It’s rare that a truly new way to make coffee is invented, and nearly all of them have one thing in common: heat. After all, it’s hot water that quickly extracts flavor and body from grounds. But Osma, a new device using an entirely novel coffeemaking technique, makes a rich, strong espresso-like drink at any temperature, including icy cold — and it might be the next big thing in the industry.
Osma is the latest project from designer Joey Roth, who evolved from high-concept speaker tech to tea and coffee tech, and now has found a way to integrate these two disparate pursuits with a unique vibratory method of extraction. And although Roth has had several successes over the years, this could be his most valuable yet.
To see why, it helps to understand the way coffee is ordinarily made, which generally comes down to one of two things: soaking the grounds in hot water, or forcing it through the grounds under pressure.
In the first case, which includes drip and pourover, French press, and others, the heat of the water passively frees the oils and volatiles from the ground beans and then the solids, drained of flavor, are left behind through filtering.
The second case is espresso, in which the desired chemicals are extracted not just through heat but by the process of microcavitation. This is where the heat and pressure free CO2 from the grounds, forming tiny bubbles that quickly collapse, a process that leads to the flavor and aroma compounds being forced out as well.
Cold water can be used in the first method, with the advantage is that certain substances that would be destroyed by heat are retained, giving a different flavor profile. Unfortunately it can take hours or even days to brew to one’s preferred strength, and other desirable compounds degrade over that duration. And cold water can’t be used in the espresso process because steam is necessary to accomplish extraction.
Yet despite the inconvenience inherent to cold coffee, anyone who’s visited a café in the last decade can tell you it is enormously popular, year-round but especially in the summer. There’s endless appetite for the drink, even if all it amounts to is pouring hot coffee or espresso over ice. What if strong, delicious coffee could be made without heating it up, watering it down, or waiting for days? That’s the Osma proposition.
The Osma system is to my knowledge unlike any other brewing method. Essentially what it does is circulate water through the grounds continuously, while agitating them with a sort of standing pressure wave. It produces 8-12 ounces of a coffee that’s less concentrated than espresso, but not as mild as coldbrew, in about two minutes.
“This is a fundamentally new expression of coffee that needs to be experienced,” said Roth when I asked him to characterize the flavor profile. He’d compared it to Kyoto-style slow drip with the added creamy mouthfeel and brighter flavors of espresso, but decided the analogy was imperfect.
His reservation is justified, as the method really is completely different. In addition to using cold water instead of hot and an acoustic wave instead of high pressure to create cavitation, the Osma Pro is unique in that it uses a circulatory process instead of one-way.
Almost all forms of coffee making are unidirectional: water goes in, meets up with the grounds, and coffee comes out — with the exception of percolators, which aren’t exactly the aficionado’s first choice. The Osma method, on the other hand, sucks up the water, passes it through the grounds and agitates it, then puts it back in the same vessel, where it is sucked up and passed through again.
This circular process can be stopped earlier or later, giving a lighter or heavier brew, but there’s a sweet spot at about two minutes that Roth thinks produces the best cup for most purposes.
Creating the system was equal parts serendipity and ingenuity. Roth recalled boiling water at room temperature in a commercial vacuum chamber with his co-founder Dan Yue, which sort of worked but not really, and at any rate wasn’t the type of equipment you could resell to a consumer. Yue speculated that it was the microcavitation process that allowed this extraction without significant heat.
“We verified this with a number of other experiments and confirmed that microcavitation was indeed the magic switch,” Roth said. “From there we spent about two years developing what’s basically a mechanism to efficiently facilitate cavitation using acoustics in a tightly packed basket of ground coffee. With the help and insight of our partners James and Hiver (co-founders of Chromatic Coffee in San Jose) we developed this into the Osma Pro.”
Being able to pull a strong, cold coffee drink with espresso-like and cold brew-like aspects on demand could be a game-changer for coffee shops. At present they have to anticipate demand, making cold brew a day or longer before, risking shortages if demand outstrips supply, or otherwise offer hot coffee poured over ice, an accepted but rather incoherent approach.
