Amazon Music’s app adds hands-free listening, courtesy of Alexa

In September, Amazon announced it was adding support for Alexa voice control to its Amazon Music app for iOS and Android. However, it was implemented as a tap-to-talk function – something that didn’t quite mesh with the hands-free voice control experience Alexa is known for. Today, Amazon is addressing that problem by rolling out hands-free listening to the Amazon Music app instead, as a result of user feedback.

That means customers can command Alexa to do things like play or pause music, move back and forth between songs, and create playlists by asking, as well as take advantage of Alexa’s more innovative features around playing music by mood, activity, genre, lyrics, artist or song title.

For example, you can ask Alexa to do things like “play the song that goes ‘I’m lovin’ I’m livin’ I’m picking it up” and she’ll play Ariana Grande’s latest single, “No Tears Left to Cry,” notes Amazon. Or you can say things like “Alexa, play that Drake playlist I was listening to last week.”

The update to hands-free voice control could help better establish Amazon’s Music service as a viable competitor to Apple Music, which includes Siri voice control, and Spotify, which began testing its own voice search functionality this March.

Amazon Music is still seen as an underdog in the streaming music battle, compared with these two market leaders, but it may not be as far behind as people though.

Last month, for instance, Billboard reported the number of people subscribing to Amazon Music had doubled over the last six months, and Amazon was claiming “tens of millions” of paid customers. (Apple Music had 40 million paid members as of April and Spotify had 70 million.)  An earlier report had also found that Amazon’s service had grown to become the third largest music subscription service worldwide.

Voice control – and specifically the hands-free experience offered by Echo speakers – has been a huge contributor to Amazon Music’s growth, as has been its inclusion with the Amazon Prime membership program.

It makes sense, then, that Amazon would want to offer a similar hands-free experience across devices – especially as voice assistants like Google’s and Apple’s Siri have the advantage of being built-in. (And Google has also just launched its own YouTube Music service, which could be a disruptor to this space.)

Amazon says hands-free Alexa is rolling out starting today on the iOS and Android versions of the Amazon Music mobile app for both Amazon Music Unlimited and Prime Music listeners. The feature can be turned off in the settings if you don’t want to use it.

 

Facebook is asking users worldwide to review their privacy settings

Starting this week, Facebook will begin asking users worldwide to review their privacy settings with a prompt that appears within the Facebook app. The experience will ask you to review how Facebook uses your personal data across a range of products, from ad targeting to facial recognition. This request to review Facebook’s updated terms and your settings follows a similar experience rolled out to users in the European Union as a result of the new user data privacy regulation, GDPR.

However, EU users have to agree to the new terms of service in order to continue using Facebook, Recode point out, after asking Facebook how the worldwide experience differs from the one being shown in Europe.

Elsewhere in the world, users who dismiss the prompt twice will be automatically opted in.

But before you close that window too quickly, you may want to take a look at what Facebook is asking.

Review Your Privacy Settings

Posted by Facebook on Wednesday, May 23, 2018

In the new prompt, which appears when you visit News Feed, Facebook will allow you to review details about advertising, facial recognition, and the information you’ve chosen to share on your profile.

For example, you may no longer feel comfortable having your religion, political views or relationship information exposed, and the new experience will allow you to change those settings.

As you continue reviewing your information, each screen will walk you through what data is collected and how it’s used, allowing you to make better decisions about Facebook’s use of your data.

Specially, Facebook says the feature will include the following information:

  • How it uses data from partners to show more relevant advertising
  • Political, religious, and relationship information you’ve chosen to include on your profile
  • How it uses face recognition, including for features that help protect your privacy
  • Updates to its terms of service and data policy (that were announced in April)

If you’ve already disabled some of these settings, you won’t be shown that information or encouraged to turn the features back on.

After you adjust your settings, the changes go into effect immediately and you can adjust them again at any time from Settings or Privacy Shortcuts, the company says.

Though the GDPR is aimed at protecting user data in the EU, Facebook has come under fire for its breach of trust with its user base due to the Cambridge Analytica scandal – where data was hijacked from 87 million users without their consent. The company is now revisiting a lot of its user data privacy practices and making changes as result of both that and GDPR’s requirements.

