The Week in Mobile: November 26-December 2, 2017

Amazon unveils Sumerian for building virtual experiences, New Google AI helps you catch screen peekers, Apple’s iTunes Connect to take a holiday 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.

Amazon Debuts Sumerian to Help Developers Quickly Build AR, VR and 3D Apps

Amazon has announced its first foray into developer tools for creating augmented reality and virtual reality. Named Sumerian, the new browser-based application is designed to help devs build and host 3D apps across a number of platforms like smartphones and tablets, virtual headsets, digital signage and web browsers. Amazon said the product will be free to use (with users only paying for storage of what they create), and that devs can now access a preview version to build virtual environments using libraries of pre-built objects. They can also utilize a set of customizable, 3D animated characters called “hosts” to interact with users, as well as integrate with some third-party developers such as Mapbox for things like location services. The company hopes that the tool will be easy enough to use for those new to creating 3D experiences, while also containing the depth need to create more advanced content. Developers can now access a preview version of Sumerian from the Amazon website.

Google vs. Screen Snoopers + Android 8.1 Preview

The days of strangers peering over your shoulder for an unsolicited peek at your smartphone may soon come to an end. This week, Google is set to unveil a new AI-powered tool that can identify when someone is looking at your display.The “e-screen protector” utilizes a smartphone’s front camera alongside eye detection algorithms to determine if more than one person is looking at the screen. In a demo video, the technology reacts almost instantly to a pair of wandering eyes that catch the user’s screen (Google says it can recognize someone’s gaze in 2 milliseconds), and then tags the perpetrator with Snapchat-inspired rainbow vomit. The software is currently just in the research phase, and it’s unclear if Google plans to add it to future versions of Android.

The company has, however, released the final preview version of Android 8.1, which will finally activate the Pixel 2’s dormant imaging chip called Visual Core. Support for this chip will allow camera apps with the proper API to snap photos using Google’s HDR+. Visual Core support will allow the Pixel 2 to capture images more quickly than it does currently, and let third party apps reap the benefits of Google’s HDR+ crispness in photos. The update to Android Oreo is set to be released next month, but developers can try out Visual Core for themselves now through Google’s beta program.

Apple Will (Briefly) Shut Down iTunes Connect Again This Holiday Season

Apple said that it will shutter iTunes Connect this year from December 23 to December 27. The company usually shuts down the service, which approves new apps or app changes for the App Store, for about a week during the holidays to provide its staff with some time off. This means that new app submissions or updates to existing apps such as price changes need to be submitted and accepted before that date. While the submission process will take a short hiatus, all other iTunes Connect tools will remain available to developers throughout the holidays.

Facebook Messenger is Testing New Business Friendly Features

Facebook has announced some updates for two new Messenger features designed for businesses. The company revealed last week that it’s now internally testing a way for brands to blast mass messages to followers via the chat app. The feature is called Messenger Broadcast, and would allow businesses to send a note within the app that contains text, images, video and a call to action (such as a link to a webpage). It is currently unclear if brands will need to pay Facebook in order to use Broadcast. Facebook also announced that another business feature called Customer Chat is now available to everyone through an open beta. This one allows businesses to integrate the Messenger app into their customer chat service on their website. The mobile website plugin will automatically open the app and save previous message history. Facebook has yet to reveal a release date for either of these new features.

The Mobile Game Business is Booming

With new technologies like augmented reality and video game industry veterans such as Nintendo now diving in, the mobile gaming space is continuing to heat up. Nintendo revealed that more than 15 million people downloaded its latest game Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp in the first week of release. That makes it the second most popular mobile game debut from Nintendo following Super Mario Run. Animal Crossing is free to download, but contains in-app purchases (or microtransactions) that help players progress in the game. It is currently ranked 72nd among all iPhone apps for revenue on the App Store in the U.S.  Meanwhile, Niantic (the makers of smash hit Pokemon Go) have announced that they’ve received $200 million in funding after announcing the development of a highly anticipated Harry Potter AR game. Pokemon Go has generated $1.2 billion dollars in the year and a half since its release. With the global popularity of the Harry Potter series, that success is likely continue when the game debuts next year.

iOS Jailbreaking Repositories are Shutting Down as User Interest Fades

Several years ago, Apple users were flocking to jailbreak their iPhones. Some developers even launched their apps exclusively for jailbroken phones as a way of mocking Apple’s rigid App Store approval process. But according to a new report, economic viability and user interest in jailbreaking iPhones is dwindling. Two major repositories, ModMyi and MaCiti have closed over the past couple weeks, citing a declining userbase and costs. Apple is likely pleased that iOS 11 has yet to be jailbroken. Even the largest service available, called JailBreakMe, has been radio silent on potential progress when it comes to the latest version of iOS.