This Week in Apps: Welcome Back! TechCrunch’s weekly TechCrunch series recaps the latest in mobile OS news and mobile applications.
The global app spending increased to $65 billion in the first six months of 2022. This is a slight increase from $64.4 billion in the same period 2021. Multiple year-end reports show that the app economy continues to grow. It has produced record numbers of apps downloaded and consumers spending on both the iOS and Google Play store in 2021. The global spending on iOS and Google Play was $133 billion last year, with 143.6 billion app downloads.
This Week in Apps is a place where you can keep up to date with this fast-moving sector. It includes news, updates and information about startup fundings, mergers, acquisitions, and more.
Would you like This Week in Apps delivered to your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters
Apple will allow EU-based app stores to be opened
Bloomberg reported that Apple is working to open its platforms in order to support third-party app stores within the EU. This comes ahead of the Digital Markets Act’s new requirements, which all companies must meet by 2024. EU regulators want to level the playing field for app developers and improve the consumer experience — and they believe forcing Apple to compete on merit with other app stores is one way to do it. Apple has long maintained that sideloading or third party stores pose too many risks to consumers. This is in regards to safety, security, and privacy. Apple is responsible for payment processing, including fraud, for apps downloaded through its storefront. It also protects users’ data and prevents app developers from tracking them with its new App Tracking Transparency protections.
But some of Apple’s privacy focus is a seeming front for its own aims in becoming a bigger competitor in the ads business. And as researchers recently discovered, some of Apple’s protections don’t apply to its own apps. Plus, many would argue, it seems like an imbalance to charge apps that rival Apple’s own services a commission on their businesses — the way it charges Spotify when it runs Apple Music; or how it charges streaming apps commissions, when it runs Apple TV+; and so on. Apple continues to expand its app market presence with subscription services such Apple Fitness+, cloud storage through iCloud and news reading and magazines with News+.
But app developers have long felt Apple’s 30% is too high a price for the discovery, distribution and security provided by the App Store. And for larger companies, they’re more than willing and able to market, distribute and sell their own apps themselves. Epic Games, for instance, is challenging Apple in court over antitrust issues. These are currently under appeal. It wants to sell its apps like Fortnite directly to consumers and avoid Apple’s fees.
Still, even if the EU forces platforms to open up to more competition, if the laws aren’t precise, it’s possible Apple could find a way to adjust its policies to apply a commission structure to the third-party apps and app distribution systems the new regulations would allow.
It’s a wonder Apple has allowed the problem to get to this point. The company has carved back commissions for a range of apps — from smaller developers to “reader” apps and the like — in obvious attempts to hope soothe regulators and lawmakers’ concerns. Apple may have misunderstood by slashing all commissions to stop developer backlash. As it turns out, Apple’s greed may ultimately be its downfall as it will now be up to regulators to set the terms, not Apple itself.
Lensa pushes more AI-art apps to the top of App Store
Lensa AI’s popularity has had a notable impact on the App Store’s Top Charts this week. The photo and video editing app recently went viral over its new “magic avatars” feature, powered by the open source Stable Diffusion model, allowing users to turn their selfies into styled portraits of themselves as sci-fi, anime or fantasy characters, among other artistic renderings. Consumer demand for the app, and for AI edits more broadly, then pushed numerous other “AI” apps into the U.S. App Store’s Top Charts. On Monday, AI photo editors held the top three spots in the U.S. App Store. Additional AI art apps are now ranking in the Top 100.
Lensa AI was the No. 1 app store in America this week. Lensa AI occupied the No. 1 spot in the U.S. App Store with 12.6 million worldwide installs in the first eleven days of December. This is 600% more than the 1.8million installs it saw in the same time period in November (20 November 20-30), according to Sensor Tower data. Estimates indicate that 3.6 Million of those December installs came from the U.S.
More AI apps are climbing the charts. Data showed that AI art apps accounted for eight of the top 100 most downloaded apps on the U.S. App Store between December 1 and December 11.