The experience will start popping up on Facebook this week.

Tinder Places tracks your location to help you find matches

Tinder will now help you find matches with those people you may cross paths with in your day-to-day life. As promised earlier, the company today is announcing the launch of a new location-based feature that will narrow down your list of potential dating prospects to those who hit up your same bar for after-work drinks, or who stop by your favorite coffee shop for their daily caffeine fix, or who work out at your same gym.

Yes, that’s right – you no longer have to say “hello” in real life – you can match first, then speak.

This is what it’s come to, friends. Even the “meet cute” story is now a dating app product.

The feature, known as Tinder Places, was previously spotted during beta tests.

Starting today, Tinder Places is formally being announced as a public beta test that’s underway in three cities: Sydney and Brisbane, Australia and Santiago, Chile. (It was being tested privately in these markets prior to now.) The plan is to collect user feedback from the public trials, and tweak the product before it launches to all users worldwide, the company says.

The idea of sharing your location with strangers, however, is a bit creepy – especially considering that Tinder users are not always respectful. But Tinder believes that the fact it’s showing you people you might actually run into in real life will actually prompt more civility in those initial chats.

“I do think that – and this is a personal hypothesis of mine – if you match with someone who you know goes to the same place as you, I think that will set a very different tone to the conversation than someone who is more or less anonymous as an online match on a dating platform,” says Samantha Stevens, Director of Location Products at Tinder, who led the product’s development.

She says the larger idea here is to present users with potential matches who you already have things in common with, as reflected by the places you go.

“The places that you go say a lot about who you are as an individual, what you value, your hobbies, your interests,” she continues. “So being able to match with someone on Tinder who shares those same things with you, we believe creates a more genuine match and a better conversation.”

That said, not everyone would want strangers on a dating service to know where to find them.

But Stevens explains Places has a number of safeguards built-in to make users feel more comfortable, and to limit the feature’s ability to be used for stalking.

“As a female who designed this feature, I personally made sure that I would feel safe using it,” she says.

For starters, the feature is opt in, not opt out.

It leverages Mapbox and Foursquare’s Pilgrim SDK to identify and categorize places you go, and it only shares those places Foursquare deems “social.” (Foursquare is able to “wake up” Tinder’s app for background location, in case you’re wondering how this works). Tinder says it will not record places like your house, the office building where you work, banks, doctors’ offices, and other venues that are either too personal or not relevant to matching. All this appears in a separate section of the Tinder app’s interface.

Plus, your place visits aren’t recorded to the app in real-time. Instead, Tinder waits until at least 30 minutes before a place shows up, or even longer. It randomizes the time before someone appears associated with a particular venue in order to limit others’ abilities to deduce people’s routines.

In addition, users who are participating in Places will get an alert when a new place is added, and can then choose to toggle that place off so it’s not shown right away.

You can also tell Tinder to never show a particular place again after its first appearance. So, for example, if you never want to meet people at your gym when you’re all hot and sweaty, you can disable that place from ever appearing.

Your association with a place also deletes from the app after 28 days, not only as a privacy protection, but also because it helps keep data fresh, Stevens says. (After all, just because you went to that hip bar a year ago does not make you a person who goes to hip bars.)

Of course, a dedicated stalker could make a note of your favorite haunts and attempt to locate you in the real world, but this would require extra effort in terms of writing things down, and trying to determine your patterns. It wouldn’t be impossible to start making some connections, but it would require dedication to the task at hand.

Despite the safeguards, it’s unclear that the real-world benefit to users is significant enough to opt in to this additional data collection. While there are arguably use cases for matching with those you cross paths with, simply visiting the same coffee shop isn’t necessarily an indicator of a potential for a relationship. That comes down to a lot of other factors – including most importantly, that unpredictable chemistry – something neither Tinder, nor any other dating app, can determine – and a set of shared values. At best, this “place data” is a icebreaker.

But for Tinder, location data on its users holds far more value.

The company has no plans to delete its own records of your jaunts around town. You can’t push a button to clear your data, for instance. If you want it gone, you’ll need to delete your Tinder user account entirely, we understand.

The company says users haven’t asked for this sort of functionality during tests. Rather, they’ve opted in to the feature in full force, with very few qualms about their personal data or its usage, it seems.

