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This Week in Apps: App trends from 2019, Pinterest tops Snapchat, Disney+ hits No. 1 in Q4

By Sarah Perez

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 a record 204 billion downloads in 2019 and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019, according to App Annie’s recently released “State of Mobile” annual report. People are now spending 3 hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

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

This week, we dig into App Annie’s new “State of Mobile 2019” report and other app trends. We’re also seeing big gains for TikTok in 2019 and Disney+ in Q4. Both Apple and Google announced acquisitions this week that have implications for the mobile industry, as well.

App stores saw record 204 billion app downloads in 2019, consumer spend of $120 billion

By Sarah Perez

Consumers downloaded a record 204 billion apps in 2019, up 6% from 2018 and up 45% since 2016, and spent $120 billion on apps, subscriptions and other in-app spending in the past year. The average mobile user, meanwhile, is spending 3.7 hours per day using apps. This data and more comes from App Annie’s annual report, “State of Mobile,” which highlights the biggest app trends for the past year, and sets forecasts for the years ahead.

According to App Annie, the record growth in mobile downloads in 2019 can be attributed to the growth taking place in emerging markets like India, Brazil and Indonesia, which have seen downloads soar 190%, 40% and 70%, respectively, since 2016. Meanwhile, download growth in the U.S. has slowed to just 5% during that same time, while China saw 80% growth.

That doesn’t mean users in mature markets aren’t downloading apps, only that the growth in year-over-year download numbers is starting to level off. Still, these more mature markets continue to see large numbers of installs, with more than 12.3 billion downloads in the U.S. in 2019, 2.5 billion in Japan and 2 billion in South Korea.

The record numbers are notable also, given that App Annie’s analysis excludes re-installs and app updates.

App store consumer spending was on the rise in 2019, as well, with $120 billion spent on apps — a figure that’s up 2.1x from 2016. Games continue to account for the majority (72%) of that spending, but the shift toward subscriptions has played a role, too. Last year, subscriptions in non-gaming apps accounted for 28% of consumer spending, up from 18% in 2016.

Subscriptions are now the primary way many non-gaming apps generate revenue. For example, 97% of consumer spending in the top 250 U.S. iOS apps was driven by subscriptions, and 94% of the apps used subscriptions. On Google Play, 91% of the consumer spending was subscription-based, while 79% of the top 250 apps used subscriptions.

In particular, dating apps like Tinder and video apps like Netflix and Tencent Video topped 2019’s consumer spend charts, thanks to subscription revenue.

Mature markets, including the U.S., Japan, South Korea and the U.K. are helping to fuel consumer spending across both games and subscriptions, App Annie found. But China remains the largest market by far, accounting for 40% of global spend.

App Annie also forecast that the mobile industry will contribute $4.8 trillion to the global GDP by 2023.

The report additionally identified several mobile trends from 2019, including the mobile app connection to the Internet of Things and smart home devices (106 million downloads for the top 20 IoT apps last year); the huge mobile engagement by Gen Z (3.8 hours per app per month, among the top 25 non-game apps, on avgerage); and mobile ad spend’s growth ($190 billion in 2019 to $240 bilion in 2020).

Ad spending combined with consumer spending is expected to reach $380 billion worldwide by 2020, App Annie forecast.

Gaming was given a big breakout section, given its contribution to consumer spending.

Consumer spending in mobile gaming was 2.4x that of Mac/PC gaming, and 2.9x more than game consoles. In 2019, mobile gaming saw 25% more spending than all other gaming, and is on track to surpass $100 billion across all app stores by next year.

Casual gaming (led by Puzzle and Arcade) was the most downloaded type of games in 2019. Meanwhile, core games (e.g. Action, RPG, etc.) — which were only 18% of downloads — accounted for 55% of time spent in top games. PUBG Mobile was the No. 1 core game (action) on Android in 2019, in terms of time spent, while Anipop (puzzle) was the top casual game.

Core games also accounted for the majority (76%) of game spending, followed by casual (18%), then casino (6%).

In 2019, 17% more games surpassed $5 million in consumer spending versus 2017. And the number of games to top $100 million grew 59% compared to two years prior. Despite the sizable growth in revenues, App Annie also pointed to new models in mobile gaming, like Apple Arcade, which is giving other types of games a chance to thrive. Unfortunately, no third-party firm is able to track Arcade revenues, which will become a glaring blind spot for App Annie in the years ahead.

App Annie also examined other sizable segments of the mobile market for trends, including fintech, retail, streaming and social. Some of the more significant findings included: the fintech app user base growth topping that of traditional banking apps; shopping app downloads saw 20% year-over-year growth to reach 5.4 billion downloads; streaming growth that included 50% sessions in 2019 compared to 2017; and 50% of time spent on mobile was spent in social networking and communication apps.

TikTok was given special attention, given its rapid growth last year. Time spent in the short-form video app grew 210% year-over-year in 2019 globally. Even though eight out of every 10 minutes spent in TikTok were by users in China, the app’s usage skyrocketed in other markets as well, App Annie said.

Industries App Annie identified as being transformed by mobile in 2019 included ridesharing, fast food/food delivery, dating, sports streaming, plus health and fitness. The full report offers a few more details and mobile trends for each of these.

One bigger highlight was that digital-first shopping apps still had 3.2x more average monthly sessions per user compared with apps from traditional brick-and-mortar retailers (dubbed “bricks-and-clicks” apps in the report).

App Annie also compiled its own list of the top apps of 2019 by active users, downloads and revenue. Facebook apps still led by engagement, with WhatsApp, Facebook and Messenger in the top three spots and Instagram as No. 5. And they maintained similar positions by downloads, only swapping places with one another.

Consumer spending was a different story, with Tinder generating the most revenue in 2019, followed by entertainment and streaming apps like Netflix, Tencent Video, iQIYI, YouTube and others.

Google Pixel 4a renders include a headphone jack and hole-punch display

By Brian Heater

It’s the slowest week of the year for gadget news. Christmas is in the rearview, and it’s a few days until the new year. After that, it’s a straight shot to CES and then MWC. Meantime, best we’ve got going for us are a handful of rumors, including a peek at what Google’s next budget handset might could potentially possibly conceivably look like.

Per renders from OnLeaks and 91Mobiles, a vision of the Pixel 4a has appeared — or, a render, rather. The handset will no doubt be an important one for Google. After all, the 3a (pictured at top) helped the company recover from some lackluster sales last year. A couple of pieces jump out at first glance. The display appears to finally buck the company’s longtime notch dependency, in favor of a hole punch camera on the front.

Perhaps even more compelling, the device seems to hold the torch for the headphone jack. In 2020, that could well be a standout feature even among mid-range handsets. As the company eloquently put it around the time of the 3a’s release, “a lot of people have headphones.”

And here comes my last late #Christmas gift in form of your very first and early look at the #Google #Pixel4a!
360° video + gorgeous 5K renders + dimensions, on behalf of my Friends over @91mobiles -> https://t.co/rsvRkjVOln pic.twitter.com/sqG6J5knSR

— Steve H.McFly (@OnLeaks) December 28, 2019

Other notable features on the forthcoming device includes the addition of the squircle phone bump on the rear, a design element borrowed from the Pixel 4. Likely the handset will stick to a single camera, instead of adopting the flagship’s truly excellent dual-camera setup. Even so, Google’s been able to accomplish some solid imaging technology with just the one sensor, courtesy of clever ML software.

