App Store advertising expands, Google Play plans for safety, Epic v. Apple trial begins – TechCrunch

by Joseph K. Clark

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest mobile O.S. 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 spending 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 T.V. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live T.V. per day but now spends four hours 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 up 27% year-over-year.

This week, we’re looking at the Apple-Epic Trial, Apple’s App Store advertising expansion, App Tracking Transparency opt-in rates, TikTok’s new SDKs for third-party apps, Google’s plans for its take on privacy labels, and more.

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Apple-Epic Trial kicks off.

This was the first week of the Epic Games antitrust lawsuit against Apple over App Store fees, and already it’s yielding some exciting content — mainly thanks to the internal Apple emails that have become part of the Trial’s exhibits. So far, we’ve learned how Apple thought about App Store fees in the past, have gotten a peek inside internal conversations, known of special deals it cut for Hulu, and how it felt about punishing Netflix for ditching IAP, among other things.

Google Play

Here are some of the highlights you may have missed.


  • A decade ago, Apple’s App Store head Phil Schiller, previously Apple’s marketing chief, questioned if the 70/30 split would last. In an email to Eddy Cue, he suggested that once the App Store reached $1 billion in profitability, Apple should cut its fees to 20-25%.
  • Despite having said he’s fighting for all developers, Epic CEO Tim Sweeney in court admitted he would have accepted a special deal for a lower commission if Apple had offered one.
  • Apple is disputing testimony from financial researcher Ned Barnes, which said the App Store had operating margins of almost 78% in 2019. Barnes said he had access to P&L estimates for the fiscal year 2020 and statements from 2013-15, which aided his calculations. Apple rebutted that it doesn’t allocate costs for the App Store, so any documents discussing it wouldn’t have included expenses.


  • Apple’s App Store VP Matt Fischer was questioned over a 2016 email where an employee said Fischer felt strongly about not featuring competitor apps on the App Store. Fischer said the employee who wrote the email was “very misinformed,” Apple had promoted competitors long before he joined the team in 2010.

App Store rejections

  • Apple said it rejected 33-36% of apps submitted to the App Store from 2017-2019. Despite the many rejections, less than 1% of developers appeal to Apple’s decision. Most of the decisions about sacrifices are still upheld.
  • 2017: 5.177 million submissions, 1.69 million rejections (33%)
  • 2018: 4.79 million submissions, 1.7 million rejections (35%)
  • 2019: 4.8 million submissions, 1.74 million rejections (36%)

Juicy emails

  • Apple offered Hulu and others special deals that gave them App Store API access. In a 2018 email, an Apple exec confirmed Hulu was one of the allowed developers given access to the subscription cancel/refund API, which they had been using since 2015 to support instant upgrades using a two-family setup before subscription upgrade/downgrade capabilities were built.
  • Emails revealed Apple tried to convince Netflix not to drop support for IAPs and questioned whether it should take punitive measures when Netflix’s tests were underway.
  • Apple emails revealed internal conflict over the launch of App Store ads before launch, saying that ads would be at odds with Apple’s statements that it makes products without monetizing users.

Other tidbits

  • Fischer said he was “blindsided” by the payment update that kicked off Epic’s battle with the App Store, noting that the developer and Apple had previously had a good relationship. He recalled dropping everything to promote Fortnite’s Travis Scott concert on the App Store, which he described as a “really cool concept.”
  • Fortnite made more than $9 billion in 2018 and 2019. It will make $5.1 billion in 2020.
  • Fortnite may return to iOS through Nvidia’s cloud streaming service, GeForce NOW.
  • It was revealed that Epic paid Sony additional royalties beyond the 70/30 split to compensate for cross-play. Apple argues it’s being singled out over the 30% cut when Epic paid more to Sony but didn’t go after the console maker with the same complaint.
  • Apple and Epic had once planned a subscription bundle that offered Fortnite Crew, Apple Music, and Apple TV+ a $20/mo package. Each subscription revenue cut would have been based on whether the user signed up through Apple or Fortnite.

Google to add a “Safety” section on Google Play in 2022

Months after Apple’s App Store introduced privacy labels for apps; Google says its mobile app marketplace, Google Play, will follow suit… sort of. The company this week pre-announced its plans to introduce a new “safety” section in Google Play, rolling out in Q2 2022, which will require app developers to share what sort of data their apps collect, how it’s stored, and how it’s used.

This includes what personal information their apps collect, like users’ names or emails, and whether it contains data from the phone, like the user’s precise location, media files, or contacts. Apps will also need to explain how the app uses that information — for example, for enhancing the app’s functionality or personalization purposes — and include their privacy policy; otherwise, they face “policy enforcement.”

