All posts in “mobile apps”

Tim Cook wants you to put down your iPhone

Tim Cook thinks people should get off their iPhones and decrease their engagement with apps. The Apple CEO, speaking at the TIME 100 Summit today, was discussing the addictive nature of our mobile devices and Apple’s role in the matter when he made these comments. He said the company hadn’t intended for people to be constantly using their iPhones, and noted he himself has silenced his push notifications in recent months.

“Apple never wanted to maximize user time. We’ve never been about that,” Cook explained.

It’s certainly an interesting claim, given that Apple designed a platform that allowed app developers to constantly ping their users with the most inane notifications — from getting a new follower on a social app to a sale in a shopping app to a new level added to a game and so much more.

The very idea behind the notification platform, opt-in as it may be, is that developers should actively — and in real-time — try to capture users’ attention and redirect them back to their apps.

This is not how such an alert mechanism had to be designed.

An app notification platform could have instead been crafted to allow app developers to notify users in batches, at designed intervals within users’ control. For example, users could have specified that every day at noon they’d like to check in on the latest from their apps.

Or, in building out the iOS App Store, Apple could have implemented a “news feed” of sorts — somewhere users could opt to check in on all the latest news from their installed apps in a dedicated channel.

Or perhaps Apple could have structured a notification platform that would have allowed users to pick between different classes of notifications. Urgent messages — like alerts about a security breach — could have been a top-level tier; while general information could have been sent as a different type of notification. Users could have selected which types of alerts they wanted, depending on how important the app was to them.

These are just a few of many possible iterations. A company like Apple could have easily come up with even more ideas.

But the fact of the matter is that Apple’s notification platform was built with the idea of increasing engagement in mind. It’s disingenuous to say it was not.

At the very least, Apple could admit that it was a different era back then, and didn’t realize the potential damage to our collective psyche that a continually buzzing iPhone would cause. It could point out how it’s now working to fix this problem by putting users back in control, and how it plans to do more in the future.

Instead, it created a situation where users had to turn to the only defense left to them: switching off push notifications entirely. Today, when users install new apps they often say “No” to push notifications. And with Apple’s new tools to control notifications, users are now actively triaging which apps can get in touch.

In fact, that’s what Tim Cook says he did, too.

“If you guys aren’t doing this — if you have an iPhone and you’re not doing it, I would encourage you to really do this —  monitor these [push notifications],” the CEO suggested to the audience.

“What it what has done for me personally is I’ve gone in and gutted the number of notifications,” Cook said. “Because I asked myself: do I really need to be getting thousands of notifications a day? It’s not something that is adding value to my life, or is making me a better person. And so I went in and chopped that.”

Yep. Even Apple’s CEO is done with all the spam and noise from iPhone apps.

The comment, of course, was supposed to be a veiled reference to the addictive nature of some apps — social media apps in particular, and especially Facebook. Today, Apple throws barbs at Facebook any time it can, now that the company has fallen out of public favor due to its ongoing data privacy violations and constant scandals.

But a more truthful telling of the iPhone’s past would recall that Facebook’s app — and all its many notifications — was originally a big selling point for Apple’s mobile device.

When the App Store first launched in 2008, Facebook proudly sat in the top row in a featured position. It was heavily promoted to users because it was a prime example of the iPhone’s utility: here was this popular social network you could now get to right from your phone. Amazing! 

The fact that Facebook — and every other app — later leveraged the iOS push notification platform to better its own business without regard to how that would impact users, isn’t entirely app developers’ collective fault. The notification platform itself had left the door wide open for that sort of psychological abuse, simply due to its lack of user-configured, user-friendly controls.

A decade after the App Store launched, Apple finally started to dial back on the free-for-all on user attention.

It announced its suite of digital wellness tools at WWDC 2018, which included Screen Time (a dashboard for tracking and limiting usage); increased parental controls; and finally a way to silence the barrage of notifications, without having to dig around in iOS Settings.

Now Tim Cook wants to have us believe that Apple had never wanted to cause any of this addiction and distraction.

But isn’t it telling that the exec has had to silence his own iPhone using these new tools? Isn’t that something of an admission of culpability here?

“Every time you pick up your phone, it means you’re taking your eyes off whoever you’re dealing with are talking with, right?,” Cook continued. “And if you’re if you’re looking at your phone more than you’re looking at somebody else’s eyes, you’re doing the wrong thing,” he said.  “We want to educate people on what they’re doing. This thing will improve through time, just like everything else that we do. We’ll innovate there as we do in other areas.”

