Архив рубрики: TC

Cozy houseplants and self-care: How one startup is reimagining mobile gameplay as a healing activity

Mobile well-being apps topped 1.2 billion downloads last year, while leading meditation app Calm alone pulled in $118.2 million in revenue, data from Sensor Tower indicates. That may leave some to believe the digital well-being market is essentially solved, but a new startup, Lumi Interactive, believes the opposite is true. The Melbourne-based, women-led company has identified a under-explored niche in the mobile market that involves translating offline, self-care activities into games as a means of reducing our collective stress and anxiety.
While most mobile games focus on having users compete against one another or achieve some sort of goal, the startup’s forthcoming title Kinder World’s main aim is to help users relax. It accomplishes this through short, snack-sized sessions where it asks players to care for virtual houseplants by taking care of themselves in the real world.
In the game, players are encouraged to perform simple acts of kindness — like practicing daily gratitude, for example — in order to improve their own well-being and that of the game’s wider community. The game features a variety of non-stressful activities — like watering houseplants, interacting with animal neighbors and decorating a cozy room with plants, among other things.
Image Credits: Lumi Interactive
In some ways, this recalls how many of us spent months in creative play during the height of the pandemic engaged with games like Animal Crossing, the popular Nintendo game whose pressure-free environment helped many relax and pass the time under COVID-19 lockdowns. In Animal Crossing, players designed indoor and outdoor spaces, shopped for outfits and home accessories, planted flowers and chitchatted with animal pals.
As it turns out, the pandemic played a big role in Lumi Interactive’s founding, too, the company told TechCrunch.
“In late 2020, we were a small team of three, exhausted by the pandemic and a hard year for the business,” explains Lumi Interactive co-founder and CEO Lauren Clinnick. “We decided to take two weeks to refresh ourselves with a game jam to make something totally new, and mental well-being was very much on our minds. We’d also all become closer to nature over the harsh Melbourne lockdowns and wanted to examine why houseplants had become part of a self-care routine for so many people we knew,” she says.
That gave rise to a question as to whether houseplant care could be brought into the digital world, and the team prototyped Kinder World as a result.
“It had a spark of something special after just two weeks, and the concept tested very strongly with our target audience straight away,” Clinnick says.
Both Clinnick and Lumi Interactive co-founder Christina Chen had a background in gaming before founding their new company and had known each other for nearly a decade. Clinnick first entered the games industry as a marketing consultant for games like Crossy Road, co-founded a boutique games marketing agency, then moved into direct games development. Chen, meanwhile, had a technical background that saw her working on payments at Xbox Live and later as a senior producer at PopCap in Shanghai before co-founding games publisher Surprise Attack (now known as Fellow Traveller).
The duo had bonded over their mutual love for data, underserved player communities and the new opportunities they believed were still on the horizon for mobile gaming, Clinnick says.
Image Credits: Lumi Interactive
As the team investigated the idea for a more collaborative, self-care-focused title, they discovered that many of today’s consumers weren’t finding satisfaction with mainstream well-being apps.
“When we actually interviewed users — especially Gen Z and millennial women and nonbinary folks — we found that 97% had dropped out of apps like Headspace and Calm, citing they ‘felt like work’ or became another thing for them to fail at,” says Clinnick. “Instead they often have fragmented relaxation hobbies such as gaming, houseplants, Squishmallow collecting, crafting and ASMR. These are mostly distraction activities that helped their short-term anxiety but didn’t help them build important resilience skills in the long term,” she says.
Lumi Interactive responded to this feedback by making sure their game was designed in a way where you couldn’t fail, no matter how you played. For instance, all the activities in the game are optional and the virtual houseplants will never die.
“We’ve consciously made these choices to prevent a burdened feeling for players,” says Clinnick. 
In keeping with a strategy to co-develop the game along with their community, the startup turned to TikTok to test various elements, like game design, the art style and to find out what interested their users.
Now a full-time team of 12 and growing, Lumi Interactive closed on $6.75 million in seed funding in March in a round led by a16z — which it’s officially announcing this week. Other investors include 1Up Ventures, Galileo Ventures, Eric Seufert’s Heracles Capital and Double Loop Games’ co-founder and CEO, Emily Greer.
The startup is using the funds to grow the team so it can further develop the larger concept it calls “crowd healing,” informed by Lumi Interactive’s full-time well-being researcher, Dr. Hannah Gunderman, Ph.D. The company believes the idea — which references sharing kindness with others through self-care style gameplay — could become a new gaming category.
Lumi Interactive, of course, is not the first to imagine games that aren’t goal-focused. There are games that are interactive stories or graphic novels or other indie projects, but they often still have the gamer play through the experience to come to a conclusion. Kinder World, meanwhile, would be something players come back to whenever they need to relax, which is why the company is considering a subscription offering, in addition to standard in-app purchases. It’s also exploring online-offline experiences with physical items that could unlock certain game benefits or activities. 
Kinder World is currently in alpha testing on iOS and Android and aims for a full release later in 2022.
Cozy houseplants and self-care: How one startup is reimagining mobile gameplay as a healing activity

