All posts in “Mobile”

Microsoft will shut down Cortana app for Android, iOS in January 2020

Microsoft will shut down the Android and iOS apps for Cortana on January 31, 2020, as the digital assistant will instead be integrated into Microsoft 365.

In a support article, Microsoft said that content created on Cortana, such as reminders and lists, will no longer be available on the mobile app and on the Microsoft Launcher for Android, which will receive an update to remove Cortana.

The Cortana-created content will still be accessible through the Windows version of the digital assistant. Reminders, lists, and tasks on Cortana are also automatically added to the Microsoft To Do app, which is available as a free download for smartphones. The Cortana app is used for settings configuration and firmware updates for devices such as the Surface Headphones though, and it is unclear how these features will be accessed after the app’s shutdown.

Earlier this year, Microsoft started working on a standalone Cortana app for Windows 10 PCs, freeing it from the operating system so that updates for the digital assistant would be quicker. This was done to give it room to grow and become more competitive, as it was lagging behind its rivals — Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple’s Siri. Cortana was then reported to be undergoing a major overhaul for the Windows 10 20H1 update in early 2020, adding a new chat-based user interface among other key changes.

Cortana was not mentioned at all at Microsoft’s Surface event in October, despite the opportunity for its integration in the Surface Earbuds. The digital assistant, however, was present at the recent Ignite 2019 conference, where it was announced that Cortana will be integrated into Microsoft 365 starting with Outlook mobile. The Cortana-powered Play My Emails has rolled out to Outlook for iOS, with the feature to arrive on the Android version of the app in spring 2020.

Fortunately for fans of Cortana in the United States, there is a glimmer of hope that the mobile app will remain functional. The support article announcing the planned shutdown has only been found for the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia, not for the United States. Microsoft has not yet confirmed the reason for the missing support article, and if the Cortana app will be removed only in select markets or globally.

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Spotify starts testing real-time lyrics to enable karaoke experience

Spotify has started testing real-time lyrics in select countries, shortly after Apple Music rolled out the feature with the launch of iOS 13.

Users outside of the United States have reported seeing lyrics synchronized with song playback in the Spotify mobile app. Screenshots taken by these users show that the feature, which is powered by Musixmatch, is located under the playback controls. There is also an option to watch the lyrics on full screen, which should make it easier to sing along with them.

TechCrunch received confirmation from Spotify that the real-time lyrics feature is undergoing testing. “We can confirm we are testing this feature in a small number of markets,” the spokesperson said. “At Spotify, we are always testing new products and experiences but have no further news to share at this time.”

The real-time lyrics feature has been one of Spotify’s most requested features. Behind the Lyrics, a partnership between the music streaming service and Genius is the closest that Spotify users have to a lyrics feature. However, instead of displaying karaoke-style lyrics, it provides stories and artist’s quotes about the lyrics of songs, which is very informative but not what users need if they want to sing along to the songs.

The Spotify vs. Apple Music rivalry continues to intensify, as both music streaming services keep rolling out features to try to attract new subscribers. This year, Spotify launched Storyline, its version of the Stories format that was popularized by Snapchat, allowing artists to create additional content that will appear on the now playing screen. Just recently, it introduced Soundtrack Your Ride, which creates customized playlists for those long road trips. The tool asks questions, including the origin and destination of the trip, to be able to generate a list of songs that will cover the estimated length of the drive.

Spotify’s version of the real-time lyrics feature has shown up for listeners in Indonesia, Canada, and Mexico. It remains unclear when it will exit testing and roll out to the United States, but with Apple Music already offering the feature, Spotify users should expect it to arrive sooner rather than later.

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The new RAZR is cool, but we can’t forget about Motorola’s biggest design flops

The reimagined Motorola Razr is an undeniably compelling smartphone, leveraging the iconic design language of the original Razr flip phone in a modernized package, rich with new features. So far, everyone seems to be mesmerized by Motorola’s interpretation of the foldable smartphone. That shouldn’t be a surprise given the profound nostalgia people have for Moto’s iconic flip phone!

