holding collections of known CSAM the threshold allows us to have high confidence that those accounts that we review are ones that when we refer to NCMEC, law enforcement will be able to take up and effectively investigate, prosecute and convict.

Twitter now in compliance with India’s new IT rules, government says

Twitter is now complying with India’s new IT rules, New Delhi told a court Tuesday, in a move that is expected to ease months-long tension between the American social media network and the government of the key overseas market.

A lawyer representing the Indian government told the Delhi High Court that Twitter’s recent steps — appointment of chief compliance officer, nodal contact person and resident grievance officer in the country — have made the social network “prima facie” compliant with the new law.

A Twitter spokesperson in India didn’t immediately return a text.

India’s new IT rules, which were unveiled in February this year, mandates significant social media firms, among other things, to appoint officials to address on-ground concerns in the country.

Facebook and Google complied with this requirement in May, when the proposed rules went into effect in the South Asian market.

Twitter, which was facing heat from the Indian government for not blocking some tweets that the Indian government had deemed objectionable, had requested additional few months to comply with the new rules and in the meantime vacated the required roles with temporary staff.

Tension has been brewing between the two for several months. Twitter labeled a tweet from Sambit Patra, the spokesperson of India’s ruling party BJP, in May as “manipulated media.” Days later, a special squad of Delhi police that investigates terrorism and other crimes made a surprise visit to two of Twitter’s offices in the country to seek information about Twitter’s rationale to term Patra’s tweets as manipulated.

Twitter at the time said it was “concerned by recent events regarding our employees in India and the potential threat to freedom of expression for the people we serve.”

The firm’s slow-efforts to comply with the new IT rules had cost the firm liability protection in the country last month, the Indian government said earlier. Internet services enjoy what is broadly referred to as “safe harbor” protection that say that tech platforms won’t be held liable for the things their users post or share online.

The new rules also require significant social media firms operating encrypted messaging services to devise a way to trace originator of messages for special cases. Several firms including Facebook’s WhatsApp and Signal have not complied with this requirement. WhatsApp has sued the Indian government over this requirement.

This is a developing story. More to follow…

This Week in Apps: In-app events hit the App Store, TikTok tries Stories, Apple reveals new child safety plan

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

The app industry continues to grow, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020. Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.

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 suggestions about new apps and games to try, too.

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

Top Stories

Apple to scan for CSAM imagery

Apple announced a major initiative to scan devices for CSAM imagery. The company on Thursday announced a new set of features, arriving later this year, that will detect child sexual abuse material (CSAM) in its cloud and report it to law enforcement. Companies like Dropbox, Google and Microsoft already scan for CSAM in their cloud services, but Apple had allowed users to encrypt their data before it reached iCloud. Now, Apple’s new technology, NeuralHash, will run on users’ devices, tatformso detect when a users upload known CSAM imagery — without having to first decrypt the images. It even can detect the imagery if it’s been cropped or edited in an attempt to avoid detection.

Meanwhile, on iPhone and iPad, the company will roll out protections to Messages app users that will filter images and alert children and parents if sexually explicit photos are sent to or from a child’s account. Children will not be shown the images but will instead see a grayed-out image instead. If they try to view the image anyway through the link, they’ll be shown interruptive screens that explain why the material may be harmful and are warned that their parents will be notified.

Some privacy advocates pushed back at the idea of such a system, believing it could expand to end-to-end encrypted photos, lead to false positives, or set the stage for more on-device government surveillance in the future. But many cryptology experts believe the system Apple developed provides a good balance between privacy and utility, and have offered their endorsement of the technology. In addition, Apple said reports are manually reviewed before being sent to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

The changes may also benefit iOS developers who deal in user photos and uploads, as predators will no longer store CSAM imagery on iOS devices in the first place, given the new risk of detection.

In-App Events appear on the App Store

Image Credits: Apple

Though not yet publicly available to all users, those testing the new iOS 15 mobile operating system got their first glimpse of a new App Store discovery feature this week: “in-app events.” First announced at this year’s WWDC, the feature will allow developers and Apple editors alike to showcase directly on the App Store upcoming events taking place inside apps.

The events can appear on the App Store homepage, on the app’s product pages or can be discovered through personalized recommendations and search. In some cases, editors will curate events to feature on the App Store. But developers will also be provided tools to submit their own in-app events. TikTok’s “Summer Camp” for creators was one of the first in-app events to be featured, where it received a top spot on the iPadOS 15 App Store.

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

Apple expands support for student IDs on iPhone and Apple Watch ahead of the fall semester. Tens of thousands more U.S. and Canadian colleges will now support mobile student IDs in the Apple Wallet app, including Auburn University, Northern Arizona University, University of Maine, New Mexico State University and others.

Apple was accused of promoting scam apps in the App Store’s featured section. The company’s failure to properly police its store is one thing, but to curate an editorial list that actually includes the scams is quite another. One of the games rounded up under “Slime Relaxations,” an already iffy category to say the least, was a subscription-based slime simulator that locked users into a $13 AUD per week subscription for its slime simulator. One of the apps on the curated list didn’t even function, implying that Apple’s editors hadn’t even tested the apps they recommend.

This is infuriating. How is Apple *featuring* these scams?

Let’s take a look at one of these apps!

“Jelly: Slime simulator, ASMR”

1/https://t.co/lDTn8eEVfz pic.twitter.com/VyYKUSLdJE

— Simeon (@twolivesleft) August 5, 2021

Tax changes hit the App Store. Apple announced tax and price changes for apps and IAPs in South Africa, the U.K. and all territories using the Euro currency, all of which will see decreases. Increases will occur in Georgia and Tajikistan, due to new tax changes. Proceeds on the App Store in Italy will be increased to reflect a change to the Digital Services Tax effective rate.

Game Center changes, too. Apple said that on August 4, a new certificate for server-based Game Center verification will be available via the publicKeyUrl.

Fintech

Robinhood stock jumped more than 24% to $46.80 on Tuesday after initially falling 8% on its first day of trading last week, after which it had continued to trade below its opening price of $38.

Square’s Cash app nearly doubled its gross profit to $546 million in Q2, but also reported a $45 million impairment loss on its bitcoin holdings.

Coinbase’s app now lets you buy your cryptocurrency using Apple Pay. The company previously made its Coinbase Card compatible with Apple Pay in June.

Social

An anonymous app called Sendit, which relies on Snap Kit to function, is climbing the charts of the U.S. App Store after Snap suspended similar apps, YOLO and LMK. Snap was sued by the parent of child who was bullied through those apps, which led to his suicide. Sendit also allows for anonymity, and reviews compare it to YOLO. But some reviews also complained about bullying. This isn’t the first time Snap has been involved in a lawsuit related to a young person’s death related to its app. The company was also sued for its irresponsible “speed filter” that critics said encouraged unsafe driving. Three young men died using the filter, which captured them doing 123 mph.

TikTok is testing Stories. As Twitter’s own Stories integrations, Fleets, shuts down, TikTok confirmed it’s testing its own Stories product. The TikTok Stories appear in a left-hand sidebar and allow users to post ephemeral images or video that disappear in 24 hours. Users can also comment on Stories, which are public to their mutual friends and the creator. Stories on TikTok may make more sense than they did on Twitter, as TikTok is already known as a creative platform and it gives the app a more familiar place to integrate its effects toolset and, eventually, advertisements.

Facebook has again re-arranged its privacy settings. The company continually moves around where its privacy features are located, ostensibly to make them easier to find. But users then have to re-learn where to go to find the tools they need, after they had finally memorized the location. This time, the settings have been grouped into six top-level categories, but “privacy” settings have been unbundled from one location to be scattered among the other categories.

A VICE report details ban-as-a-service operations that allow anyone to harass or censor online creators on Instagram. Assuming you can find it, one operation charged $60 per ban, the listing says.

TikTok merged personal accounts with creator accounts. The change means now all non-business accounts on TikTok will have access to the creator tools under Settings, including Analytics, Creator Portal, Promote and Q&A. TikTok shared the news directly with subscribers of its TikTok Creators newsletter in August, and all users will get a push notification alerting them to the change, the company told us.

Discord now lets users customize their profile on its apps. The company added new features to its iOS and Android apps that let you add a description, links and emojis and select a profile color. Paid subscribers can also choose an image or GIF as their banner.

Twitter Spaces added a co-hosting option that allows up to two co-hosts to be added to the live audio chat rooms. Now Spaces can have one main host, two co-hosts and up to 10 speakers. Co-hosts have all the moderation abilities as hosts, but can’t add or remove others as co-hosts.

making it easier to manage your Space…introducing co-hosting!

– hosts have two co-host invites they can send
– the table just got bigger: 1 host, 2 co-hosts, and 10 speakers
– co-hosts can help invite speakers, manage requests, remove participants, pin Tweets and more! pic.twitter.com/s76JFbhTL2

— Spaces (@TwitterSpaces) August 5, 2021

Messaging

Tencent reopened new user sign-ups for its WeChat messaging app, after having suspended registrations last week for unspecified “technical upgrades.” The company, like many other Chinese tech giants, had to address new regulations from Beijing impacting the tech industry. New rules address how companies handle user data collection and storage, antitrust behavior and other checks on capitalist “excess.” The gaming industry is now worried it’s next to be impacted, with regulations that would restrict gaming for minors to fight addiction.

WhatsApp is adding a new feature that will allow users to send photos and videos that disappear after a single viewing. The Snapchat-inspired feature, however, doesn’t alert you if the other person takes a screenshot — as Snap’s app does. So it may not be ideal for sharing your most sensitive content.

Telegram’s update expands group video calls to support up to 1,000 viewers. It also announced video messages can be recorded in higher quality and can be expanded, regular videos can be watched at 0.5 or 2x speed, screen sharing with sound is available for all video calls, including 1-on-1 calls, and more.

Streaming & Entertainment

American Airlines added free access to TikTok aboard its Viasat-equipped aircraft. Passengers will be able to watch the app’s videos for up to 30 minutes for free and can even download the app if it’s not already installed. After the free time, they can opt to pay for Wi-Fi to keep watching. Considering how easy it is to fall into multi-hour TikTok viewing sessions without knowing it, the addition of the addictive app could make long plane rides feel shorter. Or at least less painful.

Chinese TikTok rival Kuaishou saw stocks fall by more than 15% in Hong Kong, the most since its February IPO. The company is another victim of an ongoing market selloff triggered by increasing investor uncertainty related to China’s recent crackdown on tech companies. Beijing’s campaign to rein in tech has also impacted Tencent, Alibaba, Jack Ma’s Ant Group, food delivery company Meituan and ride-hailing company Didi. Also related, Kuaishou shut down its controversial app Zynn, which had been paying users to watch its short-form videos, including those stolen from other apps.

Twitch overtook YouTube in consumer spending per user in April 2021, and now sees $6.20 per download as of June compared with YouTube’s $5.60, Sensor Tower found.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Spotify confirmed tests of a new ad-supported tier called Spotify Plus, which is only $0.99 per month and offers unlimited skips (like free users get on the desktop) and the ability to play the songs you want, instead of only being forced to use shuffle mode.

