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 and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019. 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 keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.
This week we’re continuing to look at how the coronavirus outbreak is impacting the world of mobile applications, including the latest news about COVID-19 apps, Facebook and Houseparty’s battle to dominate the online hangout, the game that everyone’s playing during quarantine, and more. We also look at the new allegations against TikTok, the demise of a popular “Lite” app, new apps offering parental controls, Telegram killing its crypto plans and many other stories, including a hefty load of funding and M&A.
Contact tracing and COVID-19 apps in the news
- Global: WHO readies its coronavirus app for symptom-checking and possibly contact tracing. A WHO official told Reuters on Friday the new app will ask people about their symptoms and offer guidance on whether they may have COVID-19. Information on testing will be personalized to the user’s country. The organization is considering adding a Bluetooth-based, contact-tracing feature, too. A version of the app will launch globally, but individual countries will be able to use the underlying technology and add features to release their own versions. Engineers from Google and Microsoft have volunteered their time over the past few weeks to develop the app, which is available open-source on GitHub.
- U.S.: Apple’s COVID-19 app, developed in partnership with the CDC, FEMA and the White House, received its first major update since its March debut. The new version includes recommendations for healthcare workers to align with CDC guidelines, best practices for quarantining if you’ve been exposed to COVID-19 and new information for pregnancy and newborns.
- India: New Delhi’s contact-tracing app, Aarogya Setu, has reached 100 million users out of India’s total 450 million smartphone owners in 41 days after its release, despite privacy concerns. The app helps users self-assess if they caught COVID-19 by answering a series of questions and will alert them if they came into contact with someone who’s infected. The app has come under fire for how it stores user location data and logs the details for those reporting symptoms. The app is required to use Indian railways, which has boosted adoption.
- Iceland: Iceland has one of the most-downloaded contact-tracing apps, with 38% of its population using it. But despite this, the country said it has not been a “game-changer” in terms of tracking the virus and only worked well when coupled with manual contact tracing — meaning phone calls that asked who someone had been in contact with. In addition, the low download rate indicates it may be difficult to get people to use these apps when they launch in larger markets.