The display, too, will be slightly larger than its predecessor, bumping up one or two tenths of an inch. The handset is reportedly dropping around May, probably just in time for I/O 2020.

Chinese apps are losing their hold on India

By Manish Singh

Apps from Chinese developers have been gaining popularity on Indian app stores for some time. Last year, as many as 44 of the top 100 Android apps in India were developed by Chinese firms.

But things have changed this year as local developers put on a fight. According to app analytics and marketing firm AppsFlyer, Indian apps as a whole have recaptured their original standing.

Indeed, 41% of the top 200 apps in Indian editions of Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store in Q2 and Q3 this year were developed by Indian developers and local firms, up from 38% last year, the report said. Data from App Annie, another research firm, corroborates the claim.

“This uptick happened chiefly at the expense of Chinese apps, which fell from their lead position to 38% from 43% in 2018. Altogether, Chinese and Indian apps make up almost four-fifths (79%) of the list,” the report said.

The shift comes as scores of Indian firms have launched payments, gaming, news and entertainment apps in the last year and a half, said AppsFlyer, which analyzed 6.5 billion installs in the second and third quarters of this year.

But Chinese developers are not giving up, and continue to maintain an “impressive” fight in each category, the report said.

India — which is home to more than 450 million smartphone users and maintains relatively lax laws to support an open market — has naturally emerged as an attractive battleground for developers worldwide.

Many Chinese firms, including Xiaomi and ByteDance, count India as one of their largest markets. The TikTok app has amassed more than 200 million users in India, for instance. Xiaomi, which leads the Indian smartphone market, is quickly building a portfolio of services for users in India. It launched a lending app in the country earlier this month.

Gaining traction among first-time internet users, most of whom have lower financial capacity, can prove challenging. Those developing travel apps had to spend about 170 Indian rupees ($2.4) for each install, for instance. Food and drink app makers spent 138 Indian rupees ($1.9) per install during the aforementioned period, while games cost 13.5 Indian rupees.

Data from @AppsFlyer state of App Marketing 2019 India – key highights:
– Indian Apps claimed more installs in 2019 vs chinese Apps
– Apps in finance category spent the most in non-organic install (easy to guess which ones)
– As a result, finance Apps saw 59% uninstall on Day 1 pic.twitter.com/ROADpk9VQK

— Deepak Abbot (@deepakabbot) December 23, 2019

Despite the marketing spends, retention rate for these apps was 23.4% on day 1, a figure that plummeted to 2.6% by the end of the month. (This is still an improvement over retention rates of 22.8% on day 1, and 2.3% on day 30 last year.)

BMW says ‘ja’ to Android Auto

By Frederic Lardinois

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. 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 then the senior VP for Digital Services and Business Model, 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.

“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). The company has long said it wants to offer support for all popular digital assistants. For the Google Assistant, the only way to make that work, at least for the time being, is 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.”

Nodle crowdsources IoT connectivity

By Frederic Lardinois

Nodle, which is competing in the TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin Startup Battlefield this week, is based on a simple premise: What if you could crowdsource the connectivity of smart sensors by offloading it to smartphones? For most sensors, built-in cell connectivity is simply not a realistic option, given how much power it would take. A few years of battery life is quite realistic for a sensor that uses Bluetooth Low Energy.

Overall, that’s a pretty straightforward idea, but the trick is to convince smartphone users to install Nodle’s app. To solve this, the company, which was co-founded by Micha Benoliel (CEO) and Garrett Kinsman, is looking to cryptocurrency. With Nodle Cash, users automatically earn currency whenever their phones transmit a package to the network. That connection, it’s worth noting, is always encrypted, using Nodle’s Rendevouz protocol.

The company has already raised $3.5 million in seed funding, mostly from investors in the blockchain space: Blockchange, Work Play Ventures (Marc Pincus), Blockchain Ventures (Blockchain.com), Olymp Capital, Bootstraplabs and Blockhead.

It’s worth noting that this isn’t Benoliel’s first rodeo in this space. He also co-founded the mesh networking startup Open Garden, which used a somewhat similar approach a few years ago to crowdsource connectivity (and which made a bit of a splash with its FireChat offline chat app back in 2014). Open Garden, too, competed in our Startup Battlefield in 2012 and won our award for most innovative startup. Benoliel left his CEO position there in early 2016, but Nodle definitely feels like an iteration on the original idea of Open Garden.

“We define the category as crowd connectivity,” Benoliel told me. “We leverage crowdsourced connectivity for connecting things to the internet. We believe there are a lot of benefits to doing that.” He argues that there are a number of innovations converging right now that will allow the company to succeed: Chipsets are getting smaller, and an increasing number of sensors now uses Bluetooth Low Energy, all while batteries are getting smaller and more efficient and blockchain technology is maturing.

Given the fact that these sensors depend on somebody with a phone coming by, this is obviously not a solution for companies that need to get real-time data. There’s simply no way for Nodle to guarantee that, after all. But the company argues it is a great solution for smart cities that want to get regular readouts of road usage or companies that want to do asset tracking.

“We do not address real-time connectivity, which is what you can do with more traditional solutions,” Benoliel said. “But we believe IoT is so broad and there is so much utility in being able to collect data from time to time, that with out solution, we can connect almost anything to the internet.”

While some users may want to simply install the Nodle Cash app to, well, make some Nodle cash, the team is also betting on working with app developers who may want to use the platform to make some extra money from their apps by adding it to the Nodle network. For users, that obviously means they’ll burn some extra data, so developers have to clearly state that they are opting their users into this service.

[gallery ids="1922759,1922749,1922756"]

The team expects a normal user to see an extra 20 to 30 MB of traffic with Nodle installed, which isn’t really all that much (users of the standalone Nodle app also have the option to cache the data and postpone the transfer when they connect to Wi-Fi). Some app developers may use Nodle as an alternative to in-app payments, the team hopes.

The company is also already working with HTC and Cisco Meraki, and has a number of pilot projects in the works.

If you want to give it a try, you can install the Nodle Cash app for Android now.

Netgear’s Meural Canvas II is a better version of the best home gadget for photographers

By Darrell Etherington

Netgear has released the first updated Canvas digital art from from Meural since acquiring the company last September, and the next-generation connected frame comes with some decent quality-of-life improvements as well as a new, additional size. It’s not a dramatic change from the original Meural Canvas, but it means that a product that was already great is now even better.

The Meural Canvas II from Netgear comes in two sizes, including a smaller 16×24-inch frame that provides a 21.5-inch diagonal picture (starting at $399.95), and a 19×29-inch frame with a 27-inch diagonal display (starting at $599.95). Both screens are 1080P full HD resolution, and both feature ambient light sensors (which are relocated to a better location under the mat that surrounds the screen for improved light detection) that will automatically adjust the brightness of your image to make it appear more natural and less like a screen.

The Canvas II features built-in Wi-Fi, which is also upgraded with this generation (Netgear, which makes routers and other Wi-Fi products, seems to have brought its expertise to bear here) and they offer new Ethernet connectivity, as well as full-size SD ports. They also can hang either vertically or horizontally, and a new accessory mount for this generation (sold separately) allows for even easier switching between the two orientations via simple rotation.

