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The danger of ‘I already pay for Apple News+’ – TechCrunch

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Apple doesn’t care about news, it cares about recurring revenue. That’s why publishers are crazy to jump into bed with Apple News+. They’re rendering their own subscription options unnecessary in exchange for a sliver of what Apple pays out from the mere $10 per month it charges for unlimited reading.

The unfathomable platform risk here makes Facebook’s exploitative Instant Articles program seem toothless in comparison. On Facebook, publishers became generic providers of dumb content for the social network’s smart pipe that stole the customer relationship from content creators. But at least publishers were only giving away their free content.

Apple News+ threatens to open a massive hole in news site paywalls, allowing their best premium articles to escape. Publishers hope they’ll get exposure to new audiences. But any potential new or existing direct subscriber to a publisher will no longer be willing to pay a healthy monthly fee to occasionally access that top content while supporting the rest of the newsroom. They’ll just cherry pick what they want via News+, and Apple will shave off a few cents for the publisher while owning all the data, customer relationship and power.

“Why subscribe to that publisher? I already pay for Apple News+” should be the question haunting journalists’ nightmares. For readers, $10 per month all-you-can-eat from 300-plus publishers sounds like a great deal today. But it could accelerate the demise of some of those outlets, leaving society with fewer watchdogs and storytellers. If publishers agree to the shake hands with the devil, the dark lord will just garner more followers, making its ruinous offer more tempting.

There are so many horrifying aspects of Apple News+ for publishers, it’s best just to list each and break them down.

No relationship with the reader

To succeed, publishers need attention, data and revenue, and Apple News+ gets in the way of all three. Readers visit Apple’s app, not the outlet’s site that gives it free rein to promote conference tickets, merchandise, research reports and other money-makers. Publishers don’t get their Apple News+ readers’ email addresses for follow-up marketing, cookies for ad targeting and content personalization, or their credit card info to speed up future purchases.

At the bottom of articles, Apple News+ recommends posts by an outlet’s competitors. Readers end up without a publisher’s bookmark in their browser toolbar, app on their phone or even easy access to them from News+’s default tab. They won’t see the outlet’s curation that highlights its most important content, or develop a connection with its home screen layout. They’ll miss call-outs to follow individual reporters and chances to interact with innovative new interactive formats.

Perhaps worst of all, publishers will be thrown right back into the coliseum of attention. They’ll need to debase their voice and amp up the sensationalism of their headlines or risk their users straying an inch over to someone else. But they’ll have no control of how they’re surfaced…

At the mercy of the algorithm

Which outlets earn money on Apple News+ will be largely determined by what Apple decides to show in those first few curatorial slots on screen. At any time, Apple could decide it wants more visual photo-based content or less serious world news because it placates users even if they’re less informed. It could suddenly preference shorter takes because they keep people from bouncing out of the app, or more generic shallow-dives that won’t scare off casual readers who don’t even care about that outlet. What if Apple signs up a publisher’s biggest competitor and sends them all the attention, decimating the first outlet’s discovery while still exposing its top paywalled content for cheap access?

Remember when Facebook wanted to build the world’s personalized newspaper and delivered tons of referral traffic, then abruptly decided to favor “friends and family content” while leaving publishers to starve? Now outlets are giving Apple News+ the same iron grip on their businesses. They might hire a ton of talent to give Apple what it wants, only for the strategy to change. The Wall Street Journal says it’s hiring 50 staffers to make content specifically for Apple News+. Those sound like some of the most precarious jobs in the business right now.

Remember when Facebook got the WSJ, Guardian and more to build “social reader apps” and then one day just shut off the virality and then shut down the whole platform? News+ revenue will be a drop in the bucket of iPhone sales, and Apple could at any time decide it’s not thirsty any more and let News+ rot. That and the eventual realization of platform risk and loss of relationship with the reader led the majority of Facebook’s Instant Articles launch partners like The New York Times, The Washington Post and Vox to drop the format. Publishers would be wise to come to that same conclusion now before they drive any more eyeballs to News+.

News+ isn’t built for news

Apple acquired the magazine industry’s self-distribution app Texture a year ago. Now it’s trying to cram in traditional text-based news with minimal work to adapt the product. That means National Geographic and Sports Illustrated get featured billing with animated magazine covers and ways to browse the latest “issue.” News outlets get demoted far below, with no intuitive or productive way to skim between articles beyond swiping through a chronological stack.

