This Week in Apps - The Top (isn't) Stagnant

Ariel Ariel
9 minute read 1/27/23

This Week in Apps is a short, no-fluff, round-up of interesting things that happened in the mobile industry. Here are our top highlights.

This Week in Apps - The Top (isn't) Stagnant

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1. RIP Video Editors - The Most Downloaded Apps in December

I crunched the numbers and ranked the most downloaded apps in the world in December, and in case you want to jump ahead, shopping apps didn't flood the list this month!

In fact, shopping wasn't even visible... You know what was? Well, let's have a look

Most downloaded apps in December 2022

TikTok was, again, the most downloaded app in the world in December scoring 47 million new downloads from the App Store and Google Play, according to our estimates. TikTok had a pretty solid year placing first in 11 of the 12 months of 2022. The only month we ranked it not in 1st was in June, where rival Instagram beat it by a handful of downloads.

And yes, TikTok is still banned in India which happens to be Instagram's biggest market for growth.

Zooming out, we estimate that TikTok made its way into more than 600 million new devices in 2022. Wow!

Instagram was right behind in second place, just a rounding error away at 46 million downloads in December. But!

Right below Instagram was CapCut, TikTok's video editor, which made its way into 41 million devices in December. That's massive for the niche its in, by far outpacing every incumbent.

Facebook and WhatsApp round out the top five with the bottom five remaining mostly the same as November.

Together, the top 10 most downloaded apps in the world had a total of 319 million downloads globally. That's a handful lower than November, but it's a holiday month so I'm not too surprised.

2. It (Finally) Happened - The Most Downloaded Games in December

Unlike apps, games saw the exact opposite trend in December with downloads moving up instead of down, in part thanks to China, hypercasual games, and "drive-by" titles.

Let me explain...

Most downloaded mobile games in December 2022

In first place we have a game that's only available in China. This is the first time that's happened! Although games that are also available in China or have a China-only version in addition to their worldwide release made it to the top, this is the first time a China-only app did that.

That's on the App Store's side, of course.

Overall, it's incumbent Subway Surfers that's made it to the top with 25 million new downloads. Similar to TikTok, Subway Surfers has commanded our charts in 2022 ranking first in 10 of the 12 months.

What's interesting to see is how much different this chart is when compared to November's. Where apps are very stagnant games aren't at all. Most of the titles on the list are new, and the few that aren't shifted a bit.

App Tracking Transparency has definitely changed how user acquisition is done at scale, but it hasn't killed it (yet?). I expect to see more of this happening in 2023.

Together, the top 10 most downloaded mobile games in the world made their way into 170 million new devices, according to our estimates. That's a massive increase of roughly 25%, which is somewhat expected for the holiday season.

3. Candy Crush is... Crashing - The Highest Earning Games in December

Let's continue with games and get the full picture. In addition to downloads, this week I also crunched the numbers and ranked the highest-earning games in the US, where the money is.

Subway Surfers wasn't the highest-earning game in December, but crowd favorite and incumbent Candy Crush was.

Highest-earning mobile games in the US in December 2022

Candy Crush was the highest-earning game in the US in December, adding $130M of net revenue to its bottom line, according to our app intelligence. And that's after King paid Apple and Google their share.

Much like TikTok and Subway Surfers, Candy Crush was the highest-earning game in the US for most of 2022, 9 of the 12 months, but its trend changed. Up until November, Candy Crush's revenue was growing month after month. In December the total went down. Not too much, but still down.

Let's see what happens in January.

The usual suspects, which include Roblox, Royal Match, Pokemon GO, and Coin master round out the top 5. Many of you have asked for directional indicators next to apps I rank, so I added them to this chart for you to see how things are flowing.

While most apps moved, they mainly shifted around, something that's expected at the top.

Together, the top 10 highest-earning games earned a total of $432M from the US in December. Like downloads, that's higher than November. Not by as much, but higher is better.

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4. Lensa AI Slipped In - The Highest Earning Apps in December

And last in my rankings are the highest-earning apps in the US, which I also rounded up this week. And unlike all the lists we've looked at so far, this one's the most boring, and by far.

Let's see if I can find the interesting bits before you yawn.

Highest-earning mobile apps in December 2022 in the US

TikTok was, again, the highest-earning app in the US earning $55M in net revenue according to our estimates. Almost yawn, until you read the news and see that congress is potentially discussing a ban on TikTok in the US.

