android apps

This Week in Apps: Facebook launches trio of app experiments, TikTok gets spammed, plus coronavirus impacts on app economy

Posted by | Android, android apps, app stores, Apple, Apps, coronavirus, COVID-19, developers, Google, iOS, iOS apps, Mobile, TC | No Comments

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019. People are now spending three hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

In this Extra Crunch series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.

This week we’re continuing to look at how the coronavirus outbreak is impacting the world of mobile applications, with fresh data from App Annie about trends playing out across app categories benefiting from the pandemic, lockdowns and societal changes. We’re also keeping up with the COVID-19 contact-tracing apps making headlines, and delving into the week’s other news.

We saw a few notable new apps launch this week, including HBO’s new streaming service HBO Max, plus three new app experiments from Facebook’s R&D group. Android Studio 4.0 also launched this week. Instagram is getting better AR tools and IGTV is getting ads. TikTok got spammed in India.

Meanwhile, what is going on with app review? A shady app rises to the top of the iPhone App Store. Google cracks down on conspiracy theory-spreading apps. And a TikTok clone uses a pyramid scheme-powered invite system to rise up the charts.

COVID-19 contact-tracing apps in the news 

  • Latvia: Reuters this week reported that Latvia aims to become one of the first countries to launch a smartphone app, Stop Covid, using the new toolkit created by Apple and Alphabet’s Google to help trace coronavirus infections.
  • Australia: The role of the country’s Covidsafe app in the recovery appears to be marginal, The Guardian reports. In the month since its launch, only one person has been reported to have been identified using data from it. A survey even found that Australians were more supportive of using telecommunications metadata to track close contacts (79%) than they were of downloading an app (69.8%). In a second survey, their support for the app dropped to 64%. The app has been maligned by the public debate over it and technical issues.
  • France: The country’s data protection watchdog, CNIL, reviewed its contact-tracing app StopCovid, finding there were no major issues with the technical implementation and legal framework around StopCovid, with some caveats. France isn’t using Google and Apple’s contact-tracing API, but instead uses a controversial centralized contact-tracing protocol called ROBERT. This relies on a central server to assign a permanent ID and generate ephemeral IDs attached to this permanent ID. CNIL says the app will eventually be open-sourced and it will create a bug bounty. On Wednesday, the app passed its first vote in favor of its release.
  • Qatar: Serious security vulnerabilities in Qatar’s mandatory contact-tracing app were uncovered by Amnesty International. An investigation by Amnesty’s Security Lab discovered a critical weakness in the configuration of Qatar’s EHTERAZ contact-tracing app. Now fixed, the vulnerability would have allowed cyberattackers to access highly sensitive personal information, including the name, national ID, health status and location data of more than one million users.
  • India: India’s contact-tracing app, Aarogya Setu, is going open-source, according to Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology Secretary Ajay Prakash Sawhney on Tuesday. The code is being published on GitHub. Nearly 98% of the app’s more than 114 million users are on Android. The government will also offer a cash bounty of $1,325 to security experts who find bugs or vulnerabilities.
  • Switzerland: Several thousand people are now testing a pilot version of Switzerland’s contact-tracing app, SwissCovid. Like Lativia, the app is one of the first to use Apple and Google’s contact-tracing API. Employees at EPFL, ETH Zurich, the Army and select hospitals and government agencies will be the first to test the Swiss app before its public launch planned for mid-June.
  • China: China’s health-tracking QR codes, embedded in popular WeChat and Alipay smartphone apps, are raising privacy concerns, Reuters reports. To walk around freely, people must have a green rating. They also now have to present their health QR codes to gain entry into restaurants, parks and other venues. These efforts have been met with little resistance. But the eastern city of Hangzhou has since proposed that users are given a color-coded health badge based on their medical records and lifestyle habits, including how much they exercised, their eating and drinking habits, whether they smoked and how much they slept the night before. This suggestion set off a storm of criticism on China’s Weibo, a Twitter-like platform.

