Архив рубрики: Apps

Daily Crunch: Apple removes Fortnite from the App Store

Epic Games takes on Apple, Instagram fixes a security issue and Impossible Foods raises $200 million. This is your Daily Crunch for August 13, 2020.
The big story: Apple removes Fortnite from the App Store
The controversy over Apple’s App Store policies has expanded to include Epic Games and its hit title Fortnite. The company introduced a direct payment option for its in-game currency on mobile, leading Apple to remove the app for violating App Store rules.
“Epic enabled a feature in its app which was not reviewed or approved by Apple, and they did so with the express intent of violating the App Store guidelines regarding in-app payments that apply to every developer who sells digital goods or services,” Apple said.
Epic, meanwhile, said it’s taking legal action against Apple, and that the game’s removal is “yet another example of Apple flexing its enormous power in order to impose unreasonable restraints and unlawfully maintain its 100% monopoly over the iOS In-App Payment Processing Market.”
The tech giants
Bracing for election day, Facebook rolls out voting resources to US users — The hub will centralize election resources for U.S. users and ideally inoculate at least some of them against the platform’s ongoing misinformation epidemic.
Instagram wasn’t removing photos and direct messages from its servers — A security researcher was awarded a $6,000 bug bounty payout after he found Instagram retained photos and private direct messages on its servers long after he deleted them.
Slack and Atlassian strengthen their partnership with deeper integrations — At the core of these integrations is the ability to get rich unfurls of deep links to Atlassian products in Slack.
Startups, funding and venture capital
Impossible Foods gobbles up another $200 million — Since its launch the plant-based meat company has raised $1.5 billion from investors.
Omaze raises $30 million after expanding beyond celebrity campaigns — The Omaze model has shifted away from celebrity-centric campaigns to include fundraisers offering prizes like an Airstream Caravel or a trip to the Four Seasons resort in Bora Bora.
We’re exploring the future of SaaS at Disrupt this year — We’re bringing Canaan Partners’ Maha Ibrahim, Andreessen Horowitz’s David Ulevitch and Bessemer Venture Partners’ Mary D’Onofrio together to help explain how the landscape has changed.
Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch
How to get what you want in a term sheet — Lior Zorea discusses the reality of term sheets.
Five success factors for behavioral health startups — Courtney Chow and Justin Da Rosa of Battery Ventures argue that behavioral health is particularly suited to benefit from the digitization trends COVID-19 has accelerated.
Minted.com CEO Mariam Naficy shares ‘the biggest surprise about entrepreneurship’ — Naficy got into the weeds with us on topics that founders don’t often discuss.
Everything else
Digital imaging pioneer Russell Kirsch dies at 91 — It’s hard to overstate the impact of his work, which led to the first digitally scanned photo and the creation of what we now think of as pixels.
AMC will offer 15-cent tickets when it reopens 100+ US theaters on August 20 — The theater juggernaut announced plans to reopen more than 100 theaters in the U.S. on August 20.
The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Daily Crunch: Apple removes Fortnite from the App Store

Serialized fiction startup Radish raises $63.2M from SoftBank and Kakao

Radish is announcing that it has raised $63.2 million in new funding.
Breaking up book-length stories into smaller chapters that are released over days or weeks is an idea that was popularized in the 19th century, and startups have been trying to revive it for at least the past decade. Still, this round represents a major step up in funding, not just for Radish (which only raised around $5 million previously), but also compared to other startups in a relatively nascent market. (Digital fiction startup Wattpad is the notable exception.)
When I first wrote about Radish at the beginning of 2017, the startup was focused on user-generated content. Last year, however, the company launched the Radish Originals program, where Radish is able to produce more content using teams of writers lead by a “showrunner,” and where the startup owns the resulting intellectual property.
“Instead of becoming YouTube or Wattpad for serial fiction, we want to be more like Netflix and create our own originals,” founder and CEO Seungyoon Lee told me. “I got a lot of inspiration from platforms in Korea, China and Japan, where serial fiction is huge and established on mobile.”
One of the ideas Radish took from the Asian markets is rapidly updating its stories. For example, its most popular title, “Torn Between Alphas” (a romance story with werewolves) has released 10 seasons in less than a year, with each season consisting of more than 50 chapters — later seasons have more than 100 chapters — that are released multiple times a day.

