iOS 14 gets rid of the app grid to help you find the app you’re looking for

Apple unveiled the next major version iOS a few weeks ago. I’ve been playing around with beta versions of iOS 14 and here’s what you should expect when you update your iPhone to the final release of iOS 14 this fall.

The most interesting change is something you’re not going to notice at first. The home screen has been rethought. In some ways, the iPhone now works more like Android devices. You can add widgets to the home screen and there’s a new app launcher called the App Library.

If you’ve been using a smartphone for many years, chances are your device is cluttered with a dozen apps you frequently use, some of apps you only need a few times a year and a ton of apps that are no longer useful.

Maybe your home screen is perfectly organized and you’re thinking that this doesn’t apply to you. Arguably, you’re part of the minority. Many people tell me they don’t even know where app icons are located anymore and they just pull down to use the search feature.

With iOS 14, changes are not immediately visible. If you want to keep using your phone just like before, nobody is stopping you. But the home screen is now more customizable.

When you tap and hold on a home screen icon, there’s a new menu that lists all the widgets you can install on your home screen. Many default apps already support widgets, such as Reminders, Calendar, Stock, Weather, Music etc. And each widget comes in multiple sizes if you want to see more or less info.

The most interesting thing about widgets is that you can stack them and flip through them. Otherwise, they’d quickly take over your entire home screen. Apple also tries to surface the widget that is more relevant to the time of the day and what you’re doing.

The second big change with the home screen is that there’s a new page at the right of your last page. The App Library groups all your apps on your phone by category. Some icons are bigger than others as Apple tries once again to surface the most important apps to you.

In my experience, categories don’t work that well as they’re based on the broad categories of the App Store. But you can always tap on the search bar at the top to display an alphabetical list of your apps. It could be useful if you can’t remember the name of an app for instance.

Image Credits: Apple

Fighting app fatigue

Those changes for the home screen might seem minor, but they are important to change the current app paradigm. People simply don’t want to download new apps. They don’t want to create a new account and they don’t want to have another icon.

Now that you can hide pages of apps and that there’s the App Library, downloading new apps has become less intimidating. If you combine that with Sign in with Apple, you can go from no app to interacting with content in no time.

In addition to that, Apple is introducing App Clips. They are sort of mini apps that you can launch without installing an app. It’s a small part of an app that you can easily share. I haven’t had the chance to try it out yet as third-party developers have yet to take advantage of App Clips.

There are many ways to share App Clips. You can launch those apps from the web, from Messages, from Maps, from NFC tags or from QR codes. Get ready to see stickers at cafés, on scooters or in museums. Scan a code or tap your phone on it and you get an app-like experience. If you want to dive deeper, you can download the full app from the App Library.

But it’s also going to have some major impacts on utility apps, apps that you don’t use that often or travel apps for instance. Sure, you may keep your favorite social app on your home screen. But you’re going to forget about apps that only live in the App Library.

Developers will be happy that downloading apps is easier. And yet, it is going to be harder to make people come back to your app after the first launch.

Image Credits: Apple

Some app refinements

Let me list some quality-of-life improvements that are going to make your phone works better. In Messages, you can now pin conversations to the top. Group conversations are also receiving a major update with the ability to @-mention people, reply to specific messages and set a group of photos. Once again, Apple is bringing Messages closer to WhatsApp and Telegram. But it’s not a bad thing.

In Maps, there are many new features that I already detailed in a separate post. I encourage you to read it if you want to learn more about guides, electric vehicle routing, cycling directions and more.

The Home app has been improved with a new row of icons that describe the status of your home. For instance, you can see the temperature, see if a door is open, see if lights are on, etc.

Like every year, Notes and Reminders are getting some small improvements. For instance, document scanning has been improved, search has been improved, you can assign reminders to others and more. Those apps have become really powerful with these small incremental updates.

Image Credits: Apple

All the rest

There are many things that I haven’t mentioned yet or that I haven’t tried because I can’t use those features yet. Similarly, it’ll take some time before developers start adopting those features. Here’s a quick rundown:

