This Week in Apps: Apple appeals Epic Games suit, Google files a counterclaim and Twitter adds more ads – TechCrunch

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 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 suggestions about new apps and games to try, too.
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Image Credits: Epic Games

Image Credits: Epic Games
As the Apple v. Epic Games lawsuit goes under appeal, Google this week filed an answer and counterclaim in the Epic Games’ antitrust litigation against the company. The tech giant and Android maker denies Epic’s allegations of antitrust behavior and instead says that it’s owed relief, as Epic Games breached the Google Play Developer Distribution Agreement (DDA) by allowing Fortnite players who download the app through Google Play to use Epic’s own payment processing technology.
This situation is similar to what took place on the App Store, where Epic Games updated its app to workaround App Store policies, and then facilitated payments through its own payments system, in violation of its legal contract with Apple. The court’s decision in Apple’s case was that Epic owed financial relief to Apple, to the tune of $6 million.
Epic Games did much of the same thing on Google Play, the counterclaim alleges. Last year, Epic submitted a build of Fortnite to Google Play which used Epic’s own direct payments system and not Google Play Billing. This submission was immediately rejected for failing to comply with Google’s policies. Epic then submitted a compliant version in April 2020, which Google now describes as “an act of deception designed to provoke litigation.” The new version had concealed Epic’s payment system in an update that was sent to both Apple and Google’s app stores. This would allow Epic to switch over to its own payment system by applying a server-side configuration change, or “hotfix,” without Google’s knowledge.
That switch was flipped on August 13, 2020. It allowed Fortnite users to choose between Google Play Billing and Epic’s own direct payments system. Now Google wants to recoup the money lost to this version, as those who downloaded the app from the Play Store could continue to use Epic’s billing, even after the app was pulled down.
Epic’s position has been that Apple and Google’s requirement to use their own in-app payment systems exclusively is a monopolistic practice that disadvantages developers. In Apple’s case, the court agreed that Apple should not block developers from sharing a link to other payment methods inside their own app or communicating to customers. It did not declare Apple a monopoly. Despite the largely favorable ruling, Apple decided to appeal its case this week, after Epic filed its own appeal.
The key factor to Apple’s appeal is that it’s also asking the court to put a hold on it having to implement changes to the App Store’s anti-steering guidelines. That means, instead of permitting developers to add links to their website and other methods of payments, things would continue as is until the appeals case was decided. That could be months or even years from now.
In terms of the antitrust complaint, Google’s situation is a bit different from Apple’s, however. Android already allows for sideloading apps — that means there’s another method of reaching Android users outside Google Play, making an antitrust claim more difficult.

(Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

(Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Twitter says it’s going to test a new ad format and placement on its platform. On Wednesday, Twitter Revenue Product Lead Bruce Falck said Twitter would begin showing ads on mobile devices inside conversation threads after the first, third and eighth replies. While the company stopped short of confirming the change would be permanent, it did say it would experiment with the formula to best determine the insertion points and layouts that made the most sense. Twitter also said it would consider making the display of the ads something creators would opt into, rather than forcing them to accept ads in their threads. In that case, creators would also see a share of ad revenue, Twitter said.
The company historically has struggled to grow its user base by significant numbers, meaning it’s had to get more creative with maximizing the revenue it’s able to extract from its existing users. Despite a flurry of new product development — which has included creator tools, subscriptions, audio chat rooms, tipping and more — Twitter has not yet had a runaway hit. For example, third-party data indicated recently Twitter’s new creator platform called Super Follow had only generated around $6,000 in its first two weeks live in the U.S. and Canada, or perhaps a bit more ($12,400 during 17 days in September, according to a second firm’s analysis).
Meanwhile, Twitter made a promise to investors that it will be able to double its revenue from $3.7 billion in 2020 to $7.5 billion or more in 2023. If the new products don’t turn a sizable profit, increasing Twitter’s ad load could help. Unfortunately, monetizing conversations like this could encourage users to post more content they hope to make viral. That could impact Twitter’s content and culture. Twitter is already a place that tends to reward a sort of performative type of user — like those posting snark, jokes, angry tweets and other emotive content; tying tweets’ “virality” to creator revenue could push Twitter even further away from the genuine, thoughtful conversations the company claims it wants to host.

