<span>Monthly Archives</span><h1>June 2021</h1>
    Tech News

    Apple just released the first iOS 15 beta to everyone

    June 30, 2021

    This is your opportunity to get a glimpse of the future of iOS, iPadOS and watchOS. Apple just released the first public beta of iOS 15, iPadOS 15 and watchOS 8. Those releases are the next major versions of the operating systems for the iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch. Unlike developer betas, everyone can download these betas — you don’t need a $99 developer account. But don’t forget, it’s a beta.

    The company still plans to release the final version of iOS 15, iPadOS 15 and watchOS 8 this fall. But Apple is going to release betas every few weeks over the summer. It’s a good way to fix as many bugs as possible and gather data from a large group of users.

    As always, Apple’s public betas closely follow the release cycle of developer betas. Apple also released the second developer beta of iOS and iPadOS 15 today. So it sounds like the first public beta is more or less the same build as the second developer build.

    But remember, you shouldn’t install a beta on your primary iPhone or iPad. The issue is not just bugs — some apps and features won’t work at all. In some rare cases, beta software can also brick your device and make it unusable. You may even lose data on iCloud. Proceed with extreme caution.

    But if you have an iPad, iPhone or Apple Watch you don’t need, here’s how to download it. Head over to Apple’s beta website from the device you want to use for the beta and download the configuration profile — do that from your iPhone for the watchOS beta. It’s a tiny file that tells your device to update to public betas like it’s a normal software update.

    Once it’s installed, reboot your device, then head over to the Settings (or Watch) app. You should see an update. In September, your device should automatically update to the final version of iOS 15, iPadOS 15 or watchOS 8 and you’ll be able to delete the configuration profile.

    The biggest change of iOS 15 is a new Focus mode. In addition to “Do not disturb,” you can configure various modes — you can choose apps and people you want notifications from and change your focus depending on what you’re doing. For instance, you can create a Work mode, a Sleep mode, a Workout mode, etc.

    There are many new features across the board, such as a new Weather app, updated maps in Apple Maps, an improved version of FaceTime with SharePlay and more. Safari also has a brand-new look.

     

    Tech News

    Common Sense Networks launches Sensical, a free, hand-curated streaming service for kids

    June 30, 2021

    Common Sense Media has made a name for itself among parents as a useful resource for vetting entertainment and technology in terms of its age-appropriateness. Now, the organization’s for-profit affiliate, Common Sense Networks, is taking inspiration from those kid-friendly recommendations with the launch of a new streaming service called Sensical. The service offers age-appropriate, entertaining, and educational videos for children ages 2 through 10.

    At launch, the free, ad-supported service includes over 15,000 hand-curated videos and over 50 topic-based channels for children to explore. And unlike other platforms, like Netflix or YouTube, Sensical doesn’t use algorithms to make content recommendations. Instead, kids are encouraged to follow their own interests and passions across over 50 topic-based channels. This includes things like Adventures, Animals, Arts & Crafts, Music, Science, Sports, Video Games, and other sorts of kid-friendly topics.

    Kids can star these channels, or individual videos or series, in order to keep up with their favorite content in a dedicated Favorites section within the app.

    They will see a selection of these channels based on their age, but the company is working to expand the channel lineup so there will be even more specific categories in the future. For example, instead of just “sports,” there could be channels like “soccer” or “gymnastics.” Instead of “Arts,” there could be “drawing” or “origami.” Instead of just “science,” it could include channels like “geography” or “robotics,” and so on.

    Image Credits: Common Sense Networks

    The app also features a Live TV section, which is programmed throughout the day with kid-friendly content, so kids don’t have to browse to find something to quickly watch.

    While other streaming services on the market offer kid-friendly content — as that’s a huge selling point for subscribers — it’s not always organized in a way that makes sense. Sometimes, all the content gets lumped into a general “Kids” category where videos for little kids are mixed in with content for older children. Sensical, meanwhile, curates the content recommendations into three different experiences, including preschool (2-4), little kids (5-7), and big kids (8-10).

    What the child sees is based on how parents configure their profiles. Plus, parents can use the service’s ParentZone in-app dashboard to set screen-time limits, extend limits as needed, and view daily reports on what the child has watched.