“In terms of opt in rates – and we’ll see how this behaves as we go to a bigger population – but we’re at like 99 percent,” says Tinder CEO Elie Seidman, who moved over from Match Groups’s OKCupid’s top position to lead Tinder in January. “I don’t know that we’ll see that hold up on a broad population, but I think we could expect this is a 90-plus percent opt in rate.”

That seems to contradict the shift in user sentiment around personal data collection in the wake of the Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal, which has led the world’s largest social network to rethink its practices, and potentially face regulation. The fallout has led to users becoming more cynical and wary of social apps asking them to share their data – and in the case of Tinder, where it’s about – well, frankly, romance and sex – one would think users would give “opting in” a bit more thought.

Seidman doesn’t believe there’s much for users to be concerned about, though. That’s because Tinder’s main business isn’t ads – it’s subscriptions to its premium service, he explains.

“We’re not using [personal data] to sell advertising,” the exec says. “If you think about the trade between our members and us – like, what do you get in exchange for the data? In one place, you get photos of kids, right? And obviously, a lot of ads. And in the other place, you get connected to the most important part of your life. So I think it’s a very different thing,” Seidman says.

That’s certainly a starry-eyed way of viewing Tinder’s potential, of course.

One could argue that “photos of kids” – meaning your family, your friends and their family, and generally, those broader connections you have through social networks – are at least equally important to your romantic relationships, if not more valuable. (Especially if you’re just using Tinder for hook-ups).

 

Tinder claims that it’s not using the location data to target users with its in-app ads, but that doesn’t mean the option is off the table forever. Having a massive trove of location data on users could be an advantage there, as well as a way to improve its algorithm, and even potentially to help it expand into real-world events – something Stevens didn’t rule out, saying if that was something a large number of users demanded, Tinder may consider it.

Meanwhile, a better matching algorithm would be a significant competitive advantage for Tinder, which is today fending off other newcomers, too, not just the desktop web-era dating sites. It’s embroiled in back-and-forth lawsuits with top rival Bumble, for example, and even itself is adopting Bumble’s “women speak first” feature. Given that the industry at large has stolen the swipe to match mechanism Tinder popularized, that seems fair enough.

The new location feature won’t be as easily copied, Seideman believes.

“This is the first time, on an experience before people match, where we’ve changed – in a really fundamental way – the user interface. Of course, it feels very much like Tinder,” he says. “There’s a large body of work here and the team has worked for quarters to do this. It’s a product that inherently works better with scale. We’re drawing a smaller circle around the universe,” Seidman adds. “You need Tinder’s level of scale to make this work.”

Tinder officially claims “tens of millions” of users worldwide, with estimates putting that figure at over 50 million.

The company hasn’t provided a time-table as to when location-based dating will roll out worldwide.

Photo credits: illustration: Bryce Durbin; screenshots: Tinder; couple: Philip Lee Harvey/Getty Images

Spotify launches ‘The Game Plan,’ a 10-part educational video series for artists

On the same day that Spotify’s class-action settlement with musicians gets final approval, the company is making a big push to encourage artists to participate on its streaming service – in this case, by offering them a host of educational material to help them get started. The streaming service today is launching its own video series dubbed The Game Plan, which instructs artists on how to get started using “Spotify for Artists,” and the other steps they have to take to make their music available for streaming.

The series includes short videos like: Getting Your Music Up; What Is Spotify for Artists?; Releasing Music; Building Your Artist Profile; Understanding Your Audience; How to Read Your Data; Engaging Your Audience; The Follow Button, Promoting Your Work, and Building Your Team.

In the videos, Spotify attempts to demystify the world of streaming with tips about things like when is the best time to release music, how and why to use listening data, how to upload your music, when to hire a lawyer (irony alert), and more.

The series will also feature interviews with experts, including Spotify staff, industry vets, and artists themselves, including Rick Ross, Little Dragon, Mike Posner, and Vérité.

The idea is that, by sharing this knowledge with the wider community, Spotify will be able to help artists build their careers, the company explains. Naturally, it wants them to build those careers and invest in learning Spotify’s tools – not those from its rivals.