Tiger Global backs SaaS omnichannel social commerce platform SleekFlow in $8M funding

Social commerce — the process of buying and selling products or services directly through social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok — is becoming the most natural way for consumers to make purchases since people use social media and messaging apps almost every day.
SleekFlow, an omnichannel social commerce platform that helps businesses build customer flow automation from messaging and live video to transactions, has closed $8 million Series A funding led by Tiger Global Management. Transcend Capital and AEF Greater Bay Area Fund, managed by Gobi Partners GBA, also participated in the round.
“Consumers now spend 80 percent of their time on social platforms, and it is already a habit to discover and buy products directly from here,” said founder and CEO of SleekFlow Henson Tsai. “SleekFlow aims to drive this e-commerce revolution by being the top social commerce unified hub — merging conversations, product catalogs, payment solutions, and order management into one for businesses.”
Image Credits: SleekFlow
Founded in 2019, SleekFlow now serves more than 5,000 businesses across the globe, including NARS Cosmetics, Bossini, Lalamove Hong Kong and PSB Academy. The company claims that it saw approximately 500% revenue growth after its recent pre-Series A funding backed by Alibaba Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund (AHKEF) in May 2021. (SleekFlow did not provide its baseline for that growth.)
The Hong Kong-headquartered startup will use the fresh capital for its market penetration into Southeast Asia, specifically Singapore and Malaysia, as well as the U.K. and other countries in Europe. In addition, the latest funding will enable SleekFlow to enhance its product development with fintech and data analytics functions, one-click checkouts via social media platforms, and easy in-chat payment integrations for online to offline (O2O) and e-commerce brands’ seamless workflow.
The startup has recently launched a fintech product social-to-payment feature to provide a comprehensive solution for both e-commerce and brick-and-mortar businesses. In Southeast Asia alone, about 90% of digital merchants use digital payments for profitability and survival, the company says, adding that the chat-to-checkout tool is significant in driving sales and conversions from various digital sales channels. SleekFlow also introduced a new sales and analytics and customer service performance tracking that helps users track and analyze consumer profiles and behaviors for personalized communications after its partnership with Shopify last November.
The global social commerce market is projected to rise to $6.2 trillion by 2030.
According to the company, one in five dollars spent on retail in Southeast Asia is transacted through social media, and more consumers are looking to businesses offering convenient communications. SleekFlow integrates multiple messaging channels such as Official WhatsApp Business API, Facebook Messenger, Instagram chat, SMS and Telegram to address the challenges of managing multiple messaging and social media platforms.
“Despite the economic downturn, the social commerce market is going stronger than ever, reaching $474 billion in 2021,” Chibo Tang, managing partner of Gobi Partners GBA said in a statement. “Eight in 10 U.S. businesses anticipate increased sales via social media within the next three years. SleekFlow’s innovative solutions will help these global commerce businesses meet the evolving needs of customers who are turning to social channels to purchase more than ever before.”
Slack now has a team of 60 members in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan and the U.K.