Digital publisher Serial Box raises $4.5M

“On Netflix, you can binge-watch three seasons of a show at once,” Lee said. “On Radish, you can binge-read a thousand episodes.”
While Radish borrowed the writing room model from TV — and hired Emmy-winning TV writers, particularly those with a background in soap operas — Lee said it’s also taken inspiration from gaming. For one thing, it relies on micro-payments to make money, with users buying coins that allow them to unlock later chapters of a story (chapters usually cost 20 or 30 cents, and more chapters get moved out from behind the paywall over time). In addition, the company can allow reader taste to determine the direction of stories by A/B testing different versions of the same chapter.
Lee pointed to the fall of 2019 as Radish’s “inflection point,” where the model really started to work. Now, the company says its most popular story has made more than $4 million and has received more than 50 million “reads.” Radish stories are mostly in the genres of romance, paranormal/sci-fi, LGBTQ, young adult, horror, mystery and thriller, and Lee said the audience is largely female and based in the United States.
By raising a big round led by SoftBank Ventures Asia (the early-stage investment arm of troubled SoftBank Group) and Kakao Pages (which publishes webtoons, web novels and more, and is part of Korean internet giant Kakao), Lee said he can take advantage of their expertise in the Asian market to grow Radish’s audience in the U.S. That will mean accelerating content production in the hopes of creating more hit titles, and also spending more on performance marketing.
“With its own fast-paced original content production, Radish is best positioned to become a leading player in the global online fiction market,” said SoftBank Ventures Asia CEO JP Lee in a statement. “Radish has proven that its serialized novel platform can change the way people consume online content, and we are excited to support the company’s continued disruption in the mobile fiction space. Leveraging our global SoftBank ecosystem, we hope to support and accelerate Radish’s expansion across different regions worldwide.”

Backed by author Amy Tan, mobile fiction startup Radish raises $3M

Serialized fiction startup Radish raises $63.2M from SoftBank and Kakao

Facetune maker Lightricks brings its popular selfie retouching features to video

Lightricks, the startup behind a suite of photo and video editing apps — including most notably, selfie editor Facetune 2 — is taking its retouching capabilities to video. Today, the company is launching Facetune Video, a selfie video editing app, that allows users to retouch and edit their selfie and portrait videos using a set of A.I.-powered tools.
While there are other selfie video editors on the market, most today are generally focused on edits involving filters and presets, virtually adding makeup, or using AR or stickers to decorate your video in some way. Facetune Video, meanwhile, is focused on creating a photorealistic video by offering a set of features similar to those found in Lightricks’ flagship app, Facetune .
That means users are able to retouch their face with tools for skin smoothing, teeth whitening, and face reshaping, plus eye color, makeup, conceal, glow, and matte features. In addition, users can tweak tools for general video edits, like adjusting the brightness, contrast, color, and more, like other video editing apps allow for. And these edits can be applied in real-time to see how they look as the video plays, instead of after the fact.
In addition, users can apply the effect to one frame only and Facetune Video’s post-processing technology and neural networks will simultaneously apply an effect to the same area of every frame throughout the entire video, making it easier to quickly retouch a problem area without having to go frame-by-frame to do so.
“In Facetune Video, the 3D face model plays a significant role; users edit only one video frame, but it’s on us, behind-the-scenes, to automatically project the location of their edits to 2D face mesh coordinates derived from the 3D face model, and then apply them consistently on all other frames in the video,” explains Lightricks co-founder and CEO Zeev Farbman. “A Lightricks app needs to be not only powerful, but fun to use, so it’s critical to us that this all happens quickly and seamlessly,” he says.
Users can also save their favorite editing functions as “presets” allowing them to quickly apply their preferred settings to any video automatically.
In a future version of the app, the company plans to introduce a “heal” function which, like Facetune, will allow users to easily remove blemishes.
Image Credits: Lightricks
The technology that makes these selfie video edits work involves Lightricks’ deep neural networks that utilize facial feature detection and geometry analysis for the app’s retouching capabilities. These processes work in real-time without having to transmit data to the cloud first. There’s also no lag or delay while files are rendering.
In addition, Facetune Video uses the facial feature detection along with 3D face modeling A.I. to ensure that every part of the user’s face is captured for editing and retouching, the company says.
“What we’re also doing is taking advantage of lightweight neural networks. Before the user has even begun to retouch their selfie video, A.I.-powered algorithms are already working so that the user experience is quick and interactive,” says Farbman.
The app also does automated segmentation of more complex parts of the face like the interior of the eye, hair, or the lips, which helps it achieve a more accurate end result.
“It’s finding a balance between accuracy in the strength of the face modeling we use, and speed,” Farbman adds.
One challenge here was overcoming the issue of jittering effects, which is when the applied effect shakes as the video plays. The company didn’t want its resulting videos to have this problem, which makes the end result look gimmicky, so it worked to eliminate any shake-like effects and other face tracking issues so videos would look more polished and professional in the end.
The app builds off the company’s existing success and brand recognition with Facetune. With the new app, for example, the retouch algorithms mimic the original Facetune 2 experience, so users familiar with Facetune 2 will be able to quickly get the hang of the retouch tools.
Image Credits: Lightricks
The launch of the new app expands Lightricks further in the direction of video, which has become a more popular way of expressing yourself across social media, thanks to the growing use of apps like TikTok and features like Instagram Stories, for example.
Before, Lightricks’ flagship video product, however, was Videoleap, which focused on more traditional video editing, and not selfie videos where face retouching could be used.
Facetune has become so widely used, its name has become a verb — as in, “she facetunes her photos.” But it has also been criticized at times for its unrealistic results. (Of course, that’s more on the app’s users sliding the smoothing bar all the way to end.)
Across its suite of apps, which includes the original Facetune app (Facetune Classic), Facetune 2, Seen (for Stories), Photofox, Video Leap, Enlight Quickshot, Pixaloop, Boosted, and others, including a newly launched artistic editor, Quickart, the company has generated over 350 million downloads.
Its apps also now reach nearly 200 million users worldwide. And through its subscription model, Lightricks is now seeing what Farbman describes as revenues that are “increasing exponentially year-over-year,” but that are being continually reinvested into new products.
Like its other apps, Facetune Video will monetize by way of subscriptions. The app is free to use by will offer a VIP subscription for more features, at a price point of $8 per month, $36 per year, or a one-time purchase of $70.
Facetune 2 subscribers will get a discount on annual subscriptions, as well. The company will also sell the app in its Social Media Kit bundle on the App Store, which includes Facetune Video, Facetune 2, Seen and soon, an undisclosed fourth app. However, the company isn’t yet offering a single subscription that provides access to all bundled apps.

