Top App News Stories of 2016

By on December 15, 2016


As the calendar turns towards 2017 (We’re ready for ya 2017!), we look back on the year that was in 2016. While 2016 will probably be remembered for Trump, Brexit, Stranger Things, Prince and Bowie (there was also an Olympics in there as well), for us it was the innovations in the mobile world that were most talked about around our offices.

1)Pokémon Go Sets the World Ablaze
Pokémania ran amuck in 2016 with the return of everyone’s favourite Japanese Pocket Monsters. Even with a multitude of bugs, missing features, and staggered international releases, Pokémon Go, powered its way to the most first-week downloads in Apple App store history–and hit a ridiculous 50 million downloads in just 19 days.

While there may have been some detractors who turned their nose at the game, there is no denying that the game helped bring Augmented Reality to consumers en masse. Across the globe, wannabe Ash Ketchums took to the streets, phone in hand, to try and be the best–like noone ever was. The craze has understandably died down, but with a suite of new features and capabilities, Pokémon Go looks like it will be around for a while. Even if the app’s installs and daily active users begins to dwindle, it has created a whole new generation of Pokemasters looking to satiate their Pokéfever with cards, games and collectables–meaning big business for The Pokémon Company.

2)Snap Inc’s Group Feature is a Real “Spectacle”
Everyone’s favourite ephemeral ghost made a big splash in 2016 by releasing “Spectacles” a pseduo, yet fashion forward (depends on whom you ask), update of Google Glass. Released in early November, via yellow “Snapbot” vending machines placed across the US, these video integrated sunglasses allow their wearers the opportunity to upload what they see directly to Snapchat (in 10 second increments). Just as Pokémon Go brought AR helped make people more comfortable with AR, Spectacles hopes to make people more comfortable with a wearable camera that is “always on” (which is what caused the downfall of Google Glass).

However, this may have been Snap Inc’s biggest move in terms of fanfare for 2016, but in terms of impact, the ability to chat and snap in groups reigns supreme. Since the beginning of Snapchat, users have been asking for the ability to place their contacts in groups (of up to 16 people), and the time has finally come. What this means for Snap, is that users now have a greater reason to stay in the app, rather than to leave it and head to another chat based app (WhatsApp, Facebook Messgenger, iMessage, etc.) to talk to groups. With this change, they hope to increase the average daily time spent in app, increasing the amount of money they can charge advertisers.

3)The Increase of Fake News Stories on Facebook and Twitter
Amidst the US election this year, one of the major news stories to arise was ironically the prevalence of fake news stories intended to misinform those who read it. Nowhere was this more noticeable–or unnoticeable–than on Facebook and Twitter. Like-it-or-not, social media is where the majority of people obtain their news from, making us susceptible to the spreading of falsified and fictional news stories through sharing. While news outlets hold themselves to a higher standard, the “unfiltered” nature of social media makes them ripe for sabotage.

Feeling the backlash from the public on the topic, Facebook has recently come out with it’s plan to combat the proliferation of false news stories. The social network giant will use its software to search for fake news, and make it easier for users to report their own, and will use a consortium of journalists to verify the flagged articles. These articles will then get a disputed banner, and will prompt users who want to share it that they are sure they want to share it. Will this work? We aren’t sure. But if it does, you can always head over to The Onion for all your fake news needs.

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Over the course of 2016 there has been a new class of mobile applications that have attempted to get ahead by breaking the mold of traditional smartphone apps. By trying something new, these apps have used the attention (both positive and negative – looking at you Mrs. West) that they have garnered to propel them to the top of their respective app stores.

From manipulating photographs and delivering hyper-local weather reports, to delivering the news in a new way, these five apps have made their mark and set new benchmarks in their respective categories.

For Quartz, presenting the news was more about making it engaging than it was presenting everything going on in the world. Built with an interface similar to iMessage, Quartz makes the news feel like it is being personally presented to you by a real person in conversational form. Whereas most news apps are looking for ways to fit more stories into their apps, Quartz takes pride in curating only the top stories of the day, and delivering them in a unique way to keep the reader coming back.

Dark Sky
Creating a weather app seems pretty straightforward, recognize the user’s location, and show them the forecast. However, Dark Sky has gained quite the following by expanding on the concept, by tapping into native device pressure sensors, as well as crowdsourcing tactics to ensure their users are getting the most accurate weather possible. It seems many people are very serious about their weather, as Dark Sky continues to rank as the number one weather app in the app store, and in the top 50 overall.

