Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.
Global app spending reached $65 billion in the first half of 2022, up only slightly from the $64.4 billion during the same period in 2021, as hypergrowth fueled by the pandemic has slowed down. But overall, the app economy is continuing to grow, having produced a record number of downloads and consumer spending across both the iOS and Google Play stores combined in 2021, according to multiple year-end reports. Global spending across iOS and Google Play last year was $133 billion, and consumers downloaded 143.6 billion apps.
This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and much more.
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Year-End App Scoreboards
Apptopia is first out of the gate with its full-year retrospective of the top apps globally. The app intelligence firm this week launched 33 top charts based on data from iOS and Google Play combined, except for data from China which is iOS only. The data was collected from Jan. 1 2022 through Dec. 20, 2022.
The company even created its own categories to highlight apps that don’t yet have their own app store category — like quick-serve restaurants. (McDonald’s topped Starbucks here.)
Overall, the firm found that the top app worldwide was TikTok with 672 million installs. It was followed by Instagram, WhatsApp, CapCut (riding on TikTok’s success), Snapchat, Subway Surfers, Facebook, Stumble Guys and Spotify.
Apptopia also chose to this year categorize TikTok as Entertainment, not Social Networking, which allowed it to top Netflix as the most-installed Entertainment app.
Besides Subway Surfers, an endless runner that first launched in 2012 (!!), other older games proved to have staying power, like Candy Crush Saga, 8 Ball Pool and Among Us!
Other highlights include the first-time appearance of SHEIN as the No. 1 Shopping app of the year, after previously ranking No. 2 last year and No. 4 the year prior. Wish, meanwhile, didn’t make the cut. Crypto apps were also absent from the top charts as was China’s Didi, as it was impacted by the country’s zero-Covid policy. However, the token-based plan for Sweatcoin made the workout app the No. 1 Health & Fitness app globally.
It will be interesting to compare Apptopia’s data with those from other firms as the 2022 reports begin to arrive.
Android and iOS
Google’s Play Store will now allow parents to approve apps and in-app purchases initiated by kids. Parents will act as the family manager of the family account to approve the purchases when there’s no payment method, specifying how they want to pay for the app or other purchases.
Google is appealing a ruling by India’s antitrust body that claims the company engaged in anti-competitive practices surrounding Android mobile devices.
Google launched HD maps as part of its Google Automotive Services. Volvo and Polestar are first to integrate with it.
Android Auto introduced a new design intended to make it easier to navigate, play music and podcasts and communicate while on the go.
At CES, Google announced new media playback features, including better playback options for Spotify Connect-compatible devices and cross-device notifications for resuming media playback on the move.
Apple finally shut down Dark Sky, the weather app it acquired to improve its own Weather app offering. The app was well-liked by users but less so by meteorologists, a Slate article noted.
Apple had to temporarily pull the new HomeKit architecture from its iOS 16.2 update to fix a Home sharing issue.
A French court fined Apple €1 million over its abusive App Store practices with regard to “significant imbalances” in its relationship with app developers.
Amazon-owned encrypted messaging app Wickr Me has stopped accepting new sign-ups and will shut down on Dec. 31, 2023, the company announced. The app had come under fire previously for enabling people to trade child sexual abuse material.
WhatsApp ends support for a large number of older devices including phones from Apple, HTC, Huawei, LG, Samsung, Sony and others.
WhatsApp also launched official proxy support for global users, allowing users to stay connected even if their connection is blocked or disrupted. The feature relies on servers set up by volunteers and other organizations.
Telegram was updated with new features like hidden media, which adds a layer to blur an image; new tools for managing the storage space used by media, files and music; and new drawing and text tools; and other changes for profiles and groups.
Cryptic tweets from Epic CEO Tim Sweeney have people wondering if Fortnite will be returning to the iPhone in 2023. In a post, the exec tweeted “Next year on iOS!” — suggesting, perhaps, the game maker will release the game again on Apple’s platform. Epic is currently appealing its antitrust lawsuit with Apple and is engaged a similar suit with Google.
The FTC also fined Epic Games $520 million for violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, and manipulative “dark patterns” that tricked users into making purchases. The money will be refunded to customers and is the largest refund in a gaming case, and the largest FTC administrative order in history.
Amazon brings its subscription-based Prime Gaming to India, offering games across PC, Mac and mobile. Top titles include League of Legends, DeathLoop, Quake, COD Season 1, EA Madden 23, FIFA 23, Apex Legends, Destiny 2 and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.
China’s online gaming regulator approved 45 foreign games, ending the crackdown on gaming releases from outside the country. Pokemon Unite was among the newly approved titles.
Nvidia upgraded its $20/mo GeForce Now plan (Ultimate) with new servers with better hardware components. The service works across Windows, macOS, Android, Android TV, and select web browsers, including Safari on the iPhone and iPad.
Tumblr added support for livestreaming on its mobile apps for iOS and Android. The service is powered by Livebox, which allows users to tip streamers. The service, dubbed Tumblr Live, can be found in a new Live tab and arrives at a time when the app has seen a surge of growth thanks to the Twitter exodus.
TikTok is now telling users why a video is on the For You feed. Users will be able to access a new feature, “Why this video?” from a question mark icon to learn why a video was recommended to them — for example, because of content they’ve previously watched, searched for, comments they had posted, or videos they shared.
Snapchat’s subscription service, Snapchat+, added three more features — the ability to add custom backgrounds for chats; gift a subscription to a friend; or change the camera button to a heart, soccer ball or another image.
