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.
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Image Credits: Apple
Apple’s new FaceTime feature SharePlay wasn’t immediately available with the iOS 15 launch, as it needed a bit more polish. But with this week’s release of iOS 15.1, SharePlay — and a number of mobile app updates ready to support it — have finally arrived. The feature makes using Apple’s video calling platform more interactive and could help to potentially lock in users to Apple’s ecosystem.
As with many Apple features, SharePlay is easy to use despite the complicated technology powering the new system that runs under the hood. With the tap of a button on FaceTime’s controls, you can start sharing your device’s screen on your call or you can just switch over to the app you want to co-watch with a friend — the app alerts you upon arrival that it supports SharePlay as well as how to get started.
While screen sharing, you can view your screen or other apps together. However, you won’t have a good experience trying to co-watch videos this way due to lags. Apple also smartly blocks other viewers from seeing your incoming notifications or any kind of application pop-ups or dialogs, as they may contain sensitive information. And everything is end-to-end encrypted, so you can feel comfortable screen sharing in a business setting, not just a personal one. (And this will be further improved when SharePlay arrives on macOS Monterey later this fall.)
If anything, the biggest obstacle to using SharePlay at launch is simply availability.
Apple has a robust lineup of launch partners for the new addition — but unless you’ve happened across the App Store’s editorial round-up of SharePlay-enabled apps (do a search for “shareplay” to find it), you may not know if your favorite app is “SharePlay ready” as of yet.
Initially, SharePlay is rolling out to apps, including Apple TV+, Apple Fitness, TikTok, NBA: Live Games & Scores, Paramount+, Showtime, Kahoot!, Cameo, SmartGym, Flow, Moon FM, MUBI, Digital Concert Hall, Piano with Friends, Relax Melodies, LookUp, Heads Up!, CARROT Weather, Apollo, Night Sky and others. Disney+ will soon support SharePlay, as will ESPN, HBO Max, Hulu, MasterClass, Twitch, Pluto TV and more.
While that’s pretty decent right out of the gate, it is missing one key player: Netflix.
You have to wonder what’s going there — is it in the works? Being held back as a negotiating tactic? Is Netflix…just not interested? As you might recall, Netflix was one of the few streamers that didn’t add a native co-watching feature (or at least officially partner with another software maker) during the pandemic, while everyone else was busy building remote social experiences. Competitors like Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Plex, HBO and others rolled out co-viewing experiences. But Netflix sat out the trend, despite the growing popularity of third-party co-viewing apps like Netflix Party. With Netflix’s more recent slower growth following the pandemic’s peak, you would think the company would see SharePlay as a potential source of new user acquisition.
After all, SharePlay can be used to offer a free user without an account a way to co-watch with a paid subscriber, if that’s what the developer wants. This, in turn, could then be used to push the free user to buy a subscription after some time has passed — like after they got hooked on some exclusive shows, perhaps. It seems like a no-brainer to offer support for this sort of thing — but perhaps Netflix is building out its own version where it can collect more data as a first-party experience. Time will tell.
In the meantime, the SharePlay feature could appeal to younger people who already use FaceTime the way older people use the Phone app, and who are comfortable multi-tasking on their devices.
Image Credits: Apple
A whole new way to market apps has now appeared on the App Store. On Wednesday, the first in-app events began appearing on the App Store, giving users a new way to find out what’s happening inside their favorite apps and games right now. At launch, Rise of Kingdoms and Pokémon GO are promoting Halloween special events, for example, as are others. But in-app events could also be used to promote things like movie premieres or live sports in the future. When users tap a new event card on the App Store (in iOS 15 or iPadOS 15), they’ll be taken directly to the event taking place. They can also tap “Notify Me” to get alerts when upcoming events go live, share events with friends or add them to their calendar app.
Other games adopting the feature include Call of Duty: Mobile, PUBG Mobile, Clash Royale and Genshin Impact and soon, so will apps like Tinder, TikTok, Disney+, Hulu, Paramount+, HBO Max and ESPN.
Image Credits: Snap
Image Credits: Instagram
Image Credits: Bloomberg Second Measure
Image Credits: Samuel Corum/Getty Images
💰 Barcelona-based mobile keyboard software maker Fleksy raised $1.6 million in Series A led by Spanish asset management firm Inveready. The funds will be used to help the company pivot to B2B for its white-label SDK for iOS and Android.
💰 Social networking app OneRoof, aimed at connecting people in residential buildings, raised $1.2 million in seed funding led by General Catalyst. The app offers a Slack-like hub for messaging with neighbors and is now live in around 400 buildings in NYC.
📈 Indian payments app Paytm is planning to raise as much as $2.4 billion in what could be the country’s biggest IPO, valuing the business at $20 billion. The startup has raised more than $3 billion over the past decade and was last valued at $16 billion.
🤝 Celeb video app Cameo announced its first acquisition. The company is buying marketing and merch company Represent, which helps brands and celebs set up their own individualized storefronts and already has clients like Jennifer Lopez, Ed Sheeran, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew McConaughey and Kendall Jenner. Deal terms were not revealed, but Cameo plans to offer “gift bundles” that will allow users to pair videos with related merch.
💰 Neobanking app Zolve raised $40 million in Series A funding led by partners of DST Global, valuing the startup at $210 million. The app offers a bank account, and debit and credit cards for Indian users working in the U.S., or planning to.
📈 Brazilian neobank Nu (aka Nubank) filed to go public. According to its filing, Nu plans to list in the U.S. with intent to “negotiate a program of Brazilian Depositary Receipts” in its home country. In June, Nu raised a $750 million round led by Berkshire Hathaway at a $30 billion valuation.
💰 Brazilian startup Gringo, which helps drivers monitor and perform services related to their documents and vehicles, raised $8 million in new funding led by Kaszek. The app is used to manage and pay for things like driver licenses, registration and taxes, and now has 2.5 million users.
💰 Digital physical therapy app Hinge Health raised $400 million in Series E funding led by returning investors Tiger Global and Coatue Management, valuing the startup at $6.2 billion. The app helps people treat chronic musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions, like back and joint pain, and now serves more than 575 enterprise customers.
💰 Early-stage startup Groopit raised $2 million in pre-seed funding led by Ascend.vc to help companies crowdsource data from the information supplied by employees working in the field. The product can be customized for the individual businesses to gather the kinds of data it needs — and works across mobile and web.
Niantic’s attempt to once again replicate the success of Pokémon GO, in a way that Harry Potter: Wizards Unite has not really been able to, arrived this week. The company announced the launch of a new AR game Pikmin Bloom in collaboration with Nintendo. The game, like Pokémon GO, encourages users to go outside and explore — but now, instead of capturing Pokémon, they’ll collect seedlings and a squad of “Pikmin” — a sort of plant-animal hybrid creature. As you walk, you’ll leave AR trails of flowers behind you. The game will also later host monthly “Community Days” for Pikmin so users can plant and play together. Overall, the game seems less competitive than Pokémon GO and may be aimed at someone who wants more casual gameplay. The game initially rolled out to Singapore and Australia, then the U.S., and will continue to roll out globally.
Matterport brought its 3D capture app to Android users, which allows customers to digitize their home, office or hotel with any compatible Android device, for free. Homeowners can use the app to create a digital appraisal of their property and everything in it for insurance, space planning or just peace of mind. Meanwhile, builders can plan and manage their construction projects along with designers, contractors and clientele. And real estate agents and rental property managers can quickly capture and publish 3D virtual experiences online, then share them across websites and social networks. The Matterport App for Android is available now on Google Play and can be used with a free account.