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When Apple launched its new App Store in iOS 11 back in September, it aimed to offer app developers better exposure, as well as a better app discovery experience for consumers. A new study from Sensor Tower out today takes a look at how well that’s been working in the months since. According to its findings, getting a featured spot on the new App Store can increase downloads by as much as 800 percent, with the “App of the Day” or “Game of the Day” spots offering the most impact.
The app store intelligence firm examined data from September 2017 to present day to come to its conclusions, it says.
During this time, median U.S. iPhone downloads for apps that snagged the “Game of the Day” spot increased by 802 percent for the week following the feature, compared to the week prior to being featured.
“App of the Day” apps saw a boost of 685 percent.
Being featured in other ways — like in one of the new App Store Stories or in an App List — also drove downloads higher, by 222 percent and 240 percent, respectively.
The numbers seem to indicate that Apple is achieving the results it wanted with the release of its redesigned App Store.
Over the years, Apple’s app marketplace had grown so large that finding new apps had become challenging. And developers sometimes found ways to bump their apps higher in the top charts for exposure, leaving iPhone owners wondering if a new app was really that popular, or if it was some sort of paid promotion.
The iOS 11 App Store, on the other hand, has taken more of an editorial viewpoint to its app recommendations. While the top charts haven’t gone away, the focus these days is on what Apple thinks is best — not the wisdom of the masses. Apple has applied its editorial eye to things like timely round-ups of apps; curated, thematic collections; as well as articles about apps and interviews with developers. Apple also picks an app and game to feature daily, so the App Store always has fresh content and a reason for users to return.
The end result is something that’s more akin to a publication about apps, instead of a just an app marketplace.
What’s most interesting, then, in Sensor Tower’s report, are what sort of app publishers Apple has chosen to feature.
Apple had touted the App Store changes would be a way to give smaller developers more exposure. But if you’ve popped into the App Store from time to time, you may have noticed that big publishers — not indies — were having their apps featured.
In fact, an early report about the App Store revamp criticized Apple for giving big publishers too much attention. It said that apps from brands like Starbucks and CBS, or game makers like EA and Glu, weren’t exactly hurting for downloads.
But Apple’s favoring of big publishers is only true to a point, says Sensor Tower.
It found that 13 of the top 15 featured publishers (by number of features) had at least one million U.S. iPhone downloads since the launch of the new App Store last September. It’s not surprising that Apple wants to highlight these publishers. Many of them, and particularly the game publishers, have multiple popular apps. So when their apps get an update or they have a new release, consumers pay attention.
Apple, of course, wants to capitalize on that consumer interest because it shares in the revenue app publishers generate through things like paid downloads, in-app purchases and subscriptions.
However, Apple isn’t only giving the limelight to large publishers, says Sensor Tower.
It also found that 29 percent of the apps it has featured since the launch of the revamped App Store were from publishers who had fewer than 10,000 downloads during that time.
“While it’s clearly the case that big publishers are more likely to receive the largest number of features, small publishers still very much have their chance to benefit from a feature on the App Store,” said Sensor Tower’s Mobile Insights Analyst, Jonathan Briskman.
Though Sensor Tower’s published report focused only on the iOS App Store, it’s worth noting how it compares with Google Play.
Getting a featured spot on Google’s app store isn’t as impactful, the firm tells TechCrunch. The largest week-over-week increase to the median it saw there was only around 200 percent.
Image credits, all: Sensor Tower
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Looks like Liam, Apple's phone-dismembering robot, now has a little sister. Just ahead of Earth Day, the Cupertino-based company revealed the newest member of its robo-recycling team: Daisy.
Meet Daisy. Apple’s latest recycling robot was revealed, not coincidentally, a few days before Earth Day, in a press announcement summing up the company’s recent environmental accomplishments. The new ‘bot is an update to Liam, the recycling robot the company announced back in 2016.
Daisy was developed in-house by Apple engineers, using some of Liam’s parts — a recycling of sorts. The industrial robot is able to disassemble nine different versions of the iPhone, sorting all of their reusable components in the process. In all, Daisy is capable of taking apart a full 200 iPhones in a given hour, proving a solid alternative to traditional methods that can destroy valuable components in the process. Any connection to HAL 3000, however, is surely coincidental.
Along with Daisy, Apple’s also using the occasion to announce GiveBack, an addition to its recycling program. For every device customers turn in or trade from now until April 30, the company will make a donation to Conservation International, a Virginia-based environmental nonprofit. Eligible devices will still qualify for an in-store or gift card credit.