While there’s already an overwhelming rush of optimism f0r the new Razr to give Motorola some much-needed prominence in the mobile space once again, not all of its more ambitious efforts were met with such enthusiasm in the past. Some of them were in response to the current state of competition at the time, while others were more experimental.

In light of the Razr’s announcement, we couldn’t help but chuckle over some of Moto’s less successful design choices.

The iPod-like experience of the Motorola ROKR

motorola biggest flops rokr

Early on in the 2000’s, cell phones were mainly reserved for phone calls and the occasional text message, so when the Motorola ROKR arrived in 2005, being the first phone to integrate with Apple’s iTunes, you would’ve thought it was going to be a smash-hit.

Unfortunately, it didn’t pan out for a couple of reasons. For one, there was a 100-song storage limit with slow transfer times getting them on there. Secondly, it didn’t help that Apple’s iPod Nano was launched near the same time. That pretty much spelt death for the Moto ROKR, but we’ll ROK on in memoriam.

Moto Q: The Blackberry Killer

motorola biggest flops q render

The original Razr’s success tapped into customer’s desire for a thin device, something Motorola brought to its smartphones at the time, as well. The Moto Q was exactly that. Remarkably thin and light for a smartphone at the time, it aimed to meet the demands of serious power users in a sleeker (albeit copy-cat) form than Blackberries of the time.

But by this time, RIM (Research In Motion) was mopping the floor with the competition, and the Moto Q was no exception. You couldn’t argue with the Moto Q’s design, but Windows Mobile (especially without a touchscreen) didn’t do much to help its case. Ultimately, it couldn’t match the BlackBerries of the time when it came to productivity.

Enter the social media era with the Moto BackFlip

hands on with motorolas backflip android smartphone at ces 2010 motorola

The early days of Motorola’s venture into Android weren’t always pretty, mainly because its smartphones lacked the meticulous design of Razr-era flip devices of the mid-2000s. You could say it was a time for experimenting, evident in the clunky designs of its early Android devices.

Released in 2010, the Motorola Backflip was arguably the clunkiest of the bunch, sporting a keyboard that was actually the rear of the phone when closed. The Backflip moniker made sense because you had to flip it over to get the keyboard into place, but it failed to entice social media users with its stiff keys, sluggish performance, and unreliable “backtrack” trackpad, which was an alternative option for scrolling.

Getting fit with the MotoActv

hands on with the motoactv motorola 1 900x515px

Before the Apple Watch, and even before the first set of popular Fitbits, there was the Motorola MotoActv. The year was 2011 and this wearable fitness tracker/music player gave gadget hounds something to drool over. Interestingly enough, it was an Android-based wearable that offered basic fitness tracking and music playback on the go, without the need for a smartphone. It even had a 3.5mm headphone jack! What could go wrong?

Well, it wasn’t intuitive, there were bugs with the software, audio performance was underwhelming, and that it didn’t accurately track steps. That many missteps will do in even the coolest of gadgets.

The Motorola Xoom: The first true Android tablet

Motorola Xoom

Being the first to run Google’s tablet-specific Android 3.0 Honeycomb, the Motorola Xoom was a ground-breaking device when it debuted in January 2011. Needless to say, it was an important milestone; for the first time ever, we got an Android experience that was built specifically with tablets in mind — and the holographic interface featured on the Xoom showcased that shift.

One of the biggest reasons why the Xoom didn’t find success was because of its staggering $800 off-contract cost. Furthermore, for all the work invested into creating an interface for tablets, many third party apps still weren’t optimized, essentially mirroring the same experience as smartphones. This wasn’t all Moto’s fault, but tell that to the many customers who (rightly) passed on this one.

Hinting at the future of voice with the Moto Hint

motorola moto hint review press image

Born from the increasing need to access our smartphones through voice, the Moto Hint came to life alongside the announcement of the Moto X in 2013. The miniscule Bluetooth headset was an engineering marvel considering its discreet design, but it’s more notable for offering voice commands before the era of Google Assistant. You could place phone calls, listen to turn-by-turn directions, compose a post on Facebook, and even ask it to perform calculations and conversions.

