The Week in Mobile: March 24-31, 2018

Apple announces a more affordable iPad, Google’s mobile-first indexing is upon us, ARKit apps top 13 million installs 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 — all to inspire you and your company to take advantage of the many benefits mobile can offer.

Apple Debuts New, More Affordable iPad

At an education-focused event in Chicago, Apple launched a brand new, less expensive iPad. Simply named iPad, the tablet features a 9.7-inch retina display designed to work with the Apple pencil, which was previously only compatible with iPad Pro versions. It also boasts front and rear cameras capable of HD video and comes fully equipped to handle new augmented reality apps built using Apple’s ARKit.

Pricing for the device will start at $329, with Apple claiming it is the most affordable iPad to date. The Apple pencil is an additional $99. But the company is also offering an even lower price point of $299 for schools that adopt the device. The move is Apple’s answer to Google’s Chromebook, which has become extremely popular in classrooms across the U.S. The new iPad is now available to order and is expected to arrive in stores in more than 25 countries sometime this week.

Google’s Mobile-First Indexing is Finally Here

Google made big mobile news this week, finally announcing the official launch of “mobile-first” web indexing. Nearly two years ago, Google revealed its plans to modify the way its search index works to prioritize mobile versions of web pages over desktop. Well, after a year and a half of testing, the new algorithm is now being rolled out.

The search giant says these changes to indexing and ranking will “better help our – primarily mobile – users find what they’re looking for.” Since 2015, the majority of Google searches are done from mobile devices. The company has long factored mobile web pages into its ranking, but it’s clear this new update will start to view indexing through the eyes of the mobile user. But those not yet optimized for mobile shouldn’t panic, as Google assured desktop-only content would still be represented in its index.

ARKit Makes a Splash, Now Topping 13 Million App Downloads

Users have now installed more than 13 million augmented reality apps built from Apple’s ARKit. According to a new report, nearly half (47%) of the downloads were from mobile games, which have dominated augmented reality installs since ARKit launched alongside iOS 11 last fall. The next highest categories of AR-enabled app downloads include: utilities (14%), entertainment (12%) and lifestyle (11%). The most popular free app at the moment is AR Dragon, a cute virtual pet simulator where users hatch and raise their dragon in augmented reality. Meanwhile, an AR measuring tape app called CamToPlan Pro is the top pay-to-download ARKit app in the App Store so far. The report only measured apps built with ARKit, so that’s why an ARkit-compatible app like Pokemon GO isn’t holding down the top spot. Overall, there are more than 2,000 AR-enabled apps in the App Store.

Facebook Temporarily Halts New Apps from Joining as Users Question Privacy Practices

Still facing the fall-out from its data privacy scandal, Facebook has now put an indefinite hold on new apps from joining the platform. The company quietly announced last week that it has paused the review and approval process for third-party apps while it reevaluates its policies around user account data. Facebook is under intense public scrutiny following revelations last month that an app made by political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica was able to mine user data from the platform and sell it. The company is now undergoing an “in-depth review” of its platform that includes new protective measures.

If the whole situation hasn’t scared you away from Facebook yet, maybe the company’s little-known face recognition features will. For a while now, the company has been using a technology that analyzes the pixels on photos you’re tagged in to create what it calls a “template.” Basically, Facebook has saved your face. The company uses this information to suggest tags for photos, inform you when a photo of you has been uploaded that isn’t tagged and alerts you if someone uses a picture of you as their profile photo. If you don’t think the benefits of Facebook having your face “template” on file outweighs the negatives, then here’s how you shut the feature off. That said, it’s unclear whether disabling the recognition features means Facebook deletes your facial information.

Huawei Won’t Sell its new Flagship Phone in the U.S.

Huawei’s new flagship phone comes with an industry-first three photo-ready rear cameras, but you won’t be able to get it in the U.S. Despite positive reviews, the popular Chinese smartphone maker has decided not to sell the new Huawei P20 (or Pro version) through American carriers or retailers. The news comes after Best Buy announced it would stop selling Huawei devices, and the FCC circulated a proposal that would ban Chinese smartphone subsidies.

Rather than deal with the hassle, Huawei made clear its intention to cut off the American market entirely by not listing dollar prices for its new devices (and releasing a map with a large red circle with a line through it over the U.S.). The Huawei P20 is now available in more than 170 countries, although for now it seems the U.S. won’t be able to check out some of its nifty new features, such as turning off the notch.

Fitbit Looks to Combat the Apple Watch With New Wearable

Fitbit’s latest smartwatch is now available for pre-order, and it’s already drawing comparisons to the Apple Watch. The Fitbit Versa comes equipped with a touchscreen, call and text alert options, access to apps such as Messenger and, of course, the company’s trademark fitness tracking and workouts. Runners will be disappointed to find the smartwatch is not GPS-enabled on its own, but it does include the ability to connect the GPS with smartphone for location tracking. The phone is also waterproof up to 50 meters and claims to have a battery life of about four days.

Although the design draws comparison to the industry leading Apple Watch, the key differentiator is the price point. At $200, the Versa is a feature-rich smartwatch that might be able to pry away some of the wearables market share back from Apple, which has dominated the space after Fitbit’s Ionic’s less than stellar performance. The Versa is now available for pre-order and will debut with Android support. iOS support is expected to come in the next couple months.