For good measure, there’s also a new Apple Watch challenge coming for Earth Day, encouraging people to get outside on Sunday and enjoy the planet. The announcements come a week after Apple announced that it had achieved its goal of powering its global facilities with 100 percent renewable energy.
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More details are out this morning about Apple’s plans for Texture, the digital newsstand business it acquired last month. According to a new report from Bloomberg, Apple is planning to launch its own premium news subscription service in an upgraded version of the Apple News app, arriving sometime in the next year. The service will split revenues between Apple and magazine publishers, but details regarding that split were not available.
Today, however, Apple takes a 15 percent cut on subscriptions sold in the App Store.
Bloomberg also noted that around twenty Texture employees were cut post acquisition, while the remaining staff and technology is being integrated with the Apple News team.
In the past, Apple offered magazines and newspaper subscriptions through its former Newsstand app, and through Apple News, which replaced it. However, these are currently sold individually. Texture, meanwhile, operated more like a “Netflix for magazine publishing,” where readers were able to access around 200 magazines for a monthly fee of $9.99. For $14.99 per month, the subscription would include some weekly magazine titles, as well.
Before Apple, Texture was owned by Condé Nast, Hearst, Meredith, Rogers Media and KKR.
Assuming Bloomberg is correct in reporting that Texture will lead to a similar subscription-based model for magazines in Apple News, it raises some concerns. Apple notoriously likes to control news about itself, as part of maintaining its public image. This heavy-handed strategy means that Apple won’t respond to some day-to-day press inquiries, unless it’s to set the record straight on unflattering reports. It also likes to pass counterpoints along to favored reporters, at times, in order to quietly get its viewpoints some ink, without its name attached to the reporting. Years ago, it sent police to break down a reporter’s door to regain access to a lost iPhone prototype, that the news org had come to acquire.
While not all magazine publishers are focused on “news,” those who do cover tech and Apple specifically, could become uncomfortable with also relying on Apple for subscription revenues. Would any negative reporting affect their standing with the company? Would Apple kick them out of the subscription program, if news became unfavorable? For a company that so tightly protects its reputation, it’s not an outlandish concern.
In addition, publishers have already learned the downfalls associated with relying on a platform’s reach and distribution to help keep them afloat, by working with Facebook. The gave up control, only to find their content downgraded in a Facebook algorithm change. That specific scenario doesn’t translate to Apple’s News platform, of course. But publishers may find themselves unable to resist Apple’s call to participate, given its potential to pull in millions of subscribers.
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This weekend, former Apple engineer and consumer gadget legend Tony Fadell penned an op-ed for Wired. In it, he argued that smartphone manufacturers need to do a better job of educating users about how often they use their mobile phones, and the resulting dangers that overuse might bring about.
Take healthy eating as an analogy: we have advice from scientists and nutritionists on how much protein and carbohydrate we should include in our diet; we have standardised scales to measure our weight against; and we have norms for how much we should exercise.
But when it comes to digital “nourishment”, we don’t know what a “vegetable”, a “protein” or a “fat” is. What is “overweight” or “underweight”? What does a healthy, moderate digital life look like? I think that manufacturers and app developers need to take on this responsibility, before government regulators decide to step in – as with nutritional labelling. Interestingly, we already have digital-detox clinics in the US. I have friends who have sent their children to them. But we need basic tools to help us before it comes to that.
Plenty of studies have shown that too much screen time and internet/smartphone addiction can be damaging to our health, both physically and psychologically. And while there are other players involved in our growing dependence on our phones (yes, I’m talking to you, Facebook), the folks who actually build those screens have ample opportunity to make users more aware of their usage.
In his article, Fadell brings up ways that companies like Apple could build out features for this:
You should be able to see exactly how you spend your time and, if you wish, moderate your behaviour accordingly. We need a “scale” for our digital weight, like we have for our physical weight. Our digital consumption data could look like a calendar with our historical activity. It should be itemised like a credit-card bill, so people can easily see how much time they spend each day on email, for example, or scrolling through posts. Imagine it’s like a health app which tracks metrics such as step count, heart rate and sleep quality.
With this usage information, people could then set their own targets – like they might have a goal for steps to walk each day. Apple could also let users set their device to a “listen-only” or “read-only” mode, without having to crawl through a settings menu, so that you can enjoy reading an e-book without a constant buzz of notifications.
