All posts in “mobile apps”

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.

Venmo is discontinuing web support for payments and more

PayPal-owned, peer-to-peer payments app Venmo is ending web support for its service, the company announced in an email to users. The changes, which are beginning to roll out now, will see the Venmo.com website phasing out support for making payments and charging users. In time, users will see even less functionality on the website, the company says.

The message to users was quietly shared in the body of Venmo’s monthly transaction history email. It reads as follows:

NOTICE: Venmo has decided to phase out some of the functionality on the Venmo.com website over the coming months. We are beginning to discontinue the ability to pay and charge someone on the Venmo.com website, and over time, you may see less functionality on the website – this is just the start. We therefore have updated our user agreement to reflect that the use of Venmo on the Venmo.com website may be limited.

The decision represents a notable shift in product direction for Venmo. Though best known as a mobile payments app, the service has also been available online, similar to PayPal, for many years.

The Venmo website today allows users to sign in and view their various transaction feeds, including public transactions, those from friends, and personal transactions. You can also charge friends and submit payments from the website, send payment reminders, like and comment on transactions, add friends, edit your profile, and more.

Some users may already be impacted by the changes, and will now see a message alerting them to the fact that charging friends and making payments can only be done in the Venmo app from the App Store or Google Play.

It’s not entirely surprising to see Venmo drop web support. As a PayPal-owned property after its acquisition by Braintree which later brought it to PayPal, there’s always been a lot of overlap between Venmo and its parent company, in terms of peer-to-peer payments.

Venmo had grown in popularity for its simple, social network-inspired design and its less burdensome fee structure among a younger crowd. This made it an appealing way for PayPal to gain market share with a different demographic.

It’s also cheaper, which people like. PayPal doesn’t charge for money transfers from a bank account or PayPal balance, but does charge 2.9 percent plus a $0.30 fixed fee on payments from a credit or debit card in the U.S. Venmo, meanwhile, charges a fee of 3 percent for credit card payments, but makes debit card payments free. That’s appealing to millennials in particular, many of whom have ditched credit cards entirely, and are careful about their spending.

Plus, as a mobile-first application, Venmo was offering a more modern solution for mobile payments, at a time when PayPal’s app was looking a bit long in the tooth. (PayPal has since redesigned its mobile app experience to catch up.)

Another factor in Venmo’s decision could be that, more recently, it began facing competition from newcomer Zelle, the bank-backed mobile payments here in the U.S. which is forecast to outpace Venmo on users sometime this year, with 27.4 million users to Venmo’s 22.9 million. In light of that threat, Venmo may have wanted to consolidate its resources on its primary product – the mobile app.

Not everyone is happy about Venmo’s changes, of course. After all, even if the Venmo website wasn’t heavily used, it was used by some who will certainly miss it.

Reached for comment, Venmo explained the decision to phase out the website functionality stems from how it sees its product being used.

A Venmo spokesperson told TechCrunch:

Venmo continuously evaluates our products and services to ensure we are delivering our users the best experience. We have decided to begin to discontinue the ability to pay and charge someone on the Venmo.com website. Most of our users pay and request money using the Venmo app, so we’re focusing our efforts there. Users can continue to use the mobile app for their pay and charge transactions and can still use the website for cashing out Venmo balances, settings and statements.

The company declined to clarify what other functionality may be removed from the website over time, but noted that using Venmo to pay authorized merchants is unaffected.

Podcasting app Anchor can now find you a cohost

Fresh off its relaunch as an app offering a suite of tools for podcasters, Anchor today is rolling a new feature that will make it easier for people to find someone to podcast with: Cohosts. As the name implies, the app will now connect you – sometimes immediately, if people are available – with another person who’s interested in discussing the topic you’ve chosen.

The result is a more engaging podcast where a conversation is taking place between two people, rather than a monologue.

“We give people the ability to choose a topic that they want to talk about on their podcasts, and the product will get to work trying to match you up with someone who wants to talk about the exact thing,” explains Anchor CEO Mike Mignano.

At first, Anchor will try to match you with someone who’s also currently in the app, he says. If it’s not able to do that, then it will notify you when it finds a match through an alert on your phone.

“We’ve developed an intelligent matching system to make sure there’s a high likelihood that you get matched up with someone that wants to talk at the same time,” Mignano notes.

The topics users select can be either broad – like politics – or narrow and hyper-specific, the company says.

One you’ve been offered a connection to a cohost, you have 30 seconds to meet in the app and decide how you want to get started. The recording will then start automatically, and will continue for up to 15 minutes. Both users will receive a copy of the recording and can choose to publish it to their own podcast right away, or save it for later.

After the recording, podcasters rate each other with a simple thumbs up or down. (If down, you’ll need to select a reason in case Anchor needs to step in and review bad behavior. Bad actors will no longer be permitted to use the service.)

If both give each other a thumbs up, though, they’ll automatically be favorited on each other’s account, so they can find each other again. Next time they want to record, they’ll have the option to team up through Anchor’s “Record with Friends” feature, where there’s no time limit.

Those who are highly rated will also get better ranked in the matching algorithm, Anchor notes.

If a podcaster has a particular topic in mind – like wanting to discuss Stephen King novels, for example – Mignano continues, they’re very likely to return to the app when they get a match, the team found during testing.

The Cohosts feature was beta tested with a small subset of users prior to today’s launch, but the company declines to share how many users tested it or how many people are currently using the app to create podcasts.

However, the app’s big makeover which took place in February basically turned Anchor into a different kind of app – so it’s still establishing a new user base.

While before, the app was focused on recording audio, Anchor 3.0 is meant to be a podcasting suite in your pocket. The new version includes recording features with no time limits, a built-in library of transition sounds, tools for adding music, support for voice messages (a call-in like feature), free hosting, and a push button experience for publishing to share your podcast to all the top platforms.

Matching cohosts in teams of two may just be the start.

Mignano hints that a future version of Anchor may include more flexibility on the number of cohosts. “You can imagine us doing something like, if the user specifies the topic, they can indicate how many people they want to have a conversation with,” he teases.

The new feature recalls Anchor’s roots as a platform for social audio.

“It’s something we’ve been thinking about for a while, says Mignano. “If you think back to Anchor 2.0 – and 3.0, as well – we’ve always wanted to make Anchor a little more interactive than a standard podcasting platform. To us, democratizing audio doesn’t just mean making it easier to create. It also means modernizing the format by making it more shareable, easier to interact with, short form, etc.,” he says.

The Cohosts feature is rolling out today in Anchor’s app.