The company also noted in a forum posting that it’s no longer working on AirPlay2 support, due to “audio driver compatibility” issues.

Mark Cuban-backed audio app Fireside asked its users to invest in the company via an email sent to creators which didn’t share deal terms. The app has yet to launch.

YouTube kicks off its $100 million Shorts Fund aimed at taking on TikTok by providing creators with cash incentives for top videos. Creators will get bonuses of $100 to $10,000 based on their videos’ performance.

Dating

Match Group announced during its Q2 earnings it plans to add to several of the company’s brands over the next 12 to 24 months audio and video chat, including group live video, and other livestreaming technologies. The developments will be powered by innovations from Hyperconnect, the social networking company that this year became Match’s biggest acquisition to date when it bought the Korean app maker for a sizable $1.73 billion. Since then, Match was spotted testing group live video on Tinder, but says that particular product is not launching in the near-term. At least two brands will see Hyperconnect-powered integrations in 2021.

Photos

The Photo & Video category on U.S. app stores saw strong growth in the first half of the year, a Sensor Tower report found. Consumer spend among the top 100 apps grew 34% YoY to $457 million in Q2 2021, with the majority of the revenue (83%) taking place on iOS.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Gaming

Epic Games revealed the host of its in-app Rift Tour event is Ariana Grande, in the event that runs August 6-8.

Pokémon GO influencers threatened to boycott the game after Niantic removed the COVID safety measures that had allowed people to more easily play while social distancing. Niantic’s move seemed ill-timed, given the Delta variant is causing a new wave of COVID cases globally.

Health & Fitness

Apple kicked out an app called Unjected from the App Store. The new social app billed itself as a community for the unvaccinated, allowing like-minded users to connect for dating and friendships. Apple said the app violated its policies for COVID-19 content.

Google Pay expanded support for vaccine cards. In Australia, Google’s payments app now allows users to add their COVID-19 digital certification to their device for easy access. The option is available through Google’s newly updated Passes API which lets government agencies distribute digital versions of vaccine cards.

COVID Tech Connect, a U.S. nonprofit initially dedicated to collecting devices like phones and tablets for COVID ICU patients, has now launched its own app. The app, TeleHome, is a device-agnostic, HIPAA-compliant way for patients to place a video call for free at a time when the Delta variant is again filling ICU wards, this time with the unvaccinated — a condition that sometimes overlaps with being low-income. Some among the working poor have been hesitant to get the shot because they can’t miss a day of work, and are worried about side effects. Which is why the Biden administration offered a tax credit to SMBs who offered paid time off to staff to get vaccinated and recover.

Popular journaling app Day One, which was recently acquired by WordPress.com owner Automattic, rolled out a new “Concealed Journals” feature that lets users hide content from others’ viewing. By tapping the eye icon, the content can be easily concealed on a journal by journal basis, which can be useful for those who write to their journal in public, like coffee shops or public transportation.

Edtech

Recently IPO’d language learning app Duolingo is developing a math app for kids. The company says it’s still “very early” in the development process, but will announce more details at its annual conference, Duocon, later this month.

Educational publisher Pearson launched an app that offers U.S. students access to its 1,500 titles for a monthly subscription of $14.99. the Pearson+ mobile app (ack, another +), also offers the option of paying $9.99 per month for access to a single textbook for a minimum of four months.

News & Reading

Quora jumps into the subscription economy. Still not profitable from ads alone, Quora announced two new products that allow its expert creators to monetize their content on its service. With Quora+ ($5/mo or $50/yr), subscribers can pay for any content that a creator paywalls. Creators can choose to enable a adaptive paywall that will use an algorithm to determine when to show the paywall. Another product, Spaces, lets creators write paywalled publications on Quora, similar to Substack. But only a 5% cut goes to Quora, instead of 10% on Substack.

Utilities

Google Maps on iOS added a new live location-sharing feature for iMessage users, allowing them to more easily show your ETA with friends and even how much battery life you have left. The feature competes with iMessage’s built-in location-sharing feature, and offers location sharing of 1 hour up to 3 days. The app also gained a dark mode.

Security & Privacy

Controversial crime app Citizen launched a $20 per month “Protect” service that includes live agent support (who can refer calls to 911 if need be). The agents can gather your precise location, alert your designated emergency contacts, help you navigate to a safe location and monitor the situation until you feel safe. The system of live agent support is similar to in-car or in-home security and safety systems, like those from ADT or OnStar, but works with users out in the real world. The controversial part, however, is the company behind the product: Citizen has been making headlines for launching private security fleets outside law enforcement, and recently offered a reward in a manhunt for an innocent person based on unsubstantiated tips.

Funding and M&A

🤝 Square announced its acquisition of the “buy now, pay later” giant AfterPay in a $29 billion deal that values the Australian firm at more than 30% higher than the stock’s last closing price of AUS$96.66. AfterPay has served over 16 million customers and nearly 100,000 merchants globally, to date, and comes at a time when the BNPL space is heating up. Apple has also gotten into the market recently with an Affirm partnership in Canada.

🤝 Gaming giant Zynga acquired Chinese game developer StarLark, the team behind the mobile golf game Golf Rival, from Betta Games for $525 million in both cash and stock. Golf Rival is the second-largest mobile golf game behind Playdemic’s Golf Clash, and EA is in the process of buying that studio for $1.4 billion.

💰  U.K.-based Humanity raised an additional $2.5 million for its app that claims to help slow down aging, bringing the total raise to date to $5 million. Backers include Calm’s co-founders, MyFitness Pal’s co-founder and others in the health space. The app works by benchmarking health advice against real-world data, to help users put better health practices into action.

💰 YELA, a Cameo-like app for the Middle East and South Asia, raised $2 million led by U.S. investors that include Tinder co-founder Justin Mateen and Sean Rad, general partner of RAD Fund. The app is focusing on signing celebrities in the regions it serves, where smartphone penetration is high and over 6% of the population is under 35.

💰 London-based health and wellness app maker Palta raised a $100 million Series B led by VNV Global. The company’s products include Flo.Health, Simple Fasting, Zing Fitness Coach and others, which reach a combined 2.4 million active, paid subscribers. The funds will be used to create more mobile subscription products.

🤝 Emoji database and Wikipedia-like site Emojipedia was acquired by Zedge, the makers of a phone personalization app offering wallpapers, ringtones and more to 35 million MAUs. Deal terms weren’t disclosed. Emojipedia says the deal provides it with more stability and the opportunity for future growth. For Zedge, the deal provides🤨….um, a popular web resource it thinks it can better monetize, we suspect.

💰 Mental health app Revery raised $2 million led by Sequoia Capital India’s Surge program for its app that combines cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia with mobile gaming concepts. The company will focus on other mental health issues in the future.

💰 London-based Nigerian-operating fintech startup Kuda raised a $55 million Series B, valuing its mobile-first challenger bank at $500 million. The inside round was co-led by Valar Ventures and Target Global.

💰 Vietnamese payments provider VNLife raised $250 million in a round led by U.S.-based General Atlantic and Dragoneer Investment Group. PayPal Ventures and others also participated. The round values the business at over $1 billion.

Downloads

Mastodon for iPhone

Fans of decentralized social media efforts now have a new app. The nonprofit behind the open source decentralized social network Mastodon released an official iPhone app, aimed at making the network more accessible to newcomers. The app allows you to find and follow people and topics; post text, images, GIFs, polls, and videos; and get notified of new replies and reblogs, much like Twitter.

Xingtu

@_666eveITS SO COOL FRFR do u guys want a tutorial? #fypシ #醒图 #醒图app♬ original sound – Ian Asher

TikTok users are teaching each other how to switch over to the Chinese App Store in order to get ahold of the Xingtu app for iOS. (An Android version is also available.) The app offers advanced editing tools that let users edit their face and body, like FaceTune, apply makeup, add filters and more. While image-editing apps can be controversial for how they can impact body acceptance, Xingtu offers a variety of artistic filters which is what’s primarily driving the demand. It’s interesting to see the lengths people will go to just to get a few new filters for their photos — perhaps making a case for Instagram to finally update its Post filters instead of pretending no one cares about their static photos anymore.

Tweets

Facebook still dominating top charts, but not the No. 1 spot:  

The most downloaded app worldwide for July 2021 was @tiktok_us with more than 63M installs. @Facebook, @instagram, @messenger, and @WhatsApp rounded out the top 5: https://t.co/H9RMR5Pg9P #tiktok #topapps #mobileapps #mobilegrowth pic.twitter.com/srlDI07FeD

— Sensor Tower (@SensorTower) August 5, 2021

Not cool, Apple: 

Apple promoting these slime apps again.

A few of them have $10+ weekly subscriptions.

One of them doesn’t even do anything.https://t.co/d0dKLCkiVF

— Beau Nouvelle (@BeauNouvelle) August 4, 2021

This user acquisition strategy: 

Great feedback, wanna use/test @FlightyApp? Looks like you fly some based on your profile, and good feedback is my lifeblood.

— Ryan Jones (@rjonesy) August 4, 2021

Maybe Stories don’t work everywhere: 

if you see a Fleet no you didn’t https://t.co/4rKI7f45PL

— Twitter (@Twitter) August 3, 2021

This Week in Apps: Instagram restricts teens’ accounts, Elon Musk criticizes App Store fees, Google Play’s new policies

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 industry continues to grow, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020. Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year over year.

This Week in Apps will finally be a newsletter! It will launch on August 7. Sign up now! 

Top Stories

Google Play updates its policies

Did you hear the one about Google Play banning sugar daddy dating apps? Google this week updated its terms to clarify that apps where users offer sex acts in exchange for money, or “sugar dating,” as the new terms state, are no longer allowed as of September 1, 2021.

More interesting, perhaps, to the larger group of legitimate Android developers is this week’s unveiling of the UI for the upcoming Google Play safety section and the accompanying app labels. The labels will function as the Android counterpart to the app “nutrition labels” the Apple App Store recently introduced. Google is giving developers plenty of time to get used to the idea of increased transparency and disclosure, by offering a detailed timeline of when it expects developers to have their privacy label submissions ready. By April 2022, all developers will need to declare specific info and have a privacy policy.

Developers will have to disclose to users whether their app uses security practices like data encryption, whether it follows Google Play’s Families policy for apps aimed at kids, whether users have a choice in data sharing, whether the app’s safety section had been verified by a third party, and if the app allowed users to request data deletion at the time of uninstalling, among other things.

Apps that don’t disclose won’t be able to list or update until the problems are fixed.

The safety section wasn’t the only Google Play policy news to be announced this week.

Google also reminded developers that it was making a technical change to how advertising IDs work. Now, when users opt out of interest-based advertising or ads personalization, their advertising ID is removed and replaced with a string of zeros. The change, however, is a phased rollout, affecting apps running on Android 12 devices starting late 2021 and expanding to all apps running on devices that support Google Play in early 2022.