I only see WSJ’s content below My Magazines, a massive At Home feature from Architectural Digest, a random Gadgets & Gear section of magazine articles, another huge call-out for the new issue of The Cut plus four pieces inside of it, and one more giant look at Bloomberg’s profile of Dow Chemical. That means those magazines are likely to absorb a ton of taps and engagement time before users even make it to the WSJ, which will then only score few cents per reader.

Magazines often publish big standalone features that don’t need a ton of context. News articles are part of a continuum of information that can be laid out on a publisher’s own site where they have control, but not on Apple News+. And to make articles more visually appealing, Apple strips out some of the cross-promotional recirculation, sign-up forms and commerce opportunities on which publishers depend.

Shattered subscriptions

The whole situation feels like the music industry stumbling into the disastrous iTunes download era. Musicians earned solid revenue when someone bought their whole physical album for $16 to listen to the single, then fell in love with the other songs and ended up buying merchandise or concert tickets. Then suddenly, fans could just buy the digital single for $0.99 from iTunes, form a bond with Apple instead of the artist and the whole music business fell into a depression.

Apple News+’s onerous revenue-sharing deal puts publishers in the same pickle. That occasional flagship article that’s a breakout success no longer serves as a tentpole for the rest of the subscription.

Formerly, people would need to pay $30 per month for a WSJ subscription to read that article, with the price covering the research, reporting and production of the whole newspaper. Readers felt justified paying the price because they got access to the other content, and the WSJ got to keep all the money even if people didn’t read much else or declined to even visit during the month. Now someone can pop in, read the WSJ’s best or most resource-intensive article, and the publisher effectively gets paid à la carte like with an iTunes single. Publishers will be scrounging for a cut of readers’ $10 per month, which will reportedly be divided in half by Apple’s oppressive 50 percent cut, then split between all the publishers someone reads — which will be heavily skewed towards the magazines that get the spotlight.

I’ve already had friends ask why they should keep paying if most of the WSJ is in Apple News along with tons of other publishers for a third of the price. Hardcore business news addicts that want unlimited access to the finance content that’s only available for three days in Apple News+ might keep their WSJ subscription. But anyone just in it for the highlights is likely to stop paying WSJ directly — or never start.

I’m personally concerned because TechCrunch has agreed to put its new Extra Crunch $15 per month subscription content inside Apple News+ despite all the warning signs. We’re saving some perks, like access to conference calls just for direct Extra Crunch subscribers, and perhaps a taste of EC’s written content might convince people they want the bonus features. But even more likely seems the possibility that readers would balk at paying again for just some extra perks when they already get the rest from Apple News, and many newsrooms aren’t set up to do anything but write articles.

It’s the “good enough” strategy we see across tech products playing out in news. When Instagram first launched Stories, it lacked a ton of Snapchat’s features, but it was good enough and conveniently located where people already spent their time and had their social graph. Snapchat didn’t suddenly lose all its users, but there was little reason for new users to sign up and growth plummeted.

Apple News is pre-loaded on your device, where you already have a credit card set up, and it’s bundled with lots of content, at a cheaper price than most individual news outlets. Even if it doesn’t offer unlimited, permanent access to every WSJ Pro story, Apple News+ will be good enough. And it gets better with each outlet that allies with this Borg.

But this time, good enough won’t just determine which tech giant wins. Apple News+ could decimate the revenue of a fundamental pillar of society we rely on to hold the powerful accountable. Yet to the journalists that surrender their content, Apple will have no accountability.

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Tier scoots off with ‘first close’ of its $200M Series D – TechCrunch

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Berlin-based e-scooter rentals company Tier Mobility has announced what it’s billing as the “first close” of a $200 million Series D, as investors continue to plough money into urban micromobility.

Today’s announcement follows a $60M debt raise this summer, and a $250M Series C last November (led by SoftBank).

It’s not clear from its PR whether Tier is intending to raise a meatier sized Series D (and seeking to flush more investors out of the bushes with today’s announcement) — hence its talk of “first close” — or whether it’s taken just the first tranche of a planned $200M raise. We’ve asked for clarity and will update when we get it.

It’s also not entirely clear whether the Series D round contains any debt or is all equity (we’ve also asked).

