Apple Music hits 40 million subscribers as it accelerates towards surpassing Spotify

Apple Music is continuing its upward climb in subscriber count, quickening its pace as it seeks to overtake Spotify in the battle for users’ ears. The music streaming service now has 40 million subscribers, according to a report today from Variety. Apple has confirmed this number to TechCrunch.

The service still has a ways to go before it surpasses Spotify, which currently has 70 million paid Premium subscribers. A report in the Wall Street Journal earlier this year suggests that Apple Music’s quicker growth rate (five percent versus Spotify’s two percent growth) could mean it surpassing the Swedish streaming service as soon as this summer, however. Apple Music hit 30 million subscribers in September of 2017.

In addition to an updated note regarding subscriber notes, the report also says that the streaming service will have a new boss with the promotion of Oliver Schusser to the role of VP of Apple Music & International Content. He will report directly to services head Eddy Cue. Schusser has been at Apple for 14 years, previously leading efforts outside the U.S. on content efforts surrounding the App Store.

Apple’s continued prominence in the music streaming market comes after a rocky introduction thanks to a rough user interface. For Apple to continue to court Spotify Premium subscribers, they’re going to have to continue to focus on more intuitive app design and a more intelligent user recommendation engine, areas where Spotify is still holding strong ahead of it. With Spotify going public last month with a hefty market cap of $28 billion, it’s clear that the company has a lot riding on its ability to stay ahead of Apple in intelligence and continue driving more sophisticated playlists to users.

An area where Apple’s $9.99 per month service is undoubtedly succeeding is in the intimate tie between its audio hardware and Apple Music. Users of the HomePod and AirPods gain essential functionality for music playback only if they are subscribers to Apple Music.

Cambridge Analytica’s acting CEO steps down

Welp. While Mark Zuckerberg gets the grilling of a lifetime on Capitol Hill, the firm at the center of all of this is losing its top (if temporary) executive. As day two of the Facebook testimony was unfolding, Cambridge Analytica sent out a brief statement from its Board of Directors, noting that acting CEO Alexander Tayler was stepping down from the gig.

The two sentence press release thanked Tayler, “for his service in what has been a challenging time for the company.” Well, yeah. Tayler will be sticking with Cambridge Analytica, however, returning to his former role as Chief Data Officer.

Tayler stepped into the temporary after it was vacated in late-March, when then-CEO Alexander Nix was suspended following the release of an undercover video shot by the UK’s Channel 4 News. Shortly after his appointment, Tayler reportedly told employees that he didn’t expect Nix to return to the company.

The exact reason for this latest move isn’t clear just yet. The company says the executive did so “in order to focus on the various technical investigations and inquiries,” but given everything swirling around the company at the moment, it’s probably safe to say that there’s a little more to it than that. Cambridge Analytica has yet to name a temporary (or permanent) replacement for its temporary replacement. 

The company has been at the center of Facebook’s latest controversy ever since it was revealed that as many as 87 million users potentially had their data exposed to the firm. Even more damning information has been exposed over the course of Zuckerberg’s two-day grilling, including the revelation that users’ inboxes may have also been exposed.

The firm, meanwhile, has been attempting to do damage control on social media over the last 48 hours — but most of the damage is, no doubt, already done.

Zuckerberg owns or clones most of the “8 social apps” he cites as competition

Mark Zuckerberg’s flimsy defense when congress asked about a lack of competition to Facebook has been to cite that the average American uses eight social apps. But that conveniently glosses over the fact that Facebook owns three of the top 10 U.S. iOS apps: #4 Instagram, #6 Messenger, and #8 Facebook according to App Annie. The top 3 apps are games. Facebook is building its Watch video hub to challenge #5 YouTube, and has relentlessly cloned Stories to beat #7 Snapchat. And Facebook also owns #19 WhatsApp. Zoom in to just “social networking apps”, and Facebook owns the entire top 3.

“The average American I think uses eight different communication and social apps. So there’s a lot of different choice and a lot of innovation and activity going on in this space” Zuckerberg said when asked about whether Facebook is a monopoly by Senator Graham during yesterday’s Senate hearing, and he’s trotted out that same talking point that was on his note sheet during today’s House testimony.

