developers

Android developers can now force users to update their apps

Posted by | Android, Developer, developers, Google | No Comments

At its Android Dev Summit, Google today announced a number of new tools and features for developers that write apps for its mobile operating system. Some of those are no surprise, including support for the latest release of the Kotlin language, which is becoming increasingly popular in the Android developer ecosystem, as well as new features for the Android Jetpack tools and APIs, as well as the Android Studio IDE. The biggest surprise, though, is likely the launch of the In-app Updates API.

While the name doesn’t exactly make it sound like a break-through feature, it’s actually a big deal. With this new API, developers now get two new ways to push users to update their app.

“This is something that developers have asked us for a long time is — say you own an app and you want to make sure the user is running the latest version,” Google senior director for Android product management and developer relations Stephanie Saad Cuthbertson told me. “This is something developers really fret.”

Say you shipped your application with a major bug (it happens…) and want to make sure that every user upgrades immediately; you will soon be able to show them a full-screen blocking message that will be displayed when they first start the app again and while the update is applied. That’s obviously only meant for major bugs. The second option allows for more flexibility and allows the user to continue using the app while the update is downloaded. Developers can fully customize these update flows.

Right now, the new updates API is in early testing with a few partners and the plan is to open it to more developers soon.

As Cuthbertson stressed, the team’s focus in recent years has been on giving developers what they want. The poster child for that, she noted, is the Kotlin languages. “It wasn’t a Google-designed language and maybe not the obvious choice — but it really was the best choice,” she told me. “When you look at the past several years, you can really see an investment that started with the IDE. It’s actually only five years old and since then, we’ve been building it out, completely based on developer feedback.”

Today, the company announced that 46 percent of professional developers now use Kotlin and more than 118,000 new Kotlin projects were started in Android Studio in the last month alone (and that’s just from users who opt in to share metrics with Google), so that investment is definitely paying off.

One thing developers have lately been complaining about, though, is that build times in Android Studio have slowed down. “What we saw internally was that build times are getting faster, but what we heard from developers externally is that they are getting slower,” Cuthbertson said. “So we started benchmarking, both internally in controlled circumstances, but also for anybody who opted in, we started benchmarking the whole ecosystem.” What the team found was that Gradle, the core of the Android Studio build system, is getting a lot faster, but the system and platform you build on also has a major impact. Cuthbertson noted that the Spectre and Meltdown fixes had a major impact on Windows and Linux users, for example, as do custom plugins. So going forward, the team is building new profiling and analysis tools to allow developers to get more insights into their build times and Google will build more of its own plugins to accelerate performance.

Most of this isn’t in the current Android Studio 3.3 beta yet (and beta 3 of version 3.3 is launching today, too), but one thing Android Studio users will likely be happy to hear is that Chrome OS will get official support for the IDE early next year, using Chrome OS’s new ability to run Linux applications.

Other updates the company announced today are new Jetpack Architecture Component libraries for Navigation and Work Manager, making it easier for developers to add Android’s navigation principles into their apps and perform background tasks without having to write a lot of boilerplate code. Android App Bundles, which allow developers to modularize their applications and ship parts of them on demand, are also getting some updates, as are Instant Apps, which users can run without installing them. Using web URLs for Instant Apps is now optional and building them in Android Studio has become easier.

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Apple’s new iOS 12 beta fixes the annoying ‘please update’ bug

Posted by | Apple, beta, bug, developers, iOS, iOS 12, Mobile, TC | No Comments

iOS 12 beta testers have been plagued with a frustrating bug that continually pops up messages alerting them that a new iOS update is available when, in fact, it’s not. Apple has now fixed this bug, which is patched in the latest iOS 12 betas rolling out now, we understand.

The bug first made headlines on Thursday, when a number of iOS 12 beta testers – including developers and those on the public beta program – began to complain on social media about the problem. All users were seeing a pop-up message that read, “A new iOS version is now available. Please update from the iOS 12 beta.”  

Users could close this window with a tap, but the same pop-up would reappear at regular intervals. There was nothing to be done about it, because the message itself was wrong – there was no new beta available for download at the time.

A new iOS update is now available. Please update from the iOS 12 beta.

A new iOS update is now available. Please update from the iOS 12 beta.

