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This Week in Apps: TikTok viral hit breaks Spotify records, inauguration boosts news app installs, judge rules against Parler

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.
The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020.
Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.
This week, we’re looking into how President Biden’s inauguration impacted news apps, the latest in the Parler lawsuit, and how TikTok’s app continues to shape culture, among other things.
Top Stories
Judge says Amazon doesn’t have to host Parler on AWS

Logos for AWS (Amazon Web Services) and Parler. Image Credits: TechCrunch

U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein in Seattle this week ruled that Amazon won’t be required to restore access to web services to Parler. As you may recall, Parler sued Amazon for booting it from AWS’ infrastructure, effectively forcing it offline. Like Apple and Google before it, Amazon had decided that the calls for violence that were being spread on Parler violated its terms of service. It also said that Parler showed an “unwillingness and inability” to remove dangerous posts that called for the rape, torture and assassination of politicians, tech executives and many others, the AP reported.

Judge denies Parler’s bid to make Amazon restore service

Amazon’s decision shouldn’t have been a surprise for Parler. Amazon had reported 98 examples of Parler posts that incited violence over the past several weeks before its decision. It told Parler these were clear violations of the terms of service.
Parler’s lawsuit against Amazon, however, went on to claim breach of contract and even made antitrust allegations.
The judge shot down Parler’s claims that Amazon and Twitter were colluding over the decision to kick the app off AWS. Parler’s claims over breach of contract were denied, too, as the contract had never said Amazon had to give Parler 30 days to fix things. (Not to mention the fact that Parler breached the contract on its side, too.) It also said Parler had fallen short in demonstrating the need for an injunction to restore access to Amazon’s web services.
The ruling only blocks Parler from forcing Amazon to again host it as the lawsuit proceeds, but is not the final ruling in the overall case, which is continuing.
TikTok drives another pop song to No. 1 on Billboard charts, breaks Spotify’s record

@livbedumb♬ drivers license – Olivia Rodrigo

We already knew TikTok was playing a large role in influencing music charts and listening behavior. For example, Billboard last year noted how TikTok drove hits from Sony artists like Doja Cat (“Say So”) and 24kGoldn (“Mood”), and helped Sony discover new talent. Columbia also signed viral TikTok artists like Lil Nas X, Powfu, StaySolidRocky, Jawsh 685, Arizona Zervas and 24kGoldn. Meanwhile, Nielsen has said that no other app had helped break more songs in 2020 than TikTok.
This month, we’ve witnessed yet another example of this phenomenon. Olivia Rodrigo, the 17-year-old star of Disney+’s “High School Musical: The Musical: the Series” released her latest song, “Drivers License” on January 8. The pop ballad and breakup anthem is believed to be referencing the actress’ relationship with co-star Joshua Bassett, which gave the song even more appeal to fans.
Upon its release the song was heavily streamed by TikTok users, which helped make it an overnight sensation of sorts. According to a report by The WSJ, Billboard counted 76.1 million streams and 38,000 downloads in the U.S. during the week of its release. It also made a historic debut at No. 1 on the Hot 100, becoming the first smash hit of 2021.
On January 11, “Drivers License” broke Spotify’s record for most streams per day (for a non-holiday song) with 15.17 million global streams. On TikTok, meanwhile, the number of videos featuring the song and the views they received doubled every day, The WSJ said.
Charli D’Amelio’s dance to it on the app has now generated 5 million “Likes” across nearly 33 million views, as of the time of writing.

@charlidamelio♬ drivers license – Olivia Rodrigo

Of course, other TikTok hits have broken out in the past, too — even reaching No. 1 like “Blinding Lights” (The Weeknd) and “Mood” (24kGoldn). But the success of “Drivers License” may be in part due to the way it focuses on a subject that’s more relevant to TikTok’s young, teenage user base. It talks about first loves and being dumped for the other girl. And its title and opening refer to a time many adults have forgotten: the momentous day when you get your driver’s license. It’s highly relatable to the TikTok crowd who fully embraced it and made it a hit.
Weekly News
Platforms: Apple

Apple stops signing iOS 12.5, making iOS 12.5.1 the only versions of iOS available to older devices.

A report claims Apple’s iOS 15 update will cut support for devices with an A9 chip, like the iPhone 6, iPhone 6s Plus and the original iPhone SE.

New analysis estimates Apple’s upcoming iOS privacy changes will cause a roughly 7% revenue hit for Facebook in Q2. The revenue hit will continue in following quarters and will be “material.”

