The Week in Mobile: May 1-7, 2016


Mobile at the Derby, Siri creators raise the AI assistant bar, Microsoft develops “Pre-Touch” navigation 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.

Viv and AI Assistant one-upmanship

The creators of Siri, whose startup was acquired by Apple in 2010, have come together again to create a new, more powerful AI assistant called Viv. With machine learning capabilities and access to data, Viv is capable of booking travel, ordering products and managing your smarthome appliances. What sets Viv apart from similar technology is its ability to improve over time. The new assistant can generate code on its own in order to learn new skill sets. Viv Labs will be demonstrated publicly for the first time today.

Meanwhile, Amazon’s Alexa is now integrated into a kitchen accessory called Triby. Triby, a wi-fi enabled speaker and radio that mounts on your fridge, is the first third-party device to take advantage of Alexa’s open platform as Amazon looks to rally developers around its ecosystem.

Microsoft “Pre-Touch” Navigation in Development

Microsoft is working on a new technology, called Pre-Touch that could enhance the way smartphone users navigate their devices. Pre-Touch senses a user’s tap before contact is actually made with the screen and is capable of sensing how a user is holding the device, opening up a world of new UI possibilities for developers. Developers could present menus or controls as the user’s hand approaches the screen. Those menus could then auto-adjust their location based on where a user’s finger is hovering. Perhaps most exciting is the ability to cut down on number of taps and mis-taps, since Pre-Touch can tell what sort of command a user intends to make.

Microsoft also announced that it will roll out a SharePoint mobile app for iOS in June, with Android and Windows apps coming later in the year. The move to bring SharePoint software to mobile allows Microsoft to keep the product competitive with companies like Slack, Dropbox and Box.

Android Marshmallow Adoption Continues to Lag

With Google’s annual developer conference right around the corner, the company is poised to announce its next iteration of the Android operating system — Android N. However, only 7.5 percent of active Android devices with access to the Google Play Store are running on Marshmallow, the most recently released OS. The majority of devices are operating on Lollipop, which was released in 2014, or KitKat, which was released in 2013. Bringing users onto new operating systems has been a historical struggle for the company, largely due to hardware partners who aren’t necessarily incentivized to deliver updates.

In other news, Google Play will now label apps that contain advertisements. The distinction will appear in the app’s description and is similar to labels that note whether or not an app offers in-app purchases.

“Uber Offers” Rolls Out Just in Time for Mother’s Day

Late last year, Uber began testing a program called Uber Offers. It’s an initiative that rewards users for making purchases at promoted stores with Uber-linked credit cards. Now, the program has rolled out nationally in the US with an offer from ProFlowers just in time for Mother’s Day. Users that accept the offer and make a purchase at ProFlowers will receive money off their next Uber ride. The idea is that supporting stores see increased traffic, Uber receives referral fees (and bolsters its ecosystem) and merchants pay for their customers’ Uber rides. It’s a win-win…win.

Google is Allegedly Testing a New Travel App

Rumors suggest Google is expanding its travel planning capabilities with a new app called Google Trips. The app is reportedly being tested by Google’s Local Guides program. Early testers revealed that Google Trips pulls a variety of information from email, such as hotel and flight reservations. With that information, the app helps users plan their entire trip from transportation and restaurant suggestions to activities and new places to explore. While Google has not confirmed plans to launch Google Trips, the app falls in line with the company’s recent launch of Destinations, a travel focused search feature added to Google’s search app.

Kentucky Derby Bets Big on Mobile Experiences

Going beyond tradition — mint juleps, big bets and even bigger hats — the Kentucky Derby introduced a new way to experience the races this year. Churchill Downs launched its first ever Racetrack app just in time for Saturday’s festivities. Users are able to navigate around the winding stadium, order food and drinks from their seats, pin their parking location and more. For those accessing the app on iOS, bets can be placed and winnings can be redeemed with the tap of a finger. To power these mobile experiences for such a large crowd, 1,600 beacons were installed around Churchill Downs in preparation.