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Google launches ‘Read Along,’ a free app that helps young children practice reading

Posted by | Android, android apps, Apps, children, educational, family, Google, kids, parents, reading | No Comments

Google today is launching a new app, Read Along, that aims to help elementary school students practice their reading skills and stay educationally engaged amid school closures due to coronavirus. The new Android app is based on Google’s existing application, Bolo, which launched in India last year with a catalog of read-along stories in both English and Hindi. The updated and rebranded version is now globally available with support for nine languages. 

Like Bolo, Read Along leverages Google’s speech recognition and text-to-speech to help kids learn to read.

The app includes a built-in reading assistant named Diya. As kids read aloud, Diya detects if the child is struggling with a passage and can jump in with positive reinforcement or help. At any time, the child can ask Diya to help them read a sentence or pronounce a word they don’t know.

As children progress in the app, they’re presented with mini word games and earn in-app prizes as they improve their skills.

Google says the app was built with children’s privacy in mind and is able to work without either Wi-Fi or data. The voice data is analyzed in real-time on the device, and is not synced, stored or analyzed on Google’s servers. The company also stresses that it’s not using a voice sample from the kids to make the product better.

The app doesn’t include advertising or in-app purchases, either. Parents can opt to connect to the internet if they want to download additional stories, but there isn’t a charge.

At launch, Read Along offers around 500 stories and the catalog is continually expanded with new books.

Since its debut as Bolo in March 2019, Google says feedback from parents was encouraging, prompting it to bring the app to new markets. While in India “Bolo” is broadly understood to mean “speak,” Google rebranded the app to Read Along to resonate with parents and children around the world. The app has also been updated with an enhanced library, new games and other user interface improvements since launch.

The new Read Along app is now globally available, except in the Philippines, Colombia and Denmark, and offers stories in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu.

The app is a free download on Google Play for children ages 5 and up.

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New Google Play policies to cut down on ‘fleeceware,’ deepfakes, and unnecessary location tracking

Posted by | Android, android apps, Apps, deepfakes, developers, Google, Google Play, Location, Mobile, play store, privacy, subscriptions | No Comments

Google is today announcing a series of policy changes aimed at eliminating untrustworthy apps from its Android app marketplace, the Google Play store. The changes are meant to give users more control over how their data is used, tighten subscription policies and help prevent deceptive apps and media — including those involving deepfakes — from becoming available on the Google Play Store.

Background Location

The first of these new policies is focused on the location tracking permissions requested by some apps.

Overuse of location tracking has been an area Google has struggled to rein in. In Android 10, users were able to restrict apps’ access to location while the app was in use, similar to what’s been available on iOS. With the debut of Android 11, Google decided to give users even more control with the new ability to grant a temporary “one-time” permission to sensitive data, like location.

In February, Google said it would also soon require developers to get user permission before accessing background location data, after noting that many apps were asking for unnecessary user data. The company found that a number of these apps would have been able to provide the same experience to users if they only accessed location while the app was in use — there was no advantage to running the app in the background.

Of course, there’s an advantage for developers who are collecting location data. This sort of data can be sold to third-party through trackers that supply advertisers with detailed information about the app’s users, earning the developer additional income.

The new change to Google Play policies now requires that developers get approval to access background location in their apps.

But Google is giving developers time to comply. It says no action will be taken for new apps until August 2020 or on existing apps until November 2020.

“Fleeceware”

A second policy is focused on subscription-based apps. Subscriptions have become a booming business industry-wide. They’re often a better way for apps to generate revenue as opposed to other monetization methods — like paid downloads, ads or in-app purchases.

However, many subscription apps are duping users into paying by not making it easy or obvious how to dismiss a subscription offer in order to use the free parts of an app, or not being clear about subscription terms or the length of free trials, among other things.

The new Google Play policy says developers will need to be explicit about their subscription terms, trials and offers, by telling users the following:

  • Whether a subscription is required to use all or parts of the app (and if not required, allow users to dismiss the offer easily).
  • The cost of the subscription.
  • The frequency of the billing cycle.
  • Duration of free trials and offers.
  • The pricing of introductory offers.
  • What is included with a free trial or introductory offer.
  • When a free trial converts to a paid subscription.
  • How users can cancel if they do not want to convert to a paid subscription

That means the “fine print” has to be included on the offer’s page, and developers shouldn’t use sneaky tricks like lighter font to hide the important bits, either.

