This Week in Apps: The year’s best apps, Twitter rival Hive’s security woes, App Store backlash grows
Welcome Back to This Week in Apps The weekly TechCrunch series which recaps the most recent in mobile OS news, mobile apps, and the overall app economy.
Global app spending reached $65 billion in the first half of 2022, up only slightly from the $64.4 billion during the same period in 2021, as hypergrowth fueled by the pandemic has slowed down. But overall, the app economy is continuing to grow, having produced a record number of downloads and consumer spending across both the iOS and Google Play stores combined in 2021, according to the latest year-end reports. Global spending across iOS and Google Play last year was $133 billion, and consumers downloaded 143.6 billion apps.
This week in Apps is a place to keep up with this fast-moving sector in one place. It includes news, updates and information about startup fundings, mergers, acquisitions, and other important developments.
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Twitter, Spotify, Meta and Coinbase all bash Apple’s App Store
Elon Musk was not happy with Apple this week. The new Twitter exec claimed that Apple threatened to remove the app’s listing from the App Store. This was unlikely to be true. Instead of taking on the claims directly and starting a Twitter fight, Apple CEO Tim Cook invited Musk to Apple’s campus, where they took a walk and resolved their differences. Or at least that’s how Musk put it, referring to the potential Twitter ban as a “misunderstanding.”
Good conversation. We also resolved the misunderstanding regarding Twitter possibly being removed from Apple’s App Store. Tim made it clear that Apple had never considered doing this.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 30, 2022
“Tim was clear that Apple never considered doing so,” said Musk regarding Twitter’s potential App Store removal.
But that doesn’t mean Apple won’t ban Twitter one day if it finds itself so unmoderated it allows hate speech and stokes violence. It took action against Parler once, and Twitter could see App store policy enforcement if it so devolved.
The Musk-Apple drama prompted others to tweet about their App Store problems.
Spotify CEO Daniel Ek, for example, tweeted a long thread referencing Spotify’s anti-competitive complaints against the company, pointing also to Musk’s recent tweet railing against the 30% Apple tax.
Another longtime Apple critic, Coinbase, also posted a Twitter thread this week where the company claimed that users could no longer “send NFTs” in Coinbase Wallet on iOS because Apple decided to block the app’s last release until the feature was disabled. “Apple’s claim is that the gas fees required to send NFTs need to be paid through their In-App Purchase system, so that they can collect 30% of the gas fee,” the company’s official Twitter account stated. It stated that “for anyone who understands the workings of NFTs and Blockchains, this is clearly impossible.” Apple’s proprietary In-App Purchase System does not support crypto, so we couldn’t comply even if .”
You might have noticed you can’t send NFTs on Coinbase Wallet iOS anymore. This is because Apple stopped our last app release before we disabled the feature.
— Coinbase Wallet (@CoinbaseWallet) December 1, 2022
Gas charges are part of transactions on a blockchain but not a part that Coinbase makes a profit from. While some NFT marketplaces allow users to purchase NFTs in dollars, this is not the case here. If a Coinbase user wants to transfer an NFT to someone for free, they will still need to pay a gas charge to complete the transaction. This fee is in cryptocurrency and not U.S. Dollars. This fee is paid to the validators of the blockchain, not Coinbase. It fluctuates based on a variety factors, including how many transactions are currently taking place on the blockchain at any given time.
Still, Apple’s new rules around NFTs require the use of in-app purchases for things like “minting, listing, and transferring,” they say. It’s unclear if an App Reviewer made mistakes in trying to apply Apple’s tax to something that’s already sorta of a tax, or if Coinbase was deliberately trying to provoke consumer outrage. It may have worked if the latter. The tweets made headlines and prompted Tim Sweeney (CEO of Epic Games), to comment on the matter. His company is currently suing Apple, Google, and Google for monopolistic practices.
“If they can lawfully add a 30% Apple Tax to all NFT transactions, then they can lawfully add a 30% Apple Tax to all online banking and stock trading transactions,” Sweeney said.
If they can lawfully add a 30% Apple Tax to all NFT transactions, then they can lawfully add a 30% Apple Tax to all online banking and stock trading transactions.
