mobile applications

First US apps based on Google and Apple Exposure Notification System expected in ‘coming weeks’

Posted by | Android, Android Nougat, api, Apple, Apps, Bluetooth, Canada, computing, coronavirus, COVID-19, dave burke, exposure notification, Google, Health, location services, mass surveillance, mobile applications, mobile software, operating systems, privacy, smartphones, TC, United States | No Comments

Google Vice President of Engineering Dave Burke provided an update about the Exposure Notifications System (ENS) that Google developed in partnership with Apple as a way to help public health authorities supplement contact-tracing efforts with a connected solution that preserves privacy while alerting people of potential exposure to confirmed cases of COVID-19. In the update, Burke notes that the company expects “to see the first set of these apps roll out in the coming weeks” in the U.S., which may be a tacit response to some critics who have pointed out that we haven’t seen much in the way of actual products being built on the technology that was launched in May.

Burke writes that 20 states and territories across the U.S. are currently “exploring” apps that make use of the ENS system, and that together those represent nearly half (45%) of the overall American populace. He also shared recent updates and improvements made to both the Exposure Notification API as well as to its surrounding documentation and information that the companies have shared in order to answer questions from state health agencies, and hopefully make its use and privacy implications more transparent.

The ENS API now supports exposure notifications between countries, which Burke says is a feature added based on nations that have already launched apps based on the tech (that includes Canada, as of today, as well as some European nations). It’s also now better at using Bluetooth values specific to a wider range of devices to improve nearby device detection accuracy. He also says they’ve improved the reliability for both apps and debugging tools for those working on development, which should help public health authorities and their developer partners more easily build apps that actually use ENS.

Burke continues that there’s been feedback from developers that they’d like more detail about how ENS works under the covers, and so they’ve published public-facing guides that direct health authorities about test verification server creation, code revealing its underlying workings and information about what data is actually collected (in a de-identified manner) to allow for much more transparent debugging and verification of proper app functioning.

Google also explains why it requires that an Android device’s location setting be turned on to use Exposure Notifications — even though apps built using the API are explicitly forbidden from also collecting location data. Basically, it’s a legacy requirement that Google is removing in Android 11, which is set to be released soon. In the meantime, however, Burke says that even with location services turned off, no app that uses the ENS will actually be able to see or receive any location data.

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Digital mapping of coronavirus contacts will have key role in lifting Europe’s lockdown, says Commission

Posted by | Apple, Apps, Bluetooth, contacts tracing, coronavirus, COVID-19, data protection, data security, EC, Europe, european commission, european union, Google, Health, Mobile, mobile applications, mobile devices, privacy, privacy by design, social media, social media platforms | No Comments

The European Commission has set out a plan for coordinating the lifting of regional coronavirus restrictions that includes a role for digital tools in what the EU executive couches as “a robust system of reporting and contact tracing.” However it has reiterated that such tools must “fully respect data privacy.”

Last week, the Commission made a similar call for a common approach to data and apps for fighting the coronavirus, emphasizing the need for technical measures to be taken to ensure that citizens’ rights and freedoms aren’t torched in the scramble for a tech fix.

Today’s toolbox of measures and principles is the next step in its push to coordinate a pan-EU response.

Responsible planning on the ground, wisely balancing the interests of protection of public health with those of the functioning of our societies, needs a solid foundation. That’s why the Commission has drawn up a catalogue of guidelines, criteria and measures that provide a basis for thoughtful action,” said EC president Ursula von der Leyen, commenting on the full roadmap in a statement.

“The strength of Europe lies in its social and economic balance. Together we learn from each other and help our European Union out of this crisis,” she added.

Harmonized data gathering and sharing by public health authorities — “on the spread of the virus, the characteristics of infected and recovered persons and their potential direct contacts” — is another key plank of the plan for lifting coronavirus restrictions on citizens within the 27 Member State bloc.

While ‘anonymized and aggregated’ data from commercial sources — such as telcos and social media platforms — is seen as a potential aid to pandemic modelling and forecasting efforts, per the plan.