For example:

This change aims to address the rampant problem with “fleeceware” across the Google Play store. Multiple studies have shown subscription apps have gotten out of control. In fact, one study from January stated that over 600 million Android users had installed “fleeceware” apps from the Play Store. To be fair, the problem is not limited to Android. The iOS App Store was recently found to have an issue, too, with more than 3.5 million users having installed “fleeceware.” 

Developers have until June 16, 2020 to come into compliance with this policy, Google says.

Deepfakes

The final update has to do with the Play Store’s “Deceptive Behavior” policy.

This wasn’t detailed in Google’s official announcements about the new policies, but Google tells us it’s also rolling out updated rules around deceptive content and apps.

Before, Google’s policy was used to restrict apps that tried to deceive users — like apps claiming a functionally impossible task, those that lied in their listing about their content or features or those that mimicked the Android OS, among others.

The updated policy is meant to better ensure all apps are clear about their behavior once they’re downloaded. In particular, it’s meant to prevent any manipulated content (aka “deepfakes”) from being available on the Play Store.

Google tells us this policy change won’t impact apps that allow users to make deepfakes that are “for fun” — like those that allow users to swap their face onto GIFs, for example. These will fall under an exception to the rule, which allows deepfakes that are “obvious satire or parody.”

However, it will take aim at apps that manipulate and alter media in a way that isn’t conventionally obvious or acceptable.

For example:

  • Apps adding a public figure to a demonstration during a politically sensitive event.
  • Apps using public figures or media from a sensitive event to advertise media altering capability within an app’s store listing.
  • Apps that alter media clips to mimic a news broadcast.

In particular, the policy will focus on apps that promote misleading imagery that could cause harm related to politics, social issues or sensitive events. The apps must also disclose or watermark the altered media if it isn’t clear the media has been altered.

Similar bans on manipulated media have been enacted across social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and WeChat. Apple’s App Store Developer Guidelines don’t specifically reference “deepfakes” by name, however, though it bans apps with false or defamatory information, outside of satire and humor.

Google says the apps currently available on Google Play have 30 days to comply with this change.

In Google’s announcement, the company said it understood these were difficult times for people, which is why it’s taken steps to minimize the short-term impact of these changes. In other words, it doesn’t sound like the policy changes will soon result in any mass banning or big Play Store clean-out — rather, they’re meant to set the stage for better policing of the store in the future.

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Android app reviews may slow to over a week due to COVID-19 impacts, Google warns developers

Posted by | Android, android apps, Apps, coronavirus, COVID-19, developers, Google, Google Play, Health, Mobile, play store | No Comments

Google this week warned Android developers that Play Store app review times will be much longer than normal due to the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. Developers should expect app reviews to take up to a week or even longer, the company informed its community by way of an alert on the Google Play Console.

This slowdown in moderation efforts isn’t something that’s just impacting Google Play.

Yesterday, YouTube announced it would more heavily rely on its automated systems during this time, which meant more videos will likely be taken down by machine learning-powered systems before they received a review from a human moderator.

In both cases, the slowdowns are related to the reduced in-office staffing levels — a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is impacting employee scheduling at Google and elsewhere.

Up until now, Google Play had a fairly quick app review process.

For years, the company differentiated its Play Store from Apple’s App Store by allowing developers to publish without a lengthy review. This, of course, led to issues as the store was over-filled with low-quality and sometimes even malicious apps. In 2015, Google revealed it had begun to utilize an internal team of reviewers to analyze apps for policy violations prior to publication.

Despite the change in process, apps were being approved within hours instead of days, Google said at the time.

That changed last year, however, as the company implemented a more stringent review. It then began to advise developers to plan for review times of at least three days between submission and the app going live. But the length was reduced for established, trusted developers who continued to see faster reviews, Google had noted.

Review times of a week or even longer are unprecedented, much like the COVID-19 crisis itself.

News of the increased app reviews was first reported by Android Police.