Platforms: Google

Google adds “trending” icons to the Play Store. New arrow icons appeared in the Top Charts tab, which indicate whether an app’s downloads are trending up or down, in terms of popularity. This could provide an early signal about those that may still be rising in the charts or beginning to fall out of favor, despite their current high position.

Google appears to be working on a Restricted Networking mode for Android 12. The mode, discovered by XDA Developers digging in the Android Open Source Project, would disable network access for all third-party apps.

Gaming

Goama (or Go Games) introduced a way for developers to integrate social games into their apps, which was showcased at CES. The company focuses on Asia and Latin America and has more than 15 partners, including GCash and Rappi, for digital payments and communications.

Goama lets developers integrate a social gaming platform into their apps

Fortnite maker Epic Games is getting into movies. The animated feature film Gilgamesh will use Epic’s Unreal Engine technology to tell the story of the king-turned-deity. The movie is not an in-house project, but rather is financed through Epic’s $100M MegaGrants fund.

Augmented Reality

Patents around Apple’s AR and VR efforts describe how a system could be identified in a way that’s similar to FaceID, then either permitted or denied the ability to change their appearance in the game.

Pinterest launches AR try-on for eyeshadow in its mobile app using Lens technology and ModiFace data. The app already offered AR try-on for lipsticks.

Pinterest launches an AR-powered try-on experience for eyeshadow

Entertainment

The CW app became the No. 1 app on the App Store this week, topping TikTok, Instagram and YouTube, thanks to CW’s season premieres of Batwoman, All American, Riverdale and Nancy Drew.

Users of podcasting app Anchor, owned by Spotify, say the app isn’t bringing them any sponsorship opportunities, as promised, beyond those from Spotify and Anchor itself.

YouTube launches hashtag landing pages on the web and in its mobile app. The pages are accessible when you click hashtags on YouTube, not via search, and weirdly rank the “best” videos through some inscrutable algorithm.

YouTube launches hashtag landing pages to all users

Apple’s Podcasts app adds a new editorial feature, Apple Podcasts Spotlight, meant to increase podcast listening by showcasing the best podcasts as selected by Apple editors.

E-commerce

WeChat facilitated 1.6 trillion yuan (close to $250 billion) in annual transactions through its “mini programs” in 2020. The figure is more than double that of 2019.

WeChat advances e-commerce goals with $250B in transactions

Fintech

Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, launched an e-wallet, Douyin Pay. The wallet will supplement the existing payment options, Alipay and WeChat Pay, and will help to support the Douyin app’s growing e-commerce business.

Neobank Monzo founder Tom Blomfield left the startup, saying he struggled during the pandemic. “I think [for] a lot of people in the world…going through a pandemic, going through lockdown and the isolation involved in that has an impact on people’s mental health,” he told TechCrunch.

Monzo founder Tom Blomfield is departing the challenger bank and says he’s ‘struggled’ during the pandemic

New estimates indicate about 50% of the iPhone user base (or 507 million users) now use Apple Pay. 

Samsung’s newest phones drop support for MST, which emulates a mag stripe at terminals that don’t support NFC.

Social

Indian messaging app, StickerChat, owned by Hike, is shutting down. Founder Kavin Bharti Mittal said India will never have a homegrown messenger unless it bars Western companies from its market. Hike pivoted this month to virtual social apps, Vibe and Rush, which it believes have more potential.

Instagram head Adam Mosseri, in a Verge podcast, said he’s not happy with Reels so far, and how he feels most people probably don’t understand the difference between Instagram video and IGTV. He says the social network needs to simplify and consolidate ideas.

Facebook and Instagram improve their accessibility features. The apps’ AI-generated image captions now offer far more details about who or what is in the photos, thanks to improvements in image recognition systems.

TikTok launches a Q&A feature that lets creators respond to fan questions using text or videos. The feature, rolled out to select creators with more than 10,000 followers, makes it easier to see all the questions in one place.

TikTok’s new Q&A feature lets creators respond to fan questions using text or video

Health & Fitness

Health and fitness app spending jumped 70% last year in Europe to record $544 million, a Sensor Tower report says. The year-over-year increase is far larger than 2019, when growth was just 37.2%. COVID-19 played a large role in this shift as people turned to fitness apps instead of gyms to stay in shape.

