This Week in Apps: Facebook Gaming skips iOS, TikTok goes shopping, Apple One bundles arrive

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Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the TechCrunch 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.

Top Stories

Here Comes Apple One

Thanks for all the market research, app developers.

Image Credits: Apple

Apple issued a slight beat on earnings this week, despite the COVID pandemic and a 20% decline in iPhone sales year-over-year, including a drop in China.

But for app developers who already have a large install base to serve across Apple’s mobile devices, it’s Apple’s expansion into the services market that may draw more attention. Apple continues to edge its way into nearly every category that has proven popular on mobile devices. Streaming music? Apple Music. Streaming TV and movies? Apple TV+. Paid news and magazine subscriptions? Apple News+. Cloud storage? iCloud. Payments? Apple Card and Apple Pay. Gaming? Apple Arcade. And so on.

Its latest effort, launching on October 30, is Apple One — a way for users to pay for multiple Apple services in a single bundle.

At launch, the $14.95 per month Individual bundle includes Apple Music, Apple TV+, 50GB of iCloud storage and Apple Arcade. The same thing as a Family Plan (up to six people) is $19.95 per month and ups the iCloud storage to 200GB. And for $29.95 per month on the Premier plan, you get 2TB of iCloud storage, and add in Apple News+ and the new Fitness+, which arrives later this quarter.

Image Credits: Apple

While each plan saves a little money than if paying individually, the most value can be found at the higher end. Which means Fitness+ could immediately gain an influx of new subscribers, even if the user primarily opted for the Premier plan because of its access to News+. That means Fitness+ doesn’t even have to try that hard to compete with third-party membership-based fitness apps. Instead, Fitness+ acquires users by its association with other known and valued Apple services.

As Apple stretches itself into new services markets — say, AirTags subscriptions, or something we haven’t thought of yet — like subscription medications (Health+?), financial news (Stocks+?), ridesharing (Car+?) social (FaceTime+?) — it will have a head start on user acquisition.

For app developers finding themselves having done the job of proving the market for a subscription-based business in their category, they’ll then be thrust into the role of trying to value add on top of a baseline product that offers a deeper integration with the iOS operating system than they’re allowed.

Cloud gaming’s unknown future on iOS

Image Credits: Facebook Gaming featuring Asphalt Legends

Speaking of services…this week Facebook launched its cloud gaming service that offers free-to-play games that Facebook users can play without leaving the social app.

The games are streamed from the cloud (meaning, Facebook’s servers), instead of requiring users download the titles locally.

This format for mobile gaming makes sense in mature markets that are now steadily moving to 5G. However, Facebook’s new service is only available on desktop and Android — not on iOS.

Facebook excluded Apple devices from the launch, citing Apple’s “arbitrary” policies around third-party apps. Though Apple recently updated its guidelines, it still doesn’t allow applications to act like third-party app stores where games are bought, used and streamed from within the main app directly. Instead, it’s permitting the model GameClub pioneered as a means of working around Apple’s rules last year. That is, there is a main app where users can subscribe and browse a catalog, but each individual game has to be listed on the App Store individually and be playable in some way — even if it’s just a demo.

There’s one school of thought (a point Facebook keeps pushing) that says Apple’s rules here are losing it money.

After all, Facebook says its avoidance of iOS is not about the 30% commission — it’s paying that on Android, in line with Google Play policies. Oh, why oh why doesn’t Apple want its 30%, too?, Facebook cries.

The answer is because Facebook’s iOS snub is part of its long-term strategy. To say it’s not about the money is disingenuous. Facebook at launch is already taking the 30% when in-app purchases are made on the web version of its cloud gaming services.

What’s really happening is that Facebook is making a calculated risk. It’s betting that regulators will ultimately force Apple to permit third-party app stores on iOS and maybe even end Apple’s requirements around in-app purchases, allowing alternative payments. If that comes to pass, the 30% goes back in Facebook’s own pocket.

Even if regulators only push Apple to allow third-party payment systems in addition to the Apple Pay requirement, Facebook could still make money when users picked the Facebook payment option. And it’s ready. Facebook has already built out Facebook Pay infrastructure and it’s now encouraging Facebook Pay usage by redesigning Facebook and Instagram as online shopping platforms.