A Google spokesperson confirmed the delay to TechCrunch, saying: “Due to adjusted work schedules at this time, we are currently experiencing longer than usual review times. While the situation is currently evolving, app review times may fluctuate, and may take 7 days or longer.”

The delay is also confirmed in the Play Console’s Help documentation.

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This Week in Apps: Coronavirus impacts app stores, Facebook sues mobile SDK maker, Apple kicks out a cloud gaming app

Posted by | android apps, app stores, Apple, Apps, China, coronavirus, Google, iOS apps, Mobile, this week in apps | No Comments

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads in 2019 and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019, according to App Annie’s recently released “State of Mobile” annual report. People are now spending 3 hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

In this Extra Crunch series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.

This week, we’ll look at the coronavirus outbreak’s impact on the App Store, China’s demand for App Store removals — and soon-to-be-removals, it seems. We’re also talking about Facebook’s lawsuit over a data-grabbing SDK, Tinder’s new video series, the TSA ban on TikTok, Instagram’s explanation for its lack of an iPad app and how Democratic presidential primary candidates are performing on mobile and social, among other things.

Headlines

Coronavirus concerns send Chinese ride-hailing apps crashing, games surging

One of the many economic fallouts related to COVID-19 coronavirus concerns is a significant decline in the usage of Chinese ride-hailing applications. According to Sensor Tower data, downloads of the three most popular apps — Hello, Didi and Dida — were down 75% year-over-year during the week of February 10 compared with the same time frame in 2019. Meanwhile, people staying home have been ordering food and groceries more often. Overall downloads of the top 10 apps in the food-ordering category increased by 68% from January 13 to the week of February 3.

Also on the rise are mobile games. According to a recent report by the FT, users in China downloaded a record number of games and apps as the virus outbreak confined people to their homes. More than 22 million downloads were registered in Apple’s App Store in China during the week of February 2, according to App Annie, and average weekly downloads during the first two weeks of February were up 40% over the same time last year.

Meanwhile, Chinese tech giants, including Alibaba and Tencent, have been deploying health-rating systems to help authorities track the movements of millions of Chinese. Alibaba had been tapped to explore the rollout of a rating app to help the government control who can travel into and around the city. Along with Ant Financial, it worked to develop a smartphone-based rating system in conjunction with the government of Hangzhou. Tencent created a program for Shenzhen, reported The WSJ.

Top mobile game Plague Inc. pulled from China’s App Store amid coronavirus outbreak

Plague Inc., a simulation game with more than 130 million players, was pulled from the Chinese App Store this week, a move that appears to be linked to the coronavirus outbreak. The company behind the game, Ndemic, posted a statement announcing that the game’s content is now considered “illegal in China as determined by the Cyberspace Administration of China.” Ndemic says it’s trying to reach out to find out what, specifically, it could change in order to get the game back in China.

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This Week in Apps: HQ Trivia’s dramatic death, Android 11, Apple mulls a more open iOS

Posted by | android apps, app stores, Apple, Apps, Google, iOS apps, Mobile, mobile apps, this week in apps | No Comments

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads in 2019 and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019, according to App Annie’s recently released “State of Mobile” annual report. People are now spending 3 hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

In this Extra Crunch series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.

This week we look at the sad, strange death of HQ Trivia, spying app ToTok getting booted from Google Play (again!), Android 11, an enticing Apple rumor about opening up iOS further to third-party apps, Google Stadia updates, the App Store book Apple wants banned, apps abusing subscriptions and much more.

Headlines

HQ Trivia burns to the ground

hq trivia app 1

Once-hot HQ Trivia believed it had invented a new kind of online gaming — live trivia played through your phone. Investors threw $15 million into the company hoping that was true. But the novelty wore off, cheaters came in, prize money dwindled and copycats emerged. Then co-founder Colin Kroll passed away and things at HQ Trivia got worse, including a failed internal mutiny, firings and layoffs. This week, HQ Trivia announced its demise. It then hosted one last, insane night of gaming featuring drunken and cursing hosts who sprayed champagne, called out trolls and begged for new jobs. (Sure, because they exited this one so professionally.)

