The Week in Mobile: May 27-June 1, 2018

iOS App Store turns 10, iOS 11.4 delivers iCloud messaging & AirPlay 2, Snapchat working on dev toolkit & 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.

App Store at 10: 170 Billion Downloads, More Than $130 Billion in Revenue

To mark the upcoming tenth anniversary of Apple’s App Store, a new report details the total number of iOS app downloads during the past decade. The report claims users have downloaded more than 170 billion apps from the App Store for over $130 billion in consumer spend. However, the data only documents July 2010 through December 2017, so it’s likely the true figures are even larger. The App Store, which arrived in 2008 with a mere 500 apps, now exceeds 2 million active apps (and 4.5 million apps during its lifetime). It’s also worth noting that revenue growth for the store has been outpacing downloads for several years, and while iOS apps only account of 30% of global downloads—they account for 66% of all consumer app spending.  

Messages in iCloud and AirPlay 2 Finally Arrive with iOS 11.4 Update

While Apple is expected to reveal iOS 12 next week at its annual WWDC conference, the company released an update to the current version. iOS 11.4, now available to download, brings two long-promised features: Messages in iCloud and AirPlay 2. The Messages in iCloud feature syncs users’ messages and shared images across all their Apple devices using cloud storage instead of local storage for archives and attachments (and even saves SMS). It also utilizes end-to-end encryption to ensure security.

The other main feature, AirPlay 2, delivers multiroom audio and stereo sound to the HomePod. Users will be able to play the same audio on multiple HomePods—or in concert with Apple TV—for a more unified listening experience.

Snapchat to Provide Access to its AR Camera With First Developer Toolkit

Snapchat is finally opening up to third-party apps, reportedly launching a new developer platform called SnapKit. The new tools would allow third-party app developers access to Snapchat’s login system, augmented reality camera features and Bitmoji avatars. The company has long shunned outside developers, keeping its platform more or less closed off. But with Snapchat’s recent plateau in user growth, it seems the company is now ready to embrace a broader ecosystem of partners and integrations. The reports have yet to be confirmed by Snapchat, but would mark a meaningful expansion for the platform, particularly as it comes to the company’s popular AR camera features.

Budget Mobile Device Demand Pulls Global Smartphone Sales Out of Months-Long Slump

After year-over-year smartphone sales notably dropped last fall, some had begun to speculate whether mobile device demand had finally peaked. A new report dispels that notion, as smartphone sales grew 1.3% to kick-off the year, thanks in part to improved budget phone offerings. Companies such as Huawei and Xiaomi saw success selling devices priced at $150 or less, while Samsung and Apple were said to struggle to convince consumers to shell out for expensive flagship phones like the Galaxy S9 or iPhone X. Apple did manage to return to growth, but companies will now face the often sluggish middle of the year as buyers await new releases in late summer and fall.

Google Lens Receives First (of Many) Updates Promised During I/O Developer Conference

A couple of weeks ago at Google’s I/O developer conference, the company announced dozens of new features coming to its various platforms. The first of those updates are starting to trickle out with the launch of the Style Match and Smart Text Selection features for Google Lens. Style Match allows users to scan nearby items in order to search other objects with a similar aesthetic. Meanwhile, Smart Text Selection identifies words in the user’s viewfinder and then translates or explains them. The features are now available on all Android devices and will be coming soon to the Google Photos app for both Android and iOS.

ZenScreen Aims to Balance Users’ Digital Diets

Curbing social media addiction and app overuse has been a major issue in the mobile industry as of late. While some apps and screen-limiting features lock users out of their smartphone entirely for a period of time, a new app called ZenScreen is taking a different approach. Rather than cutting off device access entirely, ZenScreen attempts to create “a balanced digital diet” with digital health pyramid to guide how much time users spend with certain types of apps. For example, social media apps may be limited to an hour per day, but tools like navigation, search and weather are unlimited use. ZenScreen also allows users to customize when certain types of apps are available, so you can restrict entertainment apps for productive mornings, but have full access for unwinding at the end of the day.