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The Week in Mobile: August 23-29, 2015

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Amazon seeks to upend the app store model, Facebook announces new personal assistant, Cortana for Android beta now available and more

Each week we round up the top news stories, think pieces and other content that centers on the fast-paced, quickly changing world of mobile technology. We tell you which companies are employing clever mobile strategies, illuminate new ways of thinking about mobile and offer a peek at meaningful trends in the industry. This content is designed to inspire you and your company to take advantage of the many benefits mobile can offer.

Amazon Underground Challenges App Store Status Quo

Amazon announced a new app store called Amazon Underground that will allow users to download premium Android apps for free. Amazon Underground features the same content as the original store with one important twist: it offers over $10,000 worth of games, apps and in-app items for free. These apps are usually paid, but Amazon plans to compensate developers with a new payment model. Rather than charge a downloading fee or require in-app purchases, Amazon will pay developers based user engagement.

The company says it is committed to the new “actually free” program and that Amazon Underground’s free offerings aren’t just a temporary promotion. If Amazon is able to attract devs with its new payment model, it’s possible the program will shake up freemium and in-app purchase approaches and spur innovation from the other big app stores.

Facebook’s New Personal Assistant Takes Service One Step Further

Facebook announced its unique flavor of personal assistant called M, which is built into Messenger. M combines artificial intelligence technology with human customer service to answer questions and complete tasks. While standard queries like “Where is the nearest Starbucks?” are handled automatically, more complex requests like “Help me send flowers to my mom.” are directed to an actual person. Facebook’s new assistant will go head-to-head with services like Siri, Now and Cortana, but the company hopes to differentiate its offering with the ability to address tasks and transactions the other services can’t. For the time being, M is only available to a select test group in the bay area.

Cortana for Android Beta Now Available

Facebook isn’t the only one chasing the personal assistant space. Microsoft has officially released a public beta of its Cortana app for Android following the leak of an early version just over a month ago. Cortana for Android functions just as it does on Windows Phones, offering up personalized assistance and information based on user context. Cortana for Android also allows users to replace Google Now by launching Cortana when you press the home button, an important feature that will make it easier for users to select their mobile assistant of choice.

iOS 9 to Support Content Blocking Apps

Following Apple’s launch of iOS 9 in September, iPhone users will be able to install apps that block trackers, advertisements and other unwanted content thanks to a new feature called “content blockers”. This will be the first time mobile ads can be blocked with such ease on iOS, which will help speed up the load time for mobile webpages (not to mention improve battery life, and data usage). This is great news for the iOS user experience…and potentially worrisome for publishers and others (a certain search company comes to mind) who rely on ads for a large portion of revenue.

Apple Ships 3.6 Million Apple Watches in Q2

According to the latest wearable tracking report from IDC, Apple shipped 3.6 million Apple Watches in the second quarter of 2015. That’s impressive considering the Apple Watch wasn’t available for the full three-month period. In response to early and widespread demand for the Apple Watch, Best Buy has decided to accelerate their rollout of the device to all of the company’s 1,050 stores by the end of September. That’s a much faster and larger rollout than Best Buy originally had planned considering the company was previously on track to offer the Apple Watch in 300 stores by the holiday shopping season.

Even though it appears the Apple Watch had a successful quarter, Apple still comes in second for largest wearable company, behind Fitbit, which sold 4.4 million devices during the same quarter.

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