The Week in Mobile: September 30-October 5, 2018

Apple seeds preview version of iOS 12.1, Google Assistant adds new developer features, Run an Empire turns exercise into an AR strategy game 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.

iOS 12.1 Beta Debuts New Emoji, (Quietly) Fixes iPhone XS Charges Issues

Just two weeks after the official launch of iOS 12, Apple has now released developer and public beta previews of iOS 12.1. The highlight of this update is the addition of more than 70 new emoji — including characters with new hair colors and styles, sports and food icons, and most importantly, the long-awaited llama emoji (as well as other animals too).

But iOS 12.1 also has a couple improvements under the hood as well, such as a quiet fix for the charging issue plaguing some new iPhones. However, there is no word yet on whether this version resolves a security vulnerability that can bypass the lock screen. Although iOS 12 has hit a couple bumps since release, Apple can take solace in a new report showing iPhone XS sales were better than last year’s lineup of new iPhones. And that’s before the release of the company’s budget option, the iPhone XR. Users can expect to see both the iPhone XR and iOS 12.1 roll-out later this month.

Google Assistant Adds New Features for Developers to Sell In-App Purchases

Google Assistant got a major visual overhaul on mobile this week. With the redesign, the company has acknowledged that while Assistant originally focused on voice, about half of all interactions also require touch. To that end, Google is delivering larger visuals and more tap-based commands to streamline the experience. In addition to the revamp, Google also announced several new features for developers, including a toolkit for creating their own visual experiences for Assistant. But that’s not all, the company is also allowing developers to sell in-app purchases through Assistant.

While developers could already sell physical goods through Assistant actions, they can now sell digital goods such as subscriptions, too. These purchases are powered by a new sign-in service that enables a single tap or voice command to confirm a transaction. The feature stands to make the process more fluid for users, and also helps developers reduce drop-off at the payment screen. The new features are set to roll-out to Android and iOS over the next couple weeks, pending the App Store review process.

Google Maps Rolls Out Commute Feature Complete with Music Playback

Google has been hard at work to transform Maps into a central hub for users to plan out their day. Last week, the company added a new feature making it easier to coordinate group events. This week, Google continued the trend by rolling out another new Maps tool to help users better manage their commute. A new commute section within the app now displays information on trips to and from work, including traffic details and bus or train departures. If delays are expected, Maps provides push notifications to alert the user and suggest an alternative route. The update also allows control within Google Maps for music services such as Spotify, Apple Music and Google Play to avoid hopping between apps. The new commute feature is now available for Android across regions.

Facebook Tests Redesign of Nearby Friends Feature

From Snapchat to Apple to Google and even Foursquare, several companies have tried to create engaging features for users to meet-up offline. So far, those efforts have come up short to turn location-sharing into a natural way to find and hang-out with people. Facebook is hoping to change that with an upcoming revamp of its Nearby Friends feature. The company is doing away with a list view of friend locations in favor of a map. Similar to Snapchat’s ill-fated Snap Map, the feature will not display exact coordinates, but rather the approximate location of friends in nearby neighborhoods or cities. Facebook is now testing the new Nearby Friends functionality, and yet to announced when it may become available to users.

Run an Empire Transforms Exercise Into an AR Strategy Game

A new augmented reality game may finally give players a reason to get up and go exercise. Run an Empire is a new location-based AR strategy game that allows users to conquer ground by running around it. As players jog or walk to gain control of new territories, they’re also rewarded with currencies that can be used to build encampments and hire workers to help their empire grow. Run an Empire already has more than 40,000 users since it debuted in the UK this summer and can be connected to exercise apps like Strava to track runs outside the game app. The game is free to download, and now available to iOS and Android users worldwide.

Microsoft Unveils Mirroring Feature for Android Apps on Windows 10

Microsoft has announced a new app mirroring feature that will run any Android app on a Windows 10 desktop or tablet. The new mirroring function was showcased at a hardware event this week, with users catching a glimpse of Snapchat running on Microsoft’s Surface tablet. The company hopes this new capability will bridge the gap left by the demise of the Windows phone nearly two years ago. So far, Microsoft is starting with mirroring of Android stock texting and photos, with additional Android app support to come at a yet unannounced date. iPhone webpage transfer will also see support initially, although it’s unclear if this will extend to any additional iOS apps. The feature will become available this month with Microsoft’s scheduled Windows 10 update.