For the virtual art collector

Meural is controlled primarily from the Meural companion app, though you can also access a web interface to accomplish much of the same thing from a desktop browser. The app features curated collections of artwork, which is available both via a paid monthly subscription and via direct, one-time purchases. One of the changes that the Meural service has undergone is that the subscription membership now gets you some, but not all, of the art available — some premium content is still an additional charge. It’s definitely not as good from the user’s perspective as when everything was free once you’d paid the subscription fee, but paying monthly still nets you 20GB of cloud storage for uploading your own art, discounts on the stuff that is available for purchase and access to a much larger library than you get without any membership.

Subscriptions go for either $8.95 per month, or $69.95 per year, and they’re probably plenty to satisfy most casual art lovers who just want some recognizable or interesting works to adorn their walls, and want to be able to change that on a fairly regular basis. And when you use the art provided through Meural’s various collections, you can take a look at credits and descriptions right on the display — available quickly via a motion control swipe up gesture made possibly by the sensors built into the frame.

A note on those motion controls — they allow you to navigate between artwork, and even change playlists and access a menu of other options related to the frame. Basically, you wave your hand near the bottom of the Meural to make this work, and it’s great when it does work, but it definitely takes some learning to figure out how and where to swipe to make it reliably respond. It’s convenient that it’s an option, but controlling the display with the iOS or Android app is a lot more pleasant, generally speaking.

The built-in library that Meural provides is definitely a selling point, and Meural is regularly adding new art collections, both for paid purchases and to build out the library of those works available included in the subscription. It just added a bunch through a new partnership with Marvel, in fact, including movie posters from a long list of their cinematic universe releases.

For the amateur/enthusiast/pro photographer

The primary reason I think the Meural Canvas II is a fantastic product has very little to do with its subscription-based art collection, however. Instead, it’s all about the flexibility and convenience that the Canvas provides when it comes to displaying your own photos. It’s incredibly easy to upload your photos from your mobile device or your desktop, and you can organize them in playlists, add descriptions and titles, and crop them manually or have the frame crop them automatically to display in its 16×9 aspect ratio.

As a display for your own photos, the Meural Canvas II is hard to beat: It’s a lot more flexible and cost effective than getting high-quality prints made, as you can rotate them out as often as you feel like, and the display’s color rendering and matte finish, while obviously not as good as a professional photo print, is nonetheless very pleasing to the eye. When you take as many photos as we collectively do now, but seldom have anywhere to show them off, the Canvas provides the perfect opportunity to ensure they have a great place to shine at home.

The included SD card reader means it’s easy to load up images and put them on the Canvas locally, but I also found that uploading from whatever Wi-Fi-connected device I had access to around the house was easy and fast (again, seems like Netgear’s core expertise came into play here). The ability to quickly change the orientation, which is fast and simple even without the rotation mount accessory, is another big plus for your own photos, as it means you can show off both portraits and landscapes.

Oh, and the ability to load your own artwork isn’t limited to just your photography, of course — any image in a standard format, including animated GIFs, can work on the Meural, which means it’s really only limited by the scope of what’s available on the internet.

Bottom line

Between the frame options, which you can swap out for different color options eventually when they’re sold separately, and the ability to upload your own content to the Canvas, it’s easily the most customizable piece of home decor you can find right now. For some, opting to move up to something like Samsung’s The Frame TV might be a better option, but that’s much larger, much more expensive, much heavier for mounting and not as flexible when it comes to playlists and your own curation of art to display.

The Meural Canvas II provides largely the same visual experience as the generation it replaces, but the other improvements make this a much better product overall, with faster, more reliable Wi-Fi connectivity, improved motion controls, more flexible on-device storage and new mounting options. If you like some variety in your wall art, or you’ve just been trying to figure out how to do something interesting with all those pictures you take, the Meural Canvas II is a great option.

Xiaomi integrates earthquake alert system into MIUI OS, unveils Xiao AI 3.0 digital assistant

By Manish Singh

Xiaomi today unveiled a new iteration of its virtual assistant Xiao Ai and shared a new feature of Android -based MIUI operating system as the publicly listed Chinese technology group pushes to expand its internet services ecosystem. The company also said that it will be launching ten 5G devices next year.

At its annual Mi Developer conference in Beijing, the company said it is integrating an earthquake warning function into MIUI for select users in China, with plans to expand it nationwide soon.

The integration, touted as the first of its kind globally, will enable alerts to be sent to smartphones running MIUI 11 and Mi TV “seconds to tens of seconds” before the quake waves arrive, Xiaomi said.

The feature, which was first trialed in September this year, has been developed in partnership with Institute of Care-life, a Chengdu-based organization focusing on natural disaster warning. Xiaomi said it has activated the feature for the earthquake-prone Sichuan Province and plans to expand it elsewhere in the nation soon.

Wang Tun, head of the institute, said this function, unlike those available through apps in some countries, works more efficiently and does not rely on a working internet connection.

Xiao AI 3.0

The company also unveiled Xiao AI voice assistant 3.0, the latest iteration of its digital assistant. The service, used by 49.9 million users each month, now offers a male voice option and supports a naturally continuous dialogue on smartphones.

Xiaomi founder and chief executive Lei Jun addressing developers at a company’s conference on Tuesday

Xiaomi added that it is launching a new version of MACE, the open-source deep-learning framework that powers Xiao AI. The new MACE-Kit for developers will open its source soon, the company said.

“Xiaomi’s AutoML model now leads the industry by dataset performance; and MiNLP, the company’s natural language processing platform, is activated over 6 billion times on a daily basis, making Xiao AI one of the world’s busiest AI platform,” said Cui Baoqiu, VP and Chairman of Xiaomi’s Technical Committee, in a statement.

On the sidelines of these announcements, Xiaomi added that it is aiming to serve more partners in the manufacturing industry around the globe through its Finance payments service. The company has invested in over 270 ecosystem partners, among which more than 100 are focused on the development of smart hardware and lifestyle products, it said. Overall, more than 400 business partners in the manufacturing chain today are using Xiaomi Finance, it claimed.

At the conference, Lei Jun, founder and chief executive of Xiaomi said the company also plans to market over ten 5G-enabled devices next year as part of its effort “in making 5G + AIoT part of daily life of everyone.”

Those crappy pre-installed Android apps can be full of security holes

By Greg Kumparak

If you’ve ever bought an Android phone, there’s a good chance you booted it up to find it pre-loaded with junk you definitely didn’t ask for.

These pre-installed apps can be clunky, annoying to remove, rarely updated… and, it turns out, full of security holes.

Security firm Kryptowire built a tool to automatically scan a large number of Android devices for signs of security shortcomings and, in a study funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, ran it on phones from 29 different vendors. Now, the majority of these vendors are ones most people have never heard of — but a few big names like Asus, Samsung and Sony make appearances.

Kryptowire says they found vulnerabilities of all different varieties, from apps that can be forced to install other apps, to tools that can be tricked into recording audio, to those that can silently mess with your system settings. Some of the vulnerabilities can only be triggered by other apps that come pre-installed (thus limiting the attack vector to those along the supply chain); others, meanwhile, can seemingly be triggered by any app the user might install down the road.