Government & Policy

Biden’s inauguration boosted installs of U.S. news apps up to 170%, Sensor Tower reported. CNN was the biggest mover, climbing 530 positions to reach No. 41 on the App Store, and up 170% in terms of downloads. News Break was the second highest, climbing 13 positions to No. 65. Right-wing outlet Newsmax climbed 43 spots to reach No. 108. In 2020, the top news apps were: News Break (23.7 million installs); SmartNews (9 million); CNN (5 million); and Fox News (4 million). This month, however, News Break saw 1.2 million installs, followed by Newsmax with about 863,000 installs, the report said.

Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) sent a draft decision to fellow EU Data Protection Authorities over the WhatsApp-Facebook data sharing policy. This means a decision on the matter is coming closer to a resolution in terms of what standards of transparency is required by WhatsApp.

WhatsApp-Facebook data-sharing transparency under review by EU DPAs after Ireland sends draft decision

German app developer Florian Mueller of FOSS Patents filed a complaint with the EU, U.S. DOJ and other antitrust watchdogs around the world over Apple and Google’s rejection of his COVID-related mobile game. Both stores had policies to only approve official COVID-19 apps from health authorities. Mueller renamed the game Viral Days and removed references to the novel coronavirus to get the app approved. However, he still feels the stores’ rules are holding back innovation.

Productivity

Basecamp’s Hey, which famously fought back against Apple’s App Store rules over IAP last year, has launched a business-focused platform, Hey for Work, expected to be public in Q1. The app has more App Store ratings than rival Superhuman, a report found. Currently, Hey has a 4.7-star rating across 3.3K reviews; Superhuman has 3.9 rating across only 274 reviews.

Trends

Baby boomers are increasingly using apps. Baby boomers/Gen Xers in the U.S. spent 30% more time year-over-year in their most used apps, App Annie reports. That’s a larger increase than either Millennials or Gen Z, at 18% and 16%, respectively.

Funding and M&A

Curtsy, a clothing resale app for Gen Z women, raised an $11 million Series A led by Index Ventures. The app tackles some of the problems with online resale by sending shipping supplies and labels to sellers, and by making the marketplace accessible to new and casual sellers.

Storytelling platform Wattpad acquired by South Korea’s Naver for $600 million. The reading apps whose stories have turned into book and Netflix hits will be incorporated into Naver’s publishing platform Webtoon.

Wattpad, the storytelling platform, is selling to South Korea’s Naver for $600 million

On-demand delivery app Glovo partnered with Swiss-based real estate firm, Stoneweg, which is investing €100 million in building and refurbishing real estate in key markets to build out Glovo’s network of “dark stores.”

Pocket Casts app is up for sale. The podcast app was acquired nearly three years ago by a public radio consortium of top podcast producers (NPR, WNYC Studios, WBEZ Chicago and This American Life). The owners have now agreed to sell the app, which posted a net loss in 2020. (NPR’s share of the loss was over $800,000.)

Travel app Maps.me raised $50 million in a round led by Alameda Research. The funding will go toward the launch of a multi-currency wallet. Cryptocurrency lender Genesis Capital and institutional cryptocurrency firm CMS Holdings also participated in the round, Coindesk reported.

Bangalore-based hyperlocal delivery app Dunzo raised $40 million in a round that included investment from Google, Lightbox, Evolvence, Hana Financial Investment, LGT Lightstone Aspada and Alteria.

London-based food delivery app Deliveroo raised $180 million in new funding from existing investors, led by Durable Capital Partners and Fidelity Management, valuing the business at more than $7 billion.

Dating Group acquired Swiss startup Once, a dating app that sends one match per day, for $18 million.

‘Slow dating’ app Once is acquired by Dating Group for $18M as it seeks to expand its portfolio

Downloads
Bodyguard

Image Credits: Bodyguard

A French content moderation app called Bodyguard, detailed here by TechCrunch, has brought its service to the English-speaking market. The app allows you to choose the level of content moderation you want to see on top social networks, like Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Twitch. You can choose to hide toxic content across a range of categories, like insults, body shaming, moral harassment, sexual harassment, racism and homophobia and indicate whether the content is a low or high priority to block.

Bodyguard is a mobile app that hides toxic content on social platforms

Beeper

Image Credits: Beeper

Pebble’s founder and current YC Partner Eric Migicovsky has launched a new app, Beeper, that aims to centralize in one interface 15 different chat apps, including iMessage. The app relies on an open-source federated, encrypted messaging protocol called Matrix that uses “bridges” to connect to the various networks to move the messages. However, iMessage support is more wonky, as the company actually ships you an old iPhone to make the connection to the network. But this system allows you to access Beeper on non-Apple devices, the company says. The app is slowly onboarding new users due to initial demand. The app works across MacOS, Windows, Linux‍, iOS and Android and charges $10/mo for the service.