    The service’s best feature, however, is that the content is assured to be age-appropriate — even the ads.

    This is possible because the curation approach Sensical takes is very different from YouTube Kids. YouTube’s app for kids leans on algorithms to filter out adult content from YouTube’s broader library, but the company doesn’t manually review all the videos it includes. It warns parents that some inappropriate content could slip through. (And it has.)

    Common Sense Networks, meanwhile, says dozens of trained child-development experts view, vet and rate “every single frame of video” that goes live on its service using its proprietary IP and patent-pending process. This system involves tagging content with specific child-developmental benefits, too.

    Sensical also vets its advertising, which is how the service is supported, with similar direct oversight. Its experts review the sponsor’s content to ensure it’s appropriate for children — an area that’s often overlooked on other services.

    Image Credits: Common Sense Networks

    To fill its library, Common Sense Networks partnered with dozens of studios and distribution partners, as well as digital-first creators.

    Studio and distribution partners include CAKE (Poppy Cat), Cyber Group Studios (Leo The Wildlife Ranger), The Jim Henson Company (The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss, Jim Henson’s Animal Show with Stinky and Jake), Mattel (Kipper, Pingu, Max Steel), Raydar Media (Five Apples’ limited series, Apple Tree House), Superights (Bo Bear, Handico), WildBrain (Teletubbies, Rev & Roll), Xilam Animation (Learn and Play with Paprika, Moka’s Fabulous Adventures), ZDF Enterprises (Lexi & Lottie, School of Roars), Zodiak Kids (Mister Maker, Tee and Mo), ABC Commercial, CBC & Radio-Canada Distribution, Jetpack Distribution, Nelvana, 9 Story Distribution International, Sesame Workshop, Serious Lunch, and Studio 100.

    Digital creators, meanwhile, include ABCMouse, Aaron’s Animals, Alphabet Rockers, batteryPOP, California Academy of Sciences, GoldieBlox, The Gotham Group’s Gotham Reads, Guggenheim Museum, Howdytoons, Kids’ Black History, MEL Science + Chemistry, N*Gen, Pinkfong, Penguin Random House’s Brightly Storytime, Studio71 (Parry Gripp, Maymo, Hyper Roblox), Tankee, Ubongo Kids, Vooks, Bounce Patrol, Hevesh5, Mother Goose Club, StacyPlays, Super Simple Songs and The Whistle.

    The service abides by the U.S. children’s privacy laws (COPPA), and is certified by the kidSAFE Seal Program.

    Image Credits: Common Sense Networks

    Having briefly toyed around with the mobile app, it appears Sensical works as described. If I had any complaints personally, it would only be that the experience could be dismissed as “baby stuff” by older kids approaching their tween years, due to the cute pictures and youthful iconography used in the app’s design. Kids in older age groups take issue with being treated as if they’re younger — and they take particular notice of anything that does so.

    The same complaint goes for the Live TV programming, which was clearly aimed at littler kids when we checked it out, despite testing the app as a child profile whose age was set to “10.”

    I also think it would be nice if there were a better way to track Favorite channels and see when they’re updated with new videos, as kids moving to Sensical from YouTube will want to “feel” like they’re still connected to new and fresh content and not a library. But Sensical isn’t YouTube. There’s a trade-off between hand-curation and timeliness, and Sensical is favoring the former.

    Sensical had been first introduced this spring during a closed beta, but is now publicly available to stream across web and mobile on iOS, Android, Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV. This summer, it will expand to more distribution platforms, including VIZIO.

    Tech News

    Instagram is developing its own version of Twitter’s Super Follow with ‘Exclusive Stories’

    June 30, 2021

    Instagram is building its own version of Twitter’s Super Follow with a feature that would allow online creators to publish “exclusive” content to their Instagram Stories that’s only available to their fans — access that would likely come with a subscription payment of some kind.

    Instagram confirmed that the screenshots of the feature recently circulated across social media are from an internal prototype that’s now in development, but not yet being publicly tested. The company declined to share any specific details about its plans, saying they’re not at a place to talk about this project just yet.

