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The Week in Mobile: April 9-15, 2017

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Facebook Messenger rolls out group payments, Galaxy X foldable screen rumors, Amazon opens up Echo hardware 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.

Facebook Messenger Introduces Group Payments

Facebook’s Messenger app — which now boasts 1.2 billion monthly active users — introduced a new feature last week, bringing support for group payments. The update is an expansion of Messenger’s person-to person payment service, which rolled out in 2015. Group payments will function similarly, allowing users to pay everyone in a group message or select specific individuals in that group. While Messenger has made significant strides in the mobile payment space, it’s not exactly the focus that experts were expecting when Facebook hired PayPal’s former President, David Marcus, to run Messenger. Many expected Messenger to follow in the footsteps of apps like Line and WeChat, taking cuts of payments as an additional source of revenue. However, Facebook has indicated they have no plans to take a portion of payments and will continue to focus on ads to monetize Messenger.

Samsung Galaxy S8’s Marque Feature Won’t Be Ready for Launch

The much anticipated Samsung Galaxy S8 is set to ship to US consumers on April 21, but one of the device’s key features — Samsung’s new AI assistant, Bixby — won’t be fully baked in time. According to Samsung, Bixby won’t support voice commands until later this spring. The news is a bit of a disappointment considering voice control is becoming more central to user experience – though it is unclear how Bixby will fare against the more established voice assistants.

As the S8 makes its debut, Samsung is already well underway with plans for its next device launch. Reports suggest that the Galaxy X will be the first foldable smartphone and could hit the market as early as H2 2017. Meanwhile, Google is allegedly investing $874 million in a curved display screen for the next iteration of Pixel.

Amazon Opens Up the Echo Hardware

Last summer, Amazon released Voice Services to encourage hardware manufactures to build Alexa into their devices. Now, the company is taking things a step further with the introduction of the Amazon Alexa 7-Mic Far-Field Development Kit, which allows third-party hardware companies to leverage the same microphone technology used to power Amazon’s Echo. Amazon is granting access to this technology to just a handful of manufactures under one condition: the device must use Alexa. It’s a move that will bring Alexa to even more devices and ensures that those devices offer quality experiences.

Expedia Tests VR-Powered Hotel Listings

Last year, Expedia invested over $1 billion in technology in order to keep up with the latest trends and improve the travel booking experience. Now, the company is developing virtual reality experiences so customers can view listings in a much more immersive and engaging way. The only caveat is that users will need to have their own VR gear at home. For those that do, they’ll soon be able to take a virtual tour of hotel rooms or cruise ships and can even interact with the room — e.g. opening doors and “stepping” out onto the balcony. The company is also experimenting with voice-enabled devices such as Amazon’s Echo to improve the booking experience.

Starbucks Introduces New App for iMessage

Starbucks introduced its first app for iMessage called Starbucks Gifts, which allows users to send virtual gift cards via text message. This marks Starbucks’ first foray into the iMessage world, and the company is encouraging users to give it a try by offering a free $5 credit when they send a virtual gift card of $5 or more. The promotion is only available to the first 45,000 users and ends April 23.

McDonald’s Introduces “Snaplications” in Australia

McDonald’s is experimenting with the way it recruits and assesses potential employees. The fast food giant introduced a new program called “Snaplications” in which Snapchat users can kickoff the job application process by sending a 10-second video clip to the McDonald’s account. The program includes a custom filter that allows candidates to put on a virtual McDonald’s hat and name tag. After submitting the footage, users can click on a link, which directs them to fill out a traditional application form. For now, the Snaplications program is only available in Australia and it is unclear how much weight these videos will actually play when it comes time to select candidates.

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