“From successful musicians, to employees who are industry experts, the Spotify community has a wealth of music industry knowledge,” said Charlie Hellman, Head of Creator Marketplace, Spotify, in a statement about the launch. “We want to equip artists at all stages of their career with that powerful knowledge, and make it as accessible as possible.”

The video series’ debut comes at a time when there’s increased competition for Spotify, including from the just now launched YouTube Music streaming service, which takes direct aim at Spotify with a similar price point and the addition of music videos, including harder-to-find performances that are often just on YouTube. Plus, Apple’s new Netflix-like streaming service is rumored to be launching next year as a bundle with Apple Music.

The Game Plan begins as a 10-part video series, but Spotify says there’s more to come in the future.

Facebook launches new tools for Group admins, including free customer service

Facebook’s Groups are one of the social network’s most popular products, with more than 1.4 billion monthly users across tens of millions of active groups. Today, the company is rolling out a series of new features aimed at those who create and manage these groups, including customer support with answers and help provided by a real person, not a machine or automated responses. Admins are also getting a dedicated online education portal and more tools to manage their groups’ posts.

Unfortunately, the customer support service is not available to all groups at this time.

Facebook instead is beginning a pilot program for admin support that’s only available to a limited number of group admins on iOS and Android at this time, initially in English and Spanish.

“We spend a lot of time speaking with admins, and we listen to their feedback quite a lot,” explains Alex Deve, Product Management Director for Groups. “And the first thing we heard from them – very loud and clear – is that they want to be able to reach out to us and get a very quick response,” he says.

The free service will allow admins to send any issues they have to Facebook, and the company will respond within one business day. This is made possible by the additional hires the company made to expand its moderation team, as CEO Mark Zuckerberg had previously announced, Deve notes.

The idea with the admin support isn’t just about helping admins out directly – it’s also about figuring out what their needs are, what troubles they have, and what features they want. This will help Facebook roll out new features for admins that they’ll find useful, but it also ties into another new product being announced today: an online educational center for admins.

At facebook.com/community, Facebook has collected best practices, tutorials, product demos, and case studies based on the experiences and expertise from the admin community, and is sharing it with others in the form of audio and video content. There are tips on things like growing groups, setting the rules, building a team, using group tools, managing conflicts, and more.

“Going forward, the support work is going to feed into this. [Facebook will learn] what other themes are very common that people want to hear about from other admins. So we’ll create more videos in the future,” says Deve.

Additionally, Facebook is rolling out two new admins tools today, created in response to user feedback.

The first will allow admins and moderators to notify a member whose post gets pulled down which group rule they broke that caused its removal. They’ll also be able to collaborate with other admins and moderators by adding notes in an activity log when they remove a post.

The other new feature, “pre-approved members,” will allow admins and moderators to select members whose content will automatically be approved whenever they post. This will save admins time by not having to moderate content from trusted people.

Groups have been a particular interest for Facebook in recent months, especially as the trend towards private networking and sharing continues to grow. At the company’s F8 Developer Conference in May, Facebook announced other features that will make Groups a more prominent part of the Facebook experience, as a result. This includes a new tab for Groups, where your groups are better organized and you can find others to join – similar to Facebook’s now-defunct standalone Groups app. And it introduced a new Groups plugin that admins could use on their websites or emails to solicit people to join their group.

All the new Groups features are rolling out starting today to about 20 percent of supported users, and will continue to roll out to the rest of the world in the weeks ahead. The online educational portal is live now in English, but will launch in Spanish in June.

Pandora’s personalized playlists go live for all Premium users

Earlier this year, Pandora announced its plans to challenge Spotify by taking aim at one of its rival’s top features: personalized playlists. Pandora in March began rolling out dozens of variations of personalized playlists, including those spanning moods, activities, and genres – all powered by its music database, the Music Genome. Today, Pandora says the rollout has completed and all its Premium users will now have access to these new playlists.

The feature is meant to offer Pandora’s free users a reason to upgrade to its top-tier paid offering, Pandora Premium. This $9.99 per month service offers on-demand listening, playlist creation, downloads for offline listening, unlimited skips and replays, higher-quality audio and no advertisements.

Premium users can share their personalized playlists with friends, even if they’re on the free tier, by sending a link.