    Image Credits: Exclusive Story in development via Alessandro Paluzzi

    The screenshots, however, convey a lot about Instagram’s thinking, as they show a way that creators could publish what are being called “Exclusive Stories” to their accounts, which are designated with a different color (currently purple). When other Instagram users come across the Exclusive Stories, they’ll be shown a message that says that “only members” can view this content. The Stories cannot be screenshot, either, it appears, and they can be shared as Highlights. A new prompt encourages creators to “save this to a Highlight for your Fans,” explaining that, by doing so, “fans always have something to see when they join.”

    The Exclusive Stories feature was uncovered by reverse engineer Alessandro Paluzzi, who often finds unreleased features in the code of mobile apps. Over the past week, he’s published a series screenshots to an ongoing Twitter thread about his findings.

    Image Credits: Instagram Exclusive Story Highlight feature in development via Alessandro Paluzzi (opens in a new window)

    Exclusive Stories are only one part of Instagram’s broader plans for expanded creator monetization tools.

    The company has been slowly revealing more details about its efforts in this space, with Instagram Head Adam Mosseri first telling The Information in May that the company was “exploring” subscriptions along with other new features, like NFTs.

    Paluzzi also recently found references to the NFT feature, Collectibles, which shows how digital collectibles could appear on a creator’s Instagram profile in a new tab.

    Image Credits: Instagram NFT feature in development via Alessandro Paluzzi (opens in a new window)

     

    Instagram, so far, hasn’t made a public announcement about these specific product developments, instead choosing to speak at a high level about its plans around things like subscriptions and tips.

    For example, during Instagram’s Creator Week in early June — an event that could have served as an ideal place to offer a first glimpse at some of these ideas — Mosseri talked more generally about the sort of creator tools Instagram was interested in building, without saying which were actually in active development.

    “We need to create if we want to be the best platform for creators long term, a whole suite of things, or tools, that creators can use to help do what they do,” he said, explaining that Instagram was also working on more creative tools and safety features, as well as tools that could help creators make a living.

    “I think it’s super important that we create a whole suite of different tools, because what you might use and what would be relevant for you as a creator might be very different than an athlete or a writer,” he said.

    “And so, largely, [the creator monetization tools] fall into three categories. One is commerce — so either we can do more to help with branded content; we can do more with affiliate marketing…we can do more with merch,” he explained. “The second is ways for users to actually pay creators directly — so whether it is gated content or subscriptions or tips, like badges, or other user payment-type products. I think there’s a lot to do there. I love those because those give creators a direct relationship with their fans — which I think is probably more sustainable and more predictable over the long run,” Mosseri said.

    The third area is focused on revenue share, as with IGTV long-form video and short-form video, like Reels, he added.

    Image Credits: Instagram Exclusive Story feature in development via Alessandro Paluzzi (opens in a new window)

    Instagram isn’t the only large social platform moving forward with creator monetization efforts.

    The membership model, popularized by platforms like OnlyFans and Patreon, has been more recently making its way to a number of mainstream social networks as the creator economy has become better established.

    Twitter, for example, first announced its own take on creator subscriptions, with the unveiling of its plans for the Super Follow feature during an Analyst Day event in February. Last week, it began rolling out applications for Super Follows and Ticketed Spaces — the latter, a competitor to Clubhouse’s audio social networking rooms.

    Meanwhile, Facebook just yesterday launched its Substack newsletter competitor, Bulletin, which offers a way for creators to sell premium subscriptions and access member-only groups and live audio rooms. Even Spotify has launched an audio chat room and Clubhouse rival, Greenroom, which it also plans to eventually monetize.

    Though the new screenshots offer a deeper look into Instagram’s product plans on this front, we should caution that an in-development feature is not necessarily representative of what a feature will look like at launch or how it will ultimately behave. It’s also not a definitive promise of a public launch — though, in this case, it would be hard to see Instagram scrapping its plans for exclusive, member-only content given its broader interest in serving creators, where such a feature is essentially part of a baseline offering.

     

    Tech News

    MWC 2021 day two: Is this thing on?

    June 29, 2021

    Listen, it’s probably not the best sign when a show feels like it’s running out of steam on its first day. Mobile World Congress’ opening salvo was headlined by Samsung in an event that touched on some partnerships and spent equal time teasing an upcoming event where it will actually launch some hardware. It’s hard to get too down on the GSMA, and I really ought to preface all of these by reiterating that – even in a normal year – running an event is hard as hell. Canceling its flagship show last year had to be gut-wrenching, and deciding to go forward with this one must have also been – albeit for dramatically different reasons?