Pebble founder launches Beeper, a universal chat app that works with iMessage and others

 

This Week in Apps: TikTok viral hit breaks Spotify records, inauguration boosts news app installs, judge rules against Parler

Google refreshes its mobile search experience

Google today announced a subtle but welcome refresh of its mobile search experience. The idea here is to provide easier to read search results and a more modern look with a simpler, edge-to-edge design.
From what we’ve seen so far, this is not a radically different look, but the rounded and slightly shaded boxes around individual search results have been replaced with straight lines, for example, while in other places, Google has specifically added more roundness. You’ll find changes to the circles around the search bar and some tweaks to the Google logo. “We believe it feels more approachable, friendly and human,” a Google spokesperson told me. There’s a bit more whitespace in places, too, as well as new splashes of color that are meant to help separate and emphasize certain parts of the page.

Image Credits: Google

“Rethinking the visual design for something like Search is really complex,” Google designer Aileen Cheng said in today’s announcement. “That’s especially true given how much Google Search has evolved. We’re not just organizing the web’s information, but all the world’s information. We started with organizing web pages, but now there’s so much diversity in the types of content and information we have to help make sense of.”

Image Credits: Google

Google is also extending its use of the Google Sans font, which you are probably already quite familiar with thanks to its use in Gmail and Android. “Bringing consistency to when and how we use fonts in Search was important, too, which also helps people parse information more efficiently,” Cheng writes.
In many ways, today’s refresh is a continuation of the work Google did with its mobile search refresh in 2019. At that time, the emphasis, too, was on making it easier for users to scan down the page by adding site icons and other new visual elements to the page. The work of making search results pages more readable is clearly never done.
For the most part, though, comparing the new and old design, the changes are small. This isn’t some major redesign — we’re talking about minor tweaks that the designers surely obsessed over but that the users may not even really notice. Now if Google had made it significantly easier to distinguish ads from the content you are actually looking for, that would’ve been something.

Image Credits: Google

Google refreshes its mobile search experience

Google pilots a search feature that aggregates short-form videos from TikTok and Instagram

Google is testing a new feature that will surface Instagram and TikTok videos in their own dedicated carousel in the Google app for mobile devices — a move that could help the company retain users in search of social video entertainment from fully leaving Google’s platform. The feature itself expands on a test launched earlier this year, where Google had first introduced a carousel of “Short Videos” within Google Discover  — the personalized feed found in the Google mobile app and to the left of the home screen on some Android devices.
To be clear, this “Short Videos” carousel is different from Google’s Stories, which rolled out in October 2020 to the Google Search app for iOS and Android. Those “Stories” — previously known as “AMP Stories” — consist of short-form video content created by Google’s online publishing partners like Forbes, USA Today, Vice, Now This, Bustle, Thrillist and others.
Meanwhile, the “Short Videos” carousel had been focused on aggregating social video from other platforms, including Google’s own short-form video project Tangi, Indian TikTok competitor Trell, as well as Google’s own video platform, YouTube — which has also been experimenting with short-form content as of late.

The expansion to include Instagram and TikTok content in this carousel was first reported by Search Engine Roundtable (via Brian Freiesleben’s tweet). They were able to access the feature by searching for “packers” in the Google app then scrolling down the page.
We were able to replicate this, as well. (See below image.)

Image Credits: screenshot of Google search results

We found the Short Videos carousel appears when you scroll past the Google Knowledge Base box for the Green Bay Packers, followed by the the scores, Top Stories, Twitter results, Top Results, Images, Videos and other content, like a listing of the players, standings and more.
Both Instagram and TikTok videos were available in the Short Videos row. When clicked, you’re taken to the web version of the social platform — not the native mobile app, even if it’s installed on your device. The end result is that Google users are more likely to remain on Google, as all it takes is a tap on the back arrow to return to the search results after watching the video.
Google has been indexing video content for years and partnered with Twitter on 2015 to index search results. It’s not clear to what extent it has any formal relationship with Facebook/Instagram or TikTok, however. (If those companies comment, we’ll update.)
Google declined to formally comment or further detail its plans, but a company spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch the feature was currently being piloted on mobile devices. They clarified that means it’s a limited, early-stage feature. In other words, you won’t find the video carousel on every search query just yet. But over time, as Google scales the product, it could become an interesting tool for indexing and surfacing top video content from social media — unless, of course, the platforms choose to block Google from doing so.
The feature is currently available in a limited way on the Google app for mobile devices and on the mobile web, the company said.