Tier’s PR describes it as “part of a broader equity and debt raise” but the raise does follow on from the smaller debt round announced in June. And later in the PR the round is described as an “equity raise” — although there’s also mention of unlocking the “debt capacity”. Again, a representative for the company could not be reached at the time of writing but we’ll update when we have confirmation.

In a statement, Alex Gayer, chief financial officer at Tier Mobility, said: “This equity funding provides further firepower to scale our multimodal market presence globally, and pursue strategic investments & acquisitions. Our vehicle capex needs will be serviced with the debt capacity unlocked. Our goal is to build Tier into the European micro-mobility powerhouse, building on our current position as the number one player in the shared electric scooters market.”

Existing investor SoftBank Vision Fund 2 is co-leading the Series D with the UAE-based Mubadala Capital, which also backed Tier’s Series C last year, while other existing investors RTP Global, Novator, White Star Capital, Northzone, and Speedinvest also participating.

Mubadala’s increased backing for Tier follows it jumping into the UAE’s market last year — after it was selected by the local Roads & Transport Authority, following a lengthy trial of scooter rentals.

The funding also includes sees new investors joining — including the green impact fund M&G Investments and Mountain Partners, a diversified global investment holding.

Tier said its micromobility business is now valued at $2BN (which is up around double from the value being reported around the time of its Series C last year) — saying it’s raised a total of $660M in equity and debt funding to date.

The 2018 launched e-scooter, e-bike and e-moped startup competes in a highly competitive space with a myriad of players, including the likes of Bird, Dott, Lime, Voi and Wind (to name a few) — although authorities in cities around the world have sought to bring a little structure to the fast-developing micromobility market by setting limits on the number of operators allowed per city. That means that winning a slot as a city provider can help leapfrog competitors at a local level.

In the press release, Tier, for example, trumpets its recent win of a tender to provide e-scooters for rent in a trial in London (alongside Dott and Lime). Other new cities it touts are both in the Middle East: Manama (Bahrain) and Doha (Qatar).

It also operates in Paris — where city authorities have been making a big push to shift the urban transport mix away from cars to alternatives like bikes and public transport. So it can claim some major wins.

To-date, Tier says it’s deployed 135,000 e-scooters, e-bikes and e-mopeds across 150 cities in 16 countries — claiming to have established itself as “the European market leader through unrivalled capital efficiency and operational excellence”.

The Berlin-based startup’s plan for the new funding is for “acquisitions and strategic investments”, as well as for further international expansion — with Tier saying it will be targeting coverage across strategic growth markets, in Europe and the Middle East.

So it sounds like more consolidation is headed for the fast-paced e-scooter market as fresh dollars pour in. (And one way to circumvent city-imposed limits on the number of operators — to grab further scale — would be to buy up rivals that have won tenders in cities you haven’t… )

Tier also says it will be directing some of the investment into continuing to roll out its network of battery charging stations hosted by local businesses, aka the Tier Energy Network.

“With the launch of e-bikes in several European countries, Tier is expanding its growing range of multimodal options, making it the first European micro-mobility provider to offer users three different types of vehicles in one app,” it adds.

In a statement, Lawrence Leuschner, CEO and co-founder, said: “The funding provides Tier with additional resources to fulfil our mission to Change Mobility For Good. Clocking more than 80 million trips, replacing over 13 million car rides, in such a short amount of time exemplifies that cities around the world look for ways to make their transport networks safer and move towards a zero-emission future.”

“Lawrence, Matthias and Alex’s passion for change can be felt across the organisation — from Tier’s hub in Dubai to their HQ in Berlin,” added Amer Alaily, director at Mubadala Capital Ventures, Europe, in another supporting statement. “They have quickly emerged as not only a leader in the European micro-mobility space, but one whose commitment to sustainability sets them apart from their competitors. We are proud to have been part of their journey and look forward to remaining a partner to Lawrence and his team for years to come.”

