Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy. The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020.
Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.
Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.
This week we’re looking at the case of the missing Arizona app store bill, the latest on the Dispo drama and Facebook’s new audio efforts, among other things.
This Week in Apps will soon be a newsletter! Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters
So…where did that App Store legislation go?
Arizona’s Senate was supposed to vote on a controversial bill, HB2005, that would make it the first state to regulate the Apple and Google app stores. But though the vote was listed first on the Senate’s livestream agenda on Wednesday, March 24th, the vote never came up.
Basecamp co-founder and Apple critic David Heinemeier Hansson, who submitted testimony in support of HB 2005, basically called the lobbying system corrupt.
Doesn't mean it's guaranteed that it's over in Arizona, but hot diggity damn. Seeing how the corru… I mean.. lobbying works this close and this brazenly is something else. But Apple can't buy all the legislators in all the states. Refuse to believe that.
— DHH (@dhh) March 24, 2021
Apple had its own lobbyist, Rod Diridon, working on the Arizona bill, and was said to have hired Kirk Adams, a former chief of staff to Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, to negotiate directly with the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Regina Cobb (R).
However, others countered the narrative being laid out by Hansson, saying that the bill’s existence in the first place was the result of lobbying from Epic Games and others, and many lawmakers didn’t even know what they were voting on. A similar bill was already voted down in North Dakota and HB2005 didn’t seem to have much support either, ahead of the would-be vote.
The Coalition for App Fairness (CAF), a group backing these bills, told us it didn’t know what happened to the bill, but was trying to find out.
Pretty weird that this bill ghosted!
Then again, an App Store bill getting mysteriously rejected without sufficient explanation is …fitting. https://t.co/C7ycLqTILc
— Dieter Bohn (@backlon) March 24, 2021
Dispo loses investor support, Dobrik
Once-hot mobile photos app Dispo is becoming a case study as to why partnering with high-profile influencers and YouTuber-types without due diligence is just a bad idea. When a recent investigation exposed that a member of YouTuber David Dobrik’s “Vlog Squad” sexually assaulted her, Dispo’s early investors have been distancing themselves from the app.
Initially, lead investor Spark Capital said it would “sever all ties” with the company, TechCrunch’s Natasha Mascarenhas reported earlier this week. Dobrik also left the board and the company hours later. Two other investors, Seven Seven Six and Unshackled, said they would donate any potential profits from their Dispo investment into organizations working with survivors of sexual assault. (Cynically, one could argue, the firms don’t expect there to be much left to donate with this much of a stain on Dispo’s public image and the loss of its big-name backer in Dobrik).
brb, implementing my Apple Watch keyboard as a web app.https://t.co/iDhfvrBvCX
— Kosta Eleftheriou (@keleftheriou) March 25, 2021
"[We] face competitive constraints from distribution alternatives within the iOS ecosystem (including developer websites and other outlets through which consumers may obtain third party apps and use them on their iOS devices) and outside iOS."
This smacks of disingenuousness. https://t.co/spMxnJDGKo
— Dan Masters – OhMDee.com (@OhMDee) March 25, 2021
A tentative initial witness list in Apple’s courtroom battle with Epic Games over Apple’s alleged monopolist practices includes Apple CEO Tim Cook, Software Engineering SVP Craig Federighi and Apple Fellow Phil Schiller (who helped launch and run the App Store). Epic will be calling its CEO Tim Sweeney and VP Mark Rein. Executives from Microsoft, Facebook and Nvidia are also included.
Twitter is working on audience picker for communities in the tweet composer pic.twitter.com/aqWQitUP0c
— Jane Manchun Wong (@wongmjane) March 26, 2021
Streaming & Entertainment
Spotify updated its mobile app with several changes to the Home hub. These include a way to rediscover recently played songs as far back as three months ago; a way for Premium users to view new and unfinished podcasts with a blue dot (new) and progress bar (unfinished); and a new section of personalized music recommendations. The company later in the week updated its desktop and web app, as well.
