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The year when smartphones dominated

Yehia El Amine

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The year when smartphones dominated

The year 2020 will always be remembered as the year where the world’s population locked itself indoors to ward off COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year will also be remembered as the year that smartphones became one of the few tools for communication, playing games, downloading apps and accessing news and information in most countries around the world.

The year welcomed more downloads than ever before, with apps specifically focusing on influencing user discovery.

According to U.S.-based analytics firm App Annie, during 2020, time spent on mobile surged at 4.2 hours on Android, which amounted to 3.5 trillion hours in total, a figure up by 20 percent and 25 percent respectively from 2019.

“The world has forever changed. While people stay at home across the world, we saw mobile habits accelerate by three years,” said Theodore Krantz, Chief Executive Officer of App Annie.

Cohesive brand and reputation, combined with a seamlessly connected user experience, continues to drive new user acquisition in an increasingly competitive market.

As the year elapsed, demand for new apps and games consistently jumped seven percent YoY, reaching 218 billion download globally. This increase can be determined by consumers migrating more of their physical needs onto mobile, as spending hit new heights at $143 billion.

“37 percent of app users we surveyed reported they found a new app through a friend or family member. 67 percent of users agree when discovering and purchasing new apps they trust what they learn from online research, and 50 percent only consider well-known apps,” Imma Calvo Managing Director of Apps at Google, said in the App Annie report.

It is worth mentioning that mobile is the only channel with this level reach and depth of engagement.

In the U.S. alone, eight percent of people spent more time on mobile than watching live TV daily. “The average American watched 3.7 hours of live TV a day, whereas they spent 4 hours on their mobile device in H2 2020. The weighted average among countries analyzed for time spent surpassed 4 hours 10 minutes during the pandemic,” the report highlighted.

In the streaming sphere, popular Chinese video sharing app TikTok and Google’s YouTube reigned supreme over rivals.

According to App Annie’s report, TikTok easily outpaced top social networking apps in hours per user, registering a whopping 325 percent in YoY growth.

TikTok ranked in the top 5 by time spent and its average monthly time spent per user grew faster than nearly every other app analyzed, including 70 percent in the US and 80 percent in the UK — surpassing Facebook. TikTok is on track to hit 1.2 billion active users in 2021.

During 2020, 40 percent more hours were streamed on mobile phones, with time spent peaking in Q2 of 2020 in the west as the first wave of COVID-19 forced people inside.

“By 2021 and in the new normal, the average mobile streamer in the US, South Korea and the UK will download 85 percent, 80 percent and 60 percent more video streaming apps, respectively, compared to pre-pandemic levels,” the report explained.

In parallel, YouTube witnessed a surge in time spent per user on the platform, which is 6x increase from last year, recording a watch time of 38 hours a month.

While YouTube was one of the most dominating forces in the video streaming industry across all markets except China, Amazon’s Twitch made headways against many video streaming platforms, which showcases the rise of user-generated content, live streams, and e-sports. 

The increase in demand for apps and games resulted in 97 percent of publishers monetizing through the iOS App Store earned <$1 million per annum and would benefit from Apple’s App Store small business program — reducing fees from 30 percent to 15 percent.

“Many publishers — particularly gaming publishers — roll up under larger companies or parent companies and monetize across both stores — taking home much more per year in aggregate,” the report added.

According to data by market research firm Crunchbase, $73 billion in investment capital poured into mobile companies, reporting at 26 percent YoY growth in 2020. These investments were mainly led by financial services, transportation, e-commerce, and shopping.

“Investments in companies with a mobile solution represent 26 percent of total global funding dollars in 2020, per Crunchbase data. Mobile has driven consumer and enterprise technology innovation with geo-location, cloud services and Artificial Intelligence, creating leading companies in transportation, financial services, health care and entertainment,” Gené Teare Data Researcher Crunchbase, said in the report.

Throughout the year, smartphones and mobile services fueled 45 percent more financial engagement, as consumers quickly opted for contactless digital payments in light of the pandemic.

“Time spent in Finance apps during 2020 was up 45 percent worldwide outside of China in 2020 YoY. Whether leveraging wallet apps, financial services like loans, shopping for major purchases like a car or a house, or investing in the market, FinTech apps are in high demand and a critical part of the decision-making process for consumers,” the App Annie report explained.

Within the gaming industry, core gamers mainly chose mobile consoles at home, account for 66 percent of spending, and 55 percent of time spent on mobile games.

