China accounted for nearly half of app downloads in 2018, 40% of consumer spend

Global app downloads topped 194 billion in 2018, up 35 percent from 2016, according to App Annie’s annual “State of Mobile 2019” report released today. Consumer spending across app stores was up 75 percent to reach $101 billion. The report, which analyzes trends across iOS, Android and the third-party Android stores in China combined, follows the company’s earlier report released at year-end, which looked at downloads and spending across just iOS and Google Play.

It also shows how significant China’s role has become in terms of the global app market.

Based on data from the beginning of the year through December 15, 2018, App Annie’s earlier year-end report estimated that global app downloads in 2018 would surpass 113 billion, across iOS and Google Play, and consumer spending would surpass $76 billion.

While the addition of the third-party Android app stores boosted these numbers in the new report, China’s contribution to the app market goes far beyond just the bump those stores provided.

According to the “State of Mobile” report, China accounted for nearly 50 percent of total downloads in 2018 across iOS and the third-party stores, despite the slowdown related to a nine-month long game license freeze in the country. China also accounted for nearly 40 percent of consumer spending in 2018.

Emerging markets played a role in fueling downloads, as well, accounting for three out of the top five markets for downloads (India, Brazil, and Indonesia). Download growth in the U.S., meanwhile, has slowed.

Developing markets played little role in consumer spend, however. Instead the countries contributing the most on that front were (in order): China, the U.S., Japan, South Korea, and the U.K.

However, despite China’s outsized contributions to both downloads and spending, Chinese users don’t have the most apps installed on their phone compared with other countries. Because of the prevalence of low-cost Android devices with limited storage, users in China have just over 50 apps installed, on average. But those in the U.S., South Korea, Japan and Australia, have over 100.

China’s influence on the market can also be seen in the 2018 year-end report released by Sensor Tower today.

It found that Chinese mobile gaming giant Tencent was the global leader for overall revenue across iOS and Android, not counting the third-party Android app stores. It was also the leader in game revenue.

Tencent topped the non-game app chart for 2018, too, with its Tencent Video app clocking in at No. 3.

Other Chinese apps made the year-end charts, too, including online video platform iQIYI which was the No. 4 non-game app, in terms of overall revenue; and ByteDance’s TikTok, which was the No. 4 non-game for 2018. Other high-ranking apps included UC Browser, QQ, Youku, and Tencent’s PUBG Mobile.

TikTok is still growing rapidly, too, having had its best quarter ever in Q4 2018, where it was the No. 3 app by downloads across both iOS and Google Play, and the most-downloaded app on iOS.

 

YC-backed Upsolve is automating bankruptcy for everyone

The popular image of a Chapter 7 bankruptcy might be a large company like Enron failing, or maybe some lazy drifter trying to shirk their financial responsibilities. The reality is anything but those sorts of images. Today in America, the most common reason for bankruptcy is to discharge egregious sums of medical debt [1], which might have been incurred in a short stint in a hospital emergency room.

Bankruptcy allows people to get out from under a debilitating and permanent state of financial crisis — assuming one can afford it. Applying for bankruptcy itself costs money, potentially thousands of dollars depending on the attorney used. The cruel irony is that the people who can least afford to apply are those who are most locked out from the help they need.

Upsolve, one of the three non-profit tech startups in Y Combinator’s current winter batch, is building a unified and efficient software product to allow users easy access to the bankruptcy system. Users go through a series of questions to collect the required information about their financial circumstances, and then Upsolve provides automated bankruptcy forms reviewed by an Upsolve attorney — all for free.

“Our mission is to help the victims of our broken financial system,” Upsolve CEO and co-founder Rohan Pavuluri said to me. “If you are poor, you don’t have access to the same rights.” He describes Upsolve as “TurboTax for bankruptcy” (although to be clear, TurboTax is a for-profit business line of Intuit). Much like tax, bankruptcy is convoluted. “There are 23 forms to file for bankruptcy,” he said.

So far, the software platform seems to be finding traction. Since starting in summer of 2016, Upsolve has processed $16 million in bankruptcies on behalf of 400 people, and has diagnosed debt problems for 5,000 users, according to Pavuluri. We’re “automating a $40k check to these folks…. for three hours worth of time.”