At $695 the Osma Pro is a bit expensive for home use, but quite in line with the type of equipment used by most cafés. Like Roth’s other work, the industrial design is simple and beautiful. When you factor in its small footprint (about the size of a standing grinder) and the fact that it frees up valuable fridge space that would otherwise be filled with gallons of coldbrew, it starts to make a whole lot of sense.
Perhaps that’s why an unnamed but apparently major coffee company has indicated interest in partnering with Roth on the machine, as he coyly explained. Selling a couple hundred to boutique coffee shops is nice, and Roth did say that pre-orders are beyond expectations, but a big time partner that could move units in the thousands? That’s the start of a global business empire.
Incidentally the whole thing started with a device that may now sadly be defunct. The first Osma brew I encountered was a portable, battery-powered device Roth sent me in beta form to test out that used biodegradable coffee pods and a scaled-down version of the acoustic agitation process. But this ended up being a sort of development dead end — while an interesting tech demo and pretty good at making coffee, it quickly became clear that the countertop version, which was improving rapidly, was the future of the company.
The only real question now is what to call the drink. I suggested coldpresso (icepresso is more euphonious but too close to the original), Roth thought cold flash but admitted everything he thought up was corny. Whatever it’s called, you can probably expect to start seeing it at your local “serious” coffee spot. If you run one of those or drink enough cold coffee to justify a major purchase, you can get in line to pick up a machine at the Osma website.
Apple’s App Store to face scrutiny in Germany as FCO opens ‘market power’ proceeding
Germany’s competition authority, the FCO, has completed its Big Tech GAFA ‘bingo’ card by opening a proceeding against Apple.
As with similar investigations already opened this year — into Amazon, Facebook and Google — the proceeding will determine whether or not the iPhone maker meets the threshold of Germany’s updated competition law.
The 10th amendment to the law, which came into force in January, enables the Bundeskartellamt to intervene proactively against the practices of large digital companies — if they are determined to have “paramount significance for competition across markets” and in order to prevent them from engaging in anti-competitive practices.
Discussing the key new provision to the Competition Act (aka, the GWB Digitalisation Act and specifically Section 19a) — in a panel discussion last week, the FCO’s president, Andreas Mundt, explained that the competition law update had been influenced by its experience with a long running (and pioneering) case against Facebook’s superprofiling of Internet users.
The upshot is that German competition law now has a theory of harm which entwines competition law and data protection — albeit, in the case of Apple, its tech empire is typically associated with defence (rather than abuse) of user privacy.
But the comprehensive amendments to German antitrust law are broadly targeted at Big Tech, with the goal of keeping markets open, fostering innovation and putting a stop to any abusive behavior, via provisions the FCO will be able to order — such an banning or restricting self-preferencing and bundling; or stopping giants tying products together to try to muscle into adjacent markets; or preventing them blocking interoperability and data access to try to lock out rivals, to name a few.
A mix of provisions are likely to be deployed, as tech giants are designated as addressable under the law, depending on the specifics of each case and the particular ecosystem business. So how it will operate in practice remains to be seen. So far the FCO is still in the process of determining (in each case) whether it can apply the law against GAFA.
For the Apple proceeding, Mundt said in a statement today that its operation of the App Store will be a “main focus” for the investigation because he said it “enables Apple in many ways to influence the business activities of third parties”.
“We will now examine whether with its proprietary operating system iOS, Apple has created a digital ecosystem around its iPhone that extends across several markets,” he added. “Apple produces tablets, computers and wearables and provides a host of device-related services. In addition to manufacturing various hardware products, the tech company also offers the App Store, iCloud, AppleCare, Apple Music, Apple Arcade, Apple TV+ as well as other services as part of its services business. Besides assessing the company’s position in these areas, we will, among other aspects, examine its extensive integration across several market levels, the magnitude of its technological and financial resources and its access to data.”
The FCO also noted that it has received a number of complaints against Apple “relating to potentially anti-competitive practices” — such as one from the advertising and media industry against Apple restricting user tracking with the introduction of its iOS 14.5 operating system; and a complaint against the exclusive pre-installation of the company’s own applications as a possible type of self-preferencing prohibited under Section 19a GWB.
