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 is a weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile apps, and the overall app economy. According to the most recent year-end reports, the app industry will continue to grow, with a record number of downloads and consumer spending across both the iOS and Google Play stores combined in 2021. In 2021, global spending on iOS, Google Play, and third-party Android app stores in China is expected to increase 19% to $170 billion. App downloads increased by 5% to 230 billion in 2021, while mobile ad spend increased by 23% year on year to $295 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. Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters As the Russia-Ukraine war continued this week, the app ecosystem also saw further impacts. As businesses pulled out of Russia, the ability for Russian consumers to transact on the app stores and in apps is similarly being impacted. This week, Google announced it was suspending Google Play’s billing system for users in Russia in the “coming days,” which means Russian users won’t be able to purchase apps and games, make subscription payments or conduct any other in-app purchases of digital goods using Google Play in Russia. Free apps will remain available on the Play Store, the company said.
Google fixes Apple’s messaging issues with app update. Alongside a wider Android update, Google announced new features designed to work around Apple’s decision to continue to support SMS instead of the newer and more modern standard RCS. This week, Google’s Messages app, which comes pre-installed on most Android phones, was updated to address the long-standing issue where iMessage’s “Tapbacks” weren’t delivered as emoji reactions, but were rather sent as a separate message. It’s been an annoyance that’s made chats between Android and iPhone users confusing, cluttered and far too noisy.
But the app platform themselves don’t necessarily have to shut down payments for Russian users to experience issues with billing and transactions, as some Russian App Store users now are. That’s because this week Visa, Mastercard and American Express all announced they would suspend operations in Russia in protest of its invasion of Ukraine. If App Store or Google Play users had these cards on file, they would have stopped working anyway. Numerous tech companies, including Apple, Airbnb, Microsoft, Adobe, PayPal, Netflix, Snap and many others have also suspended sales and operations in Russia as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In addition to the humanitarian reasons for their exit, there are other costs — sanctions and complications with payments make it difficult to continue supporting Russian customers regardless.
After the update, reactions from iPhone users will be sent as an emoji on text messages on Android. As on iMessage, the emoji reaction — like love, laughter, confusion or excitement — will appear on the right side of the message. (On Android, it’s the bottom right.) Android’s interpretation of which emoji to use varies slightly from iPhone, however. For instance, the “heart” reaction on Android becomes the “face with the heart eyes” emoji. And the iMessage’s exclamation mark reaction becomes the “face with the open mouth” emoji. This update is first rolling out to Android devices set to English, but additional languages will follow.
Related to the lack of RCS support, Google also integrated Google Photos into the Messages app to improve the video-sharing experience between iOS and Android users. While people with Android devices can share high-quality videos with each other, those same videos appear blurry when shared with those on iPhone, as iMessage doesn’t support RCS. By sending the link to the video through Google Photos, iPhone users will be able to watch the video in the same high resolution. This feature will later include support for photos, too.
Google thus far has been very vocal about Apple’s decision to avoid supporting RCS — largely because RCS adoption would allow Google to better compete with Apple’s iMessage. But Google is not wrong when it points out that Apple is not serving its own customers very well by having iMessage fall back to