  • Incoming calls don’t take over the entire screen anymore. You get a notification at the top of the screen, which is so much better if you don’t want to answer a call.
  • Similarly, Siri doesn’t overtake the screen. Your display fades out. I think more people are going to use Siri because of this as it doesn’t feel as invasive.
  • Your AirPods will automatically switch between your iPhone, iPad, Mac, etc.
  • When you’re on a FaceTime call or watching a video, you can switch to another app and keep the video in a corner. There’s not much else to say other than it’s nice.
  • Cycling directions in Apple Maps: I’m a bike lover but the feature isn’t available in Paris. It’s hard to know whether directions make sense in San Francisco or New York as I don’t know cycling infrastructure that well in those cities.
  • When you pull down to search for something, iOS now automatically highlights the first result. You can tap Go on the keyboard to hit the first result. It’s so much better.
  • HomeKit-compatible security cameras can now recognize faces based on tags in Photos.
  • You can unlock cars with your phone using NFC if you have a compatible car.
  • Following the acquisition of Dark Sky, you’ll be able to see next-hour precipitation in Apple’s Weather app.
  • You’ll be able to choose a different web browser and email client as default apps with iOS 14.

What about stability?

The big issue of iOS 13 was that it was quite buggy when it launched in September 2019. It’s hard to know whether iOS 13 is going to perform better on this front as it’s still a beta.

But, as you can see, Apple didn’t try to reinvent the wheel with default apps. There are a ton of improvements across the board, but no big redesign of Photos or Messages for instance. And I think it’s a good thing.

Changes on the home screen as well as App Clips could have wider implications for developers. It could change the way you discover and install apps today. So it’s going to be interesting to see if the developer community embraces App Clips.

Apple just released the first iOS 14 beta to everyone

This is your opportunity to get a glimpse of the future of iOS — and iPadOS. Apple just released the first public beta of iOS 14 and iPadOS 14, the next major version of the operating systems for the iPhone and iPad. Unlike developer betas, everyone can download those betas without a $99 developer account. But don’t forget, it’s a beta.

The company still plans to release the final version of iOS and iPadOS 14.0 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. And Apple released the second developer beta of iOS and iPadOS 14 earlier this week. 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 an iOS 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 or iPhone you don’t need, here’s how to download it. Head over to Apple’s beta website and download the configuration profile. It’s a tiny file that tells your iPhone or iPad to update to public betas like it’s a normal software update.

You can either download the configuration profile from Safari on your iOS device directly, or transfer it to your device using AirDrop, for instance. Reboot your device, then head over to the Settings app. In September, your device should automatically update to the final version of iOS and iPadOS 13 and you’ll be able to delete the configuration profile.

The biggest change of iOS 14 is the introduction of widgets on the home screen, a new App Library to browse all your apps and the ability to run App Clips — those are mini apps that feature a small part of an app and that you can run without installing anything.

There are also many refinements across the board, such as new features for Messages with a big focus on groups with @-mentions and replies, a new Translate app that works on your device, cycling directions in Apple Maps in some cities and various improvements in Notes, Reminders, Weather, Home and more.

If you want to learn more about iOS 14, I looked at some of the features in the new version:

Coronavirus impact sends app downloads, usage and consumer spending to record highs in Q2

As the world continued to cope with the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, the second quarter of 2020 became the largest yet for mobile app downloads, usage, and consumer spending. According to new data from app store intelligence firm App Annie, mobile app usage grew 40% year-over-year in the second quarter of 2020, even hitting an all-time high of over 200 billion hours during April. Consumer spending in apps, meanwhile, hit a record high of $27 billion in the second quarter. And app downloads reached a high of nearly 35 billion.

The growth in app usage has been fueled by social distancing and lockdown measures, as countries around the world try to quell the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Image Credits:

In India, for example, time spent in apps grew 35% in Q2 2020 from Q4 2019. Italy and Indonesia saw growth of 30% and 25%, respectively. In the U.S., time spent in apps grew 15%.

App Annie says that now, the average user is spending 4 hours and 20 minutes per day on their smartphones.

Image Credits: App Annie

 

But consumers aren’t just launching apps they already have installed on their phones — they’re also downloading new ones. In the second quarter, consumers downloaded a nearly 35 billion new apps, an all-time high.

Google Play accounted for 25 billion of those downloads, representing 10% year-over-year growth. India and Brazil were the the two largest markets for Google Play in the quarter.

Image Credits: App Annie

iOS downloads grew 20% year-over-year to reach nearly 10 billion. The U.S. and China were iOS’s biggest markets for downloads, but the U.S. and Saudi Arabia saw the most quarter-over-quarter growth. The latter was likely attributed to a nationwide lockdown and school closures, driving app downloads in the country to a all-time high in April and 100% year-over-year growth on iOS.

Games were downloaded at record levels in the quarter, App Annie noted, totalling 14 billion games. In the first week of Q2, weekly mobile game downloads broke records at over 1.2 billion, and weekly download levels remained at 1 billion on average throughout the quarter, up 20% year over year.

