This Week in Apps: Apple Arcade’s new franchise, Fortnite takes on Google Play, the Disney+ app footprint

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with 194 billion downloads last year and more than $100 billion in consumer spending. People spend 90% of their mobile time in apps and more time using their mobile devices than watching TV. Apps aren’t just a way to waste idle hours — they’re big business, and one that often seems to change overnight.

In this Extra Crunch series, we help you to keep up with the latest news from the world of apps.

This week, we’re taking a look at Apple Arcade’s new gaming franchise, Fortnite maker Epic Games calling out the Google Play Store for its monopolistic practices, Android’s new AR features, Disney+’s one-month app footprint, and more.

Headlines

Apple Arcade scores a big sports game franchise, “Ultimate Rivals”

Apple Arcade launched in September offering over 100 games for $4.99 per month. Since launch, the service stays fresh by adding new releases on a regular basis. This week, Apple touted one of Arcade’s biggest wins to date — an all-new sports franchise from Bit Fry Game Studios, called “Ultimate Rivals.” The new game brings together athletes from across hockey, basketball, football, baseball, and soccer to play in a licensed video game that’s a first for the mobile gaming industry. The debut title in the franchise, out now on Apple Arcade, is “Ultimate Rivals: The Rink,” which lets players choose from over 50 athletes to compete in two-on-two hockey matches.

For example, you could pit Alex Ovechkin and Alex Morgan against De’Aaron Fox and Jose Altuve or Skylar Diggins-Smith and Wayne Gretzky, Apple says.

The game was made possible by Bit Fry’s groundbreaking licensing deals with nine pro sports organizations,  the NHL, NHL Players’ Association (NHLPA), NBA, National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), MLB, MLB Players Association (MLBPA), NFL Players Association (NFLPA), Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA), the USWNTPA, as well as Wayne Gretzky.

Next spring, the Bit Fry will launch “Ultimate Rivals: The Court” as the next title in the series.

The franchise is a big win for Apple Arcade, which doesn’t yet have many sports-themed titles. In fact, with the addition of “Ultimate Rivals,” it now has only a half dozen. And because of the numerous pro sports deals, the game has the potential to appeal to a wider audience.

Fornite tries to bypass the Google Play Store’s 30% cut

Reliance Industries acquires a majority stake in SaaS startup NowFloats for $20M

Reliance Industries, one of India’s largest industrial houses, has acquired a majority stake in NowFloats, an Indian startup that helps businesses and individuals build online presence without any web developing skills.

In a regulatory filing on Thursday, Reliance Strategic Business Ventures Limited said (PDF) it has acquired an 85% stake in NowFloats for 1.4 billion Indian rupees ($20 million).

Seven-and-a-half-year old, Hyderabad-headquartered NowFloats operates an eponymous platform that allows individuals and businesses to easily build an online presence. Using NowFloats’ services, a mom and pop store, for instance, can build a website, publish their catalog, as well as engage with their customers on WhatsApp.

The startup, which has raised about 12 million in equity financing prior to today’s announcement, claims to have helped over 300,000 participating retail partners. NowFloats counts Blume Ventures, Omidyar Network, Iron Pillar, IIFL Wealth Management, and Hyderabad Angels among its investors.

Last year, NowFloats acquired LookUp, an India-based chat service that connects consumers to local business — and is backed by Vinod Khosla’s personal fund Khosla Impact, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, Narayana Murthy’s Catamaran Ventures and Global Founders Capital.

Reliance Strategic Business Ventures Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Reliance Industries, said that it would invest up to 750 million Indian rupees ($10.6 million) of additional capital into the startup, and raise its stake to about 89.66%, if NowFloats achieves certain unspecified goals by the end of next year.

In a statement, Reliance Industries said the investment will “further enable the group’s digital and new commerce initiatives.” NowFloats is the latest acquisition Reliance has made in the country this year. In August, the conglomerate said it was buying a majority stake in Google-backed Fynd for $42.3 million. In April, it bought a majority stake in Haptik in a deal worth $100 million.