The App Store monopoly has taken control of the American economy. Apple must be stopped! https://t.co/zTV8iVFUfm
— Possibly Tim Sweeney (@TimSweeneyEpic) December 1, 2022
Apple responded to the Coinbase situation by saying that it would continue working with Coinbase as it does with all developers to “explore viable options in this evolving space.” Hmm.
Also, Mark Zuckerberg, Meta CEO, made sharp comments about Apple’s control over the app ecosystem while speaking at The NYT’s Dealbook conference.
“Apple has sort of singled themselves out as the only company that is trying to control unilaterally what apps get on a device,” Zuckerberg said. “I don’t believe that’s a sustainable or good area to be.” Zuckerberg stated.
Hive’s security was so bad, it had to shut down
The team at the newly popular Twitter alternative Hive is in over its head. The company this week took the fairly radical step of fully shutting down its servers for a couple of days in response to concerns raised by security researchers who discovered a number of critical vulnerabilities on Hive, several of which they say remain unfixed. These vulnerabilities would allow attackers to access all data, including private messages and posts, and even deleted direct messages. They also have the ability to edit Hive posts of others.
The researchers, a part of a German collective called Zerforschung, claimed they confidentially reported the security vulnerabilities to Hive’s team, noting it was initially difficult to reach a point of contact at the company. Several days later, Hive replied, claiming the issues to be fixed, a Zerforschung blog post explains. The researchers discovered that this was not true and urged people to stop using Hive’s app.
Shortly after, Hive announced it was temporarily shutting down its servers to address these problems. It also claimed, across several tweets, that they never told the researchers the issues were “fixed” but that they were “fixing” them, eventually deciding to go offline until problems were addressed.
This is a strange way to fix bugs and raises questions about the company’s development process. Is it possible to have a dev environment in which code is fixed and then staged for release? How bad is the code? Does it require a complete stop to company operations in order to fix it?
Hive stated that the app would be back online once the issues are resolved and suggested it was raising funds to help it implement additional protections in the future. The company claims to have 2 million users, but data.ai only sees around 1.7 million total downloads.
Kanye West won’t buy Parler
In Oct, Kanye West (now known as Ye) announced that he would purchase the conservative-leaning social media network for an unknown amount. However, the deal has been canceled. The news followed West’s antisemitic statements during an interview with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, where the rapper praised Hitler and Nazis. In a statement, Parler’s owner Parlement Technologies confirmed the two have parted ways, saying the company “has mutually agreed with Ye to terminate the intent of sale of Parler.”
” This decision was taken in the mutual interest of both sides in mid-November. Parler will continue to explore future opportunities for growth, and the evolution platform for our vibrant community,” read the statement.
Apple & Google pick the Best Apps of the Year, and BeReal scores
It’s time to present the annual app store awards. This year, relative newcomer BeReal — which hasn’t managed to ship a new feature all year — made it to the top of both stores’ “best of 2022” lists. Apple dubbed the photo-based social network its “App of the Year” while Google Play gave it the User’s Choice award. It is a surprising choice for a winner. BeReal has gained a lot of popularity, especially among younger Gen Z users. However, the company has yet find a business model. This means that Apple and Google don’t make any money from the app’s promotion. I don’t know if this is a cynical statement, but it’s amazing that app platforms would promote an app that doesn’t directly benefit their bottom lines in any way. Or one that makes clever use of a newer technology like AR or GameKit. BeReal, on the other hand, is a simple app that allows you to take photos and then post them. They disappear later.
Perhaps Apple wanted a point to make by promoting an application that didn’t require in-app purchases, or one that would remind developers and consumers! The App Store still has relevant hits.
Other Apple winners included GoodNotes 5 for iPad, MacFamilyTree 10 for Mac, Vix for Apple TV and Gentler Streak for Apple Watch.
Apex Mobile was the iPhone game of the Year and Google’s best-winning game winner, while Moncage won the iPad.
Google selected Dream by WOMBO to be this year’s best app in the U.S. and released versions of its top-ranked apps across its global markets.
- Apple announced it would once again keep its App Store open during the holiday season, though with slower review speeds. Typically, Apple says 90% of apps are reviewed in less than 24 hours, but times may lag during December 23 through December 27. Apple used to close the App Store to submissions during holidays. But that practice was discontinued last year.
