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Moolah Mobile partners with Surge to offer free mobile service with ads – TechCrunch

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Moolah Mobile is teaming up with SurgePhone Wireless to offer people a new way to pay their cell phone bills — by putting ads on their homescreens.

Moolah CEO Vernell Woods (pictured above) said the startup has already been offering gift cards and other rewards to users who view its homescreen ads. So this is a similar model, except instead of earning gift cards, the ads are subsidizing cell phone service from Surge.

The ads show up on users’ homescreens during interstitial moments between using apps, so the goal is to offer free service without consumers having to change their behavior. Woods said all that ad time adds up, with “the average person who’s using their phone on a consistent basis” viewing “easily between two to three hours” of homescreen ads each day. And that’s enough to pay for the “equivalent” of Surge’s $10 monthly plan.

On the other hand, if for some reason a subscriber isn’t hitting the necessary total, Woods said they can also earn more points by accepting offers or taking surveys.

Moolah isn’t the only company using advertising to make previously paid products free. Just last week, I wrote about PreShow, a startup promising a free movie ticket for watching 15 to 20 minutes of ads. (Not everyone was crazy about the idea.)

Moolah Mobile screenshot

But Woods said he’s doing this because he wants to make wireless service more affordable to people in low-income communities. In the announcement, Moolah investor Tip “T.I.” Harris said it’s “one of the few tech companies I’ve seen who truly want to help everyday people have access to technology.”

But could this also be seen as a way to harvest personal data from a vulnerable population? Woods said he wants to protect against that with a blockchain initiative set to launch this fall, allowing users to see exactly what data is being shared with advertisers.

“No personal information should be going to advertisers without users knowing about it,” he said, adding that companies “definitely should not be making money off” personal data without giving users a cut of the profits.

The subsidized wireless service should be available on Surge Volt Android devices with Moolah install kits, as well as through SIM Starter Kits distributed by Surge. Moolah and Surge said they will roll this out in Florida, Virginia, Georgia and Texas initially, with an aim of reaching 40,000 locations by the end of the year.

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HBO Max attempts to fix its notoriously buggy app with oft-requested features – TechCrunch

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For years, HBO Max has been under fire for its buggy app. Today, the streaming service’s re-platformed app completed its global rollout on desktop, iOS, Android, and Amazon Fire tablets. New features include a shuffle button on mobile, SharePlay support for iPhone and iPad users in the U.S., a dedicated home for downloaded content, and more.

With the shuffle button now on mobile devices in addition to desktop and connected TV apps, users can randomize which episode to play for select series on the streaming service. U.S. subscribers with an ad-free subscription can use SharePlay on their iPhone or iPad to watch HBO Max content in sync with friends or family while on FaceTime.

Other updates include:

  • A dedicated home for downloaded content
  • Tablet support for both landscape and portrait orientations
  • Chromecast stability improvements
  • An updated screen reader experience with better navigation elements and functionality
  • The ability to split screens with other apps on devices that allow that

The company also said that it upgraded the navigation and is giving users a “refined design and visual styling to let content shine.”

“The changes give our users more of the features they care most about, along with improved navigation and a more immersive canvas for storytelling, helping them click play on their favorite content faster and with less friction,” Kamyar Keshmiri, SVP, Product Design, Warner Bros. Discovery Streaming, said in an official statement.

The revamped mobile and desktop apps mean that the company has finished updating apps across all platforms.

The changes began last fall when the company replaced connected TV apps with a new, “more performant tech stack.” In April, HBO Max launched an updated app for Apple TV users that aimed to bring stability and improved performance to the app. Roku, PlayStation, Android, Samsung, LG, Vizio, and more smart TV apps also use the new tech stack.

With a loss of 300,000 domestic subscribers in Q2, the company has a lot of work to do. Especially since its new streaming service is coming next year, merging Discovery+ and HBO Max content. So, while the new HBO Max app will be gone in 2023, this could help the company create a better successor app and improved experience for its combined subscribers.

Also, the new app comes just in time for the “Game of Thrones” prequel “The House of the Dragon,” premiering on August 21.

 

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Less than 1% of Netflix’s subscribers want to play its mobile games – TechCrunch

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As Netflix struggles to keep consumers subscribed to its streaming service, its mobile games venture is looking like a flop. CNBC reported that according to Apptopia, Netflix games have been downloaded 23.3 million times in total, and on average, there are 1.7 million daily users. This means that less than 1% of the streaming giant’s subscriber base—around 221 million subscribers—are interested in Netflix’s games.

Netflix told TechCrunch it doesn’t disclose the number of players. However, the app analytics company Apptopia’s report can shed light on just how unpopular its gaming offering is.

