Global app revenue jumps to $50B in the first half of 2020, in part due to COVID-19 impacts

Consumer spending on mobile apps and app installs grew significantly during the first half of 2020, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new data from Sensor Tower. In the first half of the year, consumers spent $50.1 billion worldwide across the App Store and Google Play — a figure that’s up 23.4% from the first half of 2019. Previously, revenue had grown 20% between the first half of 2018 and 2019, for comparison. In addition, first-time app installs were up 26.1% year-over-year in the first half of 2020 to reach 71.5 billion downloads.

Apple’s App Store accounted for 18.3 billion of those downloads, up 22.8% year-over-year, while Google Play delivered 53.2 billion new app installs, up 27.3%.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Though Google Play saw far more app installs, Apple’s App Store continued to outpace its rival on consumer spending.

During the first half of the year, the App Store generated $32.8 billion from in-app purchases, subscriptions, and premium apps and games, Sensor Tower estimates. This figure is up 24.7% year-over-year from the $26.3 billion spent during the first half of 2019. It’s also nearly twice the estimated gross revenue on Google Play, which was $17.3 billion, an increase of 21% year-over-year.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

The pandemic’s impacts are only somewhat reflected in the top-earning (non-game) apps of the first half of 2020. The biggest earner, for example, was Match’s online dating app Tinder — an app that, one would think, would have dropped out of the top 5 due to social distancing requirements.

During the first half of the year, Tinder generated an estimated $433 million in spending across both app stores, combined. However, this number does represent a decrease of about 19% from the first half of 2019, or $532 million. It’s unclear how much that decline is related to consumers’ changing behavior and spending habits during the pandemic. Though shelter-in-place orders and quarantines kept people indoors and social distancing, social networking apps — and particularly those focused on online communication — have boomed amid lockdowns.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Tinder embraced the growing interest in online networking by making its “Passport” feature free. This setting allows users to match with other singles around the world, turning Tinder into more of a social app than one focused on real-world dating. But this change could have also led to a decrease in Tinder’s total revenues for the first half of the year.

The No. 2 top grossing app during the first half of 2020 was YouTube, bringing in an estimated $431 million globally. This was followed by ByteDance’s TikTok with $421 million. The social video app, which includes Douyin in China, had also broken download records during the first half of the year, passing 2 billion total global downloads, Sensor Tower earlier reported.

Tencent Video and Netflix were the No. 4 and No. 5 top grossing apps, respectively.

Meanwhile, consumers stuck at home during the pandemic have been downloading apps and games in greater numbers. During the first half of the year, consumers installed 71.5 billion apps for the first time, up 26.1% from the first half of 2019.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

TikTok was the most-downloaded app in the first half of the year with 626 million downloads. But its position may look quite different in the second half of year, given the recent changes in India where the government has now banned 59 Chinese apps, including TikTok.

The No. 2 and No. 3 apps were WhatsApp and Zoom, respectively — the latter an indication of the rapid shift to work-from-home and consumers’ embrace of online video conferencing, in general. In addition to WhatsApp, Facebook snagged the No. 4, No. 5, and No. 6 positions in the top 10, with Facebook, Instagram and Messenger, in that order.

Snapchat’s social app was No. 7 and No. 8 was video app Likee, which is similar to TikTok but offers a variety of face effects and filters. Netflix and YouTube rounded out the top 10.

Mobile gaming also saw a boost during the pandemic, with game spending up 21.2% year-over-year to reach an estimated $36.6 billion during the first half of the year, Sensor Tower found. Spending on the App Store grew 22.7% year-over-year to reach $22.2 billion, while Google Play game spending grew 19% to reach $14.4 billion.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Tencent’s PUBG Mobile beat out Honor of Kings as the top-grossing game for the first half of the year. Tencent’s game, which includes its localized versions (Game for Peace and Peacekeeper Elite) generated $1.3 billion across both app stores, not including China’s third-party Android app stores. Honor of Kings, meanwhile, pulled in roughly $1 billion.

The remaining top 10 included, in order, Monster Strike ($632M), Roblox, Coin Master, Candy Crush Saga, AFK Arena, Gardenscapes, Fate/Grand Order, and Pokémon Go. The latter recently adapted to indoor gaming amid government lockdowns.

Roblox, in particular, has been surging due to the pandemic as kids stuck indoors have gone online to play and socialize with friends in its virtual environment. In June, Sensor Tower reported Roblox had surpassed a milestone of $1.5 billion in lifetime player spending, for instance. Coin Master, meanwhile, is approaching the $1 billion lifetime player milestone, the firm found.

