Sony’s live TV streaming service, PlayStation Vue, announced this week it has become the first U.S. pay TV provider to integrate with Apple’s TV app in order to display content*. Until now, Apple’s TV app has featured content from both free and paid on-demand streaming apps like Hulu, Prime Video, HBO NOW, PBS Kids, The CW and others, along with those that require you log in with your pay TV credentials, like ABC, AMC, USA, SYFY, Showtime Anytime and many more.
With the new PlayStation Vue integration, subscribers to Sony’s pay TV service will be able to access all of Vue’s on-demand content across its nationally available channels in the Apple TV app. Live sports, including both national and regional sports networks, will be supported, too, the company says.
Explains Sony, users will be able to search and browse the PS Vue catalog in the TV app, while also taking advantage of TV app features like “Watch Now” and “Up Next” to organize their shows, movies and sports. When you find content you want to watch, it will open the stream right in the PS Vue app.
This integration will matter more to those who already subscribe to at least a couple of other streaming services in addition to PS Vue, as the TV app is designed to aggregate content and recommendations from across services in a single place. It works on iOS devices, including iPhone and iPad, and on Apple TV.
PS Vue is one of now several pay TV streaming services, and a rival to YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV, Sling TV, AT&T’s DirecTV Now and WatchTV. But it’s been lagging behind on subscribers.
Dish’s Sling TV and DirecTV Now lead the space, thanks to Sling’s early mover advantage and DirecTV Now’s distribution through AT&T’s wireless business. The former had 2.3 million subscribers as of June, while AT&T said DirecTV Now had 1.8 million, as of its earnings report in July. Hulu with Live TV cracked a million subscribers in September, ahead of YouTube TV.
Sony’s PlayStation Vue, meanwhile is just somewhereover half a million. It may have struggled to grow due to its branding, which seems to imply it’s only for PlayStation owners. (It’s not).
Perhaps the company is hoping the closer ties with Apple’s TV app will give its service more visibility.
The integration also arrives just ahead the launch of Apple’s own original content, which could bring more people back to the Apple TV app, further boosting PS Vue’s visibility.
While PS Vue is the first U.S.-based pay TV provider to offer this sort of integration with the TV app, it’s not the first worldwide. In France, for example, Canal+ “myCanal” and Molotov have offered this same sort of integration for some time.
*This is different from the ability to connect your TV provider – many streaming services/pay TV services are available from that setting, including YouTube TV, DirecTV Now and others.
The Apple TV app has also supported TV Everywhere apps.
But with the PS Vue integration, you’ll see PS Vue content – including on-demand and live channels – in the TV app’s Watch Now section. Here’s an example of that:
But don’t be disappointed when you get your download and find there’s almost nothing in there. Earlier this year when I requested my own data (before the portal feature rolled out), Apple sent me a dozen spreadsheets with my purchase and order history, a few iCloud logs, and some of my account information. The data will date back to when you opened your account, but may not include recent data if Apple has no reason to retain it.
But because most Apple data is stored on your devices, it can’t turn over what it doesn’t have. And any data it collects from Apple News, Maps and Siri is anonymous and can’t attribute to individual users.
You need to log in to privacy.apple.com with your Apple ID and password, and enter your two-factor authentication code if you have it set-up.
2. Request a copy of your data
From here, tap on “Obtain a copy of your data” and select the data that you would like to download — or hit “select all.” You will also have the option of splitting the download into smaller portions.
Apple’s privacy portal. (Image: TechCrunch)
3. Go through the account verification steps
Apple will verify that you’re the account holder, and may ask you for several bits of information. Once the data is ready to download, you’ll get a notification that it’s available for download, and you’ll have two weeks to download the .zip file.
If the “obtain your data” option isn’t immediately available, it may still take time to roll out to all customers.
Subscriptions have turned into a booming business for app developers, accounting for $10.6 billion in consumer spend on the App Store in 2017, and poised to grow to $75.7 billion by 2022. But alongside this healthy growth, a number of scammers are now taking advantage of subscriptions in order to trick users into signing up for expensive and recurring plans. They do this by intentionally confusing users with their app’s design and flow, by making promises of “free trials” that convert after only a matter of days, and other misleading tactics.
