Apple cuts App Store affiliate commission from 7% to 2.5%

Apple just sent an email to members of the App Store affiliate program saying that App Store commissions will be reduced from 7 percent to 2.5 percent on May 1st — that’s a 64 percent cut. While this change will have no effect on App Store users, it has some implications on the App Store ecosystem.

Many websites from the Apple community link to App Store downloads with a unique referral ID in the link. When customers buy apps or in-app purchases using this link, Apple gives back a small cut to its affiliate partner. Developers still get 70 percent of the sale while partners get incentivized.

For a $1 app, this affiliate commission is just a few cents. But it can add up if you’ve built a serious audience. And I know this because I’ve experienced this myself.

Back in 2009, when the App Store was just a few months old, I started a website called with a friend of mine (I know, it’s a terrible name). It was a sort of directory with recommendations about the best app for something in particular. It wasn’t particularly original, but we thought people would save time and money by looking at our recommendations as most of the interesting apps were paid downloads.

The iPhone was slow and heavy, the App Store was a brand new thing. But it was fascinating. Apple had created a brand new playing field overnight. There was no Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp or Uber. Independent developers were still experimenting, half of the apps were broken in some way or another and the App Store was a tiny place.

Our little website got something like 15,000 readers per month. And we made hundreds of euros in the first few months with App Store commissions and a Google ad near the bottom of the page. It wasn’t anything groundbreaking, but it was a fun little way to make some money as a kid who didn’t want to work during summer break. This is probably how I learned that you could make money on the internet and ended up applying for TechCrunch years later.

Very quickly, bigger websites started to get serious about App Store reviews, app prices dropped massively and our website faded away. I don’t think App Store commissions are a good business model and I’m glad I didn’t stay in this business for too long, but there are still a ton of small and big websites that rely on these commissions.

If Apple drastically cuts this revenue stream, the company could end up alienating people writing for those sites. But it could also indicate that some bigger App Store changes are coming soon.

Sony’s XA1 is now available for preorder for $299.99

Sony’s “super mid-range” Xperia XA1 phone is now available to preorder through Amazon and Best Buy. It’ll go on sale at other retailers, like B&H and Fry’s, on May 1st. The phone will cost $299.99.

The company announced the device during Mobile World Congress this year. Here are the specs again:

  • 5-inch, 720P HD display720P
  • MediaTek Helio P20 processor
  • 3GB of RAM; 32GB of storage
  • 23-megapixel rear-facing camera, 8-megapixel front-facing camera
  • 2,300mAh battery
  • USB-C

The XA1 and the larger XA1 Ultra also feature something called “Xperia Actions,” which Sony says can learn users’ habits to automatically change settings and manage apps. For instance, the phone’s software could learn your bedtime and automatically adjust screen brightness and volume.

Snap does Baghdad: Snapchat wants to open the eyes of an entire generation

Image: bloomberg via getty images 

Snapchat has curated snaps about life in Baghdad to create an Our Story to go live Monday afternoon.

That’s Snapchat-jargon for the mobile storytelling app opening up a geofence around Baghdad and encouraging Snapchat users to submit photos and videos to Snap (with Baghdad geofilters live in the app). Snapchat will later curate and stitch those submissions into one story exclusively available on the app. 

The feed should go live on the app at about 3 p.m. ET Monday.  

Snapchat does not plan to include much about the violence or anything too politically-related to what’s happening in Baghdad. Rather, the app is looking for snaps that show residents simply living their lives. 

The feed won’t just be in English. Snapchat will run an Arabic version in Arabic-speaking countries and will run a version with English subtitles shown in English-speaking countries. 

The app might mostly be associated with millennials sending goofy or intimate photos to each other, but Snapchat has championed itself as an original and thoughtful entrant into news coverage as well as storytelling. The app featured life in Mecca back in July 2015 and provided a raw look at the reactions of young Americans to the election. 

While these stories spark interest and engagement from users, they don’t come without their controversies. After Snapchat created a Live Story for the Israeli city of Tel Aviv, Twitter users asked Snapchat why it showed only one side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Snapchat, two days later, created a Live Story for West Bank.

Over the last two years, Snapchat has matured its news product. The company hired Peter Hamby back in April 2015 to serve as Snapchat’s first head of news. The former CNN national political reporter now helps lead a team dedicated to creating Our Stories. For example, Snapchat built a story around the Battle of Mosul. Hamby also launched his own political news show on Snapchat called Good Luck America.

