This Week in Apps: Facebook outage boosts rivals, Apple’s best and worst apps, ‘Report a
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 continues to grow, 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 in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and suggestions about new apps and games to try, too.
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Winners from the Facebook outage
When Facebook went down for nearly six hours on Monday, other apps saw an immediate benefit. Telegram, for example, gained a massive influx of 70 million more users, it said. Other firms did a fuller analysis of how the outage played out in the world of mobile apps.
According to Sensor Tower, Snapchat saw the biggest increase on the social media front, with average time spent by existing users climbing by 23% week-over-week. Twitter, which had jokingly tweeted “hello literally everyone,” grew that figure by 11% and TikTok saw a 2% jump. When comparing October 4 to the week-ago day, Snapchat saw a 14% increase in sessions, the report said. Twitter saw 5% session growth week-over-week, but TikTok saw a 1% dip.
But as the outage impacted more than just social networking — Facebook’s communication services, including Messenger and WhatsApp went down, too — rival chat apps also saw some gains. This included a 15% time-spent bump in Signal and an 18% increase in Telegram. In terms of sessions, Signal and Telegram grew by 13% and 9%, respectively, when compared with September 27. In addition, both saw an increase in installs, with Signal seeing nearly 12x the installs from the day before, reaching 881,000 downloads on the day of the outage. Telegram saw 6.3 million installs and Viber gained 137,000.
At Facebook, the declines in time spent were significant. Instagram’s average time spent on Android dropped by 28% week-over-week. Facebook on Android was down 24%; WhatsApp was down 25%; and Messenger was down 20%.
Apple brings back the App Store’s “Report a Problem” feature
Apple made a change to its App Store by returning the “Report a Problem” link to App Store product pages across iOS 15, iPadOS 15 and macOS Monterey devices. The link offers an easy way for users to report issues they’re having with an app, including whether it contains offensive or illegal content, or whether it was attempting to scam consumers out of their money. Apple had removed the consumer-friendly “Report a Problem” button from the App Store years ago, possibly to its detriment. New reports have suggested that many of the top apps are scams costing consumers millions and Apple has even been questioned by Congress over the situation.
The “new” feature is currently available in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and will make its way to other markets over time. However, the feature isn’t technically “new” in the sense that it had never before existed on the App Store — a button like this used to have a prominent position in the App Store’s early days.
When clicked, consumers will be able to select from options like “Report a scam or fraud” and “Report offensive, abusive, or illegal content” at reportaproblem.apple.com. They will also be able to report issues with free apps that don’t include in-app purchases.
The addition arrives after a number of reports about high-profile App Store scams have made headlines. Scams were even brought up in an antitrust hearing Apple attended earlier this year, when senators questioned why it wasn’t doing enough to protect consumers. The return of the button seems to be the closest to an acknowledgment we will get from Apple that fighting fraud effectively may require public input.
Apple’s apps get rated and reviewed
With iOS 15, Apple began to allow consumers to rate and review its own first-party apps on the App Store for the first time. That meant users could now leave reviews for built-in apps like Mail, Music, Stocks, Calculator and others that typically ship with the iPhone. Initially, some of the apps were not faring well as users finally had a chance to offer their feedback. For example, News started off with 2.5 stars as users complained about nags to upgrade to News+, advertising and other elements.
This week, Appfigures analyzed how the apps were doing as of October 5, 2021, to reflect the nearly 33,000 ratings they received over the first couple of weeks. It found that the most disliked apps included Mail, Podcasts, News and Translate. The latter, a newer app in the Apple lineup, fared the worst. Translate was the lowest-rated app, with a 2.42 average star rating globally off of 1,629 total ratings, Appfigures found. News, Mail and Podcasts were rated 2.55 stars, 2.98 stars and 2.44 stars, respectively.
Meanwhile, apps with ratings over 4 stars included Find My, Voice Memos, Compass, Measure, FaceTime, Notes, Fitness and Apple Wallet. A majority of Apple’s apps, however, were in the 3-star range. None received 5 stars or less than 2.42.
In terms of the number of ratings, Music and Maps led with 23% of the 32,953 ratings that came in over the past couple of weeks. Worldwide, music had 4,431 ratings, and Maps had 3,207 ratings. They were also the only apps with 3,000+ total ratings as of the time of publication.
- iOS 15 users noticed they have started to see promotions for Apple’s services in the Settings screen. While Apple has used this spot in the past, Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney this week called out Apple for the practice, saying Apple is using the Settings screen as an ad unit its competitors don’t have access to. Apple was seen marketing Apple Music here, for example — but a rival like Spotify would not be able to use this same prime real estate in the same way.
- Apple launched new metrics in App Analytics. The new analytics include redownloads, total downloads, proceeds, preorders and updates. Each metric can be displayed by territory, source type, device and more.
- Apple reminded developers that its updated App Store Guidelines said that all app submissions starting January 31, 2022 will need to offer an account deletion feature if they also offer account creation. The changes were previously announced alongside other, larger updates focused on cutting down on fraud and scams.
- Apple launched iOS 15.1 beta 3, which added a new “Auto Macro” toggle that will allow you to disable the automatic camera switching. It also added ProRes support and fixed some of the issues with Apple Maps’ “Look Around” mode’s image quality. Meanwhile, Apple stopped code signing iOS 14.8 for some older iPhones.
- Apple launched new coding guides for elementary school students. The guides include a new one-hour App Design session and other core coding concepts.
- Google announced its next Pixel event would take place on October 19. The company said it will officially introduce the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, powered by its first custom mobile chip,…