Apr 10, 2023 - Technology

TikTok sister app Lemon8 surges in U.S.

Gabby Jones/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A new mobile app from TikTok-parent ByteDance is gaining traction in the U.S., despite growing national security concerns around ByteDance's China ties.

Why it matters: Lemon8's impressive growth at such an early stage demonstrates the power Chinese apps have over American users, even as skepticism of China grows.

  • It also shows how determined ByteDance is to grow in the U.S. market, as lawmakers debate taking action on TikTok.

Details: The app, which caters to a Gen Z audience, features a mix of TikTok-like videos and Instagram-like photos.

  • Like TIkTok, it includes a customized "For You" feed, which features personalized recommendations, as well as a "Following" feed that shows posts from accounts users chose to follow.

How it works: Unlike TikTok, the app allows users to upload still photos.

  • Lemon8's aesthetic is more artsy, colorful and aspirational than TikTok's, resembling Pinterest in some ways.
  • Early adopters of Lemon8 will find that lots of the content that is being elevated leans into health and beauty trends that tend to cater to a younger female audience, such as makeup tutorials, nail art, and home decor inspiration.
  • While there are few ads on the app currently, its lifestyle content would likely appeal to brands in retail, travel and cooking.

By the numbers: Lemon8 has been installed 17 million times globally since its launch in March 2020, according to Apptopia.

  • It's been installed in the U.S. 650,000 times in the past week and a half.
  • Japan is Lemon8's biggest market, representing 36.5% of its lifetime downloads. The app has a sizable following in Asia and Southeast Asia.

Context: TikTok came to the U.S. through a small acquisition of a viral U.S. lip-syncing app called Music.ally in 2017. It later rebranded the app and reconstructed it to mirror Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok.

  • Lemon8 has a somewhat similar story. While it didn't acquire any U.S. apps to grow its presence in the U.S., it has modeled some of its features off of a popular ByteDance e-commerce app called Xiaohongshu.
  • The app launched abroad in 2020, but only entered the U.S. and the U.K. this February.

The big picture: While ByteDance's English website doesn't list any affiliation with Lemon8, there are clear signs that the two companies are linked.

  • Lemon8's developer, according to Apple's App Store and the Google Play Store is Heliophilia Pte., Ltd. That company is listed as a private firm based out of Singapore, where it shares the same address as TikTok's Singapore office.
  • ByteDance's global general counsel, Erich Andersen, who represents TikTok, told AP: "We’re obviously going to do our best with the Lemon8 app to comply with U.S. law and to make sure we do the right thing here."

Go deeper: Americans hooked on Chinese apps.

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