This Week in Apps: COVID-19 contact tracing apps, virtual dating on the rise, Quibi makes a debut

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.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads in 2019 and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019, according to App Annie’s “State of Mobile” annual report. People are now spending 3 hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

In this Extra Crunch series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.

This week we’re continuing to look at how the coronavirus outbreak is impacting the world of mobile applications, including Apple and Google’s plans to team up on a contact tracing platform and other COVID-19 apps worldwide. We’re also looking at how WhatsApp is fighting fake news, and how home quarantines are impacting online grocery and dating applications. In non-COVID-19 news, we look at Quibi’s debut, Facebook’s new app for couples and a possible iOS version of Android’s “Slices,” among other things.

Coronavirus Special Coverage

Apple and Google partner on COVID-19 tracing tools

Apple and Google announced on Friday a plan to join forces to create a decentralized tracing tool to help people determine if they’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19. The first phase of the project is an API that public health agencies can integrate into their own apps. This will be followed by a system-level contact tracing system that works across iOS and Android and is opt-in. The system will involve transmitting an anonymous ID over Bluetooth. The servers will relay your last 14 days of rotating IDs to other devices that look for a match based on time spent and distance between two devices. If a match is found, you’re notified so you can get tested and self-quarantine.

The APIs will be available in May, while the Bluetooth-based system will be released in the months ahead.

Other COVID-19 apps in the news

  • EU suggests standardization: This week, the EU began pushing for its 27 nations to develop common standards for coronavirus tracking technologies that would make apps interoperable or even perhaps develop a single app to be used across the bloc, Bloomberg reported. Today, multiple developers in the U.K., Germany and elsewhere are working on mobile phone apps to track people who’ve been exposed to the coronavirus, but the data will be harder to aggregate and understand in its fractured state.
  • France to develop a contact-tracing app: France is officially working on a smartphone app to slow the spread of COVID-19, by tracking people living in France. The app will leverage the PEPP-PT protocol, which will involve an open standard using BLE to identify other phones running the app.
  • How Chinese apps handled COVID-19: A post from Dan Grover analyzes how Chinese apps from major tech companies like Baidu, WeChat, Alipay and others worked to help people get through the coronavirus crisis by offering statistics, e-medicine, tools for quarantine, e-commerce and tools to check your exposure. By comparison, the U.S. has largely just added PSAs from the CDC and WHO to their platforms, instead of having offered more robust solutions. The pros and cons of both are debated from an app-centric point of view, which makes for interesting reading from a more technical perspective.
  • COVID-19 symptom checker from startup Zoe arrives in U.S.:  A free iOS and Android application called COVID Symptom Tracker was originally developed in partnership with food science startup Zoe and released first in the U.K. After a million downloads, the app is now launching in the U.S.
  • Stanford Medicine app helps first responders get tested: Stanford, in partnership with Apple, launched an app that helps first responders get access to drive-thru coronavirus tests. This includes front-line workers like police officers, firefighters and paramedics. The service is limited to Santa Clara and San Mateo counties in California for now, but will later expand to other states.

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