There are about 60 million small and medium-sized businesses in India. Like hundreds of millions of Indians, many in small towns and cities, who have come online in recent years thanks to world’s cheapest mobile data plans and inexpensive Android smartphones, businesses are increasingly building online presence as well.

But vast majority of them are still offline, a fact that has created immense opportunities for startups — and VCs looking into this space — and major technology giants. New Delhi-based BharatPe, which helps merchants accept online payments and provides them with working capital, raised $50 million in August. Khatabook and OkCredit, two digital bookkeeping apps for merchants, have also raised significant amount of money this year.

In recent years, Google has also looked into the space. It has launched tools — and offered guidance — to help neighborhood stores establish some presence on the web. In September, the company announced that its Google Pay service, which is used by more than 67 million users in India, will now enable businesses to accept digital payments and reach their customers online.

‘Disney Plus’ was the #1 U.S. Google search term in 2019

Google today released its annual “Year in Search” data that takes a look back at some of the biggest searches of 2019. Specifically, Google looked at the biggest trends — meaning, search terms that saw the largest spikes in traffic over a sustained period in 2019 compared to 2018. In the U.S., Disney’s new streaming service “Disney Plus” was the biggest search trend of 2019, followed by Cameron Boyce, Nipsey Hussle, Hurricane Dorian, Antonio Brown, Luke Perry, Avengers: Endgame, Game of Thrones, iPhone 11, and Jussie Smollet.

“Game of Thrones” was also the biggest U.S. TV show search trend of the year, followed by Netflix’s “Stranger Things” and “When They See Us,” then HBO’s “Chernobyl,” and Disney Plus’s “The Mandalorian.”

On the global stage, Apple’s iPhone 11 was the fifth biggest trend of the year, one ahead of Game of Thrones (#6), but behind searches for “India vs South Africa,” which ranked No. 1. The rest of the list included (in order): Cameron Boyce (#2), Copa America (#3), Bangladesh vs India (#4), Avengers: Endgame (#7), Joker (#8), Notre Dame (#9), and ICC Cricket World Cup (#10).

Tech companies’ influence on Google’s Top Trends could also be found in the music category, where “Old Town Road” was the top trending Song globally and in the U.S. in 2019. The Lil Nas X hit song went viral on TikTok this year after the rapper himself uploaded it to the platform back in December 2018.

In addition to topping Google’s list, Lil Nas X was also the No. 1 artist on TikTok according to its own year-end round-up.

Elsewhere, online and tech-influenced trends could be found under the “What is…?” category in Google’s top U.S. search trends. For example, the meme “Storm Area 51” which grew out of of a viral Facebook joke that turned into a real-world event led many this year to search “What is Area 51?”

No. 2 was “What is a VSCO girl?” referring to the latest teen trend and meme whose name comes from the hipper-than-Instagram photo-editing app, VSCO. The VSCO girl dresses in oversized tees, Birkenstocks, wears her hair in a messy bun, and adorns herself with accessories like scrunchies, Burt’s Bees lip balm, puka shell chokers, and carries around a Hydro Flask water bottle.

Also on the “What is…?” list were “momo” as in the “Momo Challenge,” (an artistic sculpture turned viral hoax) and “What is a boomer?,” referencing the latest teen insult for old people, “OK boomer.” The latter also became a huge TikTok meme.

Various online cultures influenced Google’s top U.S. outfit trends, too, including the No. 1 outfit idea of Egirl, a popular demographic found on TikTok that’s a sort of emo subculture (or perhaps an emo-anime-goth variation), followed by Eboy, Soft girl (another TikTok subculture, this time with a hyper-cute aesthetic), and finally Biker shorts and VSCO girl. (If you don’t know which one you are, don’t worry — there’s a BuzzFeed quiz for that, of course.)