In terms of top game installs, PUBG Mobile came out on top here as well, followed by another battle royale title, Garena Free Fire. Ruby Game Studio’s Hunter Assassin, Eyewind Limited’s Brain Out, and Playrix’s Gardenscapes — which many found to be a relaxing distraction during a stressful time — rounded out the top five.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Across all of the mobile gaming market, downloads grew 42.5% year-over-year to reach 28.5 billion first-time installs in the first half of 2020. Of those, Google Play downloads grew 46.2% year-over-year to 22.8 billion while App Store downloads grew 29.5% to 5.7 billion.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

 

COVID-19 impacts more apparent in Q2 

Indications of COVID-19’s impact on the app market can be found among the figures for the first half of the year — like the growth seen by Zoom or social gaming platforms like Roblox, for example. But a closer look at the second quarter of 2020 alone makes the COVID-19 impacts more apparent.

Sensor Tower’s initial projections show consumer spending on apps and games jumped 11% on a quarterly basis from Q1 to Q2, and grew 28.8% year-over-year to reach $26.4 billion worldwide. This is a sizable increase from the 1.4% growth between Q1 2019 and Q2 2019. Downloads were up 12% on a quarterly basis and up 31.7% year-over-year to reach 37.8 billion worldwide. Again, a large increase from the 2.5% growth between Q1 2019 and Q2 2020.

Facebook’s Creator Studio gains a mobile companion

Facebook’s Creator Studio has added a mobile companion. The insights dashboard for creators and publishers, which debuted globally in August 2018, is now available as a mobile app for both iOS and Android. Similar to the desktop hub, the Creator Studio app allows users to track how their content is performing across Facebook Pages, as well as publish, schedule and make adjustments to posts, respond to fan messages, and more.

Facebook Director of Entertainment for Northern Europe Anna Higgs took the stage along with creator Ladbaby, who has over 4 million Facebook followers, to share the news of the new app’s launch at last week’s VidCon London.

There are a few key areas where the app can be of use to creators and publishers, starting with its metrics and insights section. Here, users can analyze both Page and post-level insights, retention, and distribution metrics in order to adjust their strategies accordingly. For example, they’ll find content performance metrics like “1-minute views,” 3-second views,” and “avg. minutes viewed,” plus engagement metrics like comments and shares, and follower counts, earnings, and more.

The app also serves as a mobile companion for viewing both published and scheduled posts, allowing creators to make quick adjustments like editing the video titles or descriptions. And they can use the app for deleting or expiring posts, rescheduling posts, or publishing drafts.

From the inbox section, users can respond to incoming messages and comments while on the go.

Creators can toggle between their different accounts during the same session, instead of having to log out and back in as a different user. This could be helpful for those who have a large social media presence, as well as those whose business involves supporting multiple creator pages.

The Creator Studio app will also send out immediate notifications for key milestones and other important events.

This isn’t the first time Facebook has offered a dedicated app for its creator community. The company in 2017 debuted a Creator app, that had also offered a unified inbox and analytics, among other things. But that app was shut down early last year, and creators were pointed towards the Pages Manager app or desktop version of Creator Studio instead. Before that, Facebook had offered a Mentions app that was only available for verified public figures and Pages.

The new Creator Studio app isn’t a direct replacement for the shuttered Creator app, as it sports a similar, though not identical feature set and a new user interface. It also notably lacks Instagram integration and the ability to upload and post new content — the latter which is contributing to poor user reviews, following the app’s launch. Many complain there’s too much overlap with the Pages Monitor app, as well. But the missing features are something Facebook will likely address in the future, as it rolls out more functionality to the app.

It’s worth noting that Facebook’s desktop hub and app sport a name similar to YouTube’s service for creators — YouTube Studio, rebranded from YouTube Creator Studio in 2017. By including both “studio” and “creator” in the new app’s name, it will perform better in App Store search results — including those that appear when someone searches for the YouTube Studio app for creators. That reflects the competitive nature between the two companies, both hungry to woo video creator talent.

Facebook’s new app is a free download on iOS and Android.

This Week in Apps: HQ Trivia’s dramatic death, Android 11, Apple mulls a more open iOS

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads in 2019 and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019, according to App Annie’s recently released “State of Mobile” annual report. People are now spending 3 hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

In this Extra Crunch series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.