Kryptowire has a full list of observed vulnerabilities here, broken down by type and manufacturer. The firm says it found 146 vulnerabilities in all.

As Wired points out, Google is well aware of this potential attack route. In 2018 it launched a program called the Build Test Suite (or BTS) that all partner OEMs must pass. BTS scans a device’s firmware for any known security issues hiding amongst its pre-installed apps, flagging these bad apps as Potentially Harmful Applications (or PHAs). As Google puts it in its 2018 Android security report:

OEMs submit their new or updated build images to BTS. BTS then runs a series of tests that look for security issues on the system image. One of these security tests scans for pre-installed PHAs included in the system image. If we find a PHA on the build, we work with the OEM partner to remediate and remove the PHA from the build before it can be offered to users.

During its first calendar year, BTS prevented 242 builds with PHAs from entering the ecosystem.

Anytime BTS detects an issue we work with our OEM partners to remediate and understand how the application was included in the build. This teamwork has allowed us to identify and mitigate systemic threats to the ecosystem.

Alas, one automated system can’t catch everything — and when an issue does sneak by, there’s no certainty that a patch or fix will ever arrive (especially on lower-end devices, where long-term support tends to be limited).

We reached out to Google for comment on the report, but have yet to hear back.

Update — Google’s response:

We appreciate the work of the research community who collaborate with us to responsibly fix and disclose issues such as these.

GitHub launches a mobile app, smarter notifications and improved code search

By Frederic Lardinois

At its annual Universe conference today, Microsoft -owned GitHub announced a couple of new products, as well as the general availability of a number of tools that developers have been able to test for the last few months. The two announcements that developers will likely be most interested in are the launch of GitHub’s first native mobile app and an improved notifications experience. But in addition to that, it is also taking GitHub Actions, the company’s workflow automation and CI/CD solution, as well as GitHub Packages, out of beta. GitHub is also improving its code search, adding scheduled reminders and launching a pre-release program that will allow users to try out new features before they are ready for a wider rollout.

GitHub is also extending its sponsor program, which until now allowed you to tip individual open-source contributors for their work, to the project level. With GitHub Sponsors, anybody can help fund a project and the members of that project then get to choose how to use the money. These projects have to be open source and have a corporate or nonprofit entity attached to it (and a bank account).

“Developers are what’s driving us and we’re building the tools and the experiences to help them come together to create the world’s most important technologies and to do it on an open platform and ecosystem,” GitHub SVP of Product Shanku Niyogi told me. Today’s announcements, he said, are driven by the company’s mission to improve the developer experience. Over the course of the last year, the company launched well over 150 new features and enhancements, Niyogi stressed. For its Universe show, the company decided to highlight the new mobile app and notification enhancements, though.

The new mobile app, which is now out in beta for iOS, with Android support coming soon, offers all of the basic features you’d want from a mobile app like this. The team decided to focus squarely on the kind of mobile use cases that would make the most sense for a developer on the go, so you’ll be able to share feedback on discussions, review a few lines of code and merge changes, but this isn’t meant to be a tool that replicated the full GitHub experience, though at least on the iPad, you do get a bit more screen real estate to work with.

“When you start to look at the tablet experience, that then extends out because you now got more space,” explained Niyogi. “You can look at the code, you can navigate some of that, we support some of the key same keyboard shortcuts that github.com does to be able to look at a larger amount of content and a larger amount of code. So, the idea is the experience scales with the mobile devices you have, and but it’s also designed for the things you’re likely to do when you’re not using your computer.”

Others have built mobile apps for GitHub before, of course, and it turns out that the developers of GitHawk, which was launched by a group of engineers from Instagram, recently joined GitHub to help the company in its efforts to get this new app off the ground.

The second major new feature is the improved notifications experience. As every GitHub user on even a medium-sized team knows, GitHub’s current set of notifications can quickly become overwhelming. That’s something the GitHub team was also keenly aware of, so the company decided to build a vastly improved system that includes filters, as well as an inbox for all of your notifications right inside of GitHub.

“The experience for developers today can result in an inbox in Gmail or whatever email client you use with tons and tons of notifications — and it can end up being kind of hard to know what matters and what’s just noise,” Kelly Stirman, GitHub’ VP of Strategy and Product Management, said. “We’ve done a bunch of things over the last year to make notifications better, but what we’ve done is a big step. We’ve reimagined what notifications should be.”

Using filters and rules, developers can zero in on the notifications that matter to them, all without flooding your inbox with unnecessary noise. Developers can customize these filters to their hearts’ content. That’s also where the new mobile experience fits in well. “Many times, the notification will be sent to you when you’re not at your computer, when you’re not at your desktop,” noted Stirman. “And that notification might be somebody asking for your help to unblock something. And so it’s natural we think that we need to extend the GitHub experience beyond the desktop to a mobile experience.”

Talking about notifications: GitHub also today announced a new feature in a limited preview that adds a few more notifications to your inbox. You can now set up scheduled reminders for pending code reviews.

Among the rest of today’s announcements, the improved code search stands out because that’s definitely an area where some improvements were necessary. This new code search is currently in limited beta, but should roll out to all users over the next few months. It’ll introduce a completely new search experience, the company says, that can match special characters and casing, among other things.

Also new are code review assignments, now in public beta, and a new way to navigate code on GitHub.

Brave launches version 1.0 of its privacy-focused browser

By Frederic Lardinois

Brave, the company co-founded by ex-Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich after his ouster from the organization in 2014, today launched version 1.0 of its browser for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android and iOS. In a browser market where users are spoiled for choice, Brave is positioning itself as a fast option that preserves users’ privacy with strong default settings, as well as a crypto currency-centric private ads and payment platform that allows users to reward content creators.

As the company announced last month, it now has about 8 million daily users. Its Brave Rewards program, which requires opt-in from users and publishers, currently has about 300,000 publishers on board. Most of these are users with small followings on YouTube and Twitter, but large publishers like Wikipedia, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Slate and the LA Times are also part of the ecosystem. Using this system, which not every publisher is going to like, the browser replaces the ads on a publisher’s site with its own, based on the user’s browsing habits. Users then receive 70 percent of what the advertisers spend on ads, while Brave keeps 30 percent.

As users view these ads, they start earning Basic Attention Tokens (BAT), Brave’s cryptocurrency, which they can keep or give to publishers. In its early days, Brave actually started with Bitcoin as the currency for this, but as Eich noted, that quickly became too expensive (and since the price was going up, users wanted to hold on to the Bitcoin instead of donating it).

Brave also comes with a built-in ad blocker that is probably among the most effective in the industry, as well as extensive anti-tracking features. “Everybody’s bothered by the sense of being tracked and bothered by bad ads,” Eich told me. “But I think ad aesthetics are not the problem. It’s the tracking and the cost of tracking which is multifarious. There’s page load time, running the radio to load the tracking scripts that load the other scripts that load the scripts that load the ads, that drains your battery, too.” Eich argues that with Brave, the team found a way to tie this all together with anti-tracking technology and an approach to ad blocking that goes beyond the industry-standard blocklists and also uses machine learning to identify additional rules for blocking.