    It’s not like the show didn’t come with some wins. What’s that? Elon Musk videoed in? That’s a pretty massive get by any measure, with all of the standard “whatever you think about the guy” preambles. Love him or hate, you’ve heard about him and probably have extremely strong feelings about the dude, one way or another.

    The High Priest of Dogeking beamed in to talk SpaceX StarLink. “To be totally frank, we are losing money on that terminal right now,” Musk said in the interview. “That terminal costs us more than $1,000, so obviously I’m subsidizing the cost of the terminal.” Good thing he’s got deep pockets.

    He promised a new version of the company’s satellite next year, “which will be significantly more capable.”

    Huawei thus far has focused much more on networking than consumer – it’s important to caveat this by adding that MWC is as much, if not more, a networking show, in spite of all of the press that tends to focus on consumer device launches. The company launched a bunch of 5G networking hardware, including several MIMO products.

    Speaking of networks, I totally forgot to include this bit from TechCrunch parent co (you know, for now). Verizon trotted out a bunch of robots with 5G branding. The company was making a point about the importance of cellular for future robotics communication.

    Here’s CSO Rima Qureshi, quoted by Reuters, “5G will make it possible for robots to connect with other robots and devices of all kinds in a way that simply wasn’t possible before.”

    Image Credits: Huawei

    Let’s be honest, though, mostly robots make for cool stage fodder. From what I can tell, the Boston Dynamics-esque quadruped was this bot from Ghost Robotics, which Verizon also trotted out (well, it trotted itself out, I suppose) at CES in January:

    Given the choice, would I have put on an in-person event in Barcelona in the summer of 2021? No. Nuh-uh. No way. Did the GSMA feel like they had a choice financially or otherwise? That’s a much more difficult question to answer. When you’re a company that runs on events and partnerships, even canceling a single big show is a shock to the system.

    I’m going back and forth on whether I’ll be doing any more of these roundups as the show progresses through Thursday. Definitely if some more interesting stuff shows up, or if there’s like video of Elon hoverboarding through the sparsely populated convention center halls or something. But I’m not holding my breath.

     

    Tech News

    MWC 2021 day one wrap-up

    June 28, 2021

    “It is great that MWC is back,” Samsung UK’s James Kitto said, opening up this year’s presser. “And behalf of everyone at Samsung, it’s great to be back at MWC.”

    What, precisely, it means to be “back” in 2021 is another question entirely. Samsung was, of course, one of a number of major industry players who announced that they would not be exhibiting at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. It was hard not to see an echo of last year’s event, when key players pulled out, one by one, forcing the GSMA to cancel the event altogether.

    This year’s event is different for myriad reasons. For one thing, MWC’s traditional timeframe of late-February/early-March put the event directly in the crosshairs of COVID-19’s arrival in the EU. For another, this time out, the organizing body had another year to prepare.

    A look at Hall 3 #MWC21 for @saschasegan pic.twitter.com/Z5V6MHqT4A

    — Sean Kinney (@seankinneyRCR) June 28, 2021

    The simplest route would have been to do what the CTA did with CES and go all-virtual. The first all-virtual CES had plenty of issues of course, but attempting an in-person element ahead of a widespread vaccine rollout in the U.S. would have, at best, complicated things by orders of magnitude.

    COVID-19 continues to be a concern in Spain – as with much of the world. The GSMA opted to go ahead with the event this year, however, after pushing MWC back several months from its standard dates. The company has implemented all sorts of safety measures, but judging from early videos taken at the event, social distancing ought not to prove an issue on the show floor this year.

    Image Credits: Samsung/Google

    It seems safe to assume that most who are “attending” the event are doing so virtually – a list that includes the vendors themselves.

    Samsung is among those high profile companies that presented a pre-recorded virtual press conference. Perhaps companies still see value in being attached to this sort of event even if it’s virtual, or maybe the on-going partnership with the organization is worth nurturing. The cynical part of me wonders how many of the sponsored sessions just couldn’t be reversed.