“Social media and mobile network operators can offer a wealth of data on mobility, social interactions, as well as voluntary reports of mild disease cases (e.g. via participatory surveillance) and/or indirect early signals of disease spread (e.g. searches/posts on unusual symptoms),” it writes. “Such data, if pooled and used in anonymised, aggregated format in compliance with EU data protection and privacy rules, could contribute to improve the quality of modelling and forecasting for the pandemic at EU level.”

The Commission has been leaning on telcos to hand over fuzzy metadata for coronavirus modelling which it wants done by the EU’s Joint Research Centre. It wrote to 19 mobile operators last week to formalize its request, per Euractiv, which reported yesterday that its aim is to have the data exchange system operational ‘as soon as possible’ — with the hope being it will cover all the EU’s member states.

Other measures included in the wider roadmap are the need for states to expand their coronavirus testing capacity and harmonize tesing methodologies — with the Commission today issuing guidelines to support the development of “safe and reliable testing”.

Steps to support the reopening of internal and external EU borders is another area of focus, with the executive generally urging a gradual and phased lifting of coronavirus restrictions.

On contacts tracing apps specifically, the Commission writes:

“Mobile applications that warn citizens of an increased risk due to contact with a person tested positive for COVID-19 are particularly relevant in the phase of lifting containment measures, when the infection risk grows as more and more people get in contact with each other. As experienced by other countries dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, these applications can help interrupt infection chains and reduce the risk of further virus transmission. They should thus be an important element in the strategies put in place by Member States, complementing other measures like increased testing capacities.

“The use of such mobile applications should be voluntary for individuals, based on users’ consent and fully respecting European privacy and personal data protection rules. When using tracing apps, users should remain in control of their data. National health authorities should be involved in the design of the system. Tracing close proximity between mobile devices should be allowed only on an anonymous and aggregated basis, without any tracking of citizens, and names of possibly infected persons should not be disclosed to other users. Mobile tracing and warning applications should be subject to demanding transparency requirements, be deactivated as soon as the COVID-19 crisis is over and any remaining data erased.”

“Confidence in these applications and their respect of privacy and data protection are paramount to their success and effectiveness,” it adds.

Earlier this week Apple and Google announced a collaboration around coronavirus contracts tracing — throwing their weight behind a privacy-sensitive decentralized approach to proximity tracking that would see ephemeral IDs processed locally on devices, rather than being continually uploaded and held on a central server.

A similar decentralized infrastructure for Bluetooth-based COVID-19 contacts tracing had already been suggested by a European coalition of privacy and security experts, as we reported last week.

While a separate coalition of European technologists and researchers has been pushing a standardization effort for COVID-19 contacts tracing that they’ve said will support either centralized or decentralized approaches — in the hopes of garnering the broadest possible international backing.

For its part the Commission has urged the use of technologies such as decentralization for COVID-19 contacts tracing to ensure tools align with core EU principles for handling personal data and safeguarding individual privacy, such as data minimization.

However governments in the region are working on a variety of apps and approaches for coronavirus contacts tracing that don’t all look as if they will check a ‘rights respecting’ box…

Poland advertised a new product to enforce #coronavirus #COVID19 quarantaine? Electronic bracelet equipped with geolocation sensor (and a microphone, apparently), for “constant monitoring instead of random checks”. https://t.co/WipDJDnLK8 pic.twitter.com/ormYjM1EyJ

— Lukasz Olejnik (@lukOlejnik) April 14, 2020

In a video address last week, Europe’s lead privacy regulator, the EDPS, intervened to call for a “panEuropean model ‘COVID-19 mobile application’, coordinated at EU level” — in light of varied tech efforts by Member States which involve the processing of personal data for a claimed public health purpose.