This week we look at the sad, strange death of HQ Trivia, spying app ToTok getting booted from Google Play (again!), Android 11, an enticing Apple rumor about opening up iOS further to third-party apps, Google Stadia updates, the App Store book Apple wants banned, apps abusing subscriptions and much more.

Headlines

HQ Trivia burns to the ground

hq trivia app 1

Once-hot HQ Trivia believed it had invented a new kind of online gaming — live trivia played through your phone. Investors threw $15 million into the company hoping that was true. But the novelty wore off, cheaters came in, prize money dwindled and copycats emerged. Then co-founder Colin Kroll passed away and things at HQ Trivia got worse, including a failed internal mutiny, firings and layoffs. This week, HQ Trivia announced its demise. It then hosted one last, insane night of gaming featuring drunken and cursing hosts who sprayed champagne, called out trolls and begged for new jobs. (Sure, because they exited this one so professionally.)

Byte tops a million downloads amid spam issues and content concerns

New short-form video app Byte, heralded as Vine’s successor, is off to a strong start despite its issues. The app, built by Vine co-founder Dom Hofmann, brings back the six-second videos made popular by Vine which was shut down in late 2016 after Twitter’s acquisition of the popular video-sharing platform. According to new data from Sensor Tower, Byte’s launch has been well-received with over 1.3 million downloads during its first week alone. The U.S. delivered the bulk of these new installs, followed by Great Britain then Canada.

The U.S. contributed 912,000 downloads, or 70% of the installs, the report says. While Great Britain and Canada offered 7% and 6% of installs, respectively. The majority of Byte downloads were also on iOS, with 950,000 iOS downloads compared with 350,000 installs on Android.

App Annie’s numbers differed a bit, but also found that Byte topped 1 million total downloads on iOS and Android through Sunday, Feb. 2.

Sensor Tower’s new report compares Byte’s figures to Vine’s debut in January 2013, which only saw a total of 775,000 installs during its first week on iOS. However, that doesn’t mean Byte is soon to be a much more popular app than its predecessor.

For starters, the app market has grown over the years to include more users and more devices. In 2016, for example, only 2.5 billion users worldwide had smartphones. Now that number tops 3.5 billion. In addition, Vine launched as an unknown startup into a market that had yet to really embrace short-form. Byte, on the other hand, not only takes advantage of its association with Vine, it also arrives at a time when short-form video is now hugely popular thanks to Vine’s success and TikTok, the latter which became the No. 4 most-downloaded app of 2019.

Despite its solid launch numbers, Byte’s debut was not unmarred.

The app immediately saw massive comment spam as bots rushed to fill comment sections with follow requests (and follow for follows), including requests from pornbots. Byte’s early adopters also started snatching up coveted usernames — those belonging to real people, ranging from tech folks to celebs like Taylor Swift and other prominent figures like Trump, Bezos, Tiger Woods and others, Slate reported. The company quickly moved to acknowledge the problem and promised a cleanup was underway.

But that’s not Byte’s only issue. The app originally launched with a 12+ age rating, yet was immediately filled with adult humor alongside videos from obvious minors. Surfaced in Byte’s popular feed were videos with dick jokes and sexual humor, and problematic content including distasteful jokes about child abuse and coronavirus victims.

To give you a sense of Byte’s content, a perusal of the “Popular” feed on Friday surfaced a video featuring a teenaged-to-young adult boy joking “if you call me a slut in the comments one more time, I’m going to suck all your d***s.” Another teenaged-appearing boy joked about a prostate exam performed by his dad. A boy of a similar age asks if anyone had ever pooped into someone’s….and then the video cuts off.

It’s unclear if the boys in question are 18 or older, but seeing these — as well as so many other videos featuring dick jokes — followed by videos filmed by very young children was an uncomfortable experience.

The Popular feed also featured a video of a drone trying to fly a dildo into a sex doll. One video made light of child abuse, with a man viciously hitting the phone screen. The video is filmed from above, giving you the child’s perspective. The caption read: “when a child brings up a valid argument.”

Two other videos featured toddlers – one of a dad knocking the baby down, perhaps on purpose, as they played ball, only to later fall himself. Another depicted someone spraying a baby in the face with the kitchen sink nozzle, followed by the baby crying.

One video made fun of Chinese people dying from coronavirus. Another showed a teen smoking a joint, then hearing a siren and running.

Vine videos were strange and dumb in their own way, but the best weren’t typically crass or dirty. Think:  duck army, eyebrows on fleek, hate blockers, what are those, Squidward hits the dab, and so on.