A new iOS update is now available. Please update from the iOS 12 beta.

A new iOS update is now availab

— Nick Abouzeid (@nickabouzeid) August 31, 2018

All of my devices: “A new iOS update is now available. Please update”

Narrator: “A new version, in fact, was not available.”

— Ish (@ishabazz) August 31, 2018

While it’s true that beta versions of software can have glitches and bugs, the iOS 12 beta has been, arguably, one of the most stable to date. For many people, the bug was one of the first times they had a serious issue with running the beta software.

Some had figured out yesterday that you could adjust the system date and time to turn off the non-stop notifications, but this was bad advice. Messing around with the system clock can introduce a host of other issues, like missing calendar appointments or reminders, for example.

Apple was aware of the issue, and has thankfully introduced a fix before the long holiday weekend here in the U.S.

The fix is available in both the new developer beta and the public beta, out now.

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Apple will require all apps to have a privacy policy as of October 3

Posted by | app-store, Apple, Apps, developers, Mobile, Policy, privacy | No Comments

Apple is cracking down on apps that don’t communicate to users how their personal data is used, secured or shared. In an announcement posted to developers through the App Store Connect portal, Apple says that all apps, including those still in testing, will be required to have a privacy policy as of October 3, 2018.

Allowing apps without privacy policies is something of an obvious hole that Apple should have already plugged, given its generally protective nature over user data. But the change is even more critical now that Europe’s GDPR regulations have gone into effect. Though the app makers themselves would be ultimately responsible for their customers’ data, Apple, as the platform where those apps are hosted, has some responsibility here, too.

Platforms today are being held accountable for the behavior of their apps, and the data misuse that may occur as a result of their own policies around those apps.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, for example, was dragged before the U.S. Senate about the Cambridge Analytica scandal, where data from 87 million Facebook users was inappropriately obtained by way of Facebook apps.

Apple’s new requirement, therefore, provides the company with a layer of protection – any app that falls through the cracks going forward will be able to be held accountable by way of its own privacy policy and the statements it contains.

Apple also notes that the privacy policy’s link or text cannot be changed until the developer submits a new version of their app. It seems there’s still a bit of loophole here, though – if developers add a link pointing to an external webpage, they can change what the webpage says at any time after their app is approved.

The new policy will be required for all apps and app updates across the App Store as well as through the TestFlight testing platform as of October 3, says Apple.

What’s not clear is if Apple itself will be reviewing all the privacy policies themselves as part of this change, in order to reject apps with questionable data use policies or user protections. If it does, App Store review times could increase, unless the company hires more staff.

Apple has already taken a stance on apps it finds questionable, like Facebook’s data-sucking VPN app Onavo, which it kicked out of the App Store earlier this month. The app had been live for years, however, and its App Store text did disclose the data it collected was shared with Facebook. The fact that Apple only booted it now seems to indicate it will take a tougher stance on apps which are designed to collect user data as one of their primary functions going forward.

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6 million users had installed third-party Twitter clients

Posted by | APIs, Apps, developers, Mobile, TC, Twitter | No Comments

Twitter tried to downplay the impact deactivating its legacy APIs would have on its community and the third-party Twitter clients preferred by many power users by saying that “less than 1%” of Twitter developers were using these old APIs. Twitter is correct in its characterization of the size of this developer base, but it’s overlooking millions of third-party app users in the process. According to data from Sensor Tower, six million App Store and Google Play users installed the top five third-party Twitter clients between January 2014 and July 2018.

Over the past year, these top third-party apps were downloaded 500,000 times.

This data is largely free of reinstalls, the firm also said.

The top third-party Twitter apps users installed over the past three-and-a-half years have included: Twitterrific, Echofon, TweetCaster, Tweetbot and Ubersocial.

Of course, some portion of those users may have since switched to Twitter’s native app for iOS or Android, or they may run both a third-party app and Twitter’s own app in parallel.

Even if only some of these six million users remain, they represent a small, vocal and — in some cases, prominent — user base. It’s one that is very upset right now, too. And for a company that just posted a loss of one million users during its last earnings, it seems odd that Twitter would not figure out a way to accommodate this crowd, or even bring them on board its new API platform to make money from them.

