The Upday app is used by millions of people to catch up with the news, but unless you own a Samsung Galaxy phone, you probably won’t have heard of it.
The app acts as an aggregator, pulling in stories from different news sources like the Telegraph, the Daily Mirror, and the BBC. The concept is similar to Apple News.
It ranks stories by importance and, as you use the app over time, it learns what sort of headlines interest you and learns accordingly.
Stories show as “cards,” which you swipe through.
Every now and then, you’ll see an ad among the cards. According to Upday’s UK managing director, Robin Hough, you’ll see an ad every four to eight cards.
Stories are pulled in from the RSS feeds of publishers like the BBC and, yes, Business Insider. They’re generally sorted algorithmically, but top stories are curated by Upday’s local editorial teams. Each country has a “quality content team” that makes sure Upday isn’t pulling in fake news.
So far, so news aggregator. What’s unusual about Upday is that it’s a joint venture between German publisher Axel Springer (which owns Business Insider), and Samsung. That means it’s only available on Samsung devices — if you own any other brand of phone, you can’t download it. More on that relationship later.
The app launched on the Galaxy S7 last year, and is now available on the new S8, the cheaper J Series of phones, and the Gear 2 smartwatch, among other devices.
According to Hough, Upday has 11 million monthly unique users. As a comparison, Apple News has 70 million users, according to November 2016 figures.
Back to that Samsung exclusivity agreement, which seems like the company’s biggest risk factor.
The major upside is that the app comes pre-installed on Samsung devices. That means Upday skips an app marketing hurdle because it doesn’t have to spend any money buying an audience — it just has to persuade people to open the app and stay engaged.
But this is less great for people who don’t like “bloatware” — uninstallable software put there by the phone manufacturer. If you do a Google search for “Upday app”, the first result is a PC Advisor article with the headline: “How to remove Upday from Galaxy S7 & S7 edge.”
Samsung also uses Upday as free channel to push out its own marketing content — to promote new Galaxy phones, for example.
“You can’t please everybody,” Hough said of users who don’t like pre-installed apps. “We want to be a one-stop shop. There’s no fake news, and no filter bubble.”
And there’s the fact Upday might be vulnerable to any sudden changes in direction from Samsung. The firm might build its own news app, or simply scrap the Upday partnership altogether. What then?
But Hough is outwardly confident.
“At the moment, our relationship is totally wedded to Samsung,” he said. “We are very close to them, we have a great relationship, and they seem to be going from strength to strength. Obviously we’re integrated into their premium phones — during the S8 launch there was a reference to Upday.”
What is in Hough’s control is trying to turn Upday into a household name, and enticing more advertisers on board.
So far it’s going well, with the firm in “rude health” commercially.
Samsung is the biggest smartphone maker in the world, according to TrendForce, meaning there are hundreds of millions of Samsung devices out there with the Upday app installed. As we know, Upday’s usage is in the tens of millions.
Hough added that people spend more than five minutes a day on Upday. That’s pretty good going — as a comparison, Snapchat’s users spend about 25 minutes a day in its app.
Upday tends to have “premium brand” advertisers, such as Microsoft Cloud, Audi, and VW he added, who are attracted by the type of user who can afford a premium Samsung phone.
The three formats are display — full-screen ads that take the same card format as Upday’s news stories; a native format which sends you to the advertiser’s website; and sponsored content.
Not everyone sees the same ads, either. Given Upday knows what kind of news interests you, it can target ads that are more likely to get you to click.
The next step is pushing up that user growth number.
Upday has expanded from its four original markets last March — France, the UK, Germany, and Poland — to 16 territories in total. That should mean that 11 million user number goes up, Hough said, as the teams in each country bed in.
“We’re expecting massive growth,” he said.
Disclosure: Upday is owned by Business Insider’s corporate parent, Axel Springer.
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