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Intense battles rock Apple’s App Store, but few newcomers can break through

WhatsApp Vs Snapchat

Just days ago, WhatsApp announced it had hit 400 million monthly active users globally — a phenomenal achievement. But in the fickle and trendsetting U.S. app market, Apple’s app store shows just how much WhatsApp’s grip on American consumers has weakened. The period right after Christmas is closely followed by the app industry. These are the days when a flood of new iPhones are being activated, many by teenagers getting their first smartphone. The current trends reflect the priorities of a new generation of smartphone owners.

During this peak app purchasing period, WhatsApp faded to No. 63 on the iPhone’s free download chart in the U.S. while Snapchat rocketed to No. 2 and Kik to No. 9.

This is perhaps the clearest sign yet of just how much the balance of power is shifting in the U.S. messaging app market. Considering how much mobile game makers spend on marketing prior to Christmas, the ability of Snapchat to snag the second slot on the U.S. iPhone chart is staggering. Snapchat must be outpacing WhatsApp in American download volume by at least 40-to-1 right now.

As recently as last June, WhatsApp still reigned as the No. 1 download in America. Today, it is struggling to remain in the top 40.

Kik looks like it is in the process of breaking out as a major messaging app, expanding beyond its core teen base. In addition to its U.S. success after Christmas, it moved up sharply in the UK and in Australia, and the app entered the top-10 charts in hip Nordic countries like Finland and Sweden.

Instagram consolidated its position as the leading video clip app by hitting No. 1 on the day after Christmas. Its bitter rival Vine has also bounced nicely to No. 12, but has now clearly fallen far below Instagram.

Many aging quality apps are demonstrating surprising relevance — the ancient Danish treat called Subway Surfers returned to being the No. 1 game on the iPhone’s free download chart, beating thousands of other “endless runner” rivals that have spent years trying to unseat the hoary old champion. Swedish world-building game Minecraft returned yet again to the No. 1 paid app position on the iPhone and iPad charts, also fending off a number of fresh rivals.

All in all, the download and sales charts are currently demonstrating how incredibly static the iOS app market has become. Many apps that are between one and three years old are beating out far younger, heavily marketed rivals. On the revenue charts, the big news is that the 14-month-old Clash of Clans managed to finally return to No. 1 on both the iPhone and iPad charts in America. The nearly year-long winning streak of Candy Crush Saga snapped as “Clash of Clans” unleashed its first U.S. TV commercial. The clip has racked up 7 million downloads on YouTube in just a couple of days.

Candy Crush and Clash of Clans have defined the U.S. app market for the past year; these apps have locked down the top two slots on both the iPhone and iPad sales charts since early 2013.

The dominance of Crush and Clash reflects the growth of Nordic influence in the U.S. app market. The game developers, King and Supercell, were founded in Stockholm and Helsinki. On Thursday’s top-10 iPhone and iPad app charts, they get company from other Nordic apps such as Subway Surfers, Minecraft, Hay Day, Angry Birds Go and Angry Birds Star Wars II.

After launching mobile game company SpringToys tragically early in 2000, Tero Kuittinen spent eight years doing equity research at firms including Alliance Capital and Opstock. He is currently an analyst and VP of North American sales at mobile diagnostics and expense management Alekstra, and has contributed to, Forbes and Business 2.0 Magazine in addition to BGR.