Verizon warns users of high risk apps, and also lists must-have apps

Ranking of 50 most popular Android apps includes six apps Verizon found to be battery sappers

Verizon Wireless recently began listing " High Risk Android Apps" on its Web site and now alerts customers to 13 apps that prevent a smartphone or tablet from going into sleep mode, causing heavy battery and data usage.

"This page lists apps that may be especially risky for you to use at this time," Verizon said in the post. The company noted that it is working with developers to fix the problems.

The high risk apps "might have serious negative effects on your device" through loss of functionality, unexpected high data or battery usage and security exposure, Verizon explained.

Six of the 13 high risk apps are also on the January's list of Top 50 most popular Android apps that Verizon posts on another Web page along with a five-point system for judging security, battery consumption and data usage.

The six apps on both Verizon lists are games, mostly racing games.

They are: Asphalt 7: Heat, a paid racing game by Gameloft; Draw Something, a paid game by OMGPOP; Fruit Ninja Free, a free game by Halfbrick Studios; Grand Theft Auto III, a paid game by Rock Start Games; Hill Climb Racing, a free game by Fingersoft; Need for Speed: Most Wanted, a paid game by Rovio Mobile Ltd.; and Wreck It Ralph, a paid game by Disney.

The worst offender of the 13 on the high risk list is Need for Speed: Most Wanted, from Rovio Mobile Ltd., which Verizon says will drain a device battery about 4.5 times faster than normal if left untouched, Verizon noted.

Need for Speed also appears on the most popular Android apps list where it gets a 4.5 out of 5 rating from Verizon. It gets high marks for security and data usage, but the lowest rating of 1 for battery consumption.

Several other apps on the most popular list scored lower than Need for Speed.

The worst rating of the 50 most popular apps was a 2.3 rating for Hill Climb Racing, a free racing game from Fingersoft. The lowest rating for a paid app was a 2.6 for Asphalt 7: Heat, a game by Gameloft.

On Verizon's Web site, users can click on the most popular ratings to get more details. In the case of Hill Climb Racing, Verizon said the game deserved a 5 rating for security, but only a 1 each for battery consumption and data usage.

On a separate Web page, Verizon details how it derives the ratings for security, battery consumption and data usage.

A 1 rating for data usage means that the app uses more than 100 MB over a Verizon test period. Verizon doesn't define how long the test lasted.

Verizon does say that a 1 rating means the app will use more than 10% of a 1 GB data plan in a month if running in the background.

For battery life, a 1 means that the app's drain on the battery exceeds more than 20mA, or more than two hours of lost battery life with the app running the background.

A 1 rating for security describes a "critical security threat to user. Harmful impact to device performance and content. App will cause irreparable damage to the device."

Verizon has no app reviews or high risk apps listing for any other app store, including App Store apps that run on iPhone or iPad.

Verizon is evaluating whether it will expand app reviews and high risk apps listings to App Store or other application storefronts, but started with Android partly because Verizon sells so many Android devices, said David Samberg, a Verizon spokesman.

Samberg authored a description of Verizon's reviews on a blog post last week, although the reviews have been underway since last fall.

None of the high risk apps are blocked for Verizon customers, Samberg said, but users are being educated to make their own decisions. "We're not trying to embarrass anybody," he said. "We don't want to block apps; we're saying download, but be aware."

Verizon also posts a listing of the Top 20 must-have apps for for both Google and Apple apps. The list is updated four times a year and currently includes AppLuvr to help people pick apps among the more than 700,000 app on each of the stores.

Productivity apps like Dropbox, Evernote and Smart Business Forms are included on the current Top 20 list.

The value of a 20 must-have apps list is that "customers don't know where to start when they have a new phone," Samberg said. "There are so many apps out there."

Many apps like Facebook are "extremely obvious" and therefore not included, but many others are not. All 20 of the must-have apps have received a rating of 4 stars or above, he said.

Reaction to Verizon's apps evalutions has been positive, he said. "People appreciate it," he said.

And so far, developers haven't objected to the high risk Android apps listings either, he said.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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