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 number of downloads and consumer spending across both the iOS and Google Play stores combined in 2021, according to the latest year-end reports. Global spending across iOS, Google Play and third-party Android app stores in China grew 19% in 2021 to reach $170 billion. Downloads of apps also grew by 5%, reaching 230 billion in 2021, and mobile ad spend grew 23% year over year to reach $295 billion.
Today’s consumers now spend more time in apps than ever before — even topping the time they spend watching TV, in some cases. The average American watches 3.1 hours of TV per day, for example, but in 2021, they spent 4.1 hours on their mobile device. And they’re not even the world’s heaviest mobile users. In markets like Brazil, Indonesia and South Korea, users surpassed five hours per day in mobile apps in 2021.
Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours, either. They can grow to become huge businesses. In 2021, 233 apps and games generated over $100 million in consumer spend, and 13 topped $1 billion in revenue. This was up 20% from 2020, when 193 apps and games topped $100 million in annual consumer spend, and just eight apps topped $1 billion.
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 to try, too.
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Image Credits: Meta
In 2016, TechCrunch published an article referencing research that indicated the average age for a child getting their first smartphone was 10.3 years old; 39% of kids also had a social media account by age 11.4 years old, on average, it said. Earlier reports suggested the average age of kids getting smartphones was even younger. In other words, we’ve known for some time that children were using devices and going on social media apps when they got them. And yet, it’s taken this many years for one of the most-used apps in the world, Instagram, to roll out parental controls?
Image Credits: Meta
That’s right: This week, Meta announced its broader strategy to finally address the fact that millions of minors were using its services and that, perhaps, parents wanted some sort of measure of control over that. The company said its new Family Center will offer a centralized hub where parents can manage their kids’ accounts across Meta’s apps, initially beginning with Instagram. It also introduced basic parental supervision to its VR headset, Meta Quest, three years after its launch, allowing parents to control what apps kids could download and access.
Unfortunately, I have to admit, I found Instagram’s parental controls to be lacking in terms of features. At launch, parents can view time spent and set time limits for the app, keep track of which accounts the teen is following and be notified if the teen reports another user. It is better than nothing, but it’s certainly not enough. After all, parents could already view time spent and manage time limits from Google and Apple’s built-in parental controls, so that’s not really new functionality for a parent who was already involved with their kid’s smartphone use. And while the other features are certainly useful, they’re nowhere near as comprehensive as the built-in parental controls Instagram’s main rival, TikTok, offers.
Part of that is not fully in Instagram’s control. When Meta announced it was preparing a specialized version of its app experience for under-13 users, aka an Instagram for kids, the backlash from consumers, media and lawmakers was so severe, Meta had to put the project on hold. But the reality is that kids under 13 are already on Instagram, just like they’re already on Snapchat and TikTok and many other apps where getting access to adult experiences is as simple as picking a different birthdate other than their own.
Meanwhile, TikTok, in a way, benefited from getting that multimillion-dollar FTC fine back in 2019, because it forced the company to address the under-13-year-olds on the app with an age-gated, COPPA-compliant, “limited app” experience called TikTok for Younger Users. That means TikTok can offer its service to kids under 13 and then tout to parents how they can control what their kids can see and do through the app’s built-in parental controls. It’s got the Gen Alpha pipeline, in other words. And parents feel better that they don’t have to deny TikTok entirely (good lord, the begging these kids do for this app!) nor do they have to let their kids into the full, and often adult-oriented, world of TikTok.
Image Credits: Screenshot of Instagram’s parental controls
That said, Instagram still could have done more here with its parental controls. Though it can’t offer a “kids experience,” like TikTok does, it could add other privacy and safety controls. For comparison, TikTok lets parents control whether or not their kids’ profile is private, whether it’s suggested to others in the app, who can send the kid DMs, who can view the kids’ liked videos, who can comment on their posts and even whether or not they can use the Search feature. And this is in addition to letting parents set time limits.
Instagram, on the other hand, controls some of these things itself — it defaults young teens to private profiles and uses algorithms to detect potentially suspicious accounts that could be adults trying to contact the teen. Okay, sure, that’s great. But why not put more specific controls into parents’ hands?
After all, just because private profiles are the default for younger teens, it doesn’t mean the kid won’t toggle that switch to public later. These are minors; none of this should really be their call. And why do parents have to rely on Instagram’s algorithms to block adult contact? If they don’t want their kids messaging, they should be able to turn that off. Period.
Meta didn’t mention if these things are on its roadmap for parental controls. Instead, per its announcement, its next couple of features will involve letting parents set the hours during which their teen can use Instagram and the ability for more than one parent to supervise a teen’s account. Those are fine too, though hardly mission-critical in terms of privacy and safety. Instead, it feels like Instagram wants to be able to say it has parental controls while largely focusing on time spent in-app. It doesn’t address the numerous and varied social media concerns and dangers that parents actually worry about.
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💰Dorian’s no-code, interactive storytelling app raised $14 million in Series A funding led by the Raine Group for its app that allows fiction writers to turn their work into choose-your-own-adventure mobile games which generate revenue through in-app purchases.
💰Tokyo-based mobile banking app Kyash raised $41 million in Series D funding from Block, Greyhound and others. The investment is Block’s first in Asia.
💰Linktree, the link-in-bio solution provider used across social apps and elsewhere on the web, raised $110 million in a Series B extension round led by Coatue and Index. The round values the startup at $1.3 billion.
📈Indonesia’s tech company GoTo Group is planning to raise $1.1 billion in an Indonesian IPO on April 4. The company was formed as a merger between ride-hailing superapp Gojek and e-commerce business Tokopedia.
🤝Food delivery service Zomato to merge with instant delivery service Blinkit (formerly Grofers) in an all-stock deal valuing Blinkit at $700-750 million.
💰Mojo, an app that will allow fans to buy and sell “stocks” of pro athletes at values based on their performance, raised $75 million in Series A funding led by Thrive Capital.
Image Credits: Amie
Amie is a new social calendar app that seems to have a lot of promise. You can read Romain Dillet’s full TechCrunch write-up here, but the key features include the ability to open a to-do list alongside the calendar, then drag and drop those items on the calendar to assign them a date. On the other side are profile icons of team members which you can hover over to see their availability for meetings. The app also has user profiles with support for things like birthdays, notes and recurring reminders, and more. The app will be available on both Mac and iOS, then Android at a later date. You can get on the waitlist here.