This all makes the near-term loss of cloud gaming users on iOS worth the risk. Instead of catering to the iOS base, Facebook is raising a stink about “Apple’s rules” to make it look like Apple is harming the market and stifling competition. In reality, Facebook could very easily list its handful of gaming titles separately, if it desired, as per Apple’s current rules — especially because many are more casual games than those found on xCloud or Stadia.

But that wouldn’t help its larger goal: to see Apple’s App Store regulated.

It’s not even like Facebook is being shy about its motives here. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has publicly stated that Apple’s control of the App Store “deserves scrutiny.”

“I do think that there are questions that people should be looking into about that control of the App store and whether that is enabling as robust of a competitive dynamic,” he said in an Axios interview. “…I think some of the behavior certainly raises questions. And I do think it’s something that deserves scrutiny.”

TikTok Goes Shopping

Image Credits: Shopify

Remember how Walmart angled in on that TikTok acquisition (whose status is still unknown) and everyone was wondering what the heck Walmart was doing? Well, it was thinking ahead.

TikTok this week partnered with Shopify on a social commerce initiative. The deal aims to make it easier for Shopify’s moer than 1 million merchants to reach TikTok’s younger audience and drive sales, by creating and optimizing TikTok campaigns from their Shopify dashboard.

The ad tools allow merchants to create native, shareable content that turns their products into In-Feed video ads that will resonate with the TikTok community. Merchants will be able to target their audiences across gender, age, user behavior and video category (see, TikTok does have SOME data on you!), and then track the campaign’s performance over time.

As a part of this effort, Shopify merchants can also install or connect their “TikTok Pixel” — a tool that helps them to more easily track conversions driven by their TikTok ad campaigns.

The campaigns’ costs will vary, based on the merchant’s own business objectives and how much they want to spend.

The partnership will eventually expand to include other in-app shopping features, as well.

The TikTok-Shopify partnership could help the video platform better compete against other sources of social commerce, including the growing number of live stream shopping apps as well as efforts from Facebook and its family of apps.

Weekly News Round-Up

Platforms

  • Epic says Apple has “no right to the fruits of Epic’s labor” in its latest court filing. “Consumers who choose to make in-app purchases in Fortnite pay for Epic’s creativity, innovation and effort—to enjoy an experience that Epic has designed,” the filing said. The company is making the point that it did the work to create an in-game marketplace for its players to use. The App Store and its payments system are not necessary — they’re forced upon Epic so Apple can ” maintain its monopoly,” Epic’s lawyers said.
  • Adoption of iOS 14 reaches 46.36% six weeks after launch, according to Mixpanel data.
  • Apple releases App Store server notifications into production. The notifications provide developers with real-time updates on a subscriber’s status, allowing app makers to create customized user experiences.
  • Facebook provides new guidance for partners on iOS 14 SKAdNetwork. The company said it will release an updated version of the Facebook SDK by early Q1 to support the upcoming iOS 14 privacy feature requirements, noting that “guidance from Apple remains limited.” The new version of the Facebook SDK will provide support for Apple’s SKAdNetwork API and conversion value management.
  • Google tests a new “app comparison” feature on Google Play that lets you analyze multiple apps across metrics, like ease of use, features, downloads and star rating. Google confirmed the test was live, but downplayed it saying it was “small” and the company had no plans for a broader rollout at this time.
  • Apple search crawler activity could be pointing to Apple’s plans to build its own search engine to rival Google. In iOS 14, Apple can now display its own search results when users type in queries from its home screen, bypassing Google.
  • ExxonMobile embraces Apple’s App Clips. The fuel company will bring the lightweight App Clips and Apple Pay to more than 11,500 Exxon and Mobil gas stations across the U.S., allowing consumers to scan a QR code on the pump to pay via an App Clip version of the ExxonMobil app.

Policies

  • Search engine app makers tell the European Commission that the Android choice screen isn’t working to remedy antitrust issues. Ecosia, DuckDuckGo, Lilo, Qwant and Seznam signed the letter to the Commission.
  • Big technology platforms asked the E.U. to protect them from legal liabilities over removing hate speech and illegal content, reports Bloomberg, citing a paper from Edima, an association representing Alphabet’s Google, Facebook, ByteDance and others.