But Facebook has relentlessly sought to acquire or co-opt the features of its competitors. That’s why any valuable regulation will require congress to prioritize competition. That means either breaking up Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp; avoiding rules that are easy for Facebook to comply with but prohibitively expensive for potential rivals to manage; or ensuring data portability that allows users to choose where to take their content and personal information.

Breaking up Facebook, or at least preventing it from acquiring established social networks in the future, would be the most powerful way to promote competition in the space. Facebook’s multi-app structure creates economies of scale in data that allow it to share ad targeting and sales teams, backend engineering, and relevancy-sorting algorithms. That makes it tough for smaller competitors without as much money or data to provide the public with more choice.

Regulation done wrong could create a moat for Facebook, locking in its lead. Complex transparency laws might be just a paperwork speed bump for Facebook and its army of lawyers, but could be too onerous for upstart companies to follow. Meanwhile, data collection regulation could prevent competitors from ever building as large of a data war chest as Facebook has already generated.

Data portability gives users the option to choose the best social network for them, rather than being stuck where they already are. Facebook provides a Download Your Information tool for exporting your content. But photos come back compressed, and you don’t get the contact info of friends unless they opt in. The list of friends’ names you receive doesn’t allow you to find them on other apps the way contact info would. Facebook should at least offer a method for your exporting hashed version of that contact info that other apps could use to help you find your friends there without violating the privacy of those friends. Meanwhile, Instagram entirely lacks a Download Your Information tool.

Congress should push Zuckerberg to explain what apps compete with Facebook as a core identity provider, an omni-purpose social graph, or cross-platform messaging app. Without choice, users are at the mercy of Facebook’s policy and product examples. All of the congressional questions about data privacy and security don’t mean much to the public if they have no viable alternative to Facebook. The fact that Facebook owns or clones the majority of the 8 social apps used by the average American is nothing for Zuckerberg to boast about.

Google is about to launch a Gmail web redesign

Google sent an email to G Suite customers to tell them that the company has been working on a brand new version of Gmail for the web. In addition to a fresh design, the company also listed some of the new features.

You can expect to be able to access Google Calendar from the Gmail interface directly. Outlook customers are probably going to love this.

You’ll be able to snooze emails so that they reappear in your inbox hours or days later. This is a good way to clean your inbox if you can’t reply to a specific email just yet.

If you use Gmail on your iPhone or Android phone, you may already be using smart replies. These algorithmically-generated replies will also be available on Gmail.com.

Finally, Google is working on a new way to store your emails on your computer for offline access. As the company is slowly phasing out Chrome Apps, Google will now be using standard web technologies to let your browser store your data.

Google has yet to share screenshots of the new design. Gmail’s web interface hasn’t changed in years — you can probably expect a new interface that follows Google’s Material design language.

Google also notes that the update might break some popular browser add-ons for Gmail, such as Clearbit, Streak, etc.

According to the G Suite email, G Suite customers and regular Gmail users will have to opt in into a new Early Adopter Program to access the new Gmail. It’ll be available in the coming weeks.

Here Technologies and Argus join our Tel Aviv lineup

Let’s share a bit more about our agenda for TechCrunch’s Tel Aviv event. This year, the event will focus on mobility and everything around it, from autonomous vehicles, to sensors, drones and security.

That’s why I’m incredibly excited to announce two great speakers. Argus Cyber Security co-founder and CEO Ofer Ben Noon and Here Technologies Head of Mobility Liad Itzhak will join us on stage.

By focusing on mobility, we have the opportunity to spend more time talking about the companies making the magic happen behind the scene.

Here Technologies has been around for more than 30 years. But the company is currently going through a sort of renaissance. After flourishing as an independent company and getting acquired by Nokia, the company is now owned by Audi, BMW and Daimler.

In many ways, mapping technology is the new oil. Car manufacturers need to control mapping data to develop self-driving technologies and services. And Liad Itzhak is well aware of that as he was previously working for Waze and Google.

As for Argus Cyber Security, the company is well-positioned to become one of the companies that matter when it comes to security in the mobility industry. Argus has been working with some of the biggest car manufacturers out there to protect their connected vehicles.

Ofer Ben Noon is a cyber security veteran and the co-founder and CEO of Argus. He’s going to talk about the security risks associated with the cars of the future.

These two speakers will have plenty of interesting things to say on June 7 at the TechCrunch Tel Aviv conference.

Buy tickets here and see you at the Tel Aviv Convention Center!