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Data Sheet—Tuesday, May 17, 2016

May 17, 2016, 12:31 PM UTC

Erin Griffith is a writer at Fortune.

Call me cynical, but every time I read about a new app launch, all I can think is, “Not gonna happen.”

It wasn’t always that way. When smartphones were still new, apps made them more useful and exciting, which Apple encouraged with its trademarked catchphrase, “There’s an app for that.” Developers happily populated the iOS and Android app stores with new and novel curiosities, some of which were actually magical (Shazam, for example), and many of which were pointless (iFart, anyone?).

In 2012, when Facebook plunked down $1 billion for Instagram, an 18-month-old app with 13 employees and no web product to speak of, the tech world took notice. A billion dollars for a stupid little app?! Suddenly everyone’s uncle had an app idea. How hard could it be?

Four years after the Insta-deal, we’ve hit peak app. At least a thousand new apps pour into Google and Apple’s app stores every day, but the vast majority will struggle to find an audience: Smartphone users download zero new apps in a typical month. Teenagers are especially notorious for deleting all but the most essential apps on their phones, which is great news if you’re Snapchat and bad news if you’re, say, Domino’s Pizza. Further exacerbating the “haves and have-nots” problem, a full 94% of revenue in Apple’s App Store comes from just 1% of all publishers.

The smartest people in tech have already figured this out. Rather than try to convince us to download new apps (the theory behind the whole “App Constellation” trend of 2014), they’re pulling everything we could possibly want inside the apps we already have. Facebook is building ways for us to transact and communicate with businesses inside Facebook Messenger. Same idea behind Kik’s Bot Shop. Snapchat wants us to shop directly from its ads using its own currency, Snapcash. You can even order an Uber car from inside Slack.

Messaging apps haven’t taken over our phones quite yet, but from where I sit, they’re in a good position to. Next time your uncle has a great new idea for an app, tell him it’s too late—the app gold rush is over.

Erin Griffith

This essay is part of “A Boom With a View.” Find past editions of Data Sheet.



Apple stock rallies as Berkshire Hathaway, hedge fund manager disclose stakes. The tech giant's shares gained almost 4% Monday, closing at $93.88. Berkshire Hathaway bought 9.8 million shares, a stake worth slightly more than $1 billion. Leon Cooperman's Omega Advisors also bought a sizable chunk of Apple during the first quarter—227,000 shares worth an estimated $24.7 million. (Fortune)

Amazon reveals how it generates product recommendations. The e-commerce giant is giving away the artificial intelligence software that decides what products to suggest to repeat buyers. The idea is to encourage a wider range of applications. (Wired)

Oracle's Safra Catz: We didn't buy Sun to sue Google. The software giant's co-CEO took the stand Monday in the closely watched copyright case, where she testified about Oracle's motivation for buying Sun. Java was too important for Oracle's software for it to be bought by a competitor, Catz noted. She disputed the suggestion that the Google lawsuit was the endgame, but trouble was definitely brewing before the 2010 acquisition. (Reuters, Ars Technica)

Why Tim Cook is in India. Aside from promoting the company's retail expansion vision, Apple's CEO is building support for a digital maps initiative during his first official, multiday visit, reports Bloomberg. Another priority is encouraging software developers to work on apps for its smartphones, tablets, and Macintosh computers—a move that would effectively expand the domestic market. (Bloomberg, Fortune)

Twitter adds diversity advocate to board. Debra Lee is chairman and CEO of BET, the parent company of the Black Entertainment Television network. Jack Dorsey started overhauling the board makeup after he rejoined the company last year to better reflect the people who use Twitter's products. (Fortune)

Rumors about length of Twitter posts resurface. The social media company plans to stop counting photos and links as part of its 140-character limit, reports Bloomberg. That would, in effect, make them longer while retaining their trademark conciseness. (Bloomberg, Fortune)

Google details schedule for taking Flash out of Chrome. Slowly but surely, the Internet giant will remove the buggy multimedia player by the end of the year in favor of HTML 5. Google will still enable people to run Flash if they want by prompting them on sites where the player might be needed. Otherwise, it will be blocked by default. (Fortune)

More complaints about proposed Uber settlement. The chorus of drivers who think they're being shortchanged by a $100 million settlement proposal is growing. The federal judge in San Francisco considering the case has requested more details. A hearing on the proposal is anticipated on June 2. (Bloomberg)

Former Google engineers launch self-driving truck initiative. Their venture, called Otto, will focus on retrofitting long-haul vehicles so they can operate autonomously. The sensors, software, and other gadgets needed to pull this off will cost around $30,000. The big motivation is driver and road safety. (Fortune, New York Times)


Can technology solve resource scarcity? Recent and rapid advancements in technology, including new batteries for storing solar energy and new nuclear reactor designs, have changed the notion of traditional environmentalism.

Traditional environmentalists have long advocated the need to reduce energy and water consumption to better preserve the world’s resources. But some modern environmentalists argue that technology has enabled mankind to gather resources more efficiently than before, which offsets some of the need to cut back on the amount of resources they consume, specifically energy.

That was one of the themes discussed Monday during a panel of energy and business experts speaking at Fortune’s Brainstorm E conference in Carlsbad, Calif. (Fortune)


Amazon introduces Dash button for services because why not?
by Barb Darrow

HTC's newest smartphone isn't perfect, but it's close by Jonathan Vanian

SAP's latest mobile app surfaces real-time budget insights
by Heather Clancy

Google tackles group messaging again by Leena Rao

Windows 10 update will come with more ads by Barb Darrow

AT&T acquires video streaming platform Quickplay by Aaron Pressman

Waze navigation app brings corporate carpool program to Bay Area
by Kia Kokalitcheva

Federal judge quits to join Facebook by Jeff John Roberts

Alibaba does damage control amid counterfeit backlash by Leena Rao


Silicon Valley mansions are taking longer to sell. The rush to buy super-expensive real estate in places like Palo Alto, Calif., may have peaked. The reason? Stock market turmoil and fewer Chinese buyers. (Bloomberg)

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Heather Clancy.