Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest mobile OS news, mobile applications, and the overall app economy.
The app industry continues to grow, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spending in 2020. Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.
Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.
And in our downloads section, we have a treat for readers: a time-sensitive and exclusive invite code to get into one of the hottest new apps for sneakerheads: Sole Retriever.
WWDC’s big keynote is kicking off next week on June 7 at 1 PM ET. The Livestream page is here. While we may see new MacBook Pros, software developers will care about the forthcoming details about Apple’s latest OS releases and other new technologies. As to what they may include? Bloomberg reported that iOS 15 would introduce a way for users to set different notification preferences and automatic replies based on their current status (driving, working, sleeping, etc.) and an updated Lock Screen where this menu of choices would be accessible. iMessage may be upgraded to be more social, to better compete with Messenger and WhatsApp.
Meanwhile, iPadOS could be getting the App Library and an upgraded Home Screen with support for widgets. (And you can fill the screen with just devices if you choose.) Or who knows! Until it’s official, it’s all a maybe!
But one potentially interesting rumor to watch for would be a new privacy feature that would show users which apps were collecting data about them. This builds on Apple’s investments in App Tracking Transparency and could make it more difficult for shady SDKs to stay in business. There will likely be some updates coming to other Apple apps, Siri, watchOS, and more. It’s going to be a whole week — stay tuned!
Ahead of WWDC, Apple also updated its report (conducted on its behalf via the Analysis Group) on App Store commerce. The company says the App Store facilitated $643 billion in billings and sales in 2020, up 24% from the $519 billion seen the year prior. It also noted that about 90% of the billings and sales facilitated by the App Store took place outside its walls, meaning Apple took no commission on those purchases. This is up from the 85% figure reported last year. The full report delves into other trends related to the pandemic’s impact, small and large businesses, and more. Apple initially commissioned the report to demonstrate how little business on the App Store is subject to App Store fees, but now it’s updated the information a year later. It’s interesting how much understanding Apple has about its App Store, especially when Tim Cook claimed to know so little about several crucial figures.
Apple also this week unveiled its 2021 Apple Design finalists. The awards honor apps and games that offer a combination of innovation, ingenuity, and technical achievement — the latter, which often means making great use of Apple technologies. The finalists span six categories: Inclusivity, Delight and Fun, Interaction, Social Impact, Visuals and Graphics, and Innovation.
Among the prospective winners are apps including snarky weather app Carrot Weather as well as the unique (Not Boring) Weather, short-form news service Brief, mental wellness app, and Google Play award winner Loona, Editor’s Choice Genshin Impact, Snowman’s new kid’s app Pok Pok Playroom and summertime fun music app Poolside FM, and many others.
Google this week opened submissions for two of its annual developer programs: the Indie Games Accelerator and the Indie Games Festival. The programs are designed to help small games studios grow on Google Play. This year, the schedules will include more eligible markets and will be fully digital experiences.
Google will restrict third-party apps from customizing the native Android Share sheet in Android 12. Currently, the UI of the Share sheet can differ from app to app, but XDA Developers reports it will become more iOS-like by offering a consistent menu across apps.
Google is taking a cue from Apple by allowing users to opt-out of personalization using the advertising ID in the Android Settings. Once users opt-out, the advertising ID is disabled. The ID is a unique, user-resettable identifier provided by Google Play services. As part of a future Google Play services update in late 2021, the advertising identifier will be removed when the user opts out of tracking. Any attempt to access the identifier will only return a string of zeros. Google says ad and analytics service partners will receive notifications about users’ preferences to help them with compliance. The change will roll out in late 2021 and will impact apps running on Android 12 devices initially, with an expansion to devices that support Google Play in early 2022.