These included No. 2, and No. 3 apps, AI Art: AI Image Generator and Dawn – AI Avatars, respectively. The former had 1.7 million global installations between December 1-11, up 229% from its 71,000 during November 20-30. Dawn had 1.7 million more installs than the 28,000 it had in November.
Other apps were also in the Top Charts including No. 10 Wonder – AI Art Generator, No. 14 Prequel – AestheticAIEditor, No. 39 Voi – AI Avatar App by Wonder, No. 47 Meitu – Photo Editor & AI Art, and more. In select categories, like Graphics & Design, you’d also find Profile AI: Avatar Creator, Inspire – AI Art Generator and Dream by Wombo – AI Art Tool.
Clearly, developers learned to capitalize on consumer demand for AI art by keyword-stuffing their app names and descriptions with terms like “AI,” “Avatar,” “AI Art” and other search terms.
Despite AI app adoption on the rise, there are still concerns about ethics.
Lensa was trained in the Stable Diffusion model. This controversial model uses images without artist consent. TechCrunch also found that Lensa could be tricked into creating NSFW images. And MIT Technology Review reported that Lensa created topless images and skimpy and sexualized avatars when tried by one female reporter, who happened to be of Asian heritage — suggesting the AI had been influenced by an overabundance of anime and video characters.
Instagram weighs taking on Twitter with text-based “Notes”
Amid backlash over the intrusion of algorithmic, recommended content into Instagram’s feed, Instagram this week introduced a number of new features to make it easier for users to keep up with their real-world friends. Among the new products is an addition called Notes — a feature Meta had considered turning into a Twitter competitor, The NYT recently reported. With Notes, users are able to update their friends by using only text and emoji. This adds a new format for social updates beyond those that Instagram is well-known for.
Although Twitter is not a competitor in terms the user interface, leaving text notes for other people to read has some similarities with Twitter or, more specifically, with a product such as Twitter Circle where you can hand-pick who can read your posts. In Instagram, however, users can leave notes by going to the top of their inbox, then selecting the followers they follow back (aka mutuals) or others from their existing “Close Friends” list. They’ll then type out the note itself using 60 characters of just text or emoji. The note will appear at the top of friends’ inboxes for 24 hours and replies will arrive as DMs.
What’s interesting is that Meta had considered making Notes a more direct Twitter competitor. The NYT reported that Meta had considered whether Notes should have its own Instagram feed, or even its own app. For the time being, however, the company is launching the product — which has been in testing for several months prior — as is. Too bad.
- iOS 16.2 will also bring a mysterious AirTag firmware update. It is unknown what it does.
- Apple also released the betas for iOS 16, iPadOS 16.3, and macOS Ventura 12.2.
- Android 13 has been shipped for TV.
- Compose For Wear OS 1.1 is now stable
- Android 13 QPR2 Beta 2 is now available. Android 13 Beta continues with its next round of updates in preparation for its March 2023 release. These quarterly Platform Releases are delivered as Feature Drops to Pixel phones.
- Sony smartphones are now running Android 13. According to user reports, this includes the Xperia 1 IV (Xperia 5 IV), the Xperia 1 III (Xperia 5 III), the Xperia 1 III (Xperia 5 III), the Xperia 1 III), the Xperia 5 III, and the Xperia Pro-I.
- Google has completed the rollout for the Matter smart home standard to Android, Nest and other platforms. Apple and Samsung already have Matter support. Amazon will support Matter by the end of 2022.
- Flipboard is capitalizing on Twitter’s chaos. A new Notes feature will allow the social magazine app’s curators to have discussions with their readers. This Notes feature allows them to write posts, share images and link, ask questions, and much more.
- Twitter has relaunched Twitter Blue, its subscription service. There are different prices for subscribers who subscribe via iOS or on the web. According to the company’s claims, the subscription will offer the verified checkmark and lower ads. However, it will have enhanced protections to stop spamming and impersonation. Blue for Business will offer businesses gold checks on Twitter instead of blue. (That’s right — Blue will give out gold checks, too. Who thought of the branding?
- Twitter made the fact-checks of its community public to worldwide users. (The Community Notes feature used to be called Birdwatch.