FoundersHK, created to strengthen Hong Kong’s startup ecosystem, holds its first demo day

Tiger Global backs SaaS omnichannel social commerce platform SleekFlow in $8M funding

This Week in Apps, Apple WWDC review: Blurred lines, new APIs and a brand-new Lock Screen

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 number of downloads and consumer spending across both the iOS and Google Play stores combined in 2021, according to the latest year-end reports. App Annie says global spending across iOS and Google Play is up to $135 billion in 2021, and that figure will likely be higher when its annual report, including third-party app stores in China, is released next year. Consumers also downloaded 10 billion more apps this year than in 2020, reaching nearly 140 billion in new installs, it found.
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 was 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 much more.
Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters
WWDC Wrap-up
This week, Apple wrapped up its first in-person WWDC since the pandemic began, and while there were no big surprises — like the first look at Apple’s AR smartglasses, for example — the company did announce a solid lineup of new products, services and software. It introduced new MacBook Airs and Pros, its M2 CPU, updated operating systems, Xcode Cloud and tons more developer tools.
Blurred lines
Image Credits: Apple
One theme that jumped out was how Apple is continuing to blur the lines between its different platforms. In macOS Ventura, it’s turning the System Preferences app into a new System Settings app, which looks just like the Settings app you’d find on the iPhone. Meanwhile, Apple’s new iOS 16 Lock Screen is gaining widgets that are inspired by Apple Watch’s complications — and in fact, developers can use the latest version of WidgetKit to build for both the Lock Screen and Watch using the same code.
M1 iPads running iPadOS 16 can take advantage of external displays and the clever multitasking feature, Stage Manager — one of the more exciting software developments to emerge from the event. Stage Manager offers resizable, floating and overlapping windows, plus a way to organize other apps’ windows off to the left side of the screen. It represents one of the biggest pushes yet to make the iPad more of a replacement for a computer, and less of a big-screened iPhone — hence the increased demand for processing power. But now the question users must ask is whether they need a computer at all, or would an iPad and an extra screen do?
Image Credits: Apple
And though Apple didn’t show off any big new projects in terms of hardware, there were suggestions that it’s working toward an AR future when it announced the new ability to integrate ARKit with its Nearby Interaction framework, allowing developers to build more directionally aware AR-powered apps that seem to lay the groundwork for its rumored AR smartglasses.
Plus, for everyone who still dreams of an Apple Car reveal, Apple instead gifted us an updated version of CarPlay that sees Apple working with automakers to integrate a new version of CarPlay that extends to the vehicle’s entire instrument cluster, instead of just the infotainment system. Hopefully, this is not what the rumors meant by an Apple Car! Of course, it will be years before this is actually available to consumers in their vehicles.
Image Credits: Apple
iOS 16 gets messy updated
As for iOS 16, Apple’s Lock Screen update and personalization features are the stars of the latest release. On the one hand, it’s great to have easier access to glanceable information that doesn’t require you to first unlock your iPhone. The new “Live Activities” will be useful too, as they can telegraph real-time information — like an approaching Uber or the latest sports scores — directly to your Lock Screen. This could minimize the need to launch apps for quick updates.
Access to this new screen real estate could inspire a new category of apps, too — the way that the launch of Home Screen widgets drove new apps like Widgetsmith and Brass to the top charts.
But on the other hand, I have this nagging feeling that the iPhone’s user interface is starting to get a little too messy and overcomplicated, while other parts of the experience are undercooked.
Image Credits: Apple
For starters, you can now customize your iOS 16 Lock Screen with a long press that pops you into a new editor interface where you can pick from Apple’s own photos and live wallpapers or your own images, then select your Lock Screen’s widgets, fonts and colors.
