Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest, and the overall app economy. The app industry continues to grow, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spending in 2020. Consumers also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., ahead of the time spent watching live TV. The average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV daily but now spends four hours per day on their . 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 a figure up 27% year-over-year. , we’re reviewing Google’s I/O developer event, rounding up the latest from Snap’s partner summit, and looking at how Parler got back on the App Store, among other things.
Google I/O was quite boring this year.
Sorry, sorry. But it’s true. Without any new hardware announcements, the software-only event didn’t feel as big and buzzy as it has in the past — which is a bummer since I/O was canceled entirelydue to COVID-19. There was no announcement of an affordable Pixel 5a or six smartphones, no rumored Pixel Watch, no news on Pixel chips, no new smart home devices, no Stadia, and not even the Pixel Buds A-Series, which Google accidentally tweeted about ahead of schedule. What gives? Instead, Google I/O was filled with many product news that could have been announced as blog posts — like Google Workspace improvements or neat Google Maps and Photos features. A life-size 3D video calling booth is fantastic, but won’t be in your living room .
That’s not to downplay Google’s technical advancements. Still, if you’re sitting through a long live-ish (??) event, you don’t only want to hear about more conversational AI or less racist cameras (much less from the company that fired multiple AI ethics researchers). You want to get excited about Google’s next new…thing. When all was said and done, what stood out was Android 12. The updated version of Google’s mobile OS with its unique personalization features targets customization’s current iPhone weakness. While iOS finally added support for widgets with iOS 14 and an App Library to clean upclutter, Apple seemed almost caught off guard by the personalization madness that ensued after devices went live. It had to quickly fix how app shortcuts worked — a workaround people had been using to tediously customize their .
Android 12 addresses this demand for its users and takes things further. When Android 12 users set a new wallpaper, the system can automatically create a custom palette of colors as the Android theme, including dominant and complementary colors. This is applied across the OS, including in the Quick Settings under the Notification Shade, buttons on the lock screen, widgets, and more. Google calls this “Material You,” which is silly but gets the point across. The phone can start to feel like yours. Material: You also introduce refreshed widgets with interactive controls and more accessible personalization options, smoother transitions, more animations, and a private dashboard where you can check in on which apps are accessing your location, mic, and camera instance. But what sells it is how all those parts come together to present a new Android version that feels fresh.
ICYMI: An I/O Round-up
- Stats: globally, up from 2.5 billion in May 2019. The figure includes 250 million active tablets as of last year.
- Foldable: a series of Android 12 updates that support foldable screens. (Is a foldable Pixel coming?)
- Design: “Material You” is Android’s new, adaptive design language, which fully embraces the home screen personalization trend, allowing users to set themes that apply across the operating system. One of its more clever tricks is that it can build the color palette for the article based on the wallpaper you choose.
- Wearables: Google and Samsung team up on a unified wearable platform to take on Apple’s watchOS. The goal will be to combine the best of both worlds, Android Wear OS and Samsung’s Tizen, allowing apps to start faster and while users gain more apps and watch faces. Meanwhile, the best of Fitbit progress and on-wrist goal celebrations — will come to Android Wear. Other updates include a Tiles API, a watch face designer from Samsung, a new consumer experience focused on speed and customization, and redesigned Maps, Assistant, and Pay.
- Auto: Google is working with BMW and others to allow Android smartphones to unlock and start vehicles by leveraging Ultra Wideband technology (UWB) support. It’s also making it easier for developers to bring Android apps to the car as they can now create an app that supports Android OS and Android Auto.
- AR: 850 million ARCore-compatible devices are now on the market. It also added Raw Depth and recording/Playback APIs to ARCore to help make more immersive experiences possible.
- Flutter: Google’s cross-platform UI toolkit for building mobile and desktop apps, including those from WeChat, ByteDance, BMW, Grab, and Didi. The new version, Flutter 2.2, adds reliability, performance improvements, a payment plugin for IAPs, and a more streamlined process for bringing Flutter apps to Windows, macOS, and Linux.
- Android Studio: Google announced the next version of its Android Studio IDE, Arctic Fox, which focuses on bringing more tooling directly into the IDE. The marquee feature of the update is Jetpack Compose, the toolkit for building modern UIs for Android.
- Google shared details on sharing details (from 30% to 15%) and added new resources like an SDK website to help you find the right ones and a dedicated Policy and Programs section in the Play Console. Apps will later this year be able to monetize in new ways, including multi-quantity purchases, multi-line subscriptions, and prepaid plans (access to content for a fixed amount of time).
- Ads: Google’s App campaigns on Android will expand to the of Google.com and the Google Display Network. If users click an ad in the desktop browser, they’ll be directed to the Play to their linked device. Also, the for Firebase SDK allows event creation and modification without app updates. Plus, Google introduced a deep link validator and impact calculator to make it easier to get started with deep linking.
Snap’s Partner Summit: AR and e-commerce and more
Snap, an app now 500 million MAUs, hosted an event for its partners this week, where the company unleashed a host of news about what’s next for its platform, including developer tools, AR updates, shopping features, and more. Among the highlights was Snap’s computer vision-enabled Scan product, which will analyze content in the camera feed to pull up matching products, similar to efforts by Pinterest and Google. Meanwhile, AR updates and partnerships with brands like Farfetch and Prada will make virtual try-ons of clothes possible using AR. (Honestly, sometimes it feels like Snap’s tech is being lost in an app that mainly uses teenagers and young adults for socializing. Are they Prada shoppers?)