9to5Mac brought up a Bloomberg piece from February that not only shows Apple’s capability to build out this feature, but their willingness to do so for young people, with a reported new feature that would let parents see how much time their kids are staring at their screens.
Unlike Facebook, which has tweaked its algorithm to prioritize meaningful connection over time spent on the platform, Apple’s revenue is not dependent on how much you use your phone. So, maybe we’ll see a digital health feature added to Apple products in the future.
Skagen is a well-know maker of thin and uniquely Danish watches. Founded in 1989, the company is now part of the Fossil group and, as such, has begin dabbling in both the analog with the Hagen and now Android Wear with the Falster. The Falster is unique in that it stuffs all of the power of a standard Android Wear device into a watch that mimics the chromed aesthetic of Skagen’s austere design while offering just enough features to make you a fashionable smartwatch wearer.
The Falster, which costs $275 and is available now, has a fully round digital OLED face which means you can read the time at all times. When the watch wakes up you can see an ultra bright white on black time-telling color scheme and then tap the crown to jump into the various features including Android Fit and the always clever Translate feature that lets you record a sentence and then show it the person in front of you.
You can buy it with a leather or metal band and the mesh steel model costs $20 extra.
Sadly, in order stuff the electronics into such a small case, Skagen did away with GPS, LTE connectivity, and even a heart-rate monitor. In other words if you were expecting a workout companion then the Falster isn’t the Android you’re looking for. However, if you’re looking for a bare-bones fashion smartwatch, Skagen ticks all the boxes.
What you get from the Flasterou do get, however, is a low-cost, high-style Android Wear watch with most of the trimmings. I’ve worn this watch off and on few a few weeks now and, although I do definitely miss the heart rate monitor for workouts, the fact that this thing looks and acts like a normal watch 99% of the time makes it quite interesting. If obvious brand recognition nee ostentation are your goal, the Apple Watch or any of the Samsung Gear line are more your style. This watch, made by a company famous for its Danish understatement, offers the opposite of that.
Skagen offers a few very basic watch faces with the Skagen branding at various points on the dial. I particularly like the list face which includes world time or temperature in various spots around the world, offering you an at-a-glance view of timezones. Like most Android Wear systems you can change the display by pressing and holding on the face.
It lasts about a day on one charge although busy days may run down the battery sooner as notifications flood the screen. The notification system – essentially a little icon that appears over the watch face – sometimes fails and instead shows a baffling grey square. This is the single annoyance I noticed, UI-wise, when it came to the Falster. It works with both Android smartphones and iOS.
What this watch boils down to is an improved fitness tracker and notification system. If you’re wearing, say, a Fitbit, something like the Skagen Falster offers a superior experience in a very chic package. Because the watch is fairly compact (at 42mm I won’t say it’s small but it would work on a thinner wrist) it takes away a lot of the bulk of other smartwatches and, more important, doesn’t look like a smartwatch. Those of use who don’t want to look like we’re wearing robotic egg sacs on our wrists will enjoy that aspect of Skagen’s effort, even without all the trimmings we expect from a modern smartwatch.
Skagen, like so many other watch manufacturers, decided if it couldn’t been the digital revolution it would join it. The result is the Falster and, to a lesser degree, their analog collections. Whether or not traditional watchmakers will survive the 21st century is still up in the air but, as evidenced by this handsome and well-made watch, they’re at least giving it the old Danish try.
My HomePod, Google Home and Amazon Echo all live within about 15 feet of each other in my apartment.
This is as much a testament to my obsession with smart home crap as it is to my inability to buy into a single tech giant’s hardware ecosystem. I’ve gone all-in with each assistant at various times but now my entire connected life is run through a series of commands that are held together by specific intonations, exact phrasing and speaking volumes of which I alone fully grasp. I solely hold the recipes to my MacGyvered connected life. (This has made life difficult for my roommate who sometimes has to ask me to turn the lights on, but truthfully he should have known what annoying techiness laid ahead when he saw me unpacking my VR rig as we moved in.)
This amalgam of chatty smart assistants has made me pretty in tune with each of these product’s faults, but it’s also helped me gain a deep appreciation for the individual strengths of the platforms themselves.
This week, Bloomberg reported that times are tough for the HomePod. Apple is cutting production, some of its retail stores aren’t breaking double digit sales of the device on a daily basis and it only has a small sliver of the smart speaker market. This report brought a lot of critics out of the woodwork who heralded the ignorance of Apple’s product strategy and harped on the smart speaker’s general dumbness and lackluster feature set.