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Google Play lowers commissions, Apple drops anti-steering rule, Pinterest clones TikTok, Android 12 arrives – TechCrunch

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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

⭐️ Google lowers its Play Store commissions. In a significant move, Google announced it would lower commissions on subscription-based apps to 15% from day one, instead of 30% for the first year, which then drops to 15% in year two and beyond (like Apple offers). It also announced that apps participating in its new Play Media Experience Program could see their commissions adjusted to as low as 10%. This program includes apps where the content costs account for the majority of sales, including video streaming, music and e-books apps. Google also competes in some of these areas with its own services and is under increased threat of regulation globally, as well as engaged in lawsuits over app store fees, including one in the U.S. with Epic Games. The new fees will kick in on January 1, 2022 and follow Google’s previously announced reduction of commissions from 30% to 15% on the first $1 million of developer earnings. Google says 99% of developers will qualify for a service fee of 15% or less. Sensor Tower data indicates Google Play saw $38.8 billion in overall consumer spending in 2020, earning it $11.6 billion in in-app purchases.

⭐️ Apple introduced a new set of App Store Guidelines which include three key changes, including those to anti-steering rules. One of the changes is the result of a previously announced settlement agreement with a class of U.S. app developers. It clarifies that developers are allowed to communicate with their customers about other payment methods available outside their app. Related to this, another new guideline explains that apps may request customer information like name and email, but the request must be optional for the user and shouldn’t prevent them from using the app. The third guideline is unrelated to legal action, and simply details how developers can use a new App Store feature, called in-app events, which rolls out next week.

⭐️ Trump announced his plans to launch a new social networking app, which of course he’s calling Truth Social. The former president was banned from major social platforms following the January 6 attack on the Capitol, for using his account to incite violence. According to a press release this week, Trump Media and Technology Group will merge with a SPAC called Digital World Acquisition Group to launch Truth. But before you go thinking Trump has built his own Twitter, it turns out the new network is actually just a fork of the open-source Mastodon codebase. Mastodon is released under the AGPLv3 license, which requires the code and its modifications to be made public. Truth has not done so, even though screenshots and investigations clearly reference Mastodon. Instead, the Truth website falsely claims all its source code is proprietary. This means Truth is in violation of the Mastodon licensing agreement, and the organization is now seeking legal counsel. Ironically, Truth is starting off with a lie. Who would have guessed it!

⭐️ Android apps arrive on Windows 11. Microsoft this week began testing Android apps on Windows. The company brought around 50 Android apps to the Windows 11 Insider Program, allowing users to try apps including the Amazon Kindle app, The Washington Post app, Clash of Kings, Coin Master and Lego Duplo World, among others. The apps will run on both AMD and Intel devices with the apps running on the Windows Subsystem for Android (powered by Intel Bridge Technology). PCs will need to have virtualization enabled, run Windows 11 and you’ll need an Amazon account to access the Amazon Appstore. Now that the apps can run, next comes the real question: will anyone care to use them?

Image Credits: Google

⭐️ Google introduced new Pixel 6 smartphones and rolled out Android 12 to the public. Android 12 is a major update in terms of the look-and-feel of Android, as it introduces a themeable, personalized design language called Material You, which lets you quickly and easily change the entire look of your phone across the lock screen, settings, notifications, widgets, apps and more. It also adds better accessibility and privacy features, new widgets, improved enterprise features and other tools.

Platforms: Apple

Image Credits: Apple

  • Apple introduced Tech Talks 2021, a series of over 100 online sessions and 1,500 office hours designed to help developers building apps and games. The Tech Talks will run over the course of the next eight weeks and will be conducted across time zones. Office hours will focus on things like App Review, Evangelism, App Store Connect and Developer Technical Support, and will offer developers 30-minute conversations about their apps to help problem-solve and better understand guidelines and tools. The sessions are free of charge to members of the Apple Developer Program and the Apple Developer Enterprise Program.
  • Alongside its new Macs, Apple launched a $4.99/mo version of its Apple Music service which only operates by way of Siri. Likely designed primarily for use with HomePod (or perhaps AirPods), subscribers will only see an Apple Music interface that shows suggestions based on their preferences and their recently played tunes.
  • Apple will roll out software updates across all platforms next week. The company announced the news in a press release for AirPods (third gen.), noting iOS 15.1, iPadOS 15.1, watchOS 8.1, tvOS 15.1 and macOS Monterey were all on the way in the week ahead.

Image Credits: Apple

  • Along with the release of iOS 15.1, Apple said developers will be able to make their in-app events discoverable directly on the App Store. Developers can create their events in App Store Connect and schedule when they want them to appear. The feature will give app makers a better way to showcase things like game competitions, movie premieres and livestreamed experiences. The events will begin to appear starting on October 27.