Given the amount of adult humor, Byte’s lack of an age-gate and the app’s 12+ rating was concerning. (Byte updated to 17+ over the weekend. The above videos aren’t surfacing now. We know Apple was taking a look at its content).

Another potential concern was that a lot of Byte’s content was recycled from elsewhere — there were clips from YouTube, FunnyorDie, TV shows, and even TikTok — logo and all. Users also reposted Snapchat videos and memes from around the web.

With the changes to the age rating, it seems Byte may have been alerted to some of its more problematic content. Byte now puts a curated Spotlight feed at the top of its discovery page, where videos curation is improved.

The company on Friday also published the initial details on its Partner Program, touting the potential for revenue other platforms don’t provide.

TikTok, by comparison, hasn’t quite figured out how to monetize — its app has seen 1.65 billion downloads to date, but only grossed $176.9 million in 2019. However, TikTok’s elite are making names for themselves that allow them to grow their brand in other ways, including by directing users to other social channels like YouTube and Instagram, and even doing meet-and-greets with fans.

Whether a whole new world of Byte stars emerges remains to be seen.

Apple’s redesigned Maps app is available across the US, adds real-time transit for Miami

Apple’s updated and more detailed Maps experience has now rolled out across the U.S., the company announced this morning. The redesigned app will include more accurate information overall as well as comprehensive views of roads, buildings, parks, airports, malls and other public places. It will also bring Look Around to more cities and real-time transit to Miami.

The company has now spent years upgrading its Maps experience to better compete with Google Maps, which Apple replaced with its own Maps app in 2012. That launch didn’t go well, to say the least. Apple CEO Tim Cook even had to apologize for how Maps fell short of customers’ expectations and promised Apple would do better going forward.

Over time, Apple has been making good on those promises, by updating Maps with better data and notably, by announcing a ground-up rebuild of the Maps platform back in 2018. Last year, Apple also introduced the new “Look Around” feature in iOS 13 — essentially Apple’s version of Google Street View, but one that uses high-resolution 3D views that offer more detail and smoother transitions. 

iOS 13 also brought more Maps features, like real-time transit schedules, a list-making feature called Collections, Favorites and more.

However, some of these Maps updates have been slow to roll out. Look Around, for example, has only been live in major cities, including New York, the San Francisco Bay Area, LA, Las Vegas, Houston and Oahu. With the nationwide launch, it’s safe to assume you’re about to see it pop up in more major metros, though Apple hasn’t provided names of which ones will get it first. Real-time transit information is offered only in select major cities, including the San Francisco Bay Area, Washington, D.C., New York and LA.

Today, Apple is adding Miami to that list of supported cities offering real-time transit, just in time for Super Bowl weekend.

Over the course of 2019, Apple’s improved, more detailed Maps experience has steadily expanded across the U.S., finally arriving in the North East as of last fall.

Today, the new Maps experience it’s starting to go live across all of the U.S. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll see it right away when you launch the Maps app — the rollout is phased.

“We set out to create the best and most private maps app on the planet that is reflective of how people explore the world today,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services, in a statement about the launch. “It is an effort we are deeply invested in and required that we rebuild the map from the ground up to reimagine how Maps enhances people’s lives — from navigating to work or school or planning an important vacation — all with privacy at its core. The completion of the new map in the United States and delivering new features like Look Around and Collections are important steps in bringing that vision to life. We look forward to bringing this new map to the rest of the world starting with Europe later this year,” he added.

The updated Apple Maps includes Look Around and real-time transit in some markets, Collections, Favorites, a Share ETA feature, flight status information for upcoming travel, indoor maps for malls and airports, Siri natural language guidance and Flyover — a feature offering immersive, 3D views of major metros, as seen from above. The latter is available across more than 350 cities.

Going forward, Apple will use the imagery it collects to deliver Look Around to more U.S. markets and begin to upgrade the Maps platform in Europe.

Maps’ biggest selling point today, however, may not be the sum of its feature sets. Instead, Maps’ standout feature is its focus on privacy.

While Google does use the data collected from Google Maps for many handy features — like reporting on a business’s busiest times, for example — it’s not a private app. In fact, it’s so not private that Google had to add an “incognito mode” as an option for users who didn’t want their Maps app collecting data on them.

Apple, meanwhile, notes that its app requires no-sign in, isn’t connected to your Apple ID and its personalized features are implemented using on-device intelligence, not by sending data to cloud servers. In addition, any data collected when using Maps, like search terms, navigation routing and traffic information, is only associated with random identifiers that continually reset to protect user privacy.