Trends

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

  • U.S. home improvement brand app adoption doubled over 2019 since March, per Sensor Tower. As COVID stuck people at home, first-time installs of top home improvement brand apps in the U.S. from March to September 2020 doubled year-over-year, climbing 103%. MAUs grew 35% during that time.
  • U.S. Adoption of Food & Drink apps climbed 30% during COVID-19, also per Sensor Tower. Worldwide, these apps saw a slowdown in download growth in Q3 with a +14% growth rate — slower than other previous third quarters.
  • Samsung reclaims the No. 1 spot in the Indian smartphone market, beating Xiaomi. The new data from marketing research firm Counterpoint conflicts with a report last week from Canalys, making it a close race.
  • Facebook is losing users in the U.S. and Canada. The company reported during its Q3 earnings that user growth in these key markets was slowing after the COVID surge. The company now has 196 million users in North America, down from 198 million in Q2, and it expects the decline to continue. DAUs and MAUs in these markets were also flat or down slightly in the quarter.

Services

Security/Privacy

  • True, a social networking app that promised to protect user privacy, found to be exposing private messages and user locations.
  • A massive analysis of the COVID-19 tracing app ecosystem tracks the permissions the apps require, SDKs in use, location-tracking abilities and more.
  • PUBG Mobile to terminate all service and access to users in India on October 30, after the country banned the game from the world’s second largest internet market over cybersecurity concerns due to its China ties. PUBG already tried cutting ties with its Chinese publishing partner, Tencent Games, but critics called this a Band-Aid if Tencent still had a hand in game development.

App News

  • Sony’s PlayStation app gets an upgrade before the PS5 launch on November 12. The updated app introduced a completely redesigned interface, with a home screen where you can see what friends are playing, voice chat support for up to 15 people, integrated messages and PS Store and news. When, the PS5 arrives, the app will allow users to remotely launch their games, manage storage and more.
  • Instagram extends time limits on live streams to four hours, the same as Facebook live streams on mobile. It will also soon support archiving of live video content.
  • YouTube revamps its mobile app with new gestures, video chapter lists and others changes. The video chapter lists expand the feature introduced in May, and now turn chapters into scrollable lists, each with their own video thumbnail.
  • Tinder roll outs Face To Face, its opt-in video chat feature, to users worldwide. The dating company was pushed to accelerate its virtual options due to the pandemic.
  • Microsoft Office apps add mouse and trackpad support for iPadOS, meaning you can now use Apple’s new Magic Keyboard with apps like Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
  • Cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase is launching a debit card in the U.S. later this year. The Visa debit will work with Visa-compatible payment terminals, online checkout interfaces and ATMs. A mobile app will allow you to control how you want to spend your cryptocurrencies.
  • Eko asks court to freeze Quibi assets related to its turnstyle tech. Even though Quibi is shutting down, Eko’s case against the mobile streaming service continues. Eko wants a payout of at least $96.5 million for infringing on its intellectual property.
  • Netflix engineers detail the studio apps shift to Kotlin Multiplatform in new blog post.
  • TikTok countersues Triller. The China-based, ByteDance-owned video app asks a U.S. judge to rule on Triller’s patent infringement allegations. Triller had filed a suit in late July,
  • TikTok parent ByteDance launches a smart lamp with a camera, display and virtual assistant. The device works with a mobile app and its aimed at helping kids with homework, in an education push.
  • TikTok expands its in-app Election Guide to include Election Day resources like information about polling locations and hours, services that can help people having voting difficulties and those offering other details how the voting process works, as well as live election results from the AP.

Funding and M&A

  • Corsair acquires EpocCam. Gaming peripheral maker bought smartphone app EpocCam, a top video app that lets users turn their iPhone or iPad into a high-def webcam for their Windows or Mac PC. The app grew in popularity due to the pandemic, and its wide support for major video apps includes Zoom, Skype, OBS Studio, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams. Under Corsair’s Elgato subsidiary, the app has been relaunched to fit into the company’s expanded ecosystem of content creation tools.
  • Digital health startup Nutrium raises $4.9 million led by Indico Capital for its service and app which links dietitians and their patients.
  • Bay Area-based Jiko raises $40 million Series A from Upfront Ventures and Wafra Inc. for its mobile banking startup.
  • Helsinki-headquartered app management startup AppFollow raises $5 million Series A led by Nauta Capital. The company now has 70,000 clients on its platform, including McDonald’s, Disney, Expedia, PicsArt, Flo, Jam City and Discord.
  • Mobile device management startup Kandji raises $21 million Series A in a round led by Greycroft. The startup’s MDM solution helps larger companies manage their fleet of Apple devices and keep them in compliance.
  • SimilarWeb raises $120 million for its AI-based market intelligence platform for websites and mobile apps. The company counts more than half of the Fortune 100 as customers, including Walmart, P&G, Adidas and Google.
  • Phone forensics company Grayshift, a startup that helps feds break into iPhones, raises $47 millionThe round was led by PeakEquity Partners, for the company that claims to have doubled adoption, revenues, and employees in the last year.
  • Intelligent visual assistance startup TechSee raises $30 million to automate field work with AR and computer vision.
  • Betty Labs, parent company to Locker Room, a new social audio app connecting sports fans for live conversations, raised $9.3 million in seed funding led by Google Ventures.
  • Mobile gaming company Scopely raises $340 million at a $3.3 billion valuation. Scopely had just raised $200 million last year. Unlike other gaming giants, Epic and Unity, the company doesn’t make tools for gaming, it focuses on keeping players engaged. Today, those users spend 80 minutes per day on games like its Star Trek Fleet Command, MARVEL Strike Force, Scrabble GO and YAHTZEE with Buddies.