Twitter, apparently, was weighing data and facts, not user sentiment and public perception, when it made this decision. But some things have more value than numbers on a spreadsheet. They are part of a company’s history and culture. Of course, Twitter has every right to blow all that up and move on, but that doesn’t make it the right decision.

To be fair, Twitter is not lying when it says this is a small group. The third-party user base is tiny compared with Twitter’s native app user base. During the same time that six million people were downloading third-party apps, the official Twitter app was installed a whopping 560 million times across iOS and Android. That puts the third-party apps’ share of installs at about 1.1 percent of the total.

That user base may have been shrinking over the years, too. During the past year, while the top third-party apps were installed half a million times, Twitter’s app was installed 117 million times. This made third-party apps’ share only about 0.4 percent of downloads, giving the official app a 99 percent market share.

But third-party app developers and the apps’ users are power users. Zealots, even. Evangelists.

Twitter itself credited them with pioneering “product features we all know and love,” like the mute option, pull-to-refresh and more. That means the apps’ continued existence brings more value to Twitter’s service than numbers alone can show.

Image credit: iMore

They are part of Twitter’s history. You can even credit one of the apps for Twitter’s logo! Initially, Twitter only had a typeset version of its name. Then Twitterrific came along and introduced a bird for its logo. Twitter soon followed.

Twitterrific was also the first to use the word “tweet,” which is now standard Twitter lingo. (The company used “twitter-ing.” Can you imagine?)

These third-party apps also play a role in retaining users who struggle with the new user experience Twitter has adopted — its algorithmic timeline. Instead, the apps offer a chronological view of tweets, as some continue to prefer.

Twitter’s decision to cripple these developers’ apps is shameful.

It shows a lack of respect for Twitter’s history, its power user base, its culture of innovation and its very own nature as a platform, not a destination.

P.S.:

twitterrific

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Apple’s Search Ads expand to six more markets in Europe and Asia

Posted by | ad tech, Ads, advertising, Advertising Tech, app-store, Apple, Apps, developers, Mobile, search ads | No Comments

In December, Apple introduced a new pay-per-install ad product called Search Ads Basic aimed at smaller developers, to complement the existing Search Ads product, which then became known as Search Ads Advanced. Today, the company is expanding Search Ads to more countries, including France, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, and Spain, bringing the total number of countries where Search Ads is available to thirteen.

In addition to the U.S., Search Ads Advanced had already expanded to Australia, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, Switzerland, and the U.K.

Developers in the newly supported countries will be able to create campaigns using Search Ads Advanced starting on July 25, 2018 at 4 PM PDT, with those campaigns appearing on the App Store starting August 1, 2018 at 4 PM PDT.

Meanwhile, Search Ads Basic will be available across all thirteen supported countries starting on August 22, 2018 at 10 AM PDT.

To encourage sign-ups, Apple is offering first-time advertisers a $100 USD credit to try out the product.

While the first version of Search Ads launched back in October 2016 in the U.S., the idea behind the newer “Basic” product was to offer developers a different – and simpler – means of reaching potential customers.

Search Ads was originally designed to allow developers to target users’ keyword searches, combined with other factors like location, gender or whether or not they had installed the app in the past. Developers would pay when users tapped on those targeted ads.

With the launch of Search Ads Basic, it’s easier to set up campaigns.

Developers only have to enter the app to be advertised, the campaign’s budget, and how much they want to pay per install. Apple helps by suggesting the max developers should pay using historical data. Then, developers only pay for actual installs, not taps.

Although the App Store was redesigned with the launch of iOS 11 to offer improved discoverability, search is still a key way people find out about apps.

Apple says that over 70 percent of App Store visitors use search to discover apps, in fact, and 65 percent of all downloads come directly from an App Store search.

The ads work well, too, as they have an over 50 percent conversion rate, on average, says Apple.

Apple’s advantage over the pay-per-install ads found elsewhere on the web isn’t only the ads’ placement – at the top of App Store searches, where they’re identified with a blue background and “Ad” icon – it also manages this without violating user privacy. That is, it doesn’t build specific profiles on individuals for ad targeting purposes, and it doesn’t share user data with developers. By its nature, this makes the system GDPR compliant.

In addition, Apple only places an ad when it’s relevant to a user’s search – developers can’t pay more to have their ad shown more often across less relevant searches, which offers a more level playing field.

