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[Report] How Extensively Do 3rd Party Mobile SDKs Access Private User Information?

October 25, 2017 5:23 PM

Transparency of mobile SDK activity has been on our mission statement since day one. Our flagship product was based on the sole interest of providing app publishers with just such transparency over the 3rd party tools they’ve integrated into their app.

We’ve also been on the forefront of SDK usage data. We’ve been releasing quarterly reports for over a year now, detailing the state of the Android market by following usage trends, pointing out which up and coming SDKs are conquering the mobile world by storm and seeing how competing or complementary tools control their respective market shares.

Now, with growing user awareness and concerns about private data leaking to 3rd parties, as well as big conglomerates being sued for 3rd party violations, we’ve combined both transparency objects. Our latest report has an added section detailing what kinds of private user information mobile SDKs are trying to access. It is especially important for mobile apps with European users who must be prepared for the upcoming GDPR which will start to be enforced in May 2018, holding apps solely responsible for reading private user information without explicit consent, regardless if the action is made by the app itself or a third party tool it has integrated.

Looking at over 190,000 top mobile apps against a database of over 1,000 libraries, this is our most extensive and thorough report to date.

Main Highlights

Please note that we are sharing here a partial selection of the findings that are presented in the full report. To access the full report (download is free) click here.

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3 Tips to Help You Migrate to Android Studio 3.0

September 5, 2017 2:27 PM

After a long period of expectation, Android Studio 3.0 is almost here.

It’s been quite a journey getting here. After 7 alpha versions of Android Studio 2.4, it was announced at Google I/O last May that changes are far too great and will be incorporated into Android Studio 3.0. And then 9 alphas later, the new and improved Android Studio was born. So overall, there are quite a few changes.

And with every truly major version update, upgrading is a little tougher than just the click of a button. In this case, your project would not compile. So before you start googling your way just to end up where you started before the migration, I’ve assembled some tips that helped me getting from a project that compiled on Android Studio 2.3 to a project that compiled on Android Studio 3.0.

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Android O: What Happens in the Background No Longer Stays in the Background

August 10, 2017 2:51 PM

It’s that time of year again when we get ready for the new Android OS version. Each Android version has plenty of small, nice, nice-to-have changes and one big major change. Lollipop brought us ART, Marshmallow brought us Runtime Permissions, and Nougat brought us multi-window. Now, Android’s cracking down on battery wastage and background activity.

Even though you might think OS upgrade is slow in the Android ecosystem (Nougat, for example, is “only” used by 11.5% of the user base), keeping your app updated is very important. First, 11.5% of the population is no small pickings. If you’re still bent on supporting Jelly Bean devices, no reason you shouldn’t support Nougat or O. Second, if you intend your app to run on a Pixel device (no reason why you wouldn’t), you better make sure your app is O-compatible, because some of the changes will affect *all* apps on these devices. And third, numbers are often deceiving. 11.5% of the global market may not apply to you. Your personal user base may very well reach as many as 95% using the latest and greatest.

So it’s settled then. You should make sure you’re compatible.

But what is it really all about? Android O is about being through being nice. For too long, Android has been a wild wild west of manufactures tweaking the OS, apps doing pretty much whatever they wanted and users constantly complaining that their battery runs out too fast. Well, no more.

Background Activity Limitation

The #1 cause for battery drain is excessive background activity. And that’s the biggest thing Android’s changing.

There are no new strict limitations to when the app is in foreground. It can start and run as many services as it wants. But, when in background, its services will be stopped. That’s right, after a small grace period, any service still running in background will be killed by the OS.

Some specific tasks will get longer grace periods (to the extent of several minutes). What makes a task special? That is does something the user eventually sees and/or interacts with. Such tasks include the handling of high-priority messages via Firebase Cloud Messaging, starting a VpnService or handling a legitimate broadcast receiver or notification.

Anything else you want to be doing while in background is now prohibited. If you want to check users’ Facebook status, location, or swing any other kind of background activity, you must use JobScheduler. In a nutshell, JobScheulder was introduced in Lollipop to help the device sleep better, save battery and only perform small works in controlled maintenance windows. It has now been enhanced to take over background and intent services. Best practice then, a must now.

Background Location Limitations

As mentioned, background activity is restricted. Background location activity is restricted as well. Now, this deserves a whole section for itself because background location activity is often the bread and butter of many apps and libraries, such as navigation apps.

