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Coronavirus upends the App Store

Good morning! This Monday, coronavirus creates new winners and losers in the App Store, Amazon is fighting the virus every which way, and Zoombombing comes to a video chat near you.

People Are Talking

The most successful streamers are more than just great gamers, said Loaded's VP of talent Bridget Davidson:

  • "When brands reach out to us, they're also looking for people who can really engage and capture an audience, and be a positive role model. We generally look for people who we would consider to be brand-safe."

Tech companies need to step up to keep the world running, Satya Nadella told his team:

  • "During this extraordinary time, it is clear that software, as the most malleable tool ever created, has a huge role to play across every industry and around the world. Our responsibility is to ensure that the tools we provide are up to the task."

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said the same:

  • "A lot of the business leaders, and myself, particularly, we're looking at this as a time of war. This is like World War II. And everybody needs to step up and do their part, in terms of how we help the general population and the general public."

Startups need to throw out their 2020 plans, said Emergence Capital's Jason Green:

  • "I don't think it's a good idea to have a long-term plan. It's good to think about the next quarter and then reassess literally every few weeks."

The Big Story

Ups and downs in the App Store

Some things are obvious by now: The increase in working from home and self-isolation has led to massive popularity gains for apps such as Zoom and Hangouts. But beyond videoconferencing tools, there's a lot of app store upheaval going on right now:

  • In the last week, Uber's App Store ranking has gone off a cliff, according to data from SensorTower. The app tends to hover between spots 25 and 50 on Apple's free app rankings, but as of Sunday it was down to #276. It's even worse for Lyft down at #410. Even Google Maps, which hardly ever leaves the App Store's top 25, has crashed to #95.
  • As a rule, "apps that involve going places" are facing tough times. Yelp is down. Airlines are way down. Airbnb, TripAdvisor, All as low as you'll ever find them.
  • What are people downloading instead? Mostly what you'd expect: a lot of games, a lot of communication apps, and a lot of ways to watch TV and movies. And more games.
  • One surprising category spiking in the App Store? Apps for mirroring your phone to your TV. One company, AirBeamTV, makes apps for a number of TV brands, and most are up near their all-time high points in the store. Reviewers say they're using the apps to stream local news, exercise, even video chat on the big screen. (Though for the latter, there are better options.)

People are using their smartphones both more and in new ways, all over the world, App Annie, another app-analytics company, found:

  • U.S. and China users are spending 20% more time in finance apps than they did a few months ago. (Wonder why!) That number is even higher in Japan and South Korea.
  • Users are also looking to their phones to keep them sane. In the first week in March — the most recent data App Annie shared — American iPhone users used Headspace 90% more than the week prior. In general, Americans spent 30% more time in medical, health and fitness apps than they did at the end of last year.

This is of course a generalization, but the trend seems fairly clear: Phones are still mobile workstations, and they're even more important now as a way to connect with people and find things to watch and play as a respite from all the insanity.


Inside Amazon's many-sided fight against coronavirus

"I'm sad to tell you I predict things are going to get worse before they get better." That's what Jeff Bezos told Amazon in a message over the weekend, in which he seemed to alternately try to impress upon his employees the gravity of the situation and to inspire them to work even harder in the midst of it.

Amazon is at the center of coronavirus questions like few other companies. Bezos acknowledged as much in his letter:

  • "We're providing a vital service to people everywhere, especially to those, like the elderly, who are most vulnerable," he said. "People are depending on us."
  • He even said that all those people laid off by bars and restaurants should go work at Amazon until their old jobs come back.

Protocol's JP Mangalindan wrote a great story about if Amazon can actually weather this crisis, and figure out how to both cope with hugely increased demand and take care of its employees. It won't be easy:

  • Whole Foods has struggled to keep essential items in stock, like everybody else — and Amazon's Fresh delivery service is lagging way behind its normal delivery times. I've spent weeks trying to buy a thermometer on Amazon, too, and it's more or less impossible.
  • Amazon told JP it paused production on all of its original Prime Video shows, in a moment of huge demand for new stuff to watch. That long-awaited "Lord of the Rings" show would be great right now.

Amazon continues to try to keep up — more jobs, higher pay, a "series of preventative health measures for employees and contractors at our sites around the world" that Bezos described in his note. Oh, and an order for millions of face masks Bezos said he's still trying to get filled.

But the stories keep coming out: about overworked, underpaid, increasingly sick people continuing to work in warehouses and grocery stores. Bezos seems to understand the tension between caring for his company and caring for his customers — and that there will be no easy balance to strike.