Twitter’s subscription service Twitter Blue now supports video of up to 2GB, 60 mins in length, and 1080p on iOS; Android is limited to 512MB, 10 mins.
Twitter added support for crypto to its “cashtags” feature for tracking a given coin’s market price. It also added publicly visible tweet counts, which used to be a private analytics feature. It also saw a 12+ hour outage in Australia and New Zealand. Yikes.
Instagram added a Reels template for making a 2022 recap of up to 14 photos. In the past, users had often turned to third-party apps, like Top Nine, for recaps.
Meta closed down a Cameo clone called Super which had offered virtual meet and greets with creators.
Mastodon has climbed to 2.5 million monthly active users, thanks to the Twitter exodus, up from around 300K users in October. The company is largely financed by Patreon, bringing in around $31,000 per month, up from $7,000 in November. The company has rejected offers of investment from VCs, saying they don’t understand its aims and want to commercialize the platform.
Quora launched an A.I. chatbot in its iOS app that lets users ask questions and engage in back-and-forth conversations. The bot, called “Poe,” is currently invite-only and offers access to a number of text-generating A.I. models, including ChatGPT. (It’s unclear if the company has a partnership here — but ChatGPT doesn’t offer a public API).
Apple launched A.I.-powered book narration in Apple Books. The company said the feature will help independent authors who might not be able to convert their titles to audiobooks because of “the cost and complexity of production.”
Picsart debuted an iOS app, SketchAI, that turns photos and drawings into digital art using A.I.
YouTube beat out Apple for the NFL Sunday Ticket streaming deal. The landmark deal will allow the company to offer the subscription as an add-on to YouTube TV or YouTube Primetime Channels. The multi-year deal is pegged at $2 billion.
Amazon is developing a standalone app for streaming sports content, The Information reported. The move could help Amazon better promote its live sports content, including the NFL’s Thursday Night Football.
Spotify may also be working on HealthKit integrations possibly to suggest songs based on the exercises users were performing.
Snap shut down its desktop camera app, Snap Camera, which offered filters for video calls on Skype, YouTube, Google Hangouts, Skype, and Zoom.
TikTok expanded its audience controls feature which now gives creators the ability to restrict their videos to adult viewers. Previously this was only available on TikTok Live.
TikTok partnered with IMDb to introduce a new feature that lets users tag movies and TV shows in their TikTok videos. The link takes viewers to an in-app page with IMDb info about the title and allows creators to save titles to a new Favorites tab on their profiles. MovieTok is going to love this.
Pinduoduo’s discount marketplace app Temu became the most downloaded U.S. app from November 1 to December 14, Sensor Tower data found. The app saw 10.8 million U.S. installations from September 1 on.
The IRS decided to delay a requirement that would have forced e-commerce apps like Venmo, PayPal, Cash App and Etsy to send tax forms to SMBs with $600+ in transactions.
Government, Policy and Lawsuits
France’s data protection watchdog, the CNIL, fined Apple €8 million (~$8.5M) for not obtaining mobile users’ consent prior to placing (and/or reading) ad identifiers on their devices related to its display of personalized ads on the App Store.
An Android malware known as “Godfather” is using overlaid login screens to gain access to users’ credentials on over 400+ banking and crypto apps.
A ByteDance internal inquiry found that company employees had obtained user data of a small number of U.S. TikTok users, including two journalists. Four employees were fired over the offense, which was an attempt to discover the reporters’ source for leaks inside the company.
U.S. Congress passed a spending package that includes a bill banning TikTok on federal government devices over security concerns. The U.S. House also banned the app from all Representative-managed devices due to its “high-risk” nature.
Ireland’s Data Protection Commission opened an inquiry into Twitter over reports of a leak of approximately 5.4 million users’ personal data last year.
Funding and M&A
Viva Republica, which runs the South Korean finance super app Toss, raised $405 million in Series G funding, valuing the business at 9.1 trillion won ( $7 billion). Previously, the company was valued at 8.5 trillion won in June 2021.
Indian fintech app Money View raised $75 million in a Series E funding round led by Apis Partners, valuing the business at $900 million. The company is looking to scale its credit business and build more products for the South Asian market.
Jakarta-based fintech app Akulaku raised $200 million from Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG), the largest bank in Japan. The strategic investment will help the company expand into new markets and build products together with MUFG.
Product Science, the maker of mobile app performance-monitoring tools, raised $18 million in seed funding to date from backers, including Slow Ventures, Coatue, K5 Global, Mantis Ventures, Benchmark’s Peter Fenton, Insight Partners co-founder Jerry Murdock and unnamed Snap VPs.
Indian fintech KreditBee has raised an additional $100 million led by Advent International as part of a larger Series D funding now closed at $200 million.
10-year old Chipolo explains why it’s not worried about Apple’s AirTag: Chipolo still runs its own app for its AirTag-like tracker, but it’s also embraced Find My integration. Unlike Tile, the company told the DoJ it wasn’t worried about Apple’s entry into its market.
FluentPet’s talking button system lets you get a ‘text’ from your dog: FluentPet launched an app-connected talking button system, FluentPet Connect, that integrates a mobile app with its dog communication tools — programmable buttons that, when pressed by a doggie’s paw, say words you have recorded. The new product is an update to the model first made popular by a dog named Bunny, whose 9 million+ social media followers landed the sheepadoodle on Forbes’ list of the top 50 social media creators of 2022.