So, why did the Hint flop? Well, this scope of features was only accessible when using the Moto X. If you were to use the Moto Hint on any other smartphone, it would function the same as any other Bluetooth headset at the time. Even though there was a successor, Google Assistant’s arrival years later negated the need to have a headset for smarter voice assistance services.

Going modular with Moto Mods

lenovo moto mod competition mods

Moto Maker was one of those brilliant services on which we look back fondly because of its ambition to deliver consumers a personalized smartphone, both in the design and software. Following that, Motorola took the extra step forward with the introduction of Moto Mods on the Moto Z line in 2016. Initially, this seemed like yet another brilliant idea: modular accessories that snap onto the phone, greatly bolstering a particular functionality or, in some instances, adding a new one entirely.

Even though they’re still around and the list of Moto Mods has expanded, they’ve done very little to boost sales of the largely overlooked Moto Z line. We wouldn’t be surprised if in the near future it too becomes extinct, like the other Moto missteps on this list.

But hey — you can’t knock a company for trying.

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Avoid juice jacking! L.A. warns travelers against public USB charging stations

Travelers who need to charge their smartphones while on the go might want to avoid public USB charging stations, due to the security risk known as “juice jacking,” authorities in California have warned.

An advisory from the District Attorney’s Office of Los Angeles County warned against the USB charger scam, in which hackers try to infect the smartphones and other electronic devices of unassuming travelers through the free USB charging stations in public places such as airports and hotels. Juice jacking attempts see hackers loading malware into the charging stations, or in cables that they leave plugged in at the stations. The malware may either lock the smartphone and hold it as hostage, or forward sensitive information such as passwords to the attacker.

The county’s chief prosecutor’s office does not have any recorded cases of juice jacking, a spokesperson told TechCrunch. The spokesperson simply said that the advisory was part of a “fraud education campaign.”

The plan of attack by hackers to commandeer USB charging stations is not a new concept. Warnings against juice jacking have been around for years, but security researcher Kevin Beaumont said that he has not seen evidence of such an attack being used in the wild. Several security researchers have reached out to TechCrunch’s Zack Whittaker regarding proof-of-concepts, but juice jacking is nowhere near epidemic levels — despite the alarming warning from the authorities.

It has also proven that cables can become tools for hackers, as recently demonstrated by security researcher Mike Grover. He created a cable that looks like a standard iPhone charging cable but can be used to remotely take over a computer.

The District Attorney’s Office of Los Angeles County recommended travelers plug their own charging cables into AC power outlets. Portable chargers, which comes in many different forms and price points, are a safer alternative to public USB charging stations as well.

While juice jacking may not be the weapon of choice for hackers, as there are many other ways to infiltrate the smartphones of targets, it remains a potential threat. Travelers should stick to the safe side and only consider public USB charging stations a last resort.

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This Week in Apps: Apple’s vaping app ban, Disney+ gets installed, apps gear up for Black Friday

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. What are developers talking about? What do app publishers and marketers need to know? How are politics impacting the App Store and app businesses? And which apps are everyone using?

As mid-November rolls around, we’re looking at a few big stories, including Apple’s decision to ban an entire category of apps due to health concerns, the launch of Disney+ from an app perspective, what Black Friday will mean for e-commerce apps, and more.

With Disney+’s huge launch (10+ million users!) on everyone’s minds, it’s time to think about what these streaming newcomers mean for the overall landscape and the app stores. In this case, it seems that Disney+’s user base was highly mobile. The company itself announced more than 10 million users, while data on the Disney+ app’s first few days indicates it now has over 10 million downloads. It seems like consumers definitely want to take their new streaming service with them everywhere they go.