Apple also uses a process called “fuzzing” that converts a precise location where a Maps search originated to a less precise one after 24 hours. And it doesn’t retain a history of what a user has searched for or where they’ve been.

In an era where people assume, usually correctly, that the mere act of launching an app is an agreement to have their data collected, Apple’s increased emphasis on user privacy is welcome and a good reason to try Apple Maps again, if you never came back to it after the shaky launch.

Apple Maps, now used in over 200 countries, is available on iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch and in cars via CarPlay.

This Week in Apps: Apple antitrust issues come to Congress, subscription apps boom, Tencent takes on TikTok

Welcome back to ThisWeek in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.

The app industry is as hot as ever with a record 204 billion downloads in 2019 and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019, according to App Annie’s recently released “State of Mobile” annual report. People are now spending 3 hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

In this Extra Crunch series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.

This week, there was a ton of app news. We’re digging into the latest with Apple’s antitrust issues, Tencent’s plan to leverage WeChat to fend off the TikTok threat, AppsFlyer’s massive new round, the booming subscription economy, Disney’s mobile game studio sale, Pokémon GO’s boost to tourism, Match Group’s latest investment and much more. And did you see the app that lets you use your phone from within a paper envelope? Or the new AR social network? It’s Weird App Week, apparently.

Headlines

Whisk’s AI-powered recipe app lets you send the ingredients to your door

Despite the proliferation of recipe websites and apps, finding and organizing the recipes you want to cook has somehow become more difficult over the years. Recipe sites are overrun with ads and long-winded personal stories, while many apps ignore the fact that many of today’s consumers want to shop for groceries online, not by making a shopping list to take to the store. Today, a company called Whisk is launching a new meal planning and recipe finding service that helps you better organize your recipe collection, as well as easily shop for recipe ingredients from a range of grocery delivery providers, including Walmart, Amazon Fresh, Instacart and others.

Whisk itself was acquired by Samsung NEXT in March of this year, after tripling its revenue, achieving profitability and powering more than half a billion recipe interactions per month.

Now, it’s out with its new cross-platform experience, which includes a website, mobile apps and a voice assistant, all designed to make it easier to meal plan, make and share lists and, finally, shop.

To be clear, Whisk is not another recipe site. Instead, it’s a way to save the recipes you find elsewhere.

The recipe site clutter has gotten so bad, it’s gained media attention and outcry from users. And while many people today still pin to Pinterest recipes they like, I’ve personally gotten so fed up with the mess that I’ve taken to just copying into Apple Notes the recipe text and a photo instead. Whisk, however, has me reconsidering my current system.

After signing up for Whisk, which can be as simple as providing an email or phone number if you don’t want to use Facebook or Google login, you get started by adding a URL of a recipe you found on the web.

On a site like Pinterest, the link is just saved to your account and you move on. But Whisk goes further. It extracts and structures the pertinent information from the site, like the recipe title, photo, ingredients, serving time and more, and places them into the appropriate fields on its recipe entry form.

Unfortunately, in tests, it doesn’t seem to pick up the recipe instructions, but you can copy and paste these in separately. You can also write a description, add notes or even add, edit or remove ingredients based on your own personal tastes. The recipe, which links back to the original source, can then be saved directly or added to a collection of your own choosing on Whisk.

When you later go to cook the recipe, you can view it without all of the recipe site’s mess and advertisements.

To be fair, the process of saving recipes this way takes a little more time than just hitting the “Pin It,” button. In some cases, Whisk doesn’t pick up the photo. Other times, you’ll want to go back to add more details beyond the cooking steps, like a link to the recipe’s YouTube video, for example.

But there are advantages that come with taking the extra few minutes on the recipe entry. Beyond just the organizational aspects, Whisk also brings its smart technology to the meal planning process. Once added, every ingredient is identified with a small photo icon as a visual reference and Whisk calculates the recipe’s nutritional aspects and gives it a “health score.”

This aspect is powered by Whisk’s “Food Genome,” a deep learning, natural language-based algorithm that maps ingredients, their relationships and their properties like nutrition, perishability, flavor, category and more. Today the Whisk ecosystem sees more than 500 million monthly interactions, the company says.

Whisk also lets users click a button to scale up or down the recipes to different serving sizes without having to do the kitchen math in your head (or a lot of googling.)

And when you’re ready to shop the ingredients, you just tap a button to create a list where you can select and deselect the individual items you need. This list can be shared over SMS, email or by URL, allowing others to view, edit or save and shop the items you need. Whisk’s voice apps, including those for Bixby, Alexa and Google Assistant, also let you add items to your list, hands-free.