Apple didn’t say when Search Ads would reach other countries, but with the new expansions it has some of the top markets now covered.

 

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Apple’s App Store revenue nearly double that of Google Play in first half of 2018

Posted by | android apps, app stores, app-store, Apple, Apps, developers, Google, Google Play, iOS apps, Mobile, mobile apps, sensor tower, TC | No Comments

Apple’s App Store continues to outpace Google Play on revenue. In the first half of the year, the App Store generated nearly double the revenue of Google Play on half the downloads, according to a new report from Sensor Tower out today. In terms of dollars and cents, that’s $22.6 billion in worldwide gross app revenue on the App Store versus $11.8 billion for Google Play – or, 1.9 times more spent on the App Store compared with what was spent on Google Play.

This trend is not new. Apple’s iOS store has consistently generated more revenue than its Android counterpart for years due to a number of factors – including the fact that Android users historically have spent less on apps than iOS users, as well as the fact that there are other Android app stores consumer can shop – like the Amazon Appstore or Samsung Store, for example. In addition, Google Play is not available in China, but Apple’s App Store is.

Last year, consumer spending on the App Store reached $38.5 billion, again nearly double that of Google Play’s $20.1 billion.

As the new figures for the first half of 2018 indicate, consumer spending is up this year.

Sensor Tower estimates it has increased by 26.8 percent on iOS compared with the same period in 2017, and it’s up by 29.7 percent on Google Play.

The growth in spending can be partly attributed to subscription apps like Netflix, Tencent Video, and even Tinder, as has been previously reported.

Subscription-based apps are big businesses these days, having helped to boost app revenue in 2017 by 77 percent to reach $781 million, according to an earlier study. Netflix was also 2017’s top non-game app by revenue, and recently became ranked as the top (non-game) app of all-time by worldwide consumer spend, according to App Annie’s App Store retrospective.

Many of the other all-time top apps following Netflix were also subscription-based, including Spotify (#2), Pandora (#3), Tencent Video (#4), Tinder (#5), and HBO NOW (#8), for example.

And Netflix is again the top non-game app by consumer spending in the first half of 2018, notes Sensor Tower.

Game spending, however, continues to account for a huge chunk of revenue.

Consumer spending on games grew 19.1 percent in the first half of 2018 to $26.6 billion across both stores, representing roughly 78 percent of the total spent ($16.3 billion on the App Store and $10.3 billion on Google Play). Honor of Kings from Tencent, Monster Strike from Mixi, and Fate/Grand Order from Sony Aniplex were the top grossing games across both stores.

App downloads were also up in the first half of the year, if by a smaller percentage.

Worldwide first-time app installs grew to 51 billion in 1H18, or up 11.3 percent compared with the same time last year, when downloads were then 45.8 billion across the two app stores.

Facebook led the way on this front with WhatsApp, Messenger, Facebook and Instagram as the top four apps across both the App Store and Google Play combined. The most downloaded games were PUBG Mobile from Tencent, Helix Jump from Voodoo, and Subway Surfers from Kiloo.

Google Play app downloads were up a bit more (13.1 percent vs iOS’s 10.6 percent) year-over-year due to Android’s reach in developing markets, reaching 36 billion. That’s around 2.4 times the App Store’s 15 billion.

Despite this, Apple’s platform still earned more than double the revenue with fewer than half the downloads, which is remarkable. And it can’t all be chalked up to China. (The country contributed about 31.7 percent of the App Store revenue last quarter, or $7.1 billion, to give you an idea.)

Sensor Tower tells TechCrunch that even if China was removed from the picture, the App Store would have generated $15.4 billion gross revenue for first half of 2018, which is still about 30 percent higher than Google Play’s $11.8 billion.

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Google Play now makes it easier to manage your subscriptions

Posted by | Android, Apps, developers, Google Play, Mobile, subscriptions | No Comments

Mobile app subscriptions are a big business, but consumers sometimes hesitate to sign up because pausing and cancelling existing subscriptions hasn’t been as easy as opting in. Google is now addressing those concerns with the official launch of its subscription center for Android users. The new feature centralizes all your Google Play subscriptions, and offers a way for you to find others you might like to try.

The feature was first introduced at Google’s I/O developer conference in May, and recently rolled out to Android users, the company says. However, Google hadn’t formally announced its arrival until today.