  • In 2020, App Annie forecasts consumers will spend more than 674 billion hours in the Entertainment and Video Player and Editor categories worldwide on Android phones, up from an expected 558 billion hours in 2019. Thanks to Disney+, Apple TV+ and soon, HBO Max, Peacock and Quibi, to making the landscape both richer and more complicated.
  • On its launch day, Disney+ hit #1 by iPhone Overall downloads at 8 AM in the U.S. and at 11 AM in Canada — an indication of the ability that strong IP has can really excite consumers to come out in droves. (Unfortunately, that led to some launch day glitches, too.)
  • Apptopia estimated Disney+ was downloaded 3.2 million times in its first 24 hours. The firm also estimated users collectively spent 1.3 million hours watching Disney+ on day one — ahead of Amazon Prime Video, but well behind Netflix.

  • Sensor Tower waited to collect a little more data instead. It found that the Disney+ app was installed approximately 9.6 million times in all available markets (the U.S., Canada, and the Netherlands), since its U.S. launch on Tuesday, Nov. 12. For comparison’s sake, HBO Now’s U.S. launch only saw 180,000 installs in its first three days — or 2% of the Disney+ total. Combined with the test period installs in the Netherlands, the app has now been installed over 10 million times.
  • The hype around Disney+ has had a halo effect. Hulu and ESPN, which were offered in a bundle with Disney+, also grew as a result of the Disney+ launch. Sensor Tower found combined users of the apps in the U.S. and Canada were up 30% in the past week over the week prior.

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Apple removed all vaping apps from the App Store, citing CDC health concerns

The CDC says 42 people have died due to vaping product use and thousands more cases of lung injuries have been reported from 49 states. Now, Apple has made the controversial decision to remove all 181 vaping-related apps from its App Store — including those with news and information about vaping and even vaping-related games, Axios reported this week.

Some say Apple is helping to protect kids and teens by limiting their exposure to e-cigarette and vaping products, which are being used to addict a younger generation to nicotine and cause serious disease. Others argue that Apple is over-reaching. After all, many of the lung illnesses involve people who were vaping illegally obtained THC, studies indicated.

This isn’t the first time Apple has banned a category of apps because of what appear to be moral concerns. The company in the past had booted apps that promoted weed or depicted gun violence, for example. In the case of vaping apps, Apple cited the public health crisis and youth epidemic as contributing factors, telling Axios that:

We take great care to curate the App Store as a trusted place for customers, particularly youth, to download apps. We’re constantly evaluating apps, and consulting the latest evidence, to determine risks to users’ health and well-being. Recently, experts ranging from the CDC to the American Heart Association have attributed a variety of lung injuries and fatalities to e-cigarette and vaping products, going so far as to call the spread of these devices a public health crisis and a youth epidemic. We agree, and we’ve updated our App Store Review Guidelines to reflect that apps encouraging or facilitating the use of these products are not permitted. As of today, these apps are no longer available to download.

Existing users will still be able to use their apps, but new users will not be able to download the banned apps going forward.

Minecraft Earth arrives 

Minecraft Earth launched early last week across 9 countries on both Android and iOS and now it’s come to the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and several other markets. Some expect the app will rival the success of the AR breakout hit, Pokémon Go, which was thought at the time to be the precursor to a new wave of massive AR gaming titles. But in reality, that didn’t happen. The highly anticipated follow-up from Niantic, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite didn’t come close to competing with its predecessor, generating $12 million in its first month, compared with Pokémon Go’s first-month earnings of $300 million. With Minecraft Earth now sitting at No. 2 (c’mon, you can’t unseat Disney+) on the U.S. App Store, it seems there’s potential for another AR kingpin.

App Annie releases a user acquisition playbook

A top name in App Store intelligence, App Annie this week released a new how-to handbook focused on user acquisition strategies on mobile. Sure the free download is just a bit of lead gen for App Annie, but the guide promises to fill you in on all you need to know to be successful in acquiring mobile users. The playbook’s arrival follows App Annie’s acquisition of adtech insights firm Libring this fall, as it expands to cover more aspects of running an app business. Just as important as rankings and downloads are the very real costs associated with running an app business — including the cost of acquiring users.