This isn’t the first time Snapchat has built an Our Story for multiple languages. An Our Story on the London terror attack was curated in English and French, and they curated a story in English and Arabic for Dubai Fashion Week.

As Facebook continues to mimic Snapchat’s Stories product, with Facebook Stories, Instagram Stories, WhatsApp Stories and Messenger Day, Snapchat stands uniquely positioned in its dedication in and ability to curate and tell stories. 

FWIW, Instagram does have an Explore tab that has curated for live events.

WATCH: Stephen Colbert and ‘SNL’ have figured out the right way to use President Trump

DJI’s $449 FPV goggles can control a drone with head movement

DJI has finally dished full details of the FPV goggles that were teased at last year’s Mavic Pro event. The DJI Goggles, as they’re called, work with the Mavic Pro, Phantom 4, and Inspire series drones. They’re reminiscent of the PlayStation VR in their size and design, but that extra bulk allowed DJI to pack the this $449 headset with tech. The headsets are available for presale today and start shipping in late May, and here’s a look at what they offer:

  • Two viewing modes: one in 720p resolution at 60fps and another in 1080p at 30fps, both with a latency of 110ms
  • 1920×1080 resolution per eye
  • A touchpad for navigating menus
  • Headphone jack
  • Micro SD card slot / Micro USB / HDMI inputs, so they can be used for other purposes
  • Six hours of battery life

The most interesting thing about these goggles is that DJI is promising users can both fly the drone and control the camera gimbal using just their head movement, thanks to an embedded accelerometer and gyroscope. While some drone enthusiasts have hacked together similar solutions in the past using an Avegant Glyph or Oculus Rift, DJI’s betting on a more end-to-end solution.

Users won’t have full control over the drone’s path in the head tracking flight mode. Instead, the drone will push forward at a set speed, and whoever’s wearing the DJI Goggles will be able to turn (or yaw) it left or right. It sounds like there’s a bit more freedom when controlling the gimbal, and if that’s true it could be a smoother way of moving the camera than the sometimes twitchy joystick. There’s also a mode where you can let someone use the headset to control the gimbal while you fly the drone. That’s probably what has me most excited — even if the idea of all that conflicting movement already has my stomach doing flips.

Sennheiser partners with Samsung to bring 3D audio to Android phones

Why it matters to you

Binaural audio has to be experienced to be believed. Luckily, Sennheiser’s partnership with Samsung will give Android users that chance.

Samsung and Sennheiser want to bring 3D audio to tens of millions of smartphone users around the globe. On Monday, the two companies announced a partnership that will see Sennheiser’s Ambeo Smart Surround earbuds gain Android compatibility.

“We are working with Samsung on the Ambeo smart headset to make it available for Android devices,” Andreas Sennheiser, the company’s CEO, told reporters at the IFA Global Press Conference in Portugal. “[South Korea is] one of the most technology-savvy countries […] A dominant layer of the smartphone market is Android-based phones.”

Three-dimensional audio, otherwise known as binaural audio, is a reproduction of sound the way human ears hear it. Using a special microphone arrangement that simulates the shape and position of human ear canals, the arrival time, loudness, and timbre (e.g., character or quality), sound can be captured naturally — headphone listeners hear sounds from all directions.

Sennheiser’s Ambeo Smart Surround earbuds, which the firm showed at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show in January, is one of the first binaural recording devices that does not require a big, bulky rig. The earbuds, which wrap around the ear, contain microphones that capture three-dimensional sound. “It places the listener in the exact original sound field, so whether you capture a rainforest or a buzzing city, listening to the binaural recording will make you feel you are there,” Sennhesier said in a press release.

It is not a perfect system. The Ambeo only works with specially encoded content, and recording requires a companion smartphone app. But there is obvious potential for virtual and augmented reality, where binaural recordings can potentially lead to more immersive experiences. It is not too difficult to imagine an Ambeo-compatible version of Samsung’s Gear VR headset.

And it is a smart move for Sennheiser, considering Samsung’s market share. In February, the Seoul, South Korea-based company ranked second among individual smartphone manufacturers with a 17.8 percent share of worldwide sales.

Gear VR Controller First Take

Kyle Wiggers/Digital Trends

The collaboration is all the more interesting in light of Samsung’s recent acquisition of Harman, which has several audio firms under its brand umbrella. Samsung bundles a pair of AKG in-ear headphones with its latest smartphones, including the Galaxy S8, but hasn’t announced intentions to enter the binaural space.