Recommended Downloads

Filtertune

Image Credits: Lightricks

From the makers of Facetune, this new iOS app lets influencers create custom filters that can be shared across social media along with their photos, allowing fans to snap a screenshot of the photo — which includes a QR code on a banner — into order to import the custom preset photo filter into the app’s library. The filter can then be used to edit photos, and further personalized by the end user.

Clips 3.0 eyes TikTok with its biggest update ever

Image Credits: Apple

Apple rolled out an updated version of its casual video creation app, Clips. Before, the app only supported Instagram-like square video, but the new version, Clips 3.0, expands to include support for vertical and horizontal video, making it easier to export videos to apps like TikTok.

The new app also features a refreshed interface on iPhone and iPad, HDR recording with iPhone 12, support for a mouse, trackpad and keyboard cases on iPad, along with other smaller changes, like new stickers, sounds and posters. There are eight new social stickers (like “Sound On” for Instagram Stories), 24 new royalty-free soundtracks (bringing the total library to 100), and six new arrows and shapes, as well as a set of poster templates to use within videos.

Backbone

Image Credits: Backbone

The Backbone app works with the new $99 Backbone One mobile gaming controller for iPhone that lets you play games like Call of Duty: Mobile, Minecraft, Asphalt 9: Legends, hundreds of Apple Arcade titles and other iPhone games that support game controllers.

The controller also includes a Capture Button that lets you record gaming clips to share directly to social platforms like Instagram Stories and iMessage.

Read the TechCrunch review here.

New Releases in iOS 14 Widgets

Image Credits: Pinterest

  • Pinterest: The pinboarding app jumps into widgets with an update that lets you put either a small or large widget on your home screen that pulls photos from a Pinterest board — either one you follow or one you created. This allows you to set up a widget that rotates through a set of photos from an online resource, instead of requiring you to keep an on-device photo gallery.
  • TikTok: The short form video app updated this week to include three different widgets from small to large that allow you to easily access trending videos and sounds right from your iOS home screen.
  • Widgit: This new widget lets you put GIF-like animated images on your iOS 14 home screen (in-app purchases).

Spotify CEO says company will ‘further expand price increases’

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Spotify is planning further price increases, according to comments made by co-founder and CEO Daniel Ek during the company’s third quarter earnings on Thursday. The streaming service had added 6 million subscribers in Q3 to achieve a total 144 million paying customers across 320 million active users, but fell short on both sales and earnings, driving the stock lower.

By raising prices for its service, Spotify could pull in higher revenues in markets where the company believes users will continue to see the value in paying for their streaming subscription.

The company didn’t specifically detail its plans for price increases in terms of dollars and cents or geographies. However, Ek explained how the company was thinking about possible price hikes in broader terms.

He said although Spotify’s primary focus continues to be user growth, there are markets where the service is more mature and has increased the value it provides subscribers, including with its “enhanced content.” In these mature markets, Spotify says it’s seen engagement and value per hour grow over the years.

“I believe an increase in value per hour is the most reliable signal we have in determining when we are able to use price as a lever to grow our business,” noted Ek.

He also said that early tests of price increases have performed well.

“While it’s still early, initial results indicate that in markets where we’ve tested increased prices, our users believe that Spotify remains an exceptional value and they have shown a willingness to pay more for our service,” said Ek, in his remarks. “So as a result, you will see us further expand price increases, especially in places where we’re well-positioned against the competition and our value per hour is high,” he added.

