Spotify debuts a Clubhouse rival, Facebook tests Audio Rooms in US, Amazon cuts Appstore commissions – TechCrunch

by Joseph K. Clark

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest 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 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 TV. 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 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 various topics. Also, Amazon is reducing its Appstore fees after similar moves by Apple and Google.

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 is based on Locker Room’s existing code, with the earlier Locker Room app 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 also funding shows through a new Creator Fund, whose details have not yet been revealed.

Longer-term, the company believes it will take advantage of its personalization tech to make intelligent recommendations about live shows based on what music or podcasts a user listens to and could notify users when their favorite creators go live.

Spotify’s more considerable advantage here is that its Greenroom sessions are recorded. After a show wraps, the creator can request an audio file to turn into a podcast episode. This ability to straddle both worlds of live and recorded audio could prove more valuable as the post-COVID world opens up, and users are no longer stuck at home, bored, and able to tune in at any time to audio programs.

Amazon lowers its cut of app developer revenues.

This week, Amazon quietly announced it would follow in the footsteps of app store giants Apple and Google by introducing the Amazon Appstore Small Business Accelerator Program. The new program will reduce Amazon’s commissions on app developer revenues for qualifying smaller businesses. Previously, Amazon’s Appstore took a 30% pay cut, including in-app purchases. It will take 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 would receive 10% of their income 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 the press, demonstrates how inconsequential Amazon’s own Appstore has become in the greater app ecosystem.

Platforms: Google

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, and updates emphasizing 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 their phone and other devices, similar to Apple’s “Find Me.”

With the launch of the Honor 50 series devices, Google apps will return to Honor devices. But Huawei sold off Honor last year, allowing it to work with Google again. The company could not ship Google apps, including the Play store, on its phones due to parent company Huawei’s placement on the U.S. entity list, which forced Google to pull its license.

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 managing director Todd Dunlap as CEO, while co-founder and former CEO Nick Huzar will remain chief product officer.


After lawsuits, injuries, and deaths, Snapchat finally removed its controversial “speed filter, which displays how fast a user was going when 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, allowing 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 long, like the Reels themselves, and vertical in format, similar to those found in Instagram Stories. Also, like Reels, the new ads will loop, and people can like, comment on, and save them, the same as other Reels videos.

Twitter said it’s considering a new feature to allow users to untag themselves from tweets to control unwanted attention, like harassment and abuse. The feature could be helpful 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 future update already live on TestFlight, users will 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 over 170 countries and regions this week. First unveiled this spring, subscriptions allow listeners to unlock additional benefits for their favorite podcasts, including 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 hosted the first test of Facebook’s Clubhouse competitor, Live Audio Rooms, in the U.S. this week. 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. Incredibly, Zuckerberg appeared on Clubhouse only months ago to talk about the future of audio-based networking before cloning the Clubhouse experience for Facebook’s 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 disguised as a Sudoku game climbed up the App Store charts this week before being pulled by Apple. The Zoshy+ app seems to have circumvented App Review by taking advantage of server-side controls.

In a change that represents a significant shift underway in the creator’s 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 that it had surpassed 1 billion Shazams per month this week. The company noted it took ten years for Shazam to reach its first billion tags. Less than ten 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.


The popular mobile game PUBG Mobile returned to India after being banned over nine months ago. The game was banned due to national security concerns and the country’s decision to boot out over 200 apps with links to China. The new game has been rebranded to Battlegrounds Mobile India. Still, it is essentially the 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. 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. Transformers: Heavy Metal is being built by Very Very Spaceship for Niantic and is scheduled for a 2021 release.

An upcoming Apple Arcade update will bring a 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 can 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 on 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 the internal emails.

Home Automation

Thanks to an update to Alexa Voice Services, third-party Alexa devices can now incorporate setup for their products in the Alexa app.

Although Samsung’s SmartThings is no longer making its innovative home hardware, 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 home screen, a Life section where users can explore new SmartThings services, and pages for Devices, Automations, and a Menu. The iPhone version will arrive soon.

The Wyze mobile app update supported Google Home and Google Assistant, allowing users to control smart home devices with voice commands.

Government & Policy

This week, a report by U.S. advocacy group Fight for the Future and China-based GreatFire highlighted government censorship of LGBTQ+ apps worldwide 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, despite the report, Grindr and Scruff are both available worldwide in the App Store. Also, none of the 27 apps mentioned in the information about China had been removed by Apple. Of the 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, available on the web and mobile, acquired fleet management platform rides for $115 million. This acquisition comes a few months after the delivery startup announced a $1.15 billion funding round at an $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 before 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. A filing said that the company would sell more than 10 million shares at 458,000 won to 557,000 won apiece. It will finalize the price on July 9 and the 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 it 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.

? owner Automattic acquired the popular journaling app on Day One. The app has been downloaded over 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 ten years. The app will integrate with other Automattic-owned writing platforms, including and Tumblr.

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