Platforms: Google

Image Credits: Google

  • Google also announced Pixel Pass, an all-in-one subscription that combines a brand-new Pixel phone with access to Google’s premium services. The service is available at $45 per month for the Pixel 6 and $55 per month for the Pixel 6 Pro and includes YouTube Premium, YouTube Music Premium, 200 GB of cloud storage with Google One, Google Store discounts and a Google Play Pass subscription to free apps and games without ads or in-app purchases.
  • Among the new features coming to Pixel 6 first is an updated Phone app that will show callers the expected wait times for toll-free numbers, and which will help guide callers through businesses’ phone trees by having Google Assistant listen to the options and display them as text.
  • Pixel 6 will also include a new feature called Quick Tap that adds a camera-only version of Snapchat directly to the device’s lock screen. The feature will make it easier and faster to take photos to share on Snap and represents an interesting take on the typical app pre-load deal by making it seem more like a device feature, not bloatware.
  • Google Play now allows app developers to fill out their “Data Safety” info for the section that will come to the Play Store in February. Once live, users will be able to view details about the data collected by the app and how developers will use that data alongside the app’s listing.

E-commerce

Image Credits: WhatsApp

  • WhatsApp rolled out a new Collections feature to make it easier to shop through its app. Collections allow businesses to organize the items in their catalogs by category so customers won’t have to scroll through long lists of items to find what they’re looking for.
  • Spotify partnered with Shopify to allow artists to sell their merchandise through their profiles in the Spotify app. The integration will allow artists to sync their product catalogs to Spotify and choose three items to feature on their profiles. Spotify has a similar integration with Merchbar.
  • Walmart begins testing shopping via text. Walmart’s R&D group Store Nº8 begin testing a feature called Walmart Text to Shop with customers in select markets to better understand how conversational commerce could work for its customers.

Augmented Reality

Image Credits: Snap

  • Snap announced the launch of Arcadia, a global creative studio that will help brands deliver AR advertising and experiences that can be shared across web platforms and app-based AR environments beyond just Snapchat itself. The studio, which will function as a division of Snap, will partner with brands and creators, and is already working with Verizon, WWE, Shake Shack and P&G Beauty. As part of this launch, Snap took over a Shake Shack in NYC for a week to show of AR experiences.

Fintech

Facebook launched its digital wallet app Novi into a pilot program that enables users to start trading the Paxos Dollar (USDP), a stablecoin tied to USD created by Paxos. Coinbase will provide custody services for the program which will first be available in the U.S. and Guatemala to enable cross-border money transfers. However, Novi won’t initially take advantage of the Diem Association’s stablecoin Diem, as Facebook says it’s awaiting regulatory approval. The app is available on iOS and Android.

Social

Image Credits: Pinterest

  • Pinterest clones TikTok and announces $20 million in creator rewards. Pinterest has been trying to reposition its business as a home to creators, not just a shopping inspiration site. This week it expanded those efforts with new TikTok-inspired features, including a vertical video feed that features its video-powered “Idea Pins” and the ability to respond to videos with “Takes.” It also announced a plan to invest $20 million in “Creator Rewards,” a series of expanded creator tools, support for the Amazon Associates affiliate program, as well as the launch of its own original content.
  • Snap shares drop 22% after the app missed on revenue expectations in its Q3 earnings. Snap brought in $1.07 billion in revenue versus the $1.10 billion forecast by Refinitiv. The company said its advertising business was hit harder than expected by Apple’s privacy changes. DAUs were up to 306 million from 293 million in the prior quarter.