“Casual games dominate downloads with the popularity of easy- to-use names like Among Us, ROBLOX and My Talking Tom Friends. APAC drives a significant portion of spend and time spent among Core games, yet Console and PC-gone-mobile titles bridge the West into Core mobile gaming,” the report noted.

Mobile gaming is on track to surpass $120 billion in consumer spend in 2021 — capturing 1.5x of the market compared to all other gaming platforms combined.

As humanity is still not completely out of the woods in terms of the pandemic, experts forecast that while the world enters into an economic recession, technology will continue to accelerate forward regardless of the events surrounding the human race. 

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Yehia is an investigative journalist and editor with extensive experience in the news industry as well as digital content creation across the board. He strives to bring the human element to his writing.

Technology

South Africa bars WhatsApp from sharing private user data with Facebook

Yehia El Amine

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private user data

South Africa’s Information Regulator (IR) barred Facebook Inc. from sharing any information it collects from WhatsApp users in the country without prior authorization from the regulator, Reuters reported on Thursday.

“WhatsApp cannot, without obtaining prior authorization from the IR, process any contact information of its users for a purpose other than the one for which the number was specifically intended at collection, with the aim of linking that information jointly with information processed by other Facebook companies,” the regulator said.

The regulator added that its decision was in accordance with section 57 of the Protection of Personal Information Act, South Africa’s data protection law. The agency also said that it has written to Facebook South Africa outlining its concerns regarding its privacy policy.

The IR is also “very concerned” that citizens of the EU will receive significantly higher privacy protection than people in South Africa and Africa generally.

“Our legislation is very similar to that of the EU. It was based on that model deliberately, as it provides a significantly better model for the protection of personal information than that in other jurisdictions,” Chairperson of the IR Pansy Tlakula said.

“We do not understand why Facebook has adopted this differentiation between Europe and Africa,” she said.

According to Reuters, WhatsApp is currently reviewing the regulator’s letter while downplaying the privacy update, suggesting that it “does not expand the company’s ability to share data with Facebook, or affect the privacy of users’ messages with friends or family.”

Earlier in January, the popular instant messaging app announced a change in its privacy terms and conditions that would allow parent company, Facebook, to collect users’ data from the app such as their phone number, email address, contacts, location, device ID, user ID, advertising data, purchase history, product interaction, payment info, crash, performance, and other diagnostic data, customer support, and metadata.

However, after a hailstorm of controversy, WhatsApp pushed back the update till May 15 to allow users ample time to review the new conditions. The controversy spread worldwide, as many users began to migrate to rival alternative messaging apps such as Signal and Telegram.

Mobile app analytics firm Sensor Tower said last week that Signal saw 17.8 million app downloads on Apple and Google during the week of Jan. 5 to Jan. 12. Representing a 61-fold increase from just 285,000 the previous week.

Telegram, an already-popular messaging app for people around the world, saw 15.7 million downloads in the Jan. 5 to Jan. 12 period, roughly twice the 7.6 million downloads it experienced the previous week.

South Africa joins the line of countries expressing concern over the use of private user data, such as India – a key market for WhatsApp – who asked the company to withdraw the new update from the country.

In parallel, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan completely dropped the app as a presidential communication tool in favor of homegrown instant messaging app BiP.

Many Turkish citizens also called for the boycott of the app on Twitter, using the hashtag #DeletingWhatsApp.

Even the head of the Turkish Presidential Digital Transformation Office, Ali Taha Koc, took to Twitter to voice his criticism over the instant messaging app’s privacy policy, and the exemption from the new data-sharing rules for users in the United Kingdom and the European Union.

It is worth mentioning that the sudden worldwide flare up against WhatsApp could be attributed to a deeply rooted problem of trust, or lack thereof.

Facebook has a notorious track record when it comes to digital privacy, to the extent of which its CEO Mark Zuckerberg has frequently testified in front of the U.S. Congress and EU Parliament for that matter.

While the company has clarified time and again that the update will not affect users when talking to friends and family, many refuse to give Facebook the benefit of the doubt.

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Soul App provides a glimpse into a wave of AI-powered social networking

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Of the various social networking apps that have made it easier to stay connected amid the pandemic, one of the social platforms that stands out is Soul App; a Shanghai-based application has recently come to North America, Japan, and South Korea.

The latest trend, such the fast-growing Clubhouse app highlights an emerging social media trend featuring technology-driven social platforms. Yet it still uses the basic model as Facebook, which involves circles of friends, with the distinction that Clubhouse requires only an invitation from an existing member to join the Club.

A social platform that is a little bit different is veteran, Soul App, launched in 2016 which would make it something of an antique, but for the fact it kept its backroom tech updated with Artificial Intelligence (AI) matching of members.

