A 2016 piece on Entrepreneur.com listed no fewer than 16 ways in which developers might set their mobile apps apart from an ever-increasing crowd, mentioning everything from name to logo, from performance to user feedback.

In an app race featuring some five million contestants, all those factors surely come into play. But no less important are such things as timing, opportunity, need and resourcefulness. There is no better example of this than the Chinese-owned video-creation app TikTok, which in September 2019 became the top non-gaming U.S. app, and now boasts some 26.5 million users.

Worldwide, some 1.5 billion have become devotees of the app, which enables users to conjure up videos — often creative and comedic, sometimes involving lip-synching and almost always run through various filters — of no more than 15 seconds in length. Some 66 percent of the users are under 30, 60 percent between the ages of 16 and 24.

Even the staid New York Times has been impressed by TikTok; in December 2018 one of its writers, Kevin Roose, called the app “the only truly pleasant social media network in existence” and added:

(I)t’s that rarest of internet creatures: a place where people can let down their guards, act silly with their friends and sample the fruits of human creativity without being barraged by abusive trolls or algorithmically amplified misinformation. It’s a throwback to a time before the commercialization of internet influence, when web culture consisted mainly of harmless weirdos trying to make each other laugh.

Note that it has not been all smooth sailing for the app, which in February 2019 was fined $5.7 million for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, and in November of that year became the subject of a national security review by the U.S. government, amid concerns over its handling of personal data and politically sensitive content.

All that aside, its growth has been instructive. The Chinese company ByteDance launched a similar app, Douyin, in September 2016, then rebranded as TikTok while expanding outside that nation’s borders the following year. Later in 2017 ByteDance paid $1 billion for the purchase of the U.S. video-creation app Musical.ly, which itself had filled a need when Vine closed down the year before.

At first TikTok and Musical.ly existed side by side, but in August 2018 ByteDance shut down Musical.ly, and transferred all content from that app to its sister site. So it was that TikTok exploded.

Its growth has continued ever since, the product of opportunity and need, of astute judgment and timing.