Image Credits: App Annie

Non-gaming apps represented over half (55%) of the new downloads on Android and 70% of those on iOS.

More specifically, top categories outside of games included “Tools” and “Entertainment” on Google Play and “Photo and Video” and “Entertainment” on iOS. But other categories saw strong growth, including “Business,” “Health & Fitness” and “Education” which saw quarter-over-quarter growth in downloads of 115%, 75% and 50% respectively on Google Play.

On iOS, “Health and Fitness,” “Shopping,” and “Medical” apps saw strong quarter-over-quarter growth of 30%, 25% and 20%, meanwhile.

With record downloads and usage, consumer spending also grew significantly as a result, particularly among streaming video services.

Image Credits:

 

In the second quarter, consumers spent a record $27 billion in apps, up 15% year-over-year to $17 billion on iOS and up 25% to $10 billion on Android.

Games accounted for $19 billion of the spend, up 15% quarter-over-quarter. Google Play saw sizable growth at 25% quarter-over-quarter, which was 2x the growth rate on iOS.

Image Credits: App Annie

Non-gaming apps were 35% of the spend on iOS. The U.S. and China the largest contributors in both games and non-game apps on iOS in the quarter. However, the U.S. notably took back the top position as the largest market for consumer games — a spot previously held by China — with 30% quarter-over-quarter growth in Q2.

Non-games were 15% of the spend on Google Play. The U.S., Japan, and South Korea were the largest markets in both non-games and games alike on Google Play.

Top Google Play categories in addition to “Games” included “Social” and “Entertainment.” Growth in the “Entertainment” category was driven largely by Disney+ and Twitch, App Annie noted.

On iOS, “Entertainment” and “Photo and Video” were the largest categories by consumer spend, in addition to “Games.” Here, TikTok drove growth for the “Photo and Video” category, becoming the No. 1 top grossing app on iOS App Store globally in Q2 2020 thanks to sales of virtual gifts used to tip streamers.

Image Credits: App Annie

While much of the activity taking place on mobile devices during the pandemic is related to having fun — like watching videos or playing games, for example — several of the top apps in the quarter were work-related.

Zoom, for instance, became the No. 2 of most downloaded app globally in Q2 2020.  Google Meet was No. 7.

TikTok, meanwhile, was the top app by downloads and spending, and the No. 7 by monthly active users. That will likely change in the months ahead, due to its ban in India. A proposed U.S. ban has also recently seen TikTok rivals gaining ground. Amid this disruption, local competitors in India have seen increased usage, and elsewhere, competitors like Byte and Likee have surged.

 

 

 

 

TikTok saw a rise in government demands for user data

Earlier this year, TikTok’s parent company ByteDance joined the raft of American tech giants that publish the number of government demands for user data and takedown requests by releasing its own numbers. The move was met with heavy skepticism, amid concerns about the app maker’s links to China, and accusations that it poses a threat to U.S. national security, a claim it has repeatedly denied.

In its second and most recent transparency report, published today, TikTok said it received 500 total legal demands, including emergency requests, from governments in the first half of the year, up 67% on the previous half. Most of the demands came from the United States.

TikTok also received 45 government demands to remove contents. India, which submitted the most takedown requests, earlier this month banned TikTok from the country, citing security concerns.

But noticeably absent from the report is China, where TikTok is not available but where its parent, ByteDance, is headquartered. That’s not an uncommon occurrence: Facebook or Twitter, neither of which are available in China, have not received or complied with a demand from the Chinese government. Instead, ByteDance has a separate video app, Douyin, for users in mainland China.

TikTok spokesperson Hilary McQuaide told TechCrunch: “We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked.”

“We do not and have not removed any content at the request of the Chinese government, and would not do so if asked,” the spokesperson said.

But the company’s efforts to fall in line with the rest of the U.S. tech scene’s transparency efforts is not likely to quell long-held fears held by the company’s critics, including lawmakers, which last year called on U.S. intelligence to investigate the firm.

TikTok continues to contend that it’s not a threat and that it’s firmly rooted in the United States.

Earlier this week, the company said it was withdrawing from Hong Kong in response to the new Beijing-imposed national security law.

TikTok saw a rise in government demands for user data

Earlier this year, TikTok’s parent company ByteDance joined the raft of American tech giants that publish the number of government demands for user data and takedown requests by releasing its own numbers. The move was met with heavy skepticism, amid concerns about the app maker’s links to China, and accusations that it poses a threat to U.S. national security, a claim it has repeatedly denied.

