Home / Tech News / This Week in Apps: US tops China on downloads, EU regulates app stores, Instagram takes on TikTok

This Week in Apps: US tops China on downloads, EU regulates app stores, Instagram takes on TikTok


Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the TechCrunch 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 and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019. People are now spending three 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 series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.

This week, we’re looking at the political intersections between the app stores and international relations, with news of app censorship in Hong Kong and the potential for a TikTok ban in the U.S. and how rivals are preparing their alternatives. There’s other big news around regulations and lawsuits hitting this week, including one over Firebase-powered app tracking and another that changes how app marketplaces have to operate in the EU. For a bit of fun, we’re also taking a look at some of the new emoji shipping in iOS and Android later this year.

* This Week in Apps was previously available only to Extra Crunch subscribers. Starting this week, we’re making these reports available to all TechCrunch readers.  

Headlines

Over 2,500 games removed from China’s App Store in early July

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

More than 2,500 mobile games have been removed from China’s App Store during the first week of July, according to a new report from app store intelligence firm Sensor Tower. The removals were expected due to a planned crackdown on unlicensed games, but this data is the first to demonstrate the impact on the app economy. For comparison, the July figure is four times the number of games that were delisted during the first week of April, five times higher than the first week of May and more than four times higher than the first week of June. Combined, the removed games generated $34.7 million in lifetime gross revenue, with one game accounting for more than $10 million and six that earned more than $1 million. More details are on TechCrunch here.

Longer-term, the fallout from the crackdown may show up in Apple’s bottom line as China has been the most lucrative mobile games market in the world. In 2019, games on China’s App Store generated an estimated $12.6 billion, or 33.2% of all global games spending on the Apple App Store.

Snap launches a developer program for app makers 

Snap this week debuted a 13-week remote program, Yellow Collabs, focused on helping developers create deeper Snap Kit integrations. The company wants more developers to integrate its technology into their own apps. Through the new program, companies can choose to work with Snap to integrate the full Snap Kit platform, or they can narrow in on verticals like Snap Minis, Dynamic Lenses, Scan or Snap ML features. The program will run September 21-December 18 this year. Snap had earlier tried to get its technology in front of smaller startups by way of its Yellow accelerator. But this program hadn’t required integrations. The new effort puts a more direct focus on finding developers who want to build in partnership with Snap.

Microsoft xCloud to launch in September with 100+ titles  

Image Credits: Microsoft

Microsoft’s xCloud — a cross-platform game streaming service and a competitor to Google’s Stadia — is arriving in September. The company this week announced a round of updates for the new service, which allows Xbox users to play their games on mobile devices or even move between consoles and mobile as they continue a game. The blog post says xCloud will first be offered to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers, a $15/mo service, and will include more than 100 Game Pass titles at launch. Over time, the service will become more broadly available.

The growing trend of moving between devices to play favorite games has already led to mobile hits like Fortnite, Minecraft, Roblox and others. For game developers, this trend matters to the bottom line, as mobile gaming’s lead over consoles and PC has been growing in recent years.

Data from App Annie and IDC indicates that mobile gaming first overtook both home game consoles and PC and Mac gaming for consumer spend in 2014. But in 2020, mobile is extending its lead to more than 2.8x over desktop gaming and 3.1x more than home game consoles. In other words, console makers have to figure out how to bring the mobile market into the fold because that’s where consumers are spending the majority of their money.

Image Credits: App Annie/IDCApple updates coding technology to replace non-inclusive language 

Apple on Thursday announced it’s now working to remove and replace non-inclusive language across their developer ecosystem, including within Xcode, platform APIs, documentation and open source projects. The changes began on June 22 with its beta software, including iOS 14, and related developer documentation. For example, it will now replace words like “whitelist” and “blacklist” with “allow list” and “deny list.” The word “main” will take the place of “master” in the default SCM branch in Xcode 12. The word “Black,” when referring to ethnicity or cultural identity, will now be capitalized. These and other changes are available in Apple’s updated Style Guide.

New regulations in EU limit Apple’s and Google’s power over apps

On July 12, a new EU regulation came into effect that creates more rules around why and when apps are removed from their marketplaces, and more. The platforms will now have to provide 30 days notice to publishers before removing apps and terminating services, allowing developers the time to appeal or make changes to their software to come into compliance with the violation or violations in question. That means the platforms won’t be able to just ban apps and pull them down with no warning or explanation — unless the app involves illicit or inappropriate content, safety concerns, counterfeiting, fraud, malware, spam or it has suffered a data breach, MacRumors reported.

The platforms also have to provide more insight into rankings and explain how “trending” apps are chosen, disclose any differentiated treatment between sellers (like better deals that large publishers receive) and share information about their rules and terms in “plain and intelligible language.” Platforms will also have to offer third-party mediation for disputes that can’t be resolved through an app review process.

The regulations apply to platform owners who cater to businesses that sell products through their marketplaces. Apple and Google are large examples of this, but the rules could also apply to Amazon and Valve, notes Macworld.

The regulation goes into effect as both Apple and Google are under scrutiny in the U.S. for anti-competitive behavior. Apple, in particular, has been increasingly held accountable for the way it wields power over its App Store where it takes commissions on businesses — including those it competes with — and forces developers to offer Apple’s own in-app purchase system, when the developers have something to sell.

Microsoft and Google team up on PWAs 

Image Credits: PWABuilder

Microsoft’s PWABuilder, an open-source developer tool for building PWAs and Google’s Bubblewrap, a command line and utility for generating Play Store packages from PWAs announced this week they’re working together to help developers publish PWAs in the Google Play Store. Now, PWAs packaged for Google Play via PWABuilder will support the new web shortcuts standard. In addition, PWABuilder now supports the full range of trusted web activity options to make apps better on Android devices. From the PWABuilder, developers can customize the appearance of the Android status bar and nav bar in a PWA, customize the Android splash screen, change their launcher name, use an existing signing key, utilize deeper push notification support, configure their package’s ID and versioning, fallback behavior and more.

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