Access to the subscriptions center only takes one tap – the link is directly available from the “hamburger” menu in the Play Store app.

Apple’s page for subscription management, by comparison, is far more tucked away.

On iOS, you have to tap on your profile icon in the App Store app, then tap on your name. This already seem unintuitive – especially considering that a link to “Purchases” is on this Account screen. Why wouldn’t Subscriptions be here, too? But instead, you have to go to the next screen, then scroll down to near the bottom to find “Subscriptions” and tap that. To turn any individual subscription off, you have to go to its own page, scroll to the bottom and tap “Cancel.”

This process should be more streamlined for iOS users.

In Google Play’s Subscriptions center, you can view all your existing subscriptions, cancel them, renew them, or even restore those you had previously cancelled – perfect for turning HBO NOW back on when “Game of Thrones” returns, for example.

You can also manage and update your payment methods, and set up a backup method.

Making it just as easy for consumers to get out of their subscriptions as it is to sign up is a good business practice, and could boost subscription sign-ups overall, which benefits developers. When consumers aren’t afraid they’ll forget or not be able to find the cancellation options later on, they’re more likely to give subscriptions a try.

In addition, developers can now create deep links to their subscriptions which they can distribute across the web, email, and social media. This makes it easier to direct people to their app’s subscription management page directly. When users cancel, developers can also trigger a survey to find out why – and possibly tweak their product offerings a result of this user feedback.

There’s also a new subscription discovery section that will help Android users find subscription-based apps through both curated and localized collections, Google notes.

These additional features, along with a good handful of subscription management tools for developers, were all previously announced at I/O but weren’t in their final state at the time. Google had cautioned that it may tweak the look-and-feel of the product between the developer event and the public launch, but it looks the same as what was shown before – right down to the demo subscription apps.

Subscriptions are rapidly becoming a top way for developers to generate revenue for their applications. Google says subscribers are growing at more than 80 percent year-over-year. Sensor Tower also reported that app revenue grew 35 percent to $60 billion in 2017, in part thanks to the growth in subscriptions.

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Apple’s App Store redesign improved app discovery, report finds

Posted by | app discovery, app-store, Apple, Apps, developers, iOS, iOS apps, Mobile, sensor tower | No Comments

When Apple introduced its completely redesigned App Store last fall, one of its goals was to improve app discovery by placing a larger emphasis on editorial content – including things like “app of the day” picks, lists, how-to’s and even interviews with app developers, among other things. Now, a new study from Sensor Tower reveals those changes appear to have been working.

According to Sensor Tower’s findings, more apps are being discovered by way of browsing the App Store following the redesign launched in September.

Before, browse-driven downloads accounted for around 10 percent of all downloads. With the new App Store, they’ve grown to more than 15 percent. And that increase has held steady into 2018, even as the initial excitement around the App Store revamp has worn off.

Despite the growth in app discovery by browsing, searching for app by typing keywords into the search box is still, by far, the primary way consumers are finding and downloading new apps. Today, search accounts for 65 percent of downloads – well ahead of browse, referrals, or other methods.

Sensor Tower based its findings on data collected on app downloads between May 2017 and April 2018, it says.

The report also delved into the differences between how consumers discover apps and games.

As it turns out, browsing plays a much more significant role in game discovery than it does for non-game apps. Only 56 percent of game downloads came from search, compared with 69 percent for non-games. Meanwhile, browse contributed to 24 percent of game downloads, compared to just 9 percent of non-game downloads.

What this seems to indicate is that iOS users are turning to the App Store and its editorial recommendations in greater numbers to learn about what new game to try next. Plus, the fact that games can now include a video preview, and labels like “Editor’s Choice” are better highlighted in the new App Store also likely help people get a better sense of which ones to install, as they browse.

Sensor Tower’s findings about game downloads line up with research released last month where it found that games that were featured as the “Game of the Day” could see their downloads increase by 802 percent, compared to the week prior to being featured. Apps, by comparison, saw boosts of 685 percent.

The new report’s findings are good news for Apple which had a sizable challenge to tackle with its App Store redesign. Its app marketplace had grown almost over-crowded over the years. And even after the big app cleanup, it still stands at over 2 million apps. Finding a way to better introduce favorites and newcomers to iOS users at this scale was a tall order, but the growth in apps discovered by way of browsing indicates Apple has seen some success on this front. 