“App developers also criticise the mandatory use of Apple’s own in-app purchase system (IAP) and the 30% commission rate associated with this,” it added in a press release. “In this context, the marketing restrictions for app developers in Apple’s App Store are also addressed. The latter complaint has much in common with the European Commission’s ongoing proceeding against Apple for imposing restrictions on the streaming service Spotify and accordingly preferencing its own services. Where necessary, the Bundeskartellamt will establish contact with the European Commission and other competition authorities in this regard. So far, no decision on initiating a further proceeding has been taken.”
Apple was contacted for comment on the FCO’s proceeding and it sent us this statement, attributed to a spokesperson:
“Apple is proud to be an engine for innovation and job creation, with more than 250,000 jobs supported by the iOS app economy in Germany. The App Store’s economic growth and activity have given German developers of all sizes the same opportunity to share their passion and creativity with users around the world while creating a secure and trusted place for customers to download the apps they love with the privacy protections they expect. Germany is also home to Apple’s largest engineering hub in Europe, and a new €1BN investment in our European Silicon Design Center in Munich. We look forward to discussing our approach with the FCO and having an open dialogue about any of their concerns.”
Once issued by the FCO, a ‘paramount significance’ finding lasts for five years — while any legal challenges to orders made under Section 19a are intentionally expedited, with appeals going direct to Germany’s Federal Court of Justice (which is given exclusive competence). The goal being to avoid long drawn out litigations, as has occurred in the FCO’s case against Facebook’s superprofiling — which had legal questions referred to the CJEU back in March, some five years after the Bundeskartellamt began looking into Facebook’s data practices.
The coming months and years could be highly significant to how GAFA is able to operate in Europe’s largest economy — and, likely by extension, further afield in Europe and beyond as a number of jurisdictions are now paying active attention to how to regulate Big Tech.
Back in March, for example, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority opened its own probe into Apple’s App Store. Simultaneously it’s working on reforming national law to create a ‘pro-competition’ for regulating tech giants.
While, last December, European Union lawmakers proposed the Digital Markets Act — also aiming to tackle the power market of so-called ‘gatekeeper’ platforms.
The FTC appointing Lina Khan as chair also appears to signify a change of direction on tech antitrust over in the US.
Crypto finance startup Amber Group raises $100M at $1B valuation
More mainstream venture capital firms are jumping on the crypto bandwagon as investors increasingly consider bitcoin an investable asset, despite the recent massive price drops of a few major cryptocurrencies. Amber Group, a Hong Kong-based cryptocurrency trading startup, said on Monday it has raised $100 million in a Series B funding round at a pre-money valuation of $1 billion.
The latest valuation is ten times that of the company’s Series A closed in 2019, a $28 million round that counted Coinbase Ventures as one of its investors. Also notably, Amber’s Series B financing was bankrolled by a list of high-profile financial and VC firms, including China Renaissance, which led the round, and Tiger Brokers, Tiger Global Management, Arena Holdings, Tru Arrow Partners, Sky9 Capital, DCM Ventures, and Gobi Partners.
Its past investors Pantera Capital, Coinbase Ventures, and Blockchain.com also participated in the round.
In May, Babel Finance, another crypto asset manager based out of Hong Kong, secured $40 million in funding from a number of big-name institutional investors, including Amber’s investor Tiger Global.
Founded by a group of former investment bankers in their twenties, Amber initially set out to apply machine learning algorithms to quantitative trading but pivoted in 2017 to crypto when the team saw spikes in virtual currency’s trading volumes. The startup now serves both institutional and individual investors, offering them algorithmic trading, electronic market-making, high-frequency trading, OTC trading, borrowing and lending, derivatives, among other products.
The firm launched its mobile app in the third quarter of 2020, widening its scope from institutional clients to retail consumers. It said the trading app has so far accumulated over 100,000 registered users.
Amber has been profitable since its inception, according to its co-founder and CEO Michael Wu, with annualized revenues of $500 million based on figures from January to April 2021.
The startup has seen “record months over the past quarter across both client flow and on-exchange market-making volumes,” said Wu, and it now accounts for “2-3% of total trading volumes in major spot and derivative markets.” Its cumulative trading volumes have doubled from $250 billion since the beginning of the year to over $500 billion. Altogether, it manages around $1.5 billion in trading capital that varies based on BTC and ETH prices.