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Google’s Gboard introduces Emoji Kitchen, a tool to mash up emojis to use as stickers

Posted by | Android, android apps, Apps, emoji, gboard, Google, Keyboard, stickers, TC | No Comments

If you’ve ever felt like there just weren’t enough emoji options to express how you’re feeling, a new addition to Google’s Gboard keyboard, launching today, aims to help. Gboard for Android is introducing a feature called “Emoji Kitchen” that allows users to mash up different emoji then use them as stickers when messaging.

The stickers will work across apps, including Gmail, Messages by Google, Messenger, Snapchat, Telegram, WhatsApp and others.

For example, you could add glasses to the various smiley emoji, add a cowboy hat to a ghost, have a robot cry tears, put a monkey face on a cactus (idk either), make the happy poop emoji express love with a heart and so on.

To be clear, you can’t just mash up any of the thousands of emoji with any other one — it only works with those Google supports, which are mainly variations on the smileys. That’s because the emoji aren’t being mashed up in real time through some sort of AI system. Instead, Google designers have created this set of mashups for Gboard, specifically.

To use the option, you first tap on any smiley emoji and Emoji Kitchen will show which mashups are available to you.

Google’s Gboard has long been an experimental app for trying out new ideas in self-expression, including with launches like its own set of personalized emoji, called Emoji Minis, as well as with features like doodling, Morse code input, emoji suggestions and GIFs, and others in years past.

The app has been well-received by Android users, as a result — despite being years old, it’s still in a top 50 app in the Tools category and has more than a billion downloads worldwide to date. It’s also now the default keyboard on some Android devices, like Google’s Pixel smartphones.

However, Google’s larger goal with Gboard is to make it compelling enough for users to keep it installed, giving the company a way to bring Google’s properties, like Search, directly to the end-user. That’s more important than ever at a time when mobile search has become bigger than desktop. Unfortunately for Google, mobile search has been much more expensive, as the company now relies on deals with mobile device makers, like Apple, to make its search engine the default.

Gboard gives Google another way to hedge its bets — by skipping the need to use a browser app to get to Google. Users can just use their keyboard instead.

Google says Emoji Kitchen rolls out today to Android users.

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App stores saw record 204 billion app downloads in 2019, consumer spend of $120 billion

Posted by | android apps, App Annie, app stores, Apps, iOS apps, Mobile | No Comments

Consumers downloaded a record 204 billion apps in 2019, up 6% from 2018 and up 45% since 2016, and spent $120 billion on apps, subscriptions and other in-app spending in the past year. The average mobile user, meanwhile, is spending 3.7 hours per day using apps. This data and more comes from App Annie’s annual report, “State of Mobile,” which highlights the biggest app trends for the past year, and sets forecasts for the years ahead.

According to App Annie, the record growth in mobile downloads in 2019 can be attributed to the growth taking place in emerging markets like India, Brazil and Indonesia, which have seen downloads soar 190%, 40% and 70%, respectively, since 2016. Meanwhile, download growth in the U.S. has slowed to just 5% during that same time, while China saw 80% growth.

That doesn’t mean users in mature markets aren’t downloading apps, only that the growth in year-over-year download numbers is starting to level off. Still, these more mature markets continue to see large numbers of installs, with more than 12.3 billion downloads in the U.S. in 2019, 2.5 billion in Japan and 2 billion in South Korea.

The record numbers are notable also, given that App Annie’s analysis excludes re-installs and app updates.

App store consumer spending was on the rise in 2019, as well, with $120 billion spent on apps — a figure that’s up 2.1x from 2016. Games continue to account for the majority (72%) of that spending, but the shift toward subscriptions has played a role, too. Last year, subscriptions in non-gaming apps accounted for 28% of consumer spending, up from 18% in 2016.

Subscriptions are now the primary way many non-gaming apps generate revenue. For example, 97% of consumer spending in the top 250 U.S. iOS apps was driven by subscriptions, and 94% of the apps used subscriptions. On Google Play, 91% of the consumer spending was subscription-based, while 79% of the top 250 apps used subscriptions.

In particular, dating apps like Tinder and video apps like Netflix and Tencent Video topped 2019’s consumer spend charts, thanks to subscription revenue.

