All posts in “iOS apps”

Huddle is a mental health app that aims to be a safe space to share with peers


Dan Blackman’s father was a well-known man in the community of his small Pennsylvania town. He was a lawyer, ran a good business and everyone liked him and liked drinking with him. His dad died a few years ago from a combination of liver and lung cancer. His dad was what they call a functioning alcoholic.

“It wasn’t until I started talking to my family a bit more that I realized my dad never got the help he needed,” Blackman told me.

That started a chain of events that ultimately led to him to create Huddle, an online video platform where people could share their issues with one another.

Nearly 44 million American adults suffer from some form of mental problem but due to the stigma of seeking help, an estimated 60 percent won’t get the help they need. Huddle wants to provide a bridge for these people by making it easy to talk about your issues with others going through the same thing — almost like a digital Alcoholics Anonymous, but also for other topics like body image issues, depression and anxiety as well.

Several therapy apps and platforms like Huddle have popped up in the last few years as more of us have adopted smartphones and health practitioners started seeking new ways to make it easy for everyone seek help. Some of these platforms, like Talkspace, allows you to pay for digital therapy sessions. Crisis Text Hotline provides a way for teens to text with trained volunteers about their problems.

But not many of these mental health startups have gone the open video route — and for good reason. It takes a lot of trust to put your face up on the internet and openly talk to strangers about something hard — be it alcohol addiction, body image issues or something else.

That is likely a huge barrier Huddle will have to overcome when trying to onboard new users. But Blackman didn’t want his app to go the text-based clinical path.

“At least for me, I never got that same experience through [text apps] that I got in person,” he said.

Note, even though it’s video-based, you can pixelate your video to obscure who you are and create a pseudonym if you don’t want to be identified. However, there’s no voice augmentation so someone could still possibly decipher your voice.

Though many of the topics are of a sensitive nature, most people currently on the platform do not blur out their image — and that’s part of Huddle’s goal.

“In the beginning we were only seeing people coming in and just pixelating themselves…then all of a sudden, one person decided to become clear and started to tell their story and we started seeing the next posts more people doing that,” Blackman told TechCrunch. “That’s what we want to create. We want to create a place where it is a balance of people seeking and people giving.”

Huddle is meant as a safe space where anyone can post their inner thoughts and talk about what’s bothering them. It’s not meant as a professional treatment platform. But with zero professionals, or even volunteers with some training, people could easily give bad or even dangerous advice to someone in a fragile state. Of course, there’s also the inevitable cyber troll sure to pop up as the platform grows.

Blackman and his co-founder Tyler Faux say they have a zero tolerance policy for bullies.

“We know people aren’t always that great so we’re asking for people’s Facebook or phone number when they sign up,” Faux said, adding he and his co-founder actively moderate the community themselves.

The Facebook sign-up may concern some hoping to keep their identity a secret, which could be another barrier to on-boarding but it also serves to keep those on the platform honest, Faux says.

The two have some experience building other online communities — first as software developers at Tumblr and later at Swedish startup TicTail.

The hope is Huddle, unlike other anonymous apps and online communities, will become a platform that allows people “to be as vulnerable as they want to,” says Faux. Only time will tell if others feel they can be on the app.

Huddle launches today on iOS, with plans for Android sometime later this year. It’s still a fairly small community for now but Blackman and Faux have taken in $1.2 million in seed to help it grow from Thrive Capital and their old boss and founder of Tumblr David Karp, as well as Product Hunt’s Ryan Hoover (who’s started to get into investing, following an acquisition by AngelList late last year).

VSCO launches its first video editing tool


VSCO is a brand well-known among photographers who take advantage of its presets for desktop and its mobile app featuring film-inspired filters and pro image tools. Now the company is moving into video editing, with the launch of its first video editing tool on iOS. The tool will allow users to apply presets and tools to any size video from their smartphone camera, then share the resulting creation across social media.

The new tool takes advantage of SENS, the company’s proprietary real-time image processor, and is compatible with all iOS video formats up to 60 FPS 4K video, with no size or length restrictions, the company tells us.

Its SENS technology platform is being positioned as a differentiator here, in terms of VSCO’s capabilities, as it moves into video editing. Prior to now, the platform is what allowed the company to roll out support for the high-quality RAW file format in iOS, and the addition of short video clips within the app, according to VSCO co-founder and CEO Joel Flory, talking about SENS in an interview with Fast Company this June.

However, the video editing tool won’t be available to everyone who has the VSCO app installed – it’s a feature rolling out to paid “VSCO X” members only.

VSCO X is the company’s annual membership service, which charges users $19.99 per year for those who want access to new features on a monthly basis, including presets, tools, educational offerings and more.

The video editing tool will initially become available to VSCO X members on iOS, ahead of its launch on Android, says VSCO.

To use the feature, members launch the app then tap the banner in their Studio where the video editing tool is being announced.