Snapchat has made a living out of turning features that you didn’t even know you needed into ones that you couldn’t live without. Take for example geofilters, which originally began as a way for brands to embed sponsored content into photos, but has evolved into something much bigger when it was opened up to the public. Opening up the opportunity to create a filter to everyone has allowed for brands and consumers alike to get creative and put their mark on something personal. The ephemeral nature of Snapchat photos make users much more likely to share a branded image, than they would if the image were permanent, as they are on Facebook or Instagram.

Whether or not you believe that the Kimoji app was earning Kim Kardashian West $1 million per minute, or that she “broke the App Store,” there is no denying that the reality star has found another way to make her mark, and stay relevant with such a simple offering. Not to be outdone, other public figures from NBA Superstar Steph Curry (StephMoji) to disgruntled actor Charlie Sheen (Sheenoji) have turned to emoticons to try and cash in on the over 6 billion emojis that are sent on a daily basis.

Many experts say that the best apps do only one or two things well, but they do them really well. MSQRD followed this adage well enough to garner the attention of Facebook, and led to an acquisition by the social media giant. The app allows users to add filters to photos and videos to add some flair to their photos. Even after the acquisition, the MSQRD app was allowed to stay as a free standalone app, exponentially increasing its downloads with the backing of Facebook and its 1.6 Billion users.

PM UX: Poke vs. SnapChat

By on January 02, 2013

Facebook recently released an iOS app called Poke. The app allows users to send photos, videos or text messages to their Facebook friends.

What makes Poke interesting is the fact that users must set a time limit that will limit the amount of time that the recipient has to view the message. Options are 1, 3, 5, 10 seconds and after that the message can not be viewed again.

When I saw Poke for the first time, I was immediately reminded of a very similar app I stumbled upon months ago. The app, Snapchat, is an app that shares nearly identical functionality, but is wrapped in a distinctively different package.

Since the two apps are so similar, I want to focus on some of the differences I noticed between the two.

One of the first differences I noticed was in the apps’ login screens. Poke’s Facebook integration made getting started with the app very quick and easy. In fact, it only took one tap for me to get started. However, I should mention that I assume it would be different if I wasn’t logged into the Facebook app that is also installed on my phone.

Starting off with Snapchat was also quite easy, but the app does require a little more work from users. To sign up, users must provide an email address, create a password and then create a user name. However, most users are more than used to such practices, so this isn’t really a nuisance.

Another significant difference I noticed between the two apps, was where each one started users off. Poke users are presented with a home screen consisting of sent and received messages, settings and refresh icons at the top of the screen, and buttons for sending pokes, text, photos and videos.

Snapchat starts its users off in camera view ready to snap a pic or record some video. To view messages, users navigate to their mailbox by tapping a box-shaped icon in the lower left corner of the screen.

I thought this was a strange approach, as it is the equivalent to launching the iOS Messages app and seeing the New Message screen. Therefore, every time I launched the app to check a message, that extra tap did definitely not go unnoticed.  I guess, on the other hand, I was always one tap closer to the camera.

I also noticed another difference between the two apps when it came to recording video. Facebook’s Poke seperates its still camera and video recording functionality, while Snapchat combines the two.

I preferred Poke’s approach here, only because it took me quite a while to figure out how to record video with Snapchat. Only after some investigation, did I learn that tapping the blue center button takes still images, while holding it records video. There is really nothing to indicate this to users and make the experience more intuitive.

Poke has some issues when it came to video recording. While recording a video with Poke, I noticed that there is nothing to indicate how long a user can record, or how long they have been recording. Only when the recording stops on its own, do you know that you have reached the maximum video length.

Snapchat however, shows users how much time they have left to record with a red guage that moves around the centre record button. Doesn’t give them a numerical value, but it does give them a good idea of how much time they have left.

Another difference worth pointing out is the ability that Poke users have to send text messages. Snapchat doesn’t have this functionality, but as an alternative users can cheat by writing over a photo and sending it off. Poke also has similar functionality that allows users to draw over photos, but also lets them type their messages as well.

Have you used either of these apps? Which do you prefer? Are you a poker or a snapchatter? Tweet us @plasticmobile and let us know!