The world’s most popular iPhone app isn’t Facebook or WhatsApp

It’s a total phenomenon among Chinese millennials.
It’s a total phenomenon among Chinese millennials.
Image: Tik Tok/Bytedance
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The app dominating iPhone downloads this year isn’t the one many would’ve expected.

The Chinese mini-music-video social network Douyin was the most downloaded iOS app in the first quarter of 2018, according to a new report from US research firm Sensor Tower. The app, developed by Beijing-based tech unicorn Bytedance, took over the top spot from Facebook’s WhatsApp, with more than 45 million downloads worldwide during the three-month period.

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Image: Sensor Tower

Douyin, which means “shaking music” in Chinese, is known outside China as Tik Tok. Launched in September 2016, Douyin lets users create and share up to 15 seconds of musical selfies with various effects from looping to shivering to 3D stickers. The idea is blatantly similar to American social video app, which was acquired by Bytedance last year. A Douyin executive said last month (link in Chinese) that Tik Tok and now together have more than 100 million monthly active users around the world. According to research firm Jiguang (link in Chinese), 14% of China’s smartphone users have downloaded the Douyin app on their gadgets.

Here’s a collection of some of the most popular lip-syncing videos on Douyin:

Douyin is such a big phenomenon among Chinese millennials that the app has given rise to some unexpected subculture icons—for example, the British cartoon character Peppa Pig. On the app, the innocent Peppa evolved into a badass gangster with sunglasses, gold chains, and tattoos—until Douyin banned users from remaking videos about the beloved character last month. The self-censorship comes amid a new wave of government crackdowns targeting popular entertainment apps, with Bytedance among the biggest victims. Bytedance’s best-known app is AI-based news aggregator Toutiao, which is steadily expanding its army of human censors to make sure its content is in line with the Communist Party’s internet diktats.

Combining downloads on Apple’s Apple Store and Google Play, Douyin was the sixth most downloaded app in the world in the first quarter, ranking after Facebook offerings like WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram. But it’s worth noting that Chinese Android users can only download apps from third-party stores because Play is banned in China. Taking that into account, this ranking, too, shows Douyin’s overseas presence is massive.