Spotify has been openly hinting about price increases all year.

In the first quarter, Ek had slightly opened the door to the idea, saying it was “encouraging” to see the company had the opportunity to raise prices when the economy improved. In Q2, Ek again suggested higher prices were coming, and added that Spotify’s exclusive podcast content enables “pricing power,” along with its overall improving service and the existence of higher ARPU (average revenue per user.)

Today, Ek’s statement suggests higher prices aren’t just being weighed or discussed — they’re coming.

To date, Spotify has tested price hikes at its upper tiers of its service in several markets.

Last year, for example, Spotify tested price increases for its Family Plan in some Scandinavian markets, upping the cost by around 13%. The goal of those tests was to figure out if it would make sense for the streamer to roll out higher pricing on a worldwide basis.

Just this month, reports indicated Spotify had increased the price of its Family Plan in Australia from AUS $17.99 to AUS $18.99 — or, approximately US $13.69. This change was effective October 1 for new subscribers.

Today, Spotify notes it also raised the price of the Family Plan in a half dozen other markets this month, including Belgium, Switzerland, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia, alongside its Duo Plan (2-person plan) in Colombia.

There was one caveat to Spotify’s plans for higher pricing, however: the pandemic. Ek said the company would “continue to tread carefully in these COVID times to ensure we don’t get ahead of the market.”

In other words, it doesn’t make sense to raise prices in a recession, where people have lost jobs and are cutting unnecessary expenses — like their streaming subscriptions.

Walmart’s new test stores will experiment with AR, mobile, revamped checkout and more

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Walmart over the years has been working to turn its physical retail stores into online fulfillment centers, and now, with its latest set of test stores announced today, the retailer will try out ideas to make that transition more seamless. Walmart says it will deploy personnel to four test stores across the U.S., where they’ll prototype and iterate on new technology and tools that will serve the needs of Walmart’s in-store shoppers and online shoppers alike, including changes involving augmented reality, handheld mobile devices, new apps, in-store signage, omni-assortment, and revamped checkout stations.

The idea is to turn these four test locations into rapid prototyping environments, where teams can test solutions in real-time, make changes, scale what works and scrap what doesn’t. Some of the changes being put into place will be visible to the customer, while others will be more behind-the-scenes.

At launch, Walmart has identified four areas where it’s looking to test new ideas across assortment, inventory, picking and checkout process.

In one store, it will test moving the majority of the in-store apparel assortment online — meaning the same exact items can be found both in the store and online. This isn’t always the case today, as not everything stocked in the stores are also on the Walmart website, and vice versa. This test will focus on determining what has to take place to make all the eligible items in a store “omni-available,” Walmart says, a reference to its desire to be a true “omni-channel” retailer.

Image Credits: Walmart

A second test will involve a new app that aims to speed up the time it takes to get items from the back room to the sales floor, using augmented reality (AR). In this test, instead of scanning the barcode on boxes that are ready to go, the app will use AR technology to highlight those boxes. The hope is that this will help to move the product to shelves, and in front of customers, faster than before.

Image Credits:

Another experiment uses a combination of handheld devices and in-store signage to help associates better navigate to the right locations when picking items for online orders. In early tests, Walmart says the percentage of time it takes associates to find the items has already gone up by 20% in some of the categories that tend to be more difficult to find.

The fourth test will expand and build on an experimental checkout experience Walmart previously announced in June. In this store, Walmart does away with individual checkout lanes, and transitions cashiers into the role of “hosts” in a new area of the store that resembles a self-checkout destination. Here, customers can opt to check out themselves or have a “host” offer full-service checkout. In either case, store staff are around to help with any issues that arise.

Image Credits: Walmart

The expectation is that checkout lanes will move more quickly than the old style of individual checkout lanes. With the latter layout, a surge of new customers coming to the registers could cause bottlenecks if there weren’t enough lanes staffed. In the long run, the new layout could free up cashiers to help with other tasks in store as a checkout station may not need as many “hosts” on hand to run things.

The four stores may test other technology and digital solutions in the future, as well, but Walmart didn’t expand on its roadmap plans. Two of the stores in Northwest Arkansas, including a Bentonville location, are up and running. Two more are planned to be up and running soon.

Each store will have four new employees staffed to aid with the prototypes — a product manager, a technologist, a business owner, and a designer.