Google’s top trends are mainly a reflection of pop culture for the year, Google did take a longer look back this year with its “Decade in Search” retrospective, where it highlights the music, movies and people who influenced culture over the past 10 years.

The company put together a busy visualization of the decade in music through Year in Search, for example.

It also points to some of the people who trended over the course of the decade, including Justin Bieber, Betty White, Lebron James, as well as long-lasting TV and movie trends, including “Toy Story”, “Iron Man,” and “The Walking Dead.”

The full list of Google’s Global Top Trends, which can be filtered by country, is here.

Google Cloud gets a new family of cheaper general-purpose compute instances

Google Cloud today announced the launch of its new E2 family of compute instances. These new instances, which are meant for general-purpose workloads, offer a significant cost benefit, with saving of around 31% compared to the current N1 general-purpose instances.

The E2 family runs on standard Intel and AMD chips, but as Google notes, they also use a custom CPU scheduler “that dynamically maps virtual CPU and memory to physical CPU and memory to maximize utilization.” In addition, the new system is also smarter about where it places VMs, with the added flexibility to move them to other hosts as necessary. To achieve all of this, Google built a custom CPU scheduler “with significantly better latency guarantees and co-scheduling behavior than Linux’s default scheduler.” The new scheduler promises sub-microsecond wake-up latencies and faster context switching.

That gives Google efficiency gains that it then passes on to users in the form of these savings. Chances are, we will see similar updates to Google’s other instances families over time.

It’s interesting to note that Google is clearly willing to put this offering against that of its competitors. “Unlike comparable options from other cloud providers, E2 VMs can sustain high CPU load without artificial throttling or complicated pricing,” the company writes in today’s announcement. “This performance is the result of years of investment in the Compute Engine virtualization stack and dynamic resource management capabilities.” It’ll be interesting to see some benchmarks that pit the E2 family against similar offerings from AWS and Azure.

As usual, Google offers a set of predefined instance configurations, ranging from 2 vCPUs with 8 GB of memory to 16 vCPUs and 128 GB of memory. For very small workloads, Google Cloud is also launching a set of E2-based instances that are similar to the existing f1-micro and g1-small machine types. These feature 2 vCPUs, 1 to 4 GB of RAM and a baseline CPU performance that ranges from the equivalent of 0.125 vCPUs to 0.5 vCPUs.

BMW says ‘ja’ to Android Auto

BMW today announced that it is finally bringing Android Auto to its vehicles, starting in July 2020. With that, it will join Apple’s CarPlay in the company’s vehicles.

The first live demo of Android Auto in a BMW will happen at CES 2020 next month and after that, it will become available as an update to drivers in 20 countries with cars that feature the BMW OS 7.0. BMW will support Android Auto over a wireless connection, though, which somewhat limits its comparability.

Only two years ago, the company said that it wasn’t interested in supporting Android Auto. At the time, Dieter May, who was the senior VP for Digital Services and Business Model at the time, explicitly told me that the company wanted to focus on its first-party apps in order to retain full control over the in-car interface and that he wasn’t interested in seeing Android Auto in BMWs. May has since left the company, though it’s also worth noting that Android Auto itself has become significantly more polished over the course of the last two years, too.

“The Google Assistant on Android Auto makes it easy to get directions, keep in touch and stay productive. Many of our customers have pointed out the importance to them of having Android Auto inside a BMW for using a number of familiar Android smartphone features safely without being distracted from the road, in addition to BMW’s own functions and services,” said Peter Henrich, Senior Vice President Product Management BMW, in today’s announcement.

With this, BMW will also finally offer support for the Google Assistant, after early bets on Alexa, Cortana and the BMW Assistant (which itself is built on top of Microsoft’s AI stack). As the company has long said, it wants to offer support for all popular digital assistants and for the Google Assistant, the only way to make that work in a car is, at least for the time being, Android Auto.