But where Apple’s labels focus on what data is being collected for tracking purposes and what’s linked to the end-user, Google’s additions seem to be more about whether or not you can trust the data being collected is being handled responsibly by allowing the developer to showcase if they follow best practices around data security. It also gives the developer a way to make a case for why it collects data on the listing page itself. And Google says developers can showcase if their labels have been independently verified.

TikTok Login and more integrations are coming to third-party apps.

TikTok is expanding its integrations with third-party apps. The company announced the launch of two new SDKs, the TikTok Login Kit, and Sound Kit, that will allow apps on mobile, web, and consoles to authenticate users via their TikTok credentials, build experiences that leverage users’ TikTok videos, and share music and sound back to TikTok from their apps. The Login Kit allows an app’s users to sign in quickly using their TikTok login credentials, similar to other social logins offered by Facebook or Snap. Once signed in, users can access their TikTok videos in the third-party app, potentially fueling entire new app ecosystems with TikTok content. Meanwhile, the Sounds Kit will let app users share their sounds or music back to TikTok as sounds.

Early adopters of Login Kit include gaming clips apps Allstar and Medal; anti-anxiety app Breathwork; social app IRL; food reviews app Burpple; dating and friend-making apps Snack, Lolly, MeetMe, Monet, Swipehouse, and EME Hive; creator tool provider Streamlabs; video game PUBG; and forthcoming NFT platform Neon. Sound Kit’s adopters include mobile multi-track recording studio Audiobridge; music creation and collaboration suite LANDR; hip hop music creation app Rapchat; and upcoming audio recording and remix app Yourdio.

Apple expands App Store advertising.

As Apple cracks down on the ad tech industry’s ability to personalize ads using user data, it expands its advertising business with a new App Store ad slot. The ad will appear in the Suggested section at the top of the list of apps. The latest and more prominent ad placement is found on the App Store’s Search tab, seeing millions of visits from Apple device owners every month.

Like Apple’s existing Search results campaigns, there’s no minimum spend required for a Search tab campaign, as these ads are called. Apple says developers can spend as little or as much as they want, then start, stop, or adjust the campaign anytime. Ad pricing is based on a cost-per-thousand-impressions (CPM) model. Impressions are counted when at least 50% of the ad is visible for one second. The actual cost results from a second price auction, which calculates what the developer will pay based on the next closest bidder’s willingness.

Platforms: Apple

✨ Although a poll indicated iOS 14.5 users might be more willing to allow apps to track them than previously thought, Flurry’s app data shows that few are opting in. After upgrading to the new version of iOS, only 4% of U.S. iPhone users havU.S.abled app tracking. Worldwide, the number jumps to 12%.

Apple apologizes and refunds a woman $1,116.32 after her 9-year-old son (with autism spectrum disorder) racked up charges on mobile games like Roblox and Coin Master. The son had memorized the mom’s Apple ID password, which he entered when asked to authorize the purchase. The son said he didn’t understand the games cost money. Apple had initially refused to refund the money, prompting Global News’ Consumer Matters to step in and help.

Apple snags a former Google A.I. research scientistA.I.Samy Bengio, to work on Siri. He will lead a new A.I. research unit alonA.I.ide another ex-Googler, John Giannandrea, focused on making Siri more of a Google Assistant competitor.

Apple released iOS 14.5.1, which included a bug fix for App Tracking Transparency, which prevented some users from seeing the ATT prompts.

Platforms: Google

The Google Play Store in India paused auto-renewals and free trials amid new rules on recurring transactions from India’s central bank and financial regulator, the Reserve Bank of India. In an email to developers, Google said the features would be paused while “ecosystem challenges are addressed.”

Some users aren’t happy with the recent Play Store redesign, making it harder to see a list of your recently updated apps or those you’re beta testing.

Google releases Android Studio 4.2 in the stable release channel. The focus areas for this release are an upgraded IntelliJ platform and a handful of new features centered around improving developers’ productivity.

Augmented Reality

Snap will launch a new Creator Marketplace later this month, initially focusing on connecting A.R. Lens Creators with A.R. businesses and brands who want to run A.R. ads. It will then allow A.R.pand to support all Snap Creators by 2022. It also announced a new lineup of Originals, including TikTok stars Charli and Dixie D’Amelio, Megan Thee Stallion, and others.


A California regulator asked top neo-banking app Chime to stop calling itself a “bank” in its website URLs and advertising. Chime updated its website to make it clear it’s not a bank. The app is not a bank — it offers front-end banking services to customers, but the accounts themselves are held with Chime’s banking partners, The Bancorp Bank and Stride Bank, both FDIC members. ‘Expect other neobanks to follow suit soon.