“We’re moving quickly to use our physical retail stores to not only serve in-store shoppers, but to flex to meet the needs of online shoppers, too, in ways that only Walmart can,” said John Crecelius, Walmart U.S. SVP of Associate Product and Next Generation Stores, in a statement. “That’s where our new test stores come in. Their purpose is to find solutions that continue to help our stores operate as both physical shopping destinations and online fulfillment centers in a way that has yet to be seen across the retail industry,” he added. 

Audible further expands into podcasts

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Audible, the Amazon-owned audiobook company, is further expanding into podcasts with the addition of approximately 100,000 of podcasts, totaling 3 million episodes to its service. The shows will be offered for free streaming to Audible members and non-subscribers alike, Audible says.

Included in the new lineup are top podcasts like Pod Save America, You’re Wrong About, This American Life, Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend, and FiveThirtyEight Politics, to name a few.

The company told TechCrunch the additions did not come by way of any recent partnerships or new deals with podcast providers, but are instead a part of Audible’s ongoing efforts to become known as a provide of “premium audio storytelling and entertainment.”

It seems that Audible will use the free programming to entice users to subscribe to its paid service, where they’ll gain access to Audible’s collection of exclusive programs, Audible Originals.

Image Credits: Audible

Audible has actually had its eye on podcasts for some time. Back in 2016, it announced a new service then called “Audible Channels.” that featured bite-sized original audio content from publishers that had included the NYT, WSJ, The Washington Post, and others.

Today, the company has grown its collection of original spoken word content to include documentaries, theater, and sleep programs, and more. It also features a number of exclusive podcasts for members only.

This summer, Audible introduced a new, cheaper subscription plan, Audible Plus, to connect users to its growing collection of originals. The $7.95 per month membership now offers over 11,000 pieces of content from names like Common, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Morello, Blake Griffin, André Aciman, Tayari Jones, Jesse Eisenberg, St. Vincent, Kevin Bacon, Kate Mara, Maria Bamford, Alanis Morissette, Harvey Fierstein, and more.

The Plus plan, however, doesn’t include credits to download audiobooks, as on the $14.95 per month Audible Premium Plus plan. (Audible consolidated its Gold and Platinum plans and rebranded it). It’s just focused on other audio content.

With the addition of free, third-party podcasts, Audible has the chance to capture users’ attention in its app, then try to upsell them to paid memberships, including the new Plus plan.

Audible announced its plans for the expanded podcast selection on Tuesday, but the new section itself didn’t launch until today.

On the refreshed website, Audible arranges the podcasts in horizontal rows as “Top Free” podcasts and “Popular,” the latter which allows it to feature its originals. It also offers thematic grouping, like true crime, comedy, business and management, news, fiction, science and technology, self development and many others.

Those exclusive to Audible are also labeled with a yellow banner on the image thumbnail, in another push to upgrade.

The new additions can also be found in the Audible mobile app, under the “Podcasts” section.

Podcasts are a significant source of investment for streaming services these days, with Spotify having snapped up studios and podcast startups to increase its output of audio programming and original content. Pandora parent SiriusXM, meanwhile, just completed its acquisition of Stitcher, which included its podcast service, ad network and content network Earwolf. Even Apple has begun to more seriously dabble in the format.

Audible says more shows and podcasts will be added in the weeks and months ahead.

TikTok to add Election Day resources, live results from AP to its election guide

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TikTok announced this morning it will expand the set of resources provided in its in-app election guide in the U.S. to include direct access to sites that help users get information about polling locations and hours, those that help people having voting difficulties, and those offering other details how the voting process works, and more. TikTok also said it’s working with the Associated Press (AP) to provide access to an interactive map showing live results for both federal and state elections, as well as ballot initiatives, in the updated guide.

This map will be updated with live results starting on Election Day, so TikTok users can check it at any time from within the app to get the most current information.

In addition to the AP, the expanded election guide will include FAQs from the National Association of Secretaries of State about the voting process itself. This section helps to explain details that may be new to TikTok’s younger user base — many who voted for the first time in this election. This information, which is summarized in the app, includes how election results are compiled and what to expect during the counting process.

Image Credits: TikTok

TikTok will also link out to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) website for information about polling locations and hours.

And it will link to the Election Protection Hotline number which provides assistance with voting difficulties in English, Spanish, Asian languages, and Arabic, as well as a video call option for American Sign Language.