Google pilots a search feature that aggregates short-form videos from TikTok and Instagram

How Niantic evolved Pokémon GO for the year no one could go anywhere

Pokémon GO was created to encourage players to explore the world while coordinating impromptu large group gatherings — activities we’ve all been encouraged to avoid since the pandemic began.
And yet, analysts estimate that 2020 was Pokémon GO’s highest-earning year yet.

By twisting some knobs and tweaking variables, Pokémon GO became much easier to play without leaving the house.

Niantic’s approach to 2020 was full of carefully considered changes, and I’ve highlighted many of their key decisions below.
Consider this something of an addendum to the Niantic EC-1 I wrote last year, where I outlined things like the company’s beginnings as a side project within Google, how Pokémon Go began as an April Fools’ joke and the company’s aim to build the platform that powers the AR headsets of the future.
Hit the brakes
On a press call outlining an update Niantic shipped in November, the company put it on no uncertain terms: the roadmap they’d followed over the last ten-or-so months was not the one they started the year with. Their original roadmap included a handful of new features that have yet to see the light of day. They declined to say what those features were of course (presumably because they still hope to launch them once the world is less broken) — but they just didn’t make sense to release right now.
Instead, as any potential end date for the pandemic slipped further into the horizon, the team refocused in Q1 2020 on figuring out ways to adapt what already worked and adjust existing gameplay to let players do more while going out less.
Turning the dials
As its name indicates, GO was never meant to be played while sitting at home. John Hanke’s initial vision for Niantic was focused around finding ways to get people outside and playing together; from its very first prototype, Niantic had players running around a city to take over its virtual equivalent block by block. They’d spent nearly a decade building up a database of real-world locations that would act as in-game points meant to encourage exploration and wandering. Years of development effort went into turning Pokémon GO into more and more of a social game, requiring teamwork and sometimes even flash mob-like meetups for its biggest challenges.
Now it all needed to work from the player’s couch.
The earliest changes were those that were easiest for Niantic to make on-the-fly, but they had dramatic impacts on the way the game actually works.
Some of the changes:

Doubling the players “radius” for interacting with in-game gyms, landmarks that players can temporarily take over for their in-game team, earning occupants a bit of in-game currency based on how long they maintain control. This change let more gym battles happen from the couch.
Increasing spawn points, generally upping the number of Pokémon you could find at home dramatically.
Increasing “incense” effectiveness, which allowed players to use a premium item to encourage even more Pokémon to pop up at home. Niantic phased this change out in October, then quietly reintroduced it in late November. Incense would also last twice as long, making it cheaper for players to use.
Allowing steps taken indoors (read: on treadmills) to count toward in-game distance challenges.
Players would no longer need to walk long distances to earn entry into the online player-versus-player battle system.
Your “buddy” Pokémon (a specially designated Pokémon that you can level up Tamagotchi-style for bonus perks) would now bring you more gifts of items you’d need to play. Pre-pandemic, getting these items meant wandering to the nearby “Pokéstop” landmarks.

By twisting some knobs and tweaking variables, Pokémon GO became much easier to play without leaving the house — but, importantly, these changes avoided anything that might break the game while being just as easy to reverse once it became safe to do so.
GO Fest goes virtual

Like this, just … online. Image Credits: Greg Kumparak

Thrown by Niantic every year since 2017, GO Fest is meant to be an ultra-concentrated version of the Pokémon GO experience. Thousands of players cram into one park, coming together to tackle challenges and capture previously unreleased Pokémon.

How Niantic evolved Pokémon GO for the year no one could go anywhere

This Week in Apps: The year’s best apps, 2020’s biggest downloads, the App Store’s newest hire

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.
The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019. People now spend three hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.
This week, Apple and Google announced their editorially curated lists detailing the best apps of the year, and Apple also revealed those that were downloaded the most. Apple also made a notable new hire for an App Store role and opened up its anticipated App Store Small Business Program to developers.

