Home / Tech News / This Week in Apps: Clubhouse clones, WWDC21, apps have their best-ever quarter

This Week in Apps: Clubhouse clones, WWDC21, apps have their best-ever quarter

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.

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This week we’re looking into app store trends, Apple’s upcoming WWDC, new App Store rejections and what they mean for ATT (App Tracking Transparency), and whatever happened to that Arizona App Store bill, among other stories.

Apps just had the biggest quarter on record

Big news for the app economy this week, as App Annie reported that consumer spending on mobile apps broke a new record. According to new data, worldwide consumers in Q1 2021 spent $32 billion on apps across both iOS and Google Play, up 40% year-over-year from Q1 2020. It’s the largest-ever quarter on record, with mobile consumers spending roughly $9 billion more in Q1 2021 compared with Q1 2020, in part due to the pandemic’s continued impacts.

Image Credits: App Annie

Although iOS saw larger consumer spend than Android in the quarter — $21 billion versus $11 billion, respectively — both stores grew by the same percentage, 40%. Gaming drove a majority of the quarter’s consumer spending, as usual, accounting for $22 billion of the spend — $13 billion on iOS (up 30% year-over-year) and $9 billion on Android (up 35%).

Apple begins rejecting apps with fingerprinting tech

With the launch of iOS 14.5 looming, reports circulated this week that Apple has begun rejecting apps that use third-party SDKs that track users via a method called device fingerprinting. The Adjust SDK was one that didn’t yet comply with Apple’s new App Tracking Transparency guidelines, causing apps that included the SDK to be rejected. That could have been a large number of possible rejections, as Adjust’s website claims it’s trusted by more than 50,000 apps. But Adjust soon updated its SDK (open-sourced and here on GitHub), to hopefully re-enable app updates for its customers.

The App Tracking Transparency (ATT) changes have thrown a whole industry into disarray as companies scramble to comply and diversify their revenues. Snap, however, was found to be looking into alternative ways to bypass ATT by gathering data like IP addresses from companies that analyze ad campaigns to see if it could then cross-reference that data with its own, in order to continue tracking its users. Snap told the Financial Times it had tested the technique, called probabilistic matching, to test the impact of Apple’s policies, but claimed it intended to discontinue the program after Apple introduced its changes. (Sure Jan!) The company says it believes that tracking individual users will no longer be allowed going forward, but gathering data on “cohorts” would be. On Thursday, Apple sent letters to developers warning them to remove code that supported probabilistic matching, just in case.

WWDC 2021 announced

WWDC will again be virtual, Apple announced this week. The online event will take place June 7 to 11, as it did last year, allowing developers worldwide to tune in to watch prerecorded keynotes and sessions, and virtually network and learn from Apple engineers and employees. Though April 18, students can submit their Swift playground to this year’s Swift Student Challenge to win exclusive outerwear and Apple pins.

Everyone has already begun to read wayyyy too much into the imagery Apple published, which shows Memoji characters wearing glasses looking at a Mac screen. Is Apple teasing AR glasses?, some wondered. That doesn’t seem likely, though. The glasses are just a way to reflect the computer screen in a picture whose message largely conveys, yep, it’s another virtual event this year.

The Arizona App Store bill is dead

💀 The bill was the work of the Coalition for App Fairness, led by Epic Games, Spotify, Tile and other developers who want alternatives to paying app store commissions and alternative distribution channels. Last week, it had been unclear why the AZ Senate skipped the vote on the bill, which had been passed by the AZ House. But according to the bill’s (HB2005) backer, Rep. Regina Cobb, speaking to The Verge, the decision was due to heavy lobbying by Apple and Google, which caused Senate members who had agreed to a vote to waiver. When the votes weren’t there, the Senate decided to skip bringing it up altogether.

Cobb, in an email to TechCrunch, confirmed the same. “We have been working with members on the committee and had the votes a few days prior,” she said. “Just before the committee was set to proceed, the Chairman notified the lobbyist for App Fairness that the votes were not there so he did not want to waste committee time on the issue.”

Platforms: Apple

📱 Apple released the iOS 14.5 beta 6 to developers, which includes one major change: the release of new Siri voices. With iOS 14.5, Siri will no longer default to a female voice, but will rather allow customers to choose from a set of voices, presented in random order. Prior to the release, there had been some expectation that beta 5 would be the last before the public release, but that turned out to not be the case. However, now that beta 6 has arrived, the Release Candidate could follow as soon as next week.

Ahead of WWDC 2021, Apple updated its Apple Developer app. The app offers an updated look-and-feel, which now supports a sidebar navigation on iPad, full-screen video on larger Mac displays and a new way to discover content to watch and read in an updated Search section. As with last year’s WWDC, attendees will be able to connect with and tune into announcements, sessions and 1:1 labs via the Developer app.

📱 U.S. users spent an average of $138 on iPhone apps in 2020, and the number is expected to grow to $180 in 2021, reported Sensor Tower. Throughout 2020, consumers turned to iPhone apps for work, school, entertainment, shopping and more, driving per-user spending to a new record and the greatest annual growth since 2016. Per-device spending on mobile games was a large part of that figure, growing 43% year over year from $53.80 in 2019 to $76.80 in 2020. That’s more than 20 points higher than the 22% growth seen between 2018 and 2019, when in-game spending grew from $44 to $53.80.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Platforms: Google

🔎 Google will begin to limit Android 11+ apps from being able to see what other apps the user has installed on their devices starting on May 5. The company now considers this “sensitive information,” though for years had allowed the practice. That made it easy for data-gathering apps that catalog to operate. Now, Google will only allow a few exceptions — apps that will be able to use the permission include antivirus, file managers and browsers. Expect to see data-gathering firms quietly release those sorts of apps in the near future.

Augmented Reality

Google expanded the AR virtual art galleries in its Arts & Culture app to include three new Pocket Galleries from  the Jean Pigozzi Collection and J. Paul Getty Museum.