Image Credits: TikTok

The election guide was first introduced in the TikTok app last month to help connect TikTok’s 100 million U.S. users to partner organizations that offered information about the candidates, how to vote, media literacy and more. At launch, the guide included information from the National Association of Secretaries of StateBallotReadySignVote and several others.

The information is organized in an easy-to-read format, but TikTok itself is not creating the content — it’s pulled from partners and cited accordingly. In other cases, TikTok offers a short snippet of information with a link to the partner site to “learn more.”

TikTok users are today pointed to the guide by way of a banner that appears across all election-related videos. They can also choose to visit it directly from TikTok’s Discover Page, where it has a permanent home during election season.

With the update, if users encounter videos about the elections — for example, if a video discusses the current results — the user could tap the link to see the AP’s live election map. This could be useful because TikTok’s in-feed videos aren’t always the most recent.

Image Credits: TikTok

TikTok this summer announced expanded partnerships with PolitiFact and Lead Stories to fact check misinformation related to the 2020 U.S. election in its app, in addition to their work helping with misinformation related to COVID-19, climate change and other topics. It also claimed to be working with experts, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to protect against foreign influence on its platform.

And like other social media platforms, TikTok said it isn’t accepting political ads. However, unlike Facebook and Google, which only committed to temporary pauses on these ads before and after election day, TikTok announced its decision last year, explaining that the nature of political ads didn’t fit with the experience its users expect on its platform.

Ahead of today’s news about the expanded election guide, TikTok launched an Election Safety Center to increase transparency about how its policies apply to a range of election-related content.

While it’s not unusual for a large tech platform to offer election-related resources to their user base — Facebook, Google, Snapchat and Twitter all do the same — TikTok’s position is unique. The app is currently trying to fight off the Trump administration’s ban of its app in the U.S., and its long-term fate in the country is unknown.

Despite these issues, TikTok has not slowed on developing new features, adding resources, or expanding its platform in other ways. Just yesterday, for example, TikTok announced a partnership with Shopify over social commerce initiatives.

Google confirms post-Election Day political ad ban, partners with AP on election results

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Google today announced several updates related to how it’s helping direct people to the polls, provide election results, and help people access real-time election news across its platforms and services, like Search, Assistant and YouTube. The company said it will again partner with the Associated Press (AP) to deliver authoritative information on election results on both Google Search and Assistant. It also confirmed earlier reports that it won’t run political ads on its platform after the polls close on November 3.

Axios had first reported on Google’s plans to ban political ads after election day, citing an email sent to advertisers. The email had told advertisers they would not be able to run ads “referencing candidates, the election, or its outcome, given that an unprecedented amount of votes will be counted after election day this year.”

Google confirmed the move at the time of the original report by offering a statement.

Today, Google published the details of its decision in a company blog post, saying it has chosen to enforce its Sensitive Events policy as soon as the polls close on Nov. 3, given the possibility of “delayed election results this year” and to “limit the potential for ads to increase confusion post-election.”

The policy, specifically, says Google does not allow:

Ads that potentially profit from or exploit a sensitive event with significant social, cultural, or political impact, such as civil emergencies, natural disasters, public health emergencies, terrorism and related activities, conflict, or mass acts of violence

Google isn’t the only tech giant to take aim at political advertising in this heated election season. Facebook this month widened its ban on political ads, saying those ads would be blocked indefinitely after Nov. 3. Twitter made the decision to ban political ads last year.

In Google’s case, it’s calling its political ad ban a “temporary pause,” and says it’s directed towards an ads referencing “the 2020 election, the candidates or its outcome.”

The company also took the time today to note other voting and election-related initiatives it has underway, including its ongoing activities taking place in election seasons that help people find voter registration information and other election deadlines. It’s also directing users to voting locations and ballot drop boxes on Google Maps.

On YouTube, it’s pointed users to relevant election-related search results, voter registration information, and details on how to vote.

This year, Google noted it will partner with the AP to provide election results in Google Search and Assistant. The companies have worked together in the past elections, too.

Users will encounter a new election module with data provided by the AP when they either search for “election results” on Google Search or ask, “Hey Google, what are the current election results?” The data will include both federal and state level races across more than 70 languages, Google says.

YouTube, meanwhile, will feature real-time election streams from major news providers, and link to coverage on Google Search. Google News will also feature a 2020 U.S. Election section where users can follow both local and national news.