Given this new feature is all about redesigning your iPhone’s main interface, it’s disappointing to see Apple failed to deliver a variety of options for beautiful, built-in wallpapers. By comparison, the latest Android release includes some dozen-plus themed wallpaper collections, each with numerous images, as well as a large collection of animated wallpapers. Apple’s default options are embarrassing by comparison. Live weather and space wallpapers? Emojis? A single Pride rainbow option? Those same bouncing bubbles we’ve had for years? Even the options that are new don’t feel very inspired.
Considering Apple is asking us to think about our iPhone’s interface design with this feature, it missed the chance to blow us away with new imagery as the centerpiece for our custom designs which then coordinate with all the new widgets, fonts and colors as fully fleshed-out themes. (And don’t even get me started on how Apple’s app icons don’t match our new themes!)
Image Credits: Apple
Then there are the notifications that now scroll up from the bottom — but only on the Lock Screen. If your phone is unlocked, you still pull down from the top. Frankly, I’ve never liked that there are two different screens to see based on which side of the iPhone notch you pull down from at the top of the screen. It’s personal preference, of course — but I think Android does this better with its own control center that sits above the notifications, all in one view that’s pulled down from the top.
It’s not that we can’t learn to adapt to all these changes and new gestures; it’s just that it feels like it’s time to simplify these things.
For instance, now that we have Home Screen and Lock Screen widgets, it’s probably time to ask if the right-swipe gesture to unlock the “Today View” is something that still needs to exist? It feels like unnecessary clutter at this point. (Sorry Today View fans.)
It’s also much more confusing than it should be to set a different background for your Lock Screen than for the Home Screen, since doing so isn’t a function of the new Lock Screen editor. Instead, you have to return to Settings to adjust the Home Screen’s wallpaper.
In other words, Apple seems to have approached the Lock Screen makeover as if it’s some standalone entity to customize instead of part of a larger iPhone theme and design system. That needs to change. And yes, I am going to point out that by the time the new iOS 16 Lock Screen launches, Android’s theming system and design language Material You will be a year old. You know, the one that lets you personalize the entire Android interface including the lock screen, notifications, settings, widgets, interface elements and even apps. We are not going to talk about how long Android has had widgets.
But yay, new Lock Screen I guess!
Image Credits: Apple
New APIs and developer tools
As for the new developer tools, there were some interesting updates emerging from this year’s WWDC.
Notable new APIs included RoomPlan — to tap into lidar for scanning indoor spaces; WeatherKit — a Dark Sky replacement that offers 500,000 calls/mo free with your Apple developer membership, then pricing that starts at $49.99/mo; LiveText to grab text from photos and paused video frames (video!!!); Focus filters — to show users relevant information based on the Focus mode they’re in; PassKeys to replace passwords with Face ID or Touch ID; ARKit 6, now with 4K video; Metal 3, WidgetKit; App Intents and others.
Image Credits: Apple
What’s great about these tools is that they offer the ability to not just build better apps, but build different types of apps, in some cases. That’s needed, because the App Store doesn’t feel as fresh and exciting as it did in earlier years when we were excited about the concept of running apps on a phone. APIs unlock developer innovation and we’re looking forward to seeing what these new APIs inspire.
Another interesting addition was Developer Mode, which could be laying the groundwork for sideloading if Apple is forced to allow this against its will — though today that’s not the case. Keep an eye on this one.
Image Credits: Apple
There was a lot more from WWDC, including useful updates to Apple’s own apps like being able to unsend messages, schedule emails, pay for purchases later with Apple Pay, track weather natively on iPad, keep up with your medication in the Apple Health app, use the Fitness app without an Apple Watch, better control your smart home and other updates — including little iOS 16 features Apple didn’t even tell us about.
And it teased a forthcoming app, Freeform, that’s an open, collaborative notetaking app that works with Apple Pencil.