You can then select from which store to shop, based on the online grocery delivery services available in your region. This is an area where Whisk outshines many recipe app competitors, which tend to overlook this final step.

At launch, Whisk supports 29 online grocers globally, including major companies like Walmart, Instacart, Amazon Fresh and PeaPod in the U.S., plus Tesco, Ocado, Waitrose, ASDA and Amazon Fresh in the U.K., as well as GetNow, Woolworths, REWE and others in various overseas markets.

“Over half of the U.S. population still makes shopping lists using pen and paper, yet most people are looking for food inspiration digitally,” said Nick Holzherr, head of Product, Whisk at Samsung NEXT, in a statement about the app’s launch. “Hours are spent looking for food content online — seeking new and healthier meals. However, the data shows people generally end up cooking the same 7-9 dishes on repeat. There’s a fundamental disconnect between the online and offline that Whisk can help connect,” he added.

The company also notes that 70% of the U.S. population is expected to buy from online shopping services by 2025.

As more people shop online, Whisk will grow its service’s revenues as it takes an affiliate commission on some grocery checkouts.

Today, Whisk is available online, as a Chrome extension and on Android, Alexa, Google Assistant, Bixby and soon iOS.

This Week in Apps: Honey’s $4B exit, a new plan for iOS 14, Apple’s new developer resource

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support, and the money that flows through it all. What are developers talking about? What do app publishers and marketers need to know? How are politics impacting the App Store and app businesses? And which apps are everyone using?

This week, we’re looking at several major stories, including the whopping $4 billion PayPal just spent on browser extension and mobile app maker, Honey, as well as the release of the Apple Developer app, a new plan for iOS 14, Google Stadia’s launch, AR gaming’s next big hit (or flop?), e-commerce app trends, Microsoft’s exit from voice assistant mobile apps, and so much more.

Plus, did you hear the one about the developer who got kicked out from his developer account by Apple, leaving his apps abandoned?

Headlines

Apple to overhaul iOS development strategy after buggy iOS 13 launch

apple ios 13Apple’s iOS 13 release was one of its worst, in terms of bugs and glitches. Now Apple is making an internal change to how it approaches software development in an effort to address the problem. According to Bloomberg, Apple’s Software chief Craig Federighi and other execs announced its plans at an internal meeting. The new process will involve having unfinished and buggy features disabled by default in daily builds. Testers will then have to optionally enable the features in order to try them. While this change focuses on making internal builds of the OS more usable (or “livable”), Apple hopes that over time it will improve the overall quality of its software as it will give testers the ability to really understand what’s supposed to now be working, but isn’t. The testing changes will also apply to iPadOS, watchOS, tvOS, and macOS, the report said.

Apple launches the Apple Developer App

Apple rebranded and expanded its existing WWDC app to become a new Apple Developer app that can stay with its 23 million registered developers year-round. Instead of only including information about the developer event itself, the app will expand to include other relevant resources — like technical and design articles, developer news and updates, videos and more. It also will offer a way for developers to enroll in the Apple Developer program and maintain their membership. Apple says it found many developers were more inclined to open an app than an email, and by centralizing this information in one place, it could more efficiently and seamlessly deliver new information and other resources to its community.

PayPal buys Honey for $4 billion

PayPal has made its biggest-ever acquisition for browser extension and mobile app maker, Honey. TechCrunch exclusively broke the news of the nearly all-cash deal, noting that Honey currently has 17 million monthly actives. But PayPal was interested in more than the user base — it wanted the tech. The company plans to insert itself ahead of the checkout screen by getting involved with the online shopping and research process, where customers visit sites and look for deals. Honey’s offer-finding features from its mobile app will also become part of PayPal and Venmo’s apps in the future.

Cloud gaming expands with Google Stadia launch

Cloud-based gaming could benefit from the growing investment in 5G. Google Stadia, which launched this week, is a big bet on 5G in that regard. Though the early reviews were middling, Google believes the next generation of gaming will involve continuous, cross-device play, including on mobile devices. This trend was already apparent with the successes of cross-platform games like Fortnite, Minecraft, Roblox, and PUBG, for example. Meanwhile, console makers like Microsoft are working to build out their own cloud infrastructure to compete. (Microsoft’s xCloud launches in May 2020.) Google could have a head start, even if Stadia today feels more like a beta than a finished product. But one question that still arises is whether Google is serious about gaming, or only sees Stadia as a content engine for YouTube?