Google also said it will test a new feature that notifies developers and ad/analytics service providers of user opt-out preferences and is prohibiting linking persistent device identifiers to personal and sensitive user data or resettable device identifiers. Kids apps will also not be able to transmit an ad ID.

Another policy update includes a plan to close dormant accounts. Google says if the account is inactive or abandoned after a year, it will be closed. This will include accounts where the developer has never uploaded an app or accessed Google Play Console in a year.

Tools to build accessible experiences will also be locked down, as Google is adding new requirements on how AccessibilityService API and IsAccessibilityTool can be used.

Apple tries to fix the Safari mess

In response to feedback and complaints, Apple is clearly trying to fix some of the issues that arose from this change. It re-added a Share button to the tab bar and put additional controls under that menu. There’s also once again a reload button in the tab bar next to the domain name, though it’s a bit smaller, and a Reader Mode button will appear in the tab bar when Reader is available

On iPad, Safari also reverted back to the traditional separate row of tabs, instead of the new compact experience.

The Refresh button is now permanently showing in the iOS 15 Safari address bar #iOS15DevBeta4 pic.twitter.com/v8AoRB68QI

— Apple Software Updates (@AppleSWUpdates) July 27, 2021

Elon Musk sides with Epic Games

Elon Musk sided with Fortnite maker Epic Games in the Apple App Store antitrust lawsuit, as the Tesla CEO tweeted on Friday that Apple’s App Store fees were “a de facto global tax on the Internet.” The lawsuit alleges Apple is abusing its platform power with how it commissions apps and in-app purchases on its App Store platform — fees that add up to big numbers for a game like Fortnite, which arguably doesn’t need an App Store for discovery, marketing, payments and distribution. But there’s no other way to sell to iOS users today. On Android, apps can at least be sideloaded. It’s not currently clear why Musk has decided to take a stand on the issue, as none of his companies’ apps are dramatically impacted by Apple’s fees at present.

Weekly News

Other Platform News (Apple & Google)

Apple announced plans to end support for a number of SiriKit intents and commands, including those that could impact major apps — like ride-sharing app Uber. In total, there are over 20 SiriKit intent domains that will be deprecated and no longer supported in new and existing OS releases, Apple says.

Apple tweaked the controversial iOS 15 Safari changes in the latest betas (iOS 15 and iPadOS 15, beta 4). The new Safari design had moved the tab bar (URL bar) to the bottom of the screen — a fairly radical change for one of the iPhone’s most used apps. It was meant to make the controls easier to reach but critics said that the change made other often used features — like the reload button or Reader Mode — harder to find and use, impacting the overall usability of the browser itself.

Google this week launched version 1.0 of Jetpack Compose, Android’s new, native UI toolkit aimed at helping developers build better apps faster. The tool had been in beta since March. The new production release is built to integrate with the Jetpack libraries developers already use, and offers an implementation of Material Design components and theming. New features include Compose Preview and Deploy Preview, which require Android Studio Arctic Fox, which is also out now in a stable release.

Google also announced the availability of the CarHardwareManager API via the Android for Cars App Library as part of Jetpack.

E-commerce

Twitter launched a U.S. e-commerce pilot test that will help determine the current appetite for online shopping on its platform. The test allows brands and businesses to feature a “Shop Module” with various products for sale at the top of their Professional Profile, a business-friendly version of a profile page with support for things like an address, hours, phone number and more. Users can click on the Shop Module to go to a retail website and transact. Early testers include Game Stop and Arden Cove. The feature itself is somewhat bare bones for now, as it’s really just an image that launches an in-app browser. That’s not enough to really compete with something like Instagram Shop or Shopify’s Shop and the integrated, native checkout experience those types of app offers.

Fintech

Fintech giant Robinhood raised $2.1 billion in its IPO this week. The IPO valued the trading app at $31.8 billion, making it larger that traditional rivals like Charles Schwab, even though the offering priced at the bottom of its range. The stock dropped 8% during its first day’s trading, however. Robinhood now has 21.3 million MAUs.

PayPal during its second-quarter earnings call announced its new “super app” is now code-complete and ready to roll out. The app will feature early direct deposit, check cashing, high yield savings, budgeting tools, improved bill pay, crypto support, subscription management, buy now, pay later functionality, mobile commerce, and person-to-person messaging features. The latter hadn’t yet been announced and would allow users to chat outside of the payments process.

Code found in Apple’s Wallet app indicates that iOS 15 will require users to verify their identities by taking a selfie when they add their driver’s license or other state identification card to the iPhone.

Social

Instagram announced a series of significant changes to how it handles the accounts of younger teens. The company says it will now default users to private accounts at sign-up if they’re under the age of 16  — or under 18 in certain locales, including in the EU. It will also push existing users under 16 to switch their account to private if they have not already done so. In addition, Instagram is rolling out new technology aimed at reducing unwanted contact from adults — like those who have already been blocked or reported by other teens — and it will change how advertisers can reach its teenage audience. The changes give the company a way to argue to regulators that it’s capable of self-policing as it attempts to roll out a version of Instagram to younger users under the age of 13.

Twitter rolls out an update to its live audio platform, Twitter Spaces, that will make it easier to share the audio room with others. Users will be able to compose a tweet right from the Space that links to the room and includes any accompanying hashtags. iOS users also received new guest management controls for hosts.

Snapchat resolved an outage that was stopping people from logging in on Thursday. Unlike other app blips, which fix themselves often without users’ awareness, Snap told users to manually update their app if the issues continued.

Snapchat also this week added a “My Places” feature to Snap Map, which allows users to log their favorite spots, share them with friends and find recommendations. The feature supports over 30 million businesses and allows Snap to differentiate its map from a utility like Google Maps or Apple Maps, because it’s about personal recommendations from people you know and trust: your friends.

Instagram added support for 60-second videos to its TikTok clone, Reels. Previously, only Reels of up to 30 seconds were supported. Sixty seconds is in line with other platforms like YouTube Shorts and Snapchat’s Spotlight. But TikTok is now inching into YouTube territory, as it recently expanded to support three-minute videos.

TikTok expanded its LIVE platform with a huge lineup of new features including the ability to go live with others, host Q&As, use moderators and improved keyword filters, and more. For viewers, TikTok is adding new discovery and viewing tools, including picture-in-picture mode and ways to jump to LIVE streams from the For You and Following feeds. Some markets, including the U.S. already had access to LIVE Events, but the feature is now expanding. Meanwhile, the co-host feature currently supports going live with one other creator, but TikTok says it’s now testing multiple hosts.

Discord launched a new feature, Threads, which will make it easier to read through longer conversations on busy servers. Now, any server with “Community” features enabled will be able to transform their messages into threaded conversations across mobile and desktop. The threads will be designated by their own subject name and can be created by selecting a new hashtag symbol that appears in the menu when hovering over messages or by pressing the + sign in the chat bar.

Pinterest shares dropped by more than 12% after the company reported its second-quarter earnings on Thursday. Despite beating on estimates with revenue of $613.2 million and earnings per share of 25 cents, investors were disappointed by the miss on user growth. The company reported monthly active user growth of just 9% to reach 454 million, when analysts were expecting 482 million. Pinterest blamed COVID impacts for the slowdown. The news follows Pinterest’s launch of new tools for creators to monetize their content, with Ideas Pins — the recently launched video-first format that lets creators show off their work. Now, creators can make their pins “shoppable” and take commissions on those purchases.

Messaging

WhatsApp is testing support for higher image upload quality on iOS devices. The feature was discovered on WhatsApp’s TestFlight version for iOS but is not yet public and offers three options: auto, best quality or data saver.

Streaming & Entertainment

Spotify’s Clubhouse clone, Greenroom, is off to a slow start. The app has only been downloaded 140,000+ times on iOS and 100,000+ on Android, including installs from its earlier life as Locker Room, an app that Spotify acquired to move into live audio. Meanwhile, Spotify has 365 million monthly active users on its flagship streaming app.

Spotify also reported its Q2 earnings this week, where it posted a $23.6 million loss and failed to reach its forecast for total MAUs, despite growing MAUs 22% YOY to 365 million. It now has 165 million paying subscribers, which is up 20% YOY.

In a change to its app, Spotify added an attention-grabbing “What’s New” feed that offers personalized updates about new releases and new podcast episodes. The feature is available through a notification bell icon and uses a blue dot to indicate when there’s something new to see. Dots like this are a psychological hacks popularized by social apps like Facebook and Instagram to addict users, which could impact user engagement time on Spotify’s app.

Apple’s GarageBand app for iOS and iPadOS now lets you remix tracks from top artists and producers like Dua Lipa and Lady Gaga. There are also new Producer Packs with beats, loops and instruments created for GarageBand by top producers, including Boys Noize, Mark Lettieri, Oak Felder, Soulection, Take A Daytrip, Tom Misch and TRAKGIRL.

Google TV’s mobile app was updated with new services and personalized recommendations, following last fall’s launch of the Google TV user experience for Chromecast devices. The app now sports 16:9 widescreen movie and show posters, and added new providers Discovery+, Viki, Cartoon Network, PBS Kids, Boomerang, plus on-demand content from live TV services, including YouTube TV, Philo and fuboTV.

Gaming

Epic Games announced that Fortnite will host another in-game event it’s calling the “Rift Tour,” which kicks off Friday, August 6 and runs through Sunday, August 8. What it hasn’t yet said is what the Rift Tour is, beyond a “musical journey into magical new realities” that will feature a “record-breaking superstar.”

Health & Fitness

Facebook’s Oculus division is exploring an integration of Oculus Workouts with Apple’s Health app, according to the app’s code. An integration would allow users to store their workout data in Health.

Productivity

Usage of mobile video conferencing apps like Zoom grew by 150% in the first half of 2021, according to a report from Sensor Tower. Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet saw a surge in usage, collectively climbing to nearly 21x higher than in H1 2019, the firm found.

Google Voice’s app was updated with a few refinements, including a way to see the reason for a missed call or dropped call, and an easy way to redial. iOS users can now show their Google Voice number as their caller ID when they get a calling through a forwarding number. Another change will allow users to delete multiple SMS messages at once.

Edtech

Language learning app Duolingo raised $521 million in its U.S. IPO, priced above the marketed range. The company priced 5.1 million shared at $102, after first marketing them at $95 to $100.

Utilities

Amazon this week rolled out an update to its Alexa iOS app that allows users to add an Alexa widget to their iOS homescreen. The widget lets you tap on a button to speak to the virtual assistant and issue commands. Watch out Siri! (Ha, just kidding.)

Google Maps also updated its iOS app this week to add support for a homescreen widget. There are two different widgets sizes to choose from — one that gives info like weather and traffic, while another is more of a shortcut to nearby places like gas stations, restaurants, work and home.

Google is working on a”Switch to Android” app for iOS users that will copy over data and apps from an iPhone to bring them to a new Android device. Apple already offers a similar app, called “Move to iOS” for Android users.

Transportation

Parking app usage has popped to pre-pandemic levels, Apptopia reported. Apps in this space help users find availability in lots and garages nearby and facilitate payments. Browsing time in apps was up 57% YOY in July, and overall parking app usage is now 6.2% above Jan. 2020 pre-pandemic levels.