Apple will soon have an influx of consumer complaints on its hands if it doesn’t reign in these scammers more quickly.
However, the company’s focus as of late has been more so on getting developers to give subscriptions a try — even holding “secret” meetings where it evangelizes the business model that’s earning developers (and therefore Apple itself) a lot of money. In the meantime, a good handful of apps from bad actors have been allowed to flourish.
Utilities Top Grossing Apps are worst offenders
Today, the majority of the Top Grossing apps on Apple’s App Store are streaming services, dating sites, entertainment apps or games. But when you get past the market leaders — apps like Fortnite, Netflix, Pandora, Tinder, Hulu, etc. — and down into the top hundreds on the Top Grossing chart, another type of app appears: Utilities.
How are apps like QR code readers, document scanners, translators and weather apps raking in so much money? Especially when some of their utilitarian functions can be found elsewhere for much less, or even for free?
This raises the question as to whether some app developers are trying to scam App Store users by way of subscriptions.
We’ve found that does appear to be true, in many cases.
After reading through the critical reviews across the top money-making utilities, you’ll find customers complaining that the apps are too aggressive in pushing subscriptions (e.g. via constant prompts), offer little functionality without upgrading, provide no transparency around how free trials work and make it difficult to stop subscription payments, among other things.
Here are a few examples. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but rather a representative one, just to illustrate the problem. A recent Forbes article listed many more, if you’re curious.
Scanner App – This No. 69 Top Grossing app is raking in a whopping $14.3 million per year for its document scanning utility, according to Sensor Tower data. It has an unbelievable number of customer reviews, as well — nearly 340,000 as of today, and a rating of 4.7 stars out of 5. That will lead most customers to believe this is a good and trustworthy app. But when you parse through the critical reviews, you’ll see some valid complaints.
Tap around in the app and you’ll be constantly prompted to subscribe to a subscription ranging from $3.99 a week to $4.99 per month, or start a free trial. But the subscription following the free trial kicks in after only 3 days — something that’s detailed in the fine print, but often missed. Consumers clearly don’t understand what they’re agreeing to, based on their complaints. And many of the negative reviews indicate customers feel they got duped into paying.
QR Code Reader — Forbes recently found that TinyLab’s QR Code Reader was tricking users into a ridiculously priced $156 per year subscription. This has now earned the app the rank of No. 220 Top Grossing across the App Store, and annual revenue of $5.3 million.
Again, this “free” app immediately starts pushing you to upgrade by starting a “free trial.” And again, this trial converts to a subscription after only 3 days. Can you imagine paying $156 per year for QR code scanning — something the iPhone camera app now does natively?
Weather Alarms – With a 4-star rating after hundreds of reviews, this weather alerting app seems to be handy. But in reality, it’s been using a “dark pattern” to trick users into pushing a button that will start a free trial or sign them up for subscription. And it’s working — to the tune of over a million in annual revenue.
A full screen ad appears in the app, offering two buttons — try for free or pay. The small “X” to close the ad doesn’t even immediately appear! Users then end up paying some $20/month for weather alerts. That seems… excessive.
Legitimate developers have complained about this app for months, but Apple even featured it on its big screen at WWDC. (Watch the video embedded below. It’s incredible.)
This dark pattern is the best (stolen from full screen ads). The (x) close button animates in after a few seconds so that people don’t see they have a way to get off the page. Watch the upper left of the subscription page: pic.twitter.com/DaRJPvdu5Q
*After speaking to Apple about this app, Weather Alarms was removed from the App Store over the weekend.
Translate Assistant – The same developer behind Weather Alarms offers this real-time translation app promising instant translations across more than 100 languages and has 4.7 stars after nearly 4,000 ratings.
But the app is also super aggressive about pushing its subscriptions. With every app launch, a splash screen appears with three different boxes — 1 month ($12.99/mo), 12 months ($44.99/year) or the “free trial,” which converts users to a pricey $7.99/week plan after only 3 days.