- Apple is making digital car keys shareable in its iOS 16.1 software. iPhone users will be able to share their car keys with non-iPhones using the new functionality. It will first work with Google Pixel devices and then expand to other Android phones. You can share keys via WhatsApp, text message, and email.
- Apple released iOS 16.1.2, which included various security updates, improved compatibility with wireless carriers and crash detection optimizations for iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro models.
- Apple introduced a new “Today at Apple” session for kids in celebration of Computer Science Education Week. The session, “Coding Lab for Kids: Code Your First App,” is for kids 10 and aims to introduce app development concepts.
- Google rolled out its latest Android update which introduced features like an accessible reader mode, a new YouTube Search widget, shareable digital car keys, new action tiles for WearOS and other special holiday features, like new designs for photo collages in Google Photos, among other things.
- As part of the update, Google launched a new Reading Mode app that helps people with visual imparities and dyslexia read content on the screen, especially articles.
- Google detailed CameraViewfinder, a new artifact from the Jetpack library that allows developers to quickly implement camera previews with minimal effort. The component “internally uses either a TextureView or SurfaceView to display the camera feed, and applies the required transformations on them to correctly display the viewfinder,” Google says.
E-commerce & Food Delivery
- Temu, a shopping app operated by China’s Pinduoduo, moved into the No. 1 spot on the U.S. App Store on November 12, after topping more than 5 million installs in the U.S.
- Food delivery app JOKR confirmed it’s closing down its operations in Santiago, Chile and Medellin, Colombia, which will see it letting go of 22 employees and 19 employees, respectively.
- Livestream shopping startup Firework, which built tech to enable live shopping, laid off 10% of staff just months after its SoftBank-led $150 million Series B.
- Snapchat partnered with Disney and rolled out an AR Lens to promote Disney’s release of “Avatar: The Way of Water” which turns the end user into a Na’vi. The film releases in theaters on December 16 in the U.S.
- Epic Games’ RealityScan app, which lets you scan real-world objects and turn them into 3D models for video games or other AR projects, launched to the public on iOS. Since April, the app was in a limited beta release.
- Venmo added support for in-app charitable donations, allowing users to give to the tens of thousands of certified charities available through the PayPal Giving Fund. The app’s “send money” screen has been redesigned to make it easier for users to see who they are sending money to and the amount.
- Pinterest is shutting down its Creator Rewards program that had allowed creators to earn money by creating content for the social network. The program will end on November 30, 2022, it said.
- TikTok began testing a research API, which provides access to public and anonymized data about the content and activity on its app. TikTok’s Content and Safety Advisory Council members will test the API early to provide feedback on its useability.
- Meta rolled out new privacy updates for teens on Facebook and Instagram that will set all new users under the age of 16 (or 18 in some countries) to “private” accounts by default when they sign up. The company will also encourage teens who have already signed up for Facebook to choose private settings, such as who can see their friends list, posts they are tagged in, and who can comment on public posts.
- The Indian social network Koo has been gaining popularity in Brazil but has been struggling with moderation and security issues. In one instance, hackers took control over Felipe Neto’s Koo account, warning users about Koo’s lack of security.
- Twitter hired hacker George Hotz, who recently left Comma.ai, the driver assistance system startup he founded. Hotz is “interning” at Twitter, which actually means he’s taking a paid position for 12 weeks to fix issues with Twitter’s search engine which have been left unaddressed for years.
- Twitter also declared “general amnesty” for banned users, and is now working to reinstate 62,000 accounts with 10,000K followers. It had earlier allowed Kanye West back on the service after a suspension but had to ban him again for posting antisemitic tweets in violation of its rules. Ye was banned by Elon Musk’s tweet “FAFO”.
- Twitter said it will start showing users more algorithmic recommendations in the timeline, which it said would help users see more of the best content on the platform — something that could help newcomers get better situated and find interesting people to follow, as Twitter tries to grow.
- Snap CEO Evan Spiegel told employees they have to be in the office 80% of the time, 3-4 days per week, as of February 2023.
- Community reviews app Yelp introduced Spotlight Ads that allow businesses to reach consumers using video through the app’s homescreen.