“The use of temporary broadcast identifiers and bluetooth technology for contact tracing seems to be a useful path to achieve privacy and personal data protection effectively,” said Wojciech Wiewiórowski on Monday week. “Given these divergences, the European Data Protection Supervisor calls for a panEuropean model “COVID-19 mobile application”, coordinated at EU level. Ideally, coordination with the World Health Organisation should also take place, to ensure data protection by design globally from the start.”

The Commission has not gone so far in today’s plan — calling instead for Member States to ensure their own efforts align with the EU’s existing data protection framework.

Though its roadmap is also heavy on talk of the need for “coordination between Member Statesto avoid negative effects” — dubbing it “a matter of common European interest”. But, for now, the Commission has issued a list of recommendations; it’s up to Member States to choose to fall in behind them or not.

With the caveat that EU regulators are watching very carefully how states’ handle citizens’ data.

“Legality, transparency and proportionality are essential for me,” warned Wiewiórowski, ending last week’s intervention on the EU digital response to the coronavirus with a call for “digital solidarity, which should make data working for all people in Europe and especially for the most vulnerable” — and a cry against “the now tarnished and discredited business models of constant surveillance and targeting that have so damaged trust in the digital society”.

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Downloads needed to rank No. 1 on App Store is down 30+% since 2016 for apps, up 47% for games

Posted by | android apps, app-store, Apple, apple-app-store, Apps, developers, Google Play, iOS, iOS apps, iPhone, Mobile, mobile applications, mobile software, online marketplaces, rankings, sensor tower, TC | No Comments

With the App Store’s big makeover in fall 2017, Apple attempted to shift consumers’ attention away from the Top Charts and more toward editorial content. But app developers still want to make it to the No. 1 position. According to new research from app store intelligence firm Sensor Tower, it’s become easier for non-game apps over the past few years to achieve the top ranking.

Specifically, the firm found that the median number of daily downloads required for non-game applications on the U.S. iPhone App Store to reach No. 1 decreased around 34%, from 136,000 to 90,000 in 2018, then increased a little more than 4% to 94,000 this year.

At the same time, the number of non-game installs on the U.S. App Store had increased by 33% between Q1 2016 and Q1 2019.

These findings, Sensor Tower suggests, indicate that the U.S. market for the top social and messaging apps has become saturated, with downloads for top apps like Facebook and Messenger decreasing over time. In addition, no other apps have found the same level of success that Snapchat and Bitmoji did back in 2016 and 2017, the report adds.

median downloads no 1 ios

For example, Messenger saw 5 million U.S. App Store installs in November 2016 while Bitmoji and Snapchat passed 5 million installs in August 2016 and March 2017, respectively. And no other non-game app has topped 3.5 million installs in a single month since March 2017.

Meanwhile, the decline in downloads needed to reach the No. 1 spot on Google Play was even more significant.

The median daily downloads for the top non-game app decreased by 65%, from 209,000 in 2016 to 74,000 so far in 2019.

Similarly, the store saw a decrease in installs among top apps, including Messenger, Facebook, Snapchat, Pandora and Instagram. Messenger, for example, saw its yearly installs fall by 68% from nearly 80 million in 2016 to 26 million in 2018.

Games

With mobile games, however, it’s a different story across both app stores.

On the Apple App Store, it has taken 174,000 downloads for a game to reach the top of the rankings on any given day in 2019 — 85% more the 94,000 installs required for non-game app to reach the top of the charts.

This figure also represents an increase of 47% compared to the 118,000 median daily downloads required to top the charts back in 2016, Sensor Tower said.

median downloads no 1 google play

In part, this trend is due to the rise of hyper-casual gaming. So far in 2019, 28 games have reached the No. 1 position on the U.S. App Store, with hyper-casual games making up all but four of those. And of those four, only Harry Potter: Wizards Unite spent more than one day at the top of the charts. Meanwhile, hyper-casual games like aquapark.io and Colorbump 3D have spent 25 and 30 days at No. 1, respectively.

On Google Play, the median daily installs to reach the No. 1 position increased from 70,000 in 2017 to 116,000 so far in 2019, or 66% growth. Overall game downloads, however, decreased 16% from 646 million in Q1 2017 to 544 million in Q1 2019.