Facetune maker Lightricks brings its popular selfie retouching features to video

Bangladesh regulator orders telcos to stop providing free access to social media

Bangladesh’s regulator has ordered telecom operators and other internet providers in the nation to stop providing free access to social media services, becoming the latest market in Asia to take a partial stand against zero-rating deals.
Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission, the local regulator, said late last week that it had moved to take this decision because free usage of social media services had spurred their misuse by some people to commit crimes. Local outlet Business Standard first reported about the development. Bangladesh is one of the largest internet markets in Asia with more than 100 million online users.
Technology companies such as Facebook and Twitter have struck partnerships, more popularly known as zero-rating deals, with telecom operators and other internet providers in several markets in the past decade to make their services free to users to accelerate growth. Typically, tech companies bankroll the cost of data consumption of users as part of these deals.
In Bangladesh, such zero-rating deals have been popular for several years, said Ahad Mohammad, chief executive of Bongo, an on-demand streaming service, in an interview with TechCrunch (Extra Crunch membership required) .
Grameenphone and Robi Axiata, two of the largest telecom operators in Bangladesh, enable their mobile subscribers to access a handful of services of their partners even when their phones have run out of credit. Both telecom firms have said they are in the process to comply with Dhaka’s order.
It remains unclear whether Free Basics, a program run by Facebook in dozens of markets through which it offers unlimited access to select services at no cost, will continue its presence in Bangladesh after the nation’s order. Facebook relies on telecom networks to offer data access for its Free Basics program.
In Bangladesh, Facebook struck deals with Grameenphone and Robi Axiata, according to its official website, where Facebook continues to identify Bangladesh among dozens of markets where Free Basics is operational.
Several nations in recent years have balked at zero-rating arrangements — though they have often cited different reasons. India banned Free Basics in early 2016 on the grounds that Facebook’s initiative was violating the principles of net neutrality.
Free Basics also ended its program in Myanmar and several other markets in 2017 and 2018. Facebook did not respond to requests for comment.

Bangladesh regulator orders telcos to stop providing free access to social media

After numerous rejections, Struck’s dating app for the Co-Star crowd hits the App Store