Videos from your phone’s Camera Roll will then appear here in the Studio, and you can choose the one you want to edit. You can use presets from the VSCO X library to edit the video along with other standard editing tools, like Contrast or Saturation. When your edits are complete, you can save video back your Camera Roll, where you can choose to share it out to other social platforms.

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“VSCO’s mission is to help people become better creators, and video is a creative frontier we’re increasingly passionate about and focused on,” explains Flory, of the new tool’s launch. “Video editing for VSCO X members is a first step into what we see as limitless possibilities for video editing tools on VSCO.”

VSCO today has an active community in its app, which consists primarily of younger people, the company notes. 80 percent of its monthly users are millennials or generation Z, and 70 percent of the community is creating daily. The company reported at the beginning of last year it had passed a key milestone by surpassing 30 million monthly active users in its app.

At the time, VSCO hinted it would expand its product and platform into new areas in the future. It also had then just brought on COO Bryan Mason, who had previously worked at Adobe managing business operations for the launch of Creative Cloud, M&A, and led biz dev.

As for the VSCO app itself, it’s currently a highly-ranked #15 in the competitive “Photo & Video” category on the App Store, behind other big names like Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, Google Photo, Musical.ly, Facebook Moments, and Adobe Photoshop.

The iOS version of the app is a free download here on the App Store.

Amazon’s chat fiction app Rapids ties up with Amazon Studios with launch of ‘Signature Stories’


Today’s kids aren’t just reading books. They’re also tapping and playing with interactive stories on tablets as preschoolers, then delving into instant messaging-like chat fiction apps as teens. Amazon’s entry in this space, Amazon Rapids, was announced late last year as a way to bring this style of interactive fiction to readers in the 5 to 12 age range.

The company more recently introduced a new program called “Signature Stories” that aims to make its stories more appealing by integrating characters from TV shows kids already know and love.

The move could help Amazon gain ground in today’s increasingly competitive ‘chat fiction’ app market.

Adults may not have heard of them, but chat reading apps are hugely popular on the App Store, across age ranges. For example, the number one free app in App Store’s “Books” category at present is chat stories app Hooked, which is closely followed by rival Yarn in spot #2, as well as Wattpad’s newer entry in the space, Tap, at #9. Other chat readers can also be found in the top 20.

Amazon Rapids doesn’t appear in this section’s top charts, however, because the company introduced its chat reading app in the “Education” section on the App Store instead. Likely, this was done with the hopes that Rapids would better stand out if it didn’t have to compete directly with the other chat readers; plus, it helps to better target parents looking for apps that don’t just entertain, but also teach.

The Rapids subscription service allows kids to read along with its stories with optional audio, and tap on words for help with pronunciation or definitions, in addition to tapping to reveal each new line of character dialog.

Rolled out just ahead of Comic-Con International last week, Amazon Rapids’ new Signature Stories program isn’t just leveraging kids TV IP – like kids’ characters themselves – from its participating partners; it’s also bringing in celebrity voice talent to narrate the new stories.

However, the program at launch is only rolling out with support from Amazon Studios, making the entire effort more of a cross-promotion between Amazon properties, for the time being. But Amazon is leaving the door open to future partners who want to find new ways to reach children in today’s digital age, where traditional book-reading now has to compete with apps, games and other mobile content.

Amazon Studios’s new original stories on Amazon Rapids feature characters from Amazon’s kids’ TV shows, including “Danger & Eggs,” and “Niko and the Sword of Light.” The former includes the celebrity voice talent of Aidy Bryant of Saturday Night Live, while the latter brings in Tom Kenny, who voices SpongeBob Squarepants.

These shows may not be the big-name kids’ brands that parents are familiar with – like Sesame Street, for example, or Disney – but assuming your household has Amazon Prime Video, there’s a good chance your kids will know of them. (I know we do.)

The stories themselves are also authored by the shows’ writers, extending the universe introduced by the series in a natural way.

While popular kids’ TV shows have historically translated into other merchandise like dolls, toys, books, and more, chat stories are something of a new frontier for studios and programmers.

Despite chat fiction apps’ current popularity, it’s unclear whether interaction stories will be a fad, or if it represents a new way kids of the digital age will read for fun, in the longer term.

Amazon Rapids is a subscription service, which also includes a parent dashboard where mom or dad can check in on kids’ progress, as well as find information that will help them start conversations about what kids are reading. The service is available on iOS, Android, and Amazon Fire devices for $2.99 per month to start.

Facetune maker’s newest app, Enlight Photofox, is a powerful image editor


Lightricks, the maker of the popular selfie-correcting app Facetune, is debuting a new photo-editing app today called Enlight Photofox. This is the second time that Lightricks has launched the next generation of an existing app as an entirely new, standalone application — a strategy that’s still somewhat rare on today’s App Store, outside of sequels to games, like Monument 2 or Candy Crush Soda Saga, for example.

Instead, traditional app makers are often expected to roll out upgrades to existing users indefinitely — at least, according to their apps’ user base. That’s not always fair, considering how much time and energy are put into some of their bigger upgrades — like entire redesigns, expanded feature sets or the launch of an iPad version, among other things.