? “Apart from the financial harm… users affected by such scams will be less inclined to download apps or engage with app stores in general. Therefore, these fleeceware appls have a negative impact on legitimate developers that use the subscription model in an ethical manner.” https://t.co/4ec5AtF0s3
— David Barnard (@drbarnard) March 25, 2021
? Messaging app Telegram raised over $1 billion through bond sales to multiple investors, including a combined $150 million investment by Mubadala Investment Co. and Abu Dhabi Catalyst Partners, which is part-owned by the Abu Dhabi state fund. Last week, this column noted that the app had owed its creditors around $700 million by the end of April, per The WSJ’s report.
Update: Telegram raises $1BN+, including $150M from Mubadala and Abu Dhabi CP via pre-IPO convertible bonds
? Fortnite and Houseparty owner Epic Games is reportedly closing on $1 billion in new funding that will value its business at $28 billion.
? Twitter acqui-hired the team from API integration platform Reshuffle to work on its own developer API platform. The team of seven, including two co-founders, will immediately begin work on building tools for Twitter developers while Reshuffle’s business is wound down.
? Link-in-bio company Linktree, whose mini websites get linked to by creators in your favorite social apps, raised $45 million to develop new social commerce tools. The company says a third of its 12 million users have signed up within the last four months — a trend partially driven by the pandemic.
‘Link-in-bio’ company Linktree raises $45M Series B for its social commerce features
? South Korea’s largest travel app Yanolja is in talks with banks to go public through a dual listing in Seoul and overseas. The company is aiming for a $4 billion valuation.
? ironSource, a business platform for the app economy, reached an agreement with Thoma Bravo’s blank-check firm to go public via a SPAC at a $11.1 billion valuation.
? Ryu Games raised a seed round of $2.3 million for its service that helps developers add cash tournaments to their mobile games. The company is aiming to be present on a few dozen games this year.
Ryu Games raises $2.3M, betting that cash tournaments for mobile games are the future
? Nigerian fintech Bankly raised $2 million for its app that digitizes cash for the unbanked, in a round led by led by Vault.
? Mumbai-headquartered Indian fantasy sports app Dream11’s parent firm, Dream Sports, raised $400 million in a round led by TCV, D1 Capital Partners and Falcon Edge, valuing the business at nearly $5 billion.
? Indian social network Public App raised $41 million just six months after its $35 fundraise, valuing the business at over $250 million — or more than double the valuation since the prior fundraise. The app now has over 50 million users, including over 50,000 elected officials, government authorities and citizen journalists.
? U.K.-based stock trading app Freetrade raised a $69 million Series B from Left Lane Capital. The Robinhood-like app offers free trades and the ability to buy fractional shares. The company is now valued at $366 million.
Stock trading app Freetrade raises $69 million
? Indonesian savings and investment app Pluang raised $20 million in pre-Series B funding led by Openspace Ventures. The company offers savings and investments products that allow users to make contributions starting at 50 cents (USD).
? AR pioneer Blippar returns with $5 million in funding after 18 months of repositioning as a B2B company in the AR space. Blippar’s AR Studio can help brands with AR on the web and inside their apps or Blippar’s own app.
Avatarify is another app benefitting from the current interest in bringing photos to life. We’ve already seen apps like MyHeritage, TokkingHeads, Wombo and Piñata Farms introduce their own ideas in this space — whether it’s recalling long-lost relatives or just making a celeb lip sync to Michael Jackson. Avatarify, meanwhile, will let you record a short video which it then uses to animate any photo of your choice — even photos of art, babies or pets. The app is moving up the charts to now No. 28 on the App Store.
Vinyls, reviewed this week by iMore and recently by 9to5Mac as well, is a minimalist music player for Apple Music subscribers. The app was built by the developer behind the Twitter client Aviary, and displays a spinning vinyl record when music is playing. The app also animates a tonearm that aligns itself with the current playback time and moves in and out when playing and pausing the music. You can also “scrub” the vinyl to seek forwards and backwards. Vinyls is available on Mac, iPhone and iPad.