The partnership with Samsung would appear to accelerate Sennheiser’s Android development timeline. In a statement last week, the company said that it was planning to launch Ambeo with iOS compatibility in the near future and that Android device support would come “later this year.”

Instagram is down y’all but DON’T PANIC

Instagram service went out shortly this afternoon.
Instagram service went out shortly this afternoon.

Image: lili sams/mashable

You’re not alone: Instagram went down shortly this afternoon on both web and mobile. 

We noticed the mobile version of the site was struggling shortly after 1:30 p.m. EST, and confirmed the web version of the photo sharing service was down as well.

Image: screenshot/instagram

We also saw this error message:

Image: screenshot/instagram

Twitter was predictably filled with frantic users reacting to the outage. 

Instagram acknowledged to us that its aware of the issue and working on a fix, and pointed us to its tweet updating desperate users on the outage. 

As of press time, it appears that service is back up for some users, but the issue that caused the outage remains unclear. Stay strong, y’all — your selfies will be safe soon.

WATCH: Instagram just hit 1 million active advertisers

Instagram experienced a one-hour outage today

It’s not just you — Instagram is down for many users around the world on both the web and mobile app. Logging into brings up either a server error, or takes a long time to load. Instagram has confirmed the outage but has not clarified what caused the down time.

The outage appears to have started around 1:30PM ET. Service is intermittent for now, but in the meantime, I guess there’s always Snapchat?

Update April 24 2:27PM ET: Instagram has confirmed to The Verge that service should be back across web and mobile. That’s nearly one hour without #latergrams of this weekend’s brunch photos. You survived, right?

An Instagram bug has been preventing users from disabling their accounts for months

A number of Instagram users have found they’re no longer able to temporarily disable their accounts – a feature, similar to Facebook’s, that allows you to take a break from the social network for a period of time, but stops short of a full account deletion. The bug has been spotted in the wild since at least February, and is the subject of a number of complaints across social media, including Reddit, Quora, and Twitter since that time.

As Instagram’s own Help documentation explains, the account disabling feature will temporarily hide your profile, photos, comments and likes until you choose to reactivate your account by logging back in. The option to disable is only available when you log in via a mobile browser or computer – it’s not a setting you can reach through Instagram’s native mobile app, to be clear.

Many people use features like this when taking short social media breaks, as a disabled account can help you avoid the temptation of launching the app or wasting time browsing the feed.

In some cases, it’s a first step for those considering a full account deletion – an experiment to see if it’s worth giving up the app entirely. People also disable their accounts when they need to focus on something important – like a big project at work or exams at school, for example. Plus, the feature can aid when there are privacy concerns of some kind, such as when someone is a victim of cyberbullying or cyberstalking and needs to get off the service for a while.

There are a number of other personal reasons why people take breaks, too.

In Instagram’s case, you’re able to disable your account once a week, but the problems being reported are not from people who are trying to switch off their account more often than that – the feature just isn’t working at all, they’re saying.

In addition, according to many complaints, Instagram’s feature has been broken for some time and they’re not able to get any help through technical support channels.

After attempting to click the feature from their “Edit Profile” section, users say they’re directed to their feed on Instagram’s homepage, but their account remained active. People said they’ve tried this in different web browser, as well, to see if it was a bug associated with just one platform. However, the problem remained.

  1. Screen Shot 2017-04-24 at 1.50.11 PM

  2. Screen Shot 2017-04-24 at 1.50.34 PM

Users said that Instagram’s support email wasn’t working and they were told to report the problem in the app through an email auto-responder. But flagging bugs in the app is only a one-way street – you’re not sent any response or offered help. Others tried reaching out to Instagram through social media channels like Facebook messages and tweets, but the company hadn’t responded those complaints, either.

This speaks to a broader problem with Instagram support – users are struggling to get help when their accounts are hacked, spammed, or shut down for violations. (Just read the barrage of comments on its Facebook page, for instance.) And Instagram’s Help Center is not much help on these matters, either.

For instance, a link on its homepage that you can click to “learn more” about what to do when you’re experiencing an issue just goes to a dead page – a “5xx Server Error” page is all that displays when clicked.

We reached out to Instagram this morning for a comment on the bug, and to find out if there is a plan to address the problem.