Similarly, 21 out of the 23 games that reached the top spot this year have been hyper-casual titles, like Words Story or Traffic Run.

Breaking the top 10

While topping the charts has gotten easier for non-game apps over the years, breaking into the top 10 has gotten more difficult. Median U.S. daily installs for the No. 10 free non-game app increased 11%, from 44,000 in 2016 to 49,000 in 2019.

median downloads top 10 ios

On Google Play, median daily installs for non-game apps fell nearly 50%, from 55,000 median daily installs in 2016 to 31,000 in 2019.

For games, the No. 10 game’s spot on the App Store increased from 25,000 median daily installs in 2016 to 43,000 so far in 2019, and Google Play saw 26% growth, from 27,000 to 34,000 during the same period.

median downloads top 10 google play

Categories making the Top 10

In terms of breaking into the top 10 by category, Photo & Video apps on the App Store present the most challenge. The category where YouTube, Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat reside saw a median daily amount of more than 16,000 downloads for the No. 10 app.

This was followed by Shopping (15,300 daily downloads for the No. 10 app), Social Networking (14,500), Entertainment (12,600) and Productivity (12,400).

On Google Play, Entertainment apps — like Hulu, Netflix and Bitmoji — need around 17,100 U.S. installs in a day to reach the top 10. This is followed by Shopping (10,800), Social (9,100), Music (8,200) and Finance (8,000).

Beyond the U.S.

Outside the U.S., a non-game app needs approximately 91,000 downloads to reach the top 10 on the App Store in China — higher than the 49,000 installs needed in the U.S. For games, the U.S. is the most difficult to crack the top 10, with a median of 43,000 daily downloads for the No. 10 game.

median downloads top 10 by country ios

On Google Play, India required the most downloads to reach the top 10, with apps needing 256,000 downloads in a day and games needing 117,000 downloads.

median downloads top 10 by country google play

Of course, the App Store’s ranking algorithms — nor Google Play’s algorithms — don’t rely on downloads alone to determine an app’s ranking. Apple takes into consideration downloads and velocity, among other undocumented factors. Google Play does something similar.

But these days, developers are more concerned with showing up highly ranked in app store searches than they are on top charts, where they’ll need to consider numerous other factors beyond downloads — like keywords, description, user engagement and even app quality, among other things.

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App revenue tops $39 billion in first half of 2019, up 15% from first half of last year

Posted by | analyst, android apps, app revenues, app stores, app-store, Apple, Apps, China, Google Play, instagram, iOS App Store, iOS apps, Mobile, mobile applications, mobile apps, mobile games, Netflix, online marketplaces, sensor tower, smartphones, streaming services, Tencent, tiktok, Tinder | No Comments

App store spending is continuing to grow, although not as quickly as in years past. According to a new report from Sensor Tower, the iOS App Store and Google Play combined brought in $39.7 billion in worldwide app revenue in the first half of 2019 — that’s up 15.4% over the $34.4 billion seen during the first half of last year. However, at that time, the $34.4 billion was a 27.8% increase from 2017’s numbers, then a combined $26.9 billion across both stores.

Apple’s App Store continues to massively outpace Google Play on consumer spending, the report also found.

In the first half of 2019, global consumers spent $25.5 billion on the iOS App Store, up 13.2% year-over-year from the $22.6 billion spent in the first half of 2018. Last year, the growth in consumer spending was 26.8%, for comparison’s sake.

Still, Apple’s estimated $25.5 billion in the first half of 2019 is 80% higher than Google Play’s estimated gross revenue of $14.2 billion — the latter a 19.6% increase from the first half of 2018.

The major factor in the slowing growth is iOS in China, which contributed to the slowdown in total growth. However, Sensor Tower expects to see China returning to positive growth over the next 12 months, we’re told.

To a smaller extent, the downturn could be attributed to changes with one of the top-earning apps across both app stores: Netflix.