- Twitter also closed Revue, its newsletter platform, in the interim. shortly after former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey used it to write a post about the Twitter Files, warning against attacks on Twitter’s staff. He also discussed decentralization, and his own effort to do so in Bluesky.
- Elon Musk suspended a Twitter bot that tracked his jet’s Coming and going. There are reasons. After issuing his new jet-tracking-inspired anti-doxing policy, Twitter bans prominent journalists immediately without warningThis includes those who tweeted about it Musk’s decision to also ban Mastodon’s account. Some of the suspended journalists had posted images of the tweet that got the Mastodon account banned — a post that pointed to the bot (ElonJet)’s account on Mastodon.
- TikTok goes horizontal. The company confirmed it’s testing a horizontal full-screen mode which makes the app more competitive with YouTube.
- Microsoft is closing its Authenticator app on Apple Watch Users in January 2023
- A small-known app for monitoring phones called Xnspy stole data TechCrunch reported that there were tens to thousands of devices.
- Sofa is a clever media organizer app that was recently updated New features include Lock Screen widgets, shared lists, Shortcuts support, and more.
- Playtika, a game maker, has fired 610 employees and is shutting down three titles — Ghost Detective, DiceLife, MergeStories
- Netflix added two more games This time, we are partnering with a top game publisher Annapurna Interactive. One is Kentucky Route Zero. This was created by Cardboard Computer, and published by Annapurna Interactive. Twelve Minutes is the other, which was created by 24 Bit Games. The company also said it’s Developing a new game based on its historical drama “Vikings: Valhalla.”
- Spotify has canceled its plans for live audio. As the Clubhouse frenzy wears off, Spotify is ending several of its live shows, including “Deux Me After Dark,” “Doughboys: Snack Pack,” “The Movie Buff” and “A Gay in the Life.”
- Tinder launched “Relationship Goals,” similar to sister app Hinge, which allows daters to more specifically say what they’re looking for.
- YouTube will notify users when abusive comments are removed. The user will be banned from posting for 24hrs If they keep leaving abusive comments.
- Instagram has launched a new hub that will assist users who suspect their accounts were hacked. Persons who are unable to log in for other reasons, such as a forgotten password or loss of access to two factor authentication.
- PayPal and MetaMask have teamed up. MetaMask said it’s adding an integration in its crypto wallet that will allow users to buy cryptocurrencies using their PayPal account.
- A bipartisan group comprised of U.S. legislators introduced a bill banning any social media company including TikTok. in — or under the influence of — China or Russia or other U.S. adversaries.
- Triller responded in kind to the Sony Music lawsuit over its unpaid licensing fees, confirming it has been unable to issue payments for a “range of reasons,” but did not disclose what they were.
- An advisor to France’s privacy authority (The Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés, or CNIL) recommended fining Apple €6 million, saying iOS 14 didn’t meet EU privacy requirements. The issue at hand is that Apple didn’t extend the same tracking protections offered to users (like ATT) to its own first-party apps.
- Twitter’s lead privacy regulator in the EU, the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC), is reviewing Twitter’s plan to force personalized ads on users Unless they purchase a Twitter Blue subscription that allows them to opt out of ads,
- The No TikTok on Government Devices Act, was unanimously adopted by the U.S. SenateAfter 13 states had imposed similar bans on the app due to security concerns,
TechCrunch’s Aisha Malik this week took a look at the new video shopping app Trendio, co-founded by a former Amazon Prime Video executive. The app allows you to shop for makeup and beauty products by providing personalized content. You can also purchase products using recorded or live video from creators. Supported brands include Merit, Philosophy, Ursa Major, Nudestix, Kjaer Weis, Joanna Vargas, Coola and Avene.
Alex Perez Tenessa, a former vice president at Prime Video U.S.A and head of Beauty at CVS and startup veteran David Olmos, founded the startup. Leah Grubb (ex-Glossier Head of Make-up Category Management at Glossier) and Julie Novak (Amazon Live alum) are also on the team. You can read TechCrunch’s full review here.