In background, location access will be restricted to a few times per hour only. This is a major change, to the app code itself as well as to the 3rd party SDKs that rely on constant location reads. And how much do they read location in background? The following is an illustration taken from the SafeDK Dashboard of an ordinary app:

SDKs accessing Location in background, almost 3 reads per user per minute!

This, by the way, is one of those “affects all” kind of changes. All apps running on an Android O device, regardless of whether they are compatible or not, will have restricted background activity. And specifically restricted background location-access activity.

Some Implicit Broadcast Receivers Were Harmed in the Making of this Android

Part of the wild wild west we were talking about, allowed apps to register Broadcast Receivers via the manifest file and request to be notified of changes on the device. Network changes, Wi-Fi changes, chargers being plugged in and out etc. The result was that even if the app was dead, the OS had to wake it up or even recreate it in order to relay the message. These are known as “implicit broadcast receivers”.

On the contrary, apps could register receivers dynamically in code. This means that they’ll only be notified as long as the app is alive, but the app will not be resurrected once it was dead.

Android O is no longer just encouraging you to use dynamic Broadcast Receivers. It forces you. Many implicit receivers will simply no longer be called. So you better clear those battery hogging classes from your manifest and start explicitly registering them in code. You can find the list of restricted receivers here and adjust your app accordingly.

The main reason for this change, as mentioned before, is improving battery life, by disallowing multiple apps broadcast receivers to be all awoken at the same time.

Prepare for the Change – It’s a Big One!

Here’s the big thing you must understand. The changes in Android O are not background changes (pardon my pun) and are no small potatoes. They will actively disrupt app’s activities.

And you may think your app doesn’t rely on background services and implicit broadcast receivers that much. And you might even be right. But what about the 3rd party libraries and external tools you’re using? They may rely on it more than just a bit. Sometimes their whole product is based on this and they may stop working or giving you what you want. So you have to check your SDKs made the necessary adjustments and that you’re using their updated versions, the Android-O compatible ones, if and when they become available.

In many cases, using incompatible SDKs means you’re harming your app and losing users and money over it. Make sure you’re ready for the change. You and your partners – the SDKs.

[REPORT] The Trendiest Mobile App Tools (SDKs) of Spring 2017

June 26, 2017 2:56 PM

For over a year now, we’ve been doing a constant survey of Google Play, analyzing the top apps available for free worldwide. Our motivation is to uncover the hottest mobile SDKs used by app publishers.

Mobile apps would not be the same without 3rd party tools and libraries. The thriving set of capabilities offered is astonishing. Most publishers will rush to market and won’t have the time, resources or will to develop these complete products on their own, in addition to their app. And why should they, when other players in the mobile world have gone pro in developing just these kind of features…?

Our analysis has seen the trends of app publishers using SDKs, from high-level numbers to category-specific drilldown and even by geographical origin. We’ve tackled mobile apps from various angles and are happy to share the latest trends in our newest report, looking at data from May 2017. With an arsenal of over 900 SDKs and more than 150,000 apps at our hands, we have the full Android SDK picture.

Main Highlights

Please note that we are sharing here a partial selection of the findings that are presented in the full report. To access the full report (download is free) click here.

How Many SDKs are Integrated in a Mobile App?

The second quarter of 2017 is a special one. Ever since we began doing our analysis, we’ve seen a steady rise in the average number of SDKs used in apps. However, after seeing it slow down a bit the previous quarter, we have now seen it stay the same. And we must wonder what, if anything, does this mean – is this a hiccup on the trajectory going upwards or will 17.8 – the current number – become the new normal?

SafeDK May 2017: Avg. # of SDKs by Quarter

But there’s a much bigger story at play here. Our report shows the average number by different criteria, such as the store categories or install range. Here’s a sneak preview of the game subcategories for example:

SafeDK May 2017: Avg. # of SDKs in Gaming apps

The range is wide. Some game categories, for example, are higher this quarter than last and well above the global average. Arcade’s average number, for instance, was the same as the global one last quarter, but these apps have dropped an SDK by average this quarter.

But how do Games fare in general compared to other categories? Are they using more or less SDKs this quarter? Are they using more or less than News apps, Dating apps or Fitness apps? Download the report for free to get the full scope!

What are the Most Popular SDK Categories?

High-level trends seem to be fairly constant this quarter. Not just the average number of SDKs, but which SDK categories, i.e. capabilities and features, are most desired.

SafeDK May 2017: Top Payment SDKs

But as previously seen, even if high-level numbers are constant, lower-level drilldown is where the trends hide. Publishers’ desires for SDK capabilities remain the same, but their desire for the SDK themselves vary.