For those users that really want to be anonymous on the web, Brave also features a private browsing mode, just like every other browser, but with the added twist that you can also open a private session through the Tor network, which will make it very hard for most companies to identify you.

At its core, Brave is simply a fast, extensible Chromium-based browser. That’s also what the company believes will sell it to users. “The way you get users, […] I think speed is the first one that works across the largest number of users. But you can’t just leave it at speed. You want to have all your benefits tied up in a pretty knot and that’s what we have done,” he said. For Brave, speed and ad/tracking protection are obviously interconnected, and all the other benefits accrue from that.

Looking beyond version 1.0, the Brave team plans to implement better sync, with support for tab and history syncing, for example. Brave also aims to make participating in Brave Rewards an experience with much lower friction for the user. In the early days, before it was on Android, the opt-in rate was around 40 percent, Eich told me, and the team wants to get it back to that.

If you want to give Brave a try, you can download it here.

Popular Android phones can be tricked into snooping on their owners

By Zack Whittaker

Security researchers have found several popular Android phones can be tricked into snooping on their owners by exploiting a weakness that gives accessories access to the phone’s underlying baseband software.

Attackers can use that access to trick vulnerable phones into giving up their unique identifiers, such as their IMEI and IMSI numbers, downgrade a target’s connection in order to intercept phone calls, forward calls to another phone or block all phone calls and internet access altogether.

The research, shared exclusively with TechCrunch, affects at least 10 popular Android devices, including Google’s Pixel 2, Huawei’s Nexus 6P and Samsung’s Galaxy S8+.

The vulnerabilities are found in the interface used to communicate with the baseband firmware, the software that allows the phone’s modem to communicate with the cell network, such as making phone calls or connecting to the internet. Given its importance, the baseband is typically off-limits from the rest of the device, including its apps, and often come with command blacklisting to prevent non-critical commands from running. But the researchers found that many Android phones inadvertently allow Bluetooth and USB accessories — like headphones and headsets — access to the baseband. By exploiting a vulnerable accessory, an attacker can run commands on a connected Android phone.

“The impact of these attacks ranges from sensitive user information exposure to complete service disruption,” said Syed Rafiul Hussain and Imtiaz Karim, two co-authors of the research, in an email to TechCrunch.

Hussain and his colleagues Imtiaz Karim, Fabrizio Cicala and Elisa Bertino at Purdue University and Omar Chowdhury at the University of Iowa are set to present their findings next month.

“The impact of these attacks ranges from sensitive user information exposure to complete service disruption.”
Syed Rafiul Hussain, Imtiaz Karim

Baseband firmware accepts special commands, known as AT commands, which control the device’s cellular functions. These commands can be used to tell the modem which phone number to call. But the researchers found that these commands can be manipulated. The researchers developed a tool, dubbed ATFuzzer, which tries to find potentially problematic AT commands.

In their testing, the researchers discovered 14 commands that could be used to trick the vulnerable Android phones into leaking sensitive device data, and manipulating phone calls.

But not all devices are vulnerable to the same commands or can be manipulated in the same way. The researchers found, for example, that certain commands could trick a Galaxy S8+ phone into leaking its IMEI number, redirect phone calls to another phone and downgrade their cellular connection — all of which can be used to snoop and listen in on phone calls, such as with specialist cellular snooping hardware known as “stingrays.” Other devices were not vulnerable to call manipulation but were susceptible to commands that could be used to block internet connectivity and phone calls.

The vulnerabilities are not difficult to exploit, but require all of the right conditions to be met.

“The attacks can be easily carried out by an adversary with cheap Bluetooth connectors or by setting up a malicious USB charging station,” said Hussain and Karim. In other words, it’s possible to manipulate a phone if an accessory is accessible over the internet — such as a computer. Or, if a phone is connected to a Bluetooth device, an attacker has to be in close proximity. (Bluetooth attacks are not difficult, given vulnerabilities in how some devices implement Bluetooth has left some devices more vulnerable to attacks than others.)

“If your smartphone is connected with a headphone or any other Bluetooth device, the attacker can first exploit the inherent vulnerabilities of the Bluetooth connection and then inject those malformed AT commands,” the researchers said..

Samsung recognized the vulnerabilities in some of its devices and is rolling out patches. Huawei did not comment at the time of writing. Google said: “The issues reported are either in compliance with the Bluetooth specification or do not reproduce on Pixel devices with up to date security patches.”

Hussain said that iPhones were not affected by the vulnerabilities.

This research becomes the latest to examine vulnerabilities in baseband firmware. Over the years there have been several papers examining various phones and devices with baseband vulnerabilities. Although these reports are rare, security researchers have long warned that intelligence agencies and hackers alike could be using these flaws to launch silent attacks.

Google hires former Disney and Star executive to head its India business

By Manish Singh

Google said on Friday it has appointed Sanjay Gupta, a former top executive with Disney India and Star, as the manager and vice president of sales and operations for its India business.

Gupta will be replacing Rajan Anandan, who left the company in April this year to serve VC fund Sequoia Capital India as a managing director.

Gupta served as a managing director at Disney India and Star (which Disney now owns) before joining the Android -maker. (Not to be confused with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who hosts a popular medical show on CNN.) He helped Star make a major push in the digital consumers business through video streaming service Hotstar, where he aggressively worked on partnerships and licensing for cricket rights and other content.

Hotstar has cashed in on the popularity of cricket — during a major cricket season earlier this year, Hotstar claimed that more than 100 million users were enjoying its service each day and more than 300 million were doing so each month. (Facebook roped in Ajit Mohan, the former chief executive of Hotstar, to head its India operations late last year.) Gupta also held top executive roles at other companies, including Bharti Airtel telecom network.

Sanjay Gupta, a former top executive at Disney and Star, is now the head of Google’s India business

In a statement, Gupta said, “it’s an exciting opportunity to leverage the power of technology to solve some of India’s unique challenges and make Internet an engine of economic growth for people and communities. I am happy to join the passionate teams across Google and look forward to contributing to India’s digital journey as it becomes an innovation hub for the world.”

When Anandan, a long-time influential and widely respected Google executive, left the company earlier this year, Google said Vikas Agnihotri, who is the director of sales for the firm’s India operations, would be temporarily taking over the role. For Google, this was the latest in a series of high-profile departures in Asia. Karim Temsamani, head of Asia Pacific (APAC) at Google, also left the company earlier this year.

Even as India contributes little to Google’s bottom line, the company has grown increasingly focused on India and other Asian markets to develop products and services that solve local problems and address barriers that are hindering growth in these markets.

In a statement, Scott Beaumont, president of Google APAC, said the company’s operation in India “is important and strategic for its own sake but also for the innovation which then feeds breakthroughs elsewhere in Google.”

Gupta will also have to oversee some major challenges, including the fast growth of Facebook’s advertisement business in India and an antitrust issue with the local regulator.

Xiaomi launches Mi Watch, its $185 Apple Watch clone

By Manish Singh

Xiaomi, which competes with Apple for the top position in the wearable market, today made the competition a little more interesting. The Chinese electronics giant has launched its first smartwatch called the Mi Watch that looks strikingly similar to the Apple Watch in its home market.

