Mark Persaud is digital product manager and practice lead at Moonshot by Pactera, a digital innovation company that leads global clients through the next era of digital products with a heavy emphasis on artificial intelligence, data and continuous software delivery.
2020 has been all but normal. For businesses and brands. For innovation. For people. The trajectory of business growth strategies, travel plans and lives have been drastically altered due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a global economic downturn with supply chain and market issues, and a fight for equality in the Black Lives Matter movement — amongst all that complicated lives and businesses already. One of the biggest stories in emerging technology is the growth of different types of voice assistants: Niche assistants such as Aider that provide back-office support. Branded in-house assistants such as those offered by BBC and Snapchat. White-label solutions such as Houndify that provide lots of capabilities and configurable tool sets. With so many assistants proliferating globally, voice will become a commodity like a website or an app. And that’s not a bad thing — at least in the name of progress. It will soon (read: over the next couple years) become table stakes for a business to have voice as an interaction channel for a lovable experience that users expect. Consider that feeling you get when you realize a business doesn’t have a website: It makes you question its validity and reputation for quality. Voice isn’t quite there yet, but it’s moving in that direction. Voice assistant adoption and usage are still on the rise Adoption of any new technology is key. A key inhibitor of technology is often distribution, but this has not been the case with voice. Apple, Google, and Baidu have reported hundreds of millions of devices using voice, and Amazon has 200 million users. Amazon has a slightly more difficult job since they’re not in the smartphone market, which allows for greater voice assistant distribution for Apple and Google. Image Credits: Mark Persaud But are people using devices? Google said recently there are 500 million monthly active users of Google Assistant. Not far behind are active Apple users with 375 million. Large numbers of people are using voice assistants, not just owning them. That’s a sign of technology gaining momentum — the technology is at a price point and within digital and personal ecosystems that make it right for user adoption. The pandemic has only exacerbated the use as Edison reported between March and April — a peak time for sheltering in place across the U.S.
Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all. The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019. People are now spending three hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In this Extra Crunch series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis. This week, we’re digging into the news of a possible TikTok ban in the U.S. and how that’s already impacting rival apps. Also, both Android and iOS saw beta launches this week — a near-ready Android 11 beta 2 and the public beta of iOS 14. We also look at the coronavirus’ impact on the app economy in Q2, which saw record downloads, usage and consumer spending. In other app news, Instagram launched Reels in India, Tinder debuted video chat and Quibi flounders while Pokémon GO continues to reel it in. Headlines Apple release iOS 14 public beta Image Credits: Apple The much-anticipated new version of the iOS mobile operating system, iOS 14, became available for public testing on Thursday. Users who join the public beta will be able to try out the latest features, like the App Library, Widgets and smart stacks, an updated Messages app, a brand-new Translate app, biking directions in Apple Maps, upgraded Siri and various improvements to core apps like Notes, Reminders, Weather, Home, Safari and others. When iOS 14 launches to the general public, it may also include support for QR code payments in Apple Pay, according to a report of new assets discovered in the code base. Alongside the public beta, developers received their second round of betas for iOS 14, iPadOS 14 and other Apple software. Google’s efforts in speeding up Android updates has been good news for Android 10
Agora isn’t the only company headquartered outside the United States aiming to go public domestically this quarter. After catching up on Agora’s F-1 filing, the China-and-U.S.-based, API-powered tech company that went public last week, today we’re parsing DoubleDown Interactive’s IPO document. The Exchange is a daily look at startups and the private markets for Extra Crunch subscribers; use code EXCHANGE to get full access and take 25% off your subscription. The mobile gaming company is targeting the NASDAQ and wants to trade under the ticker symbol “DDI.” As with Agora, DoubleDown filed an F-1, instead of an S-1. That’s because it’s based in South Korea, but it’s slightly more complicated than that. DoubleDown was founded in Seattle, according to Crunchbase, before selling itself to DoubleU Games, which is based in South Korea. So, yes, the company is filing an F-1 and will remain majority-held by its South Korean parent company post-IPO, but this offering is more a local affair than it might at first seem. Even more, with a $17 to $19 per-share IPO price range, the company could be worth up to nearly $1 billion when it debuts. Does that pricing make sense? We want to find out. So let’s quickly explore the company this morning. We’ll see what this mobile, social gaming company looks like under the hood in an effort to understand why it is being sent to the public markets right now. Let’s go! Fundamentals Any gaming company has to have its fun-damentals in place so that it can have solid financial results, right? Right? Anyway, DoubleDown is a nicely profitable company. In 2019 its revenue only grew a hair to $273.6 million from $266.9 million the year before (a mere 2.5% gain), but the company’s net income rose from $25.1 million to $36.3 million, and its adjusted EBITDA rose from $85.1 million to $101.7 million over the same period.