Meanwhile, the option to “continue with a limited version” is in small, gray text that’s intentionally been designed to be hard to see.
The app is making $1.3 million a year, per Sensor Tower data.
As you can tell, the issue with many of these scammy apps is that they capitalize on people not reading the fine print, or they allow an app’s design to guide them to the right button to tap. Trickery like this isn’t anything new — it’s been around on the web as long as software has been sold. It’s just that, now, subscriptions are the hip way to scam.
These developers also know that most people — especially if they’ve just downloaded a new app — aren’t going to immediately subscribe. So they push people to their “free trial” instead. But that “free trial” is actually just an agreement to buy a subscription unless you visit the iTunes Settings and cancel it right away.
Many of these “free trials” convert almost immediately, too, which is another way developers are cashing in. They don’t give you time to think about it before they start charging.
“It’s incredibly frustrating how little has been done to thwart these scams,” says Contrast founder and longtime developer David Barnard, whose apps include Weather Atlas and Launch Center Pro. “It erodes trust in the App Store, which ultimately hurts Apple and conscientious developers who use subscriptions,” he says.
Apple also buries Subscription management
The issue of scam apps may not always be the failure of App Store review. It’s possible that the scammy apps sneak in their tricks after Apple’s App Review team approves them, making them harder to catch.
But for the time being, users have to take it upon themselves to cancel these sneaky subscriptions.
Unfortunately, Apple isn’t making it as easy for users to get to their subscriptions as it could be.
Compare Apple’s design with Google Play, where the option to manage Subscriptions is in the top-level navigation:
On the iPhone, it takes several more taps and a bit of scrolling to get to the same area in iOS Settings:
Above: Getting to subscriptions in the iPhone Settings (click images to view larger)
“The App Store has always been a great place, overseen and curated by highly intelligent and ethical people. I believe the App Store can stay as it always has been, if the right measures are taken to deal with those developers who trick the system,” Zhadanov adds.
Today, most subscription-based businesses thriving on the App Store come from legitimate developers. But they know how scammers could easily ruin the market for everyone involved. If allowed to continue, these scams could lead to consumer distrust in subscriptions in general.
In a worst-case scenario, consumers may even go so far as to avoid downloading apps where subscriptions are offered as in-app purchases in order to protect themselves from scams.
For now, Apple is largely relying on user and developer reports via reportaproblem.apple.com — a site most probably don’t know exists — to help them fight scammers. It needs to do more.
In addition to making access to your subscriptions easier, it also needs to better police “Top Grossing” utilities and productivity apps — especially if the service’s value is questionable, and the 1-star reviews are specifically calling out concerns like “sneaky billing” or mentions other subscription tricks.
Apple declined to comment on the matter, but its Developer Guidelines clearly prohibit fraudulent behavior related to subscriptions, and insist that apps are clear about pricing. In other words, Apple has grounds to clear out these scammy subscription apps, if it chose to focus on this problem more closely in the future.
Truphone — a UK startup that provides global mobile voice and data services by way of an eSIM model for phones, tablets and IoT devices — said that it has raised another £18 million ($23.7 million) in funding; additionally securing £36 million ($47 million) more “on a conditional basis” to expand its business after signing “a number of high-value deals.”
It doesn’t specify which deals these are, but Truphone was an early partner of Apple’s to provide eSIM-based connectivity to the iPad; and it will also be offering a service for new iPhone XS and XR models, taking advantage of the dual SIM capability. Truphone says that strategic partners of the company include Apple (“which chose Truphone as the only carrier to offer global data, voice and text plans on the iPad and iPhone digital eSIM”); Synopsys, which has integrated Truphone’s eSIM technology into its chipset designs; and Workz Group, a SIM manufacturer, which has a license from Truphone for its GSMA-accredited remote SIM provisioning platform and SIM operating system.
The company said that this funding, which was made by way of a rights issue, values Truphone at £386 million ($507 million at today’s rates) post-money. Truphone told TechCrunch that the funding came from Vollin Holdings and Minden Worldwide — two investment firms with ties to Roman Abramovich, the Russian oligarch who also owns the Chelsea football club, among other things — along with unspecified minority shareholders. Collectively, Abramovich-connected entities control more than 80 percent of the company.