Mature markets, including the U.S., Japan, South Korea and the U.K. are helping to fuel consumer spending across both games and subscriptions, App Annie found. But China remains the largest market by far, accounting for 40% of global spend.

App Annie also forecast that the mobile industry will contribute $4.8 trillion to the global GDP by 2023.

The report additionally identified several mobile trends from 2019, including the mobile app connection to the Internet of Things and smart home devices (106 million downloads for the top 20 IoT apps last year); the huge mobile engagement by Gen Z (3.8 hours per app per month, among the top 25 non-game apps, on avgerage); and mobile ad spend’s growth ($190 billion in 2019 to $240 bilion in 2020).

Ad spending combined with consumer spending is expected to reach $380 billion worldwide by 2020, App Annie forecast.

Gaming was given a big breakout section, given its contribution to consumer spending.

Consumer spending in mobile gaming was 2.4x that of Mac/PC gaming, and 2.9x more than game consoles. In 2019, mobile gaming saw 25% more spending than all other gaming, and is on track to surpass $100 billion across all app stores by next year.

Casual gaming (led by Puzzle and Arcade) was the most downloaded type of games in 2019. Meanwhile, core games (e.g. Action, RPG, etc.) — which were only 18% of downloads — accounted for 55% of time spent in top games. PUBG Mobile was the No. 1 core game (action) on Android in 2019, in terms of time spent, while Anipop (puzzle) was the top casual game.

Core games also accounted for the majority (76%) of game spending, followed by casual (18%), then casino (6%).

In 2019, 17% more games surpassed $5 million in consumer spending versus 2017. And the number of games to top $100 million grew 59% compared to two years prior. Despite the sizable growth in revenues, App Annie also pointed to new models in mobile gaming, like Apple Arcade, which is giving other types of games a chance to thrive. Unfortunately, no third-party firm is able to track Arcade revenues, which will become a glaring blind spot for App Annie in the years ahead.

App Annie also examined other sizable segments of the mobile market for trends, including fintech, retail, streaming and social. Some of the more significant findings included: the fintech app user base growth topping that of traditional banking apps; shopping app downloads saw 20% year-over-year growth to reach 5.4 billion downloads; streaming growth that included 50% sessions in 2019 compared to 2017; and 50% of time spent on mobile was spent in social networking and communication apps.

TikTok was given special attention, given its rapid growth last year. Time spent in the short-form video app grew 210% year-over-year in 2019 globally. Even though eight out of every 10 minutes spent in TikTok were by users in China, the app’s usage skyrocketed in other markets as well, App Annie said.

Industries App Annie identified as being transformed by mobile in 2019 included ridesharing, fast food/food delivery, dating, sports streaming, plus health and fitness. The full report offers a few more details and mobile trends for each of these.

One bigger highlight was that digital-first shopping apps still had 3.2x more average monthly sessions per user compared with apps from traditional brick-and-mortar retailers (dubbed “bricks-and-clicks” apps in the report).

App Annie also compiled its own list of the top apps of 2019 by active users, downloads and revenue. Facebook apps still led by engagement, with WhatsApp, Facebook and Messenger in the top three spots and Instagram as No. 5. And they maintained similar positions by downloads, only swapping places with one another.

Consumer spending was a different story, with Tinder generating the most revenue in 2019, followed by entertainment and streaming apps like Netflix, Tencent Video, iQIYI, YouTube and others.

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This Week in Apps: The year and decade in review, gaming acquisitions and a Facebook OS

Posted by | Android, android apps, Apps, developers, games, iOS, iOS apps, Mobile, publishers, TC, this week in apps | No Comments

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with 194 billion downloads last year and more than $100 billion in consumer spending. People spend 90% of their mobile time in apps and more time using their mobile devices than watching TV. Apps aren’t just a way to waste idle hours — they’re big business, one that often seems to change overnight.
In this Extra Crunch series, we help you to keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.