In BMWs, Android Auto will see integrations into the car’s digital cockpit, in addition to BMW’s Info Display and the heads-up display (for directions). That’s a pretty deep integration, which goes beyond what most car manufacturers feature today.

“We are excited to work with BMW to bring wireless Android Auto to their customers worldwide next year,” said Patrick Brady, Vice President of Engineering at Google. “The seamless connection from Android smartphones to BMW vehicles allows customers to hit the road faster while maintaining access to all of their favorite apps and services in a safer experience.”

Iterable, founded by an ex-Twitter engineer, nabs $60M for cross-channel growth marketing tools

A startup that’s built cross-channel growth marketing platform — used by businesses to capture customers across whatever digital media they happen to be using — is today announcing funding to do some growing of its own. Iterable — which uses email, push and in-app notifications, SMS and other sources to interact with users and deliver them targeted, personalised marketing messages — has closed another $60 million in funding, a Series D that it’s going to use to continue scaling its business into more markets (it’s recently expanded in Europe with a London office), and with more hiring.

“Another” is the key word for this round: Iterable had announced $50 million in funding just earlier this year, in March.

“This is about being prepared because of the uncertainty in the wider market,” said co-founder and CEO Justin Zhu said in an interview. “We are not sure what might happen next year.” The bigger trend in marketing tech is around consolidation and the building of “marketing clouds” by large players like Adobe and Salesforce, so it’s notable that Zhu said that while Iterable is continuing to grow — it has the startup’s focus will be on remaining independent and turning profitable. 

“It’s about getting to breakeven and then beyond that,” he said.

This latest round, a Series D, is being led by Viking Global Investors — the huge investment firm and hedge fund that has backed the likes of Facebook and security firm Druva, but also a range of biotech and pharma companies — with participation from previous investors CRV, Index Ventures, Blue Cloud Ventures, Harmony Partners, and Stereo Capital.

The company has now raised $140 million in total. Zhu described the valuation as a “very healthy increase,” and while he is not talking specific numbers, Iterable’s Series C came in at $275 million post-money, according to PitchBook, which makes this latest round definitely higher than $325 million. (We’ll keep trying to get a more specific number.)

A lot of marketing startups have their beginnings in the world of — no surprises here — marketing, which is to say that of the people who have had direct experience in dealing with the pain points of how legacy marketing products work, some of the more enterprising go on to found companies to try to solve those problems.

Iterable has a bit of a different origin story in that its founders come from technical backgrounds. Zhu co-founded Iterable with Andrew Boni six years ago, but before then, both of them cut their teeth as engineers, at Twitter and Google respectively (and they are both young: they started the company while in their twenties, and this is only Zhu’s second job out of university).

It was at Twitter that Zhu identified a gap between the amount of data that a company has on users, and how it’s not used as well as it could be to grow that company’s business, especially when that business is not already a tech company — and sometimes, even when it is: Twitter has yet to sign on as an Iterable customer, but Square, the other business led by Jack Dorsey, is.

“There are a lot of great ideas and things that became experiments at Twitter,” he said, “but I noticed that only a very few companies — the biggest, most qualified technology companies — could execute a variety of different growth marketing efforts. Many most likely don’t have the right people or experience.” As Zhu describes it, there are not that enough people building significant innovations in how marketing works, because they lack the technical chops to do so (they instead come from development and marketing backgrounds).

That challenge further has become a little more complicated in more recent times, for another reason, which is that we’re in a moment where it feels like marketing is the bad guy. The rise of stronger data protection and privacy rules, for example with GDPR in Europe, plus consumers’ wider awareness and subsequent have led to a collective rejection of too much tracking of their online activity.

The idea with Iterable — as its name implies — is that you’re given a platform to iterate, to try out lots of different approaches across a range of different platforms, leveraging data that you already have and can use, or that you are able to get from users as part of the campaign, to build out your relationships and engagement, to see what works and what definitely does not.