Founded by former Apple engineers, a new app called Struck wants to be the Tinder for the Co-Star crowd. In other words, it’s an astrology-based matchmaker. But it took close to 10 attempts over several months for the startup to get its app approved by Apple for inclusion in the App Store. In nearly every rejection, app reviewers flagged the app as “spam” either due to its use of astrology or, once, simply because it was designed for online dating.
Apple continually cited section 4.3 of its App Store Review Guidelines in the majority of Struck’s rejections, with the exception of two that were unrelated to the app’s purpose. (Once, it was rejected for use of a broken API. Another rejection was over text that needed correction. It had still called itself a “beta.”)
The 4.3 guideline is something Apple wields to keep the App Store free from what it considers to be clutter and spam. In spirit, the guideline makes sense, as it gives Apple permission to make more subjective calls over low-quality apps.
Today, the guideline states that developers should “avoid piling on to a category that is already saturated,” and reminds developers that the App Store has “enough fart, burp, flashlight, fortune telling, dating, and Kama Sutra apps, etc. already.”
In the document, Apple promises to reject anything that “doesn’t offer a high-quality experience.”
Image Credits: Struck
This guideline was also updated in March to further raise the bar on dating apps and create stricter rules around “fortune-telling” apps, among other things.
Struck, unfortunately, found itself in the crosshairs of this new enforcement. But while its app may use astrology in a matchmaking process, its overall design and business model is nowhere close to resembling that of a shady “fortune-telling” app.
In fact, Struck hasn’t even implemented its monetization model, which may involve subscriptions and à la carte features at a later date.
Rather, Struck has been carefully and thoughtfully designed to provide an alternative to market leaders like Tinder. Built by a team of mostly women, including two people of color and one LGBTQ+ team member, the app is everything mainstream dating apps are not.
Image Credits: Struck
Struck doesn’t, for example, turn online dating into a Hot-or-Not style game. It works by first recommending matches by way of its understanding of users’ detailed birth charts and aspects. But you don’t have to be a true believer in astrology to enjoy the experience. You can use the app just for fun if you’re open-minded, the company website says. “Skeptics welcome,” it advertises.
And while Tinder and others tend to leverage psychological tricks to make their apps more addictive, Struck aims to slow things down in order to allow users to once again focus on romance and conversations. There are no endless catalogs of head shots to swipe upon in Struck. Instead, it sends you no more than four matches per day and you can message only one of the four.
Image Credits: Struck
The app’s overall goal is to give users time to analyze their matches’ priorities and values, not just how they appear in photos.
If anything, this is precisely the kind of unique, thoughtfully crafted app the App Store should cater to, not the kind it should ban.
“We come from an Apple background. We come from a tech background. We were very insistent on having a good, quality user interface and user experience,” explains Struck co-founder and CEO Rachel Lo. “That was a big focus for us in our beta testing. We honestly didn’t expect any pushback when we submitted to the App Store,” she says.
Image Credits: Struck
But Apple did push back. After first submitting the app in May, Struck went through around nine rounds of rejections where reviewers continued to claim it was spam simply for being an astrology-based dating application. The team would then pull out astrology features hoping to get the app approved… with no luck. Finally, one reviewer told them Struck was being rejected for being a dating app.
“I remember thinking, we’re going to have to shut down this project. There’s not really a way through,” recounts Lo. The Struck team, in a last resort, posted to their Instagram page about their struggles and how they felt Apple’s rejections were unfair given the app’s quality. Plus, as Lo points out, the rejection had a tinge of sexism associated with it.
“Obviously, astrology is a heavily female-dominated category,” she says. “I took issue with the guideline that says ‘burps, farts and fortune-telling apps.’ I made a fuss about that verbiage and how offensive it is for people in most of the world who actually observe astrology.”
Image Credits: Struck
Despite the founders’ connections within the technology industry, thanks to their ex-Apple status and relationships with journalists who would go on to plead their case, Struck was not getting approved.
Finally, after several supporters left comments on Apple VP Lisa Jackson’s Instagram where she had posted about WWDC, the app was — for unknown reasons — suddenly given the green light. It’s unclear if the Instagram posts made a difference. Even the app reviewer couldn’t explain why the app was now approved, when asked.
The whole debacle has soured the founders on the way Apple today runs its App Store, and sees them supportive of the government’s antitrust investigations into Apple’s business, which could result in new regulations.
“We had no course of action. And it felt really, really wrong for this giant company to basically be squashing small developers, says Lo. “I don’t know what’s going to become of our app — we hope it’s successful and we hope we can build a good, diverse business from it,” she continues. “But the point was that we weren’t even being given the opportunity to distribute our app that we had spent nine months building.”
Image Credits: Struck
Though Apple is turning its nose up at astrology apps, apparently, you don’t have to take astrology to heart to have fun with apps like Struck or those that inspired it, such as Co-Star. These newer Zodiac apps aren’t as obsessed with predicting your future as they are with offering a framework to examine your emotions, your place in the world and your interpersonal relationships. That led Co-Star to snag a $5 million seed round in 2019, one of many astrology apps investors were chasing last year as consumer spend among the top 10 in this space jumped 65% over 2018.
Struck, ultimately, wants to give the market something different from Tinder, and that has value.
“We want to challenge straight men since it is — quote unquote — a traditionally feminine-looking app,” says Lo. “For us, it’s 2020. It’s shocking to us that every dating app looks like a slot machine. We want to make something that has a voice and makes women feel comfortable. And I think our usership split between the genders kind of proved that.”
Struck is live today on the App Store — well, for who knows how long.
It initially caters to users in the Bay Area and LA and will arrive in New York on Friday. Based on user feedback, it will slowly roll out to more markets where it sees demand.

After numerous rejections, Struck’s dating app for the Co-Star crowd hits the App Store