We have asked the company for more detail on what the conditions are for the additional £36 million in funding to be released and all it is willing to say is that “it’s KPI-driven and related to the speed of growth in the business.”
For some context, Truphone most recently raised money almost exactly a year ago, when it picked up £255 million also by way of a rights issue, and also from the same two big investors. The large amount that time was partly being raised to retire debt. That deal was done at a valuation of £370 million ($491 million at the time of the deal). Going just on sterling values, this is a slight down-round.
Truphone, however, says that business is strong right now:
“The appetite for our technology has been enormous and we are thrilled that our investors have given us the opportunity to accelerate and scale these groundbreaking products to market,” said Ralph Steffens, CEO, Truphone, in a statement. “We recognised early on that the more integrated the supply chain, the smoother the customer experience. That recognition paid off—not just for our customers, but for our business. Because we have this capability, we can move at a speed and proficiency that has never before seen in our industry. This investment is particularly important because it is testament not just to our investors’ confidence in our ambitions, but pride in our accomplishments and enthusiasm to see more of what we can do.”
Truphone is one of a handful of providers that is working with Apple to provide plans for the digital eSIM by way of the MyTruphone app. Essentially this will give users an option for international data plans while travelling — Truphone’s network covers 80 countries — without having to swap out the SIMs for their home networks.
The eSIM technology is bigger than the iPhone itself, of course: some believe it could be the future of how we connect on mobile networks. On phones and tablets, it does away with users ordering, and inserting or swapping small, fiddly chips into their devices (that ironically is also one reason that carriers have been resistant to eSIMs traditionally: it makes it much easier for their customers to churn away). And in IoT networks where you might have thousands of connected, unmanned devices, this becomes one way of scaling those networks.
“eSIM technology is the next big thing in telecommunications and the impact will be felt by everyone involved, from consumers to chipset manufacturers and all those in-between,” said Steve Alder, chief business development officer at Truphone. “We’re one of only a handful of network operators that work with the iPhone digital eSIM. Choosing Truphone means that your new iPhone works across the world—just as it was intended.” Of note, Alder was the person who brokered the first iPhone carrier deal in the UK, when he was with O2.
Truphone has not released numbers detailing how many devices are using its eSIM services at the moment — either among enterprises or consumers — but it has said that customers include more than 3,500 multinational enterprises in 196 countries. We’ll update this post as we learn more.
There’s always been a gap between how much money Apple’s App Store makes when compared with Google Play. But in the third quarter of 2018, that gap widened considerably – possibly to the widest point yet. According to a new report from Sensor Tower, the App Store earned nearly 93% more than Google Play in the quarter, the largest gap since at least 2014 – or, when Sensor Tower began tracking Google Play data.
The firm says that approximately 66% of the $18.2 billion in mobile app revenue generated in Q3 2018 came from Apple’s App Store. The store made $12 billion in the quarter, up 23.3% from the $9.7 billion it made during the same period last year.
Meanwhile, Google Play earned $6.2 billion in the quarter, up 21.5% from the year-ago quarter’s $5.1 billion.
Based on Sensor Tower’s chart of top-grossing apps across both stores, subscriptions are continuing to aid in this revenue growth. Netflix remained the top-grossing non-game app for the third quarter in a row, bringing in an estimated $243.7 million across both platforms. Tinder and Tencent Video remained in the second and third spots, respectively.
Mobile game spending also helped fuel the revenue growth, with spending up 14.9% year-over-year during the quarter to reach $13.8 billion. In fact, it accounted for 76% of all app revenue across both platforms in the quarter, with $8.5 billion coming from the App Store and $5.3 billion from Google Play.
In terms of app downloads, however, Google Play still has the edge thanks to rapid adoption of lower-cost Android devices in emerging markets, the report said. App installs grew 10.9% across both stores, reaching 27.1 billion, up 24.4% from Q3 2017.