Unlike legal processes like estate planning, which are burdened with handling 50 different state processes, bankruptcy is based on federal law, which means that Upsolve’s solution can work across the country. Today, it supports 47 states, and the startup’s first target markets are New York and Illinois.

Where Upsolve gets really interesting is on the financial side, both in how it approaches revenues from users and also how it funds its operations.

On the revenue side, Upsolve is free. Inspired by GoFundMe and other startups, Pavuluri and his team have created a model where users donate “what they think is fair” for the service. That has worked so far, as “on a unit basis we cover our costs from the tipping model,” he said.

Over time, he hopes to break even using just the tipping model, but today the organization relies on legal aid funds to partially fund its operations. The U.S. government and many state governments have funding set aside to finance civil legal aid, and the Legal Services Corporation is the largest funder to date of Upsolve.

I asked about whether incumbent lawyers are threatened by Upsolve. Pavuluri said that most lawyers don’t want to handle these cases in the first place, because they are not profitable and generally need to be handled pro bono. He said that for simple chapter 7 cases, you (almost certainly) don’t need a lawyer, and “we challenge legal exceptionalism in that sense.” He has spent the last two years criss-crossing the country meeting with bankruptcy groups, judges, bar associations and attorneys to undergird support for the startup’s work.

In addition to Y Combinator, Upsolve has been funded by Harvard University, the Robin Hood Foundation, and Eric Schmidt.

[1] There is a large academic debate on how many bankruptcies are triggered by medical debt. The percentage varies hugely between different studies (from say 4% to 62%), and it really depends on how you define someone’s lead cause of bankruptcy. Most filers with medical debt also have other forms of debt, so what specifically triggered a bankruptcy? Due to stigma, filers will often point to medical debt when other forms of debt may be larger.

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Share your feedback on your startup’s attorney

My colleague Eric Eldon and I are reaching out to startup founders and execs about their experiences with their attorneys. Our goal is to identify the leading lights of the industry and help spark discussions around best practices. If you have an attorney you thought did a fantastic job for your startup, let us know using this short Google Forms survey and also spread the word. We will share the results and more in the coming weeks.

Stray Thoughts (aka, what I am reading)

Short summaries and analysis of important news stories

Slack’s Financials are quite strong

Zoë Bernard and Alfred Lee at The Information have the scoop on Slack’s financials. Huge revenue growth of about 75% last year to $389 million. The challenge is that Slack’s valuation is still very heady given its revenues, and is currently valued at about an18x multiple according to the writers. That’s expensive, but perhaps still desirable by investors who are otherwise looking at a relatively bleak market of investment opportunities.

What’s next & obsessions

  • I am reading The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein. About half way through – and it’s quite thought-provoking (and depressing).
  • Arman is reading Never Lost Again by Bill Kilday, a history of mapping at Google and beyond.
  • Arman and I are interested in societal resilience startups that are targeting areas like water security, housing, infrastructure, climate change, disaster response, etc. Reach out if you have ideas or companies here.

Where will NASA go in 20 years? It may depend on private space and China

NASA's human spaceflight program has been in low-Earth orbit since 1972. Will we go beyond in the next 20 years?

Anniversaries offer a moment for reflection, so when Ars Technica reached the start of its 20th anniversary recently, I inevitably paused to consider the state of US human spaceflight in 1998.

In 1998, NASA launched the Lunar Prospector mission, which found water on the Moon. It was also the year when 15 countries came together to agree upon a framework for the International Space Station and later launched the first piece of the laboratory into orbit. And also that year, promisingly, NASA’s new X-38 spacecraft made its first successful test flight. All of these events would, in various ways, help determine the course of US spaceflight development that led us to today.

Looking back, one thing soon became clear: past is prologue, and the rhythm of history repeats itself. The human spaceflight achievements of 20 years ago seemed to foreshadow the current state of play in space, so seeing how the seeds planted then have both bloomed and withered likely offers some helpful perspective on what may happen in the future.

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Researcher shows how popular app ES File Explorer exposes Android device data

Why is one of the most popular Android apps running a hidden web server in the background?

