The next phase of social media is about hanging out together while apart. Rather than performing on a live stream or engaging with a video chat, Instagram may allow you to chill and watch videos together with a friend. Facebook already has Watch Party for group co-viewing, and in November we broke the news that Facebook Messenger’s code contains an unreleased “Watch Videos Together” feature. Now Instagram’s code reveals a “co-watch content” feature hidden inside Instagram Direct Messaging.
It’s unclear what users might be able to watch simultaneously, but the feature could give IGTV a much-needed boost, or just let you laugh and cringe at Instagram feed videos and Stories. But either way, co-viewing could make you see more ads, drive more attention to creators that will win Instagram their favor or just make you rack up time spent on the app without forcing you to create anything.
The Instagram co-watch code was discovered by TechCrunch’s favorite tipster and reverse-engineering specialist Jane Manchun Wong, who previously spotted the Messenger Watch Together code. Her past findings include Instagram’s video calling, music soundtracks and Time Well Spent dashboard, months before they were officially released. The code mentions that you can “cowatch content” that comes from a “Playlist” similar to the queues of videos Facebook Watch Party admins can tee up. Users could also check out “Suggested” videos from Instagram, which would give it a new way to promote creators or spawn a zeitgeist moment around a video. It’s not certain whether users will be able to appear picture-in-picture while watching so friends can see their reactions, but that would surely be more fun.
Instagram declined to comment on the findings, which is typical of the company when a feature has been prototyped internally but hasn’t begun externally testing with users. At this stage, products can still get scrapped or take many months or even more than a year to launch. But given Facebook’s philosophical intention to demote mindless viewing and promote active conversation around videos, Instagram co-watching is a sensible direction.
Facebook launched Watch Party to this end back in July, and by November, 12 million had been started from Groups and they generated 8X more comments than non-synced or Live videos. That proves co-watching can make video feel less isolating. That’s important as startups like Houseparty group video chatrooms and Squad screenshare messaging try to nip at Insta’s heels.
It’s also another sign that following the departure of the Instagram founders, Facebook has been standardizing features across its apps, eroding their distinct identities. Mark Zuckerberg plans to unify the backend of Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram to allow cross-app messaging. But Instagram has always been Facebook’s content-first app, so while Watch Party might have been built for Facebook Groups, Instagram could be where it hits its stride.
Speaking of the Instagram founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, this article’s author Josh Constine will be interviewing them on Monday 3/11 at SXSW. Come see them at 2 pm in the Austin Convention Center’s Ballroom D to hear about their thoughts on the creator economy, why they left Facebook and what they’ll do next. Check out the rest of TechCrunch’s SXSW panels here, and RSVP for our party on Sunday.
Apple reportedly testing E Ink outer display for upcoming foldable – TechCrunch
Ming-Chi Kuo is one of a handful of Apple analysts whose reports always warrant a second look, regardless of how strange they might seem at first blush. We’ve heard plenty of reports that the company is testing its own version of a foldable device, in its customary style of being fashionably late to the party, while also being the best dressed there.
It stands to reason that the company is experimenting with all sorts of takes on the form factor. While companies like Samsung and Huawei have made great strides since the first generation of foldable devices, one can certainly make the argument that no one has perfectly cracked the code just yet. The screen technology has improved a good bit in recent years — and so, too, has E Ink technology.
“Apple is testing E Ink’s Electronic Paper Display (EPD) for future foldable device’s cover screen & tablet-like applications,” Kuo reported on Twitter earlier today. “The color EPD has the potential to become a mainstream solution for foldable devices’ must-have cover/second screen thanks to its excellent power-saving.”
The last part is undeniable. One of E Ink’s biggest selling points is power saving. It’s a key part of the reason your Kindle’s battery life is rated in weeks, instead of hours. But the technology has traditionally had numerous drawbacks that have hampered mainstream adoption outside of a few select categories like e-readers.
Recent generations of E Ink’s electronic paper have added color and sped up the notoriously slow refresh rate and responsiveness. One imagines that there’s still a ways to go before Apple adopts such technology, even for a secondary, external display. Though, with the first of the company’s foldables rumored for a 2025 release (at earliest), perhaps that leaves enough time for the electronic paper technology to get up to speed.
As ever, one must take all of the above with a few grains of salt. It’s a long timeline, and even if the reports prove out, there’s a big gulf between testing and releasing. It’s also worth noting that these sorts of rumors have existed for nearly as long as the iPhone has. So, short term, maybe it’s best to focus on more attainable rumors like a USB-C iPhone.
Snapchat’s stricter policies for anonymous apps and friend finders aren’t yet fully enforced – TechCrunch
A small handful of Snap Kit platform developers have not yet complied with the new guidelines around anonymous messaging and friend-finding apps announced in March. The Snapchat maker revamped its developer platform policies on March 17, 2022, to ban anonymous apps and require developers to build friend-finding apps to limit access to users 18 or older. The policy changes were effective immediately and existing developers were given 30 days to come into compliance — a date that would have passed last month.