Now, I’m not in the habit of defending near-trillion dollar companies, but I think much of this criticism is misplaced. The HomePod is probably the best-functioning smart speaker of the bunch, and I’d also contend that the company’s overall strategy is far from being “years behind” its competitors. Apple’s AI strategy needs some TLC to strengthen Siri, but with the AirPods and HomePod, Apple is building a unified front on audio hardware that will weather the gimmicks of a market that seems artificially mature to begin with.
A misunderstood market
First off, I’ve always found the “smart speaker market” to be a pie that’s sliced in a bizarre way. For as intimately tied to smartphones as voice assistants are, saying that Amazon remains the clear winner in a category that excludes the billions of mobile devices with deep voice assistant capabilities seems accurate but deeply wrong at the same time.
It’s also why I don’t think Apple needs to be as worried about getting a $50 product like the Home Mini or Echo Dot out there, because while Amazon desperately needs a low-friction connection to consumers, Apple doesn’t gain as much by putting a tinny speaker into a can that will do even less than what “Hey Siri” on your iPhone could do.
$349 is pretty far (too far) in the other direction, but the high-end hardware is the sell for Apple and the concept that consumers are going to default to another smart assistant than what their phone uses is only a problem that will exist in the early days of Siri and Google Assistant. Amazon’s technologies can get better and better but if Google Assistant is the only one with intimate knowledge of your Google Account activities and Siri is the only one that you can send iMessages with, there’s not much of a conversation to have.
The dumbest answer from a smart speaker is always the one you’re waiting on that never comes. Just as the Airpods have succeeded in their approach thanks to the less sexy connectivity advances, the HomePod wins on the intelligence of its listening capabilities via a microphone array that can hear me at a whisper’s volume even while loud music is playing. It’s an overlooked feature in hardware comparisons, and it’s honestly one of the most important in practice.
I’ve yelled so many “Hey Google’s” while the TV is playing that never registered. Meanwhile, I’ve learned that I don’t really have to raise my voice to talk with the HomePod. That, along with its much blogged-about location-aware features of the HomePod, make it a device that feels like more of an ethereal presence in my apartment and less tied down to a physical location where I point my head and yell. While Amazon’s tech here has long been impressive as well, I’ve found the HomePod to be a bit more effective when tunes are blaring while pretty much laying waste to Google’s smart speakers (including the Max) which have always seemed to be hard of hearing in noisy environments from my experience.
Now, Siri is absolutely less good than Google Assistant when it comes to being a phone assistant, but a lot of these shortcomings don’t translate as jarringly to the HomePod. Apple has made the wrong calls with third party integrations for Siri on iOS but the current state of Alexa Skills and Google Assistant Actions suggests that Apple isn’t missing a ton on the smart speaker third-party platform front yet.
Something like ordering a pizza with Domino’s on an Echo or Google Home requires a bizarre amount of effort that is only easy if you do most of the work on your phone ahead of time. I wouldn’t say that Apple missing this feature has torn a hole in its core intelligence, likewise most of these “skills” generally don’t give me the context I need to make a decision.
I don’t get why there’s so much love thrown at these smart speaker development platforms. The fact is, they’re largely outlets for brand marketing budget dollars, rather than bastions of consumer utility. Sure, some of these apps are fun and may ultimately make the Echo a more family-friendly device than the HomePod, but the bloatware eventually becomes an afterthought as the gimmick wears off. Amazon needs this right now, not consumers.
Making calls, distinguishing between multiple users and accessing calendars are all pretty baseline features that one hopes that the HomePod receives updates for soon. Nevertheless, the HomePod is not an unfinished product as some have said, and is certainly not “years behind” its competitors. It certainly feels more finished than some of the hardware products in Amazon’s divergent smart speaker cornucopia.
They’ve made some annoying decisions regarding music streaming support; Apple Music is an absolute necessity to enjoy this product. I’ve been a Spotify listener in the past, but I’ve never been a power user of playlists which left me pretty vulnerable to switching if it made life easier with the HomePod and my AirPods, which it did.
