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.
Global app spending reached $65 billion in the first half of 2022, up only slightly from the $64.4 billion during the same period in 2021, as hypergrowth fueled by the pandemic has diminished. But overall, the app economy is continuing to grow, having produced 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. Global spending across iOS and Google Play last year was $133 billion, and consumers downloaded 143.6 billion apps.
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.
Want to attend TechCrunch Disrupt? Click here for 15% off passes.
The TikTok-ification of today’s web is nearly overwhelming. Already we’ve seen top social apps like Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube clone the vertical feed format in their own apps. And it seems not a day goes by when some other app announces its own TikTok-like feed has arrived. This week, it was the NBA app that added a vertical video feed of sports content, for some reason, while Twitter announced the introduction of a TikTok-inspired feed for watching videos on its app.
It’s all starting to get a little ridiculous, isn’t it?
Image Credits: Twitter
Still, there’s something more going on here, it seems.
This isn’t just about adopting a new format — as apps did when Stories became popular, for example. What’s really happening is that there’s a broader shift in how younger people are using the web, and apps are rushing to adapt. Younger users are looking for more immersive content, visual experiences and easy access to information through intuitive user interfaces that allow for fast scrolling or simple navigation.
Throwing a TikTok feed into an app is a quick way to address these users’ unique interests, but they’re certainly not the only way.
Image Credits: Google
Google, to its credit, has identified this shift as a threat to its core business. It understands that the days when people taught themselves how to use Boolean operators to narrow search results, then clicked back and forth through dozens of blue links, are now behind us.
At an event this week, Google introduced how it’s revamping its products as a result of these behavioral changes, starting with Google Search and Maps.
One of the most notable updates is how Google now plans to redesign Google Search for the TikTok generation.
Instead of starting with a list of links, some Google searches will return highly visual results, where pieces of information are presented in colorful cards alongside other imagery and videos — including both YouTube content and TikToks. For instance, if you search for a place, you might see maps and directions, weather, photos and snippets from Wikipedia all placed in boxes at the top of the search results. And all this could be interspersed with creator-based content that shows off famous landmarks, sights, tourist attractions, places to dine and other ideas.
Google unveils a more visual search experience for the TikTok generation
The changes follow Google’s recent acknowledgment that it had been losing younger users to apps like Instagram and TikTok for some types of searches. This is its attempt to bring those users back to its search engine instead.
The idea now is that you wouldn’t just come to Google to be informed, but to also discover and be inspired — much like you do on social video apps.
The company will cater to users’ interest in visual content in other ways as well, including with shopping searches, where it will integrate more 3D imagery, allow users to browse through “shoppable looks” where they can buy outfits, not locate individual pieces, and have their experiences customized to their own interests in terms of product categories and favorite brands.
Google revamps shopping with 3D images, shoppable looks, buying guides and more personalization
Meanwhile, in Google Maps the company is allowing users to explore cities in an “Immersive View” that leverages a combination of computer vision and AI technology to fuse Street View and aerial imagery together. This gives users a way to more visually explore an area, like a bird in flight, then glide down to the street level. Here, users can even go inside places, like restaurants, to get a sense of what they look like inside, layered with “busy-ness” data — so you know if the restaurant would be likely to have a table for you at that time.
Google Maps is also updating its new Live View feature — the AR experience that overlays information atop the real world in Maps just by holding up your phone’s camera. With Live View, you can find places like shops, restaurants or ATMs highlighted over the view of the street your camera displays. And now, you can search within Live View, too.
Here are all of the new features and updates coming to Google Maps
Another interesting feature is Neighborhood Vibe — a way for Google Maps users to get a sense of the most popular and trendy places in a given neighborhood by adding reviews, photos and videos directly atop Google Maps. (Why turn to TikTok, after all, if you can open a real maps app and watch videos there, attached to exact locations?)
Then there’s the feature that seemingly sets the stage for an AR future — multisearch near me.
This allows you to view items in the real world and find out where to find them nearby. For instance, you could point your phone’s camera (and maybe one day, your AR glasses) toward a dress, then find out which shops in your town carry it. This is a step beyond video-based e-commerce experiences, as seen on TikTok or YouTube, because you’re instead shopping from the real world — not a recorded version of it.
Google to launch its image and text-based ‘Multisearch Near Me’ local search feature in the US
Now, whether Google’s investments will pay off in the long term remain to be seen, of course. These are broader bets on the future of search and discovery. But at least we can say this for it — it’s not ignoring the market shifts or thinking that simply cramming a TikTok-like feed into its apps will keep it relevant.
Image Credits: Un1feed
Hoping to cater to user demand for a more classic version of Instagram without the clutter from ads and suggested posts, a pair of developers built a customized app for viewing Instagram content, called OG App. While users may have briefly appreciated the experience of what felt like the old Instagram experience, the app’s existence was short-lived and filled with drama.
OG App had already racked up nearly 10,000 downloads by the time of its removal, after just a couple of days of availability.
While this particular app is no more, it does serve as a test case for consumer interest in an algorithm-free photo-sharing experience that looks and feels more like Instagram once did.
Of course, a number of apps have entered the market hoping to capture users’ interest on that front, but have failed to gain significant traction. Among those were apps like Poparazzi, Later Cam and the ill-fated Dispo, which offer some sort of spin on analog photo-sharing — like replicating the disposable camera experience or only allowing friends to post pics of you. Then there were the apps that try to elevate photo-sharing, like Glass.
But many users either churned out of these experiences or never joined to begin with. Instead, users found a variation on casual, social photo-sharing with the app BeReal. But its notification-based “time to post” trick still needs to prove it can be a successful draw in the long term — and that’s not a given.
That’s why, as we said last week, now is a great time for developers to test the waters by building other privacy-focused social networking experiences — including those centered around photos.
Image Credits: Google
Image Credits: Walmart
Image Credits: Meta
Image Credits: Walmart
💰 Milan-based developer Bending Spoons, makers of apps like Splice and Remini, raised $340 million from Italian banks Intesa Sanpaolo and Banco BPM, plus Ryan Reynolds’ Maximum Effort Holdings, the former CEO of Vimeo Kerry Trainor, and others.
💰 Scout, a mobile app that helps Gen Z invest in cars, food, games and other “themes,” raised $2.6 million in seed funding led by Chingona Ventures. The app is iOS only for now. It doesn’t charge transaction fees, but rather a subscription of $1/mo. for users with less than $1,000 AUM or 1% of AUM for larger accounts.
💰 Solvo, a new fintech app allowing users to invest in cryptocurrencies and cryptocurrency-related financial products, raised $3.5 million in seed funding from Index Ventures and others. The app, launching in October, was founded by two former Revolut employees and will feature 10 cryptocurriences to start.
💰 A new group camcorder app, Studio, raised $3.3 million in seed funding led by GV for an app that allows groups of friends to privately share everyday videos in albums.
💰 Triller said it raised $310 million from Luxembourg-based investment group Global Emerging Markets ahead of its IPO. The company, however, is not obligated to draw the entire amount — it can issue stock to investors on each draw, as needed.