Last year, Netflix dropped in-app subscription sign-ups for Android users. Then, at the end of December 2018, it did so for iOS users, too. That doesn’t immediately drop its revenue to zero, of course — it will continue to generate revenue from existing subscribers. But the number will decline, especially as Netflix expands globally without an in-app purchase option, and as lapsed subscribers return to renew online with Netflix directly.

In the first half of 2019, Netflix was the second highest earning non-game app with consumer spending of $339 million, Sensor Tower estimates, down from $459 million in the first half of 2018. (We should point out the firm bases its estimates on a 70/30 split between Netflix and Apple’s App Store that drops to 85/15 after the first year. To account for the mix of old and new subscribers, Sensor Tower factors in a 25% cut. But Daring Fireball’s John Gruber claims Netflix had a special relationship with Apple where it had an 85/15 cut from year one.)

In any event, Netflix’s contribution to the app stores’ revenue is on the decline.

In the first half of last year, Netflix had been the No. 1 non-game app for revenue. This year, that spot went to Tinder, which pulled in an estimated $497 million across the iOS App Store and Google Play, combined. That’s up 32% over the first half of 2018.

1h 2019 app revenue worldwide

But Tinder’s dominance could be a trend that doesn’t last.

According to recent data from eMarketer, dating app audiences have been growing slower than expected, causing the analyst firm to revise its user estimates downward. It now expects that 25.1 million U.S. adults will use a dating app monthly this year, down from its previous forecast of 25.4 million. It also expects that only 21% of U.S. single adults will use a dating app at all in 2019, and that will only grow to 23% by 2023.

That means Tinder’s time at the top could be overrun by newcomers in later months, especially as new streaming services get off the ground (assuming they offer in-app subscriptions); if TikTok starts taking monetization seriously; or if any other large apps from China find global audiences outside of China’s third-party app stores.

For example, Tencent Video grossed $278 million globally in the first half of 2019, outside of the third-party Chinese Android app stores. That made it the third-largest non-game app by revenue. And Chinese video platform iQIYI and YouTube were the No. 4 and No. 5 top-grossing apps, respectively.

Meanwhile, iOS app installs actually declined in the first half of the year, following the first quarter that saw a decline in downloads, Q1 2019, attributed to the downturn in China.

The App Store in the first half of 2019 accounted for 14.8 billion of the total 56.7 billion app installs.

Google Play installs in the first half of the year grew 16.4% to 41.9 billion, or about 2.8 times greater than the iOS volume.

1h 2019 app downloads worldwide

The most downloaded apps in the first half of 2019 were the same as before: WhatsApp, Messenger and Facebook led the top charts. But TikTok inched ahead of Instagram for the No. 4 spot, and it saw its installs grow around 28% to nearly 344 million worldwide.

In terms of mobile gaming specifically, spending was up 11.3% year-over-year in the first half of 2019, reaching $29.6 billion across the iOS App Store and Google Play. Thanks to the fallout of the game licensing freeze in China, App Store revenue growth for games was at $17.6 billion, or 7.8% year-over-year growth. Google Play game spending grew by 16.8% to $12 billion.

The top-grossing games, in order, were Tencent’s Honor of Kings, Fate/Grand Order, Monster Strike, Candy Crush Saga and PUBG Mobile.

1h 2019 game revenue worldwide

Meanwhile, the most downloaded games were Color Bump 3D, Garena Free Fire and PUBG Mobile.

Image credits: Sensor Tower

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Court holds Amazon liable for years of unauthorized in-app purchases made by kids

Posted by | Amazon, children, family, FTC, Government, kids, lawsuit, Mobile, mobile applications, parents | No Comments

scaled.FireHD6-Kids-Edition In an entirely unsurprising ruling, a federal judge has sided with the FTC in the agency’s lawsuit against Amazon, which had said that the company did not do enough to safeguard customers against unauthorized in-app purchases made by children. According to the FTC’s original complaint, Amazon billed its customers millions of dollars in these charges. The problem came about… Read More

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