The free user can temporarily access Premium by watching a video ad as a way to test drive the Premium experience, and listen to their friend’s playlist. This option, called “Access,” launched in December and has been used by millions.

The company declined to comment on how well this “test drive” strategy has been working to convert free users to paid, saying that it’s not sharing metrics and engagement numbers around personalized playlists as the feature hadn’t yet been broadly rolled out. (Only a “select” number had access to the playlists ahead of today).

The playlists themselves are created by a combination of data from Pandora’s Music Genome and machine learning models that understand what sort of music you like. But Pandora also employs human curators to perfect the lists and update them, as needed.

At launch, the service was capable of offering over 60 personalized playlists, like those for “focus,” “energy,” “rainy days” or genre-based ones, like “pop” or “hip hop.” But users won’t necessarily get all 60 – they’ll only get those that Pandora thinks makes sense for the individual based on the user’s listening habits.

Pandora says that, during this staged rollout phase, it was creating up to four new playlists for each user per week, and this process would continue until it “maxed out” each user’s playlist categories. This “max” is not a flat number, but varies by user. For example, someone who listens to a lot of different types of music may continue getting new playlists for weeks.

Now that the feature is live, Pandora plans to release more categories, including new soundtrack themes, in the months ahead.

“This is the beginning of a whole suite of themed playlists that we will automatically build and tailor to each Premium user. In the coming months, we’ll be rolling out more even more themes for you to unlock,” writes Chris Phillips, Pandora CPO, in a blog post announcing the news.

To find the new playlists, visit the “Featured Playlists” section of “Browse” in the Pandora mobile app.

 

Facebook Marketplace expands into home services

Facebook is entering the home services market. Starting today, U.S. Facebook users browsing the Facebook Marketplace will be able to search thousands of home service professionals through a new feature that helps users locate top-rated and vetted professionals like house cleaners, plumbers, contractors, and others, as well as receive quotes.

The services experience will show up on Facebook’s Marketplace, but is populated with data from Facebook’s partners on this effort: Handy, HomeAdvisor, and Porch.

The company says the idea to launch a home services resource came about because people were always asking for recommendations for home pros on the network.

In fact, the number of people asking for home service recommendations in the U.S. is already well into the millions for the year, Facebook notes.

“More people ask for recommendations related to home services on Facebook in the U.S. than any other topic,” said Bowen Pan, Product Manager at Facebook, in a statement about the launch. “By partnering with Handy, HomeAdvisor, and Porch, people will now have a place on Marketplace to find the right professional to help with their next home project,” he said.

Through its partners, Facebook is able to provide access to hundreds of thousands of professionals, while also allowing users to see the professionals’ ratings, reviews, credentials, and location. Users can additionally request a quote right on the social networking site itself by describing their project, and sending it out to multiple professionals at once. The home service pros who respond can then communicate with the customer through Messenger to follow up on the lead.

The feature itself offers more than just a bunch of listings for users to sort through.

Instead, the main “Marketplace Services” page in Marketplace organizes pros into categories based around tasks, like “deep clean your home” or “get your backyard summer ready,” for example.

When users click on one of the prompts, they’re walked through a form to fill out other relevant data in order to find matching home pros. In the case of house cleaning, to continue the above example, a user would say how often they want a cleaning, how many bedrooms, the home’s square feet, and when they want the cleaning, along with other details. From the search results, they can then read all the service pro profiles and click a “Send” button to share their project request with those they choose. The service pro who follows up will respond on Messenger.

This is similar to what happens on Facebook today, though not in an organized a fashion. If you participate in any local group, you know it’s crammed with recommendation requests from other users – often the same request, repeatedly entered by different people at different times. (As no one ever thinks to use the Facebook Group’s search feature!).

The addition of home services to Marketplace may at least shift some of those inquires over to Marketplace. (Not all, though – personal recommendations from neighbors and friends will still be highly desired, even if pre-vetted home pro listings are available.)

The new offering is one of several category expansions for the Facebook Marketplace which is becoming one of the more viable challengers to Craigslist, thanks to other recent additions like home rentals and cars. And like those earlier expansions, Facebook pursued a similar strategy of working with partners to bring in these new listings.

