By adaptive - December 21st, 2015

Facebook rakes in yet another "most used app of the year" award, as mobile use goes gaga over Christmas and Google gets serious about commercializing autonomous vehicles. Andrew Tolve reports.

In this week’s Digest: Google, Alphabet, Bloomberg, Uber, Seriously, charity: water, Hope for Holt, War Child, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, YouTube, PewDiePie, Markiplier, Hayes Grier, Rebecca Black, Best Buy, T-Mobile, Amazon, Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Google Search, Nielson, Seattle, LyftMoz, NavAds, TomTom, HERE, Apple Maps, Project Fi and Gartner.

In the news

Rumors swirled that Google’s new parent company Alphabet is on the cusp of creating a stand-alone business devoted to self-driving cars. Bloomberg broke the story, reporting that in 2016 Alphabet will take its six-year-old project out of prototype phase into full-blown commercialization. The plan is to deploy self-driving car fleets in private settings for the time being — college campuses, corporate office parks, military bases, etc — where students or employees can whiz about in autonomous bliss. Down the road, the company is likely to offer an autonomous ride-hailing solution, which will pit it against the likes of Uber, which in turn is working furiously away at self-driving-car tech of its own. The state of California threw a bit of a monkey wrench into Google’s short-term plans last week when it issued draft regulations that would make it illegal for self-driving cars to operate without a licensed driver behind the wheel, but we’ll see what happens as those regulations get closer to codification.

In the money

Looking for a holiday charity drive? Mobile-entertainment company Seriously launched a charity game race called “The Race Against Slime 2” through their popular app Best Friends. When users download the game, they can select a charity to play for (charity: water, Hope for Holt, War Child + more) and then start killing slugs on their behalf. Winning charities will get $225,000 thanks to a matching grant from The Ellen DeGeneres Show (so long as at least 100 million slugs are slayed, of course). A bunch of YouTube stars are participating, including PewDiePie, Markiplier, Hayes Grier and Rebecca Black. Race ends December 23.

Best Buy dropped the cost of the iPhone 6s down to a single dollar. That’s right, for a 16 gig iPhone 6s, one buck. Plus a two-year contract with Verizon. Other big holiday discounts: T-Mobile hacked a hundred bucks off the cost of all new Samsung Galaxy smartphones, Sprint gave away free Samsung flat screen TVs for anyone switching to Sprint or buying a new Samsung phone, while Amazon aimed to incentivize Christmas use on its mobile app via a $10 referral program — $5 for the friend who downloads and uses the app, $5 for the friend who made the recommendation. Which will cover, oh, about one-one thousandth of the credit card bills we’re all racking up right about now.

In other news

Facebook. YouTube. Facebook Messenger. Google Search. Those were the top apps based upon usage in 2015 according to a new report from Nielson. Facebook enjoyed more than 126 million average unique users each month, a growth of 8% from last year. Its Messenger app saw a 31% increase in users from 2014, making it the fastest growing app on the planet for the second year running.

Facebook revamped its Events browsing interface. People can still use the function to send private party invitations, but the new focus is on event discovery. Users can now select specific dates and times and see what’s going on near them or with friends. They can specify the type of event they’re interested in — music, food, fine arts, etc. When they check out one event, Facebook will present several more via a “Related Links” tab. There’s also a new “Suggested For You” tab that makes suggestions based upon all the stuff that Facebook knows about you. Which is basically everything.

The city of Seattle approved legislation stating that its Uber and Lyft drivers can legally unionize. If the legislation holds up in court, it would likely mean two things: better workers’ rights for ride-sharing drivers, like paid sick leave and minimum wage salaries, and more expensive rides for customers using ride-sharing apps, as companies scramble to compensate for the cost of designated employees, rather than what are now deemed “independent contractors.”

Moz and NavAds penned a partnership to make it easier for enterprises to advertise on digital maps. Moz helps companies place ads across the Internet ecosystem, from social to search. By integrating NavAds into their offering, Moz's 35,000 customers will now have the opportunity to reach optimal brand visibility across navigation, mapping and GPS channels. NavAds has existing partnerships with TomTom, HERE and Apple Maps and a range of in-car and aftermarket navigation solutions.

Project Fi, Google’s pay-as-you-go phone service, introduced data-only SIM cards for tablets like the iPad, Nexus and Galaxy Tab S. The cards cost a flat $10 per gig of data per month with all unused data refunded at the end of each cycle. What’s the big deal here? WiFi calling is the next frontier for mobile carriers, and if coverage is good enough, it negates the need for expensive cellular plans — or cellular plans altogether, as a data-only SIM card would enable.

Finally, remember all those mobile payment stories from 2015, with pretty much every company under the sun adding a “Pay” at the end of their name to make a new mobile payment platform? Apple Pay, Android Pay, Samsung Pay, Chase Pay, Walmart Pay, and on and on. It’s only going to get worse, says Gartner, which forecasts that 50% of consumers in mature markets will be using smartphones or wearables for mobile payments by 2018. The company says that mobile payments using Near Field Communication technology will be limited in the short to midterm due to a lack of partnerships between retailers and financial organizations, so cloud-based solutions are likely to grow faster.

Gartner closed out the year with one more bold prediction: the end of TV as we know it. By 2018, the researcher says, 75%of TV-style content will be watched through application-based services in mature markets.

That’s it for the Mobile Digest in 2015. We’re off to drink eggnog, wrap some presents and prep for the Consumer Electronics Show. We’ll see you in Vegas in 2016!

The Mobile Digest is a biweekly lowdown on the world of mobile, combining Open Mobile Media analysis with information from industry press releases.

Andrew Tolve is a regular contributor to Open Mobile Media.

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