Microsoft kills Cortana mobile apps

Microsoft this week belatedly realized it can’t compete with the built-in advantages that Siri and Google Assistant offer users, like dedicated buttons, hands-free voice commands, workflow building and more. The company decided to shut down its Cortana mobile applications on iOS and Android in a number of markets, including Great Britain, Australia, Germany, Mexico, China, Spain, Canada, and India. Any bets on when the U.S. makes that list?

SF Symbols expands

This Week in Apps: TikTok security check, app store cleanups, GameClub takes on Apple Arcade

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support, and the money that flows through it all.

The app industry in 2018 saw 194 billion downloads and more than $100 billion in purchases. This past quarter, consumer spending exceeded $23 billion and installs topped 31 billion. And there’s no sign of the app economy slowing down.

But with app marketplaces growing this large and powerful, they’re also now coming under more scrutiny from government officials as this intersection between apps and politics can no longer be overlooked.

This week, U.S. Senators asked for a TikTok security check, Google hosted its Android Developer Summit, a whole bunch of malicious apps got booted off Google Play (and a few on the App Store, too.) Plus, a great alternative to Apple Arcade launched; it’s called GameClub and delivers some of the best App Store games for $5 per month.

Headlines

TikTok comes under more political pressure

The world’s most downloaded app, TikTok, continues to draw attention not for its fun skits and lip-synced songs, but for censorship issues and potential security risks. This week, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) sent a letter (PDF) to Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, formally requesting that the Intelligence Community conduct an assessment of the national security risks posed by TikTok and other China-owned content platforms in the U.S.

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Their concerns revolved around the storage of U.S. TikTok user data (TikTok parent company ByteDance claims it’s in the U.S.), its data collection capabilities, censorship concerns, and the potential for the app to be a counterintelligence threat. As a Chinese-owned company, TikTok still has to adhere to Chinese law. That’s a potential problem. 

By the way, a press release circulated about the letter, which said the senators claimed TikTok was a “national security threat.” They actually did not write those words in the letter — and it’s a step beyond what they were claiming. The senators wanted a risk assessment performed.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment. TikTok said it was “carefully reviewing” the letter. Good thing they just hired those lawyers.

Apple CEO Tim Cook is now the top advisor to a business school called China’s Harvard

The issues around the App Store’s intersection with U.S. politics aren’t limited to TikTok.

Apple, already under scrutiny for removing a crowdsourced mapping app that showed police presence in Hong Kong, last week attracted a letter from a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers who urged to have the app reinstated. 

Now (with a lack of concern over the optics apparently), Apple CEO Tim Cook has been appointed as chairman of Tsinghua University’s business school advisory board. The university is known as “China’s Harvard,” and is one of the most country’s most elite institutions; Chinese President Xi Jinping is a noted alumnus. The university has a history of relationships with Western leaders — last year, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, and Satya Nadella were listed as board members, and its previous chairman was American VC Jim Breyer.

But given the issues around Apple’s capitulation to China’s demands to censor its App Store in the region — not to mention the U.S.-China trade war, or how Apple had told Apple TV+ showrunners not to anger China — everyone pretty much agrees it was not the best timing for this news.

Unfortunately for Apple, it can’t abandon China now, as it’s grown too dependent on its business there. As Vox recently reported:

Unlike tech companies that haven’t broken into the country or only do minor business in it, Apple is now so deep in China that leaving it could be catastrophic. Even if the company was willing to forgo the $44 billion a year in sales it makes in China, it can’t leave the deep network of suppliers and assemblers that build hundreds of millions of iPhones every year.

Millions of malicious apps get booted from Google Play…and malicious apps spotted on the App Store, too

Malicious apps were found on both Google Play and the App Store this week. But these stories are not at all the same.

Security researchers found dozens of Android apps in the Google Play store serving ads to unsuspecting victims as part of a money-making scheme. The 42 apps containing adware had been downloaded more than 8 million times since they first launched in July 2018. The apps were also sending back data about the user’s device, TechCrunch reported — including if certain apps are installed and if the device allows apps from non-app store sources — which could be used to install more malicious software.

Sadly, this kind of thing happens a lot on Google Play.

What’s less common, however, is to find malware on the App Store — which happened this week, when 17 malicious apps were removed.