In its second and most recent transparency report, published today, TikTok said it received 500 total legal demands, including emergency requests, from governments in the first half of the year, up 67% on the previous half. Most of the demands came from the United States.

TikTok also received 45 government demands to remove contents. India, which submitted the most takedown requests, earlier this month banned TikTok from the country, citing security concerns.

But noticeably absent from the report is China, where TikTok is not available but where its parent, ByteDance, is headquartered. That’s not an uncommon occurrence: Facebook or Twitter, neither of which are available in China, have not received or complied with a demand from the Chinese government. Instead, ByteDance has a separate video app, Douyin, for users in mainland China.

TikTok spokesperson Hilary McQuaide told TechCrunch: “We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked.”

“We do not and have not removed any content at the request of the Chinese government, and would not do so if asked,” the spokesperson said.

But the company’s efforts to fall in line with the rest of the U.S. tech scene’s transparency efforts is not likely to quell long-held fears held by the company’s critics, including lawmakers, which last year called on U.S. intelligence to investigate the firm.

TikTok continues to contend that it’s not a threat and that it’s firmly rooted in the United States.

Earlier this week, the company said it was withdrawing from Hong Kong in response to the new Beijing-imposed national security law.

What India’s TikTok ban means for China

For more than a decade, China has limited how foreign tech firms that operate inside its borders do business. The world’s largest internet market has used its Great Firewall to block Facebook, Twitter, Google and other services in the name of preserving its cyber sovereignty.

The walled-garden approach has helped homegrown giants like Tencent and Alibaba Group win the local market, while giving the Chinese government a better hold on what gets communicated on these platforms. China has even suggested that other nations deploy similar measures.

Be careful what you ask for: Last week, dozens of Chinese firms got a front-seat view to the challenges their global counterparts face in their territory. With a press release, India declared that the world’s second-largest internet market was shutting the door to dozens of Chinese firms for an indefinite period.

India said it would ban 59 apps and services, including ByteDance’s TikTok, Alibaba Group’s UC Browser and UC News, and Tencent’s WeChat over cybersecurity concerns.

New Delhi is open to meeting these firms and hear their defenses, but for now, local telecom operators and other internet service providers have been ordered to block access to these services. Google and Apple have already complied with India’s order and delisted the apps from their app stores.

India’s order is already shifting the market in favor of local firms, several of which have rushed to cash in on the app ban. A crop of recently launched short-form video sharing services have amassed tens of millions of users just this week.

But depending on how long the ban remains in place, the move could also derail a big funding source for thousands of Indian startups. The vast majority of India’s unicorns count Chinese VCs as some of their biggest and longest-term backers. New Delhi’s order could also change how American giants, many of which are already bullish on India, review the market moving forward.

Today, we will explore various ways India and China’s situation could play out and impact various stakeholders. But first, some background on how tension escalated between the two nuclear-armed nations.

Tinder now testing video chat in select markets, including U.S.

Tinder announced this morning it will begin to test video chat in its mobile dating app with some members in select worldwide markets, including in the U.S. The feature, which allows Tinder matches to go on “virtual” dates when both opt in, will first be available to users in Virginia, Illinois, Georgia and Colorado in the U.S., as well as in Brazil, Australia, Spain, Italy, France, Vietnam, Indonesia, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Peru and Chile, also with some members.

Parent company Match had first promised it would introduce video chat in Tinder as part of its Q1 2020 earnings report and touted the feature as a way Tinder was evolving its business in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. The company had also then detailed the pandemic’s impact on its app, which had slowed Tinder user growth in the quarter as social distancing requirements and government lockdowns went into effect.

Tinder ended Q1 with 6 million subscribers, up from 5.9 million in December 2019 — meaning it only added 100,000 paid subscribers during the quarter. For comparison, in the year-ago quarter it added 384,000 paid users. Tinder’s average revenue per user (ARPU) also grew just 2%, mainly due to purchases of à la carte features, not subscriptions.

Tinder says it had tested video at various times before the COVID-19 outbreak, but said it never saw significant adoption. The pandemic has changed things, however. Today, Tinder allows users to search for matches worldwide through its Passport feature, making its dating app more of a social network. Meanwhile, Tinder users who do want to date now feel almost forced to use video for their early interactions instead of going on briefer “getting to know you” coffee or drink dates, as before.