I doubt that'd happen, though. Many have talked about banning TikTok in the last few years, and it seems like no matter what they do, even lie under oath, that ban hasn't come, so it probably isn't. But if it is... That's millions of dollars that would remain in users' pockets instead of flowing to Apple and Google, in addition to TikTok, every month.

That's a crazy thought!

YouTube came in second, adding $50M of net revenue to its bottom line in December. Slightly higher when compared to November, but not by that much.

But I promised interesting, so let's skip to that.

LensaAI, the generative AI avatar maker that went viral, made its way into our rankings. It scored 7th place on the App Store's list and the same overall with its fresh haul of $26M of net revenue.

I don't expect to see Lensa on this list in January because that whole trend came and went, but it's great to see this list isn't set in stone. Even if it looks like it is.

Crunchyroll was another "new" entrant to the list, squeezing into last place on the Google Play side of things with $3M in net revenue. This isn't the first time we see Crunchyroll, the streamers for anime, in this list, but it's been quite a while.

Together, the top 10 highest-earning apps earned a combined total of $340M of net revenue from the US in December. I expected to see a better month for streamers as we have in previous years, but the lack of exciting content and the desire to IRL put an end to this trend. RIP.

5. The Most Popular Non-Native Framework Isn't React Native (or Flutter)

Last week I shared a surprising insight about React Native that generated a lot of feedback. Thanks to everyone who shared their thoughts, questions, and suggestions for what I should be looking at for the full report.

While I compile that, I have a bit more to share that should address the most common question I've been getting which was "Is React Native shrinking because another framework is taking over", and "is that framework Flutter?".

Before we answer those two questions, let's have a quick look at where we stand today in terms of popularity of non-native frameworks.

For that, I rounded up the top 5 frameworks by usage in iOS and Android apps, I grabbed that from Explorer, which is an excellent resource for SDK intelligence. If you've looked at Explorer and weren't sure where to start, I've been thinking of doing a live stream on how I use it for the newsletter. If you'd like that let me know.

Most popular non-native app development frameworks for iOS and Android apps and games

Contrary to common belief, React Native isn't the most popular non-native framework for mobile apps... React native, while very powerful, has a very steep learning curve. And I speak from experience. I do expect that to improve over time, but it's facing stiff competition from other frameworks and also directly from Apple and Google that are simplifying development.

The most popular non-native framework is Unity right now.

According to our data, nearly 270K apps and games, mostly games, that are available in the stores now, were built with Unity. There are roughly 755K games across the App Store and Google Play, which means Unity is powering about a third of all mobile games.

Cordova is a very close second, with a smidge over 260K apps and games, mostly apps, using it right now. Cordova is very different from Unity so there's no overlap here. They also don't compete because Unity is for games while Cordova is for simpler applications.

React Native comes in third, and not that close followed by Flutter, which is closer.

Ionic, which is mainly for apps, comes last in the list with a little more than 130K apps and games. It's about half of its nearest "competitor", but that aside, it's powering an impressive number of apps right now.

Now that we know where we are right now we can turn to "how did we get here?".

For that, I pulled the number of apps released by year having each of these frameworks. These numbers include all apps released during the year, including ones that may have been removed for any reason, so they won't exactly align with the numbers we just looked it.

Non-native app releases by year

Looking at this chart, the trend of "less non-native" is apparent across the board. All five frameworks saw fewer apps released in 2022 when compared to 2021. However... not all saw the same drop.

When comparing the rate of growth, or, shrinkage in this case, React Native, again, wasn't at the top of the list. That's at least good.

Ionic and Cordova saw the biggest drop in 2022. Given Ionic works on top of Cordova that makes perfect sense.

At the other end of the list is Flutter, which dropped the least of all five in 2022, just 19% year over year. Flutter seems to have hit the mainstream in 2021 growing a lot over 2020. Having never used Flutter and only hearing developers complain about it Im not sure why it's seeing more adoption these days, but then I looked at some of the apps that are built with it and couldn't really find many interesting/popular titles.

More in the full report, and if there's something specific you'd like me to include let me know.

App Intelligence for Everyone!

The insights in this report come right out of our App Intelligence platform, which offers access to download and revenue estimates, installed SDKs, and more! Learn more about the tools or schedule a demo with our team to get started.

Are you a Journalist? You can get access to our app and market intelligence for free through the Appfigures for Journalists program. Contact us for more details.

All figures included in this report are estimated. Unless specified otherwise, estimated revenue is always net, meaning it's the amount the developer earned after Apple and Google took their fee.

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