This can either be to bring in more eyeballs and visitors (in the case of a company that, say, offers ‘free’ services and makes money on advertising), or more straight sales by way of offering discounts, insights on offers for things you might want or other incentives to buy things.

The company’s customer list includes companies like Zillow, Priceline Care.com and Fender, which speaks to how it targets companies that span not those who are digitally native businesses (but not necessarily the newest of the pack), but also those that are legacy companies that need to figure out how to leverage digital channels better to continue connecting with more, newer, and younger audiences.

There are upwards of 7,000 companies in the wider space of marketing technology today, Zhu estimates, which speaks to just how much more activity we’re likely to see in this area: the big fish will eat the tastiest smaller fish, while other fish will not manage to grow and will disappear.

But equally, we’re also seeing an interesting evolution, where paths are emerging for the most promising of the lot to carve out independent places for their particular services, independent of the biggies (en route to becoming biggies themselves, perhaps). For example, the data warehousing startup Snowflake — covering one of the big components that martech efforts need to work — is now valued at around $4 billion and is showing no signs of slowing down.

That’s a path that Iterable wants to follow, too, with this round to help it get there.

We live in the world of ‘best of breed’ coming together, which for us is about partnering with the best analytics and data warehousing companies,” Zhu said. “There are many options today that don’t entail getting acquired by a bigger player.”

Mindstrong Health hires leadership team with all-star tech product experience

Mindstrong Health is tackling one of the most difficult challenges in healthcare: Severe mental illness, commonly referred to as SMI in the healthcare industry. The startup, founded in 2013 by Paul Dagum, Richard Klausner and Thomas Insel, recently brought on former Uber VP of Product Daniel Graf as CEO, and is now announcing a number of new hires to its senior product leadership team as it moves to turn into an even more compelling and user-friendly product the technology and research it has developed over the past six years.

As mentioned, Graf was Mindstrong Health‘s first high-profile hire this year, when the former Uber, Twitter and Google product leader joined in October. Graf’s turn as the company’s chief executive is his return to the operational side after spending some time away from building product as an investor. He and Mindstrong have brought in four new C-suite execs to lead the company, including a new CPO, COO and CTO, as well as a new VP of Data Science and new VP of Marketing.

The CPO role is the only one Mindstrong can’t yet disclose, but the incoming person has been a product leader at large tech companies, Graf told me in an interview. Meanwhile, the company is revealing that Brandon Trew (ex Uber, Google) will join as COO, Erik Albair (ex Google Maps, DeepMind) will join as CTO, Kane Sweeney (ex Uber, StubHub) comes in as VP of Data Science and Dena Olyaie (ex Facebook, Oscar Health) joins as VP of Marketing.

“The inflection point we’re going through now is really building out the whole foundation,” Graf told me. “If you look at our [current] app, it’s not an app, I would describe us as a consumer and from an experience point of view – it’s a science app. We basically have to build this whole foundation and platform, so for a technology person, for a product person, for a data scientist, for a marketing person, it’s kind of a dream. When you look at the planning stage, you look at the mission, with amazing investors, we don’t really have to worry about investments, and we can build this now. We can build this amazing platform and that’s why all these folks are joining.”

Mindstrong Health’s primary product is a platform that provides remote care on-demand for patients dealing with SMI. This group in particular faces challenges with current healthcare options, because they often face long wait times for appointments with qualified medical professionals, but their issues are pressing, hard to predict and often immediate in nature. Traditional care is also very expensive, and Mindstrong’s model has been shown to drive better results for patients, and to lower cost for insurance companies and other payers. Backed by ARCH Venture Partners, General Catalyst, Bezos Expeditions and more, the company has a number of ongoing trials with healthcare providers and patients, and based on the positive outcomes they’ve seen from this work, the goal now is to refine and prepare the product for commercial use.