Facebook, however, is not the only major tech company dabbling with home services.

Amazon expanded into this category several years ago, Walmart recently partnered with Handy on this front, and Google is also working with both HomeAdvisor and Porch in order connect its voice assistant users with home pros nearby.

But this is not the first time Facebook has taken aim at the home services market, either – back in December 2015, the company launched a local business search site at facebook.com/services which let users look for local businesses and organizations that met their needs, including across home services. This site was still live as of yesterday, but it never really took off or was known to most Facebook users. It seemed to be more of an experiment on Facebook’s part, and was focused on surfacing businesses with Facebook Pages – not a true home services destination.

The new effort involving third-party data from partners means home pros may start finding more of their leads come from Facebook. And as result, they may feel compelled to set up a Facebook Page if they haven’t already.

We’ve asked Facebook for further details as to if or how it’s sharing revenue from bookings with its partners, but the company declined to comment prior to publication.

As of last year, Marketplace had been growing at a rate of 18 million new listings per month. And search volume had increased threefold as of last October.

Facebook says the new feature is rolling out today, and will become available to all U.S. users in the weeks ahead in the Facebook app.

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Twitter is killing several of its TV apps, too

Twitter is shutting down its TV apps on Roku, Android TV and Xbox starting on May 24, the company announced this morning. The news of the apps’ closure comes at a time when Twitter is now trying to steer its users to its first-party mobile apps and its desktop website by killing off apps used by a minority of its user base – like the Twitter for Mac app it shut down earlier this year. And more recently, it has attempted to kill off popular third-party Mac apps with a series of unfriendly API changes.

It’s unclear why this has become Twitter’s agenda. While it can be a burden for a company to support a broader ecosystem of apps where some only have a niche audience, in some cases those “niche” users are also the most influential and heavy users. And arguably, anyone launching Twitter’s app on their TV must be a die-hard user – because who is really watching that much Twitter on their TV?

In terms of the TV apps’ shutdown, this is a somewhat abrupt strategy shift. The company had been steadily expanding its live streaming video content over the past year, and it saw its TV apps as a way to get that video in front of a television audience – and particularly cord cutters – who are looking to watch major news events, sports matches, and other entertainment.

The Twitter Roku app was one of the later TV apps to arrive, launching just a year ago, following the September 2016 launch of the Apple TV, Fire TV and Xbox One apps. At the time, the company touted the app as a way for people to “…watch live events and see what people are talking about, keeping them connected to what’s happening.”

It’s likely that none of Twitter’s TV apps have much traction. After all, Twitter didn’t have much in the terms of high-profile exclusive live video content. And on the TV, it has to compete for attention with top streaming services like Netflix and Hulu.

But these TV apps shutdowns aren’t tied to Twitter’s API changes, we’ve heard. Rather, Twitter has made the decision to kill off these apps as it works towards GDPR compliance. (Apparently, these apps were undeserving of time and attention on that front.) In addition, neither Xbox or Roku support a standard regularly supported video player, which made them more difficult to maintain. That also came into play with this decision.

Not all of Twitter’s TV apps are getting the cut, though.

Twitter for tvOS (Apple TV) and Twitter for Amazon Fire TV will continue to be available.

Starbucks’s mobile payment service is slightly outpacing Apple’s

People really love getting their coffee more quickly. Starbucks, which has operated its own mobile payments service since 2011, is the market leader in terms of mobile payments users, beating out Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay, according to a new reporter from eMarketer out this morning. However, Starbucks’ lead over Apple Pay is only a small one – in 2017, it had 20.7 million users compared with Apple Pay’s 19.7 million. And that gap will remain small this year, with 23.4 million using Starbucks’ mobile payments compared with 22 million using Apple Pay.

The wide adoption of the Starbucks mobile payment service is not only due to speed and convenience that the barcode-based payment system offers – it’s also because payments are tied to loyalty, and the Starbucks app is where customers can monitor and manage their card balance and their “star rewards.” In addition, Starbucks has the benefit of being able to offer a consistent payments experience across its stores – there’s never a question in consumers’ minds as to whether they can use its mobile payments service. They know they can.

Other mobile proximity payment services don’t have the same advantage, as many retailers still don’t offer payment terminals that support the tap-to-pay services like Apple Pay and Google Pay.