Without a video option in the app, these users often turned to third-party apps like Snapchat or other video chat apps for these early connections. Meanwhile, daters who prioritized a video option may have even made the switch to rival Bumble, which has offered video for a year. Facebook also recently said it would add video for its Facebook Dating users, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, forcing Tinder’s hand.

Image Credits: Tinder

The new feature itself is simple to use. Once two people have matched and are chatting in the app, they can indicate they’re ready to move to a video session by tapping the new video icon. The clever part is that the feature itself isn’t enabled until both matches opt in. The company notes that Tinder users won’t be informed if a match toggles on the video chat feature. The idea is to wait until the discussion comes up naturally, as it often does in a text-based chat.

When both users have toggled on video chat, they have to agree to ground rules before the chat begins. Tinder says calls should remain “PG,” with no nudity or sexual content. The chats are also supposed to stay “clean,” meaning no harassment, hate speech, violence or other illegal activities. Users also agree calls will need to be age-appropriate, meaning without minors involved.

The feature, which Tinder calls “Face to Face,” is enabled on a match-by-match basis, not universally for all matches.

How exactly Tinder plans to properly moderate what appears to be a fantastic new solicitation platform remains less clear. In addition, Tinder’s move to embrace video means it could be putting sex offenders in front of the camera. As an investigative report last year from ProPublica found, most of the Match-owned dating apps, including Tinder, were not screening for sexual predators.

For now, Tinder says users are asked to review the call when it wraps.

In a pop-up, users who finish a video call will be asked whether they would go Face to Face again. Here, they’ll also have the option to report the user, if needed. These sorts of retroactive rating systems don’t do much for anyone who feels unsafe in the moment, of course, and it’s not clear to what extent Tinder will step in to police calls in progress.

Asked for specifics, Tinder declined to share. (In an earlier report, Tinder CEO Elie Seidman suggested Tinder would use machine learning models to monitor chats.)

Also unclear is to what extent Tinder would step into to stop what may otherwise be consensual sexual activity, including of the paid variety.

Tinder doesn’t seem worried about these off-brand use cases for video chat, however. It says it recently surveyed around 5,000 members in the U.S. and around half of them have already had video dates with a match off its platform over the past month, indicating a willingness to try video for online dating. In addition, 40% of Gen Z members said they wanted to keep using video as an initial step before agreeing to meet in real life, even when places like restaurants and bars were re-opened.

“Connecting face-to-face is more important than ever, and our video chat feature represents a new way for people to get to know one another in-app no matter their physical distance,” said Rory Kozoll, head of Trust and Safety Products at Tinder, in a statement about the launch. “Face to Face prioritizes control to help our members feel more comfortable taking this next step in chats if and when it feels right for them. We’ve built a solid foundation, and look forward to learning from this test over the coming weeks,” Kozoll added.

The feature is launching in testing only starting today, in select markets.

Facebook expands Instagram Reels to India

As scores of startups look to cash in on the content void that ban on TikTok and other Chinese apps has created in India, a big challenger is ready to try its own hand.

Instagram said on Wednesday it is rolling out Reels — a feature that allows users to create short-form videos set to music or other audio — to a “broad” user base in India.

Video is already a popular way how many Indians engage on Instagram. “Videos make up over a third of all posts in India,” said Ajit Mohan, the head of Facebook India, in a call with reporters Wednesday.

So a broad test of Reels, which is also currently being tested in Brazil, France, and Germany, in India was only natural, he said, dismissing the characterization that the new feature’s ability had anything to do with a recent New Delhi order.

India banned 59 apps and services developed by Chinese firms citing privacy and security concerns last week. Among the apps that have been blocked in the country includes TikTok, ByteDance’s app that has offered a similar functionality as Reels for years.

TikTok identified India as its biggest market outside of China. Late last year, TikTok said it had amassed over 200 million users in the country, and the firm was looking to expand that figure to at least 300 million this year.

In the event of TikTok’s absence, a number of startups including Twitter-backed Sharechat, Chingari, and Mitro have ramped up their efforts and have claimed to court tens of millions of users. Sharechat said it had doubled its daily active users in a matter of days to more than 25 million.

Gaana, a music streaming service owned by Indian conglomerate Times Internet, rolled out HotShots to showcase user generated videos. Gaana had more than 150 million monthly active users as of earlier this year.

But Instagram, which has already attracted tens of thousands of influencers in India, is perhaps best positioned to take on TikTok in the world’s second largest internet market. Instagram had about 165 million monthly active users last month, up from 110 million in June last year, according to mobile insights firm App Annie, data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch. Mohan declined to comment on Instagram’s user base in India.