Graf’s new leadership team also shares a lot of experience building products that benefit from optimization based on interpretation of large data sets, and that’s also not a coincidence. Part of Mindstrong’s unique approach has been developing a way to quantify SMI issues in a way that makes it possible to anticipate problems based on signals from how a user is interacting with the app, including typing speed an other cues, as compared to an established personal baseline. It’s a big data problem, but instead of solving something like routing on-demand transportation, it’s tackling the issue of delivering reliable, quality care to individuals who are most in need.

In wake of Shutterstock’s Chinese censorship, American companies need to relearn American values

It’s among the most iconic images of the last few decades — a picture of an unknown man standing before a line of tanks during the protests in 1989 in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. In just one shot, the photographer, Jeff Widener, managed to convey a society struggling between the freedoms of individual citizens and the heavy hand of the Chinese militarized state.

It’s also an image that few within China’s “great firewall” have access to, let alone see. For those who have read 1984, it can almost seem as if “Tank Man” was dropped into a memory hole, erased from the collective memory of more than a billion people.

By now, it’s well-known that China’s search engines like Baidu censor such political photography. Regardless of the individual morality of their decisions, it’s at least understandable that Chinese companies with mostly Chinese revenues would carefully hew to the law as set forth by the Chinese Communist Party. It’s a closed system after all.

What we are learning though is that it isn’t just Chinese companies that are aiding and abetting this censorship. It’s Western companies too. And Western workers aren’t pleased that they are working to enforce the anti-freedom policies in the Middle Kingdom.

Take Shutterstock, which has come under great fire for complying with China’s great firewall. As Sam Biddle described in The Intercept last month, the company has been riven internally between workers looking to protect democratic values, and a business desperate to expand further in one of the world’s most dynamic countries. From Biddle:

Shutterstock’s censorship feature appears to have been immediately controversial within the company, prompting more than 180 Shutterstock workers to sign a petition against the search blacklist and accuse the company of trading its values for access to the lucrative Chinese market.

Those petitions have allegedly gone nowhere internally, and that has led employees like Stefan Hayden, who describes nearly ten years of experience at the company as a frontend developer on his LinkedIn profile, to resign:

The challenge of these political risks is hardly unknown to Shutterstock. The company’s most recent annual financial filing with the SEC lists market access and censorship as a key risk for the company (emphasis mine):

For example, domestic internet service providers have blocked and continue to block access to Shutterstock in China and other countries, such as Turkey, have intermittently restricted access to Shutterstock. There are substantial uncertainties regarding interpretation of foreign laws and regulations that censor content available through our products and services and we may be forced to significantly change or discontinue our operations in such markets if we were to be found in violation of any new or existing law or regulation. If access to our products and services is restricted, in whole or in part, in one or more countries or our competitors can successfully penetrate geographic markets that we cannot access, our ability to retain or increase our contributor and customer base may be adversely affected, we may not be able to maintain or grow our revenue as anticipated, and our financial results could be adversely affected.

Thus the rub: market access means compromising the very values that a content purveyor like Shutterstock relies on to operate as a business. The stock image company is hardly unique to find itself in this position; it’s a situation that the NBA has certainly had to confront in the last few weeks:

It’s great to see Shutterstock’s employees standing up for freedom and democracy, and if not finding purchase internally with their values, at least walking with their feet to other companies who value freedom more reliably.

Unfortunately, far too many companies — and far too many tech companies — blindly chase the dollars and yuans, without considering the erosion in the values at the heart of their own business. That erosion ultimately adds up — without guiding principles to handle business challenges, decisions get made ad hoc with an eye to revenues, intensifying the risk of crises like the one facing Shutterstock.

The complexity of the Chinese market has only expanded with the country’s prodigious growth. The sharpness, intensity, and self-reflection of values required for Western companies to operate on the mainland has reached new highs. And yet, executives have vastly under-communicated the values and constraints they face, both to their own employees but also to their shareholders as well.

As I wrote earlier this year when the Google China search controversy broke out, it’s not enough to just be militant about values. Values have to be cultivated, and everyone from software engineers to CEOs need to understand a company’s objectives and the values that constrain them.