Image Credits: Instagram

  • Instagram adds “Collabs,” new music features, support for posting from the desktop web and new fundraiser features, in a series of updates. Collabs allow people to co-author both Feed posts and Reels. To do so, users can invite another account to be a collaborator from the tagging screen on Instagram. If the other person accepts, both accounts will appear in the post or the Reels header and content will be shared to both sets of followers. It also added new effects called Superbeat and Dynamic Lyrics. The former intelligently applies special effects to music to the beat of the user’s song and the latter displays 3D lyrics.
  • Facebook tests a new option for cross-posting Facebook Feed posts to Instagram. Users with the option will be able to cross-post to Instagram single photos, single videos or multi-photo albums up to 10 photos — the max that’s supported through Instagram’s carousels. Other formats, like GIFs, polls, photos albums with more than 10 photos, Feed reshares, text-only posts and any media that’s too tall for Instagram’s Feed are not eligible for cross-posting.
  • Twitter rolls out the ability for anyone to host a Space on iOS and Android. Previously, the company had limited access to hosting Spaces to accounts with at least 600 followers. Twitter says it’s still rolling out the dedicated Spaces tab, which was recently extended to more people in English on iOS, but is not yet available on Android. It also added the ability to subscribe to people’s Revue newsletters from the Timeline.
  • TikTok says its videos longer than 1 minute have received over 5 billion views globally, and videos span over 2 minutes, on average. The new format is most popular in Vietnam, Thailand and Japan, while TikTok users in the U.S., U.K. and Brazil engage with longer videos the most.

Messaging

  • Facebook Messenger added new AR experiences for group video calls. Unlike traditional AR effects, the new “Group Effects” apply to everyone in the call at the same time. At launch, over 70 group effects are available, including a game where you compete to build the best burger the fastest. Facebook says the feature will be coming to Instagram soon.
  • WhatsApp expanded its joinable calls feature to group chats. Joinable calls were first introduced in July and allow users to join an ongoing group call after it has begun.

Streaming & Entertainment

  • YouTube Music’s free tier will go audio-only starting next month as part of a major update to the YouTube Music app. The music, however, will now stream in the background when the app is minimized or the phone screen is off, as part of the free service, but videos will become a paid feature.
  • YouTube tops $3 billion in consumer spend on iOS as of October 17, 2021, according to App Annie data. YouTube ranked No. 3 among all non-gaming apps by global lifetime consumer spend as of October 2021, the firm said.
  • Amazon Music added support for spatial audio to more devices, including iOS and Android devices with their existing headphones and select devices that support Alexa Cast. Spatial audio was first introduced in 2019, but had not yet been available through mobile on headphones. The feature is offered to Amazon Music Unlimited subscribers only.
  • Spotify opened up access to a new tool for creators that will allow them to begin publishing their video podcasts to its service. The tool will be provided by the company’s podcast creation platform Anchor, and expands on the global launch of video podcasts last year, which encompassed only a select group of creators. Currently, the product involves a waitlist, but Spotify says users should expect to see an expanded selection of video soon.

Gaming

  • Google’s Stadia game-streaming service is going white label. The company had earlier said it would offer its services to partners, and now AT&T Wireless customers will be able to stream “Batman: Arkham Knight” from their browser…but on their desktop, not phone (oddly). This is the first in-the-wild example of Stadia’s white-labeling, however. More are likely to come.
  • App Annie updates its Game IQ market intelligence tool with enhancements including Feature Tagging, Genre Summary and Tag Trends.

Health & Fitness

  • Digital therapeutics company Limbix released data from a trial on its new product, SparkRx, a self-guided therapy program for teens run entirely on a phone. The app is designed to help teens manage depression, by encouraging teens to take note of their feelings, and schedule activities that leave them feeling better.

Travel & Transportation

  • Bolt Mobility launched in-app navigation for its shared e-scooters. The system is called MobilityOS and will be accessed via a smartphone that will be mounted to, and charged by, the scooter. The mounts will roll out to the next-gen scooters, the “Bolt Two.”
  • Lyft says it received over 4,000 reports of sexual assault, including 360 reports of rape, on its app from 2017-2019. The findings were revealed as part of the company’s first-ever safety report, arriving two years after Uber’s. 

Government & Policy

  • The Yahoo Finance iOS app was removed from China’s App Store. Neither Apple nor Yahoo commented on the matter, but it’s possible the app was pulled because it was being used as a way to read news stories from media outlets that are typically blocked by the Chinese government.
  • Apple also removed a popular Quran app in China after a request from local regulators. The app allowed users to read the Islamic religious text and other prayer-related information.
  • TikTok and Snap will testify before Congress for the first time next week as part of lawmakers’ investigation into how Big Tech platforms are impacting kids’ safety. (Snap will likely discuss its plans for a new family center in its app, which will offer some sort of parental insights and controls over minor children’s usage.)
  • Facebook was fined $70 million by U.K. regulators for deliberately withholding information related to the ongoing antitrust investigation of its Giphy acquisition.

