This Week in Apps: Apple launches a COVID-19 app, the outbreak’s impact on social and video apps and more

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 saw a record 204 billion downloads and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019, according to App Annie’s “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 keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.

This week, we’re continuing our special coverage of how the COVID-19 outbreak is impacting apps and the wider mobile app industry as more COVID-19 apps appear — including one from Apple built in partnership with the CDC, among others. We also take a look at the gains made by social and video apps in recent weeks as people struggle to stay connected while stuck at home in quarantine. In other headlines, we dig into Instagram’s co-watching feature, the Google for Games conference news, Apple’s latest releases and updates, Epic Games expansion into publishing and more.

Coronavirus Special Coverage

Social video apps are exploding due to the COVID-19 pandemic

Apple releases iOS and iPadOS 13.4 with trackpad support

Apple has released software updates for the iPhone, the iPad, the Apple Watch, the Apple TV and the Mac. The biggest changes are on the iPad. Starting today, you can pair a mouse or trackpad with your iPad and use it to move a cursor on the display.

Apple unveiled trackpad support for iPadOS when it announced the new iPad Pro last week. While the company plans to sell a new Magic Keyboard with a built-in trackpad, you don’t need to buy a new iPad or accessory to access the feature.

When you pair a trackpad and start using it, Apple displays a rounded cursor on the screen. The cursor changes depending on what you’re hovering over. The cursor disappears and highlights the button you’re about to activate. It looks a bit like moving from one icon to another on the Apple TV.

If you’re moving a text cursor for instance, it becomes a vertical bar. If you’re resizing a text zone in a Pages document, it becomes two arrows. If you’re using a trackpad, iPadOS supports gestures that let you switch between apps, open the app switcher and activate the Dock or Control Center.

In addition to trackpad support, iOS and iPadOS 13.4 add a handful of features. You can share an iCloud Drive folder with another iCloud user — it works pretty much like a shared Dropbox folder.

There are nine new Memoji stickers, such as smiling face with hearts, hands pressed together and party face. Apple has tweaked buttons to archive/delete, move, reply and compose and email in the Mail app.

Additionally, Apple added the ability to release a single app binary on all App Stores, including the iOS and Mac App Store. It means that developers can release a paid app on the Mac and the iPhone — and you only have to buy it once.

macOS 10.15.4 adds Screen Time Communication Limits, a feature that already exists on iOS. It lets you set limits on Messages and FaceTime calls.

When it comes to watchOS, version 6.2 adds ECG support for users in Chile, New Zealand and Turkey. Apple now lets developers provide in-app purchases for Apple Watch apps as well.

All updates also include bug fixes and security patches. Head over to the Settings app on your devices to download and update your devices if you haven’t enabled automatic software updates.

Apple releases iOS and iPadOS 13.4 with trackpad support

Apple has released software updates for the iPhone, the iPad, the Apple Watch, the Apple TV and the Mac. The biggest changes are on the iPad. Starting today, you can pair a mouse or trackpad with your iPad and use it to move a cursor on the display.

Apple unveiled trackpad support for iPadOS when it announced the new iPad Pro last week. While the company plans to sell a new Magic Keyboard with a built-in trackpad, you don’t need to buy a new iPad or accessory to access the feature.

When you pair a trackpad and start using it, Apple displays a rounded cursor on the screen. The cursor changes depending on what you’re hovering over. The cursor disappears and highlights the button you’re about to activate. It looks a bit like moving from one icon to another on the Apple TV.

If you’re moving a text cursor for instance, it becomes a vertical bar. If you’re resizing a text zone in a Pages document, it becomes two arrows. If you’re using a trackpad, iPadOS supports gestures that let you switch between apps, open the app switcher and activate the Dock or Control Center.

In addition to trackpad support, iOS and iPadOS 13.4 add a handful of features. You can share an iCloud Drive folder with another iCloud user — it works pretty much like a shared Dropbox folder.

There are nine new Memoji stickers, such as smiling face with hearts, hands pressed together and party face. Apple has tweaked buttons to archive/delete, move, reply and compose and email in the Mail app.