    Samsung’s event was arguably the biggest of the day, but the presser felt like little more than a placeholder. The biggest news of the press conference was an expansion of a partnership Google announced at I/O last month, while much of the rest of the stream was pointing toward an Unpacked event happening later this summer.

    Image Credits: Samsung

    In fact, the event closed with a black and white slide reading “See you soon at the next Unpacked,” in case you didn’t get the hint. Bottom line: no hardware.

    Lenovo, on the other hand, didn’t hold back. That’s due, in part, to the fact that the company releases a tremendous amount of hardware, so why not tie it to MWC, right?

    The list of announcements inluces a new version of the Smart Clock Google Assistant alarm clock with a built-in wireless charging pads for phones and several tablets, including the Yoga Tab 11 and 13, which sport combination hanger/kickstand. The 13-inch system also doubles as an external monitor, which is when the kickstand really comes in handy.

    Image Credits: Lenovo

    TCL got out ahead of the event early, with the announcement of NXTWEAR G – a wearable OLED cinema display. The headmounted device approximates a 140-inch display with a 16:9 aspect ratio. The company also offered a better look at the 20 Pro 5G, which is coming to the States at just a dollar short of $500, featuring a snapdragon 750G processor and a headphone jack to boot.

    TCL NEXTWEAR G

    Those are your top line headlines for the show so far. The event runs through July 1st, so still plenty of show left, whether or not anyone will be there to see it in person.

     

    Tech News

    Facebook to target Nigerian learners with educational app Sabee, created by its R&D team

    June 28, 2021

    Last fall, Facebook announced it was opening an office in Lagos, Nigeria, which would provide the company with a hub in the region and the first office on the continent staffed with a team of engineers. We’ve now spotted one of the first products to emerge from this office: an education-focused mobile app called Sabee, which means “to know” in Nigerian Pidgin. The app aims to connect learners and educators in online communities to make educational opportunities more accessible.

    The app was briefly published to Google Play by “NPE Team,” the internal R&D group at Facebook, which has typically focused on new social experiences in areas like dating, audio, music, video, messaging and more.

    While the learnings from the NPE Team’s apps sometimes inform broader Facebook efforts, the group hasn’t yet produced an app that has graduated to become a standalone Facebook product. Many of its earlier apps have also shut down, including (somewhat sadly), the online zine creator Eg.g, video app Hobbi, calling app CatchUp, friend-finder Bump, podcast community app Venue, and several others.

    Sabee, however, represents a new direction for the NPE Team, as it’s not about building yet another social experiment.

    Instead, Sabee is tied to Facebook’s larger strategy of focusing more on serving the African continent, starting with Nigeria. This is a strategic move, informed by data that indicates a larger majority of the world’s population will be in urban centers by 2030, and much of that will be on the African continent and throughout the Middle East. By 2100, Africa’s population is expected to have tripled, with Nigeria becoming the second-most populated country in the world, behind China.

    Image Credits: Facebook NPE Team

    To address the need to connect these regions to the internet, Facebook teamed with telcos on 2Africa, a subsea cable project that aims to serve the over 1 billion people still offline in Africa and the Middle East. These aren’t altruistic investments, of course — Facebook knows its future growth will come from these demographics.

    Facebook confirmed its plans for Sabee to TechCrunch after we discovered it, noting it was still a small test for the time being.

    “There are 50 million learners, but only 2 million educators in Nigeria,” said Facebook Product Lead, Emeka Okafor. “With this small, early test, we’re hoping to understand how we can help educators build communities that make education available to everyone. We look forward to learning with our early testers, and deciding what to do from there.”

    Image Credits: Facebook NPE Team

    The disparity between learners and educators in Nigeria greatly impacts women and girls, which is another key focus for Sabee — and the NPE Team’s efforts in the region as a whole. The company also wants to explore how to better serve groups who are often left behind by technology. On this front, Sabee is working to create an experience that works with low connectivity, like 2G.

    We understand the app is currently in early alpha testing with fewer than 100 testers who are under NDA agreements with Facebook. It’s not available for anyone else beyond that group at present, but the company hopes to scale Sabee to the next stage before the end of the year.

    There is no way to sign up for a Sabee waitlist, and the app is no longer public on Google Play. It was available so briefly that it was never ranked on any charts, app store intelligence firm Sensor Tower confirmed to us.