Moovit integrated Lime’s electric scooters, bikes and mopeds into its transit-planning app that’s live in 117 cities across 20 countries and continents, including the United States, South America, Australia and Europe.

Government & Policy

Tencent’s WeChat suspended new user registrations in China to comply with “relevant laws and regulations.” The move comes amid a broad crackdown on tech companies by Chinese regulators, related to data collection and other harmful practices.

Recently, China ordered Tencent and 13 other developers to fix problems related to pop-ups inside their apps, as part of the tech crackdown. The regulator also said it would tighten controls on misleading and explicit content used for marketing, and issued fines for offensive content to Tencent, Kuaishou and Alibaba.

Security & Privacy

Apple released patches for iOS, iPadOS and macOS to address a zero-day vulnerability that had been exploited in the wild. Apple said the exploit could exploit the vulnerability known as CVE-2021-30807 to execute arbitrary code with kernel privileges on a vulnerable and unpatched device.

Google Play Protect failed an Android security test, according to a report from Bleeping Computer. The mobile threat protection solution ranked last out of 15 Android security apps tested over a span of six months, between January to June 2021.

Funding and M&A

💰 Product insights and analytics startup Pendo raised $150 million at a $2.6 billion valuation, ahead of its expected IPO. The round was led by B Capital, the firm from Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, and included new investor Silver Lake Waterman, alongside existing backers. Pendo’s platform helps companies gather data on how customers use their apps, including clients like Okta, Toast and others.

🤝 Twitter “acqui-hired” the team from subscription news app, Brief, who will now join Twitter’s Experience.org group, which works on Twitter Spaces and Explore. Brief had offered a non-biased news app that allowed you to get both sides of a story and all the necessary facts. Deal terms weren’t disclosed.

💰 Delivery app Gopuff confirmed its $1 billion fundraise at a $15 billion valuation, aimed at expanding its instant delivery service. TechCrunch previously reported the news when the Series H was still being closed.

💰 Indian travel app Ixigo raised $53 million (Rs 395 crore), prepping the business for a valuation of $750 million-$800 million for its upcoming IPO. The round was led by Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC.

💰Mobile-first digital wallet Valora native to the Celo network raised $20 million in Series A funding led by Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), a Celo backer, to become a global gateway to crypto.

💰 Crypto wallet company Eco, backed by a16z, raised $60 million in new funding led by Activant Capital and L Catterton. Eco offers a digital wallet with rewards and no fees, and has average deposits of around $6,000.

💰 Search API startup Algolia, which lets developers integrate real-time search in apps or websites, raised $150 million in Series D funding, valuing the business at $2.25 billion, post-money. The round was led by Lone Pine Capital. Algolia now has over 10,000 customers, including Slack, Stripe, Medium, Zendesk and Lacoste.

💰 Brain Technologies raised $50+ million for Natural, a natural language search engine and super app for iOS, which wants users to stop switching between apps to order food, groceries or go shopping. Backers include Laurene Powell Jobs’ Emerson Collective, Goodwater Capital, Scott Cook and WTT Investment.

💰 Messaging app Element, built on the decentralized Matrix protocol, raised $30 million in a Series B round of funding. Investors include open-source R&D lab Protocol Labs and Metaplanet. a fund from Skype co-founder Jaan Tallinn, as well as past investors Automattic and Notion.

💰 Indonesia-based grocery app HappyFresh raised $65 million in Series D funding in a round led by Naver Financial Corporation and Gafina B.V. The app offers an Instacart-like grocery delivery service for parts of Asia, which today operates in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

💰 Indian D2C beauty brand MyGlamm, which sells products through an app and website, raised $71.3 million in Series C financing, from Amazon, Ascent Capital and Wipro.

Downloads

Nanogram

Image Credits: Nanogram

Developer Kosta Eleftheriou may have taken on Apple in legal battles and on Twitter, as he points out the numerous app scams on the App Store, but that hasn’t stopped him from building new apps.

This week, Eleftheriou introduced Nanogram, a Telegram client app that works on the Apple Watch without needing an iPhone connection. Eleftheriou said he was inspired to build Nanogram because he wanted a Telegram app for his LTE Apple Watch and didn’t like the official version that didn’t provide “basic and reliable messaging functionality.” So he built his own app from scratch using the Telegram SDK, which allows you to send, receive and view all your messages and notifications right from your wrist — even if you don’t have your phone nearby. The app also supports Eleftheriou’s FlickType Swipe Keyboard for faster replies while on the go.

Eleftheriou notes the app doesn’t collect any personal information and requires an Apple Watch Series 3 or later, running watchOS 7 or later.

Lightricks’ Videoleap for Android

Image Credits: Lightricks

After seeing a 70% yearly increase for its iOS version, Lightricks brought its Videoleap app to the Google Play Store. The app has grown popular with online creators for offering professional quality editing tools on mobile, including those that let you apply artistic effects, mix videos with images, add text and layer transformations and more. The company says Videoleap users are now creating 35 million pieces of content per month, and 47% of users are exporting their creations to TikTok in pursuit of monetizing their content further. The app, like others from Lightricks (which also makes FaceTune and others), monetizes by way of in-app subscriptions.

Tweets

Apple app store fees are a de facto global tax on the Internet. Epic is right.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 30, 2021

There’s a total of *six* different touch targets in the iOS 15 beta 4 tab bar in Safari.

These exclude the ability to long-press the tab bar, swipe across it to change tabs, and swipe it up to open the Tabs view.

I’m…starting to think a single, small toolbar just won’t do. 😬pic.twitter.com/EiD2mekVRL

— Federico Viticci (@viticci) July 27, 2021

Shortcuts has a new “Return to Home Screen” action in iOS 15 developer beta 4 – this has been long requested from the community and is great to see! pic.twitter.com/8E3ZB7FIYX

— Matthew Cassinelli (@mattcassinelli) July 27, 2021

I’ve been fascinated to watch the reaction to Safari in iOS 15 because in 2016-2017, I worked on a similar redesign for mobile Chrome that we never launched. Finally decided to tell a bit of that story here: https://t.co/gF4hepQM5V

— Chris Lee (@cleerview) July 25, 2021

something fun & playful our team has been working on. what are *creative* ways we can utilize voice for more engaging convos on Spaces? how would you use these tools?

let’s have fun & learn together🧏🏽‍♂️@RichardPlom @reedm @audgeyaudgey @callmeparri @niw pic.twitter.com/4ZBahxwkDN

— Danny Singh (@Mr_DannySingh) July 22, 2021

Shopify’s Q2 results beat estimates as e-commerce shines

Canadian e-commerce juggernaut Shopify this morning reported its second-quarter financial performance. Like Microsoft and Apple in the wake of their after-hours earnings reports, its shares are having a muted reaction to the better-than-expected results.

In the second quarter of 2021, Shopify reported revenues of $1.12 billion, up 57% on a year-over-year basis. The company’s subscription products grew 70% to $334.2 million, while its volume-driven merchant services drove their own top line up 52% to $785.2 million.

Investors had expected Shopify to report revenue of $1.05 billion.

Shopify also posted an enormous second-quarter profit. Indeed, from its $1.12 billion in total revenues, Shopify managed to generate $879.1 million in GAAP net income. How? The outsized profit came in part thanks to $778 million in unrealized gains related to equity investments. But even with those gains filtered out, Shopify’s adjusted net income of $284.6 million more than doubled its year-ago Q2 result of $129.4 million. Shopify’s earnings per share sans unrealized gains came to $2.24, far ahead of an expected 97 cents.

After reporting those results, Shopify shares are up less than a point.

In light of somewhat muted reactions to Big Tech earnings surpassing expectations, it’s increasingly clear that investors were anticipating that leading tech companies would trounce expectations in the second quarter; their earnings beats were largely priced-in ahead of the individual reports.

The rest of Shopify’s quarter is a series of huge figures. In the second three-month period of 2021, the company posted gross merchandise volume (GMV) of $42.2 billion, up 40% compared to the year-ago period. That was more than a billion dollars ahead of expectations. And the company’s monthly recurring revenue (MRR) grew 67% to $95.1 million in the quarter. That’s quick.

Shopify is priced like the growth will continue. Using its Q2 revenue result to generate an annual run rate for the firm, Shopify is currently valued at around 43x its present top line. That’s aggressive for a company that generates the minority of its revenues from recurring software fees, an investor favorite. Instead, investors seem content to pay what is effectively top dollar for the company’s blend of GMV-based service revenues and more traditional software incomes.

Consider the public markets bullish on the continued pace of e-commerce growth.

It will be interesting to see how BigCommerce, a Shopify competitor and fellow public company, performs when it reports earnings in early August. Shares of BigCommerce are up more than 3% today in wake of Shopify’s results. Ironic given Shopify’s relaxed market reaction to its own results? Sure, but who said the public markets are fair?

iPhone sales fuel Apple’s Wall Street-beating Q3

Another excellent quarter for Apple, as the company posted $81.4 billion in revenue. That’s a 36% year-over-year jump for the company, besting Wall Street estimates of $73.3 billion by a considerable margin.

“Our record June quarter operating performance included new revenue records in each of our geographic segments, double-digit growth in each of our product categories, and a new all-time high for our installed base of active devices,” CFO Luca Maestri said in a release. “We generated $21 billion of operating cash flow, returned nearly $29 billion to our shareholders during the quarter, and continued to make significant investments across our business to support our long-term growth plans.”

Some strong figures for the company all around here, but it was iPhone sales and subscription services that continued to lead the way — a familiar story for anyone who’s followed the company the last several quarters.

iPhone sales increased from $26 billion to $39.5 billion, on the continued strength of the company’s long-waited push into linewide 5G, while services rose from $13.1 billion to $17.5 billion for the quarter. Apple has continued to grow its services offerings, which now includes Music, TV+, iCloud, Arcade, News+ and Fitness+. The company clearly sees the subscription portfolio as the future of its revenue model.

Greater China proved a strong market for the company in the third fiscal quarter. The company posted $14.76 billion in sales for the region, a more than 50% increase over the same time last year. The Americas region, meanwhile, rose from $ 27 billion to $35.89.

In the earnings report, CEO Tim Cook made reference to pandemic-related issues, which highlighting broader societal focuses for the company.

“This quarter, our teams built on a period of unmatched innovation by sharing powerful new products with our users, at a time when using technology to connect people everywhere has never been more important,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “We’re continuing to press forward in our work to infuse everything we make with the values that define us — by inspiring a new generation of developers to learn to code, moving closer to our 2030 environment goal, and engaging in the urgent work of building a more equitable future.

The company once again declined to offer guidance, owing to uncertainties during the pandemic. On a followup call with investors, however, Maestri noted, “We expect revenue growth to be lower than our June Quarter.” The CFO cited various issues including foreign exchange rates with the U.S. dollar, a slow down in the growth rate of services and continued supply chain issues for its hardware offerings.