Top Stories
Best Apps of the Year

Image Credits: Apple

Both Apple and Google released their “best apps of 2020” year-end lists and there were some similarities between the two, as well as some differences. Both companies’ lists reflected the tough and stressful year 2020 has been, with everyone being stuck at home during a pandemic that changed how we worked, attended school, connected with friends and family, and entertained ourselves.
Apple and Google, as a result, both selected at least one “de-stressing” app among their year-end winners. In Apple’s case, it was Endel, an iOS app that won for Apple Watch App of the Year. Google, however, awarded sleep app Loóna the title of best app of the year.
Disney+ also made both Apple and Google’s lists, the former as Apple TV App of the Year and the latter as the User’s Choice for app of the year. The new streaming service was a godsend for families with younger children, who often struggled in 2020 to keep kids entertained. New releases like Onward and Mulan in 2020 helped give families something to look forward to, while Marvel and Star Wars content, including new series “The Mandalorian,” were hits with streamers, as well.
Another pandemic-prompted choice was Zoom, which won as iPad App of the Year. Though Zoom was around before the coronavirus outbreak, it’s now become a part of our everyday lexicon as an interchangeable term for “online video meeting” — as in, “let’s do a zoom call about that.” The iPad app at least made these endless virtual meetings a little less painless.
And home workout companion Wakeout! become Apple’s iPhone app of the year, as most people gave up the gym due to coronavirus risks. The app’s quick one-minute breaks helped users stay moving, even when stuck at home for days on the couch or working on their laptop in bed.

Image Credits: Genshin Impact (screenshot via Sensor Tower)

Meanwhile, gacha-based action role-playing game Genshin Impact won as “best game” of the year on both Apple and Google’s lists. While a cynical take is that the app stores wanted to point users to a huge moneymaker — the game reportedly earned $245 million its first month and nearly $400 million in two months on mobile — it also highlights consumers’ desire for console-like experiences on mobile.
The game, however, has been heavily criticized for its gacha game monetization techniques, which though common to games in China, Japan and South Korea, are basically gambling mechanics. And addictive ones at that. But as a Wired report noted, some of this comes down to cultural differences. U.S. users grew up on cartridge games, not arcade games, where you were constantly inserting more money to keep playing. Western users just aren’t as comfortable with this “spend to keep playing” business model, which they feel is predatory.
Apple’s other top apps of the year included perennial favorite Fantastical as Apple’s Mac App of the Year; Legends of Runeterra as iPad Game of the Year; Disco Elysium as Mac Game of the Year; Dandara Trials of Fear as Apple TV Game of the Year; and Sneaky Sasquatch as the Apple Arcade Game of the Year.
Google’s list also included SpongeBob: Krusty Cook-Off as users’ choice for best game, and it highlighted a variety of top titles in various gaming subgenres in a dedicated section of its Play Store.
2020’s most downloaded apps
Apple also gave a peek into the “best” apps of the year, as determined by app downloads. The pandemic played a role here as well, making Zoom the most-downloaded iPhone app of 2020.
Also of note, TikTok was the biggest social media app by downloads, ahead of all the Facebook-owned apps making the list, including Facebook, Instagram and Messenger. Square’s Cash App hit No. 10, as the pandemic saw increased demand for contactless payments and direct giving to people in need.
The most-downloaded apps and games of 2020 were, as follows:
Top Free iPhone Apps

ZOOM Cloud Meetings
TikTok
Disney+
YouTube
Instagram
Facebook
Snapchat
Messenger
Gmail
Cash App

Top Paid iPhone Apps

TouchRetouch
Procreate Pocket
Dark Sky Weather
Facetune
HotSchedules
AutoSleep Track Sleep
The Wonder Weeks
SkyView
Shadowrocket
Sky Guide

Top Free iPhone Games

Among Us!
Call of Duty: Mobile
Roblox
Subway Surfers
Ink Inc. – Tattoo Drawing
Magic Tiles 3: Piano Game
Brain Test: Tricky Puzzles
Brain Out
Coin Master
Cube Surfer!

Top Paid iPhone Games

Minecraft
Plague Inc.
Heads Up!
Monopoly
Bloons TD6
Geometry Dash
NBA 2K20
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
The Game of Life
True Skate

Top Free iPad Apps

ZOOM Cloud Meetings
Disney+
YouTube
Netflix
Google Chrome
TikTok
Amazon Prime Video
Gmail
Hulu
Google Classroom

Top Paid iPad Apps

Procreate
GoodNotes 5
Notability
Duet Display
Teach Your Monster
LumaFusion
Affinity Designer
Toca Hair Salon 3
9: Toca Life: Hospital
Toca Kitchen 2

Top Free iPad Games

Among Us!
Roblox
Magic Tiles 3: Piano Game
Ink Inc. – Tattoo Drawing
Call of Duty: Mobile
Subway Surfers
Dancing Road: Color Ball Run!
Tiles Hop – EDM Rush
Mario Kart Tour
Save The Girl!