A handful of developers have found ways to work around the App Store’s lack of paid upgrades, though. For instance, when Tweetbot released a new version of its Twitter app, it packaged both the old and new one as a “bundle,” which allowed it to upgrade existing customers to the new release through the “complete my bundle” feature.

Lightricks, on the other hand, has taken a different path.

When it launched its Facetune sequel last year, it also introduced a new business model for the company. While its original app is a $3.99 paid download without in-app purchases, Facetune 2 is a free download offering in-app purchases for individual features; and it offers a subscription option that provides unlimited access to all features and content.

Enlight Photofox, similarly, is the big upgrade to Lightricks’ existing app, Enlight.

The original app, by way of background, was Apple’s App of the Year for 2015, the No. 11 best-selling paid iOS app in 2016 and the recipient of an Apple Design Award in 2017.

In addition to a full suite of editing tools that come free with the base version of the new app, Photofox introduces a Photoshop-inspired layers system, which allows you to combine multiple photos, blending them and merging them along the way.

You can edit the individual layers, erase items from backgrounds, control the opacity of an image, transform the shape, size and perspective, flip layers vertically or horizontally, fill layers with colors or patterns and more.

Meanwhile, a new Darkroom feature gives you granular control over adjustments to things like tone, contrast and image details.

Some of Photofox’s tools come free, like those to define the canvas size, add vignettes and blurs, or mimic analog light, while others are paid, like those to heal defects or reshape objects,

Plus, Photofox ships with new content, like fonts, graphic elements, presets and more, which can be used with the images. This collection is available on subscription and will be updated periodically.

The new features and tools are designed to cater to more advanced users — as with Facetune 2. Though the free app is powerful enough to use on its own, you can opt to pay for full access to all the new features for $3.99 per month, or $19.99 per year. A lifetime purchase is available for $39.99, as well.

Until the launch of Facetune 2, Lightricks was only focused on selling paid units of Facetune and Enlight. Ahead of the shift to subscriptions, the company was making around $10 million a year in revenue. (It has sold 11 million paid units of its apps to date.)

“This shift [to subscriptions] is so far showing some exciting early data, with consumer LTVs [lifetime value] rising to as far as about an order of magnitude above the previous business models, enabling the company to build an even more robust and deep set of tools and technologies to service their customers’ creativity needs on mobile,” a Lightricks rep explained.

The company also says it expects to finish 2017 with a significant bump to revenue, but notes it’s too early to talk numbers. It’s planning to release more apps with the subscription business model in the future, too.

Enlight Photofox is a free download on the App Store.

Uptime, YouTube’s experimental app for watching videos with friends, opens to all


YouTube’s experimental app Uptime, which lets you watch videos with friends while reacting and commenting, has now opened up to all users. The app was first launched in March of this year, from Google’s internal incubator, Area 120, as a means of testing a more interactive and social way to watch YouTube.

However, it initially required an invite to use it. That requirement was dropped a few days ago.

Instead of viewing YouTube videos on your own, then sharing those you like with friends via links in chats or to social networks, Uptime lets you watch videos with friends directly in its app. Friends can either co-watch with you in real-time, or they can join later to see others’ reactions to the videos played back as they watch, giving Uptime a lively and interactive feel even when you’re watching alone.

The reactions – emoji you tap as you watch the video – are inspired by other live streaming video services, like Facebook Live or Twitter’s Periscope, for example. There’s a smiley face, surprised face, heart eyes, angry face, grimace, and crying face. You can also tap on the video to leave “sparkles,” but these will only be shown to those you’re watching with in real-time.

Since its launch earlier this year, Uptime has added new features, including a Facebook friend-finding function, support for watching music videos, and it has revamped its home screen to make it easier to find things to watch.

The idea to offer a co-watching experience is not unique to Uptime, however. It’s the hot idea du jour, with a number of apps moving into this space, including Tumblr’s Cabana, Let’s Watch It, Fam, and others. Even Skype has said this is a feature it plans to introduce in the future, starting with support for YouTube.

The Uptime experiment is now one of several to emerge from Google’s Area 120, which lets entrepreneurial-minded Google employees try out new ideas. The program has already launched other projects, including a personal stylist app Tailor, a voice messenger Supersonic, and a learn-to-code app Grasshopper; another app, a salon booking tool called Appointments, has not yet launched publicly.

However, Area 120 apps aren’t branded under Google’s name in the App Store, nor does Google offer much help in terms of promotion. Instead, these apps have generally been spotted by reporters, outside of any sort of formal launch announcement.

Uptime hasn’t yet had a chance to gain many users because of this fact, and because it previously required an invite to test it out. It quietly dropped the invite code last week, which means anyone can download and use the app now. Despite these roadblocks, the app did manage to briefly snag a place on the App Store’s charts – at a peak of #403 in the Entertainment category, which has fallen since. That sounds unimpressive, but for an app that was basically in pre-launch mode and not open broadly, it’s worth noting that it ranked at all.

Uptime is a free download on the iOS App Store.