Mobile Digest: US government cracks down on smartphone use in cars

Black Friday sales soar on mobile devices, as the US Department of Transportation issues new distraction guidelines for smartphone makers. Andrew Tolve reports.

In the news

The US Department of Transportation proposed new distraction guidelines that would curtail the number of apps that work on a driver's smartphone while a car is in motion. Texting while driving would become a thing of the past (good riddance), as all texting functions would become disabled. The same would go for pictures, internet browsing, and videos. Navigation and traditional cellular calling would remain, but the guidelines further stipulate that phone makers should create a new Driver Mode that simplifies the smartphone user interface while a car is in motion, much like Android Auto and Apple CarPlay do already. Phone makers are also encouraged to integrate pairing to in-car infotainment screens whenever possible to further reduce distraction. It's important to keep in mind that these guidelines are merely in the proposal stage and voluntary to boot, but few phone manufacturers want to look reckless when it comes to public safety, and it's likely that people will soon be dealing with dramatically different parameters when they whip out their phones in their cars. 

In the money

Black Friday unleashed a torrent of online shopping. Sales ordered via mobile devices were up 33% from last year and ballooned over $1 billion for the first time ($1.2 billion), according to Adobe Digital Insights. That accounted for nearly a third of all online sales (3.34 billion). PayPal also reported that a third of all its Black Friday sales were made via mobile. Mobile devices were equally popular as items for purchase, with Apple iPads, the new Google Pixel phone, the iPhone 7, the Oculus Rift VR, and Amazon Echo smart home device all performing strongly.

Snapchat put the wheels in motion for its initial public offering. The company confidentially filed for an IPO with the SEC, which means it's starting to get its paperwork together for an offering that's expected to come in the first quarter of 2017. Analysts expect Snap Inc to hit a valuation of $25 billion, which would make it the biggest IPO since Alibaba went public in 2014 for the same price.

In other news

Virtual reality startup Vrideo, the self-anointed YouTube of VR content, shuttered its operations last week after just two years in operation. Vrideo made content for mainstream VR devices like Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR, but it never found the necessary popularity, partly because the quality of content it produced just wasn't all that strong. Let this be a cautionary tale to the whole VR industry: Devices are only as good as the content they play, and if the content is poor, the VR industry will struggle to find mainstream traction.

Airbnb is moving into the concierge business. The company launched a new Experiences tab, where hosts can make recommendations for events and tours that guests can attend during their stays. The intention is twofold: first, to enrich the user experience and make travel activities easier to find; and two, to open up a new revenue stream for the company. Both Airbnb and hosts will take a slice of each event that guests book through the app.

Want to know how long the line is at your favorite lunch spot? Google it. The search giant launched a new feature called Popular Times that delivers real time insights about the length of the queue at any given eatery, and also provides info about how long people usually linger there over their food. The feature lives as a widget in the web browser and combs search activity and anonymous location data to provide its updates.

Businesses are under attack from internet browsing. A recent report from Gartner found that “almost all successful attacks originate from the public internet, and browser-based attacks are the leading source of attacks on users.” A followup survey from Ericom found that 96% of businesses allow their employees to freely browse the web and play on social media. Twenty percent said that their organization has no strategy in place to isolate the web browsing experience from local IT and network resources.

The Samsung brand image seems to have survived its exploding smartphone fiasco largely unscathed. A recent poll from Reuters found that 91% of Samsung owners will go back to Samsung for future phones, rather than sidle over to a competitor like Apple, despite the recent Galaxy Note 7 global recall and termination. 92% of iPhone users, meanwhile, are wedded to iPhones and say they would never go Android. Sounds like Republicans and Democrats these days.

Finally, talk about the power of Health 2.0. An undergraduate student at the University of Buffalo invented a smartphone app that can help detect autism in children as young as 2 years old. The app tracks the eye movement of children looking at photos to determine, in less than a minute, if a child is showing signs of autism spectrum disorder. Children with autism will exhibit more scattered eye movements, particularly while looking at photos of social scenes. Early detection of autism can dramatically improve the benefits of treatment.

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.