 

Apple News partners with NBCUniversal to share exclusive Olympics content

It’s hard to keep up with the Olympics any year, let alone when they’re taking place in a time zone that’s 13 hours ahead of you (if you’re on the U.S. East Coast). Apple News on Monday announced a collaboration with NBCUniversal (the U.S. broadcast rights holder for the Olympics) to develop exclusive daily recaps and audio briefings, event schedules and medal counts to help fans keep tabs on the games.

NBC Sports is the go-to app for streaming any Olympic event, but it’s a bit buggy. To their credit, streaming so many different feeds at once is hard to pull off, but the app can be tricky to navigate. Even though the app has an impressive catalog of every event, there’s no easy way to catch up with all the triumphs and defeats that took place while half the world was asleep, so this collaboration with Apple News fills a necessary void in NBC’s existing offerings.

Image Credits: Apple News (Screenshots by TechCrunch)

One of the most useful features is the News app’s user-friendly schedule of every single Olympic event by sport, which can set calendar reminders for the events you can’t miss. (Though you might need to set your alarm for certain events, like the women’s gymnastics all-around final, which starts at 6:50 a.m. ET on Thursday. But don’t worry, for these highly anticipated events, there’ll be prime-time coverage, too). NBC Sports sends push notification reminders for sports that you choose, but a pre-set calendar event might be more useful for planning your evening (or early morning) Olympics viewing.

Of course, this partnership allows Apple to promote Apple Podcasts, which has more competition than ever as Spotify continues to grow and Facebook adds support for podcasts. NBC is pushing its Olympics podcasts like “The Podium” and “On Her Turf” pretty hard — “The Podium” often appears as a banner ad during live coverage on the web. Even though these shows aren’t exclusive to Apple, the partnership with NBC can only help drive traffic to their podcast platform.

Xiaomi global shipments push past Apple for No. 2 spot

A banner quarter for Xiaomi helped the Chinese mobile company snag the No. 2 spot in global smartphone shipments, according to newly posted Q2 numbers from research firm Canalys. It’s pretty stunning growth for the company, up 83% year-over-year for the quarter and capturing 17% of the global market.

The surge puts Xiaomi at No. 2, globally, behind only Samsung’s 19% by a relatively small margin. Apple is at third with 14% (after its own solid growth has slowed), while fellow Chinese manufacturers Oppo and Vivo round out the top five at 10% a piece.

Huawei, of course, is nowhere to be seen among the top companies. It’s a pretty massive drop, due in no small part to blacklisting that has both barred the company from certain markets (namely, the U.S.) and cut off access to U.S. mobile products, including Google’s Android and various apps.

Image Credits: Canalys

Canalys cites aggressive pricing as a big factor in Xiaomi’s success — particularly contrasted with premium priced offerings from Samsung and Apple.

“It is now transforming its business model from challenger to incumbent, with initiatives such as channel partner consolidation and more careful management of older stock in the open market,” the analyst firm’s Research Manager Ben Stanton said in a release. “It is still largely skewed toward the mass market, however, and compared with Samsung and Apple, its average selling price is around 40% and 75% cheaper respectively. So a major priority for Xiaomi this year is to grow sales of its high-end devices, such as the Mi 11 Ultra.”

The company certainly isn’t a household name in the States (the company has dealt with its own issues here), but of late it has found particular success in Latin America, Africa and Western Europe. It seems that there are still plenty of markets available to continue its expansion as it looks to take on Samsung, even as Oppo and Vivo hope to continue their own respective rapid global growth.

Apple is reportedly working on a pay later feature for Apple Pay

Igor Bonifacic
Contributor

Igor Bonifacic is a contributing writer at Engadget.

If you’ve done any online shopping in the last little while, there’s a good chance you’ve run into services like Affirm and PayPal’s Pay in 4. They allow you to purchase something and pay for it later by splitting up the total cost of the item into several installments.

By the looks of things, Apple could soon offer a similar option to Apple Pay users. According to Bloomberg, the company is working with Goldman Sachs on a service called “Apple Pay Later” that will allow those with its devices to settle purchases over time, including ones they make at physical shops.

When using the service, the outlet says you’ll have two ways of paying for your purchase. If you pick the “Apple Pay in 4” option, you’ll need to make four interest-free payments across two months.

The other option is to extend the payment period over multiple months, though in that case interest comes into play. Bloomberg says it wasn’t able to determine how much interest Apple plans to charge or when the company will roll out the service.

We’ve reached out to Apple for comment on the report, and we’ll update this article when we hear back from the company. But in many ways, Apple Pay Later sounds like a logical extension of what the company is already doing with Apple Card, where one of the perks it offers is installment plans for Mac and iPad purchases.

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Engadget

This Week in Apps: Android ad prices jump, TikTok resumes, Google Play’s antitrust lawsuit

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 industry continues to grow, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020. Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.

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 suggestions about new apps and games to try, too.

This Week in Apps will soon be a newsletter! Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters

Top Stories

Android ad prices jump in wake of privacy updates on iOS

The Wall St. Journal reported this week how Apple’s privacy changes are changing the world of mobile advertising — in this case, ad pricing across platforms. The news outlet has been covering the broader impact of Apple’s decision to let users block apps from tracking them, noting how ad sales, including Facebook’s ad business, would be affected. (And how Apple’s own ad business would gain.)

This week, The WSJ says most users are declining tracking on iOS (less than 33% opt in), and as a result, mobile ad prices on iOS have fallen. The outlet cites data from ad measurement firm Tenjin which notes that spending on iOS mobile ads has dropped around one-third between June 1 and July 1. Around the same time, Android spending rose 10% — an indication that, for the time being, some portion of the ad market has just shifted platforms. Facebook ad spend also shifted to Android, with year-over-year growth of 46% for Android users in May to 64% in June.

The news follows a story this week from The FT, which noted that Chinese tech giants’ plan to route around the IDFA changes with CAID (the Chinese Advertising ID), had failed. Apple blocked updates to apps using CAID, which led to it losing support and the project’s failure.

For most app users, the ability to block tracking is a welcome change, as far too much user data had been shared behind-the-scenes without users’ informed consent. But the full impacts of how the update will impact app monetization long-term — and ultimately which companies then choose to build on iOS — still remain to be seen.

37 AGs target Google Play in an antitrust lawsuit

A group of 37 attorneys general filed a second major antitrust lawsuit against Google, accusing the company of using its market power to stifle competition. The suit takes aim at Google’s Play Store, which requires users to pay for apps and in-app purchases using Google’s own payments system — which gives Google a percentage of the revenue. In addition, the suit alleges that Google makes misleading security claims about the need for a walled garden app store like Google Play, in order to maintain its dominant position.

Google responded by calling the lawsuit “meritless” and noting that it ignores the openness of the Android platform, which permits other app stores and sideloading.

First Look: Pok Pok’s award-winning kids’ app Pok Pok Playroom shows off its sound design

Image Credits: Pok Pok

Recently launched Pok Pok Playroom from Pok Pok, a spinout from app maker Snowman (Alto’s Adventure, Alto’s Odyssey, Skate City), just took home an Apple Design Award in the “Delight and Fun” category for its app launched just months ago. Unlike other kids’ apps, Pok Pok promises an app that’s more of a digital “toy” that encourages real and imaginative play, not a mobile kids game. Now the company is sharing some of the techniques that helped it build this award-winning experience.

The company says it wanted to make sure there were no annoying sounds or repetitive music in the app that would bother parents or get stuck in kids’ heads. So it worked with its sound designer, Matt Miller, to ensure all the sounds in Pok Pok Playroom were sensory accessible and not overstimulating.

Miller often uses what he calls “found sounds” — that is, sounds he created by finding things to record — like a soup can, a vintage toy sourced from a local thrift shop, birds chirping, a spoon knocking on a pinecone and more. These give Pok Pok Playroom a more natural feel than other toys, which can sometimes feature loud or electronic-sounding noises that are overstimulating for kids and disruptive to those around them.

Weekly News

Platforms

A new Comscore study offers a look at how much people use their preinstalled apps from Apple and Google. Not surprisingly, these built-in utilities and services — like email, notes, messaging, maps, photos, clocks and more — dominate people’s app usage. 75% of the top 20 most-used apps on iPhone were made by Apple, and 60% of the top Android apps were made by Google, but here’s the funny thing: The study was paid for by Facebook, a company that’s looking for any angle to make it seem like it’s not a monopoly. So of course it had to find the only other bigger apps it could — the ones that ship with your smartphone.

Image Credits: comscore

OnePlus confirmed it’s throttling a number of popular apps on the OnePlus 9 and OnePlus 9 Pro in order to improve battery life. Apps such as Chrome, Twitter, Zoom, WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Discord, Microsoft’s Office apps, Firefox and Samsung Internet, were affected. The issue was discovered due to inconsistent benchmarks in testing.

Fintech

PayPal was the most downloaded P2P payments app globally during the first half of 2021, according to Apptopia. Rounding out the top 10 were Google Play, Alipay, PhonePe, Cash App, Paytm, Venmo, Zelle, Western Union and Remitly.

Personal finance app Charlie launched a redesign and a new feature called Direct Pay, which allows users to add their credit cards to the app to make extra payments toward their debt at their own pace. Or they can let the app recommend when it’s best to make payments toward their credit card debt. The company notes its users are now saving $66 monthly, which has added up to $30K+ of interest saved over the lifetime of their loans.

Social

✨ TikTok is piloting a new program that will allow U.S. users to apply for jobs using a TikTok video as a resume. Video applicants are asked to showcase their skillsets and experiences on video, then add #TikTokResumes to their caption. Pilot testers include a number of employers — like Chipotle, Target, WWE, Alo Yoga, Shopify, Contra, Movers + Shakers and others. The question is, will TikTokers feature these videos on the same account where they’ve posted personal content, dances and trends, or will this give way to a rise in Rinsta and Finsta-like TikTok accounts, where personal and more public content remains separated?

TikTok is also testing its own version of Cameo. The company was spotted testing a new feature that allows fans to pay for a shout-out video from their favorite creators directly in the app. According to screenshots of the feature, fans can request birthday wishes, pep talks and other messages, then pay using TikTok’s in-app currency.

TikTok launches Shoutouts – fans can request birthday wishes, pep talks and other messages from their favourite creators.

Fans can directly pay in-app, through TikTok’s in-apps currency (also used for live-stream gifting). pic.twitter.com/i5zQJKNfP5

— Fabian (Bern) Ouwehand 法比安 (@iamfabianbern) July 4, 2021

Twitter shared a few more ideas it’s thinking about in terms of new features around conversation health and privacy. This includes a one-stop “privacy check-in” feature that would introduce Twitter’s newer conversation controls options to users, and others that would allow people to be more private on the service, or to more easily navigate between public and private tweets or their various accounts.

TikTok on Tuesday experienced a widespread technical outage that lasted for over five hours before services were restored. U.S. users found that many videos were not loading during this time.

TikTok parent company ByteDance launched a new business arm called BytePlus, which will license the company’s various technologies to other businesses. This includes its AR effects, computer vision and machine translation tools, analytics and testing tools, and its recommendation engine that supports over 1.5 billion users. The company’s tools are being used by GOAT, Wego, Chilibeli, GamesApp, Webuy, Lark, and others, in addition to TikTok.

