All posts in “Apps”

Blue Apron is laying off 6% of its staff

As Blue Apron approaches its next earnings report in a couple weeks, the company said Wednesday that it is laying off 6% of its staff as part of “a company-wide realignment of personnel to support its strategic priorities.”

Blue Apron was one of the big — and most anticipated — consumer IPOs of the year, but it’s also now one of the companies that represent the major challenges consumer IPOs have faced throughout the year. Since going public, Wall Street has cut Blue Apron’s stock price in half and it’s been able to barely retain unicorn status. The company is an example of a complex business that can face significant challenges acquiring and retaining customers, as well as one that faces an existential threat from Amazon.

“A company-wide realignment, like the one we announced, is always painful, and especially so for a close-knit team like ours,” CEO Matt Salzberg said in a note to employees. “Our leadership and Board did not take this decision lightly, and I want to assure you that we believe it was necessary as we focus the company on future growth and achieving profitability. The actions that we took today flowed from the roadmapping (sic) and reprioritization exercise that we recently undertook. As part of that work, we identified the need to reduce some roles, open others, and streamline decision making for greater accountability. Wherever possible, we sought to fill new roles with existing employees.”

A round of layoffs probably wasn’t all that unexpected as the company looks to make some changes in a competitive — and difficult to navigate — field. Blue Apron COO Matthew Wadiak stepped down in July, and in August laid off 14 recruiters. Given the complex nature of its business, and the ever-present threat from Amazon, Blue Apron has to figure out a new strategy going forward that will convince Wall Street that it should be an independent company that can continue to grow.

Blue Apron is a company that investors are going to be aggressively scrutinizing when it reports its earnings in a few weeks because the company has to show it can get its affairs in order if Amazon were to ever bulldoze into its turf. In addition, one of its competitors HelloFresh, is also planning to go public. Blue Apron has to ensure that it can retain customers that might be jumping on board as a promotion or as part of a gift, especially as it starts to pull back on its marketing spend.

Gmail launches its first public iOS beta to test support for third-party accounts

Google wants to make Gmail the place where you check all your email accounts, not just your Google accounts. The company announced this week it’s testing a new version of the Gmail app on iOS that will allow users to add their non-Google accounts, including those from Outlook (including Hotmail or Live), Yahoo, and elsewhere.

The announcement, which was sent out via a tweet from the @gmail Twitter account, invited users to sign up to test a version of the Gmail iOS app with this new feature.

The link takes users to an online form where they consent to joining the Gmail beta program. This requires users to have a current version of the official Gmail iOS app on iOS 10 or higher, and have at least one non-Google email account they would like to add to Gmail.

The form further asks them to check off which non-Google accounts they use from a list that includes Outlook, Hotmail, Live, Yahoo, Yandex,, or “Other.”

Because this is an iOS beta, there’s not an option to download the beta app from the App Store directly. Instead, betas are distributed through Apple’s TestFlight platform.

Notably, a Google spokesperson tells us this is the first time that the company has made a beta version of Gmail for iOS available through TestFlight with external users.

However, it’s not the first time Google has offered beta versions of its apps in general – it runs betas of many of its Android apps through Google Play today, and has for some time.

“We’re always experimenting with ways to improve user experience in Gmail, but we don’t have any additional details to share at this time,” a Google spokesperson said, when asked for details about its iOS beta program.

The company declined to say how many users will be allowed into the TestFlight beta trial, or what the company’s larger intentions are with the program.

For example, it wouldn’t confirm if the test was an attempt to measure much demand for such a feature, or if the addition was something Google planned to publicly release in the future. It’s also unclear if the TestFlight program will continue after this test wraps to trial other pre-release features in the future.

In the meantime, interested users can sign up to try the iOS beta here.

Wattpad’s storytelling app, now with 60M monthly users, adds a subscription service

Wattpad, the company behind a suite of apps for reading and sharing stories – including a fairly popular “chat fiction” app Tap, a rival to Hooked – is today adding its first ever subscription plan for its flagship application. The option, called Wattpad Premium, will remove the ads from Wattpad’s otherwise free app – a feature users have been requesting for some time.

The service will cost $5.99 per month, or $60 per year, the company says, and will be available to the company’s now over 60 million monthly global users.

