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 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’re continuing to look at how the coronavirus outbreak is impacting the world of mobile applications, including the latest on countries’ various contact-tracing apps, the pandemic’s impact on gaming and fintech and more. We’re also looking at that big app crash caused by Facebook, plus new app releases from Facebook and Google, Android 11’s new timeline and Apple’s plans to move WWDC online, among other things.
WWDC goes virtual June 22
Apple announced this week its plans for a virtual version of its Worldwide Developer Conference. The company will host its WWDC 2020 event beginning on June 22 in the Apple Developer app and on the Apple Developer website for free for all developers.
It will be interesting to see how successfully Apple is able to take its developer conference online. After all, developers could already access the sessions and keynotes through videos — but the real power of the event was in the networking and being able to talk to Apple engineers, ask questions, get hands-on help and see how other developers are using Apple technologies to innovate. Unless Apple is planning a big revamp of its developer site and app that would enable those connections, it seems this year’s event will lack some of WWDC’s magic.
The company also announced the Swift Student Challenge, an opportunity for student developers to showcase their coding by creating their own Swift playground.
Mario Kart Tour, Nintendo’s latest mobile game, is now available on iOS for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, as well as on Android devices. The game, like Nintendo’s other mobile releases, is free-to-play with in-app purchases (in-game currency called ‘rubies’) that you use for upgrades and unlocks.
Players immediately unlock one rider and get a tutorial to start, which introduces you to the Mario Kart Tour driving mechanics, which are slightly different than the ones you’re probably used to if you’ve played Mario Kart games for Nintendo’s various consoles. Specifically, your kart will always be moving forward, so there’s no acceleration to press, and instead you slide your finger side-to-side on the screen to steer left and right, with a tap firing off any items or weapons you might pick up.
High scores earn you points that can be redeemed for in-game unlocks, and the game also features other new mechanics like ‘frenzy mode,’ which gives you a timed period of unlimited item use whenever you pick up three of the same. Special challenges are also new in this mobile iteration, which introduce new ways to win instead of just placing first in a race with other kart drivers. Mario Kart Tour also features online ranking with other mobile players worldwide.
The ‘Tour’ component of the game is also a new twist: Nintendo is mixing courses inspired by real-world cities in with levels that are taken from classic Mario Kart games, and these will be cycling every two weeks for a fresh global tour on a regular basis. In-game characters will also get costume variants that are inspired by these globe-trotting destinations.
Based on Nintendo’s past track record, Mario Kart Tour should be perfectly playable without any in-game purchases, but players may feel that they hit a progression wall pretty quickly without picking up some currency. It’ll be interesting to see how this one fares, given that Apple has just introduced its own Arcade subscription service focused on games that eschew in-app purchase mechanics – including cart racer Sonic Racing, which looks very much like it was once intended to offer similar in-app mechanics before Arcade came along.
Google is removing apps from Google Play that request permission to access call logs and SMS text message data but haven’t been manually vetted by Google staff.
The search and mobile giant said it is part of a move to cut down on apps that have access to sensitive calling and texting data.
Google said in October that Android apps will no longer be allowed to use the legacy permissions as part of a wider push for developers to use newer, more secure and privacy minded APIs. Many apps request access to call logs and texting data to verify two-factor authentication codes, for social sharing, or to replace the phone dialer. But Google acknowledged that this level of access can and has been abused by developers who misuse the permissions to gather sensitive data — or mishandle it altogether.
“Our new policy is designed to ensure that apps asking for these permissions need full and ongoing access to the sensitive data in order to accomplish the app’s primary use case, and that users will understand why this data would be required for the app to function,” wrote Paul Bankhead, Google’s director of product management for Google Play.
Any developer wanting to retain the ability to ask a user’s permission for calling and texting data has to fill out a permissions declaration.
Google will review the app and why it needs to retain access, and will weigh in several considerations, including why the developer is requesting access, the user benefit of the feature that’s requesting access and the risks associated with having access to call and texting data.
Bankhead conceded that under the new policy, some use cases will “no longer be allowed,” rendering some apps obsolete.
So far, tens of thousands of developers have already submitted new versions of their apps either removing the need to access call and texting permissions, Google said, or have submitted a permissions declaration.
Developers with a submitted declaration have until March 9 to receive approval or remove the permissions. In the meantime, Google has a full list of permitted use cases for the call log and text message permissions, as well as alternatives.
The last two years alone has seen several high-profile cases of Android apps or other services leaking or exposing call and text data. In late 2017, popular Android keyboard ai.type exposed a massive database of 31 million users, including 374 million phone numbers.
If you’re on the prowl for a new Android, Galaxy, or iPhone, read our full guide to the best smartphones of 2018.
Feed: All Latest
Facebook’s controversial app Messenger Kids, which lets parents control who kids can talk to, is today rolling out to Android devices in the U.S. with its launch on Google Play. The app will also now include a variety of new features for Valentine’s Day, like themed makes, stickers and frames, so kids can send special Valentine messages to their friends and family. Android is the… Read More
Social – TechCrunch
App-based trivia sensation HQ Trivia is on its way to Android, as the company previously revealed, but a special group of users can access it right now — Canadians. The app is now live in the Canadian Google Play Store, though it’s an “Unreleased” beta version of the live trivia game (via MobileSyrup). HQ Trivia debuted on iOS earlier this year, featuring a twice… Read More
Are you an early adopter? Okay, but are you a really early adopter who likes to test new, experimental things even if it means you’ll experience crashes and bugs? Then you may be interested to know that Instagram has launched Alpha testing programs on iOS and Android aimed at those who want to test pre-release versions of its popular photo-sharing app. Instagram has been running an… Read More
Social – TechCrunch
Google today launched the fourth and final developer preview of Android O, the latest version of its mobile operating system. As expected, there are no major changes in this release and, according to Google, the launch of Android O remains on track for later this summer. Given that Android Nougat was on a very similar schedule, I expect we’ll see a final release in August. Read More
Ford is updating a large number of 2016 model year cars equipped with SYNC 3 infotainment software, adding Android Auto and CarPlay to the vehicles with a free, over-the-air update via Wi-Fi, or using either USB or going through their dealer. The upgrade will be available for around 800,000 vehicles in total, giving a huge number of Ford car owners the chance to get big infotainment… Read More