Trump has now sued Facebook, Twitter and Google for being “censored.” The companies enforced their terms of service in taking down Trump’s account across top social media platforms in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Trump’s lawsuit claims his First Amendment rights are being violated. The First Amendment applies to government censorship, not actions taken by businesses, however. Trump likely knows this but wanted to stir up some headlines.

Photos

Image Credits: Picsart

Popular photo-editing app PicsArt launched a brand refresh that includes a new name (Picsart), new logo, and a fresh new look across web and mobile, and more creator-friendly design flows. The app today has over 150 million monthly active users worldwide.

Everyone has thoughts on Instagram Head Adam Mosseri’s latest comments where he declared Instagram is “no longer” a photo-sharing app. His post was meant to alert users to upcoming tests that will see Instagram doing more experiments around how to better feature video in the app, but some are taking it as a sign that Instagram is more fully pivoting to a video-first experience.

Streaming & Entertainment

Reese Witherspoon’s media company, Hello Sunshine, is looking for an acquirer. The company has reportedly been in talks with multiple suitors, including Apple, The WSJ said. While the larger part of Hello Sunshine is it TV and movie film business, the company also operates the book club app, Reese’s Book Club, which serves as a place where many of the movie/TV deals are initially sourced.

More Spotify Premium users are reporting having gained access to the new feature, announced in May, that will allow them to download music to their Apple Watch so they can listen offline. The feature had been graduating rolling out, but appears to now be reaching a global audience.

Gaming

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Pokémon Go revenue from player spending has topped $5 billion as the game celebrates its five-year anniversary. According to Sensor Tower, the AR game now generates $1 billion on average per year, putting it at the op of the Geolocation AR category globally, ahead of others like Dragon Quest Walk and Square Enix.

The Alto’s Adventure series from Snowman is getting a new installment in the form of an upcoming Apple Arcade release called Alto’s Odyssey: The Lost City. The game is like a special edition of Alto’s Odyssey (the sequel to Alto’s Adventure), as it include extra features and content that’s deeply integrated, not just tacked on, including a new location called the Lost City. The game arrives on Apple Arcade on July 16th.

Health & Fitness

Amazon launched a new, employee-only app called Amazon WorkingWell for its health and wellness program that includes Associate-facing support, education and safety-prevention information across text content, videos, podcasts, and more.

Vaccine passport apps have hit 10 million global downloads, according to data from Apptopia. The firm analyzed the downloads for top apps including NHS, VeriFLY, NYS Excelsior, and CommonPass.

Image Credits: Apptopia

Government & Policy

Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi was pulled from several apps stores in China, including Apple’s App Store. According to Chinese regulators, the app was illegally collecting users’ personal info. Didi said it was making “corrections” and is halting new user sign-ups, but the app for existing users remained operational. China’s cybersecurity watchdog also suggested the company delay its IPO, and the app was removed from China’s WeChat and Alipay apps for new users.

Security & Privacy

9 Android apps with 5.8 million combined downloads were caught stealing users’ Facebook passwords. A security firm found apps offering photo editing, exercise, horoscopes and utilities that were tricking users into entering their Facebook credentials with the promise of removing ads from the app after signing into Facebook. Google has banned all the apps and their developers from the Play Store.

10 opioid addiction treatment apps were found sharing sensitive data with third parties, including a unique identifier on Android, unique device identifiers, phone numbers, and lists of installed apps. The apps have 180K combined downloads.

Google released its July 2021 security update for Pixel which patches a few “high”-priority (but not critical) vulnerabilities. The update is rolling out to a range of Pixel devices.

Funding and M&A (and a SPAC)

💰 Publishing platform Hiber raised $15 million for its web platform that allows people to create user-generated games, similar to Roblox. The company also offers a creation app for Android devices and allows players to use Safari to create games on iOS.

💰 Juni, a neobanking app for e-commerce and online marketing companies, raised $21.5 million in Series A funding. The round was co-led by DST Global and Felix Capital. The banking app has signed up 3,000 businesses on its waitlists, of which 200 have now joined.

📈 Neighborhood social networking app Nextdoor said it’s going public via a SPAC. The company plans to merge with Khosla Ventures Acquisition Co. II, taking itself public at the same time. The transaction will value the business at approximately $4.3 billion, up from its 2019 valuation of $2.17 billion. The app has 27 million weekly active users across the U.S.

💰 Pleo, a startup offering smart company cards for SMBs that automate expense reports, raised $150 million at a $1.7 billion valuation for its service that works across web and mobile.

💰 Popshop Live raised $20 million in Series A funding at a $100 million valuation for its livestream shopping service, available on web and mobile. The round was led by Benchmark, and comes after 500% growth of the number of sellers on the platform in the last 3 months.

💰 Live video shopping startup Talkshoplive raised $6 million in a seed extension round led by Raine Ventures. The company publishes an app that sellers can use with its live stream shopping platform.

💰Indian social commerce startup DealShare, which began as an e-commerce platform on WhatsApp, raised $144 million in Series D funding led by Tiger Global. The round values the company at $455 million post-money and will be used to help fund international expansion.

💰 Indian edtech Teachmint raised $20 million in a “pre-Series B” round led by Learn Capital for its mobile-first, video-first tech platform.

💰 European neobank Bunq, which offers a bank account you control from a mobile app, raised $228 million in Series A funding that values the business at $1.9 billion. The round was led by Pollen Street Capital and is the largest round for a European fintech.

Downloads

Rec Room (Android launch)

Image Credits: Rec Room

Social gaming platform Rec Room, which recently became the first VR unicorn, has launched on the Google Play Store. The platform originally targeted only the VR market but expanded to other platforms as VR headset sales remained slow. Similar to Roblox and others, Rec Room allows players to dress up their avatars and play games built by other creators. To date, the app had been available on iOS, PlayStation 4 and 5; Xbox Series X and Xbox One, PC (via Steam), Oculus Quests and other VR headsets. It’s now live on Android to serve the larger global market.

OnMail (Android launch)

Image Credits: OnMail

Email service OnMail, which has previously been available on iOS, launched its app on the Google Play Store. The app aims to solve users’ biggest problems with email, including those with unwanted mail, email trackers, and more. As on iOS, OnMail lets you accept or reject senders before they hit your mailbox, blocks spy pixels, nudges you to follow up on emails, automatically organizes mail into smart folders (shopping, travel, packages, events), offers easy unsubscribe, monitors for refunds, checks grammar, makes it easier to send large attachments, and a lot more.

SwoonMe

Image Credits: SwoonMe

A new startup called SwoonMe aims to fix the problem with superficial dating apps, where users primarily make decisions based on how someone looks in their photos. Instead, on SwoonMe, you take a selfie which the app converts into an avatar. This is what others will see when they come to your profile. You then record a voice clip to tell others about yourself and what you’re looking for in a partner. The result is that when people scroll through SwoonMe, they’re not making snap decisions based on what they’re seeing, but are rather making more thoughtful decisions based what they hear. When two people match, the app encourages them to continue to get to know each other using voice messages and soon, icebreaker games — not texting and photo-sharing. As they communicate, their avatar will slowly unveil their real photo.

Slide

Image Credits: Raise.com

A new app from gift card marketplace Raise.com, Slide, offers users 4% cash back on their purchases online and at over 150 popular stores, including Lowe’s, Petco, ULTA, Office Depot, Bed Bath & Beyond, Chipotle, Panera Bread, Chili’s, DoorDash, Domino’s, Aeropostale, Express, H&M, Foot Locker, Loft, REI, GameStop, AMC, Groupon, Southwest Airlines, Uber, AutoZone, and others. To use Slide and get 4% back, users open the app at checkout, choose their store, and enter their exact purchase amount. They’ll then show the barcode to the cashier, or if paying online, enter the code. The cash back can be transferred to Venmo or PayPal or saved for a future purchase.

Users should be aware the additional cash comes at a price: the data Slide collects from users will allow companies to retarget them with ads and offers across devices, according to the app’s Privacy Policy. The app is free on iOS and Android.

Google faces a major multi-state antitrust lawsuit over Google Play fees

A group of 37 attorneys general filed a second major multi-state antitrust lawsuit against Google Wednesday, accusing the company of abusing its market power to stifle competitors and forcing consumers into in-app payments that grant the company a hefty cut.

New York Attorney General Letitia James is co-leading the suit alongside the Tennessee, North Carolina and Utah attorneys general. The bipartisan coalition represents 36 U.S. states, including California, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Colorado and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia.

“Through its illegal conduct, the company has ensured that hundreds of millions of Android users turn to Google, and only Google, for the millions of applications they may choose to download to their phones and tablets,” James said in a press release. “Worse yet, Google is squeezing the lifeblood out of millions of small businesses that are only seeking to compete.”

In December, 35 states filed a separate antitrust suit against Google, alleging that the company engaged in illegal behavior to maintain a monopoly on the search business. The Justice Department filed its own antitrust case focused on search last October.

In the new lawsuit, embedded below, the bipartisan coalition of states allege that Google uses “misleading” security warnings to keep consumers and developers within its walled app garden, the Google Play store. But the fees that Google collects from Android app developers are likely the meat of the case.

“Not only has Google acted unlawfully to block potential rivals from competing with its Google Play Store, it has profited by improperly locking app developers and consumers into its own payment processing system and then charging high fees,” District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine said.

Like Apple, Google herds all app payment processing into its own service, Google Play Billing, and reaps the rewards: a 30 percent cut of all payments. Much of the criticism here is a case that could — and likely will — be made against Apple, which exerts even more control over its own app ecosystem. Google doesn’t have an iMessage equivalent exclusive app that keeps users locked in in quite the same way.

While the lawsuit discusses Google’s “monopoly power” in the app marketplace, the elephant in the room is Apple — Google’s thriving direct competitor in the mobile software space. The lawsuit argues that consumers face pressure to stay locked into the Android ecosystem, but on the Android side at least, much of that is ultimately familiarity and sunk costs. The argument on the Apple side of the equation here is likely much stronger.

The din over tech giants squeezing app developers with high mobile payment fees is just getting louder. The new multi-state lawsuit is the latest beat, but the topic has been white hot since Epic took Apple to court over its desire to bypass Apple’s fees by accepting mobile payments outside the App Store. When Epic set up a workaround, Apple kicked it out of the App Store and Epic Games v. Apple was born.

The Justice Department is reportedly already interested in Apple’s own app store practices, along with many state AGs who could launch a separate suit against the company at any time.

Apple just released the first iOS 15 beta to everyone

This is your opportunity to get a glimpse of the future of iOS, iPadOS and watchOS. Apple just released the first public beta of iOS 15, iPadOS 15 and watchOS 8. Those releases are the next major versions of the operating systems for the iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch. Unlike developer betas, everyone can download these betas — you don’t need a $99 developer account. But don’t forget, it’s a beta.