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App revenue tops $39 billion in first half of 2019, up 15% from first half of last year

App store spending is continuing to grow, although not as quickly as in years past. According to a new report from Sensor Tower, the iOS App Store and Google Play combined brought in $39.7 billion in worldwide app revenue in the first half of 2019 — that’s up 15.4% over the $34.4 billion seen during the first half of last year. However, at that time, the $34.4 billion was a 27.8% increase from 2017’s numbers, then a combined $26.9 billion across both stores.

Apple’s App Store continues to massively outpace Google Play on consumer spending, the report also found.

In the first half of 2019, global consumers spent $25.5 billion on the iOS App Store, up 13.2% year-over-year from the $22.6 billion spent in the first half of 2018. Last year, the growth in consumer spending was 26.8%, for comparison’s sake.

Still, Apple’s estimated $25.5 billion in the first half of 2019 is 80% higher than Google Play’s estimated gross revenue of $14.2 billion — the latter, a 19.6% increase from the first half of 2018.

The major factor in the slowing growth is iOS in China, which contributed to the slowdown in total growth. However, Sensor Tower expects to see China returning to positive growth over the next 12 months, we’re told.

To a smaller extent, the downturn could be attributed to changes with one of the top-earning apps across both app stores: Netflix.

Last year, Netflix dropped in-app subscription sign-ups for Android users. Then, at the end of December 2018, it did so for iOS users, too. That doesn’t immediately drop its revenue to zero, of course — it will continue to generate revenue from existing subscribers. But the number will decline, especially as Netflix expands globally without an in-app purchase option, and as lapsed subscribers return to renew online with Netflix directly.

In the first half of 2019, Netflix was the second highest-earning non-game app with consumer spending of $339 million, Sensor Tower estimates. (We should point out the firm bases its estimates on a 70/30 split between Netflix and Apple’s App Store that drops to 85/15 after the first year. To account for the mix of old and new subscribers, Sensor Tower factors in a 25% cut. But Daring Fireball’s John Gruber claims Netflix had a special relationship with Apple where it had an 85/15 cut from year one.)

In any event, Netflix’s contribution to the app stores’ revenue is on the decline.

In the first half of last year, Netflix had been the No. 1 non-game app for revenue. This year, that spot went to Tinder, which pulled in an estimated $497 million across the iOS App Store and Google Play, combined. That’s up 32% over the first half of 2018.

1h 2019 app revenue worldwide

But Tinder’s dominance could be a trend that doesn’t last.

According to recent data from eMarketer, dating app audiences have been growing slower than expected, causing the analyst firm to revise its user estimates downward. It now expects that 25.1 million U.S. adults will use a dating app monthly this year, down from its previous forecast of 25.4 million. It also expects that only 21% of U.S. single adults will use a dating app at all in 2019, and that will only grow to 23% by 2023.

That means Tinder’s time at the top could be overrun by newcomers in later months, especially as new streaming services get off the ground (assuming they offer in-app subscriptions); if TikTok starts taking monetization seriously; or if any other large apps from China find global audiences outside of China’s third-party app stores.

For example, Tencent Video grossed $278 million globally in the first half of 2019, outside of the third-party Chinese Android app stores. That made it the third-largest non-game app by revenue. And Chinese video platform iQIYI and YouTube were the No. 4 and No. 5 top-grossing apps, respectively.

Meanwhile, iOS app installs actually declined in the first half of the year, following the first quarter that saw a decline in downloads, Q1 2019, attributed to the downturn in China.

The App Store in the first half of 2019 accounted for 14.8 billion of the total 56.7 billion app installs.

Google Play installs in the first half of the year grew 16.4% to 41.9 billion, or about 2.8 times greater than the iOS volume.

1h 2019 app downloads worldwide

The most downloaded apps in the first half of 2019 were the same as before: WhatsApp, Messenger, and Facebook led the top charts. But TikTok inched ahead of Instagram for the No. 4 spot, and it saw its installs grow around 28% to nearly 344 million worldwide.

In terms of mobile gaming specifically, spending was up 11.3% year-over-year in the first half of 2019, reaching $29.6 billion across the iOS App Store and Google Play. Thanks to the fallout of the game licensing freeze in China, App Store revenue growth for games was at $17.6 billion, or 7.8% year-over-year growth. Google Play game spending grew by 16.8% to $12 billion.

The top-grossing games, in order, were Tencent’s Honor of Kings, Fate/Grand Order, Monster Strike, Candy Crush Saga, and PUBG Mobile.

1h 2019 game revenue worldwide

Meanwhile, the most downloaded games were Color Bump 3D, Garena Free Fire, and PUBG Mobile.

Image credits: Sensor Tower