Top Paid iPad Games

Minecraft
Monopoly
Bloons TD 6
Plague Inc.
Geometry Dash
The Game of Life
Five Nights at Freddy’s
Human: Fall Flat
Stardew Valley
Terraria

Top Arcade Games

Sneaky Sasquatch
Hot Lava
Skate City
Sonic Racing
PAC-MAN Party Royale
SpongeBob: Patty Pursuit
Oceanhorn 2
Crossy Road Castle
WHAT THE GOLF?
LEGO Brawls

Josh Elman joins Apple to focus on App Store discovery 
VC Josh Elman announced this week he was joining Apple in a role that will see him helping customers “discover the best apps for them.” In other words, app discovery.
Elman’s background includes RealNetworks, LinkedIn, Zazzle, Facebook and Twitter, and later moved into VC. Elman worked at venture firm Greylock in 2011 as a principal, and by 2013 he had become a general partner. While there, he invested in SmartThings, as well as social networks like Musical.ly (now the massive No. 2 app of the year, TikTok), Nextdoor, Houseparty and Discord. He later moved to fast-rising fintech startup Robinhood and now, he’s heading to Apple.

With an eye for what’s next, longtime operator and VC Josh Elman gets pulled into Apple

Weekly News
Platforms

Apple opens up enrollment into the App Store Small Business Program. The program will reduce App Store commissions to 15% for qualified developers with revenues under $1 million.

Google announced Android’s winter update will include an expanded Emoji Kitchen in Gboard, auto-narration for Google Play Book without narration, a “Go Tab” in Google Maps for frequent destinations, Android Auto soon arriving in more countries, support for app sharing in Nearby Share and Voice Access improvements.

Google launches the first version of Android Studio Arctic Fox (2020.3.1) on the Canary channel, along with Android Gradle plugin (AGP) version 7.0.0-alpha01. The release is also notable for moving to a year-based system more aligned with IntelliJ IDEA, the IDE upon which Android Studio is built. Going forward, the number scheme will work like this: <Year of IntelliJ Version>.<IntelliJ major version>.<Studio major version>. The new version of Android Studio includes over 200 improvements and bugs, including those in the code editor, app inspection tools, layout editor and the embedded emulator.

Android’s winter update adds new features to Gboard, Maps, Books, Nearby Share and more

Services

Amazon will now let iOS users text Alexa to ask for things instead of using their voice.

Security & Privacy

Twitter now supports hardware security keys for iPhones and Android.

Google Authenticator app for iOS adds a dark theme and support for bulk 2FA account transfers, helpful for switching between devices.

Google launches Android Enterprise Essentials, an MDM for SMBs that will require their employees to use a lock screen and encryption to protect company data and can remotely wipe devices. It also prevents users from installing apps outside the Google Play Store via the Google Play Protect service.

Twitter now supports hardware security keys for iPhones and Android

Accessibility

iPhones can now automatically recognize and label buttons and UI features for blind users using Screen Recognition in iOS 14.

Android’s winter update, similarly, will introduce a new version of Voice Access that will use ML to understand interface labels and buttons on devices.

iPhones can now automatically recognize and label buttons and UI features for blind users

Apps in the News

Google now lets anyone contribute to Google Maps’ Street View using the Street View app and Android phone that supports ARCore.

Telegram is the first third-party app to use Apple’s Announce Messages with Siri feature for AirPods.

Google adds the messaging feature every iMessage user dreams of: the ability to schedule sending of messages in Google’s Messages app.

Reddit reveals DAUs for first time: 52 million.

Google Assistant can now reply to messages from WhatsApp, Google Voice and more.

Google Maps gets a Facebook-like news feed with business updates, local reviews and more.

TikTok tests three-minute long videos. (But we don’t need longer versions of its viral hits like M to the B).

Triller claims 321 million downloads and 65 million MAUs. (Former employees have accused the TikTok rival of inflating its numbers, which Triller denies.)

Evernote rolls out a redesign on Android. The updates include a new note editor, faster search and improved navigation.

Google’s learn-to-code app Grasshopper is now available in Spanish.

WhatsApp will now allow users to set custom wallpapers, adds doodle wallpaper in more colors and adds new stickers.
E-commerce app Wish accused of selling counterfeit products. 