WhatsApp Pay is rolling out to users in Brazil on iOS and Android. The P2P payments feature requires the user to have a Mastercard or Visa debit card in one of the following banks: Banco Does Brazil, Banco Inter, Bradesco, Itaú, Mercado Pago, Next, Nubank, Sicredi, or Woop Sacred. The feature is also living in India.


Twitter expanded its Clubhouse rival, Twitter Spaces, to all users with 600 followers or more. The company says this number will allow users a good experience, but it still plans to expand to all users.

Twitter launched a Tip Jar feature on mobile that lets users tip people directly on their user profile. The component supports payment platforms PayPal, Venmo, Patreon, Cash App, and Bandcamp.

Twitter also rolled out an improved version of its “reply prompts” feature to cut down on harmful tweets. The part, now globally available in English on mobile, shows a prompt asking users to reconsider their language when they are about to tweet something mean.

And Twitter rolled out a new feature that lets you post bigger images on iOS and Android without cropping the images. (Busy week!)

Instagram is rolling out a captions sticker for Stories and soon Reels. The sticker, which only works in English, can be customized with your preferred style, color, and text.

Most WhatsApp users have accepted the controversial privacy update, and Facebook said this week that the company continues to grow its user base. Facebook’s family of apps had 3.45 billion MAUs as of March 31, 2021, up from 3.3 billion on December 31 and 3.21 billion on September 30. The company won’t deactivate accounts for not accepting the new policy but will keep reminding them.

Facebook opens registration for F8 Refresh, accessible to all developers worldwide. Sessions will include Facebook Business Messaging, Research, Open Source, login, Business Tools, AR, Stories, Gaming, Startups, and more.

Facebook is launching its Nextdoor clone, Neighborhoods, across Canada and, soon, the U.S. Unlike with FaceU.S. Groups, Facebook users on Neighborhoods can create separate sub-profiles that include a custom bio and list of interests, which is included in a Neighborhoods Directory. Neighborhoods will also have moderators who review posts and comments and can hide posts that violate guidelines.

A court ruled Snap could be sued for its role in a fatal car crash that killed three young adults. The boys were using Snap’s controversial “speed filter” that shows your real-life speed when the 17-year-old driver accelerated the car to 123 MPH and then crashed into a tree. The parents sued Snap, saying it knowingly created a dangerous game in the app and bore some responsibility.

Facebook notes its Workplace business networking service now has 7 million paid subscribers, up 40% YoY. Customers now include Virgin Atlantic, Walmart, Telefónica, BT,, Deliveroo, AstraZeneca, Starbucks, and Save the Children.

Facebook and Instagram’s prompt asks its users to opt into tracking on iOS 14. The pop-up says tracking enables personalized ads, supports businesses, and “helps keep Facebook free of charge.” x uses scare tactics that suggest that Facebook could start charging for its app if users didn’t agree to follow.


Signal claimed Facebook rejected its ads and disabled its ad account to run an ad campaign that showed the amount of data Instagram and Facebook collected on users. Facebook responded that this campaign was a marketing “stunt,” and Signal never tried to run the ads. It also claimed that Signal was showing off screenshots when its account was disabled briefly in March for an unrelated issue. If Signal’s being dishonest here, that’s not a good look for an app asking consumers to trust them.

Instagram adds new chat themes featuring Star Wars characters and Netflix’s “Selena: The Series,” stickers celebrating Asian and Pacific Islanders for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and a read receipts feature for D.M.s. Another new featD.M.s are available first on iOS, allowing Instagram users to reply with a photo or video in D.M.s.

On Messenger, the feature no longer requires users to hold the button to record the message. It also introduced a swipe to archive in Messenger and a new Archived Chats folder on mobile.

Streaming & Entertainment

Google rolled out a new feature to Android tablets called “Entertainment Space, “which offers a personalized home page featuring the user’s favorite movies, shows, videos, games, and books. Each user on the tablet can have their own personalized profile and Google notes. This saves the user time hopping between different apps to find something to do, whether playing, watching, or reading.

Is Clubhouse’s hype wearing off? App downloads were 900,000 in April, down from February’s 9.6 million. To combat the decline, Clubhouse released its Android app to public testing this week and announced its “pilot season” of new shows it’s considering funding through its accelerator.

YouTube’s TikTok rival “Shorts” is now rolling out to all creators in the U.S. and will replacU.S.e “Explore” tab on the app’s home screen.

Soundcloud partners with Triller on an integration that will add a Soundcloud-curated playlist feature into the short-form video app. Soundcloud has offered curated programs to other platforms, including SiriusXM, Dash Radio, and Australia’s Southern Cross Austereo.

Amazon says its free, ad-supported streaming service IMDb T.V. will have its own T.V.andalone mobile app later this summer.