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More of your unusual work from home tips

Over the last week, many of you sent in your favorite remote-work tips. Thanks to everyone who sent them in! As long as we're all WFH, every Monday I'll post a few of the best new ones. Here are this week's tips:

  • David Barrett, CEO at Expensify, said the company has a practice it calls 10ams. "Every morning, each employee lays out their tasks, intentions, and schedule for the day over Slack using 'Chronos,' a tool created in-house that lets anyone view your agenda and also serves as a time tracker, meeting scheduler, and goal setter. No matter where they're reporting for duty, every Expensifier begins their day with this ritual, which helps boost visibility, productivity, and accountability."
  • "Don't forget to feed the goldfish. As your work environment changes, you will encounter the creep of household responsibilities. These need to be managed so you can focus on work, so have someone else feed the goldfish! Or, set aside specific time on your calendar to take care of such tasks during the work day, and then come back to work without distractions." — Derek Weeks, vice president at Sonatype
  • "One of the biggest tips I've learned for remembering to take breaks while WFH is drinking lots of water; a restroom break provides a great excuse/opportunity to get in a quick stretch. The more the merrier." — Torin Rittenberg, head of growth at Branch
  • Fintech startup Addepar started a Slack channel called #AwkwardWFHMoments, for all the times kids and pets and sweatpants invade remote-work life. "Sharing these human moments in the thread has helped boost morale and reminds everyone that we're going through this together," spokesperson Daisy Gerstein said.

One tip I've heard over and over: make time for non-work chat. The first agenda-less, let's-just-hang Zoom call might feel weird, but it's crucial to find a way for your team to just … be together.

Got more tips? The weirder the better. Send them to me!

Coming This Week

MIT Technology Review's virtual EmTech Digital conference starts today and runs through Wednesday.

Nvidia's (also virtual) GTC conference kicks off tomorrow.

The (also virtual!) World Summit AI Americas runs Wednesday to Thursday.

And Protocol's having its second Virtual Meetup on Thursday! You can register here, and listen to the podcast version of last week's meetup here.

In Other News

  • Today in coronavirus: The virus-related robocalls are coming. The NYSE is about to open without a trading floor for the first time in 228 years. Apple is donating 2 million masks to health care workers who need them. Amazon is still waiting on the "millions" of masks it ordered. Flexport managed to source and buy thousands of masks and gloves. Apple gave Siri new things to say about coronavirus, finally. February was the biggest decline in smartphone shipments ever. Best Buy became the latest company to offer curbside pickup and no-contact delivery. Netflix launched a $100 million fund for virus relief. Cisco launched its own $225 million fund. Google finally launched that website we've been waiting for — and it's as basic and straightforward as we thought.
  • The White House announced the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium, working with IBM, AWS, Google Cloud, Microsoft and others to pool supercomputer resources for coronavirus research.
  • Trolls are now jumping into Zoom calls and causing trouble. It's called Zoombombing, and luckily it's easily prevented — Zoom's blog has a good guide, but the best trick we've found is just to not allow participants to share their screen.
  • India has a $6 billion plan to attract electronics manufacturers into the country. It involves big incentives on goods made and sold locally, and could see India building a number of "manufacturing clusters" that will seriously ramp up the country's capacity.
  • Cable providers are lifting their data caps because of coronavirus. Putting those data caps back on might be harder than they're bargaining for — some industry experts think unlimited broadband might be the new normal.
  • Speaking of broadband: Disney, Amazon, Apple, YouTube and Facebook have all now committed to lowering their traffic usage in the EU. Disney delayed its Disney+ launch in France in order to comply.
  • IBM announced its Quantum Award winners, with prizes for everything from "Best Quantum Game" to "Teach Me Qiskit Video." The winning game, Quantum Gate Quest, actually sounds really fun … in a middle-school-math-game kind of way.


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One More Thing

Can you mute, Your Highness?

Royalty: they're just like us! In these times of self-isolation, even the Queen of England has to get used to working from home. The Telegraph reports that Queen Elizabeth is currently learning the ins and outs of video chat. "Aides are investigating how best to set up videoconferencing at the castle next week," the Telegraph writes, "bringing in equipment to facilitate family conversations across the generations." Skype and FaceTime are reportedly the apps of choice, but I'd love to know which gadgets are employed to make Windsor Castle the best video conference room on the planet. Just remember, your highness: A ring light makes everyone look better on camera.

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to me,, or our tips line, Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

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