Here’s everything Apple just announced at the WWDC 2022 keynote

One more thing…
But before we go, can we talk about this downright magical new iOS 16 Photo cutout feature? With this new feature, a part of Visual Lookup, you can now isolate the subject of the photo from the background, then copy and paste it into another app or a text. If you’ve ever tried to do this using photo-editing tools, you’re going to be surprised not only how easy this is, but also how well it turns out.

Lol iOS 16 can cut out people from photos pic.twitter.com/rBmmZPgcxa
— Poke (@Pokediger1) June 6, 2022

On the Lock Screen, this capability can separate the photo subject from the background of the wallpaper too, which makes for a layered look where the date and time and other elements can be behind the subject but in front of the photo’s background. Apple really undersold this one during the keynote.
You’ve got to try it yourself. This is the best new thing.
Image Credits: Apple
Weekly News
Platforms: Google
Just ahead of Apple’s WWDC keynote, Google announced its latest Pixel feature drop. The release included Conversation Mode in Sound Amplifier to help the hard of hearing; air quality alerts; support for Nest Doorbell video feeds on the lock screen; a flashlight reminder (when it’s left on); a music and video editing app called Pocket Operator (created in partnership with Teenage Engineering and available for download on the Play Store); and other features.

Google released Android 13, beta 3 for Pixel devices, and announced Android 13 had reached platform stability. That means the developer APIs and app updates are now final. Android 13 brings a bevy of new features, including more personalization options with themed icons, permission-based changes to push notifications, more granular file system controls, a new photo/video picker, better support for tablets and foldables and much more.
Google also announced the launch of its initial developer previews for Privacy Sandbox on Android and said it will have more developer previews coming soon, as well as a beta later this year.
E-commerce
Image Credits: Amazon
Amazon tapped into augmented reality in an attempt to appeal to sneakerheads shopping its site. The retailer announced a new feature called “Virtual Try-On for Shoes” that allows customers to visualize how a pair of new shoes will look on themselves from multiple angles using their mobile phone’s camera and AR technology. Participating brands include New Balance, Adidas, Reebok, Puma, Saucony, Lacoste, Asics and Superga.
TikTok e-commerce efforts in the U.K., TikTok Shop, are reportedly in turmoil after losing half the staff (20 people) since its October 2021 launch because of a toxic workplace culture, The FT reported.
In hopes of prompting creator adoption of its short-form Shorts service, YouTube announced its first-ever “Shoppable Shorts Challenge” alongside its second annual YouTube Beauty Festival. The challenge will have creators making videos about Glossier’s Cloud Paint product.
Fintech
PayPal announced it will begin allowing users to transfer cryptocurrency from their PayPal accounts to other wallets and exchanges. The feature will allow users to move crypto to external crypto addresses, including exchanges and hardware wallets, and send crypto to other PayPal users “in seconds.”
Investments app Public introduced Public Premium, a new $10/mo membership tier that offers research, data and insights to help inform investment decisions. This includes access to deeper company metrics, research from expert analysts and more . The service is free to members with an account balance of $20,000+.
Social
Image Credits: TikTok
TikTok rolled out new screen time “take a break” reminders designed to put users in better control of their TikTok usage. In addition its daily screen time limits tool, the new feature will allow users to have the app remind them to take a break from the app during a single session. By default, the tool suggests reminder options of alerts at 10, 20 or 30 minutes, in addition to allowing users to set their own times. The reminders can be snoozed or turned off at any time. The app also added a new screen time dashboard as well as reminders for minors (13-17) to enable TikTok’s screen time tools if they’ve used the app for more than 100 minutes per day.
Pinterest launched applications for its Creator Fund in the U.K. Accepted creators get to join a five-week program of events, gain access to educational talks and equipment, and get a cash grant of £20,000.
Twitter said it would give would-be acquirer Elon Musk access to its full firehose after his complaints that it wasn’t sharing data to prove that less than 5% of its service was made up of bots. The news came as a new study reported that Twitter could be around 10% bots and the Texas AG’s office began its own investigation into Twitter bots.
Instagram expanded its in-app “sensitive content” controls to allow users turn off sensitive content in recommendations throughout the app, including search, Reels, hashtag pages, “accounts you might follow” and in-feed suggested posts, instead of just the Explore tab, as before. The app defines sensitive content as permitted but possibly upsetting content such as posts including violence (like people fighting; graphic violence is banned); posts that promote regulated products (tobacco, vaping, pharmaceuticals, adult products/services); posts that promote or depict cosmetic procedures; posts that attempt to sell products or services based on health-related claims (like supplements); and more.
Instagram also added a TikTok-like feature that allows users to pin up to three posts to their profile in the app.
TikTok launched TikTok Avatars, a new feature similar to Snap’s Bitmoji and Apple’s Memoji that lets users customize their appearance, add voice effects and more.
Image Credits: TikTok
Link-in-bio service Linktree, popular among social media apps users and creators, launched Link Apps. The new feature lets creators embed services from Cameo, OpenSea, PayPal, SoundCloud and others via a new marketplace.