As I wrote at the time:

The internet as independence movement is 100% dead.

That makes the ethical terrain for Silicon Valley workers much more challenging to navigate. Everything is a compromise, in one way or another. Even the very act of creating value — arguably the most important feature of Silicon Valley’s startup ecosystem — has driven mass inequality, as we explored on Extra Crunch this weekend in an in-depth interview.

I ultimately was in favor of Google’s engagement with China, if only because I felt that the company does understand its values better than most (after all, it abandoned the China market in the first place, and one would hope the company would make the same choice again if it needed to). Google has certainly not been perfect on a whole host of fronts, but it seems to have had far more self-reflection about the values it intends to purvey than most tech companies.

It’s well past time for all American companies though to double down on the American values that underly their business. Ultimately, if you compromise on everything, you stand for nothing — and what sort of business would anyone want to join or back like that?

China can’t be ignored, but neither should companies ignore their own duties to commit to open, democratic values. If Tank Man can stand in front of a line of tanks, American execs can stand before a line of their colleagues and find an ethical framework and a set of values that can work.

This Week in Apps: Black Friday’s boost, security news and the year’s biggest apps

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all. What are developers talking about? What do app publishers and marketers need to know? How are politics impacting the App Store and app businesses? And which apps are everyone using?

This week we look at how the Black Friday weekend played out on mobile (including which non-shopping category that saw a boost in revenue!), as well as a few security-related stories, TikTok’s latest bad press, plus Apple and Google’s best and most downloaded apps of 2019, and more.

Headlines

80% of Android apps are encrypting traffic by default

Google gave an update on Android security this week, noting that 80% of Android applications were encrypting traffic by default, and that percentage was higher for apps targeting Android 9 or higher, with 90% of them encrypting traffic by default. Android protects the traffic entering or leaving the devices with TLS (Transport Layer Security). Its new statistics are related to Android 7’s introduction of the Network Security Configuration in 2016, which allows app developers to configure the network security policy for their app through a declarative configuration file. Apps targeting Android 9 (API level 28) or higher automatically have a policy set by default that prevents unencrypted traffic for every domain. And since Nov. 1, 2019, all apps (including app updates) must target at least Android 9, Google says. That means the percentages will improve as more apps roll out their next updates.

Black Friday boosted mobile game revenue to a record $70M

U.S. sales holiday Black Friday wasn’t just good for online shoppers, who spent a record $7.4 billion in sales, $2.9 billion from smartphones. It also boosted iOS and Android mobile game revenue to a single-day record of $69.7 million in the U.S., according to Sensor Tower. This was the most revenue ever generated in a single day for the category, and it represents a 25% increase over 2018. Marvel Contest of Champions from Kabam led the day with approximately $2.7 million in player spending. Two titles from Playrix — Gardenscapes and Homescapes — also won big, with $1 million and $969,000 in revenue, respectively.

These increases indicate that consumers are looking for all kinds of deals on Black Friday, not just those related to holiday gift-giving. They’re also happy to spend on themselves in games. Mobile publishers caught on to this trend and offered special in-game deals on Black Friday which really paid off.

Did Walmart beat Amazon’s app on Black Friday?

Sensor Tower and Apptopia said it did. App Annie also said it did, but then later took it back (see update). In any event, it must have been a close race. According to Sensor Tower, Walmart’s app reached No.1 on the U.S. App Store on Black Friday with 113,000 new downloads, a year-over-year increase of 23%. Amazon had 102,000 downloads, making it No. 2.

Arguably, many Amazon shoppers already have the app installed, so this is more about Walmart’s e-commerce growth more so than some ding on Amazon.

In fact, Apptopia said that Amazon still had 162% more mobile sessions over the full holiday weekend — meaning Amazon was more shopped than Walmart.