The Payment category is just one of such examples. Android Pay is used much less, OpenIAB is used much more and if you take a look at the geographical dive in the full report, you’ll see where a Bitcoin payment SDK is getting stronger…

Who are the Top SDK Players?

Globally, these are the strongest SDK players in the Android market this quarter:

SafeDK May 2017: Top SDK Players

Firebase is still getting stronger. How much stronger exactly? And what is going on which its predecessor Google Analytics in the meantime? Who’s conquering the Advertising world and who’s dominating the Engagement and Marketing Automation category (hint: an old-faithful climbed to first place!)? Download the full report to find out!

How Does the SDKs Map Look in Different Countries?

SafeDK May 2017: Avg. # of SDKs per Publisher Origin

As mentioned, the report also provides a drill down to some origins and categories, looking for local trends. With a year’s experience at hand, we can tell you – local trends often foreshadow global changes. It’s definitely worth taking a look!

It’s Going to be a Hot Summer!

With new players emerging in some categories and old ones getting stronger and stronger, we’re left to wonder what the future holds. Will apps be using more SDKs? If not, how will categories, origins or install bases react? Which SDKs will continue to get stronger and which ones will lose market share to other? Will there be a new player or capability that will turn the mobile table?

We have shared here just the tip of the SDK iceberg. So don’t wait, download it for free now!

Mobile Apps Competitive Analysis Done Right

May 2, 2017 1:05 PM

Our 2 cents about how to run a successful app-marketing competitive analysis. Includes recommended free or almost free app marketing tools to use.

Reading time: 10 minutes (the actual work is a different story…)

In today’s world, doing competitive analysis is like doing opposition research: it’s just simply a given. It’s a method everybody must follow.

Yet knowing that you must run competitive analysis is one thing. Doing it right is another.

Since we started helping app developers & marketers learning which tools (SDKs) are used by their competitors, just by using our free App X-Ray tool, we received many requests for our advice on how to properly run a mobile app competitive analysis. So, we’ve decided to roll out our sleeves and help.

Mobile app professionals are a part of a very competitive industry. It is therefore no surprise that they always need to be vigilant and adaptive. As many developers have smaller budgets than established companies, they must get extra creative when it comes to their business and marketing efforts. That’s why some app developers I know (and very much respect) are not just checking items off their to-do list. They are constantly on the lookout for innovative ways to learn from their competitors’ activities and methods and utilize that information to grow their own business. Moreover, they are constantly looking for faults. Things that their competitors aren’t doing, or aren’t doing well.

I personally think that the “me too” strategy is legit and shouldn’t be instantly rejected, just because of an oversized ego. Running a smart competitive analysis will help you add more hacks and tactics to your list and gain a good understanding of the important tactics or strategies being used. It’ll also uncover which tactics your competitors aren’t using so you can leverage them for your use.

Many app developers focus almost their entire efforts on keywords research (on ASO tactics), and they tend to neglect other vital areas such as high level business data, partnerships, content strategy, PR, and social media strategies etc.  In turn they get to see and understand only a small part of the picture.

To cut a long story short, here is a more comprehensive list of competitive analysis areas, that aims to cover all aspects of mobile app business and marketing, or at least most of them. You are probably familiar with some of the items on the list and I hope to introduce you to some more which might generate news ideas.

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[Infographics] The State of Mobile SDKs at the Start of 2017

March 8, 2017 4:07 PM

During the course of 2016, we’ve published two reports uncovering the state of mobile SDKs: one in April and on in October. We explored which SDK categories are most popular, exposed which SDKs are leading their category and even compared global and local trends. And judging by last year, we knew 2017 would be as interesting to explore, if not more.

We’ve just published a new report, looking at January 2017. The data comes from a thorough analysis of over 100,000 Android apps, featured in various Google Play stores around the world and available to download for free.  Together, these apps integrate hundreds of SDKs, from the top industry players to new players hoping to take the mobile world by storm.

And let us tell you right now that looking at the January data, and comparing it to the data from our previous reports (and the months in between), we’ve spotted some truly fascinating trends…

Main Highlights

Please note that we are sharing here a partial selection of the findings that are presented in the full report. To access the full report (download is free) click here.

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Hello, Kotlin! Converting an Android Project – Part 2

January 24, 2017 10:37 AM

I was trying to convert an Android project to Kotlin in Android Studio via the Kotlin plugin. If you haven’t read part one (you can always do it now), then I’ll briefly tell you that it’s up to you to choose how many classes to convert. I chose them all. The conversion caused numerous compilation errors and practically swayed me to convert one/two classes at a time. Even though solving compilation errors was a great way to learn, I still had an ambition – convert my MVP example project from Java to Kotlin code.