Facebook is killing off its consumer-facing Portal video-calling device to instead focus on business users. The smart screen device had allowed access to apps like Messenger and WhatsApp and integrated with users’ Facebook accounts. The company is also scaling back plans for AR glasses.
Photos
Photo editing app maker Picsart launched a new AI-powered image-enhancement tool that improves the overall quality of an image and resolution for printing or sharing online. The tool uses advanced AI models to remove or blur pixelated effects, add pixels and sharpen and restore scenes and objects, including faces. It’s being made available via the app’s API and on iOS, where it’s called “HD Portrait.”
Messaging
WhatsApp was warned by European regulators it has just one more month to address the remaining concerns around its terms of service and privacy policy updates to clearly inform consumers about the changes. The company is being asked to clarify if it generates revenue from commercial policies related to user data, as well.
Telegram is launching a subscription service later this month that will offer premium extra, like the ability to view “extra large” documents, media and stickers sent by Premium users, or add premium reactions if they’ve already been pinned to a message.
Streaming & Entertainment
AT&T removed the HBO Max bundle from its new, premium tier unlimited wireless plan, Unlimited Premium, which replaced Unlimited Elite. The bundle deal had helped drive new subscriptions to the streaming app in prior years.
Amazon simplified the pricing for its Amazon Kids+ entertainment bundle by making it $4.99/mo for Prime members and $7.99/mo for others. The changes will allow the service to be used for up to four child profiles, which increases the cost for those who had previously only paid for a single child, but decreases the cost for others. The service offers a kid-friendly selection of books, videos, apps and games, among other things.
At Spotify’s Investor Day, the company reported on the financial health of its business with a big focus on podcasts, noting this area brought in nearly €200 million in 2021 revenue, up 300% from the prior year. The company said its overall gross margin was 28.5%, dragged down by its continued investments in podcasts, but it’s on track to a GM of 30-35%, and that podcasts have 40-50% GM potential, and audiobooks could soon follow suit.
Gaming
Image Credits: Netflix
Netflix announced a number of new gaming titles during its annual Geeked Week event, some of which are tied to popular Netflix shows, including “The Queen’s Gambit,” “Shadow and Bone,” and “Too Hot To Handle.” The streaming service currently has 22 games available and plans to have 50 titles by the end of this year.
Tencent is rolling out a new international version of one of the world’s largest mobile games, Honor of Kings, by year-end. The game had racked up $10 billion in worldwide revenue by 2021. The overseas version will be published by Level Infinite for TiMiStudio.
Game studio HiDef announced it’s teaming up with Snap to develop an off-platform Bitmoji-based dance and music social game that will also leverage Snap’s AR tech. The game will launch in 2023.
Apple’s new iOS 16 will allow iPhones to support pairing with Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons and Pro Controllers to give users more control while playing mobile games.
No Man’s Sky is coming to iPad — well, the Apple silicon-powered ones, that is.
Health & Fitness
Meta rolled out the ability for users to track their Meta Quest fitness stats from VR to their phone. The feature involves the Move app — Meta Quest’s built-in fitness tracker that lets you set goals for how many calories you’ve burned and how many minutes you’ve spent working out in VR. This will now sync to the Oculus Mobile app and Apple’s Health app.
Travel & Transportation
Delivery company Uber said its food delivery business Uber Eats is launching a new product that will provide shipping of select specialty food items across the continental U.S.; 15 merchants from NY, LA and Miami are involved to start.
Singaporean taxi operator ComfortDelGro partnered with Alipay+ to allow tourists in Malaysia and South Korea to use their mobile wallet apps (Touch ‘n Go eWallet and Kakao Pay) to pay for cab fare in Singapore.
Travel app Hopper launched “Leave for Any Reason,” a $30 product that lets customers leave their hotel for any reason and rebook with another hotel of the same star category, with rebooking costs covered by Hopper.
Traveling to the beach? Don’t forget to download the new shark-spotting app. The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy and New England Aquarium teamed up to encourage consumers to report shark sightings off Cape Cod in Massachusetts through an app called Sharktivity.
Government & Policy
Wired reports on how Ukrainian civilians are using apps to help the army, which blurs the lines between civilians and soldiers and raises questions related to international humanitarian laws.
Russian tech giant Yandex removed national borders between Ukraine and Russia from its maps app. Users still see the country names displayed — but lines depicting exact borders between countries like Ukraine and Russia are no longer visible.
Nasdaq-listed language learning app Duolingo is back in China’s Apple App Store and Android stores nearly a year after its disappearance due to China’s regulatory crackdowns. The company had been told at the time of its removal to strengthen its “content compliance mechanism.”
The U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) published its final report on its year-long mobile ecosystem market study. The report found there are substantial concerns about Apple and Google’s market power which require regulatory intervention. Among the concerns are in-app payments and commissions, Apple’s ban on cloud gaming providers and non-WebKit-based browsers on iOS, switching costs between ecosystems, and more.

