How Long Did It Take Top Apps to Reach 100 Million Downloads?

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App growth measures platform user acquisition speed. The internet's rise began with ARPANET in the 1960s, exploding in the 1990s due to the World Wide Web. Modern platforms like Threads and ChatGPT have rapidly achieved 100 million users, reflecting evolving technology and user preferences. While earlier platforms, such as AOL, grew slowly, today's apps leverage existing ecosystems or introduce innovations which billions of people can access on Day 1.

App growth is a key metric of how quickly new platforms attract users.

From the start of the internet to today’s apps, reaching big user numbers is a testament to technological innovation and changing user preferences – and the surprising speed at which the 100 million milestone gets broken today.

This article looks at how long it took different apps to reach 100 million users, and discusses the strategies, challenges, and trends that made the online world what it is today.

The Web’s Journey to 100 Million Users

Bright ideas do not always catch on quickly – partly through adoption bottlenecks.

When Edison first turned on the lightbulb in 1879, it took 20 years until even 3% of households in America had electricity. It took another 20 years before 40% of the population had it.

The internet also had a relatively ‘slow’ adoption rate, even if we tend to forget that nowadays.

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The first step into the digital age started in the late 1960s with ARPANET. But, the real growth started in the early 1990s.

This was because of the World Wide Web, designed by Tim Berners-Lee (CERN, 2008). By 1999, over 100 million adults in the U.S. were using the internet, showing how transformative this tech became.

When looking at the growth of early online platforms, there’s a clear picture. Platforms like AOL started in the 1980s (Britannica, 2021), giving users some content and a way to get on the internet. However, their growth was slow because they kept users in one place. The World Wide Web changed this since it was open and easy to use with browsers like Mosaic (Britannica, 2023).

In short, early platforms started the online trend, but the open World Wide Web and new browsers in the 1990s allowed the ability for rapid growth.

How Apps Rank in The Race to 100 Million Users

Threads quickly won the app growth race, reaching 100 million users in just five days, setting a challenging record for others to surpass.

However, the fast app growth rate was helped by its launch time, which matched Twitter’s unpopular decision to set a daily limit on the number of tweets users can view

Additionally, Threads optimized its sign-up by using Instagram accounts, reaching out to Instagram’s significant 1.2 billion users.

Here’s a snapshot of the app growth journey for some leading platforms:

A timelines of apps reaching 100m users

ChatGPT, developed by OpenAI, comes in second. Its November 2022 launch highlighted the prowess of advanced language models, igniting significant interest and sparking conversations about the future of AI.

Without the leverage of a big player like Instagram, the speed of its adoption is a testament to the new playing field in artificial intelligence (AI) it opened up. Is ChatGPT game-changing? The voice of public adoption seems to think so.

TikTok secured its third-place spot by achieving the milestone nine months after its 2017 debut. Its strategic acquisition of the well-liked app Musical.ly played a crucial role in its growth.

Rounding out the top five are WeChat and Instagram. WeChat’s exclusive access to China’s expansive internet audience propelled its growth. Conversely, Meta’s acquisition strategy significantly boosted Instagram’s user count.

Looking Ahead: The Future of App Growth

The online world keeps changing, and the app growth rate does, too. As we look to the future, several trends emerge that could change the app growth landscape.

Firstly, the speed at which users are acquired will likely get even faster. As global internet access expands and digital literacy improves (ITU, 2022), more people can be reached in shorter timeframes. However, with rapid app growth comes quicker saturation – meaning that platforms must continually innovate to keep their users.

App growth: Number of internet users in 2022

Secondly, new technologies like augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and blockchain create platforms that redefine user engagement. For example, Meta’s metaverse is one such attempt, where you can “explore virtual 3D spaces where you can socialize, learn, collaborate and play” using a VR headset (Meta, 2023).

Lastly, while ChatGPT has set an impressive app growth record, new kinds of apps might grow even faster. For example, apps that use new technologies like quantum computing or brain-computer interfaces will likely break the app growth record.

The Bottom Line

In the ever-evolving world of app growth, the race to 100 million users shows how technology, strategy, and users’ preferences work together. Some platforms, like Threads, use an already-existing ecosystem – others, like ChatGPT, introduce groundbreaking innovations. The journey from ARPANET to modern apps like Threads and ChatGPT underscores the transformative power of digital platforms.

Nowadays, with smartphones in billions of people’s hands and easy access to the App Store and Google Play, innovations in app form can be easily distributed to hundreds of millions of people on Day 1 – who knows when that barrier will be broken?

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Maria Webb
Technology Journalist
Maria Webb
Technology Journalist

Maria is a technology journalist with over five years of experience with a deep interest in AI and machine learning. She excels in data-driven journalism, making complex topics both accessible and engaging for her audience. Her work is prominently featured on Techopedia, Business2Community, and Eurostat, where she provides creative technical writing. She holds a Bachelor of Arts Honours in English and a Master of Science in Strategic Management and Digital Marketing from the University of Malta. Maria's background includes journalism for Newsbook.com.mt, covering a range of topics from local events to international tech trends.