“But basically, we don’t want people using their phones all the time. This has never been an objective for us,” said Cook.

Except, of course, for those 10 years when it was.

Top 10 U.S. subscription video apps pulled in $1.3B last year, a 62% increase from 2017

Subscriptions are booming on the app stores, and particularly subscription video apps thanks to the growing number of cord cutters who are choosing to stream their TV shows and movies, instead of paying for cable or satellite. In the U.S., the top 10 subscription video apps by revenue pulled in $1.27 billion in 2018 across both the iOS App Store and Google Play, according to new data from Sensor Tower – that’s a 62 percent increase over the $781 million spent in 2017.

It’s also three times higher than what was spent in these apps back in 2016.

The top app, not surprisingly, was Netflix – which snagged the spot for the second year in a row. It earned an estimated $529 million in the U.S., the report found. However, Netflix won’t maintain the top spot in the rankings in 2019, as the company recently made a decision to keep more of its subscription revenue to itself.

Netflix in 2018 had dropped in-app subscription sign-ups in its Android app on Google Play, then did the same on the iOS App Store in December. That will decrease its in-app subscription revenues this year, though it won’t immediately to zero because of revenues from existing subscribers.

The No. 2 top grossing app was YouTube, which is maybe more of a surprise to those who don’t realize that the app they use to watch free videos is making quite so much money through in-app purchases. But YouTube offers a couple different types of in-app purchases, including subscriptions to its ad-free tier, YouTube Premium, as well as virtual currency to be used in Super Chat.

Sensor Tower says YouTube took in less than half as much revenue as Netflix at around $223 million, but it grew substantially in 2018 – up 114 percent from $104 million in 2017.

HBO NOW was the No. 3 top grossing app, even though its subscriber base declined. The app generated 12 percent less in 2018 at $166 million, down from $189 million. The reason, naturally, was that the app was without “Game of Thrones” to attract viewers. That doesn’t bode all that well for HBO’s future without “Thrones,” unless its spin-off becomes a hit.

Hulu and YouTube TV were the No. 4 and No. 5, apps respectively. Hulu grew by 68 percent while YouTube TV jumped up a whopping 419 percent. CBS’s streaming app is doing decently, too, with 57 percent year-over-year growth in subscriber spending.

Much of that comes from streamers interest in the new “Star Trek” series. In fact, with the Season 2 premiere this month, CBS said its streaming service hit a new milestone across both subscription sign-ups and unique viewers in a weekend. While the network didn’t share exact numbers, it said the January ’19 weekend when the new season of “Star Trek:Discovery” aired eclipsed 2017’s previous record from the series premiere by over 72 percent, in terms of sign-ups.

Combined, 2018’s top 10 subscription streaming apps accounted for a sizable chunk – now 22 percent – of non-game app revenue on the app stores in the U.S. Their 62 percent revenue growth was also more than all the other non-game apps combined, which grew 56 percent year-over-year, the new report said.

Subscriptions – and not just for streaming apps – have become the new driver for non-game spending on the app stores, and that isn’t going to change anytime soon.

According to App Annie’s recent forecast for 2019, 10 minutes of every hour spent consuming media across TV and internet will come from streaming video on mobile. It estimates that total time in video streaming apps will increase 110 percent from 2016 to 2019, with consumer spend in entertainment apps rising by 520 percent over that same period. Most of those revenues will come from the growth in in-app subscriptions, the firm had said earlier.

Roblox makes first acquisition with purchase of app performance startup PacketZoom

Fresh off a $150 million round of funding, kids’ gaming platform Roblox is making its first acquisition. The company says it’s acquiring the small startup PacketZoom, bringing its team and technology in-house to help it improve mobile application performance as its platform expands further into worldwide markets.

Founded in 2013, and based in San Mateo, California, PacketZoom had raised a $5 million Series A late last year. The company combines a content delivery network (CDN) to speed up performance with an application performance management tool to identify issues in a single package, TechCrunch had explained at the time.

The company’s products allow developers access to analytics about the app and network-performance related issues, as well as optimize app delivery and content downloads – up to 2 to 3 times faster.

The system in particular is designed to overcome the limitations of slow and unreliable networks, like those found in emerging markets. It also helps to ensure faster and lower latency data transfers worldwide.