UK’s antitrust watchdog finally eyes action on Apple, Google mobile duopoly

Funding and M&A
Hourly, an app that helps businesses track hours and payroll for hourly wage workers, raised $27 million in Series A funding led by Glilot Capital Partners. Hourly has around 1,000 customers in California, in areas like construction, home services, accounting and retail.
India fintech CRED raised $140 million in a fourth round of funding led by GIC, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, valuing the startup at $6.4 billion, up from $2.2 billion in April 2021. Among other things, CRED allows users to manage credit cards, check their credit score and earn rewards.
Fintech app Fruitful announced a total of $33 million in equity funding raised across a seed and Series A round over the past 18 months. Emigrant Bank led the company’s $8 million seed round and 8VC led its $25 million Series A. The app will launch this fall to offer consumers financial guidance from experts via a $98/mo subscription service.
Mexico City-based neobank app Klar raised $70 million in Series B funding led by General Atlantic, valuing the startup at $500 million. The company added 1.4 million customers over the past 12 months and more than $100 million worth of loans.
Indonesia cryptocurrency-focused app Pintu raised a $113 million Series B from Intudo Ventures, Lightspeed, Northstar Group and Pantera Capital. The app offers 66 tokens and has more than 4 million installs.
Note-taking app maker Notion announced it’s acquiring the calendar app Cron. Notion already synced with Google Calendar, but this deal suggests the company wants to expand further into the productivity space. Cron had raised $3.5 million in seed funding. Deal terms weren’t disclosed.
Mobile app marketing solution Airship acquired Gummicube, an App Store Optimization service. The deal will see Gummicube’s ASO technology linked to Airship’s App Experience Platform. Terms were not disclosed.
Downloads
Brickit (update)
Image Credits: Brickit
Brickit, the clever mobile app that uses AI to identify which LEGO bricks you own and then suggest projects, rolled out a new version of its app that includes several new features that help people do more with their LEGO collections.
The updated app now includes a Finder feature that will identify the precise location of bricks within a pile of bricks. Its AI and ML capabilities have also been improved, the company says. Brickit’s AI has gotten better at identification, with a success rate as high as 92%, it claims. The app will also use machine learning to help it get better over time. If it gets something wrong, it asks the users to help correct the problem, then uses that information to improve its LEGO brick knowledge. A final new feature may be the best as it makes Brickit not just a tool, but a community. Brickit now lets users submit their own creations to the app which Brickit then transforms into instructions and share with other Brickit users worldwide.
Tweets
Hey, it’s a new HIG!

Brand new Apple Human Interface Guidelines!
That’s right, we’ve completely redesigned the HIG to be more cross-platform, easier to search, and completely reorganized from high level design principles down to low-level component guidance.https://t.co/Hd4qISMbqi pic.twitter.com/g1qpIt1BmL
— Linda Dong ’til dub dub (@lindadong) June 7, 2022

Good News, weather app devs

Found the pricing for WeatherKit. Looks to be roughly half of what the old Dark Sky API pricing was. ~20,000 requests/$1. Solid.https://t.co/39AvRbJlIV pic.twitter.com/ER8Dd59Bxx
— David Smith (@_DavidSmith) June 6, 2022

Graceful response to being sherlocked

Proud to have pioneered use of incredible phone cameras for conferencing, streaming & presenting. We started with “this can’t be done”; now here we are with support from all major platforms. It’s wild to be at #WWDC22 to see @Apple taking the next step validating it.
— Aidan Fitzpatrick (@afit) June 6, 2022

It didn’t have to be this way, Apple…

After poking around SKAdNetwork 4.0, I’m ready to call it on ATT and SKAdNetwork. Collectively they are a trillion dollar blunder by Apple executives. And likely have/will cost Apple itself billions (and therefore tens of billions in market cap). Hear me out… 1/X
— David Barnard (@drbarnard) June 10, 2022

Want to see something cool?