It is now mid-May and some developers of the newly banned and restricted apps are not yet meeting Snap’s new requirements, we’ve found.
Snap says only a small number of developers asked for and were granted additional time to bring apps into compliance, as they worked in good faith to make the necessary changes. But it may be difficult for consumers to tell which apps are compliant, which are skirting the new rules, and which are marketing Snap Kit integrations that they actually don’t have.
For example, one of the apps offered an extension is Sendit, the anonymous Q&A app that surged to the top of the App Store last year after Snap suspended other top anonymous Q&A apps, YOLO and LMK. Those latter two apps had been banned from Snap’s platform after the company was sued by a mother of a teen who died by suicide after being bullied via those tools. This year, Snap was named in a second lawsuit, alongside Meta, related to an alleged lack of safeguards across social media platforms which a mother says contributed to her 11-year-old’s suicide.
Snap has since conducted a review of its platform policies with a focus on potential child safety issues related to third-party apps that integrate with Snapchat’s features and functionality.
This culminated in the new policies that were introduced in March which impact apps that build using the Snap Kit platform. This suite of developer tools allows third-party apps to offer sign-in with Snapchat for user verification, or utilize Snapchat features like Snap’s Camera, Bitmoji, Stories, and more.
At the time Snap announced its new policies, it said the changes would impact a small subset of its over 1,500 developers in its wider community. Around 2% would be impacted by the ban on anonymous messaging apps, Snap said, and another 3% would be impacted by the new requirement to age-gate friend-finding apps.
Sendit appeared to be non-compliant as it was not utilizing a required feature, as specified by Snap’s own developer documentation.
Here, Snap offered an example of how something called “Identity Web View” could be adopted by third-party developers who today use Snap Kit to build anonymous Q&A apps. The feature would allow anonymous Q&A apps to come into compliance with the new policies as it will require apps to present a new modal to users that they must click to send their Bitmoji avatar URL and abbreviated Display Name to the third-party application. Then, they can use the third-party app to post their question — but no longer anonymously. Essentially, it allows Q&A apps to continue to function in much of the same way as before, but without the potential dangers of anonymous bullying — the user is identified.
Sendit, however, doesn’t currently use this modal even though it’s the example shown in the developer documentation screenshot. But Snap says the developer asked for more time to make these changes, which was granted. Snap believes the app, currently No. 8 in the Lifestyle section on the App Store, will soon come into compliance.
Other third-party apps also appear to be still operating as usual and, at first glance, seem to not be in compliance with Snap’s new policies.
Apps skirting the rules — or operating outside them?
But this is where things get more tricky — some apps have been granted an extension, some are routing around Snap’s rules, and others are marketing themselves as Snapchat-connected apps when they’re not actually using the SDK.
For instance, the app LMK — to be clear, a different LMK than the original LMK app that was banned last year — is still offering its “anonymous polls” app which integrates with Snapchat’s features. The app is rated 12+ on the App Store and is functioning as usual. But LMK was among that requested and was granted an extension.
Anonymous messaging apps HMU, rated ages 9+ on the App Store, and Intext, rated ages 4+ are also still operating. Both advertise themselves as Snapchat-connected apps. But Intext has been banned from Snap’s platform — you’ll get an error if you try to authenticate with Snapchat using the app’s “Login with Snapchat” button.
HMU appears to have skirted the ban, however. Its app still works.
Meanwhile, a number of friend-finding apps, like Hoop, Wink, Swipr, Purp, and Dope — all of which are now supposed to be only available to adult users — are still published on the App Store with an age rating of 12+, as of the time of writing. If Snap had vetted and approved them, then they would have the highest age rating on the App Store, which is 17+. (Apple should change this to 18+!)
Confusingly, these apps’ lower age ratings don’t necessarily mean all the apps are breaking Snap’s policies. As it turns out, some of these apps are simply positioning themselves as being Snapchat-connected in their marketing materials — like their App Store screenshots. But in reality, they’re working around their lack of access to Snap’s SDK in other ways.
For instance, Hoop’s App Store page says it’s for making friends on Snapchat, and yet it’s downloadable to anyone aged 12 or up. If it was a Snap Kit platform app, then it would be in violation. But Hoop is not in violation because it’s no longer using the SDK. (But who could tell?!)
Instead, Hoop has users enter their Snapchat username during onboarding and provides an in-app Snapchat button to “request” someone share their username with you. It’s a workaround that allows the app to still function as a tool for finding friends on Snapchat, but allows the app to operate without relying on developer access to the SDK. But this sort of deviousness on developers’ parts could cause complications for Snap in the future, as it faces potential litigation and regulations related to platform safety.
Requests for comment to the third-party app makers themselves were not returned.
For parents, this lack of consistency across the Snapchat app ecosystem also means they can’t rely on using Apple or Google’s built-parental controls to block the Snapchat friend-finding apps from being downloaded to their child or younger teen’s device. And, once in the hands of younger users, bypassing the age-gate is as simple as using a fake birthdate.
