What’s trending in the world of apps?

Mobile apps are today used more than mobile browsers. They currently account for 84.9% of total mobile time spent (a 10.3% increase on last year), and nearly 20% of total media time, for US adults. In 2016, users spent two hours and 11 minutes per day using mobile apps, but just 26 minutes browsing the web on a mobile device. By 2019, mobile browsing time is predicted to increase by just one minute, while mobile app usage is expected to mushroom to two hours and 43 minutes per day.

But the number of apps in use is declining, dropping from an average of 21 apps per month in 2016, to 20 this year, according to eMarketer. Usage remains focused on social networks, Google and apps offering practical functionality such as maps and messaging. Facebook in particular is one of the most popular apps used by American adults, with user sessions rising as high as 17 minutes per day this year, while desktop or laptop Facebook access has held stagnant at six minutes a day. Instagram’s recent move towards in-app shopping is also helping to ensure that it maintains a strong footing.

“American consumers spend the bulk of their app time conducting five activities: listening to digital audio, social networking, gaming, video viewing and messaging,” says eMarketer principal analyst Cathy Boyle. “Each of these are time-intensive activities that consumers conduct with a high level of frequency.”

Unsurprisingly, YouTube dominates entertainment apps stealing 68% of time spent, with Netflix trailing at 21%, according to comScore. Within the retail category, Amazon captures 34% of users’ time, with eBay taking second at 8%. This goes to show that the app market is being swallowed up by a few key players, while remaining competitors grapple for the remaining fraction of the market.

What’s in the news?

Messenger passes the 1.2bn mark

Last week, Facebook revealed that more than 1.2bn people use Messenger every month. This signifies a 20% increase since July 2016 when the app first passed the one billion mark, and represents 64% of Facebook’s 1.68bn monthly users.

Messenger is rapidly becoming an integral app to people’s lives, and is a primary focus for Facebook right now. Over the past few days it’s announced that Messenger now supports group payments, allowing users within a group chat to pay either everyone in the group or individual members through a click of the payments icon. This is in addition to its existing person-to-person payments within Messenger which has now been around for some time. Facebook suggests the new feature will be useful for groups where everyone is chipping in on a purchase, like a group gift, or are splitting a restaurant bill, etc.

NHS offers tracking app to those at risk of suicide

The NHS has announced plans to trial an app which will be offered to individuals at risk of suicide or self-harm. It will monitor the content of texts, and the regularity of phone calls, looking to detect the use of “keywords” associated with heightened risk, as well as identifying changes in behaviour, such as an increase in late night phone calls. Local services will be alerted through the app if there is cause for concern with a user of the app.

NHS England is planning to invest £35m in digital technology aimed at slashing suicide rates and boosting mental health, and based on the usages stats mentioned above, apps are a sensible focus.

The problem with apps

The app space can sometimes be a risky place to play, rife with scams and fraud, not to mention safety and privacy concerns.

The rise of fake apps

Most recently, a plethora of fake Minecraft apps were discovered with the Google Play Store that, when downloaded, expose users to scams, malware and obtrusive ads. A total of 87 fakes were exposed, amassing a total of 990,000 installs. When launched, the apps immediately request device administrator rights, which then lead to the user into inadvertently downloading aggressive ad software of their phone, or redirect the user to a scam website.

These are black hat tricks which plague the app world. Even when users are careful to download only official apps, there then remains the temptation to download third-party apps which connect with them, offering additional functionality.

Unauthorised in-app purchases made by children

Kids’ game developers often blur the lines between what’s free and paid-for within apps. They also design games that only function well with the purchase of in-game items, which can be sometimes earned through gameplay or other times purchased through the app itself. It’s dubious ground which has been called into question many times, sometimes leading to legal action with some of the biggest names in apps.

In the past couple of weeks, Amazon, for example, has agreed to refund millions of unauthorised in-app purchases made by children, and withdraw its appeals with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The issue relates to the design of Amazon Appstore’s in-app purchasing system, which comes preloaded on Amazon mobile devices, such as Kindle Fire tablets. Initially, there was no password protection at all on in-app purchases, enabling kids to make purchases of up $99.99. Despite a number of updates, including the requirement for a password on purchases exceeding $20, the FTC says Amazon didn’t obtain “informed consent” until July 2014.

More than $70 million in in-app charges made between November 2011 and May 2016 may be eligible for refunds, according to the FTC, although it’s unlikely that all parents will take the time to make their claim.

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