The Week in Mobile: December 10-16, 2017

Top tech predictions for 2018, the AR platform wars intensify, Apple introduces App Store pre-orders and more

Each week we round up the top news stories, think pieces and other content that centers on the fast-paced, quickly changing world of mobile technology. We tell you which companies are employing clever mobile strategies, illuminate new ways of thinking about mobile and offer a peek at meaningful trends in the industry. This content is designed to inspire you and your company to take advantage of the many benefits mobile can offer.

2018 Tech Predictions: AI, AR and Digital Subscriptions Lead the Way

A new report claims that augmented reality, artificial intelligence and digital subscriptions will continue to drive innovation in the new year and beyond. In its 17th annual Technology, Media, & Telecommunications report, consultant firm Deloitte predicts that more than a billion mobile users will test out AR content at least once in 2018, with tens of millions using AR on a regular basis. The company also notes that AI adoption is at a tipping point, and will soon become instrumental to businesses as well as create entirely new products and services. Digital subscriptions will also continue to grow, with Deloitte claiming that by the end of next year more than half of adults in developed countries will have at least two. Deloitte also said that the mobile phone industry is reaching saturation as nearly 90% of adults in developed countries own one, but predicts that 1.85 billion phones will be sold worldwide each year by 2023.

Augmented Reality Wars Continue as Google Launches AR Stickers

An all-out battle for AR dominance looms in the coming year, with some new augmented reality offerings from the likes of Google, Facebook and Apple. Google made a big splash last week after launching AR stickers on the Pixel and Pixel 2 smartphone. The feature is incorporated into the main camera app, and allows users to snap photos and video alongside 3D characters or objects. Google has even created Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Stranger Things themed sticker sets. A new video demonstrating the feature shows Star Wars fans interacting with R2-D2 and BB-8, stormtroopers and of course, Porgs. Google also has its own sets of stickers.

Not to be outdone, Facebook has also amped up its AR presence with a new set of tools for Messenger called World Effects. The new feature allows users to insert 3D objects like a robot, floating heart or text bubbles into their photos and videos, and builds on the work the company has done with interactive filters and masks over the last several months.

Apple, who is also making moves in the AR race, showed off its first-ever AR commercial last week. It showcases the same tech-savvy teenager we’ve seen in previous ads using her iPad Pro to play around with a home decorating app in a busy public square. While only clocking in at 16 seconds, the ad sends a subtle message about the importance of the developer community for ARKit by featuring an indie developer versus a major brand partner.

Apple App Store Introduces Pre-Ordering and New Subscription Pricing

It has been a long time coming, but users can now finally pre-order apps and games from Apple’s App Store before they launch. Soon-to-be-released apps can now be listed as far as 90 days in advance of their launch. For those who pre-order, the app will automatically download to the users’ device when it goes live. If payments are involved, charges won’t be applied until the app becomes available for download. Apple has also introduced new options for developers that will allow for things like limited-time free trials on in-app subscriptions. The three new price models that app makers can offer their customers include: pay as you go, pay up front and free trial. The change will also let developers keep 70 percent of revenue from new subscriptions, with that number jumping up to 85 percent for customers who complete one year of paid service. The new App Store offerings will better aid developers in garnering interest for their apps and converting those on the fence into customers. Both features are now live and can be managed via iTunes Connect.

Fingerprint Sensors Underneath the Screen are Coming Next Year

Next year, some smartphone users will finally have the ability to authenticate their device by pressing directly on the screen. The touch input experts at Synaptics have announced they’ve now entered the production phase for their first optical in-display fingerprint sensors. Samsung was supposed to have this technology on its flagship phones this year, but the tech fizzled out. Synaptics now feels confident enough in the hardware to start mass production, and claims it will be going to a “a top five OEM,” which would mean Apple, Samsung, Huawei, Oppo/Vivo or Xiaomi.

Amazon, Boxed Launch New Features to Improve Mobile Shopping

There is no arguing that mobile has changed the way we shop online (especially during the holiday season) and app makers are continuing to innovate on how to make the experience better. An app called Boxed, an online wholesale club equivalent to the digital version of Costco, has announced several new features to make mobile shopping easier. The first is an AR tool that will help users visualize how large products will be to make sure they have enough space for ordering. The company is also rolling out a chatbot that will help users checkout from Facebook’s Messenger app, as well as a Group Order option designed to help roommates, family members or businesses make a list together. But Boxed isn’t the only to introduce some nifty features last week. Mobile shopping king Amazon also released a new swipe to check-out feature that will replace the tap to check-out option for one-click shopping. The company is hoping this new version of one-click shopping will be more user-friendly, and help people avoid accidental purchases.

Google Assistant Now Available on Older Smartphones and Tablets

As Google has been adding all kinds of new skills to Assistant lately, it has also been working to make it available to more devices. The company announced last week that Google Assistant is now coming to Android tablets running Android 7.0 Nougat and 6.0 Marshmallow, as well as smartphones using 5.0 Lollipop. While more users in advanced countries will also have access to Google Assistant, the move provides insight into how Google may be pushing to get Assistant into more developing markets where users have less powerful devices and software. Assistant is now available for those who have English set as their language, and will be rolling it out in more languages soon.