This Week in Apps - Apple's Sweep, Spotify's Explosive year, Mobile Casinos, and More!
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.
1. Apple's Latest Ratings Sweep is Barely Noticeable (for Bigger Apps)
Lots of developers have told me their iOS apps have lost ratings in the last week.
In the last year or so, Apple has done this more than once, and I expect it's a sweep for fake ratings, a major issue on the App Store I see all the time when analyzing keyword ranks and results.
I wanted to get a better understanding of how deep this sweep was so I crunched the numbers and the results will surprise some of you.
To see the impact of the "sweep" I analyzed the ratings of the top 100 apps and games in the US over the last 30 days, looking at the total number of ratings that appeared in the App Store for the day, and I limited that to the US.
Can you guess how many ratings the top 100 apps in the US have combined?
348,268,613 as of yesterday!
In the last 30 days, the top 100 iOS apps and games received 5,088,573 new ratings.
Those are big numbers. But back to the sweep.
Looking at the total for the group over time, I expected to see a massive drop at some point. But here's the kicker. I didn't!
That isn't to say the sweep isn't real. It is. For example, VPN - Super Unlimited Proxy, #41 on the list, lost more than 3,000 ratings. It wasn't the only one.
But in the grand scheme of things, the sweep wasn't even noticeable.
This, to me, is an indicator of the (small) scale of this sweep.
There's an inherent challenge to tracking sweeps like this. We capture the total ratings for every app every day. The top apps are very popular and continue getting new ratings every day, and we know Apple is only removing existing ratings and not blocking new ones. That means that if Apple removed the same (or fewer) number of ratings as new ones being added, we wouldn't see much impact.
We would see it if the numbers were the same, which suggests they weren't. Apple removed fewer ratings, overall.
So even though many smaller apps got hit harder, overall, which is how I'd expect Apple to look at it, this won't have a big impact.
FYI - This sweep shouldn't have any impact on keyword ranks. Those rely on new ratings.
I suspect that the sweep is really a two-step process. The first is to identify and shut down Apple accounts that are used for fake ratings. That prevents new fake ratings from going into the store. The second, or maybe a result of the first, is to erase the ratings left by those accounts, which is the sweep.
Get ready for more sweeps like this in the future. I can see another coming this summer. Get ahead of this by making sure your app or game asks for a new rating directly.
2. A Closer Look at Telegram's App Revenue in Its First Earning Year
Last year Telegram, the messaging app that isn't Meta's and has been on our list of the most downloaded apps in the world every month rolled out a paid tier to its then-free app. A few companies, including Snapchat, have done that in 2022.
More than six months in, I was curious to see just how much money an app that was downloaded by more than a billion people since 2020 is earning.
Really, as much as I expected when it first launch...
Let's look at more absolute numbers.
Our estimates show Telegram earned a total of $7M of net revenue from the App Store and Google Play between June and December of 2022. That's what Telegram gets to keep after giving Apple and Google their share.
If you compare Telegram's revenue to Twitter's, which struggled to get beyond what Telegram managed to earn by its third month until Elon came along, this revenue is very healthy.
But if you compare those to Snapchat's, another app that rolled out a paid tier in 2022, Telegram's total is just a tad higher than Snap's first month.
To me that spells opportunity!
I think Telegram's offering will need to evolve in order to capture that opportunity, however. Although revenue is increasing, the rate of growth and even absolute growth isn't.
Revenue growth has slowed down from 67% in August, month three, to just 12% in December. I purposely skipped the earlier growth numbers which are higher because most apps have big launches and then decline.
Selling small features, while nice, just can't garner the kind of growth I'd expect to see from Telegram's users. It might work on Snap's younger audience, but Telegram would really need to roll out something useful to see meaningful growth.
3. Spotify's Downloads Soar to New Heights in 2022
Spotify's downloads took a hard hit when Apple Music first launched. That resulted in the no-longer-news battle between the two which also led to declining downloads on the App Store.
But it seems the trend changed in 2022. Should Apple be worried?
Let's go with a soft maybe, for now.
According to our download estimates, Spotify's quarterly downloads grew 51% between 2018 and 2022. In more absolute terms, Spotify added 41M downloads in Q1 of 2018 and ended Q4 of 2022 with 62M downloads.
The trend has generally been up-and-to-the-right, but not always.
Downloads dipped a bunch in 2020 and 2021, slowing down growth, and for one whole quarter even dipping below their starting point.
But that changed in 2022. Q1 of 2022 was their second-highest since 2018, with 55M estimated downloads, and Q4 was their highest with 62M downloads.
Spotify added nearly a quarter billion new mobile users in 2022. Nearly a billion new mobile users since 2018.
I'm sure Apple is a little worried.
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4. Can Mobile Casino Games Adapt or Is It Game Over?
Mobile casino games are very interesting to me. Not because I'm a big fan of the genre but rather because of how much they grew in popularity during covid. And by popularity, I don't just mean downloads but rather, revenue.
Last time I looked at casino games, revenue grew rapidly before lockdowns began and even faster once they did. Now that lockdowns are a thing of the past, is revenue still growing for mobile casino games?
Yes, yes it is.
I summed up the downloads of the top casino games, and by "top" I'm referring to the ones leading the Top Grossing charts.
The list includes Jackpot Party, Slotomania™, Lightning Link Casino, DoubleDown™ Casino, Cashman Casino, Big Fish Casino, Cash Frenzy™, Quick Hit Slots, and POP! Slots™.
Going all the way back to 2017, to get some context, the group earned $27M of net revenue in January of 2017, according to our estimates. Sounds like a lot considering that, unlike real casinos, you can't really earn money back from playing.
But you just wait! By January of 2020, pre-covid, that total rose to $59M, and that's net revenue, meaning what these studios get to keep after giving Apple and Google their share.
The total rose to $86M in peak lockdown time, a whopping increase of 219% increase.
While revenue dipped sharply after, it's been growing steadily since and hit a new milestone in December of 2022.
The group's collective revenue crossed $100,000,000 of net revenue for the first time ever. December's haul was $106M, according to our estimates.
Guess which age group downloads casino apps the most. It's probably not what you think! According to our demographics data, 25-34 year olds are the largest group followed by 34-49. I expected this to skew older.
5. Vrbo Soars Past Airbnb with Millions of Downloads
Airbnb isn't used to having competition. For a loooong time it was the only owner-renting-by-app service in use. Not only, but the only one most people knew about.
Last year I looked at Airbnb's competition, Vrbo, which was acquired by Expedia. In 2021, Vrbo was starting to get popular, and even beat Airbnb on downloads for a few days here and there.
In 2022 that changed drastically.
Vrbo's downloads outpaced Airbnb's in the US for 10 out of 12 months in 2022, and not by a little!
Last time I compared the pair, Vrbo was beating Airbnb for short bursts. In 2021, Vrbo beat Airbnb for two out of 12 months. Exactly the opposite of 2022.
And the numbers were pretty big.
Vrbo added 18M new mobile users in the US to its bottom line in 2022, according to our estimates. Airbnb, US downloads came in at 15M. That's a difference of roughly 3M downloads. 20%.
For context, and also so you have the bigger story in mind, downloads of both grew drastically in the US when compared to 2021. Vrbo's downloads more than doubled (7M) and Airbnb nearly doubled (8M).
How did Aribnb let this happen? I bet you someone wasn't looking at competitors...
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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.