The Mi Watch, like the Apple Watch, has a square body with a crown and a button. It sports a 1.78-inch AMOLED display (326 ppi) that offers the always-on capability and runs MIUI for Watch, the company’s homegrown wearable operating system based on Google’s Wear OS.

Inside the metal housing — aluminum alloy with a matte finish — are microphones on two sides for recording audio and taking calls, and a loudspeaker on the left to listen to music or incoming calls. The Mi Watch, which comes in one size — 44mm — has a ceramic back, which is where the charging pins and a heart rate sensor are also placed.

The Mi Watch is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear 3100 4G chipset with four Cortex A7 cores clocked at 1.2GHz, coupled with 1GB of RAM and 8GB storage. The company says its first smartwatch supports cellular connectivity (through an eSIM), Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, and NFC for payments. The Mi Watch should last for 36 hours on a single charge on cellular mode, the company claimed.

The Mi Watch will also help users track their sleep, performance while swimming, cycling and running, and also measure their heart rate.

Over 40 popular Chinese apps such as TikTok and QQ Messenger are available for the Mi Watch on day one. The company’s own XiaoAI assistant is the default virtual digital assistant on the watch.

The Mi Watch is priced at CNY 1,299 ($185) and will go on sale in the country next week. There’s no word on international availability just yet, but if the past is any indication, Xiaomi will likely bring the device to India, Singapore, Indonesia and other markets in coming quarters.

The company says a variant of the Mi Watch that sports a sapphire glass and stainless steel will go on sale next month in China. It is priced at CNY 1,999 ($285).

Xiaomi is no stranger to the wearable market. The company’s fitness trackers — that cost under $25 and sport colorful displays and last for weeks on a single charge — are incredibly popular in Asian markets.

This is also not the first time Xiaomi has been accused of taking too much inspiration from Apple. The early smartphones from Xiaomi looked very similar to the iPhones. But in recent years, its products have carried a little more independence and originality. Well, most smartphones — not all. Also this year, the company was accused of cloning Apple’s cartoony Memoji.

The 7 most important announcements from Microsoft Ignite

By Frederic Lardinois

It’s Microsoft Ignite this week, the company’s premier event for IT professionals and decision-makers. But it’s not just about new tools for role-based access. Ignite is also very much a forward-looking conference that keeps the changing role of IT in mind. And while there isn’t a lot of consumer news at the event, the company does tend to make a few announcements for developers, as well.

This year’s Ignite was especially news-heavy. Ahead of the event, the company provided journalists and analysts with an 87-page document that lists all of the news items. If I counted correctly, there were about 175 separate announcements. Here are the top seven you really need to know about.

Azure Arc: you can now use Azure to manage resources anywhere, including on AWS and Google Cloud

What was announced: Microsoft was among the first of the big cloud vendors to bet big on hybrid deployments. With Arc, the company is taking this a step further. It will let enterprises use Azure to manage their resources across clouds — including those of competitors like AWS and Google Cloud. It’ll work for Windows and Linux Servers, as well as Kubernetes clusters, and also allows users to take some limited Azure data services with them to these platforms.

Why it matters: With Azure Stack, Microsoft already allowed businesses to bring many of Azure’s capabilities into their own data centers. But because it’s basically a local version of Azure, it only worked on a limited set of hardware. Arc doesn’t bring all of the Azure Services, but it gives enterprises a single platform to manage all of their resources across the large clouds and their own data centers. Virtually every major enterprise uses multiple clouds. Managing those environments is hard. So if that’s the case, Microsoft is essentially saying, let’s give them a tool to do so — and keep them in the Azure ecosystem. In many ways, that’s similar to Google’s Anthos, yet with an obvious Microsoft flavor, less reliance on Kubernetes and without the managed services piece.

Microsoft launches Project Cortex, a knowledge network for your company

What was announced: Project Cortex creates a knowledge network for your company. It uses machine learning to analyze all of the documents and contracts in your various repositories — including those of third-party partners — and then surfaces them in Microsoft apps like Outlook, Teams and its Office apps when appropriate. It’s the company’s first new commercial service since the launch of Teams.

Why it matters: Enterprises these days generate tons of documents and data, but it’s often spread across numerous repositories and is hard to find. With this new knowledge network, the company aims to surface this information proactively, but it also looks at who the people are who work on them and tries to help you find the subject matter experts when you’re working on a document about a given subject, for example.

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Microsoft launched Endpoint Manager to modernize device management

What was announced: Microsoft is combining its ConfigMgr and Intune services that allow enterprises to manage the PCs, laptops, phones and tablets they issue to their employees under the Endpoint Manager brand. With that, it’s also launching a number of tools and recommendations to help companies modernize their deployment strategies. ConfigMgr users will now also get a license to Intune to allow them to move to cloud-based management.

Why it matters: In this world of BYOD, where every employee uses multiple devices, as well as constant attacks against employee machines, effectively managing these devices has become challenging for most IT departments. They often use a mix of different tools (ConfigMgr for PCs, for example, and Intune for cloud-based management of phones). Now, they can get a single view of their deployments with the Endpoint Manager, which Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella described as one of the most important announcements of the event, and ConfigMgr users will get an easy path to move to cloud-based device management thanks to the Intune license they now have access to.

Microsoft’s Chromium-based Edge browser gets new privacy features, will be generally available January 15

What was announced: Microsoft’s Chromium-based version of Edge will be generally available on January 15. The release candidate is available now. That’s the culmination of a lot of work from the Edge team, and, with today’s release, the company is also adding a number of new privacy features to Edge that, in combination with Bing, offers some capabilities that some of Microsoft’s rivals can’t yet match, thanks to its newly enhanced InPrivate browsing mode.

Why it matters: Browsers are interesting again. After years of focusing on speed, the new focus is now privacy, and that’s giving Microsoft a chance to gain users back from Chrome (though maybe not Firefox). At Ignite, Microsoft also stressed that Edge’s business users will get to benefit from a deep integration with its updated Bing engine, which can now surface business documents, too.

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You can now try Microsoft’s web-based version of Visual Studio

What was announced: At Build earlier this year, Microsoft announced that it would soon launch a web-based version of its Visual Studio development environment, based on the work it did on the free Visual Studio Code editor. This experience, with deep integrations into the Microsoft-owned GitHub, is now live in a preview.

Why it matters: Microsoft has long said that it wants to meet developers where they are. While Visual Studio Online isn’t likely to replace the desktop-based IDE for most developers, it’s an easy way for them to make quick changes to code that lives in GitHub, for example, without having to set up their IDE locally. As long as they have a browser, developers will be able to get their work done..

Microsoft launches Power Virtual Agents, its no-code bot builder

What was announced: Power Virtual Agents is Microsoft’s new no-code/low-code tool for building chatbots. It leverages a lot of Azure’s machine learning smarts to let you create a chatbot with the help of a visual interface. In case you outgrow that and want to get to the actual code, you can always do so, too.

Why it matters: Chatbots aren’t exactly at the top of the hype cycle, but they do have lots of legitimate uses. Microsoft argues that a lot of early efforts were hampered by the fact that the developers were far removed from the user. With a visual too, though, anybody can come in and build a chatbot — and a lot of those builders will have a far better understanding of what their users are looking for than a developer who is far removed from that business group.