Amber has over 330 employees worldwide across Hong Kong, Taipei, Seoul, and Vancouver. The proceeds from its Series B will go towards global expansion.
Dollars, deals and the importance of nondilutive capital
Today, on Juneteenth, we recognize the efforts this nation still needs to put toward addressing structural racism and disparities, including in the world of tech.
This week, HBCUvc, a nonprofit that aims to diversify the world of venture capital, launched a million-dollar fund. Founder Hadiyah Mujhid told me that the capital would provide nondilutive financing to overlooked founders, which they define as Black, Indigenous and LatinX entrepreneurs, replacing the traditional angel round. But she also admitted that supporting founders wasn’t the only primary goal. Instead, she explained to me the importance of what she defines as “teaching capital.”
Similar to how teaching hospitals give aspiring doctors a way to practice and learn their craft before formally entering the field, the fund wants to do that for their some 230 aspiring investors that they already work with, many stemming from historically Black colleges and universities. Notably, nondilutive capital provides entrepreneurs with funding sans equity and a learning experience with lower stakes.
There are a lot of organizations right now that are starting funds [with] the primary goal of supporting founders. And that’s a goal of ours, but we’re hoping to have a ripple effect of training and really providing on-ramps for the next best-in-class investors … and in order to do that, they have to have a training vehicle.
While I’m not always a fan of rebranded names for capital, “teaching capital” is certainly a compelling framing. Track record is everything in this industry, and underrepresented folks often don’t have the benefit or privilege of access on their side — from a dollar or deals perspective. Scout programs have long existed to fill this gap, but I think that there is still a lacking of intentionality around who feels empowered to write an investment memo, ask questions and be new. This week, BLCK VC launched its scout program and Google for Startups launched a nondilutive financing instrument for Black founders, underscoring a growing focus in seeding diverse entrepreneurs.
HBCUvc’s fund was announced nearly one year after it almost shut down due to a lack of capital. Mujhid explained how the unjust killing of George Floyd led to the biggest one-day donation in her nonprofit’s lifetime, which “changed the trajectory of programming.” She also said that a lot of interest was a knee-jerk reaction, urging people to view this work as a long-term commitment.
Down the creative capital rabbit hole we go:
In the rest of this newsletter, we’ll get into Waymo’s latest raise, the Nubank EC-1 and a Pittsburgh event that I can’t wait to nerd out about.
Waymo gets way more
Image Credits: Bryce Durbin
Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving arm, raised $2.5 billion in its second-ever institutional round. Investors include Alphabet, Andreessen Horowitz, AutoNation, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Fidelity Management & Research Company, Temasek and, of course, Tiger Global.
Here’s what to know: Waymo is going external after some internal shuffling. The funding comes only months after CEO John Krafcik stepped down from his title after spending five years in that position. Last month, Waymo lost its CFO and head of partnerships.
For more, here are my favorite recaps of TC Sessions: Mobility:
The Nubank EC-1
Another week, another EC-1! Marcella McCarthy wrote about Nubank, a Brazillian credit card and banking fintech company that just last week raised at a $30 billion valuation. It’s one of the most valuable startups in the world, with over 40 million users.
Here’s what to know: As McCarthy puts it in the piece, Nubank started by trying to solve a massive challenge: “How to rebuild the concept of a bank in a country where banking is widely hated, all while the incumbents heavily entrenched with the state worked to block every move.” Maybe, the story goes on to tell, it would start with California Street.
Check out each installment of the series below:
In May, thousands of you read my Duolingo EC-1, a deep dive into Pittsburgh’s favorite edtech unicorn. Now, we’re taking you to Pittsburgh to hear from Karin Tsai, the head of engineering there, as well as Carnegie Mellon University President Farnam Jahanian, Mayor Bill Peduto and a smattering of local startups.
Across the week
Seen on TechCrunch
Seen on Extra Crunch
Thanks for reading, as always. Take care everyone!
