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Daily Crunch: WhatsApp launches payments

WhatsApp is adding support for in-app payments, Apple is upgrading the MacBook Pro and Mac Pro desktop and we argue about the future of startup hubs.
Here’s your Daily Crunch for June 15, 2020.
1. WhatsApp finally launches payments, starting in Brazil
After months of talks and trials, WhatsApp has finally pulled the trigger on payments. Users in Brazil will be the first to be able to send and receive money through the messaging app, using Facebook Pay.
WhatsApp says that the payments service — which currently is free for consumers to use, but comes with a 3.99% processing fee for businesses receiving payments — will work by way of a six-digit PIN or fingerprint to complete transactions.
2. Apple adds new MacBook Pro graphics option and Mac Pro SSD upgrade kit
A week before kicking off WWDC, Apple introduced a pair of upgrades to its pro-level hardware lines. Both the 16-inch MacBook Pro and the Mac Pro desktop are getting select internal upgrades, starting today.
3. 3 perspectives on the future of SF and NYC as startup hubs
Three TechCrunch writers address one of the big questions about the future: Will tech continue to centralize in hubs like San Francisco and New York City, or will remote work and all the other second-order effects lead to a more decentralized startup ecosystem? (Extra Crunch membership required.)
4. Interstellar Technologies’ privately developed MOMO-5 rocket falls short of reaching space
The company first launched a vehicle in 2017, but the launch didn’t go exactly as planned and failed to reach space. In 2019, its MOMO-3 sounding rocket did break the Karman line, though just barely, and unfortunately its MOMO-5 sounding rocket launched over the weekend did not make space, as planned.
5. Introducing The Exchange, your daily dive into the private markets
The Exchange is Alex Wilhelm’s regular dive into the financial side of the startup world, and how the public markets exert gravity (or lift) on private companies. These themes might sound familiar to Daily Crunch readers, since we’ve linked to plenty of Alex’s pieces, but now it’s an official column with an official name.
6. Tesla’s US-made Model 3 vehicles now come equipped with wireless charging and USB-C ports
Tesla Model 3 vehicles produced at its Fremont, Calif. factory will reportedly come standard with a wireless charging pad and USB-C ports, upgrades that were first spotted by Drive Tesla Canada.
7. This week’s TechCrunch podcasts
The latest full-length episode of Equity discusses Facebook’s new startup venture fund, while the Monday news roundup covers the latest problems at Quibi. Over at Original Content, we review the latest season of “Queer Eye.”
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 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Daily Crunch: WhatsApp launches payments

TikTok tops 2 billion downloads

TikTok, the widely popular video sharing app developed by one of the world’s most valued startups (ByteDance), continues to grow rapidly despite suspicion from the U.S. as more people look for ways to keep themselves entertained amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The global app and its Chinese version, called Douyin, have amassed over 2 billion downloads on Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store, mobile insight firm Sensor Tower said Wednesday.
TikTok is the first app after Facebook’s marquee app, WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger to break past the 2 billion downloads figure since January 1 of 2014, a Sensor Tower official told TechCrunch. (Sensor Tower began its app analysis on that date.)
A number of apps from Google, the developer of Android, including Gmail and YouTube, have amassed over 5 billion downloads, but they ship pre-installed on most Android smartphones and tables.
TikTok’s 2 billion download milestone, a key metric to assess an app’s growth, comes five months after it surpassed 1.5 billion downloads.

In the quarter that ended on March 31, TikTok was downloaded 315 million times — the highest number of downloads for any app in a quarter and — surpassing its previous best of 205.7 million downloads in Q4 2018. Facebook’s WhatsApp, the second most popular app by volume of downloads, amassed nearly 250 million downloads in Q1 this year, Sensor Tower told TechCrunch.
As the app gains popularity, it is also clocking more revenue. Users have spent about $456.7 million on TikTok to date, up from $175 million five months ago. Much of this spending — about 72.3% — has happened in China. Users in the United States have spent about $86.5 million on the app, making the nation the second most important market for TikTok from the revenue standpoint.
Craig Chapple, a strategist at Sensor Tower, said that not all the downloads are as organic as TikTok, which launched outside of China in 2017 and has engaged in a “large user acquisition campaign.” But he attributed some of the surge in downloads to the COVID-19 outbreak that has driven more people than ever to look for new apps.
India, TikTok’s largest international market, accounts for 30.3% of the app’s downloads, according to Sensor Tower. The app has been downloaded 611 million times in the world’s second largest internet market.
From a platform’s standpoint, 75.5% of all of TikTok’s downloads have occurred through Google Play Store. But the vast majority of spending has come from users on Apple’s ecosystem ($435.3 million of $456 million).
TikTok’s parent firm ByteDance, which was valued at $75 billion two years ago, counts Bank of China, Bank of America, Barclays Bank, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, UBS, SoftBank Group, General Atlantic, and Sequoia Capital China among some of its investors.