Mohan said he is hopeful that Instagram Reels would enable several content creators in India to gain followers globally.

In the run up to the launch of Reels, Facebook has secured deals with several Indian music labels including Saregama in India.

More to follow…

Amazon adds ‘hands-free’ Alexa to its Alexa mobile app

Amazon is making it easier for mobile users to access its Alexa virtual assistant while on the go. The company announced today it’s making it possible to use Alexa “hands free” from within its Alexa mobile app for iOS and Android, meaning customers will be able to use Alexa to make lists, play music, control their smart home devices and more, without having to touch their phone.

Customers can first command their phone’s digital assistant, like Siri or Google Assistant, to launch the Alexa app to get started with the hands-free experience. They can then speak to Alexa as they would normally, saying something like “Alexa, set the thermostat to 72,” “Alexa, remind me to call Jen at 12 pm tomorrow,” “Alexa, what’s the weather?” and so on. Customers can even request to stream music directly within the Alexa app itself, if they choose.

Before, users would have to tap the blue Alexa button at the bottom of the screen before Alexa would listen.

Once the wake word is detected, an animated blue line will appear at the bottom of the app’s screen to indicate Alexa is streaming the request to the cloud.

Amazon had previously integrated the Alexa experience into its other apps, including its flagship shopping app and Amazon Music. In the latter, it rolled out a hands-free Alexa option back in 2018, allowing users to control playback or ask for music without having to tap. But the Alexa app has remained a tap-to-talk experience until now, which doesn’t quite mesh with how Alexa works on most other devices, like Amazon Echo speakers and screens, for example.

After updating the app, customers will be presented with the option to enable the hands-free detection and can then begin to use the feature. A setting is also being made available that will allow users to turn the feature off at any time.

Amazon notes the feature will only work when the phone is unlocked and the Alexa app is open on the screen. It won’t be able able to launch Alexa from a locked phone or when the app is closed and off the screen, running in the background. (As we don’t have the app update yet ourselves, we are unable to directly confirm this detail.)

To use the new feature, customers will have to first update their Alexa app to the latest version on the Apple App Store or Google Play store.

Amazon says the feature is rolling out over the next several days to users worldwide, so you may not see the option immediately.

Instagram swaps out its ‘Activity’ tab for ‘Shop’ in new global test

Instagram today is starting a small global test of the Instagram Shop tab, first announced this May, which allows Instagram users to shop from top brands and creators via a new tab in the app’s navigation bar with just one tap. Here, users will be able to filter products by categories, as they can today via the existing Shop experience within Instagram Explore.

Though the company in May had also announced plans for a newly designed Instagram Shop with a different layout than what’s available today through Explore, those changes aren’t being tested at present. Instead, this new global test will direct users to the same “Shop” experience that U.S users been able to reach by tapping the “Shop” button in Explore.

The main difference is that the Shop icon will replace the heart icon (Activity) in Instagram’s main navigation.

Image Credits: Instagram

 

Thankfully, the Activity section isn’t totally gone. For those in the test, the Activity tab can either be accessed at the top right of your Feed (next to the paper airline Direct icon) or by going to your profile and clicking the heart icon from there.

In this version of Instagram Shop accessed from the main navigation bar, users can filter by brands they follow or by category, including things like Beauty, Clothing & Accessories, Home, Jewelry & Watches, and Travel, for example. In addition, not all products showcased in this version of Shop allow users to check out directly from Instagram’s universal cart. Instead, some brands have items tagged for shopping, but direct users to their own website to complete the transaction.

If the business is testing Instagram’s own Checkout feature, however, a small selling fee is involved.

An upcoming Instagram Shop experience will look a little different. Instagram had said in May it will feature collections from @shop, alongside selections from the user’s favorite brands and creators. These shopping options are laid out on the screen in a more intentional manner, with bigger images at the top of the screen, following by a scrollable row of brands, and then personalized content below in a “Suggested For You” section.

This new experience is still expected to arrive later this year, but an exact date has yet to be determined.

Instagram had already been testing today’s change with some portion of its U.S. user base. The expanded test will now introduce the change to a small number of users worldwide, including the U.S. 

Instagram says it will use the results of this test to determine how it will roll out Shop further down the road. It’s possible the company could revisit the idea of replacing Activity with Shop if it didn’t increase Shop traffic and conversions.

“This is a small global test of the Instagram Shop tab that we announced in May. We’ll use this test to assess how we decide to roll this out further,” a company spokesperson said.