It’s clear how this acquisition makes sense for Roblox, which offers a platform where kids create and play in 3D worlds and games and has global expansion in mind. With PacketZoom integrated into its gaming platform, users will be able to join games faster and have a better experience when playing on mobile devices.

Roblox had said earlier this year it was cash-flow positive and continues to be profitable. It raised funds in order to stock its war chest and have a buffer, while focused on its international expansion efforts. It also said it would use the funds to make acquisitions and open offices outside the U.S. in some regions, like China.

PacketZoom had raised $11.2 million to date from investors including Founder Collective, Tandem Capital, First Round Capital, Baseline Ventures, Arafura Ventures, and others.

According to PacketZoom’s website, it was working with customers like Glu Mobile, Sephora, Photofy, Inshorts, Upwork, News Republic, Wave, Belcorp, GOTA, Netmeds, Houzify, Wooplr, Fluik Entertainment, Wondermall, and others. These relationships will be wound down, as Roblox plans to only use the IP internally, not to support other customers.

Roblox declined to speak to the acquisition price, but notes it was an all-cash deal. It includes all of PacketZoom’s IP and code. PacketZoom’s founder and CTO, Chetan Ahuja, along with the PacketZoom’s four-person engineering team will join Roblox.

Outvote hopes to flip elections by getting Democrats to text their friends

Outvote, a new Y Combinator-backed startup, wants to make grassroots-style campaigning easier and more personal, with the launch of an app that allows people to text their friends with reminders to vote. The idea is to take advantage of people’s willingness to use social sharing to communicate about political issues, while also leveraging the simplicity that comes with tweeting or posting to Facebook and turning that into an actionable reminder that can actually drive people to the polls during critical times.

The startup was founded by Naseem Makiya, a Harvard-educated software engineer with a background in startups, including San Francisco-based Moovweb and Cambridge area’s DataCamp; along with Nadeem Mazen, an MIT grad and interactive designer who once worked with OK GO on one of its viral music videos, and who now owns the Cambridge-based creative agency Nimblebot.

Mazen, who has since moved into an advisory role with Outvote, also has more direct political experience, having run for public office himself. In fact, he learned first-hand how every vote counts, having won his Cambridge City Council position in 2013 by just six votes.

He also attributed his second election win to organizing low propensity, minority and younger voters — plus “really doing a lot of texting and a lot of outreach through my friend networks,” says Mazen.

When Mazen’s time in politics ended, he then helped others get elected using similar means. Later, he and Makiya brought together a group of Harvard and MIT folks to formalize a company around the technology they were using. This became Outvote.

While today there are a lot of tools for voter outreach, many of those operated by well-known organizations, like MoveOn, for example, involve people opting in to receive texts from the group in question. Outvote is different because it’s a tool that helps individual voters reach out to their own personal acquaintances, family and friends.

“The way campaigns are run right now is most of the budget is spent on ads that are really low ROI — they have some effect on persuasion, but less effect on actual voter turnout,” explains Makiya. “With this effort, we’re trying to bring politics back to more of word-of-mouth and conversations between friends,” he says.

The team began working on the technology for Outvote last summer, and officially founded the company early this year.

While individuals are the app’s end users, they’re brought into the app by a campaign.

Users give the app permission to upload their phone’s contacts, which Outvote matches up with registered voter databases. That way, you’ll only be texting those who can actually go vote in your district. When the matching completes, the app has scripts that allow users to just click to text your friends a message from your own phone number.

In other words, it’s no longer a political campaign or organization bugging people to go vote via text — it’s a friend. If your friends have a problem with the unsolicited text, they’ll have to tell you.

The app also uses some sort of basic modeling to figure out who best to text, based on things like past voter history, whether that person tends to vote in the primaries, if they’re a registered Democrat and so on.

Oh, yes, that’s right — this app is built for Democratic campaigns only.

Outvote makes no apologies about the fact that it is a tool designed to help Democrats win back seats across the U.S., both on local and national levels.

“We think it’s really critical that Democrats begin to invest in and promote technology. The right is doing a much better job of investing in some of the niche technology,” says Mazen. “And, obviously, groups like Cambridge Analytica and folks have been, I would say, underhanded, in their use of technology,” he adds. “We have to work twice as hard to be twice as resolute, as a result.”

The company says it has turned down right-leaning independents and Republican campaigns that wanted to use its technology, and is instead piloting with around 50 Democratic campaigns at present. Campaigns will be charged a low monthly fee for using Outvote that will vary depending on their size. However, many of the pilot customers are using Outvote for free at this time.

