Is the AI photo app trend already over? Over the past several months, AI-powered photo apps had been going viral on the App Store as consumers explored AI powered-experiences like Lensa AI’s “magic avatars” feature and other apps promising to turn text into images using AI tech. But new data from app intelligence firm Apptopia indicates consumer interest in AI photo apps has fallen as quickly as it rose.
The firm analyzed top AI photo apps worldwide, tracking both their download growth and in-app consumer spending.
In its analysis shared with TechCrunch, Apptopia examined the leading AI photo app Lensa AI and others, including Voi, Remini, Pixelup, Fotor, Wonder, FacePlay, Aiby, FaceApp, Gradient, Dawn AI, Facetune, Prequel, Voila AI Artist, New Profile Pic Avatar Maker, and Meitu. (Voi was a later arrival, launching on Dec. 7.)
Apptopia found that this group of AI apps first began to take off around Thanksgiving, then hit their peak in terms of both downloads and in-app purchases around mid-December. At their height of popularity, the apps topped 4.3 million daily downloads and ~$1.8 million per day in consumer spending via in-app purchases.
Those numbers have significantly dropped since. As of yesterday (not shown on the chart below), the same group of apps saw only around 952K combined downloads and $434K in consumer spending, and the numbrers continue to fall.
This latest hype cycle began with Lensa AI’s breakout success. Though the app has been around since 2018, Lensa AI went viral in late November to early December 2022 thanks to its new avatar feature which saw it jump to the No. 1 spot on the iOS App Store’s competitive “Photo & Video” charts ahead of bigger apps like YouTube and Instagram. Users were fascinated with the app’s clever new “magic avatars” feature which leveraged the open-source Stable Diffusion model to process selfie photos to generate avatars that looked like they had been made by a digital artist.
But there were soon a number of complaints about how this technology had been put to use. People found that it was too easy to trick the app into making NSFW images, and artists were upset that their work had been opted into the training data without their consent. The latter resulted in many of the AI profile pics having similarities to artists’ own work — but they weren’t the ones profiting from it.
Consumers seemed to respond to the ethical concerns being raised. As TechCrunch had reported at the time, some people began to leave comments on AI photos and profile pictures posted on social media to tell people not to use an app that steals from artists. This backlash likely quelled some of the demand for the AI art. After all, it’s not much fun to use an AI pic for your profile if you’re essentially being accused of theft when doing so.
Plus, some people only wanted to see the results of their own AI profile photos after seeing TikTok videos about the feature. After running through the creation process one time and receiving a collection of photos, there was not necessarily further interest in using the feature again.
Some users also had complaints about the subscription required for what they thought should be a one-off task.
In addition, the app stores themselves had become overrun with AI photo apps, pushing numerous other AI apps into the App Store’s Top Charts, some of which worked better than others. At one point in mid-December, the top three spots on the U.S. App Store were held by AI photo apps and many others were newly ranking in the Top 100. Sensor Tower estimates at the time indicated that 8 out of the top 100 apps by downloads were AI art apps. But the apps weren’t particularly differentiated from one another, as they were all some variation on AI avatars — like those Lensa AI helped popularize — or offered another sort of AI image generator, like those that generated images from text prompts.
The market was immediately overly saturated. At the same time, there was growing interest in another form of AI technology: ChatGPT. The AI chatbot was released on November 30, 2022, and soon gained consumer attention. By January, the App Store was again flooded with AI apps. But this time around it was with dubious ChatGPT apps, not Lensa AI copycats. Apple quickly removed one of the more prominent fake ChatGPT apps, but others remained.
More recently, we’ve seen consumer interest in ChatGPT-like experiences drive Microsoft’s Bing to near the top of the App Store after it announced integrations with OpenAI’s newer chatbot technology, which promises to be an improvement over ChatGPT. It’s not clear if AI chatbots will actually unseat traditional search in the near or long term, despite the immediate threat, because there continue to be concerns around bots’ ability to produce misinformation. But for now, these apps are the latest to intrigue consumers.
The burst of consumer interest in photo AI apps, ChatGPT, and now, Bing, indicates people are paying attention to AI technology and do want to test out the new ideas first-hand. A winner or winners may eventually emerge here, but it’s too soon to tell.