    We should note that “sabee” and “sabi/sabis” have other, less-polite meanings in different languages, per Urban Dictionary. But the team has no plans to change the name for now as it makes sense in the Nigerian market where the app is targeted.

     

    Tech News

    Samsung and Google preview wearable platform ahead of next Galaxy Watch launch

    June 28, 2021

    Samsung’s Mobile World Congress presser was, once again, all about wearables. The big news at this evening’s (or afternoon’s, timezone dependent) event was our best look yet at a redesigned interface for the company’s line of Galaxy Watches.

    One UI Watch – which takes its name from the Galaxy mobile interface — will share a design language with the one found on the company’s line of Galaxy phones. The upcoming One UI Watch will debut at an upcoming Unpacked event later this summer, sporting the new UI, as well as the forthcoming joint Samsung/Google platform.

    Image Credits: Samsung/Google

    It was first teased at I/O last month that the two technology powerhouses would be teaming up on a wearables project. We still have little in the way of information about it, however, – including what it will actually be called.

    The partnership was initially announced as a “unified platform” that would allow developers to create a single app for both Google’s Wear OS and Tizen, the open-source operating system Samsung has long relied on for its own smartwatches. As we noted at the time, third-party app development has proven a considerable hurdle for both companies as they look to take on Apple’s dominance of the space.

    Among the benefits of the partnerships is that once a watch-compatible app has been downloaded on a connected smartphone, it will also be downloaded to the watch. Along with first-party Google apps like Maps and YouTube Music, the list includes Spotify (naturally), Calm, Strava, Adidas Running and Sleep Cycle.

    Image Credits: Samsung/Google

    “Samsung and Google have a long history of collaboration, and whenever we’ve worked together, the experience for our consumers has been dramatically better for everyone,” Google SVP Sameer Samat said in a release tied to the news. “That certainly holds true for this new, unified platform, which will be rolling out for the first time on Samsung’s new Galaxy Watch. In collaboration with Samsung, we’re thrilled to bring longer battery life, faster performance, and a wide range of apps, including many from Google to a whole new wearable experience.”

    Such a partnership seems odd at first blush – Samsung long ago eschewed Google’s wearable operating system in favor of its own heavily customized version of Tizen. Ultimately, however, it seems the two are united against the monolith that is Apple – which currently enjoys somewhere in the neighborhood of 40% of the global market. Samsung is in second, but even with Fitbit under its wing, Google’s still got a ways to go.

    Samsung will also be showing off improved development tools that make it easier to create things like watch faces for the platform.

     

    Tech News

    Tapcart, a ‘Shopify for mobile apps,’ raises a $50 million Series B

    June 28, 2021

    Shopify changed the e-commerce landscape by making it easier for merchants to set up their websites both quickly and affordably. A startup called Tapcart is now doing the same for mobile commerce.

    The company, which has referred to itself as the “Shopify for mobile apps,” today powers the shopping apps for top brands, including Fashion Nova, Pier One Imports, The Hundreds, Patta, Culture Kings, and thousands more. Following a year of 3x revenue growth, in part driven by the pandemic, Tapcart is today announcing the close of a $50 million round of Series B funding, led by Left Lane Capital. Having clearly taken notice of Tapcart’s traction with its own merchant base, Shopify is among the round’s participants.

    Other investors in the round include SignalFire, Greycroft, Act One Ventures and Amplify LA.

    Tapcart’s co-founders, Sina Mobasser and Eric Netsch, have worked in the mobile app industry for years. Mobasser’s previous company, TestMax, offered one of the first test prep courses on iOS, while Netsch had more recently worked on the agency side to create mobile and digital experiences for brands. Together, the two realized the potential in helping online merchants bring their businesses to mobile, as easily as they were able to go online with Shopify.

    Tapcart’s founders Sina Mobasser and Eric Netsch at their Santa Monica HQ. Image Credits: Tapcart

    “Now, you can launch an app on our platform in a matter of weeks, where historically it would take up to a year if you wanted to custom build an app,” explains Mobasser. “And you can do it for a low monthly fee.”