Additionally, Apple added the ability to release a single app binary on all App Stores, including the iOS and Mac App Store. It means that developers can release a paid app on the Mac and the iPhone — and you only have to buy it once.

Also, macOS 10.15.4 adds Screen Time Communication Limits, a feature that already exists on iOS. It lets you set limits on Messages and FaceTime calls.

When it comes to watchOS, version 6.2 adds ECG support for users in Chile, New Zealand and Turkey. Apple now lets developers provide in-app purchases for Apple Watch apps, as well.

All updates include bug fixes and security patches. Head over to the Settings app on your devices to download and update your devices if you haven’t enabled automatic software updates.

This Week in Apps: Google I/O canceled over coronavirus, App Store gets updated rules, TikTok’s owner launches Spotify rival

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 keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.

This week, we’re looking at the further impact of the coronavirus on the app industry, which is now leading to more major event cancellations — including, as of this week, Google I/O and SXSW. That begs the question, will WWDC be next? And what will that mean for developers who rely on the annual event to make those invaluable face-to-face connections? We’re also looking at the revised App Store review guidelines and what that means for developers, as well as Walmart’s plan to dramatically change its app strategy, Robinhood’s bad week, the launch of a new Spotify competitor from the makers of the world’s most viral app, TikTok and much more.

Headlines

Apple changes the rules

Apple this week alerted developers to a new set of App Store review guidelines that detail which apps will be accepted or rejected, and what apps are allowed to do. The changes to the guidelines impact reviews, push notifications, Sign in with Apple, data collection and storage, mobile device management and more, the company says. Some of the more high-profile changes include the ability for apps to now use notifications for ads, stricter rules for dating and fortune-telling apps and a new rule that allows Apple to reject apps that help users evade law enforcement, among other things.

Finally dark mode arrives to soothe your 3am WhatsApps

Facebook -owned WhatsApp is finally giving users’ eyes a break by rolling out a dark mode setting to the messaging app — years after some other tech giants figured out how to offer a ‘dimmer pixels’ switch.

The messaging giant says the feature is rolling out globally in the “coming days” to the latest version of WhatsApp on both Android and iOS.

The setting can be enabled via system settings for users running the most recent versions of the respective smartphone OSes — or via the WhatsApp settings option on Android:

Users on Android 10 and iOS 13 can use dark mode by enabling it in system settings. Users on Android 9 and below can go into WhatsApp Settings > Chats > Theme > select ‘Dark’.

We’re told iPhone users not running the latest OS are out of luck. “Dark Mode will only be available to users on iOS 13 and above,” said a spokesman.

WhatsApp says the eye-soothing option has been the most requested feature from users everywhere.

Nonetheless it’s taken its sweet time to jump aboard the dark mode bandwagon.

YouTube, for example, announced a dark mode for its iOS app a full two years ago. While Twitter added an even darker mode to its dark mode more than a year ago. Google was also showing off a system-wide dark mode for Android Q last May. In June Apple followed suit, previewing iOS 13’s eye-soothing setting.

Apparently Facebook has low interest in moving fast and soothing things. But, er, it got there in the end…

In a blog post about the launch, WhatsApp writes that it spent its time “researching and experimenting” how to design a dark mode that would ensure “readability” and maintain “information hierarchy”.

Which is a fancy way of saying it didn’t want to reduce eye-strain so much that users might actually remember they need to fall asleep, rather than carry on WhatsApping through the night.

“When choosing colours, we wanted to minimise eye fatigue and use colours that are closer to the system defaults on iPhone and Android respectively,” it writes, before reversing the intent by expressing the counter design: “We wanted to help users easily focus their attention on each screen. We did this by using colour and other design elements to make sure the most important information stands out.”

Perhaps it’s clear why it took the company so long to ‘fix’ eye strain after all.

The Android flavor of the dark mode (below) also appears a smidge less dark on the contacts screen view vs the iOS version (pictured at the top of this post) — though that may be to do with differences in how the two OSes handle dark mode at the system level since WhatsApp said it wanted to reflect those choices.