Apple Music is just one more exclusive element of the ecosystem, and by extension, Siri. Despite Spotify’s sky-high market cap, I don’t really see a good reason not to be bullish on Apple Music. The service is rapidly growing and — if trends hold — will overtake Spotify in paid subscriber count sometime this summer. It seems unrealistic that Apple will bring Apple Music support to the Echo or Google Home, but it’d be nice if some skeleton support came to Spotify on HomePod in the meantime, though I kind of doubt this as well.
It’s all about the ecosystem; the “smart speaker market” doesn’t matter and never will as we define it now. What Google gains with a cheap entry point of a Google Home Mini is a way to drive people to features they didn’t know their phones had. Apple is using the HomePod to set a baseline while they look to build up these features that Siri doesn’t have yet. Amazon’s Alexa may have a chance in the context of the connected home, but it’s hard to imagine a world where you don’t want your mobile device and home assistant hub being intimately tied at an OS level.
The AirPods and HomePod are very good examples of OS-integrated hardware, and while Siri needs a facelift and perhaps some brain surgery, Apple’s thinking with the HomePod is about where it needs to be. It’s a platform that should really be a bit experimental for the time-being. These things were pushed into people’s homes so quickly by an Amazonian quest for market domination, but so much of the utility of smart speakers is still tied up in their frustrations.
Like the AirPods, the HomePod has isolated the right challenges to tackle first. “Winning the smart speaker market” isn’t going to happen for this product, but I get a sense that Apple’s thinking with the HomePod is tied up in a healthy self-awareness that its competitors lack.
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In an internal memo to employees, Apple threatened severe consequences for leaking confidential company information – reminding staff that those who leak can lose their jobs, have difficult finding future employment, and even get arrested. Last year, Apple claimed to have busted 29 leakers, 12 of whom were arrested.
The memo itself was leaked, and its content was published by Bloomberg this afternoon.
Apple has always cultivated a culture of confidentially about its work, as a means of maintaining a competitive advantage over the competition.
Given how large Apple has grown over the years – the memo says there are “135,000 people” working there – it’s become more difficult to keep things under wraps. By the time a new iPhone launches, for example, people already know what to expect. That can give rivals a head start on catching up with Apple, ahead of an actual public unveiling of the device. Leaks can also impact sales of current devices, as consumers hold off on buying as they know something better is soon to arrive.
The new memo is not the first time Apple has tried to plug its leaks. Last year, the company held a meeting with employees where it discussed how it plans to prevent leaks, talked about how leakers were caught, and answered employees’ questions.
That meeting was secretly recorded and leaked to the press too.
In reality, some leaks can be harder to track or stop. A company-wide meeting or email, for instance, could be leaked by anyone.
The new memo begins by informing Apple employees that the person who leaked details about Apple’s software roadmap earlier this year was caught and fired last month:
Last month, Apple caught and fired the employee responsible for leaking details from an internal, confidential meeting about Apple’s software roadmap. Hundreds of software engineers were in attendance, and thousands more within the organization received details of its proceedings. One person betrayed their trust.
The employee who leaked the meeting to a reporter later told Apple investigators that he did it because he thought he wouldn’t be discovered. But people who leak — whether they’re Apple employees, contractors or suppliers — do get caught and they’re getting caught faster than ever.
The memo then goes on to stress how damaging leaks are to the company itself, those who worked on a project, and other employees.
It reminds employees that when they’re approached by press, analysts and bloggers they’re “getting played.”
The establishment of a very us-versus-them culture when dealing with outsiders is notable because it means Apple employees may fear becoming whistleblowers. Employees will likely also fear leaking to correct inaccurate information being passed around publicly. Today, there are reports that Apple’s own comms teams won’t respond to, when asked by press – unless the report reaches a critical mass, or worse – is unflattering to Apple.
But unlike at other companies where a PM or staffer may reach out to privately correctly a detail or give background outside of official channels, Apple staff would be fired for crossing that line.
The memo also points to more examples of how Apple’s internal security has caught people who believed they could get away with it – including the person who leaked the link to the gold master of iOS 11, and those who leaked within the supply chain.
It concludes by sharing the news that 12 of the leakers in 2017 were arrested.
“Leakers do not simply lose their jobs at Apple. In some cases, they face jail time and massive fines for network intrusion and theft of trade secrets both classified as federal crimes,” the memo read. “These people not only lose their jobs, they can face extreme difficulty finding employment elsewhere.”
There’s a certain kind of person who will find language like this a challenge. But the majority will likely take heed.
The memo was published as an internal company blog post.
The full memo can be read on Bloomberg’s site.
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