ES File Explorer claims it has over 500 million downloads under its belt since 2014, making it one of the most used apps to date. It’s simplicity makes it what it is: a simple file explorer that lets you browse through your Android phone or tablet’s file system for files, data, documents and more.

But behind the scenes, the app is running a slimmed-down web server on the device. In doing so, it opens up the entire Android device to a whole host of attacks — including data theft.

Baptiste Robert, a French security researcher who goes by the online handle Elliot Alderson, found the exposed port last week, and disclosed his findings in several tweets on Wednesday. Prior to tweeting, he showed TechCrunch how the exposed port could be used to silently exfiltrate data from the device.

“All connected devices on the local network can get [data] installed on the device,” he said.

Using a simple script he wrote, Robert demonstrated how he could pull pictures, videos, and app names — or even grab a file from the memory card — from another device on the same network. The script even allows an attacker to remotely launch an app on the victim’s device.

He sent over his script for us to test, and we verified his findings using a spare Android phone. Robert said app versions 4.1.9.5.2 and below have the open port.

“It’s clearly not good,” he said.

A script, developed by security researcher , to obtain data on the same network as an Android device running ES File Explorer. (Image: supplied)

We contacted the makers of ES File Explorer but did not hear back prior to publication. If that changes, we’ll update.

The obvious caveat is that the chances of exploitation are slim, given that this isn’t an attack that anyone on the internet can perform. Any would-be attacker has to be on the same network as the victim. Typically that would mean the same Wi-Fi network. But that also means that any malicious app on any device on the network that knows how to exploit the vulnerability could pull data from a device running ES File Explorer and send it along to another server, so long as it has network permissions.

Of the reasonable explanations, some have suggested that it’s used to stream video to other apps using the HTTP protocol. Others who historically found the same exposed port found it alarming. The app even says it allows you to “manage files on your phone from your computer… when this feature is enabled.”

But most probably don’t realize that the open port leaves them exposed from the moment that they open the app.

BeMyEye acquires Streetbee, a Russian crowdsourcing and image recognition provider

London-headquartered BeMyEye has made another acquisition, its third in a little over three years. This time the retail execution monitoring service is purchasing Russian crowdsourcing and image recognition provider Streetbee.

The acquisition will see BeMyEye launch “Perfect Shelf,” which will use image recognition technology to lower the cost for consumer goods companies wanting to get “objective and actionable” in-store insights. These will typically include share of shelf and planogram compliance (the specific placement of products on a store shelf).

More broadly, BeMyEye offers a platform to enable companies and brands to crowdsource various in-store data. This can include checking availability (i.e. stock levels) of a particular product, how prominently an item is displayed, or whether or not it is being marketed or sold in the way retailers and staff have been instructed.

Tasks are sent out to paid members of the public via the BeMyEye app, which could include taking a photo and ‘checking in’ using geolocation as proof that it has been carried out, with the results anonymised and passed on to BeMyEye’s clients. One way to think about the proposition is as a much more scalable version of employing ‘secret shoppers’.

Augmenting these human data gatherers with image recognition technology can speed up data processing and, presumably, make a proposition like BeMyEye even more scalable.

Luca Pagano, CEO of BeMyEye, comments: “Field forces should not be burdened with data collection tasks, instead they should be empowered with action orientated in-store insights so they can focus 100 percent on selling and taking remedial action when and where it is needed. Perfect Shelf enables consumer goods companies to adopt a lean go-to-market strategy, progressively eliminating waste and enhancing field performance at a time when they are under huge pressure to find growth and demonstrate a positive ROI on their field force investments”.

The acquisition also extends BeMyEye’s reach to Russia and the CIS countries. With existing coverage in Europe, the combined companies claim aggregate crowd of more than 1.5 Million data gatherers, which will enable consumer goods companies to get a consistent view of in-store performance in 21 countries.

Meanwhile, BeMyEye isn’t disclosing the exact terms of the acquisition, although I understand it is an all-stock deal. The entire Streetbee business is being acquired, including the 50-person team, IP and technology. As part of this, the Streetbee founders will be joining BeMyEye in senior roles: Andrey Elisev is joining as CMO, Kirill Nepomnyashchiy is joing as VP Sales Russia and CIS, and Vladimir Lyzo is joining as Head of Image Recognition Development.