Cortana wants to be your personal executive assistant and read your emails to you, too

What was announced: Cortana lives — and it now also has a male voice. But more importantly, Microsoft launched a few new focused Cortana-based experiences that show how the company is focusing on its voice assistant as a tool for productivity. In Outlook on iOS (with Android coming later), Cortana can now read you a summary of what’s in your inbox — and you can have a chat with it to flag emails, delete them or dictate answers. Cortana can now also send you a daily summary of your calendar appointments, important emails that need answers and suggest focus time for you to get actual work done that’s not email.

Why it matters: In this world of competing assistants, Microsoft is very much betting on productivity. Cortana didn’t work out as a consumer product, but the company believes there is a large (and lucrative) niche for an assistant that helps you get work done. Because Microsoft doesn’t have a lot of consumer data, but does have lots of data about your work, that’s probably a smart move.

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SAN FRANCISCO, CA – APRIL 02: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella walks in front of the new Cortana logo as he delivers a keynote address during the 2014 Microsoft Build developer conference on April 2, 2014 in San Francisco, California (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Bonus: Microsoft agrees with you and thinks meetings are broken — and often it’s the broken meeting room that makes meetings even harder. To battle this, the company today launched Managed Meeting Rooms, which for $50 per room/month lets you delegate to Microsoft the monitoring and management of the technical infrastructure of your meeting rooms.

DJI Mavic Mini Review

By Matt Burns

The $399 Mavic Mini lives in a sweet spot of core features and a low price. It packs everything critical to be a quality drone. It has a good camera, good range, and a good controller. It holds up well in the wind and is quick enough to be fun. And it’s so small that you’re more likely to throw it in your bag and take it on Instagram adventures.

The small size is the Mavic Mini’s main selling point. It weighs 249 grams, and that odd number isn’t an accident. Drones that weight 250 grams and above have to be registered to fly. And yet, even though the Mavic Mini is lightweight and foldable, it’s packed with core features: 30 minute flight time, 4 km HD video transmission, 3-axis gimbal holding a 2.7K camera, and a physical controller that works with Android and iOS devices. At $399, it’s a lot of drone for the money even though it’s missing features found in DJI’s other drones.

There are more expensive drones packed with a lot of features. I own most of those drones. They’re fun, but several years ago, feature creep started sneaking into DJI’s products. Now, with a convoluted product line, a spreadsheet is needed to deceiver DJI’s drones. Most come loaded with countless features owners will likely never use. The Mavic Mini is something different. It’s basic, and I dig it.

Here’s what’s missing: collision detection, ultra-long-range connection, 4k camera, gesture control, and advanced camera features like trackable follow, panoramic, timelapse, and optical zoom.

The Mavic Mini is quick enough to be fun, but it won’t win any races. It’s responsive and fast enough. Light and easy. Compared to a Mavic 2, it feels smaller and less powerful — because it is — and yet it never feels too small or underpowered. The Mavic Mini is well balanced, and owners should find it enjoyable to fly.

Despite its tiny size, the Mavic Mini holds up well in high wind. I took it up to 200m on a windy fall day in the Midwest. The wind was clearing leaves off the trees, and I was bundled up in hat and gloves. It was gusty. The Mavic Mini didn’t care. It took off like a drone much larger and stood tall against the wind. What’s more, the video didn’t suffer. The gimbal held the camera steady as it recorded the autumn landscape.

The drone uses DJI’s new app, and I’m using a beta version to test the drone. Called DJI Fly, it’s a streamlined version of DJI Go and packs several enhancements. Safe fly zones are better integrated into the app and have an additional level of detail over the older app. DJI also better built-in support for its social community app, SkyPixel. However, as this version is streamlined, it lacks a lot of information standard on the Go version, most notable, a mini-map in the bottom corner of the screen. I’m hoping DJI adds more features to this app after it launches.

[gallery ids="1907926,1907927,1907929,1907932,1907930,1907931"]

The camera is good for the price. The pictures here were taken from the drone and not altered or adjusted. They were taken on cloudy and sunny days. The range is surprisingly good as the drone can capture blue skies and dark highlights. Occasionally in direct sunlight, the camera colors become washed out.

They say the best camera is the one you have with you. That’s where the Mavic Mini comes in. The best drone is the one you have with you. For years, I lugged around a massive Pelican case containing Phantom 2 and later a Phantom 3. I thought I was the coolest. At a moment’s notice, I could go to my car’s trunk and retrieve a suitcase containing a flying camera. A few minutes later, after my phone synced to the drone, and the controller joined the drone’s network, I had 15 minutes of flight time. Then came the foldable Mavic, which fit alongside my camera gear like a large telephoto lens. Other drones came and went. I liked the GoPro Karma for a time.

The tiny Mavic Mini is a game-changer. It’s small enough that I’ll bring it everywhere. It’s small and light enough that it feels like a large point and shoot in my computer bag.

Want more features and a better camera but keep the portable size? Earlier this year DJI announced the $919 foldable Mavic Air that has a 4k camera and 5 mile video transmission.

The Mavic Mini gets everything right. It’s small, comes with a lovely case, and in a $499 bundle, two extra batteries with a clever charging pack. The camera is surprisingly good though admittedly less powerful than DJI’s more expensive drones. The Mavic Mini is the perfect drone for a first-timer or experienced drone enthusiast. DJI stuff enough features into the 249 gram body to make this a fantastic drone for anyone.

[gallery ids="1907939,1907948,1907954,1907968,1907942,1907934,1907935,1907941"]

DJI Mavic Mini announcement

China Roundup: TikTok stumbles in the US and Huawei shipments continue to surge

By Rita Liao

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch’s China Roundup, a digest of recent events shaping the Chinese tech landscape and what they mean to people in the rest of the world. It’s been a very busy last week of October for China’s tech bosses, but first, let’s take a look at what some of them are doing in the neck of your woods.

TikTok’s troubles in the U.S.

The challenge facing TikTok, a burgeoning Chinese video-sharing app, continues to deepen in the U.S. Lawmakers have recently called for an investigation into the social network, which is operated by Beijing-based internet upstart ByteDance, over concerns that it could censor politically sensitive content and be compelled to turn American users’ data over to the Chinese government.

TikTok is arguably the first Chinese consumer app to have achieved international scale — more than 1 billion installs by February. It’s done so with a community of creators good at churning out snappy, light-hearted videos, highly localized operations and its acquisition of rival Musical.ly, which took American teens by storm. In contrast, WeChat has struggled to build up a significant overseas presence and Alibaba’s fintech affiliate Ant Financial has mostly ventured abroad through savvy investments.

TikTok denied the American lawmakers’ allegations in a statement last week, claiming that it stores all U.S. user data locally with backup redundancy in Singapore and that none of its data is subject to Chinese law. Shortly after, on November 1, Reuters reported citing sources that the U.S. government has begun to probe into ByteDance’s acquisition of Musical.ly and is in talks with the firm about measures it could take to avoid selling Musical.ly . ByteDance had no further comment to add beyond the issued statement when contacted by TechCrunch.