The company still plans to release the final version of iOS 15, iPadOS 15 and watchOS 8 this fall. But Apple is going to release betas every few weeks over the summer. It’s a good way to fix as many bugs as possible and gather data from a large group of users.

As always, Apple’s public betas closely follow the release cycle of developer betas. And Apple also released the second developer beta of iOS and iPadOS 15 today. So it sounds like the first public beta is more or less the same build as the second developer build.

But remember, you shouldn’t install a beta on your primary iPhone or iPad. The issue is not just bugs — some apps and features won’t work at all. In some rare cases, beta software can also brick your device and make it unusable. You may even lose data on iCloud. Proceed with extreme caution.

But if you have an iPad, iPhone or Apple Watch you don’t need, here’s how to download it. Head over to Apple’s beta website from the device you want to use for the beta and download the configuration profile — do that from your iPhone for the watchOS beta. It’s a tiny file that tells your device to update to public betas like it’s a normal software update.

Once it’s installed, reboot your device, then head over to the Settings (or Watch) app. You should see an update. In September, your device should automatically update to the final version of iOS 15, iPadOS 15 or watchOS 8 and you’ll be able to delete the configuration profile.

The biggest change of iOS 15 is a new Focus mode. In addition to ‘Do not disturb’, you can configure various modes — you can choose apps and people you want notifications from and change your focus depending on what you’re doing. For instance, you can create a Work mode, a Sleep mode, a Workout mode, etc.

There are many new features across the board, such as a new Weather app, updated maps in Apple Maps, an improved version of FaceTime with SharePlay and more. Safari also has a brand new look.

Hit iPhone controller Backbone One scores Xbox Game Pass partnership at xCloud’s iOS launch today

Backbone One, the killer iPhone game pad I profiled here late last year has just scored the mother of all tie-ups for a gaming accessory. It’s getting bundled with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate as it launches on iOS today alongside the xCloud game streaming service.

As a part of the deal, Backbone is being bundled with Xbox Game Pass in a new retail packaging that gets the Designed for Xbox stamp, making a Backbone + iPhone combo the closest thing we’ve ever seen to a portable Xbox. 

In my last piece I noted how Backbone cleverly used the accessory APIs built into iOS to offer super slick functionality for its cross-game dashboard. It’s been updating that dashboard to get better about showing you games, exposing you to new games and letting you use its clipping features to share killer plays with your friends. It’s one of the best gaming apps I’ve seen on iOS in years, and it has big potential to create a cross-universe place to play for the biggest gaming audience in the world. 

The Capture Button on Backbone One works with Xbox Cloud Gaming and lets you share it as a link. There’s also a new Xbox Game Pass feed and a way to move between Xbox and iOS games in the same interface. There’s  also a big callout for Xbox Remote Play, a feature that’s still super-under-utilized and actually quite good on current gen consoles. 

And the package even makes use of an AppClip to display an AR version of Backbone running xCloud for people happening on the retail packaging at a store. 

The Backbone team continues to impress with its slick and clever integrations and solid instincts. The game controller pedigree of the team shows (some original Xbox 360 controller team members worked on Backbone) but the software aspects are the most impressive. The way that Backbone unifies gaming experiences across AAA iOS ports like Warzone or Minecraft, Xbox and Playstation Remote Play and now native xCloud games feels like the way of the future for mobile gaming in a way that none of the individual players, including Apple, has managed to get right. 

Even though xCloud games are web based they are treated and presented as native apps inside Backbone’s really well done dashboard. I’ve personally played a lot of Destiny 2 over Stadia on Backbone and it feels fantastic, I can’t wait for it to be more directly integrated into the dash with clipping and social like the Xbox cloud titles are today. 

The experience of discovering, downloading and playing a game is better with a Backbone installed than even Apple Arcade now that the team is getting more into curation. They’ve also got a really slick linking mechanism that allows you to download apps right from the App Store if you see a clip of them being shared on your feed. This is how internet native players want to find and play new games — a continuously hyperlinked world of games and streams that makes it possible to see, follow and play without having to stop to manually search for anything.  

It’s also making me yearn for a time when discovering games goes beyond ‘downloading’ them and into a world where I can see a clip shared by a friend, tap on it and be playing a single level or match that gets me hooked before having to go buy the game. It would be a killer acquisition onramp for new players. 

The Microsoft tie up means that someone who purchases the Backbone for $99 from its website or at Microsoft Stores today gets 3 months of Game Pass Ultimate, making this the absolute best deal for new customers considering GPU is $45 alone. That’s bound to be a huge boost for Backbone as a young gaming startup. 

Apple to drive China revenues with search ad launch

After launching five years ago in the United States, Apple’s search advertising service finally arrived in mainland China this week.

The feature, called Apple Search Ads, lets developers bid on an advertising slot based on users’ keyword search in the App Store, similar to how Google search ads work. JPMorgan previously estimated the giant’s annual ad revenue could top $11 billion by 2025, though the forecast didn’t have a breakdown for the search ad business.

Apple has itself been reining in on personalized advertising, letting users turn off data tracking by apps, a move that will inevitably roil the business models of Facebook and others dependent on third-party data to target ads.

China has historically been a strong market for Apple, but iPhones are increasingly losing their luster as a status symbol in the country with the rise of local offerings like Huawei. In the first quarter, however, Apple’s smartphone shipment saw a rebound thanks to Huawei’s slipping sales and the launch of the iPhone 12 family. The Chinese App Store is another important source of income for Apple.

In a five-page guideline, Apple outlines the qualifications for developers targeting ads at mainland Chinese users. There is a stack of industry-specific licenses that advertisers must obtain, which practically excludes most foreign entities from directly advertising in mainland China, as noted in a blog post by AppInChina, an agency that helps international apps launch in China. To bid for search ads in China, apps would have to find local partners with all the government approvals in place.

The requirements for apps importing goods into China, for example, include not just a general license to run value-added internet businesses but also registrations with the relevant trade and customs authorities. Apple may even start asking for these permits from apps that simply want to publish in China, wrote AppInChina, as Apple continues to enforce rules set by the Chinese government as evident from its crackdown on gaming apps.

The iPad Pro just hit its lowest price ever thanks to Prime Day

The iPad Pro just hit its lowest price ever thanks to Prime Day

Save $100: Grab the 11-inch iPad Pro (WiFi, 128GB) on sale for $699, down from $799.


Thinking about splurging on a new MacBook? Consider getting an iPad Pro instead. The tablet is a cheaper alternative, but still has the processing power to keep up with your needs.

And as of June 22, the iPad Pro (WiFi, 128GB) is $100 off, dropping the price down to $699. The Amazon listing says the iPad is temporarily out of stock, but if you purchase it now, you get the discount and it will ship to you when it’s back in stock. You won’t be charged until it ships.

The iPad Pro is powered by Apple’s M1 chip and it features an 11-inch Liquid Retina display. The cameras are high quality and the front camera even features Center Stage, which means the camera will follow you to keep you in frame while you’re on a video call. Read more…

More about Apple, Ipad Pro, Prime Day, Mashable Shopping, and Tech

Apple’s App Store to face scrutiny in Germany as FCO opens ‘market power’ proceeding

Germany’s competition authority, the FCO, has completed its Big Tech GAFA ‘bingo’ card by opening a proceeding against Apple.

As with similar investigations already opened this year — into Amazon, Facebook and Google — the proceeding will determine whether or not the iPhone maker meets the threshold of Germany’s updated competition law.

The 10th amendment to the law, which came into force in January, enables the Bundeskartellamt to intervene proactively against the practices of large digital companies — if they are determined to have “paramount significance for competition across markets” and in order to prevent them from engaging in anti-competitive practices.

Discussing the key new provision to the Competition Act (aka, the GWB Digitalisation Act and specifically Section 19a) — in a panel discussion last week, the FCO’s president, Andreas Mundt, explained that the competition law update had been influenced by its experience with a long running (and pioneering) case against Facebook’s superprofiling of Internet users.

The upshot is that German competition law now has a theory of harm which entwines competition law and data protection — albeit, in the case of Apple, its tech empire is typically associated with defence (rather than abuse) of user privacy.

But the comprehensive amendments to German antitrust law are broadly targeted at Big Tech, with the goal of keeping markets open, fostering innovation and putting a stop to any abusive behavior, via provisions the FCO will be able to order — such an banning or restricting self-preferencing and bundling; or stopping giants tying products together to try to muscle into adjacent markets; or preventing them blocking interoperability and data access to try to lock out rivals, to name a few.

A mix of provisions are likely to be deployed, as tech giants are designated as addressable under the law, depending on the specifics of each case and the particular ecosystem business. So how it will operate in practice remains to be seen. So far the FCO is still in the process of determining (in each case) whether it can apply the law against GAFA.

For the Apple proceeding, Mundt said in a statement today that its operation of the App Store will be a “main focus” for the investigation because he said it “enables Apple in many ways to influence the business activities of third parties”.

“We will now examine whether with its proprietary operating system iOS, Apple has created a digital ecosystem around its iPhone that extends across several markets,” he added. “Apple produces tablets, computers and wearables and provides a host of device-related services. In addition to manufacturing various hardware products, the tech company also offers the App Store, iCloud, AppleCare, Apple Music, Apple Arcade, Apple TV+ as well as other services as part of its services business. Besides assessing the company’s position in these areas, we will, among other aspects, examine its extensive integration across several market levels, the magnitude of its technological and financial resources and its access to data.”

The FCO also noted that it has received a number of complaints against Apple “relating to potentially anti-competitive practices” — such as one from the advertising and media industry against Apple restricting user tracking with the introduction of its iOS 14.5 operating system; and a complaint against the exclusive pre-installation of the company’s own applications as a possible type of self-preferencing prohibited under Section 19a GWB.

“App developers also criticise the mandatory use of Apple’s own in-app purchase system (IAP) and the 30% commission rate associated with this,” it added in a press release. “In this context, the marketing restrictions for app developers in Apple’s App Store are also addressed. The latter complaint has much in common with the European Commission’s ongoing proceeding against Apple for imposing restrictions on the streaming service Spotify and accordingly preferencing its own services. Where necessary, the Bundeskartellamt will establish contact with the European Commission and other competition authorities in this regard. So far, no decision on initiating a further proceeding has been taken.”

Apple was contacted for comment on the FCO’s proceeding and it sent us this statement, attributed to a spokesperson:

Apple is proud to be an engine for innovation and job creation, with more than 250,000 jobs supported by the iOS app economy in Germany. The App Store’s economic growth and activity have given German developers of all sizes the same opportunity to share their passion and creativity with users around the world while creating a secure and trusted place for customers to download the apps they love with the privacy protections they expect. Germany is also home to Apple’s largest engineering hub in Europe, and a new €1BN investment in our European Silicon Design Center in Munich. We look forward to discussing our approach with the FCO and having an open dialogue about any of their concerns.”

