Friday Five: Appy New Year!

Zone’s Ross Basham handpicks and shares the five best stories on digital trends, experiences and technologies…

1. Apple reports appy Christmas and new year

Hello and happy new year! (Is it still OK to say that?) How did you spend the festive period? Chances are you spent some of it downloading apps, as Apple has reported that customer spending on the App Store reached $1.42bn between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve (a year-on-year increase of 16%) and a single-day record of $386m on New Year’s Day.

YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat were the top three free apps (Facebook down at No8!), while Facetune (selfie editing), HotSchedules (employee scheduling) and Dark Sky Weather (hyperlocal weather forecasts) were the top three paid apps. Mario Kart Tour was the favourite free game, with Minecraft the top paid game.

2. Bus service gets a digital overhaul

Buses are the most frequently used form of public transport in the UK, yet anyone who has waited 25 minutes in the pouring rain for a bus that never comes knows that reliable journey information can be hard to come by. But that’s about to change, thanks to a groundbreaking project called the Bus Open Data Service.

The service will collate and share info from all the bus operators across England, enabling bus users to plan routes, estimate times and know costs. Crucially, it will also provide real-time bus location data so passengers aren’t left in the dark (and rain). Route and timetable info will be available early this year, with full data on fares and locations due at the start of 2021.

3. New video platform keeps it brief and mobile

Yet another streaming service has revealed it will launch in the US in April. But this one has a twist: it’s mobile only, and each show will be 10 minutes or shorter. Sounds gimmicky, but Quibi (which stands for quick bites) has raised $1bn in funds and commissioned some of Hollywood’s biggest names — Steven Spielberg, Bill Murray and Reese Witherspoon to name a few — to make content for it.

At the CES launch Quibi made a big deal of its Turnstyle feature, which allows viewers to keep the image full-screen in both landscape and portrait. All very intriguing, but whether consumers are ready to stump up $4.99 (or $7.99 for an ad-free version) a month on top of their other streaming services remains to be seen.

4. Twitter to test new reply blocker tool

In an effort to stop conversations from turning toxic, Twitter has unveiled a plan to allow users to limit replies to their tweets. Tweeters will have four options to control conversations: anyone can reply, only those who they follow can reply, only the people tagged can reply, or literally no one can reply.

Is this a positive step? It could help repel trolls and harassers but, as this article argues, it would also mean that politicians would be able to avoid scrutiny — by only allowing their sycophants to reply, rather than anyone fact-checking their statements or even offering a contrary opinion. Marketplace of ideas, anyone?

5. Artifical humans fail to stir the emotions

The much-hyped ‘artificial humans’ were unveiled by the Samsung-based start-up Neon at the CES tech show — to be met by a general shrugging of the shoulders. A viral teaser campaign that promised avatars ‘reacting and responding in real time’ had got the internet excited, but one attendee at the launch said the virtual beings looked like little more than short video clips of real people.

Hats off, though, to Neon’s chief executive, Pranav Mistry, for his early contender for most ludicrous soundbite of the year: “There are millions of species on our planet and we hope to add one more.” Can anyone outdo that in 2020? Watch this space!

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