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.
Global app spending reached $65 billion in the first half of 2022, up only slightly from the $64.4 billion during the same period in 2021, as hypergrowth fueled by the pandemic has slowed down. But overall, the app economy is continuing to grow, having produced a record number of downloads and consumer spending across both the iOS and Google Play stores combined in 2021, according to the latest year-end reports. Global spending across iOS and Google Play last year was $133 billion, and consumers downloaded 143.6 billion apps.
This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and much more.
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Image Credits: Apple
Like clockwork, Apple held its annual fall event this week to introduce the latest iPhones to the public. The iPhone 14 line brings some notable new features, like the always-on display for the Pro models, emergency satellite connectivity and the removal of the SIM tray in the U.S. in favor of eSIM support, along with other updated specs across the devices’ camera systems, chips, sensors and more.
But what will most intrigue app developers are a few other changes — both expected and unexpected.
With the updated mobile operating system iOS 16, developers will have a way to reach their users directly from the phone’s Lock Screen, thanks to the new widget platform. Announced at this year’s WWDC, these new widgets join a larger Lock Screen makeover that now includes a built-in editor, wallpaper gallery, theming tools and a Live Activities feature for delivering real-time updates to this key iPhone real estate.
With WidgetKit, developers will be able to build using the same code for both watchOS and the Lock Screen, Apple had explained at WWDC. On the iPhone’s Lock Screen, they can choose from three widget designs: circular, rectangular and inline — the latter being a way to convey information with a small amount of text and SF Symbols above the Lock Screen’s clock, instead of below it like the other two.
Already, developers are coming up with clever ways to take advantage of this new screen space.
In some cases, they see the Lock Screen widgets as the extension of their existing apps — like what Flighty is doing to convey flight status and other travel updates to users. Others see the widgets as part of a larger set of personalization offerings, allowing users to pin their favorite photos, motivational quotes or even favorite app shortcuts to their Lock Screen, as ScreenKit has done.
So Live Activities are cool right? And the Dynamic Island just makes them even better.
It was amazing to work on and god I’m excited to see what you all build for it.
— Patrick Metcalfe (@PatrickMetcalfe) September 7, 2022
For apps with real-time updates, the Live Activities feature will allow developers to display further information on the Lock Screen — like when a customer’s pizza is arriving or when their Lyft is nearby, for example.
But what really blew us away was when Apple surprised everyone with an extension of Live Activities that hadn’t yet been leaked: the new Dynamic Island feature. Frankly, it was exciting to learn about a new feature for the first time during the keynote, instead of reading about it in the news — something that’s become a much more common occurrence these days.
A smart combination of hardware and software, the Dynamic Island turns the dreaded sensor “notch” at the top of the device — now more compact in the latest iPhone models — into a feature. The pill-shaped cutout introduces a unique way to interact with activities, alerts and notifications, said Apple, underselling it a bit.
The iPhone 14 Pro turns the infamous notch into a ‘Dynamic Island’
This adaptive area can expand, contract and morph into different shapes and sizes as it delivers information to the end user through animations and transitions — taking advantage of the black space required by the notch, rather than trying to hide it.
You can imagine keeping an eye on your Uber while you text a friend, watching a timer while you read the next steps in a recipe or getting turn-by-turn directions while in another app, among other things. It also works to deliver informational updates in a visually engaging way without interrupting what you’re already doing on your phone. This could include things like confirming your AirPods are connected, muting, starting a charge, starting a FaceID, confirming your transit card was activated when tapping your iPhone in transit locations and more, Apple suggested.
And it can show other background activity, like the music you’re playing when you exit the music app — it even includes a tiny photo of the album art. When you want to access the “now playing” controls again, you can then tap the Dynamic Island to see it expand into a larger, interactive floating widget of sorts with more options. (Will the selfie camera get dirty, we wonder?)
The same goes for phone calls, where a tap can bring up a larger interface for tapping the mute button, speaker button, FaceTime option, the “end call” button and more.
Needless to say, developers and designers were enthralled by the possibilities, praising the feature on Twitter during and after Apple’s event. It’s fair to say we’ll likely see adoption of this feature in the months ahead, when the technology becomes available.
This is some extremely slick conceptual design – integrating hardware and software perfectly – that has been implemented shockingly well. Truly Apple-only stuff. I love this. pic.twitter.com/1NTeHleo1P
— Sebastiaan de With (@sdw) September 7, 2022
Image Credits: Google
Image Credits: Google
Image Credits: Snap
It's here! The Wonderlab AR app by @sciencemuseum allows people in the UK to discover the extraordinary science behind ordinary objects using AR and geo-spatial technologies. Powered by Lightship ARDK, developed with @Preloaded. pic.twitter.com/GsNny8XX3t
— Lightship (@LightshipAR) September 5, 2022
Image Credits: Twitter
Image Credits: Disney+
Apple’s Fitness+ subscription is coming to iPhone with iOS 16
💰 LA-based Remento, an app that focuses on capturing and preserving family stories, raised $3 million in seed funding led by Upfront Ventures. The app launched this week on iOS after a year of beta testing.
🤝 Grocery delivery app Instacart announced its acquisition of the e-commerce platform Rosie, which helps local and independent retailers and wholesalers and provides them with tools for powering order flow, fulfillment and customer insights. Deal terms were not disclosed but Ithaca, New York-based Rosie had raised $11.9 million to date.
💰 Latana, a platform that bids on mobile ad space, raised €36 million (~$35.79 million) in Series B funding — €10 million (~$9.94 million) of which was debt — led by Oxx.
💰 Subscription-based Android fintech app Stack raised $2.7 million from Madrona, The Venture Collective, Santa Clara Ventures and others. The app aims to offer crypto education and trading for teens and their parents.
🤝 Headspace Health acquired Shine, a mental health and wellness app dedicated to providing an inclusive mental health experience for the BIPOC community. Deal terms weren’t disclosed.
If you often find yourself making Spotify playlists to get hyped for an upcoming music festival or to relive a favorite past show, a new mobile app called LineupSupply can now help make that process easier. This clever new utility allows you to upload a photo of a music festival’s poster to have it automatically transformed into a Spotify playlist in a matter of moments. Alternately, you can use the app to find playlists created by others or, with a one-time purchase of $1.99, tap into music recommendations based on the artists in the images you uploaded.
LineupSupply also lets you customize the playlist before its creation by removing artists you don’t want to be included in your playlist. And if you don’t want to do the work of finding and uploading your own image, you may be able to find an existing playlist built by other users in the app’s “Discover” section.
There’s no limit to the number of playlists you can create with the free version. But with a one-time upgrade of $1.99, you can gain access to a few additional features, including the ability to set a custom app icon or further customize the playlist by controlling the number of songs per artist, the song sorting options, and the playlist description.
LineupSupply’s app turns music festival posters into Spotify playlists