7-Eleven adds its own mobile wallet to its app to allow customers, including cash customers, a contactless way to pay at its stores using their phone.

Match-owned dating app Hinge refreshes design and adds a “Standouts” feature to show users outstanding prompts and photo prompts from their best potential matches, and can answer with a new paid feature, Roses.

Quibi is really gone now.

French administration suspects Wish of selling counterfeit products

Trends

Image Credits: App Annie

App download rates have declined by 4% since 2015, but active engagement has grown.

Messaging app usage is up 13% (four-year CAGR), and users spend 67% more time in messaging apps than in social media apps.

Messaging apps that offer privacy features see, on avgerage, 30% more active users than alternatives.

Q3 smartphone sales down 5.7% in Q3 to 366 million.
Mobile shopping climbed 25% on Black Friday to $3.6 billion. 

U.S. shopping app downloads on Black Friday reached a record 2.8 million per Sensor Tower, or 2.7 million per App Annie. App Annie also said shopping shopping app downloads topped 2.3 million on Thanksgiving and 2.1 million on Cyber Monday.

On Black Friday, Walmart was the No. 1 U.S. shopping app download, followed by Amazon. On Cyber Monday, that was reversed, also per App Annie.

In-app revenue was 150% higher on Black Friday than the average of the previous 30 days, says AppsFlyer.
App Store and Google Play consumer spending topped $100 billion from January 1-November 29, Sensor Tower says.

US shopping app downloads on Black Friday reached a record 2.8M installs

Funding and M&A

Salesforce buys Slack for $27.7 billion.

VSCO acquires the tech and team from the AI-powered video editing app Trash to move further into the video market. Deal terms weren’t available, but Trash was backed by $3.3 million.

Teen banking app Step raises $50 million. The app is TikTok star Charli D’Amelio’s first startup investment. Other investors included lead Coatue; returning investors from Stripe, Crosslink Capital, Collaborative Fund and Will Smith’s Dreamers VC; and celeb investors D’Amelio, Justin Timberlake and The Chainsmokers, Eli Manning, Kelvin Beachum, Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Iguodala.

Ivanti acquired security firms, including enterprise mobile security firm MobileIron and corporate VPN provider Pulse Secure. Ivanti bought MobileIron for $872 million in stock.
U.K. challenger banking app Monzo adds £60 million in funding.

AR gaming startup Krikey raises undisclosed funding, including from Jio Platforms. The company has raised $22 million to date.

Wellory raises $4.5 million for its anti-diet nutrition app.

Airbnb to IPO with shares priced between $44 and $50.

ESL app for kids Novakid raises $4.25 million.

Virtual fitness app Salut raises $1.25 million.
Video app Supergreat, a TikTok for beauty products, raises $6.5 million.

Mental health app Intellect raises undisclosed round led by Insignia VP.

Review
We tried the Apple Watch Family Setup with a tween. They weren’t impressed with the apps or the controls, but did like the Memoji. No Roblox group chat on the small screen? Boo.

A tween tries Apple’s new ‘Family Setup’ system for Apple Watch

Downloads
Iconboard

Image Credits: Iconboard

If you find it too frustrating to use Apple’s Shortcuts to build your own custom icons, you can turn to Iconboard instead. This newly launched app lets you design a style for your icons and apply it to all of your icons at once. It can even create invisible icons to give you a way to space out items on your screen.
Cardlet

Image Credits: Cardlet

While I’ve been enjoying Punkpost’s custom designs for when I’m too lazy…err I mean busy…to send my own handwritten notes and cards, Cardlet is ready to give my go-to app a run for the money. Like Punkpost, Cardlet will send a real paper card on your behalf, but it adds a modern-day touch: The app includes a hidden AR experience that brings the card to life when viewed with the camera.
Heynote

Image Credits: Heynote

Some people don’t trust to-do lists, reminders or calendar notifications to always get the job done. When there’s something we really need to remember, we stick it directly on our home screen. (Okay, this one may only appeal to a small niche of scatterbrained users like me.) But if you have, in the past, also designed your own temporary wallpaper just so you won’t forget a super critical appointment, the Android app Heynote, (hat tip to Android Police!) might help. Instead of a widget or reminder, this app lets you put custom text directly on your home screen as a custom wallpaper. Doctor appt. at 11 AM? You can’t forget it when it’s there every single time you look at your phone.

This Week in Apps: The year’s best apps, 2020’s biggest downloads, the App Store’s newest hire