Once issued by the FCO, a ‘paramount significance’ finding lasts for five years — while any legal challenges to orders made under Section 19a are intentionally expedited, with appeals going direct to Germany’s Federal Court of Justice (which is given exclusive competence). The goal being to avoid long drawn out litigations, as has occurred in the FCO’s case against Facebook’s superprofiling — which had legal questions referred to the CJEU back in March, some five years after the Bundeskartellamt began looking into Facebook’s data practices.

The coming months and years could be highly significant to how GAFA is able to operate in Europe’s largest economy — and, likely by extension, further afield in Europe and beyond as a number of jurisdictions are now paying active attention to how to regulate Big Tech.

Back in March, for example, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority opened its own probe into Apple’s App Store. Simultaneously it’s working on reforming national law to create a ‘pro-competition’ for regulating tech giants.

While, last December, European Union lawmakers proposed the Digital Markets Act — also aiming to tackle the power market of so-called ‘gatekeeper’ platforms.

The FTC appointing Lina Khan as chair also appears to signify a change of direction on tech antitrust over in the US.

Walmart is battling Amazon for the best deals this Prime Day

Walmart is battling Amazon for the best deals this Prime Day

Here are the best sales to shop during Walmart’s Deals for Days event as of June 20:


Oh, you thought Walmart was just going to sit there and twiddle its thumbs while one of its biggest rivals ran a massive two-day sale with over two million deals? Think again.

As Amazon revs up for its sixth annual Prime Day event on June 21 and 22, the big box store kicked off its own “Deals for Days” shopping extravaganza on Sunday, June 20, with “Black Friday-like savings” up for grabs online and in stores now through Wednesday, June 23. (For those of you keeping up at home, that makes it twice as long as Prime Day.) Read more…

More about Apple, Walmart, Prime Day, Mashable Shopping, and Tech

How to zoom in and out on a Mac

How to zoom in and out on a Mac

Want to zoom in real close to something on your Mac? Or maybe you’re looking to pull back for a wider view? Either way, we’ve got your back.

If you want to be able to zoom in and out on your Mac — be it your entire screen or just in a specific window — you have a few different options to choose from.

1. Zooming in on a single window using keyboard shortcuts

If you’re looking to zoom in or out solely in a specific window, webpage, or app, one of the most popular ways to do so is by using the helpful keyboard shortcuts below.

  • Zoom out: Command + –

  • Zoom in: Command + +

You can keep pushing the – or + keys while holding down the Command key until you’ve zoomed to your heart’s content. Go ahead, give it a try. Read more…

More about Apple, Mac, Tech, and Consumer Tech

Apple AirTags UX teardown: The trade-off between privacy and user experience

Peter Ramsey
Contributor

Peter Ramsey is CEO of Built For Mars, a UX consultancy that helps customers build better product experiences.

Apple’s location devices — called AirTags — have been out for more than a month now. The initial impressions were good, but as we concluded back in April: “It will be interesting to see these play out once AirTags are out getting lost in the wild.”

That’s exactly what our resident UX analyst, Peter Ramsey, has been doing for the last month — intentionally losing AirTags to test their user experience at the limits.

This Extra Crunch exclusive is a simplified conversation around this Built for Mars article, which helps bridge the gap between Apple’s mistakes and how you can make meaningful changes to your product’s UX.

For an industry that’s often soured by privacy concerns, Apple has an unusually strong stance on keeping your data private.

AirTag not reachable

There are two primary purposes of an error message:

  1. To notify the user what has gone wrong (and how it affects them).
  2. To help the user resolve the issue.

Most businesses do a decent job at the first one, but it’s rare that a product will proactively obsess over the second.

Typically, Apple is one of the few examples that do — it’s indisputably one of the leaders in intuitive design. Which is why I was surprised to see Apple’s error message when an AirTag is not reachable:

Image Credits: Built for Mars screenshot

There’s a huge amount of ambiguity in the statement “move around to connect,” and it fails to mention that this error could be because the AirTag’s batteries have been removed.

Instead, Apple should make this message clickable, which opens a modal to learn more about this issue.

WordPress.com owner Automattic acquires journaling app Day One

Automattic is expanding its lineup of online writing platforms with its acquisition of Day One, a popular journaling app for Mac and Apple mobile devices. The app has been downloaded more than 15 million times since its March 2011 launch on the Mac and iTunes App Store, offering users a private place to share their thoughts. Since then, it’s been awarded the App Store Editor’s Choice, App of the Year and the Apple Design Award, along with praise from various reviewers.

Deal terms were not immediately available. The companies were asked for comment.

The addition makes for an interesting expansion of Automattic’s now growing collection of online writing tools, which today include blogging platforms WordPress.com and Tumblr — the latter as of 2019, when Automattic took the aging social blogging network off parent company Verizon’s hands for a fraction of its earlier $1 billion acquisition price. (Verizon still owns TechCrunch, too…for now.)

Unlike WordPress and Tumblr, which tend to focus on publishing to a public audience, Day One’s focus has been on privacy. The app offers end-to-end encryption for all your journal entries, which can include text, media and even audio recordings. It has also offered advanced features like automatic backups, auto-import of Instagram posts, voice transcriptions, templates, rich text formatting, location history and optional printed books, as well as integrations with other platforms like Spotify, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and more.

With its addition to Automattic, Day One will allow users to choose to publish select journal entries to WordPress.com and Tumblr, and, soon, import content from either platform back into Day One, too. The app may also make sense as a way for existing Tumblr users to sync their private entries over to a more protected and backed-up writing tool — instead of accidentally publishing them to their main blog.

Automattic, in an announcement, notes Day One CEO Paul Mayne will continue to lead the development of Day One following the acquisition. The team will also remain intact.

Meanwhile, in a blog post, Mayne hints at why he sold the app, noting the deal will allow Day One access to the same technological, financial and security benefits that help power WordPress.com and Tumblr.

“This is incredibly exciting news. For the past 10 years since I started Day One, I’ve worked to not only create the best digital journaling experience in the world, but one that will last,” shares Mayne. “By joining Automattic, I’m now more confident than ever that the preservation and longevity of Day One is sure,” he adds.

Mayne also noted there were no current plans to change the private nature of Day One, but the app would integrate with other Automattic products going forward, while continuing to sustain itself via a subscription model.

Have an old iPhone? You should really download this security update.

Have an old iPhone? You should really download this security update.

Non-early adopters take note: Your iPhone needs a tune-up. Like, now. 

That’s according to Apple, which on Monday released a security update specifically targeted to older devices. According to the company, iOS 12.5.4 is available for those environmentally conscious consumers still holding onto their iPhone 5s, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPad Air, iPad mini 2, iPad mini 3, or 6th generation iPod touch.

The update fixes three vulnerabilities that allowed for potential arbitrary code execution (that’s not good), two of which Apple says “may have been actively exploited.” In other words, criminals or oppressive governments may have been exploiting these vulnerabilities on real people’s phones. Read more…

More about Apple, Iphone, Cybersecurity, Tech, and Cybersecurity

Shopify brings on team from augmented reality home design app Primer

In Friday acquisition news, Shopify shared today that they’ve acquired the team from augmented reality startup Primer, which makes an app that lets users visualize what tile, wallpaper or paint will look like on surfaces inside their home.

In a blog post, co-founders Adam Debreczeni and Russ Maschmeyer write that Primer’s app and services will be shutting down next month as part of the deal. Primer’s team of eight employees will all be joining Shopify following the acquisition.

Primer had partnered with dozens of tile and textile design brands to allow users to directly visualize what their designs would look like using their iPhone and iPad and Apple’s augmented reality platform ARKit. The app has been highlighted by Apple several times including this nice write-up by the App Store’s internal editorial team.

👋 We’ve been working on this one for a while at @primersupply

💡Our AR paint intelligently blends in highlights and shadows

👨‍💻 Props to @ericflo for getting this to the finish line

📱 Live now: https://t.co/3Tm1TYksQB pic.twitter.com/qMd5JGSWbt

— Adam Debreczeni (@heyadam) March 9, 2021

Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed. Primer’s backers included Slow Ventures, Abstract Ventures, Foundation Capital and Expa.

There’s been a lot of big talk about how augmented reality will impact online shopping, but aside from some of the integrations made in home design, there hasn’t been an awful lot that’s found its way into real consumer use. Shopify has worked on some of their own integrations — allowing sellers to embed 3D models into their storefronts that users can drop into physical space — but it’s clear that there’s much more room left to experiment.

Apple to let you sign up for services with Face/Touch ID instead of passwords

Apple to let you sign up for services with Face/Touch ID instead of passwords

Passwords are hard to remember — especially if you use a lot of online services and try (which you should) to use a strong, different password for each one. But the days of trying to think of yet another password to sign up for a new service may be behind us. 

In a WWDC developer session titled “Move beyond passwords,” Apple engineer Garret Davidson shows a new feature, allowing users to sign up for new online services using Face ID or Touch ID instead of a password. 

The feature, called Passkeys in iCloud Keychain, is coming in iOS 15 and macOS Monterey, and it will have to be supported by third party services to work. Using it is really simple; when you encounter a “sign in” page on a new service, you’ll be able to sign up for it with Face ID or Touch ID, and you’ll never have to type in a password to log into that service.  Read more…

More about Apple, Tech, and Cybersecurity

New York Senate passes bill that could force Apple to loosen its grip on device repairs

New York Senate passes bill that could force Apple to loosen its grip on device repairs

The New York State Senate just delivered a chink to Apple’s armor.

On Thursday, the New York legislative body passed the Digital Fair Repair Act. It requires that “original equipment manufacturers” (OEMs) make all the information and resources necessary for repairing devices available for sale to third party repair shops and consumers.

“Nothing prevents third party repairers from being technically competent to complete digital
repairs other than the lack of information being withheld by manufacturers,” the bill reads.

Currently, companies with high end, proprietary devices and software often limit who can repair these products to the device makers themselves, and “authorized” third parties. The “right to repair” movement has been battling this standard for years so that people can fix devices more affordably, keep them for longer, and generate less waste.  Read more…

More about Apple, Right To Repair, Tech, Consumer Tech, and Activism

Apple confirms hiring of Ulrich Kranz, former CEO of EV company Canoo

Apple has hired the former co-founder and CEO of electric vehicle company Canoo to help with the development of the Apple Car, Bloomberg first reported, citing unnamed sources. Apple has confirmed to TechCrunch it has hired Kranz, but did not provide further details into his job responsibilities or title.

Kranz resigned his position at Canoo in April after steering the company toward public listing and a new leadership team, and he is reported to have been scooped up by Apple within weeks. The news comes a couple of months after Apple CEO Tim Cook dropped hints that the mysterious Apple Car would include autonomous vehicle technology as a key feature. Hiring an executive with decades of experience at the cutting edge of the auto industry is a clear sign that Apple is moving ahead with its vehicle manufacturing plans.

Apple is keeping a tight lip on its plans for its vehicle. According to a Reuters report from December, Apple intends to produce an electric passenger vehicle with “breakthrough battery technology” and automated vehicle technology by 2024. Other than that, no one knows what the car will look like or who, if anyone, will be the manufacturer, although it’s not outlandish to imagine Apple creating both the hardware and software.