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Google’s new Android App Bundles promise to make apps radically smaller

Posted by | Android, android apps, Developer, developers, Google I/O 2018, TC | No Comments

Google today announced Android App Bundles, a new tool for developers that will make apps radically smaller. The trick here is that developers can now say which of their apps’ assets should be included for a given device so there’s no need to ship every visual asset for every screen size and support for every language to every user, for example — something many developers do today. That can result in install files that can sometimes be more than 50 percent smaller than before.

As Google’s Stephanie Cuthbertson told me, large download sizes are often an issue for users in developing countries, but elsewhere, too, users often balk at installing large apps. “Apps are targeting more countries than over, they have more features than ever,” she told me. “But we know the larger apps are, the fewer installs they get.”

To enable this new feature, Google rearchitected its whole app serving stack. As Cuthbertson noted, that was a major project. Since the Android team had been toying with this idea for a while, though, most of the Android platform was ready for this change.

So while the standard APK format isn’t going to change, every user now essentially gets a somewhat personalized file when hitting the Install button in Google Play.

Google says it trialed this service with some of its own apps already, including the YouTube and Google apps. A couple of other partners also tested it already; Microsoft, for example, saw a 23 percent file reduction for the LinkedIn app.

Most of the hard work to enable this feature is handled by Google, but developers who want to make use of it do have to specify which assets and languages they want to ship to which users. As Cuthbertson noted, much of this was possible before, but it was hard to do for developers. Now, they can use the same development flow as before and only have to make some very minor changes to enable support for App Bundles.

In addition to delivering the full app through an App Bundle, Google is also today introducing a related new tool: dynamic features. This essentially allows developers to make their apps modular. As Cuthbertson noted, that may be especially interesting to developers whose apps offer lots of features, some of which may only see usage by a very small number of users. For those users, developers can simply ship that feature on demand when they attempt to use it. Developers can start experimenting with these features in the latest canary release of Android Studio.

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In-app purchases are coming to Facebook’s Instant Games on Android and the web

Posted by | Apps, Developer, developers, F8 2018, Facebook, games, Gaming, iap, Instant Games, Social | No Comments

Facebook is adding support for in-app purchases to its Instant Games platform, the company announced during a session on gaming at its F8 developer conference this afternoon. The feature will allow game developers to add another form of monetization beyond advertising to their games on select platforms, but not on iOS.

Instead, support for in-app purchases will be available to Instant Games on Android and on Facebook.com on the web.

First launched in 2016, Facebook opened up Instant Games to all developers last month. The platform allows developers to build mobile-friendly games using HTML5 that work across both Facebook and Messenger. The idea is to give game developers access to another sizable platform for their work, in addition to the existing app stores run by Apple and Google.

Facebook has had in-app purchases on its roadmap for Instant Games for some time, and began testing the feature with select developers around six months ago.

Similar to the app stores, the revenue share model for Instant Games is 70/30 on Facebook.com. However, on mobile, the games will follow the in-app billing terms from each platform, the company notes. That means purchases made in games running on Android devices, the 30 percent revenue share will apply after the standard mobile platform revenue share — aka Google’s own 70/30 cut.

That’s not ideal, of course. And all the hands in the pie may lead to game developers pricing their in-app purchases higher, as a result.

Facebook seems to acknowledge this concern in its blog post announcement, saying: “Our primary goal is to build [in-app purchases] in a way so that our developer partners can sustain and grow, and we’ll continue to evaluate rev/share with that goal in mind.”

Facebook wouldn’t confirm if or when support for in-app purchases is coming to iOS.

In addition to helping developers generate revenue outside of using ads in their games, in-app purchases in games could prove beneficial to Facebook as well. The company’s payment revenue has dwindled over the years, with things like Messenger payments never really seeing significant attention. Plus, Facebook made it possible for third-parties like PayPal to operate over Messenger, which signaled its disinterest in the payments space in general.

In-app purchases in games turns things around, a bit.

The submission process for in-app purchases will open up to developers on May 7, allowing them to implement the monetization features on Android and the web. In the meantime, Facebook is offering documentation about the feature here.

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