Image Credits: Google

Image Credits: Google

Image Credits: Facebook

Image Credits: Facebook

Image Credits: WhatsApp

Image Credits: WhatsApp

Image Credits: Roblox

Image Credits: Roblox

Image Credits: Tinder

Image Credits: Tinder

Image Credits: Disney

Image Credits: Disney
💰 Nigerian neobank Sparkle closed on $3.1 million in seed funding to continue to scale the company, which now includes support for SMBs, in addition to consumers.
💰 Berlin-based health tech app Mayd raised €13 million ($15 million) in seed funding from 468 Capital, Earlybird and Target Global for its app that delivers medications to Europeans’ doors in as fast as 30 minutes.
💰 Digital lending startup Tala raised $145 million for its Android app used by more than 6 million customers across Kenya, the Philippines, Mexico and India. Upstart, a company founded by ex-Googlers Dave Girouard, Anna Counselman and Paul Gu, led the round.
💰 Intro, an app that connects experts with those in need of advice through personalized video calls, raised a $10 million seed round, led by Andreessen Horowitz. Other investors include Seven Seven Six, CAA founder Michael Ovitz, Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon, 23 & Me CEO Anne Wojcicki, Kevin Durant and Tiffany Haddish.
🤝  Mobile app monetization provider InMobi acquired London-based performance insights platform Appsumer. According to InMobi, Appsumer’s self-serve tech platform, intellectual property and team will support InMobi’s end-to-end content, monetization and marketing stack following the deal’s closure. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.
💰 Mental healthcare app ThoughtFull raised $1.1 million in seed funding in one of the largest seed rounds raised for a digital mental health startup in Southeast Asia. Investors include The Hive SEA, Boston-based Flybridge and Vulpes Investment Management, as well as family offices and angels in the Asia Pacific region.
💰 French startup Swile raised $200 million in Series D funding, led by SoftBank Group International. The round values the business at $1 billion or more. Swile allows users to add the meal vouchers provided by their company to its app alongside their personal bank card. This has allowed it to capture a 13% market share on meal vouchers in the country.
💰 Indian fintech app CRED is in talks to raise additional funds at a $5.5 billion valuation, just weeks after it was finalizing a round of over $200 million at a pre-money valuation of ~$3.75 billion from Tiger Global, Falcon Edge Capital and others.
🤝  Corporate travel booking and expenses app Lola was acquired by Capital One, in a deal that included both the team and tech. All of Lola’s contracts were terminated, refunds issued and the app shut down.
💰 Mental health app MentalHappy launched its app for low-cost peer support groups, backed by $1.1 million in seed funding from Northwestern Mutual Future Ventures and YC.
💰 Mobile gaming startup Homa Games raised $50 million in Series A funding led by Northzone. The company specializes in hypercasual, casual, and board games, and has developed an all-in-one SDK that helps developers optimize their mobile games through analytics and A/B testing.

Image Credits: Clash

Image Credits: Clash
When Trump’s ban on TikTok failed, the short-form video app Byte exited to rival Clash — an admission of sorts that TikTok’s momentum couldn’t be beaten if it was allowed to remain in the U.S. This week, Byte’s new owner Clash relaunched its app with the “best of Byte” under the hood alongside a suite of creator tools for monetizing a fan base. And this time, the focus isn’t on beating TikTok, but working in parallel alongside it. The newly rebuilt Clash app introduces a set of tools for creators and their fans, including a virtual tipping mechanism called Drops (not to be confused with product drops, popular in e-commerce) and a paid messaging system called Fanmail. The idea is that Clash would be used with a creator’s most loyal fans who would like to have more exclusive access, a closer connection or behind-the-scenes content, among other things. Creators can cash out when they’ve earned at least $25 in Drops. The app relaunched in Byte’s place on the App Store and is arriving on Android soon. (Read the full review here.)

Image Credits: ustwo games

Image Credits: ustwo games
The popular, but now older, puzzle game Monument Valley 2 from ustwo games just added a new chapter four years after its launch. The special chapter is called “The Lost Forest,” and is an eco-friendly update designed to promote forest conservation. Players will be encouraged to sign the Play4Forests petition for forest conservation. Said the company, the new addition is its “contribution to the Playing For The Planet Green Game Jam.”

Image Credits: Wisdom

Image Credits: Wisdom
U.K.-based social audio startup Wisdom launched its new app that’s a cross between Clubhouse and MasterClass. The app offers a way for users to join audio conversations, where they can either listen or ask questions, both live and on-demand. The advice could be focused on any broad range of topics, including parenting, dating, career, finance, mental health, well-being, fitness, etc. A recommendation algorithm intends to match users to interests. At launch, 10,000 experts are signed up to offer their advice. 
 

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