Following our initial inquiry, clicking the option to disable your account now takes you to a broken web page. “Sorry, something went wrong,” the page now reads. “We’re working on it and we’ll get it fixed as soon as we can,” it says.

It’s unclear if this is related to the stability issues that briefly took the site an app down worldwide earlier today.

Hopefully, that means engineers are working on a fix. But Instagram doesn’t have a comment on the situation at this time. A rep for the company said Instagram is looking into the problem, and will let us know when more information becomes available.

Tesla plans to double its charging network by the end of the year

Charging a Tesla is about to get a lot more convenient. 

The Palo Alto-based electric car manufacturer announced today that it intends to double the size of the Tesla charging network by the end of 2017. This expansion, which will take place across the globe, comes at a time when Tesla is preparing to increase its manufacturing output to 500,000 electric cars in 2018. (It produced 83,922 in 2016.) 

The charging network is a vital part of Tesla’s mission to sell all-electric cars to consumers worldwide. While owners can always charge their car overnight at home, this isn’t an option for those looking to go on road trips or people who don’t have personal overnight parking (like apartment dwellers). 

The charging network fills these gaps. It consists of the 5,400-station Supercharger network, and 9,000 Destination Charging connectors. The former is analogous to a gas station — scattered along high-travel corridors and allow car owners to drop in for a quick charge. The latter is like a home charger, allowing Tesla owners staying overnight at hotels or resorts to plug in for a full charge. 

“Tesla will build larger sites along our busiest travel routes that will accommodate several dozen Teslas Supercharging simultaneously,” the company’s announcement reads. “In addition, many sites will be built further off the highway to allow local Tesla drivers to charge quickly when needed, with the goal of making charging ubiquitous in urban centers.”

By the end of the year, the company hopes to have 10,000 Superchargers and 15,000 Destination Charging connectors up and running. 

The timing of this announcement comes right as Tesla ownership is expected to dramatically increase with the shipping of the “affordable” Tesla Model 3 (it starts around $35,000). According to the company, there are approximately 200,000 Tesla owners around the world currently. If Tesla can hit its goal of manufacturing half a million cars next year, that number could dramatically increase. 

In other words, as Tesla ownership rises, it’s only natural that the number of charging locations will as well. 

WATCH: Elon Musk says beautiful solar roofs are the key to sustainable future

Google Maps business reviews now automatically speak your language

Why it matters to you

You can now more easily check out that local Russian eatery with Google Maps’ automatic review translation feature.

The days of wandering around a new locale looking struggling to find something to eat are long gone. Now, numerous options exist to not only locate a quality meal but to offer up actual choices beyond just grabbing a value meal from the closes fast food joint.

The same applies to points of interest in general, where it’s no longer true that road trips need to involve long hours of boredom punctuated by quick stops in major metropolitan areas. There are many apps and services aimed at providing travel information, and Google Maps has upped its own game lately to include more options and, just recently, the company added the ability to automatically translate reviews so that language becomes less of a barrier.

Essentially, the newest update is all about making it easier to access reviews in other languages. In the past, users would need to copy and paste reviews from Google Maps into a translation app like Google Translate. Now, Google Maps will automatically translate reviews into your system’s default language.

That way, if you’re looking at the local Russian eatery and see numerous reviews in the Russian language — perhaps a good sign — then you can simply peruse the reviews without any tedium. Just open the listing, and the reviews will be in your native language and ready to read. To clear up any translation quality issues, Google also provides the review in its original language for anyone who wants to clarify a word or two.

Google has spent a good deal of time and effort working to make its Google Maps business listings more accurate and helpful. It’s offered the ability for some time now for users to update business information in addition to adding reviews and ratings. That means that the core business information provided Google Maps is likely to provide a better foundation for the social networking reviews that provides some of the filler.

The new feature also benefits from Google’s ongoing efforts to improve its translation efforts. Machine learning improvements mean that Google Translate offers more accurate and useful translations, and the company is rolling that extra intelligence out to more of the 103 overall languages supported by Google Translate. Today, Google’s neural machine translation is available for nine major languages in total, ranging from English, Spanish, and French to Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.

Now, when you’re out and about, you can check out local businesses no matter where you are and no longer fret about whether or not you speak all of the relevant languages. Just open up Google Maps and start reading reviews in your native language, and check for the “Translated by Google” tag to recognize when you’re getting Google’s version of a translated review.