This Week in Apps: Spotify debuts a Clubhouse rival, Facebook tests Audio Rooms in US, Amazon cuts Appstore commissions
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 continues to grow, 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 more Clubhouse competitors, including Facebook’s first test of its Live Audio Rooms in the U.S. and Spotify’s launch of its Greenroom app for live discussions across an array of topics. Also, Amazon is reducing its Appstore fees, after similar moves by Apple and Google.
This Week in Apps will soon be a newsletter! Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters
Spotify launches its Clubhouse competitor
In March, Spotify announced it was acquiring the company behind the sports-focused audio app Locker Room to help speed its entry into the live audio market. This week, the company made good on that deal with the launch of Spotify Greenroom, a new mobile app and likely Clubhouse rival, that allows Spotify users worldwide to join or host live audio rooms, and optionally turn those conversations into podcasts.
The Spotify Greenroom app itself is based on Locker Room’s existing code, with the earlier Locker Room app basically updating to become Greenroom. To join the new app, Spotify users sign in with their current Spotify account information. They’re then walked through an onboarding experience designed to connect them with their interests. Spotify considers the app a soft launch, as it has plans to announce shows later this summer. It’s also funding shows through a new Creator Fund, whose details have not yet been revealed at this time.
Longer-term, the company believes it will be able to take advantage of its personalization tech to make smart recommendations about live shows, based on what music or podcasts a user listens to, and could notify users when favorite creators go live.
The bigger advantage Spotify has here is that its Greenroom sessions are recorded. After a show wraps, the creator can request an audio file which they can then turn into a podcast episode. This ability to straddle both worlds of live and recorded audio could prove to be more useful as the post-COVID world opens up, and users are no longer stuck at home, bored, able to tune in at any time to audio programs.
Amazon lowers its cut of app developer revenues
Amazon this week quietly announced it would follow in the footsteps of app store giants Apple and Google with its introduction of the Amazon Appstore Small Business Accelerator Program. The new program will reduce the commissions Amazon takes on app developer revenues for qualifying smaller businesses. Previously, Amazon’s Appstore took a 30% cut of revenue, including that from in-app purchases. Now, it will take only 20% from developers who earned up to $1 million in the prior calendar year. The company also said developers with less than $1 million in Appstore revenue in a calendar year will receive 10% of their revenue as promotional credit for AWS services, bringing the total program benefits up to an equivalent of 90% of revenue.
The program’s overall structure is similar to Apple’s App Store Small Business Program, announced in late 2020, which reduced Apple’s cut to 15% for developers who earn up to a $1 million threshold, after which they’re moved to the higher 30% standard rate. This rate then continues as they enter the following year. Google, more recently, took a slightly different course, by lowering the commissions to 15% on the first $1 million of developer revenue earned through the Play billing system each year.
The lack of attention to Amazon’s announcement, both in the developer community and by press, demonstrates how inconsequential Amazon’s own Appstore has become in the greater app ecosystem.
Android announced several new features which will roll out this summer, including starring text messages to easily find them later, getting contextual Emoji Kitchen suggestions depending on what you’re typing, as well as updates that emphasize security, safety and accessibility. The latter include updates to Google Assistant, Android Auto and Google’s Gaze detection feature.
A teardown of the newly released Google Play Services app (v.21.24.13) suggests Google is working on a “Find My Device” network that would allow Android users to locate your phone and other devices, similar to Apple’s “Find My.”
Google apps will return to Honor devices with the launch of the Honor 50 series devices. The company had not been able to ship Google apps, including the Play store, on its phones due to parent company Huawei’s placement on the U.S.’s entity list, which forced Google to pull its license. But Huawei sold off Honor last year, allowing it to work with Google again.
Google introduced AppSearch in Jetpack, which is now available in Alpha. AppSearch is an on-device search library that provides high-performance and feature-rich full-text search functionality, said Google, and lives completely on-device, allowing for offline search.
Mobile-first marketplace OfferUp, which connects local buyers and sellers, hired a new CEO. The company brought on former Booking.com managing director Todd Dunlap as CEO, while co-founder and former CEO Nick Huzar will remain as chief product officer.
After lawsuits, injuries and deaths, Snapchat finally removed its controversial “speed filter” which displays how fast a user was going at the time of posting. Critics argued the sticker encouraged reckless driving, as teens would try to post themselves traveling at excess speeds.