Some early work converting Streaks complications to use SwiftUI so they can be used on iOS 16 Lock Screen.
Much of this was already done for iOS widgets, but there’s some specific functionality only available on Apple Watch I want to match on iPhone. pic.twitter.com/FcfDWaymKc
— Quentin Zervaas (@qzervaas) June 9, 2022

Wait, what now?

This new Developer Mode in iOS 16 really has all the trappings of a first-party sideloading feature. #WWDC22https://t.co/KepR76Eieq
— josh avant (@joshavant) June 7, 2022

We’re obsessed too, this thing is wild!

Since I’m obsessed with this #iOS16 cutout feature, I wrote about it…https://t.co/pRT0mQZv5l #wwdc
— Ray Wong (@raywongy) June 7, 2022

This Week in Apps, Apple WWDC review: Blurred lines, new APIs and a brand-new Lock Screen

Meta has reportedly shelved its watch with in-built cameras

Last year, leaked photos of Meta’s smartwatch with a camera made the rounds. But the product may never make it to the light of day: according to a report in Bloomberg, the parent company of Facebook has halted its development.
The report does not give a reason for the about-face, but in April, the tech giant said that it lost $3 billion in Q1 in metaverse development.
Meta (and before it Facebook) has been looking for years for a route into hardware to diversify its business and to fill out a more vertically integrated approach to building tech products, not unlike Apple and Google.
While Facebook-owned Oculus has produced the company’s biggest hardware hits, the watch becomes the latest in a line of stops and starts in Facebook’s hardware efforts. Others have included an ill-fated attempt to break into smartphones, the Portal screen, and a many-years-long effort with glasses (still not launched).
One reason for the shift could have been also due to design issues. Bloomberg said that a prototype of the watch had two cameras — a five-megapixel on the front and one rather oddly placed 12-megapixel camera on the back.
The company wanted to use electromyography and convert nerve signals into digital commands, which could be helpful in games and virtual world experiences. But the second camera proved to be a roadblock to that feature, and the firm decided to stop its development.
Meta had been aiming at releasing the watch next year with a $349 price tag.
According to photos and videos of the prototype, apart from the camera, the smartwatch had features that are now fairly standard for smartwatches and wrist wearables, such as activity tracking, notifications and cellular connectivity through eSIM. The device, codenamed Milan, was touted to have an 18-hour battery life.
This is not the end of the line for some of the tech it has built, it seems. Bloomberg’s report suggested that Meta is still working on other wrist-based wearables. The company showed off an AR-controller prototype last year — before it renamed itself Meta — that could be worn on your wrist.
Meta declined to comment on the story.
Meta has reportedly shelved its watch with in-built cameras

Game studio HiDef partners with Snap to develop a Bitmoji dance social mobile game

A game studio, HiDef, announced today that it is teaming up with camera company Snap Inc. to develop an off-platform Bitmoji-based dance and music social game. The game will leverage Snap’s augmented reality tech as well as Bitmoji, the personalized cartoon avatar maker. Bitmoji joined the Snap family over five years ago, and today over a billion avatars have been created.
The Bitmoji-based dance expression game will be a standalone title and is expected to launch in 2023. Snap will also support HiDef’s upcoming flagship dance party game IP, which aims to host a dance party for billions across the globe.
Pany Haritatos, head of Snap Games, said in a statement:
We’re working with HiDef as a marquee partner because of their leadership in the gaming and entertainment space, as well as our shared goal of engaging audiences through creative expression. Games have already captured the interest of 320 million Snapchatters and we are excited to team up with HiDef on this exciting new music and dance game.
“There are over 1 billion Bitmoji avatars just waiting to dance! We’re honored Snap chose HiDef to bring their community onto the virtual dance floor. Our game will offer a new place for Snapchat’s audience to express themselves creatively through music and dance,” said Chip Lange, CEO at HiDef, Inc.
HiDef was co-founded in 2019 by Jace Hall, Anthony Castoro and Rick Fox, as well as Chief Impact Officer David Washington, to build new gaming experiences via a proprietary technology platform.
Game studio HiDef partners with Snap to develop a Bitmoji dance social mobile game