Anotherto release a brand-new app, Story Studio, which will give creators access to more powerful editing tools for precisely trimming shots, adding captions, stickers, and other visual elements, accessing licensed music, and more. Creators can then publish to Snapchat Spotlight, now available on the web and other platforms. Meanwhile, Snap Map is getting an update with a product called Layers, which allows from Snap’s developer partners to their map to personalize their experience. For instance, a Ticketmaster Layer will show nearby concert venues. The company also updated its creator funding efforts, saying it had doled out more than $130 million to more than 5,400 creators making content for its TikTok rival, Spotlight, since November. It now says it will no longer pay out $1 million per day to encourage creator adoption.
Reface’s buzzy face-swapping app nowupload their source material for face swapping and animations, which rely on GAN algorithms. The app, launched 14 months ago, now has over 100 million installs. That means you can face-swap yourself into a famous piece of art, for instance.
Google Photos update adds new Memories and a Locked Folder and previews Cinematic moments thatof photos.
is adding several updates this year, including new routing updates designed for safety, Live View enhancements, an expansion of detailed street maps to 50 more cities, a new “area busyness” feature, which shows crowded blocks and neighborhoods, and a more personalized Maps experience, which adjusts to your location and time of day.
The Chrome app for Android is bringing back RSS. A new feature for users in the U.S. on Chrome Canary is a “follow” button that will allow you to get the latest content from websites and blogs directly in Chrome. The feature relies on the open RSS web standard, so maybe stop building “blogs” that don’t have an RSS feed, OK?
Sensor Tower reports that WhatsApp rivals, including Telegram and Signal, saw nearly 1,200% growth ahead of WhatsApp’sdeadline.
WhatsApp is testing disappearing messages with its TestFlight users—no word on public availability.
Streaming & Entertainment
Spotify launched a virtual concert series with The Black Keys and other artists. The pre-recorded streams are $15 each for the 40-75 minute show. Some unknown portion of that revenue is shared with the artists.
Spotify is adding automatic transcripts to its own Original and Exclusive podcasts to roll out transcripts to all shows over time.
Apple announced it’s bringing lossless audio streaming to Apple Music as a free upgrade in June. The promotion will also include support for Dolby Atmos and lossless audio files. The Android version will support lossless but not Dolby Atmos at launch. Lossless on Apple devices does not work on AirPods, Pro, or AirPods Max, even in wired listening mode. Nor does it work on HomePod devices.
On the same day, Amazon announced its lossless music streaming service, Amazon Music HD, would also be a free upgrade for Amazon Music Unlimited subscribers.
Deezer technically beat Spotify to offer offline listening onthis week, but not by much. Spotify on Friday added support for downloads on the Apple Watch so you can enjoy phone-free listening. Meanwhile, Spotify is adding offline listening to Android Wear, too.
Android 12 will add built-in remote control features for controlling the now 80 million monthly active Android TV devices worldwide.
HBO Max to add ad-supported streaming at $9.99 pera much cheaper option than its $14.99/mo ad-free experience. The option will roll out in June.
Clubhouse goes live globally. Meanwhile, Twitter rival Spaces shows off what Ticketed Spaces look like and says it’s taking a 20% cut of sales.
Halide for iPad
The popular third-party camera app Halide made its way to the iPad this week, with an interface designed from scratch for the iPad with controls placed within reach near the edge of the big screen, special features for composition and iPad shooting (yes, really), custom icons to match either your Silver or Space Gray iPad Pro and support for either right or left-handed users. The app is free with in-app purchases for iPad.
Silk + Sonder (Soft Launch)
AAPI, female-founded Silk + Sonder, was created by Meha Agrawal, aincluding Goldman Sachs, Stitch Fix, The Muse, and others to take an analog-first approach to mental wellness. The company is launching its first mobile app after growing its business to tens of thousands of subscribers and raising $4+ million in . The new app offers curated self-care experiences, daily affirmations, a community club, a private memories feature, and others meant to complement the company’s analog journal/planners shipped to members’ doorstep monthly. In calming shades of pink and white, the app guides users through their wellness journey and helps them stay accountable to their goals. Since the app’s soft launch this month, it’s added thousands of users, more than 50% of whom engage regularly. The new app is initially available only to active subscribers, but other users can join a waitlist.
Female-founded Herd has been building demand for its non-toxic Instagram alternative via TikTok. Now, the app is live on iOS as a beta. Herd aims to give users a safer, social space focused on community, not influence, clout-chasing, or data collection. At present, Herd offers a basic photo-sharing experience. Users can customize their home feed by interest and use sliders to control what they want to see more or less of while posting their photos, saving favorites, and staying private if they choose. Noo stories, photo filters, videos, or anything could lure users away from more advanced, feature-rich social apps. But it has a mission that users feel connected with — pushing the app to No. 18 in the Social category on the App Store on launch day, May 18. It’s now still sitting in the top 50 a few days later. But ultimately, all the marketing and social buzz can’t prop up an app forever. The Herd needs to capitalize on the goodwill built by quickly upgrading the UI/UX so the app feels as fresh as the ideas it espouses.