Snapchat launched Creative Kit for Spotlight, which will allow third-party apps to publish directly to Snap’s TikTok rival, Spotlight, similar to TikTok’s SDK. Early adopters include Videoleap, Beatleap by Lightricks, Splice, Powder and Pinata Farms.
ByteDance revenues more than doubled in the past year thanks to TikTok. According to an internal memo, ByteDance saw a 111% increase in revenues, to $34.3 billion, and a 93% increase in gross profit, to $19 billion in 2020.
Instagram’s TikTok rival, Reels, is rolling out ads worldwide. The ads will be up to 30 seconds in length, like Reels themselves, and vertical in format, similar to ads found in Instagram Stories. Also like Reels, the new ads will loop, and people will be able to like, comment on, and save them, the same as other Reels videos.
Twitter said it’s considering a new feature that would allow users to untag themselves from tweets, in order to control unwanted attention, like harassment and abuse. The feature could be useful when troll armies attack at scale before a user can block and report attacks or Twitter has a chance to respond.
WhatsApp for iOS is making it easier for users to search for stickers. With a coming update, already live on TestFlight, users will be able to type a word or emoji and WhatsApp will animate the sticker button if a matching sticker is found.
Streaming & Entertainment
Apple Podcasts Subscriptions went live across more than 170 countries and regions this week. First unveiled this spring, subscriptions allow listeners to unlock additional benefits for their favorite podcasts, including things like ad-free listening, early access to new episodes, bonus material, exclusives or whatever else the podcast creator believes will be something their fans will pay for.
✨ Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg this week hosted the first test of Facebook’s Clubhouse competitor, Live Audio Rooms, in the U.S. The exec was joined by Facebook VP and Head of Facebook Reality Labs Andrew “Boz” Bosworth, Head of Facebook App Fidji Simo and three Facebook Gaming creators. It’s pretty incredible that Zuckerberg only months ago was appearing on Clubhouse to talk about the future of audio-based networking before essentially cloning the Clubhouse experience for Facebook’s own platform.
Streaming app Deezer launched a new iOS app, Deezer for Creators, which allows musicians and podcasters to track trends, audience insights and more, similar to Spotify for Artists.
An app for pirated movies and TV that disguised itself as a Sudoku game climbed up the App Store charts this week, before being pulled by Apple. The app, Zoshy+, seems to have circumvented App Review by taking advantage of server-side controls.
In a change that represents a significant shift underway in the creators economy, TikTok signed on as creator conference VidCon’s title sponsor for 2021, taking the spot formerly held by YouTube. The latter will still be involved as a secondary sponsor.
Apple-owned music identification and discovery app Shazam announced this week it had surpassed 1 billion Shazams per month. The company noted it took 10 years for Shazam to reach its first billion tags. Less than 10 years after that, Shazam has crossed 1 billion monthly recognitions and has successfully matched over 50 billion tags with over 51 million songs. At WWDC, Apple announced its plans for Shazam’s future with the launch of ShazamKit, which brings Shazam’s audio identification capabilities to third-party apps.
Popular mobile game PUBG Mobile returned to India after being banned more than nine months ago. The game was banned as part of the country’s decision to boot out over 200 apps with links to China due to national security concerns. The new game has been rebranded to Battlegrounds Mobile India, but is largely the same same as before, but “with data compliance, green blood, and a constant reminder that you’re in a ‘virtual world’ with such messaging present as you start a game and when you’re in menus,” said IGN India editor Rishi Alwani.
Pokémon Go creator Niantic is working with Hasbro on a new AR game. Transformers: Heavy Metal, is being built by Very Very Spaceship for Niantic, and is scheduled for a 2021 release. The company has around a dozen games in development, including a collaboration with Nintendo to adapt its Pikmin game, and a game based on the board game Settlers of Catan.
An upcoming Apple Arcade update will bring a new, special edition of Alto’s Odyssey, a new Angry Birds title called Angry Birds Reloaded and a remastered Doodle God Universe. The update will be the largest since April.
Amazon’s cross-platform cloud gaming service Luna will open up priority access during Prime Day, June 21-22, meaning all Prime members will be able to access the service without an invite.