Headlines

The top apps of the year… and the decade

App Annie this week released its list of the year’s top apps. And this time around, it also included the top apps of the past 10 years in its analysis. Outside of games, Facebook dominated the decade, the firm reported. It ran the four most-downloaded apps of the decade, including Facebook (#1), Messenger (#2), WhatsApp (#3), and Instagram (#4). Other communication and social media apps were also among the most popular over the past 10 years, claiming seven out of the 10 top spots, including Snapchat (#5), Skype (#6) and Twitter (#10). Social video platforms TikTok and YouTube also placed on the list at #7 and #9, respectively. And yes, it’s pretty notable that TikTok — an app that only launched outside of China in 2017 — is one of the most-downloaded apps of the past decade. Meanwhile, even though dating app Tinder was the most profitable app this year, Netflix was the No. 1 app by all-time consumer spend over the past decade.

2019 app downloads and consumer spending

Related to its round-up of the top apps, App Annie also offered some preliminary data on downloads and consumer spending in 2019. Its current figures don’t include calculations from third-party app stores in China, (like those referenced above), which App Annie tends to provide in its annual State of Mobile report. Instead, App Annie reports we’re on track to see 120 billion apps from Apple’s App Store and Google Play by the end of 2019, a 5% increase from 2018. Consumer spending was also up 15% year-over-year to reach $90 billion, it says. Expect a full analysis to come in Q1 2020.

Facebook still sat at the top of the charts for 2019. The company’s Messenger app was the most downloaded non-game app of 2019, followed by Facebook’s main app, then WhatsApp. Tinder switched places with Netflix for the No. 1 spot on this chart — last year, it was the other way around. (For more details, TechCrunch’s full review is here.)

2019 in Mobile Gaming

According to a year-end report by GamesIndustry.biz, mobile gaming grew 9.7% year-over-year in 2019 to reach a market value of $68.2 billion. The gaming market as a whole was worth $148.8 billion, the report said. Smartphone games were the biggest piece of this figure, at $54.7 billion, compared with $13.4 billion for tablet games. That means smartphone games are still bigger than PC, browser PC games, boxed and downloaded PC games, and console games.

Big moves in cloud gaming

To beef up its new cloud gaming service Stadia, Google this week bought game development firm Typhoon Studios, who were set to release their cross-platform title and first game, Journey to the Savage Planet. Google had said it wants to build out a few different first-party studios to release content on Stadia, which is where this acquisition fits in. Meanwhile, Facebook this week acquired the cloud gaming startup, PlayGiga, which had been working with telcos to create streaming game technology for 5G.

Stadia has a big mobile component, as its controller can play games on compatible mobile devices like Pixel phones. Gaming has been a big part of Facebook’s mobile efforts, as not only a platform where games can be played, but also a place to watch live game streams, similar to Twitch. But the big gaming trend of the past year (which will continue into 2020) is cross-platform gaming — thanks to games like Fortnite, Roblox and PUBG Mobile, as well as devices like Nintendo Switch, gamers expect to continue playing no matter what screen they happen to be using at the time.

Apple Developer app expands support for China

Apple launched a dedicated mobile app for its developer community in November, with the arrival of the Apple Developer app, which was an upgraded and rebranded version of Apple’s existing WWDC app. The app lets developers access resources like technical and design articles, as well as read news, watch developer videos, and enroll in the Apple Developer program. Now that the program is open to China through the app, Apple announced this week.

From the app, developers in China can start and complete their Apple Developer membership and pay with a local payment method on their iPhone or iPad. They can also renew their membership, to keep their account active. Apple has been heavily investing in growing its international developer community by launching developer academies and accelerators in key regions, among other initiatives. Over the past year, Apple grew its developer community in China by 17%, the company earlier said.

So much for nostalgia, Rewound gets yanked from the App Store

We hope you downloaded this fun app when we told you to in last week’s column! Because now it’s gone.

Rewound, briefly, was a clever music player app that turns your iPhone into a 2000’s era iPod, complete with click wheel nav. The developer was able to sneak the app into the App Store by not including the actual iPod UI, which infringes on Apple’s own product design. Instead, the UI pieces were hosted off-site — on Twitter accounts, for example. Users could find them and download them after they installed the app. Technically, that means the App Store app itself wasn’t infringing, but Apple still kicked it out. The developer also charged a fee to access the Apple Music features, which may have been another reason for its removal.