The goal is to make Outvote far more affordable than the existing mass-texting services that charge as much as 30 cents per person per month, which can cost campaigns hundreds of thousands of dollars at scale. Outvote aims to be around 2 to 5 cents per text, it says.

For now, its focus is on raising awareness about the candidate and their issues, and getting people to the polls. It’s not offering the sort of “call your congressman”-style outreach efforts you’ll find in some other political apps.

Outvote is also partnered with The Movement Cooperative, Represent.Us, Flippable, the DNC, Vote.org and Swing Left, according to its website.

The startup is already reporting some early successes. When used last November, it found millennials contacted through Outvote were twice as likely to vote, while non-millennials were 50 percent more likely to vote. The company doesn’t have the data yet from how it’s been doing in the primaries, but says it’s been getting good feedback from the participating campaigns.

In addition to the Y Combinator backing, Outvote has raised $300,000 in seed funding from 2enable Partners ahead of Demo Day.

Outvote’s app is available on both iOS and Android.

Apple’s App Store revenue nearly double that of Google Play in first half of 2018

Apple’s App Store continues to outpace Google Play on revenue. In the first half of the year, the App Store generated nearly double the revenue of Google Play on half the downloads, according to a new report from Sensor Tower out today. In terms of dollars and cents, that’s $22.6 billion in worldwide gross app revenue on the App Store versus $11.8 billion for Google Play – or, 1.9 times more spent on the App Store compared with what was spent on Google Play.

This trend is not new. Apple’s iOS store has consistently generated more revenue than its Android counterpart for years due to a number of factors – including the fact that Android users historically have spent less on apps than iOS users, as well as the fact that there are other Android app stores consumer can shop – like the Amazon Appstore or Samsung Store, for example. In addition, Google Play is not available in China, but Apple’s App Store is.

Last year, consumer spending on the App Store reached $38.5 billion, again nearly double that of Google Play’s $20.1 billion.

As the new figures for the first half of 2018 indicate, consumer spending is up this year.

Sensor Tower estimates it has increased by 26.8 percent on iOS compared with the same period in 2017, and it’s up by 29.7 percent on Google Play.

The growth in spending can be partly attributed to subscription apps like Netflix, Tencent Video, and even Tinder, as has been previously reported.

Subscription-based apps are big businesses these days, having helped to boost app revenue in 2017 by 77 percent to reach $781 million, according to an earlier study. Netflix was also 2017’s top non-game app by revenue, and recently became ranked as the top (non-game) app of all-time by worldwide consumer spend, according to App Annie’s App Store retrospective.

Many of the other all-time top apps following Netflix were also subscription-based, including Spotify (#2), Pandora (#3), Tencent Video (#4), Tinder (#5), and HBO NOW (#8), for example.

And Netflix is again the top non-game app by consumer spending in the first half of 2018, notes Sensor Tower.

Game spending, however, continues to account for a huge chunk of revenue.

Consumer spending on games grew 19.1 percent in the first half of 2018 to $26.6 billion across both stores, representing roughly 78 percent of the total spent ($16.3 billion on the App Store and $10.3 billion on Google Play). Honor of Kings from Tencent, Monster Strike from Mixi, and Fate/Grand Order from Sony Aniplex were the top grossing games across both stores.

App downloads were also up in the first half of the year, if by a smaller percentage.

Worldwide first-time app installs grew to 51 billion in 1H18, or up 11.3 percent compared with the same time last year, when downloads were then 45.8 billion across the two app stores.

Facebook led the way on this front with WhatsApp, Messenger, Facebook and Instagram as the top four apps across both the App Store and Google Play combined. The most downloaded games were PUBG Mobile from Tencent, Helix Jump from Voodoo, and Subway Surfers from Kiloo.

Google Play app downloads were up a bit more (13.1 percent vs iOS’s 10.6 percent) year-over-year due to Android’s reach in developing markets, reaching 36 billion. That’s around 2.4 times the App Store’s 15 billion.

Despite this, Apple’s platform still earned more than double the revenue with fewer than half the downloads, which is remarkable. And it can’t all be chalked up to China. (The country contributed about 31.7 percent of the App Store revenue last quarter, or $7.1 billion, to give you an idea.)

Sensor Tower tells TechCrunch that even if China was removed from the picture, the App Store would have generated $15.4 billion gross revenue for first half of 2018, which is still about 30 percent higher than Google Play’s $11.8 billion.