- Discord opened up paid Server Subscriptions, a feature that began piloting last year, to allow more servers to offer premium memberships in exchange for server-specific perks. Subscriptions range in price from $2.99-$199. 99 and subscribers choose their own perks. Discord takes a 10% cut.
- WhatsApp launched a company directory on its Business Platform in Brazil, the U.K., Indonesia, Mexico and Columbia after initially testing the feature last year in Sao Paulo. Users can browse and find small businesses in their locality with the service. The app also allows users to search for larger businesses through the Business Search feature.
- WhatsApp also launched a “Message Yourself” feature that allows users to send notes, reminders and shopping lists to themselves in the messaging app.
- Google will begin testing end-to-end encryption for RCS-based group chats on its Messages app. This feature will be available to selected users who are part of the open beta program for the app in the coming weeks.
- Substack’s Chat feature, which allows writers and creators to have discussions in a chat-like environment inside the Substack app, has expanded from iOS to Android.
- In response to a court order in India, Telegram disclosed the names of administrators, their phone numbers and IP addresses of channels that were accused of copyright infringement. Unrelated, the company also said it plans to build a decentralized crypto exchange and noncustodial wallets.
- LinkedIn rolled out a focused inbox and messaging safety tools in order to get a better grip on spam and scammers.
- Dating app Grindr closed its NYSE debut up 213. 84% at $36. 50 per share, CNBC reported. After a merger with SPAC, the app trades under the ticker GRND.
- Bumble launched a message-before-match feature, “Compliments,” allowing users to send a note to another person before connecting in the app. Tinder offers similar options through its “Fast chat” feature.
Streaming & Entertainment
- Spotify Wrapped 2022 officially arrived. Though other music services, including Apple Music and YouTube Music, also put together their own year-end retrospectives, Spotify’s personalized and interactive Wrapped experience remains the one to beat. The feature saw 30 million users accessing Wrapped in 2017, which grew to 120 million last year. This year’s big addition was something called “My Listening Personality,” which translates users’ listening behavior into one of the 16 personality types.
- Wattpad Webtoon Studios, the entertainment and publishing arm of the user-gen storytelling apps, announced an expansion of its exec ranks, bringing on Jason Goldberg as Director of Film, North America and Danni Xin as a Television Development Executive. Goldberg was previously VP of Scripted TV at Gunpowder & Sky, while Xin was involved in original series development at Topic Studios.
- Google announced that Google TV and Android TV will be requiring Android App Bundles that are archivable starting in May 2023. This change is intended to save storage for users.
- Spotify expanded its new audiobooks service across more English-speaking markets, including he U.K., Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. Users will have access to over 300,000 titles which have to first be purchased through Spotify’s website instead of in-app as the company is trying to avoid app store fees.
- After the Instafest web app blew up, allowing Spotify users to make festival posters from their listening history, the originator of a similar trend is doing the same. LineupSupply — an app that lets you make playlists from real-world concert posters — added a new Rewind function that creates a poster based on your listening history over a select period of time.
- YouTube experienced an hours-long outage, which saw the iOS app crashing when users tried to watch videos.
- Netflix launched 9 more mobile games, including Gameloft’s Farmville clone, Country Friends. Others include Reigns Three Kingdoms, a card-swiping strategy game; Skies of Chaos, an arcade-style shoot-em-up game; Flutter Butterflies, a game for butterfly collectors and Cats & Soups, a relaxing cooking game; Hello Kitty Happiness Parade; Immortality; a new Stranger Things: Puzzle Tales; and a TV-only game, Triviaverse.
- In Epic Games’ court case against Google, the Fortnite maker was said to have allegedly paid around $360 million over three years to keep Activision Blizzard from launching its own app store to compete with Google Play.
- Indian social network ShareChat, backed by Twitter, Tiger Global and Temasek, is closing its fantasy sports app Jeet11 and has laid off 5% of staff.
- Norwegian artist Aurora is hosting an in-game concert, but it’s not in Fortnite, Roblox or Minecraft. Rather, the artist’s December 8 performance will be within the popular game Sky: Children of the Light, which has more than 160 million downloads across iOS, Android and Switch.
Government & Policy
- The U.K.’s antitrust watchdog is looking into the iOS-Android mobile duopoly, with a focus on mobile browsers and cloud gaming. The government is concerned that the companies are restricting competition, and causing harm to consumers.