SOUL has benefited from the technological tide of the increasingly matured tech of big data and AI, a trend that helps transform social networking products.

“At a time when Internet-based technologies have penetrated every nook and cranny of life – and social life in particular – nearly 90 percent of Gen Z surveyed want to expand the ways they socialize,” SOUL said in a statement.

This was highlighted in Soul’s Generation Z’s Social Life Report.

SOUL noted that “most social networks fail to move away from the traditional model centered on pre-existing social circles putting younger users under social pressure who would otherwise express themselves freely and honestly.”

Albeit, with slow growth, the AI-powered social networking app has become quite popular, with more than 100 million registered users, and more than 30 million monthly active users, making it the top five most downloaded free social networking apps on the China App Store.

Unlike Chinese dating apps competitors Momo and Tantan, SOUL offers an alternative to superficial swipe culture. By taking profile pictures out of the equation, the Chinese dating app helps its Gen Z users find matches based on common interests, Jing Daily reported.

The AI-powered social networking platform offers users an “explore” feature to post personal statuses and to browse through other people’s posts. The simplicity of the platform’s interface is the main reason for its popularity. Additionally, the application has become a social media hub based on an algorithm-based recommendation system. 

The speedy algorithm-enabled interaction models cater to young people’s social needs. As the younger generation falls into the habit of spending fragmented, sporadic time online, their desire to seek a lifelong friend has been replaced by the pursuit of temporary, but equally meaningful, companionship. 

SOUL also uses a decentralized content distribution mechanism that balances popularity and matching influences, so that everyone’s contents can be fairly viewed and shared with reduced interference on traffic distribution for users and their posts.

On SOUL, users can tag their posted contents to define their topics of interested and enable their contents to reach others with the same interests and hobbies, including music, literature, history, movies and games, according to the company.

Users can strike up a conversation about shared interests or play online games as a team. In this regard, SOUL capitalizes on its accurate and efficient recommendation system to build a “wonderland” of freedom, openness, and enjoyment as a path for its users to have pleasant companionship 24/7, which betrays the core secret of Soul app’s exponential growth.

“The app’s algorithm-enabled friend recommendation system Planet and personalized content feeds allow users to spot someone after their own hearts,” SOUL said in a statement.

Specifically, Soulers can tap their Planet to make matches and interact directly with their friends through various features including Audio Call and Soul Cam.

There is no swiping left or right as is familiar the world over with user of such dating apps as Tinder, instead users look for comonality.

“They can  find potential like-minded friends as they scroll through intriguing posts made by others, where shared interests lead to blossoming friendships,” SOUL said.

Predictably, amid the deeper integration of new technologies and social networking services, stress-free and interest-based social networks represented by the Soul app are set to play an ever-important role down the road.

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New device to help protect athletes from traumatic brain injury

Karim Hussami

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traumatic brain injury

A new device that could help reduce the risk of traumatic brain injury during head impacts was given approval this week by the Food and Drug Administration. The device is authorized for athletes 13 and older, and can be used during football, soccer and other high-impact sports.

The device is intended to protect athletes from sub concussive injuries, by protecting the internal jugular veins, thereby increasing the volume of blood to vessels of the skull.

The additional blood restricts the movement of the brain inside the skull. As the brain moves less, it may be protected from the negative effects of the “slosh” movement that occurs in unprotected athletes who suffer heavy impacts to the head.

The C-shaped device, called the Q-Collar, fits around the back and side of the neck. It works by clamping compressive protection on blood vessels in the neck.

A CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) analysis found 2 million children visited emergency departments because of TBI sustained during sports and recreation activities from 2010 to 2016.

TBI can have emotional, physiological and cognitive effects, while negative health outcomes can stem from sub concussive injuries that alter tissue but do not cause diagnosed concussion.

The researchers used advanced imaging techniques to look at changes in the brains of nearly 300 study participants before and after the season. They found changes in deep structures of the brain in 73 percent of participants in the no-collar group, while no significant changes in these same structures were found in 77 percent of participants in the collar group.

Carolina Panthers’ Linebacker Luke Kuechly, who retired at 28 after suffering a series of head injuries, was seen wearing the Q-Collar in his final seasons with the NFL.

“Today’s action provides an additional piece of protective equipment athletes can wear when playing sports to help protect their brains from the effects of repetitive head impacts while still wearing the personal protective equipment associated with the sport,” said Dr. Christopher M. Loftus, acting director of the Office of Neurological and Physical Medicine Devices in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health.

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