Security & Privacy

  • Tencent says it fixed a vulnerability that made some WeChat content available to Google and Bing, both of which are blocked in China. Ahead of the news, there was speculation that Beijing regulators had won a victory in their push to stop tech firms from building walled gardens which blocked rivals from accessing data in each others’ services.
  • Google’s Play Protect service is split off into its own app with Android 12. The safety service scans for malware on your device, and could be now easier to update as a standalone application.

🤝 A report by Bloomberg that Pinterest could be acquired by PayPal for $39 billion drove Pinterest stock up 19%. Investors liked the idea of turning the inspirational shopping platform into a payments pipeline, it seems.

🤝 Twitter acquired London-based group chat app Sphere. The app was founded by Tomas Halgas and Nick D’Aloisio — who previously founded news summary app Summly, which he sold to Yahoo at the age of 17 for a reported $30 million. Deal terms were not disclosed, but Sphere’s team of 20 will join Twitter and the app will be shut down.

🤝 Pear Sports acquired the popular workout app Aaptiv, which has 13 million downloads and has seen more than 36 million classes taken. The app will continue to operate and Pear says it will further invest in the product by integrating it with Pear Training Intelligence and bringing it to employers. Deal terms weren’t shared.

💰 Customer engagement platform Batch raised $23 million in its first-ever round led by Expedition Growth Capital with Orange Ventures participating after years of bootstrapping. Batch comes from the same team behind AppGratis, and began as managed push notification platform for iOS, Android and the web. It then expanded to become a martech platform that works with existing data sources, including CRM, CDP and analytics products. The company now counts 300 enterprise clients as customers.

💰 Indian social media app Lokal raised $12 million in a Series A funding led by Tencent, according to a source. The hyperlocal app helps users connect, find jobs, keep up with local information and more.

💰 Venezuelan delivery super app Yummy raised $18 million in Series A funding led by Anthos Capital. The app combines food delivery and ridesharing, and now has over 200,000 registered users.

💰 Indian fintech CRED, which helps users improve their credit by paying their credit cards on time, raised $251 million in Series E funding. The round was led by existing investors Tiger Global and Falcon Edge. Marshall Wace, Steadfast DST Global, Insight Partners, Coatue, Sofina, RTP and Dragoneer Capital also participated. The round values the business at $4.01 billion.

💰 Neobank Zopa raised $300 million in what it calls a pre-IPO round led by SoftBank that values the business at $1 billion. The bank offers a savings account along with credit and loan products, and counts some 500,000 users in the U.K. The company’s current run rate is £85 million ($116 million), and expects to be profitable this year.

💰 Neobank N26 raised $900 million in Series E funding for its digital banking service that reaches 7 million clients in 25 countries. The round values the fintech startup at $9 billion.

💰 South Korean travel tech startup Yanolja acquired a 70% stake in a listed South Korean e-commerce company, Interpark, for about $250 million. Yanolja is hoping to compete with foreign travel tech platforms by building a “super app” that will include more lifestyle services along with hotel, car, tickets and other travel booking services. 

💰 Mobile wallet provider Citcon raised $30 million in Series C funding led by Norwest Venture Partners and Cota Capital. The company allows merchants to accept payments online, in-store or inside apps — the latter of which also includes chat integration and support for WeChat Pay, WhatsApp and others.

💰 Mobile data intelligence startup Embrace raised $45 million in Series B funding led by NEA. The company’s Data Intelligence product helps organizations make their mobile data accessible and actionable by their business intelligence and data science teams so that other departments can use the data when making decisions about new products and marketing campaigns.

📈 Kakao Pay, South Korea’s largest payments app, raised 1.53 trillion won ($1.3 billion) in its IPO after pricing shares at the top of a marketed range. The company sold its shares at 90,000 won apiece, after originally marketing 17 million shares for 60,000 to 90,000 won each.

🤝  Mobile games company Scopely announced it’s acquiring GSN Games, a division of Game Show Network, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Sony Pictures Entertainment, for approximately $1 billion. The deal is being paid half in cash and half in preferred equity. GSN Games operates a portfolio of free-to-play mobile and online games, including Solitaire TriPeaks, Bingo Bash and others. It has 400 employees worldwide.