This news comes after BeMyEye’s acquisition of its largest French competitor, LocalEyes, in 2016, and U.K. operator Task360 in 2017.

Doctolib details how telemedicine appointments work

French startup Doctolib announced back in September that it would open up telemedicine appointments on its platform in 2019. The company is taking advantage of recent legal changes that finally make telemedicine legal in France.

Doctolib is a marketplace matching patients with health practitioners — 70,000 practitioners and 1,400 medical institutions use it in France and Germany. Each health professional pays €109 per month to access the service ($124).

By replacing your calendar with Doctolib, you save a ton of time. You no longer have to pick up the phone constantly and say when you’re available and not available. Everything stays in sync between the public website and your calendar.

And now, all practitioners can go beyond face-to-face appointments. If they start accepting telemedicine appointments, patients will be able to book a remote appointment. The company has been testing the new service with 500 practitioners.

After configuring the service, patients can start a video chat when it’s time to talk with their doctor. Once the call is done, patients pay on Doctolib’s website. They can then access prescriptions in their user accounts.

Doctolib won’t take a cut on each transaction. The startup is selling this services as an add-on instead. Practitioners can choose to pay €79 per month ($90) on top of their standard Doctolib plan to start accepting remote appointments.

This is a great way to boost the company’s bottom line and also a seamless experience for everyone involved. Practitioners can accept video calls from Doctolib’s interface and patients don’t have to use another service.

Those appointments comply with France’s national healthcare system. Patients get reimbursed just like a normal appointment. But there are some legal restrictions.

In particular, you can’t book a remote appointment and get reimbursed if the doctor doesn’t know you already. So Doctolib only lets you book remote appointments with practitioners you’ve physically seen over the last 12 months. But that feature could still be particularly useful to renew your prescription and other minor medical stuff.

The original Ghostbusters franchise is getting a new film in 2020

Who ya gonna call? Three of the four original Ghostbusters: Bill Murray, the late Harold Ramis, and Dan Ackroyd.

Fire up your proton packs, people, because there’s going to be another Ghostbusters movie from Sony Pictures, according to Entertainment Weekly. Jason Reitman (Juno, Thank You For Smoking) will direct the new film, which will be set in the same fictional universe as the 1984 original and its sequel—unlike Paul Feige’s 2016 all-female Ghostbusters.

Reitman is a fitting choice, seeing as how he’s the son of Ivan Reitman, director of the 1980s films. You may have glimpsed Jason, his mother, and his sister in the original Ghostbusters, as residents fleeing their haunted skyscraper. Jason even had a line in the 1989 sequel: he was the birthday boy who told the ‘Busters, “My dad says you guys are full of crap.”

Reitman resisted following in his father’s footsteps for years, but it seems he’s finally succumbing to the call. “I’ve always thought of myself as the first Ghostbusters fan, when I was a 6-year-old visiting the set. I wanted to make a movie for all the other fans,” Reitman told EW. “This is the next chapter in the original franchise. It is not a reboot. What happened in the ‘80s happened in the ‘80s, and this is set in the present day.”

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Apple releases official battery cases for iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR

Today, Apple quietly began taking orders for battery-equipped cases for all three 2018 iPhone models—iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR. The value proposition and designs are essentially the same as with battery cases made by Apple for prior iPhones.

As pictured above, each phone gets a black and a white option. The cases are made of silicone and closely resemble the existing, not-battery-equipped silicone cases that began shipping with the phones first became available late last year, except for the significant bumps on the lower two thirds of the backs of each case. The bump houses the battery, of course. Since the three phones are each different sizes, these cases are not interchangeable between models.

These cases work with Qi wireless chargers, and you can charge both the case and the phone at the same time from said chargers—though it should probably be said that Qi speeds on iPhones are nothing to write home about, and that’s a whole lot of lithium-ion battery to fill up. In many cases, you’ll be better off going wired, and that’s OK, because the cases support fast-charging from USB-PD compatible chargers.

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