The Week in Mobile: December 2-7, 2018

Consumer app store spending to eclipse $122 billion next year, Facebook drops ban for apps copying its features, first ‘real-world’ 5G test didn’t go well & more

Each week we round up the top news stories, think pieces and other content about 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 — all to inspire you and your company to take advantage of the many benefits mobile can offer.

App Store Spending to Surpass $122 Billion in 2019

On the heels of the most impressive Black Friday for mobile shopping to date, a new report predicts consumer app store spending to eclipse $122 billion next year. This week, app analytics firm App Annie released its 2019 forecast for the global app economy. It estimates that gross consumer spend within apps will grow fives times as fast as the overall global economy — thanks to games and in-app subscriptions.

TechCrunch’s Sarah Perez (@sarahintampa) writes: “Mobile spending is also expected to continue growing for both in-app advertising and commerce — that is, the transactions that take place outside of the app stores in apps like Uber, Amazon and Starbucks, for example.”

$122 billion represents the money consumers will spend on apps and through in-app purchases, before app stores take their own cut. App stores broke records on Black Friday as consumers spent $74.9 million across Apple and Google Play.

Facebook Drops Policy Banning Apps with Competing Features

Facebook has now ended a platform policy that banned apps it viewed as copying features. The company had used this policy to cut off competitors like Vine from its important “Find Friends” API — a critical tool for growth. The removal of this policy now reduces the risk associated with building on the Facebook platform.

TechCrunch’s Josh Constine (@joshconstine) explains: “And by creating a more fair and open platform where developers can build without fear of straying too close to Facebook’s history or roadmap, it could reinvigorate its developer ecosystem.”

This change will apply retroactively, so old apps that lost access to APIs (such as Find Friends) can now regain access.

The First ‘Real-World’ 5G Test Didn’t Go Well

Major smartphone manufacturers and carriers gathered in Hawaii this week to showcase the first 5G devices. Mobile’s biggest players such as Samsung, AT&T, Verizon and Motorola joined forces with Qualcomm to demonstrate their new devices on the new network. But according to reports, attendees of the summit were not able to touch (let alone inspect) the 5G smartphones.

The Verge’s Sean Hollister (@StarFire2258) writes: “Why the cloak and dagger? It’s because the networks aren’t anywhere near as fast as 5G is supposed to be. They’re slower than the Comcast internet connection I have at home.”

The development is interesting when you consider that some 5G networks are set to launch in the U.S. as early as next month. While Samsung, Huawei and Xiami have all promise a 5G smartphone next year, Apple claims it will not bring a 5G device to market until 2020. Although the company may have alternative reasons to hold out, the move may turn out to be right as it remains unclear whether 5G can deliver on its promise next year.

Huawei’s StorySign App Uses AI to Teach Deaf Children How to Read

Huawei has launched a new Android app designed to help deaf children learn how to read. Powered by artificial intelligence, StorySign allows users to point their smartphone at select children’s books to transform words on the page into sign language performed by an avatar. This not only helps the children learn to read, but can also help family and teachers better understand sign language. Engadget reports that while the app only supports one book at the moment, it does already support ten sign languages (including most European languages). StorySign doesn’t require a Huawei phone, and is free to download on Huawei’s AppGallery or Google Play.

iOS 12.1.1 Features FaceTime and Haptic Touch Improvements

This week, Apple released its third update to iOS 12 since its debut in September. iOS 12.1.1 features two key updates around FaceTime and haptic touch for the iPhone XR. With the latest version, users can now take a live photo during FaceTime call (as long as both users have the setting toggled on). Apple has also made it easier to mute FaceTime calls and flip the camera with a new secondary menu. In addition, this update introduces Haptic Touch with notifications for the iPhone XR.

MacRumor’s Juli Culver (@julipuli) explains that with this feature: “Haptic Touch can now be used to expand notifications on the Lock screen through a long press to see additional content. This is identical to the 3D Touch option on notifications on other iPhones.”

iOS 12.1.1 is now available for download for Apple devices via the settings app.

Shady iOS Apps Use Touch ID Tricks to Steal Users’ Cash

Two fitness apps that used Touch ID to scam users have been removed from the iOS App Store. Both “Fitness Balance app” and “Calories Tracker app” functioned similar to actual fitness apps — until they asked the user to secure personalized diet data by scanning their fingerprint. Suddenly, the apps would prompt users to pay $139.99 with just moments to remove their finger before inadvertently authorizing that payment to connected cards. The trick clearly violates App Store policy, and Apple states developers with shady apps will be banned forever from the platform (although the company hasn’t released an official statement on the removal of these particular apps).

Engadget’s Saqib Shah (@eightiethmnt) reports: “Despite Apple’s solid track record when it comes to App Store security, the odd shady app has slipped through the cracks. Late last year a fake port of the Xbox game Cuphead made the cut, before being removed. And back in 2012, a fake version of the Game Boy classic Pokemon Yellow also briefly appeared on the App Store.”