In comparison, leading mobile games like Subway Surfers, Roblox, and Among Us each have over 100 million downloads, per Apptopia. Netflix has a long way to go before it can reach this level of popularity.

Netflix recently lost nearly one million subscribers, so it’s not hard to see why the company wants to invest in more games. Netflix Games launched in 2021, and currently offers over 25 games through the Netflix mobile app. The company intends to double its catalog by the end of 2022 and release over 50 games.

While Netflix hasn’t disclosed how much it’s spending to develop its mobile game division, the company has acquired three game studios, Boss Fight Entertainment, Night School Studio, and Next Games. As TechCrunch has previously reported, the Next Games acquisition cost the streamer approximately $72 million.

In July, Netflix announced three new games, including award-winning titles Into the Breach and Before Your Eyes. Its catalog also includes a variety of games connected to popular Netflix shows, like “Stranger Things,” “Queens Gambit,” “Shadow and Bone,” and “Too Hot to Handle.” If Netflix continues exploring leveraging its own IP for new games, that approach could draw in more subscribers.

However, shows that have been out for a while and don’t have a solid fan base probably won’t do as well as games based on “hot” series like “Stranger Things” for example. When season four of “Stranger Things” premiered, the two Netflix games based on the show– Stranger Things: 1984 and Stranger Things 3: The Game–saw a bump in downloads, Apptopia told TechCrunch.

To play a Netflix mobile game, subscribers can find them free in the streaming app in the dedicated games row. Players are redirected to download a separate app for each game. Once downloaded, only Netflix subscribers can play the games, which are available on Android and iOS devices.

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A new app called Banish blocks those annoying ‘open in app’ banners – TechCrunch

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A new app for iPhone users can help you browse the web without being constantly bothered by pop-up panels that beg you to use the company’s app instead. The app, called Banish, is a Safari extension that helps remove the “open in app” banners from various websites and other popups that block content across a number of sites, like Reddit, TikTok, LinkedIn, Twitter, Quora, Medium, Yelp and some Google sites, to name a few.

While there are a number of similar Safari extensions for blocking cookie banners and ads, the scourge of the “Open in App” banners is often not addressed by existing solutions. It’s unfortunate that using the mobile web today requires so many interventions, but that’s the state of things. It’s also possibly a contributing factor as to why people are now spending four to five hours per day in their apps.

Developer Alex Zamoshchin says he was frustrated by the problem, too, as he felt people shouldn’t have to use a company’s app if they don’t want to. Taking inspiration from a similar cookie blocking extension, Hush, he created Banish.

The app was recently featured on Product Hunt and highlighted by the popular Apple blog Daring Fireball.

To use Banish, you’ll first install the app to your iPhone, then configure it in the Settings. This involves a few key steps for Banish to function properly. There are two places where Banish needs to be enabled, under Safari Extensions — you need to toggle on the switch next to Banish under “Allow These Content Blockers” and “Allow These Extensions.” Then you need to set the “Allow” permission to “All Websites” below.

Image Credits: Banish

Once enabled, Banish can help you avoid pop-ups in many cases. But the app can’t eliminate all the “open in app” distractions.

For instance, we found clicking Reddit links would sometimes open in Safari and other times open the native app when we tested it. The developer explained the Reddit app doesn’t consistently use deep links (links that open directly in apps) for all its pages. So while some pages would correctly deep link, others — like Reddit’s Topic pages — would not. We also had to set links to open in Safari by default. The solution was to long-press on the Reddit.com link you want to view, then tap on the option from the menu that appears to open the link in Safari. This will change the default action for Reddit links going forward, Zamoshchin says.

Another issue Banish can’t solve is with those “Open” links that are baked into Safari, like the ones that appear at the top of the page when you visit Instagram.com, for example. That’s a different type of banner than the ones this app was built to address. (If you don’t want to see these, you can uninstall the app from your iPhone.)

There were a few other quirks, as well. LinkedIn, for example, still showed a login box in Safari rather than immediately taking you to the person’s LinkedIn profile, if you were logged out when you visited the site. But that’s just how LinkedIn works. And while Twitter browsing is much easier, its website still includes Login/Signup buttons at the top of the screen and the same sort of baked in “Open” app button that Instagram.com offers at the top of the page. But, again, these are issues that are beyond Banish’s scope.

Still, in other ways, the app proved incredibly useful. For instance, when on Quora, clicking a link to another Quora page would normally pop up a blocker that requires you to log in to continue navigating the website. With Banish, this pop-up was gone and you could use the site normally.

The app is available for download on the App Store for a $1.99 one-time fee. It’s currently the No. 2 app on the Top Paid apps chart in the Utilities section of the App Store.

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