- The U.K. government also said it’s expanding the scope of online safety legislation by criminalizing the encouragement of self-harm on online platforms following a teen’s suicide. The teen had seen thousands of pieces on Pinterest and Instagram about suicide and self-harm.
Security & Privacy
- 1Password said passkey support for secure user logins to apps, including iOS and Android apps, will launch in early 2023.
- TikTok and Bumble said they plan to use StopNCII.org’s database of hashtags of nude images and videos in order to block revenge porn on their apps. Meta has been using it since 2021.
Mark Cuban-backed streaming app Fireside, which offers podcasters and other creators a way to host interactive, live shows with audience engagement, acquired the open streaming TV platform Stremium. The deal, which was for an undisclosed amount, will make Fireside’s shows available to a variety of connected TV devices including Roku, Amazon Fire TV, and smart TVs.
Cobee, a Madrid-based app offering employee benefits, raised EUR40 million in Series B funding, co-led by Octopus Ventures and Notion Capital. The app allows employees to search and activate benefits offered by their employers, including day care, food, training, gift cards and life insurance.
Fizz, a social media app for college students, raised $12 million in Series A funding led by NEA. The app co-founded by Stanford dropouts Teddy Solomon and Ashton Cofer is now led by seed investor Rakesh Mathur and is now live on 25 college campuses and is only available to college students. Students can anonymously publish text posts, polls, and photos — a method for rapid growth that often has serious repercussions at large.
Daylight, an LGBTQIA -friendly digital bank, raised $15 million in Series A funding led by Anthemis Group. The fintech differentiates itself by offering debit cards with customers’ chosen names, which don’t always match their ID, and it offers 10% cash back when they support queer and allied business partners, in addition to more standard mobile banking features.
Digital photo frame maker Aura raised $26 million in a mix of debt and equity led by Lago Innovation Fund. After selling 1,000,000 photo frames, the company’s app has nearly 3 million users.
Feature phone platform startup KaiOS raised $3.4 million in the form of a convertible note from Finnfund, an impact investor out of Finland. The company previously raised $50 million from Cathay Innovation, Google and TCL in 2019. The company says over 170 million KaiOS devices have shipped.
New Delhi-based diabetes management app BeatO raised $33 million in Series B funding led by Lightrock India. Flipkart was among others that participated in the round. The startup wants to reach over 10 million people by 2025.
Ivory Coast finance app Djamo raised $14 million in funding from YC, alongside three lead investors — Enza Capital, Oikocredit and Partech Africa — for its app providing financial services to the underbanked and unbanked population.
Zoe, the maker of a COVID-reporting app, shifted back to its original mission and raised $30 million in new funding to refocus on nutrition and health.
The Truth Social SPAC was put on hold. Digital World Acquisition Corp. said investors voted to extend the deadline to merge with Truth Social — in a SPAC that would take the company public. The merger has been pushed back to September 2023, as regulators are investigating the deal.
An older app called LensaAI is in a moment. The photo and video editing app first launched in 2018, but a new feature that allows users to create “magic avatars” has driven the app to the No. After the feature’s launch in November, the app climbed to the No. 1 spot on the App Store’s Photo & Video Chart. Using a selection of 10-20 photos, the app uses Stable Diffusion to generate avatars of you that look like they were created by a digital artist — perfect for sharing across social media. The app’s free version doesn’t offer magic avatars. Users will have to pay $3 or more for the magic avatars. 99 for 50 (five variations of 10 styles) or subscribe to the unlimited plan ($39.99/year). You can read more about the feature and how it works here.
Indie App Santa
It’s the best time of year… for free and discounted iPhone Apps. Indie App Santa is back! This initiative was created to help small app developers reach new audiences without the need to spend expensive App Store ads. The event, which began in 2020, is now entering its third year, offering both a Twitter feed of deals as well as an Advent calendar-style app of its own where iPhone users can unlock one premium app either for free or for a sizable discount every day. The deals started December 1, 2022 and will run through January 10, 2023. It’s a month-long Black Friday event for indie apps. This year, there will be 40 deals, half of which include free apps. Read more about Indie App Santa here.
I’m a journalist who specializes in investigative reporting and writing. I have written for the New York Times and other publications.