💰 Game development studio Kazoo Games, which focuses on casual and midcore mobile games, closed on $12 million in Series A funding led by Garena. The funds will be used to advance development, hire new talent and prepare for the release of future titles for iOS and Google Play.

Image Credits: Artiphon

Artiphon debuted an app called Orbacam that allows you to create “Musical Selfies.” The app is meant to serve as a companion to the Orba, a music sequencer device aimed at amateur music makers. With the new app, users can sing or beatbox along with the music they’re creating, import videos and photos from their camera roll and add visual effects to their videos, which can then be shared across social media platforms, like TikTok. The iOS app itself is free to use but the Orba is $100. (Read the full review on TechCrunch)

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Apple updates its App Store Guidelines to permit developers to contact customers about other payment methods – TechCrunch

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Apple today introduced a new set of App Store Guidelines which include three key changes. One of the changes is the result of a previously announced settlement agreement with a class of U.S. app developers. It clarifies that developers are allowed to communicate with their customers about other payment methods available outside their app. Related to this, another new guideline explains that apps may request customer information like name and email, but the request must be optional for the user and shouldn’t prevent them from using the app.

The third guideline is unrelated to legal action, and simply details how developers can use a new App Store feature, called in-app events, which rolls out next week.

In August, Apple first announced it had reached a proposed settlement in a class-action lawsuit filed against it in 2019 by a group of U.S. app developers. The agreement included a few items, but the biggest was that developers would be able to share information with their users about how to pay for purchases outside their iOS app and the App Store. At the time, Apple said the changes would clarify 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,” Apple had also said.

Now those proposed changes are officially part of the App Store Guidelines.

Specifically, Apple deleted a clause from guideline 3.1.3 which had previously said developers were not permitted to use information obtained within their app to target individual users outside of the app to use purchasing methods other than Apple’s own in-app purchases. The old rule had also said this would include sending out emails to the address on file obtained when the customer signed up for the app.

With this clause gone, developers are no longer barred from those sorts of communications.

Apple also added a new section to guideline 5.1.1 (x) which explains further how developers may go about requesting user contact information. It says:

“Apps may request basic contact information (such as name and email address) so long as the request is optional for the user, features and services are not conditional on providing the information, and it complies with all other provisions of these guidelines, including limitations on collecting information from kids.”

The rules against contacting customers, or what is referred to as “anti-steering” guidelines, is an area that has become the subject of much regulatory scrutiny in recent months. Lawmakers around the world have been working to determine if Apple is acting as a monopolist by limiting how developers can run their own businesses in terms of customer outreach, marketing, and payment systems choice.

Already, Apple was being forced to adjust its App Store rules due to various settlements in specific markets.

South Korea, for instance, recently passed new legislation that bans Apple and Google from requiring that developers use their respective payment systems. In Japan, Apple last month reached a settlement with regulators over “reader” apps that now allows them to link to their own websites from within their apps.

In the U.S., meanwhile, Apple is engaged in a lawsuit with Fortnite maker Epic Games. Though the case is now under appeal, the judge’s original ruling would have required Apple to allow developers to point to their own websites within their apps, where customers could then pay directly for its services or subscriptions, bypassing Apple’s payment systems in the process.

Today’s changes don’t go so far as to allow alternative payment systems to be embedded directly in their apps, however.

The anti-steering updates are only one area where regulatory pressure has been playing a role in pushing the tech giants to adopt new policies.

Apple and Google have both also adjusted their commission structures to lower their cut of developers’ revenues in different ways, including for smaller businesses, apps that provide access to media, and apps run by news publishers. Google this week lowered its fees to 15% for subscription-based apps from day 1, instead of 30% during the first year which lowered to 15% in year two. It also lowered commissions to as much as 10% for specific media apps.

Image Credits: Apple

The other new rule arriving today is related to in-app events and simply guidance as to how the new feature can be used.

Announced at WWDC, in-app events give app makers a better way to showcase things taking place inside their apps, like game competitions, movie premieres, livestreamed experiences, and more. The events will begin to appear on the App Store starting on October 27 with the release of the iOS 15.1 update.

Apple advises developers to ensure the metadata is accurate and related to the event specifically when entered in App Store Connect and that the events must run on the dates selected, including across multiple storefronts. It also specifies the deeplink must launch the event directly when tapped, and notes events can be monetizable.

All three rule changes are live as of today.

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