The new media company must have seen the heat coming as U.S.-China tensions escalate in recent times. In the long term, TikTok might have better luck expanding in developing countries along China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing’s ambitious global infrastructure and investment strategy. The app already has a footprint in some 150 countries with a concentration in Asia. India accounted for 44% of its total installs as of September, followed by the U.S. at 8%, according to data analytics firm Sensor Tower.

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ByteDance is also hedging its bets by introducing a Slack-like workplace app and is reportedly marketing it to enterprises in the U.S. and other foreign countries. The question is, will ByteDance continue its heavy ad spending for TikTok in the U.S., which amounted to as much as $3 million a day according to a Wall Street Journal report, or will it throttle back as it’s said to go public anytime soon? Or rather, will it bow to U.S. pressure, much like Chinese internet firm Kunlun selling LGBTQ dating app Grindr (Kunlun confirmed this in a May filing), to offload Musical.ly?

Huawei is still selling a lot of phones

The other Chinese company that’s been taking the heat around the world appears to be faring better. Huawei clung on to the second spot in global smartphone shipments during the third quarter and recorded the highest annual growth out of the top-5 players at 29%, according to market analytics firm Canalys. Samsung, which came in first, rose 11%. Apple, in third place, fell 7%. Despite a U.S. ban on Huawei’s use of Android, the phone maker’s Q3 shipments consisted mostly of models already in development before the restriction was instated, said Canalys. It remains to be seen how distributors around the world will respond to Huawei’s post-ban smartphones.

Another interesting snippet of Huawei handset news is that it’s teamed up with a Beijing-based startup named ACRCloud to add audio recognition capabilities to its native music app. It’s a reminder that the company not only builds devices but has also been beefing up software development. Huawei Music has a content licensing deal with Tencent’s music arm and claims some 150 million monthly active users, both free and paid subscribers.

Co-living IPOs

danke apartment

China’s modern-day nomads want flexible and cost-saving housing as much as their American counterparts do. The demand has given rise to apartment-rental services like Danke, which is sometimes compared to WeLive, a residential offering from the now besieged WeWork that provides fully-furnished, shared apartments on a flexible schedule.

Four-year-old Danke has filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and listed its offering size at $100 million, typically a placeholder to calculate registration fees. Backed by Jack Ma-controlled Ant Financial, the loss-making startup is now leasing in 13 Chinese cities, aggressively growing the number of apartments it operated to 406,746 since 2015. Its smaller rival Qingke has also filed to go public in the U.S. this week. Also operating in the red, Qingke has expanded its available rental units to 91,234 since 2012.

Apartment rental is a capital-intensive game. Services like Danke don’t normally own property but instead lease from third-party apartment owners. That means they are tied to paying rents to the landlords irrespective of whether the apartments are ultimately subleased. They also bear large overhead costs from renovation and maintenance. Ultimately, it comes down to which player can arrange the most favorable terms with landlords and retain tenants by offering quality service and competitive rent.

Also worth your attention

  • WeChat has been quite restrained in monetization but seems to be recently lifting its commercial ambitions. The social networking giant, which already sells in-feed ads, is expanding its inventory by showing users geotargeted ads as they scroll through friends’ updates, Tencent announced (in Chinese) in a company post this week.
  • Alibaba reported a 40% revenue jump in its September quarter, beating analysts’ estimates despite a cooling domestic economy. Its ecommerce segment saw strong user growth in less developed areas where it’s fighting a fierce war with rival Pinduoduo to capture the next online opportunity. Users from these regions spent about 2,000 yuan ($284) in their first year on Alibaba platforms, said CEO Daniel Zhang in the earnings call.
  • Walmart’s digital integration is gaining ground in China as it announced that online-to-offline commerce now contributes 30% sales to its neighboorhood stores. Last November, the American retail behemoth began testing same-day delivery in China through a partnership with WeChat.

This Week in Apps: iOS 13 complaints, Q3 trends, App Store ratings bug

By Sarah Perez

Welcome back to This Week in Apps — the easiest way to keep up with everything that happened in the world of apps over the past week — from the breaking news to the trends and all the other information an industry watcher needs to know.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with 194 billion downloads in 2018 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. In other words, 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 looking at that one iOS 13 bug everyone is complaining about, App Store Q3 trends, plus the latest revenue numbers announced by Apple and Google during quarterly earnings. We’ve also found a new product for figuring out what may have caused spikes or changes in an app’s history, and we’re tracking new information about Microsoft’s Xbox Console to mobile streaming service as well as Google’s Motion Sense.

And more!

To get this information, subscribe to Extra Crunch.

Headlines

Everyone is complaining about iOS 13 killing background apps

Apple released iOS 13.2 with Deep Fusion this week. The release also included new emoji, Siri recording opt-out, bug fixes and security improvements. But it didn’t solve the background app bug.

As a result, developers are angry and users are frustrated. A number of iOS 13 users are complaining about iOS 13’s aggressiveness in killing background apps and tasks, which is attributed to poor RAM management. This particularly affects apps like Safari, YouTube, Overcast and others. Users have lost Safari tabs, emails they were composing, or the video they were watching just after switching away for a minute.

I’ve noticed this since the first 13.2 betas, and Overcast users keep reporting it as well: background apps seem to be getting killed MUCH more aggressively than before.

(Especially on the iPhone 11 if you use the camera, presumably because it needs so much RAM for processing.) https://t.co/Qscmsj1OGY

— Marco Arment (@marcoarment) October 29, 2019

The complaints are all over Twitter, Reddit, and Apple’s own forums. A MacRumors post about this has over 400 comments.

This has been a problem since the betas, but people were hoping they’d be addressed by the public releases. Apple hasn’t clarified what’s at fault here, but there’s speculation about the impact of the memory-intensive camera system.

As TechCrunch editor Matthew Panzarino put it, it “feels like I’m back on iOS 3.”

On this week’s episode of @atpfm, I compared it to a toddler under a blanket. “You can’t see me! I’m invisible!” But on iOS 13.2, it’s actually true. As soon as you’re not looking at an app, it disappears from RAM.

— John Siracusa (@siracusa) October 31, 2019

Developer Nick Heer of Pixel Envy says the bug isn’t catastrophic, but “it absolutely should be the highest of priorities to fix it. It’s embarrassing that all of the hard work put into making animations and app launching feel smooth is squandered by mismanaged multitasking,” he says.

Radar filed.

Consumers spent more than $500M on photo/video apps in Q3

Outside of mobile games, entertainment and streaming apps are also pulling in the big money. But there’s another category benefiting from the shift to the subscription model: photo and video apps. In this category, you’ll find apps that promise to touch up photos, add filters that can make or break Instagram careers, as well as the video giants like YouTube and TikTok.

photo and video app store revenue growth q3 2019

In Q3, the category grossed more than $500 million, up a whopping 75% year-over-year, says Sensor Tower. It’s also seeing an annual growth rate of 101% since 2016. Much of this is attributable to YouTube, which alone was responsible for 30% of the category’s revenue in Q3. (Just wait until TikTok takes in-app monetization seriously, though.)

top apps photo and video app store revenue q3 2019

But now, it’s not just the top apps that are growing. In Q3, 22 apps exceeded $3 million in gross user spend, compared to just 2 in Q3 2016. And 7 apps had more than $10 million in revenue, including TikTok, VSCO, Facetune 2, FaceApp, and PicsArt.

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