More broadly, mobile shopping is still huge on Black Friday. The top 10 shopping apps grew their new installs by 11% over last year on Black Friday, to reach a combined 527,000 installs.

Report: Android Advanced Protection Program could prevent sideloading

Google’s Advanced Protection Program protects the accounts of those at risks of targeted attacks — like journalists, activists, business leaders, and political campaign teams. This week, 9to5Google found the program may get a new protection feature with the ability to block sideloading of apps, according to an APK breakdown. What’s not yet clear is if program members will have the option to disable the protection, but there are some indications that may be the case. Another feature the report uncovered appears to show that Play Protect will automatically scan all apps, including those from outside the Play Store. This won’t affect the majority of Android users, of course, but it is an indication of where Google believes security risks may be found: sideloaded apps.

Bug hunter suggests Security.plist standard for apps

Will the 2020s be online advertising’s holistic decade?

With less than two months left in the decade, advertising is again entering a new phase of rapid expansion with customer experience front and center.

The explosion of data and identity management, combined with technical advancements in real-time signal detection and machine learning, present new opportunities to respond to consumers, but mastering this ability enables marketers to create “magic moments” — instances of hyper-relevant content, delivered at the perfect time and place. 

We’ll see evolutions on the back end in terms of delivery and measurement — as well as on the consumer-facing end — through new creative deployments that enhance the brick-and-mortar shopping trip. Marketers will be held to a higher standard, both by clients demanding world-class performance and proof, as well as consumers who want relevancy, helpfulness and privacy from their brand relationships. 

Achieving this balance won’t be an easy task, but the most progressive marketers will succeed in driving this industry toward a more customer-centric future because they took steps to evolve before it was too late. With that in mind, here are five ways we expect advertising to become more holistic in the 2020s: 

Smart data will take priority over big data

Most marketers have heard the adage, “garbage in, garbage out.” For too long, the industry relied on sheer quantity of data with no quality metrics for making key audience assumptions. This mentality has had a detrimental effect on our industry, creating an ecosystem where people simply hate ads and brands focus on viewability over ROI.

To truly understand our audiences, we must first turn data from multi-channel interactions into smart, actionable insights. This involves not only understanding who the customer is, but what motivates them. 

Progressive marketers will continue to invest heavily in identity graphs to tie critical data and behaviors to individual profiles across channels. Using data science and machine learning, marketers will then be able to advance their knowledge about consumers to new levels, employing new messaging tactics based not only on value, but also on what inspires action. Key nuances, like distinguishing a deal-seeker from a value-seeker, will lead to more engaging personalized experiences and ultimately better ROI for advertisers.

We’ll see a flurry of investment in real-time engagement

We live in a world where our technology predicts where we are going, what we are seeking and how long it will take to get there by recognizing our patterns and everyday behaviors. The benefits in terms of convenience and knowledge are addictive. Look no further than email, social and Alexa to see how real-time awareness and time savings from these interactions impact our everyday lives.  

For marketers, capturing this lightning in a bottle has always been elusive — until now. The rise of real-time advertising, customer data platforms (CDPs), data science and machine learning have created the ability to detect purchases as well as online and real world location signals in real-time. This enables marketers to not only predict the next shopping trip, but what a consumer is likely to buy, when it matters most.

These sense-and-respond capabilities will enable progressive marketers to create experiences of enormous value at the moments that matter, such as triggering an offer of relevance upon entering a store or delivering a tailored experience at a specific time and location. The new decade will bring about massive investments into these technologies given their immediate ability to influence consumers during the actual purchase process. We’ll see budgets being specifically carved out to support real-time advertising and technologies as marketers optimize and convert users with greater effectiveness.  

For consumers, it means that the in-store experience will continue to become more interactive, with mobile devices as the connecting point between e-commerce and brick and mortar. Brands that thrive in this environment will win by delivering meaningful creative that connects both online and offline worlds in a helpful and relevant way.

Cutting-edge tech will create new ad experiences