Snap tells us that since it announced the new policies, it has removed the vast majority of apps that were out of compliance with its policies.
But given the extent to which apps are skirting the rules, it could be more useful if the app stores themselves would integrate these same guidelines into their own app review processes. Or perhaps this is all a sign that regulation, in fact, is needed to protect children and teens from accessing experiences that are either potentially harmful or designed for adults.
After all, Snapchat shares the top charts with other apps that cater to a younger, often teenaged, user base — and the rules that apply to it, should apply to anyone.
For instance, one app eating into the Gen Z market is the newer app called BeReal, which prompts users for spontaneous photos. BeReal has now surpassed 10 million cumulative downloads to date, according to estimates from app intelligence firm data.ai (formerly App Annie). 3.3 million downloads took place in Q1 alone, and the majority of users in key markets are Gen Z, the firm said.
Another app, LiveIn, caters to Gen Z as well by allowing users to post photos to each others’ Home Screens via a widget — a feature BeReal also adopted. It’s now No. 2 on the U.S. App Store’s Top Apps chart, while its rival Locket Widget, is No. 24.
These apps are offering experiences that not only cater to Snapchat’s core demographic, but also features that overlap in some ways with what Snapchat is used for — fun, off-the-cuff photos that aren’t meant to stick around. While Snapchat is still growing, its rivals could expand their own platforms to adopt more Snapchat-like features over time, at which point they could also become a cause for concern if they ventured into similar anonymous Q&A or friend-finding spaces.
For now, however, these apps present a different type of threat: one that could see Snapchat losing its users’ time and engagement as they try out new ways to connect with friends.
Apple adds live captions to iPhone and Mac, plus more accessibility upgrades to come – TechCrunch
Apple has released a bevy of new accessibility features for iPhone, Apple Watch, and Mac, including a universal live captioning tool, improved visual and auditory detection modes, and iOS access to WatchOS apps. The new capabilities will arrive “later this year” as updates roll out to various platforms.
The most widely applicable tool is probably live captioning, already very popular with tools like Ava, which raised $10 million the other day to expand its repertoire.
Apple’s tool will perform a similar function to Ava’s, essentially allowing any spoken content a user encounters to be captioned in real time, from videos and podcasts to FaceTime and other calls. FaceTime in particular will get a special interface with a speaker-specific scrolling transcript above the video windows.
The captions can be activated via the usual accessibility settings, and quickly turned on and off or the pane in which they appear expanded or contracted. And it all occurs using the device’s built-in ML acceleration hardware, so it works when you have spotty or zero connectivity and there’s no privacy question.
This feature may very well clip the wings of independent providers of similar services, as often happens when companies implement first-party versions of traditionally third-party tools, but it may also increase quality and competition. Having a choice between several providers isn’t a bad thing, and users can easily switch between them if, as seems likely to be the case, Apple’s solution is best for FaceTime while another, like Ava, might excel it in other situations. For instance, Ava lets you save transcripts of calls for review later — not an option for the Apple captions, but definitely useful in work situations.
Apple Watch apps will get improved accessibility on two fronts. First there are some added hand gestures for people, for instance amputees, who have trouble with the finer interactions on the tiny screen. A pile of new actions available via gestures like a “double pinch,” letting you pause a workout, take a photo, answer a phone call, and so on.
Second, WatchOS apps can now be mirrored to the screens of iPhones, where other accessibility tools can be used. This will also be helpful for anyone who likes the smartwatch-specific use cases of the Apple Watch but has difficulty interacting with the device on its own terms.
Existing assistive tools Magnifier and Sound Recognition also get some new features. Magnifier’s “detection mode” normally lets the user know if either a person or something readable or describable is right in front of them: “person, 5 feet ahead.” Now it has a special “door detection” mode that gives details of those all-important features in a building.
Door mode, which like the others can be turned on automatically or deactivated at will, lets the user know if the phone’s camera can see a door ahead, how far away it is, whether it’s open or closed, and any pertinent information posted on it, like a room number or address, whether the shop is closed, or if the entrance is accessible.
Sound recognition is a useful option for people with hearing impairments who want to be alerted when, say, the doorbell rings or the oven beeps. While the feature previously had a library of sound types it worked with, users can now train the model locally to pick up on noises peculiar to their household. Given the variety of alarms, buzzers, and other noises we all encounter regularly this should be quite helpful.
Lastly is a thoughtful feature for gaming called Buddy Controller. This lets two controllers act as one so that one person can play a game with the aid of a second, should it be difficult or stressful to do it all themselves. Given the complexity of some games even on mobile, this could be quite helpful. Sometimes I wish I had a gaming partner with a dedicated controller just so I don’t have to deal with some game’s wonky camera.
There are a number of other, smaller updates, such as adjusting the time Siri waits before answering a question (great for people who speak slowly) and extra text customization option sin Apple Books. And VoiceOver is coming to 20 new languages and locations soon as well. We’ll know more about exact timing and availability when Apple makes more specific announcements down the line.
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