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TikTok’s rise up the charts

July 14, 2021, 8:41 PM UTC

As Facebook’s troubles pile up, rival Tik-Tok is experiencing boom times.

The ByteDance-owned app, known for its silly dancing and karaoke videos, has topped 3 billion total downloads from Apple’s App Store and Google Play since 2018, when it became available more broadly throughout the world, according to mobile analytics firm Sensor Tower. TikTok has become the first non-Facebook-owned app to hit the milestone.

That so many people have downloaded TikTok is even more of a feat considering that India’s government banned the app last summer along with nearly 60 other China-based apps, citing national security concerns following a military clash between India and China. Last fall, former President Donald Trump tried to ban TikTok in the U.S., saying that the app’s ties to China posed a national security threat. But that ban, along with a Trump-approved plan for Oracle and Walmart to buy the U.S. operations of TikTok, vanished after the new Biden Administration arrived in January.

Indeed, TikTok has since survived and flourished—governments be damned. Meanwhile, Facebook’s problems keep mounting.

The social networking giant is trying to regain its buzz and poach Internet celebrities who have a massive number of TikTok and YouTube followers, but the success of that push isn’t guaranteed, as The New York Times recently reported. Facebook just lost longtime executive Fidji Simo to Instacart, marking another recent departure of a high-ranking female executive, as Fortune noted. Facebook is also the subject of a critical book by a pair of New York Times reporters that chronicles the missteps of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg in handling a litany of problems, including the spread of disinformation on its services. And while Facebook just escaped a major antitrust case by the Federal Trade Commission, it’s still the target of similar lawsuits worldwide.

Last summer, Facebook debuted TikTok clone Reels that’s embedded in Instagram, but it’s unclear if Reels has caught on.

As the new Sensor Tower data shows, Facebook and its family of apps—WhatsApp, Messenger, and Instagram—aren’t dominating the app charts like they used to. Maybe Facebook can spin this new data to bolster its legal defense that it’s hardly a monopoly, as critics allege.

But it will be tough for Facebook to spin that TikTok’s rise is good for its business.

Jonathan Vanian 
@JonathanVanian
jonathan.vanian@fortune.com

NEWSWORTHY

We’re not that interested. Executives at business software company SAS Institute are no longer interested in selling the company to semiconductor giant Broadcom, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing unnamed sources. The potential deal would have valued SAS at $15 billion to $20 billion, but “Jim Goodnight and John Sall, who co-founded SAS decades ago and still run the company, had a change of heart and decided not to sell to Broadcom,” the report said.

Amazon sets its sights on satellites. Amazon acquired a team of Facebook employees who were previously working on the social media giant’s project involving satellites and Internet connectivity, tech publication The Information reported. The report noted that Facebook is likely ending its experiment to use satellites to deliver Internet services to rural areas, while Amazon “plans to eventually offer internet connectivity to homes and businesses.”

Deception in space? The business mogul and recent astronaut Richard Branson did not ride a bicycle to the launch site to board his Virgin Galactic space craft on Sunday as a promotional video for the launch implied, Reuters reported. A Virgin Galactic spokesperson told the news service that “footage of Sir Richard Branson shown during the event Sunday was prerecorded and misidentified in the broadcast.” The report noted that it’s unclear if the discrepancy “would complicate Virgin Galactic’s cross-promotional deal with Wisconsin-based Trek Bicycle Corp,” which had “claimed that Branson rode one of its custom-made bikes to the spaceport on launch day.”  

Twitter kills Fleets. Twitter said it would end its Fleets feature on Aug 3 because of low engagement. Fleets, which Twitter debuted last fall, was similar to Instagram’s Stories, which lets people create short videos and photo collages that disappear after a day. The service never seemed to catch on, however, and even Twitter seemed to realize the fact. “We're sorry or you're welcome,” Twitter said in a snarky tweet.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Poor Pepper, you will likely not be missed. The Wall Street Journal probes the demise of Pepper, the small, cute robot that tech conglomerate and investor Softbank pitched as a highly advanced humanoid robot. Softbank said in June that it would stop producing the Pepper, likely because businesses were not interested in paying for the device.

If you’ve visited a technology conference in recent years, you’ve probably seen a Pepper robot attempt to talk to people after they stare in its robotic eyes. And, like many of the people the Journal talked to, you’ve probably witnessed Pepper struggle to act like a human. For what it’s worth, a Softbank spokesperson told the Journal that Pepper is still “SoftBank’s icon and still doing good work as a teacher and a temperature taker at hospitals.”

From the article: Technology journalist Tsutsumu Ishikawa said he “fell in love at first sight” after seeing Mr. Son, the SoftBank chief, present a futuristic picture of living with a chatty Pepper.

After arriving at the Ishikawa home, however, Pepper couldn’t recognize the faces of family members or carry on a proper conversation, said Mr. Ishikawa. The robot, connected to the cloud, is supposed to remember the family even after a breakdown, Mr. Ishikawa says, but when Pepper returned home after the repair of a sensor, Pepper greeted him, “Nice to meet you!”

He shipped the robot back to SoftBank in 2018 after spending at least $9,000 over the three-year life of his subscription services agreement; he wasn’t eligible for any form of refund.

“It was such a waste of money. I still regret it,” he said

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Bitcoin tanks even as inflation jumps by Shawn Tully

Zomato’s IPO is a test case for India’s loss-making unicorns by Biman Mukherji

Venture capital exit activity hits a record by Lucinda Shen

French startup promises cruelty-free foie gras, grown in a lab by Jeremy Kahn

What would Steve Jobs say about Apple’s new MagSafe wireless iPhone 12 charger? by Jonathan Vanian

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BEFORE YOU GO

Pixar goes red. Animated film studio Pixar has revealed a trailer for its new film “Turning Red” that chronicles the humorous exploits between an over-involved mother and her teenage daughter who turns into a giant red panda when she gets embarrassed. As news outlet SF Gate noted, “Turning Red” is Pixar’s first animated film directed by a woman of Asian descent, Domee Shi.

From the article: The trailer for her feature film directorial debut starts with 13-year-old Mei Lee studying the quadratic formula in math class. Her mother, voiced by Sandra Oh, is just outside the classroom, hiding behind a tree to observe her daughter. When another student notices her mother's presence, Lee morphs into a gigantic red panda, which escapes from the classroom to bound over rooftops on a quest to get back to her bedroom.

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