The 10 most downloaded free App Store apps of 2023

Apple released the list of most popular iPhone apps in the US, and ZDNET reflects on the new features each app received and our coverage of them.
Written by Jada Jones, Associate Editor
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Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A few weeks ago, Apple unveiled the 2023 App Store Award winners, a list of apps and games the App Store Editorial team compiled to highlight meaningful and helpful apps. But many apps that didn't make Apple's lists are downloaded millions of times and find their way onto the home screens of all our Apple devices.

These are the top free iPhone apps downloaded in the US in 2023.

1. Temu: Shop Like a Billionaire

Temu made waves this year for offering users deeply discounted items ranging from electronics and tech accessories to clothing and household items. According to MobiLoud, a mobile app software company, Temu has over 100 million active users in the US.

ZDNET tried many products from Temu this year and explained everything we know about the site, from how to safely buy items to which items to avoid and why Temu needed to implement multifactor authentication to keep users safe.

2. CapCut - Video Editor

CapCut is a video editor that helps users create elevated video content for social media from their smartphones. CapCut is owned by ByteDance, TikTok's parent company, and users can link their TikTok account to CapCut to upload their edited videos directly to their TikTok account.

3. Max: Stream HBO, TV, & Movies

Max, formerly known as HBO Max, is a streaming service that had an interesting year. Warner Bros. and Discovery combined forces in May to create Max, but the rollout wasn't smooth or well-received at first. 

Also: The 30 best holiday streaming deals

Since then, Max has offered some of our favorite TV shows like "Succession" and recently signed a deal with the popular film studio A24 to bring award-winning movies to the streaming platform.

4. Threads, an Instagram app

Threads is Meta's brainchild that would entice users dissatisfied with X, formerly known as Twitter. When Elon Musk took over X, users complained about increased harmful content, an issue that Meta hoped to capitalize on. According to Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, threads would be a "sanely-run" Twitter-like experience.

Also: Why Threads probably won't get a chronological timeline

Threads broke records when it launched, amassing 150 million downloads within its first week. However, users quickly lost interest as the app debuted without many of the features that users had hoped for. Since then, new features have appeared on Threads to re-engage loyal users.

5. TikTok

TikTok, a short-form video app, has become ubiquitous in recent years. According to Wallaroo Media, TikTok has been downloaded in the US over 220 million times and enjoys users from all generations. 

This year, TikTok has been under a watchful eye, as many governments worldwide have banned the app from government devices, citing potential national security concerns. Earlier this year, the US Congress proposed two bills that would eliminate the legal hurdles the president would face when attempting to enact a country-wide TikTok ban.

Also: TikTok quietly added a fast-forward option, and it's a game-changer

TikTok's CEO testified in front of Congress for hours, assuring the congresspeople that the Chinese government did not run his app and that programs were in place to help keep US user data safe.

Montana's governor signed a bill into law that would ban TikTok in the state, but this law was deemed unconstitutional by a US judge one month before the law would take effect. 

6. Instagram

Instagram is a popular social media app that has been on our home screens for over a decade. The app has taken new forms over the years, and user interest in the app has ebbed and flowed. Earlier this year, Instagram gave us a peek into its powerful algorithms, helping us understand why we see specific posts and why we don't see others.

Also: Instagram feed fix: How to see more of what you want (and less of what you don't)

Instagram added many new features this year, like adding music to your photo carousels, only showing Feed posts to Close Friends, and redesigning Reels.

7. Google

This year was big for Google, as the search engine debuted many new features to help users quickly find what they were looking for. AI became embedded into Google's search capabilities, as the mighty technology can summarize Google search inquiries and help users learn English.

Also: How to supercharge your Google searches with generative AI in Chrome 

According to Statista, Google dominates about 83% of the global search engine market. Google Chrome is the most popular web browser, even for iPhone users whose default browser is Apple's Safari.

8. YouTube: Watch, Listen, Stream

YouTube remains the most popular video streaming service and hasn't loosened its grip on the market in years. Like many online platforms, YouTube also introduced its fair share of AI-powered features and more ways for creators to profit from their content

Also: The top 6 new YouTube features and design updates (out of literally dozens)

However, YouTube's most notable change in 2023 was its ad blocker ban. People used ad blockers on YouTube to circumvent watching unskippable ads when they click on their favorite YouTube videos. As a result, YouTube blocked users with ad blockers from watching videos. So, users were left with two options: Disable ad blockers or pay for YouTube Premium, which is ad-free. This led to a record number of people uninstalling their ad blockers

9. WhatsApp Messenger

This year was full of new features in WhatsApp, a messaging and photo-sharing app owned by Meta. From eight-person video calls and screen-sharing features to increased chat and user security, WhatsApp beefed up its user experience.

Also: Make your WhatsApp chats even more private with a secret code. Here's how

WhatsApp is popular worldwide, as people can use the messaging app to contact family and friends in other countries without paying for international calling or messaging services.

10. Gmail - Email by Google

Gmail is one of the most popular web clients for email, as almost 37% of email addresses globally end in gmail.com, according to Mailchimp. Gmail is simple to use and works on any device or operating system. 

Also: Gmail's new chat-like redesign on Android makes it easier to reply to all your emails

This year brought many new features to Gmail, including emoji reactions and increased security. In typical 2023 fashion, many AI-powered features came to Gmail, including Help Me Write, which uses AI to help users compose emails based on a prompt. 

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