Today, those users spend over 15 billion minutes per month reading the app’s original stories. To date, users have also uploaded more than 400 million stories, notes Wattpad.

Members who upgrade to Wattpad Premium will have ads removed both when browsing the web and mobile web, and will see a new theme in the native mobile app. In the months ahead, the subscription will include other features, too, focused on allowing users to better control the look and feel of the Wattpad platform.

The new subscription option comes at a time when Wattpad has been rapidly expanding its business. In addition to its main Wattpad app and its chat stories in Tap, the company also operates a standalone app for romance stories and a newly launched app called Raccoon, which allows users to tell personal stories using video.

The company this month also inked a deal with Toronto-based eOne which will source fan fiction from Wattpad to develop into original TV, movie and VR projects. This is an area of Wattpad’s business it has been expanding for some time, following the launch of its Wattpad Studios division last year.

While many of Wattpad’s users skew younger – a demographic that may have an aversion to paying for services when a free option is available – the company still has a sizable enough user base to tap into for this new subscription offering.

The option to upgrade will be available via a “Go Premium” button in the app, starting today.

Pinterest opens up search advertising in its Ads Manager

Pinterest began rolling out targeted ads based on searches for its partners earlier this year, giving it another moment in time to catch potential customers as they try to sniff out new things they might buy — and now everyone else will get a piece of that.

The company said it is adding search ads to its Ads manager today, letting businesses target customers searching for potential products, which basically gives them the opportunity to put an ad in front of them at a moment when they’ve signaled some intent or interest in an idea or product. Pinterest also said it will give businesses the ability to auto-target relevant searches based on its extensive “Taste Graph,” which includes more than 5,000 interests and opened up to marketers in September.

This is pretty typical Pinterest protocol: pick off a niche of the advertising market, run it through its paces with marketing partners, and then if it’s successful open it up to the rest of the universe. The company has tried to close the so-called “funnel” by offering different kinds of advertising tools, hoping to offer marketers a product that sweeps the whole span of a customer’s lifetime that’s divvied up across Facebook, Google and other advertising platforms.

Businesses can now target search ads against exact match keywords, or phrases and broader match targeting. They can also make sure they exclude terms that the ads might show up against. For smaller businesses that might not have a lot of experience running search ads, Pinterest’s autotargeting can kick in and help launch search campaigns.

Starting from the top, Pinterest gives advertisers the ability to generate awareness for their brands or products — a sweet spot for Facebook. Search ads, now open to the rest of the businesses running ads on Pinterest, helps them slot into that spot that Google owns when people search for a product and basically tell a Google “hey, I’m probably interested in buying a shoe.” Pinterest’s pitch is that it can handle the awareness, the intent, and then finally getting someone to save or buy a product, all in one swoop.

That’s going to be important if Pinterest can prove itself out as a viable option alongside Facebook and Google. Snap, which will report its earnings in a few weeks, hasn’t seemed to make that leap that forces advertisers to take it seriously and divert parts of their budget to it yet. And while Pinterest is growing and recently hit 200 million monthly active users, but it also has to make that same argument for advertisers or it will end up just sitting in the curiosity budgets of larger firms.

WhatsApp joins other messaging platforms with live location sharing

Sharing your current location with someone is a great way to passive-aggressively explain that you’re on your way when they ask where you are. But it also has other uses, and WhatsApp has now joined rivals Facebook Messenger and iMessage in offering the feature (with its own somewhat unique twist).

The new feature will be available on both Android and iPhone soon, and it’s accessed the same way you’d normally send your location. But now you’ll have the option not just to put a pin on the map where you are, but to let them track you continuously for a duration of your choosing. (A version of this feature was tested earlier this year.)

15 minutes, an hour, and 8 hours seem to be the three lengths of time you can choose from, though of course you can also turn off location sharing manually if you reach your destination or wish to conceal your movements.

Snapchat and Foursquare have their own versions of live location sharing as well, but the everyday messaging space seems like the best fit to me.

One use for this that seems actually quite helpful is making sure someone gets home all right. There are a few safety apps out there already, but this is a simpler way to keep track of someone if you can’t walk or drive them home yourself. Plus it’s on a widely used cross-platform app that isn’t Messenger. Unfortunately WhatsApp is still the ugliest of all the chat apps, but what can you do?