Games and esports analytics firm Newzoo released its highly cited annual report on the size and state of the video gaming industry yesterday. The firm is predicting 2020 global game industry revenue from consumers of $159.3 billion, a 9.3% increase year-over-year. Newzoo predicts the market will surpass $200 billion by the end of 2023. Importantly, the data excludes in-game advertising revenue (which surged +59% during COVID-19 lockdowns, according to Unity) and the market of gaming digital assets traded between consumers. Advertising within games is a meaningful source of revenue for many mobile gaming companies. In-game ads in just the U.S. drove roughly $3 billion in industry revenue last year, according to eMarketer. To compare with gaming, the global markets for other media and entertainment formats are: Pay TV: $226 billion in 2019 (excludes streaming services) Publishing: $261 billion in 2017, of which books accounted for $121 billion Film: $101 billion in 2019 ($42.5 billion from box office) Music: $62 billion in 2017 ($30 billion recorded music, $6 billion music publishing, $26 billion live music) Board games and playing cards: $12 billion in 2018 Podcasting: $863 million 2020 advertising revenue (there is no good data on subscription and live events revenue in podcasting, but it is fair to estimate it at a fraction of the total ad revenue figure) Counting gamers Of 7.8 billion people on the planet, 4.2 billion (53.6%) of whom have internet connectivity, 2.69 billion will play video games this year, and Newzoo predicts that number to reach three billion in 2023. It broke down the current geographic distribution of gamers as: 1,447 million (54%) in Asia-Pacific 386 million (14%) in Europe 377 million (14%) in Middle East & Africa 266 million (10%) in Latin America 210 million (8%) in North America
The fact that Apple takes a 30% cut of subscriptions purchased via the App Store isn’t news. But since the company threatened to boot email app Hey from the platform last week unless its developers paid the customary tribute, the tech world and lawmakers are giving Apple’s revenue share a harder look. Although Apple’s Senior Vice President of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller denied the company was making any changes, a new policy will let developers challenge the very rules by which they were rejected from the platform, which suggests that change is in the air. According to its own numbers, the App Store facilitated more than $500 billion in e-commerce transactions in 2019. For reference, the federal government has given out about $529 billion in loans to U.S. businesses as part of the Paycheck Protection Program. Given its massive reach, is it time for Apple to change its terms? Will it allow its revenue share to go gently into that good night, or does it have enough resources to keep new legislation at bay and mollify an increasingly vocal community of software developers? To examine these questions, four TechCrunch staffers weighed in: Devin Coldewey Lucas Matney Sarah Perez Darrell Etherington Devin Coldewey: The App Store fee structure “seems positively extortionate” Apple is starting to see that its simplistic and paternalistic approach to cultivating the app economy may be doing more harm than good. That wasn’t always the case: In earlier days it was worth paying Apple simply for the privilege of taking part in its fast-expanding marketplace. But the digital economy has moved on from the conditions that drove growth before: Novelty at first, then a burgeoning ad market supercharged by social media. The pendulum is swinging back to more traditional modes of payment: one-time and subscription payments for no-nonsense services. Imagine that! Combined with the emergence of mobile platforms not just as tools for simple consumption and communication but for serious work and productivity, the stakes have risen. People have started asking, what value is Apple really providing in return for the rent it seeks from anyone who wants to use its platform? Surely Apple is due something for its troubles, but just over a quarter of a company’s revenue? What seemed merely excessive for a 99-cent app that a pair of developers were just happy to sell a few thousand copies of now seems positively extortionate. Apple is in a position of strength and could continue shaking down the industry, but it is wary of losing partners in the effort to make its platform truly conducive to productivity. The market is larger and more complicated, with cross-platform and cross-device complications of which the App Store and iOS may only be a small part — but demanding an incredibly outsized share. It will loosen the grip, but there’s no hurry. It would be a costly indignity to be too permissive and have its new rules be gamed and hastily revised. Allowing developers to push back on rules they don’t like gives Apple a lot to work with but no commitment. Big players will get a big voice, no doubt, and the new normal for the App Store will reflect a detente between moneyed interests, not a generous change of heart by Apple.