TikTok tops 2 billion downloads

WhatsApp eyes credit feature for users in India

WhatsApp, which began testing its mobile payments feature in India two years ago, could offer at least one more financial service to people in its biggest market.
In a filing with the local regulator in India, the company has listed credit as one of the areas it will pursue in the country. The Facebook -owned service declared with the local regulator earlier this month providing credit or loans as one of the “main objects to be pursued by it in the country.” No other financial service is listed in the filing.
At an event in Bangalore late last year, Abhijit Bose, WhatsApp’s head in India, said he believed that the mobile payments market in India, which has attracted dozens of local and international firms in recent years, is still at a very early stage in the country and may eventually see firms move beyond just offering a way for people to send money to one another.
WhatsApp has yet to receive approval from New Delhi for a nationwide rollout of Pay in India. Local media reports claimed earlier this year that WhatsApp had started to expand Pay’s reach in the country in various phases.
Ajit Mohan, a Facebook VP and India head, told TechCrunch in an interview last week that only 1 million WhatsApp users in India, same as before, have access to its mobile payment service.
Dozens of payment services in India have expanded to credit, or online lending, in recent quarters as they search for a business model in the country. A number of firms, including Paytm, India’s most-valued startup, and MobiKwik today offer small ticket credit to millions of users in India.
Tens of millions of users have started to digitally transact money in India in recent years. But the local payments body has removed most of the fees they could levy on banks and merchants to make money. The move has resulted in firms exploring other financial services, such as credit and insurance and target merchants to make money.
This year, Paytm has expanded to serve merchants, launching new gadgets such as a stand that displays QR check-out codes that comes with a calculator and a battery pack, a portable speaker that provides voice confirmations of transactions and a point-of-sale machine with built-in scanner and printer.
The Alibaba and SoftBank-backed company is offering these gadgets as part of a subscription service that helps it establish a steady flow of revenue. Paytm’s Money arm, which offers lending, insurance and investing services, has amassed more than 3 million users.
Flipkart’s PhonePe, another major player in India’s payments market, today serves more than 175 million users and over 8 million merchants. Its app serves as a platform for other businesses to reach users. The company is currently not taking a cut for the real estate on its app.
WhatsApp’s expansion in mobile payments in India, estimated to grow to $1 trillion by 2023 (according to Credit Suisse), could create new challenges for the aforementioned players.
Facebook, which like other American tech giants counts India as one of its biggest markets but makes considerably less revenue in the world’s second largest market, “reaffirmed” its commitment to India this month.
The social giant invested $5.7 billion in Reliance Jio Platforms this month to acquire a 9.99% stake in the Indian telecom giant. Over the weekend, JioMart, an e-commerce venture run by Jio’s parent firm, began testing an “ordering system” on WhatsApp, teasing the first peek at the collaboration between Facebook and Indian telecom giant Reliance Jio Platforms.

WhatsApp eyes credit feature for users in India

Instagram prototypes Snapchat-style disappearing text messages

Instagram is finally preparing to copy Snapchat’s most popular feature, and one of the few it hasn’t already cloned. Instagram has prototyped an unreleased ephemeral text messaging feature that clears the chat thread whenever you leave it, a Facebook spokesperson confirms to TechCrunch. That could make users more comfortable with having rapid-fire, silly, vulnerable, or risque chats, thereby driving up the reply notifications that keep people opening Instagram all day long.

Instagram already has disappearing photo and video messaging which it launched in February 2018 to let users choose if chat partners can “view once”, “allow replay” multiple times for a limited period, or “keep in chat” permanently. Technically you could use the Create mode for overlaying words on a colored background to send an ephemeral text, but otherwise you have to use the “Unsend” feature which notifies other people in the thread.
But today, reverse engineering specialist and TechCrunch’s favorite tipster Jane Manchun Wong unearthed something new. Buried in the code of the Android app is the a new “” mode, labeled in the code with the ‘speak-no-evil’ monkey emoji.
How Instagram Disappearing Messages Work
When users enter this mode by swiping up from Instagram Direct message thread, they’re brought to a dark mode messaging window that starts as an empty message thread. When users close this window, any messages from them or their chat partners disappear. The feature works similarly to Snapchat, which clears a chat after all members of a thread have viewed it and closed the chat window.
Here’s how Instagram disappearing messages work
The ephemeral messaging feature is not currently not publicly available but a Facebook spokesperson confirms to me that they are working on it internally. “We’re always exploring new features to improve your messaging experience. This feature is still in early development and not testing externally.” The company later tweeted the confirmation. They gave no indication of a timeline for if or when this might officially launch. Some features never make it out of the prototype phase, but others including many spotted by Wong end up being rolled out several months later.
Instagram has seen great success using Snapchat as a product R&D lab. Instagram’s version of Stories rocketed to 500 million daily users compared to just 218 million users on Snapchat as a whole.

But ephemeral messaging has kept Snapchat relevant. Back in late 2017, just 51 million of Snapchat’s 178 million users were posting Stories per day, and that was when Instagram Stories was still in its first year on the market. According to Statista, Snapchat’s top use case is staying in touch with friends and family, not entertainment.
Instagram Stories caused Snapchat to start shrinking at one point, but now it’s growing healthily again. That may signaled that Instagram still had more work to do to steal Snap’s thunder. But Instagram’s existing version of ephemeral messaging that is clunkier, Facebook scrapped a trial of a similar feature, and WhatsApp’s take that started testing in October hasn’t rolled out yet.
That’s left teens to stick with Snapchat for fast-paced communication they don’t have to worry about coming back to haunt them. If Instagram successfully copies this feature too, it could reduce the need for people to stay on Snapchat while making Instagram Direct more appealing to a critical audience. Every reply and subsequent alert draws users deeper into Facebook’s web.

Instagram prototypes Snapchat-style disappearing text messages

Crunch Report: Prince returns to Spotify

 Today’s Stories 

Prince returns to Spotify and Napster this weekend
WhatsApp now supports two-step authentication
Amazon’s Tap speaker gets a hands-free update in defiance of its name
Beats X bring Apple’s wireless headphone tech to a tethered form factor

Credits
Written and hosted by: Anthony Ha
Edited by: Joe Zolnoski
Filmed by: Matthew Mauro
Teleprompter: Tomas… Read More

Crunch Report: Prince returns to Spotify