According to eMarketer’s forecast, 23.4 million people ages 14 and older will use the Starbucks app to make a point-of-sale purchase at least once every six months, compared with 22 million who will use Apple Pay, 11.1 million who will use Google Pay, and 9.9 million who will use Samsung Pay.

Those numbers will increase across the board through 2022, but the rankings will remain the same – with Starbucks then seeing 29.8 million users to Apple Pay’s 27.5 million.

However, this forecast appears to be discounting the impact of the recent expansion of Apple Pay, which will allow users to send payments to friends through iMessage. When you receive this money, it’s added to an Apple Pay Cash card in your iPhone’s Wallet, which can then be used in stores, in addition to in apps or online. This built-in payments service inside one of the largest messaging platforms could prompt more users to adopt Apple Pay, even if they hadn’t before.

Another note: it seems which services are more popular than others is also tied to how long they’ve been around.

Apple Pay launched before Samsung and Google Pay, and is now accepted at more than half of U.S. merchants. Google Pay isn’t as widely accepted, but is pre-installed on Android, which will help it grow. Samsung Pay, meanwhile, has the lowest adoption in terms of users, but is most accepted by merchants, says eMarketer.

The rankings of the various payment services wasn’t the only notable finding from eMarketer’s new report.

The analysts also found that this year, for the first time, more than 25 percent of U.S. smartphone users ages 14 and older, will have used a mobile payment service at least once every six months. The number of payments users will increase by 14.5 percent to reach 55 million by the end of 2018, the firm estimates.

But over the next several years, these top four services will see their share of the mobile payments drop, even as their user numbers grow. That’s because they’ll face increased competition from other new payment apps, including those from merchants themselves.

“Retailers are increasingly creating their own payment apps, which allow them to capture valuable data about their users. They can also build in rewards and perks to boost customer loyalty,” eMarketer forecasting analyst Cindy Liu says.

eMarketer’s forecast (paywalled) is based on an analysis of third-party data, including Forrester, Juniper Research, and Crone Consulting’s data.

 

 

Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine teams with Amazon’s Audible on audiobooks and originals

Reese Witherspoon’s media empire, Hello Sunshine, has teamed up with Audible to work on an audiobook project. The collaboration will initially see the launch of a showcase of Audible audiobooks as selected by Reese’s Book Club, which focus on strong but complex female characters. However, the two companies said that further down the line Hello Sunshine Witherspoon and Amazon-owned Audible will work together on original audio productions, details of which will be announced later in the year.

You may already have heard of the Hello Sunshine brand in passing.

Witherspoon’s company is producing a range of content including feature films, TV shows, social series, and more, including the upcoming Hulu original series starring Witherspoon and Kerry Washington, “Little Fires Everywhere,” based on Celeste Ng’s 2017 bestseller. It’s also producing a number of series for Apple’s forthcoming streaming service, including a comedy series with Kristen Wiig, a true crime thriller with Octavia Spencer, and a two-season drama series with Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston. Amazon, meanwhile, has yet to tap into the Hello Sunshine brand until now, by way of its Audible subsidiary.

“When I started Reese’s Book Club, I wanted to highlight the voices of female storytellers and I am so excited to work with Audible to literally deliver on our mission!” read a statement by Witherspoon about the new project. “It can be hard to find time to read a highly recommended book, and love that with this partnership we are providing a way to experience these beautiful stories in audio form.”

The deal makes sense in terms of growing Hello Sunshine and anointing books as “must-reads” that are later turned into video projects, as is often the case today.

For example, the Apple/Kristen Wiig drama is based on Curtis Sittenfeld’s short story collection, “You Think It, I’ll Say It;” a film for Fox 2000 by Hello Sunshine is based on Catherine Steadman’s novel “Something in the Water;” and Hello Sunshine’s psychological thriller for TriStar Pictures “A White Lie” is based on Karin Tanabe’s novel “The Gilded Years.”

And for Amazon, a collaboration between its audiobook business, Audible, and Hello Sunshine, could give it insight (and potentially leverage) in the negotiations for upcoming Hello Sunshine video projects.

The new audiobook collection will kick off in June, the companies said.