Sensor Tower reports that Twitch’s mobile app hits 22 million global installs in the first quarter of 2021, up 62% YoY. The appended 2020 with 80.6 million installs, up 134% from 34.5 million for 2019.

PUBG Mobile will relaunch in India as Battleground Mobile. The mobile game was initially banned in the country alongside 200 other apps with links to China. South Korean developer Krafton didn’t say if it had talked to India’s government or received permission but will launch new restrictions to protect minors and their privacy.

Health & Fitness

The Facebook app added a vaccine finder in India and announced a $10 million grant to support emergency response efforts in the country.


Tinder says it’s rolling out a new 48-hour in-app event called “Vibes,” which combines the real-time push notifications from Swipe Surge with the on-profile icebreakers from Swipe Night. Vibes will present users with questions ranging from personality traits to pop culture. People’s answers will be displayed on their profiles for 72 hours.

Tinder parent Match Group also posted better-than-expected earnings for its first quarter and an upbeat revenue outlook, saying it’s seeing a more robust recovery in areas with higher vaccination rates.

Government & Policy

China said 33 apps, including map navigation software from Baidu and Tencent, violated regulations around collecting user data. The app developers were given ten working days to fix issues or be subject to penalties.

? Music-making app Rapchat raised $2.3 million in funding co-led by Sony Music Entertainment and NYC VC firm Adjacent. The company has around 7 million registered users; 250,000 songs have been created from a catalog of about 100,000 beats by 500,000 MAUs.

? Twitter acquired the distraction-free reading service Scroll to beef up its subscription product. In the future, Premium subscribers will pay to read the news without ads or website clutter via Scroll. Unfortunately, Scroll’s news aggregator Nuzzel has already shut down.

? Brazil fintech alt. bank, which offers a mobile banking app and debit card, raised $5.5 million in Series A funding led by Union Square Ventures. The app has been downloaded nearly 1 million times but doesn’t disclose its many active users.

? Finnish mobile games company Supercell extends a $180 million credit line to fellow Finnish games company Metascore, the maker of the popular title Merge Mansion, which has 800,000 daily players.

? Cosmetic treatment review website and app RealSelf acquired YNS Group, a portfolio of websites that will give RealSelf a more international footprint.

? Fortnite maker Epic Games acquired the artist community ArtStation, where many artists upload work made with Epic’s Unreal Engine. The company immediately dropped commissions on sales from 30% to 12% — clea, aiming a point about a fair commission structure amid its Trial with Apple over App Store fees.

? Sony announced an investment and partnership with Discord to bring the chat app to PlayStation. The investment amount was not disclosed but gave Sony a minority stake. The news follows reports that Discord walked away from a $10 billion acquisition offer from Microsoft.

? Zynga is acquiring mobile ad and monetization firm Chartboost for $250 million. The deal brings mobile game marketing, advertising, and monetization in-house when Apple’s privacy push makes targeting mobile ads more difficult.

? Performance marketplace Perform, which offers technology to online and mobile marketers to help scale customer acquisitions, has been acquired by U.S. equity firm BeriU.S. Capital.

? Virtual chronic condition care app Vida Health raised $110 million in Series D funding from General Atlantic, Centene, and AXA Venture Partners. The company connects users with a personal health coach who guides them through programs for various chronic conditions, including diabetes management, weight loss, and mental health support.

? Connectcam raises $37 million from Insight Partners, O.G. Tech, and others. O.G. is a smartphone app that helps employers manage remote, deskless workers.

? Edtech website and app maker Kahoot acquires Clever, a startup that built a single sign-on portal for digital learning classrooms used by 65% of U.S. K-12 schools. values Clever between $435 million and $500 million.

? Avatar app Genies raised $65 million in Series B funding led by Mary Meeker’s firm Bond. The app, whicusers build their digital personas, is n andw expanding into NFTs.

? Canadian fintech Wealthsimple raised CAD 750 million (~$610 million) at a post-money valuation of CAD 5 billion (~$4 billion). Meritech and Greylock led the round.

News in Bullets

But we wish they’d double down on a newsreels feature — a TikTok for news videos. This mobile news application lets you set your language and locale, then read throucustomized news summariesyou. Right now, it presents a robotic narration of headlines overtop video news footage that you then swipe through or double-tap to like, as you would on TikTok. This could be even more useful if the app would partner with news publishers already producing quality video content and make those the central focus of the video feed.

The Oregon Trail

This new Apple Arcade title refreshes the original 1970s text-based strategy game with 12 playable journeys where every decision can impact your party and outcome. Players pick their traveling party and stock their wagon with supplies, then try to make it to Oregon by surviving random events like broken limbs, snowstorms, snakebites, and more.


Brave’s mobile browser Brave’s playlist feature offers quick access to your favorite audio and video content.

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