It’s no surprise Apple took this step, but the developer seems confused as to how the app could be approved then pulled later on, even though it hadn’t changed. That’s actually par for the course for Apple’s subjective, editorial decisions over its App Store, however. Now Rewound, which has 170K+ users after only a few days, will focus on a web app and Android version.

Facebook is building its own OS so it can ditch Android

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This Week in Apps: Black Friday’s boost, security news and the year’s biggest apps

Posted by | Android, android apps, app-store, Apps, developers, Google, iOS, iOS apps, Mobile, TC, this week in apps | No Comments

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all. What are developers talking about? What do app publishers and marketers need to know? How are politics impacting the App Store and app businesses? And which apps are everyone using?

This week we look at how the Black Friday weekend played out on mobile (including which non-shopping category that saw a boost in revenue!), as well as a few security-related stories, TikTok’s latest bad press, plus Apple and Google’s best and most downloaded apps of 2019, and more.

Headlines

80% of Android apps are encrypting traffic by default

Google gave an update on Android security this week, noting that 80% of Android applications were encrypting traffic by default, and that percentage was higher for apps targeting Android 9 or higher, with 90% of them encrypting traffic by default. Android protects the traffic entering or leaving the devices with TLS (Transport Layer Security). Its new statistics are related to Android 7’s introduction of the Network Security Configuration in 2016, which allows app developers to configure the network security policy for their app through a declarative configuration file. Apps targeting Android 9 (API level 28) or higher automatically have a policy set by default that prevents unencrypted traffic for every domain. And since Nov. 1, 2019, all apps (including app updates) must target at least Android 9, Google says. That means the percentages will improve as more apps roll out their next updates.

Black Friday boosted mobile game revenue to a record $70M

U.S. sales holiday Black Friday wasn’t just good for online shoppers, who spent a record $7.4 billion in sales, $2.9 billion from smartphones. It also boosted iOS and Android mobile game revenue to a single-day record of $69.7 million in the U.S., according to Sensor Tower. This was the most revenue ever generated in a single day for the category, and it represents a 25% increase over 2018. Marvel Contest of Champions from Kabam led the day with approximately $2.7 million in player spending. Two titles from Playrix — Gardenscapes and Homescapes — also won big, with $1 million and $969,000 in revenue, respectively.

These increases indicate that consumers are looking for all kinds of deals on Black Friday, not just those related to holiday gift-giving. They’re also happy to spend on themselves in games. Mobile publishers caught on to this trend and offered special in-game deals on Black Friday which really paid off.

Did Walmart beat Amazon’s app on Black Friday?

Sensor Tower and Apptopia said it did. App Annie also said it did, but then later took it back (see update). In any event, it must have been a close race. According to Sensor Tower, Walmart’s app reached No.1 on the U.S. App Store on Black Friday with 113,000 new downloads, a year-over-year increase of 23%. Amazon had 102,000 downloads, making it No. 2.

Arguably, many Amazon shoppers already have the app installed, so this is more about Walmart’s e-commerce growth more so than some ding on Amazon.

In fact, Apptopia said that Amazon still had 162% more mobile sessions over the full holiday weekend — meaning Amazon was more shopped than Walmart.

More broadly, mobile shopping is still huge on Black Friday. The top 10 shopping apps grew their new installs by 11% over last year on Black Friday, to reach a combined 527,000 installs.

Report: Android Advanced Protection Program could prevent sideloading

Google’s Advanced Protection Program protects the accounts of those at risks of targeted attacks — like journalists, activists, business leaders, and political campaign teams. This week, 9to5Google found the program may get a new protection feature with the ability to block sideloading of apps, according to an APK breakdown. What’s not yet clear is if program members will have the option to disable the protection, but there are some indications that may be the case. Another feature the report uncovered appears to show that Play Protect will automatically scan all apps, including those from outside the Play Store. This won’t affect the majority of Android users, of course, but it is an indication of where Google believes security risks may be found: sideloaded apps.

Bug hunter suggests Security.plist standard for apps

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