    Tapcart’s platform itself offers a simple drag-and-drop builder that allows anyone to create a mobile app for their existing Shopify store using tools to design their layout, customize the product detail pages, integrate checkout options, include product reviews, and even optionally add other branded content, like blogs, lookbooks, videos (including live video) and more. Everything is synced directly from Shopify to the app in real-time, so the merchant’s inventory, products and collections are all kept up-to-date. That’s a big differentiator from some rivals, which require duplicate sets of data and data transformation.

    Tapcart, meanwhile, leverages all of Shopify’s APIs and SDKs to create a native application that works with Shopify’s existing data structures.

    Image Credits: Tapcart

    This tight integration with Shopify helps Tapcart because it doesn’t have to focus on the e-commerce infrastructure, as the way things are structured around inventory and collections are roughly 90% the same across brands. Instead, Tapcart focuses on the 10% that makes brands stand out from one another, which includes things like branding, content and design. Its CMS allows merchants to create exclusive content, change the colors and fonts, add videos and more to make the app look and feel fully customized.

    Beyond the mobile app creation aspect to its business, Tapcart also helps merchants automate their marketing. Through the Tapcart platform, merchants can communicate with their customers in real-time using push notifications that can alert them to new sales, to encourage them to return to abandoned carts, or any other promotions. The marketing campaigns can be automated, as well, which helps merchants schedule their upcoming launches and product drops ahead of time. The company claims these push notifications deliver click-through rates that are 72% higher than a traditional email or SMS text because of their interactivity and branding.

    Image Credits: Tapcart

    The platform has quickly found traction with SMB to mid-market enterprise customers who have reached the stage of their business where it makes sense for them to double down on customer retention and conversion and optimize their mobile workflow.

    “Our sweet spot is when you have maybe a couple hundred customers in your database,” notes Netsch. “That’s a perfect time to now focus less on the paid acquisition portion of your business and more on how to retain and engage those existing customers, [so they’ll] shop more and have a better experience,” he says.

    During the past 12 months, over $1.2 billion in merchant sales have flowed through Tapcart’s platform. And in 2020, Tapcart’s recurring revenue increased by 3x, as mobile apps grew even faster during the pandemic, which had increased consumer mobile screen time by 20% year-over-year from 2019. Mobile commerce spending also grew 55% year-over-year, topping $53 billion globally during the holiday shopping season, the company says. Tapcart’s own merchants saw mobile app orders at a rate of more than once-per-second during this time, and it believes these trends will continue even as the pandemic comes to an end.

    Today, Tapcart generates revenue by charging a flat SaaS (software-as-a-service) fee, which differentiates it from a number of competitors who charge a percent of the merchant’s total sales.

    Image Credits: Tapcart

    With the additional funding, Tapcart plans to focus on its goal of becoming a vertically integrated mobile commerce suite of tools, which more recently includes support for iOS App Clips. It will also soon release an upgraded version of its insights analytics platform and will offer scripts that merchants can install on their mobile websites to compare what works on the site versus what works in the app.

    Later this year, Tapcart plans to launch a full marketing automation product that will allow brands to automate and personalize their notifications even further. And it plans to invest in market expansions to make its product better designed for mobile, global commerce.

    The funding will allow Santa Monica-based Tapcart to hire another 200 people over the next 24 months, up from the 70 it has currently. These will include new additions across time zones and even in markets like Australia and Europe as it moves toward global expansion.

    Shopify’s investment will open up a number of new opportunities as well, including on product, engineering, business strategy and partnerships. It will also help to get Tapcart in front of Shopify’s 1.7 million global merchants.

    “There’s still quite a lot of merchants that need better mobile experiences, but have yet to really double down on the mobile effort and get something like a native app,” notes Netsch. “There’s a lot of different ways and methods that merchants are experimenting with mobile growth, and we’re trying to offer all of the best parts of that in a single platform. So there’s tons of expansion for Tapcart to do just that with the existing target addressable market,” he says.

    “We believe brands must be where their customers are, and today that means being on their phones,” said Satish Kanwar, VP of product acceleration at Shopify, in a statement. “Tapcart helps merchants create mobile-first shopping experiences that customers love, reinforcing Shopify’s mission to make commerce better for everyone. We look forward to seeing Tapcart expand its success on Shopify with the more than 1.7 million merchants on our platform today.”