Therefore, I decided to attack it from another angle. My second approach was less messy – one or two compilation errors per conversion, albeit it took me a couple of hours to get everything working.

In the following post I will cover:

  • Adapter’s getView() runtime error, caused by the conversion
  • Kotlin pros/cons for Android developers
  • Verbosity comparison of Java vs Kotlin

TL;DR Conversion might cause errors but Kotlin will reduce NullPointerExceptions, and minify your code into a much more readable version.

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Hello, Kotlin! How to Convert an Android Project – Part 1

January 17, 2017 5:13 PM

I’ve been hearing about Kotlin everywhere. It’s the new big thing in the Android world. So big that Gradle themselves are talking about incorporating it.

So I set out on a journey to see what the hype is all about.

What is Kotlin? Well, simply put it’s a statically-typed language from the house of JetBrains that compiles to Java’s bytecode and therefore can be run using a JVM. It’s got lots of interesting features and full compatibility with Java.

The following post is not a conventional Hello World tutorial on Kotlin, rather it’s an experiment with a big bold “don’t try this at home” warning. It’s risky and code might break because I’m going to convert a whole project of a mid-level complexity (30 classes) at the click of a button, or rather 4 buttons (ctrl + alt + shift + k). If that won’t work out (spoiler alert: it didn’t), I’ll switch to plan B and convert my project one class at a time.  I’ve decided to see if they’re making good on their promise, as well as teaching myself a new programming language upside down. From big concepts to the finer details.

Because I’m going to mess with lots of code and it might not end up pretty I chose to convert one of Android’s google-samples projects which I forked. I chose the todo-mvp branch: https://github.com/SerjSmor/android-architecture. If you are unfamiliar with different styles of Android architecture (MVC, MVP, MVW) or their implications I highly recommend going over them anyway if you haven’t yet.

TL;DR: we’re converting a TODO List app.

Environment:

IDE = Android Studio 2.1.2. There’s a plugin for Eclipse too.

Kotlin version = 1.0.4

The before photo (before tinkering):

Hello, Kotlin! How to Convert an Android Project – Part 1

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The Hottest Mobile App Tools (SDKs) of Q4 2016

January 3, 2017 12:41 PM

It wasn’t too long ago that app developers didn’t know what’s what in the mobile SDKs world. Who’s stronger than whom and who’s fighting to keep their head above water. All that has changed. Last May, we released our first ever Android SDKs Trend Report, disclosing who’s hot and who’s not as we listed the top players overall, in different categories, geos and whatnot.

Now we’ve published our second report, based on an analysis of over 100,000 free Android apps, comprised of apps featured in Google Play’s top charts. These apps implement hundreds of SDKs, including all top industry players.

The report looks at October 2016 data, analyzes the SDKs that are active internationally, and are integrated in the apps we’ve looked at.  The data is then compared with the data presented in the April 2016 report to reveal the leading trends.

Main Highlights

Please note that we are sharing here a partial selection of the findings that are presented in the full report.  To access the full report (download is free) click here.

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16 Industry Events for Mobile App Developers You Should Know Of

November 15, 2016 5:15 PM

As an app developer you must have heard how critical it is to attend industry events. Some talk about leveraging these events from a networking and reputational standpoint, others about fueling your BizDev efforts and some are in it just to learn and stay up to date with industry news, techniques and emerging tools.

Plus industry events break our daily routine which is always fun!

However, not everyone’s so positive about these events. Some complain about them being a waste of money, unfocused, not bringing any real news and lacking relevant colleagues to mingle with. On top of this, events can be viewed as not adding quality leads and as mainly serving to the financial interests of the event producers.

I say it’s all a matter of setting the right expectations and doing your research before attending, speaking or presenting at any given event.

Personally, I like to stay updated with all the relevant events in my industry. Of course, I don’t attend all the events but I base my decision to attend/not attend on key parameters and understanding the value I would gain from that specific event.

I’ve gathered a list of some mobile app / mobile dev / mobile games events (organized chronologically by date) that are focused on developers. Although some further mini research might be needed before you make a decision, the list below can get you off to a nice start.

In the mobile industry, events cover a wide array of topics including mobile innovation, full stack development, marketing solutions, game dev and more. Some events are quite popular among mobile app pros. Please drop us a note to: contact@safedk.com if we left any important events behind!

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