Mobile users worldwide downloaded 30% more games in the first quarter of 2021 than in the fourth quarter of 2019, and spent a record-breaking $1.7 billion per week in mobile games in Q1 2021, up 40% from pre-pandemic levels, per a new App Annie/IDC report.
An email that surfaced during the Epic trial discussed the issue of Apple’s Files app ranking first when users searched for a competitor’s app, Dropbox, for 11 months. The app had been manually boosted, the emails seemed to reveal. But Apple this week stated the issue was due to the Files app having a Dropbox integration. Apple put Dropbox in the metadata, causing it to rank higher — an explanation that doesn’t match up with the internal emails.
Third-party Alexa devices can now incorporate setup for their products in the Alexa app, thanks to an update to Alexa Voice Services.
Although Samsung’s SmartThings is no longer making its own smart home hardware, the company this week launched a new SmartThings mobile app on Android, which aims to make it simpler to get to actions and automations. The app includes a new Favorites section to replace the existing home screen, a Life section where users can explore new SmartThings services, plus pages for Devices, Automations and a Menu. The iPhone version will arrive soon.
An update to the Wyze mobile app added support for Google Home and Google Assistant, allowing users to control smart home devices with voice commands.
Government & Policy
A report published this week by U.S. advocacy group Fight for the Future and China-based GreatFire highlighted government censorship of LGBTQ+ apps around the world, due to government restrictions. It documented 1,377 cases of app access restrictions across 152 App Stores. However, the study contained several inaccuracies, Apple pointed out. For example, Grindr and Scruff are both available worldwide in the App Store, despite what the report said. Also, none of the 27 apps mentioned in the report with regard to China had been removed by Apple. Of the total 64 apps monitored, only four had been removed by a particular country because of legal issues.
Security & Privacy
A security bug in Google’s Android app, installed over 5 billion times, could have allowed attackers to steal personal data from a user’s device. Google says it fixed the vulnerability last month and found no evidence it had ever been exploited.
💰 Messaging social network IRL raised $170 million in a Series C round led by SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2, valuing the social events calendar and group chat app at $1.17 billion. New investor Dragoneer also participated in the oversubscribed round, alongside returning investors Goodwater Capital, Founders Fund and Floodgate. To date, IRL has raised over $200 million.
🤝 Delivery service Gopuff, which is available on web and mobile, acquired fleet management platform rideOS for $115 million. This acquisition comes a few months after the delivery startup announced a $1.15 billion funding round at a $8.9 billion valuation.
🤝 Spotify acquired Podz, a podcast delivery platform focused on solving issues around podcast discovery. Podz has been using machine learning to choose clips that can help introduce shows to new listeners. The startup had raised $2.5 million in pre-seed funding ahead of its acquisition. Deal terms weren’t disclosed.
📈 PUBG Mobile maker Krafton is preparing to raise $5 billion in a South Korean IPO, expected to be the country’s largest ever. The company will sell more than 10 million shares at 458,000 won to 557,000 won apiece, a filing said. It will finalize the price July 9 and list on July 22.
💰 Mobile banking app Novo, which targets an SMB customer base, raised $40.7 million in Series A funding, after growing its user base to 100,000 businesses.
💰 Mobile banking app FamPay, aimed at Indian teens, raised $38 million in Series A funding. Investors include Elevation Capital, General Catalyst, Rocketship VC, Greenoaks Capital, and others, and makes for one of India’s largest Series A rounds to date.
💰 Apna, a jobs app built by an Apple alum, raised $70 million in Series B funding co-led by Insight Partners and Tiger Global, valuing the business at $570 million. The app aims to help blue and gray-collar workers upskill themselves, find communities, and land jobs.
🤝 WordPress.com owner Automattic acquired popular journaling app Day One. The app has been downloaded more than 15 million times since its March 2011 launch on the Mac and iTunes App Store, offering users a private place to share their thoughts. Since then, it’s been awarded the App Store Editor’s Choice, App of the Year and the Apple Design Award, along with praise from various reviewers. Deal terms were not disclosed. Day One had been bootstrapped and self-funded for 10 years. The app will further integrate with other Automattic-owned writing platforms, including WordPress.com and Tumblr.
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