It might seem like Lensa AI sprung up overnight when suddenly, your friends are all posting artistic renditions of themselves that they generated on the app. But while the Lensa AI app itself has been around since 2018, its viral “magic avatars” feature launched in late November, boosting the app to the No. 1 spot on the iOS App Store’s competitive “Photo & Video” charts. For comparison, YouTube is No. 3 and Instagram is No. 4 on the charts at the time of publication.
Lensa AI works by inviting users to upload 10-20 photos of themselves. Using the open source Stable Diffusion model, the app processes your photos to generate avatars of you that look like they were created by a digital artist.
When you download Lensa AI, you’re immediately greeted with a pop-up inviting you to join a seven-day free trial to use their AI editing tools — if you don’t cancel in time, you’ll be charged $39.99 for unlimited use of the app for a year. You can bypass this screen without committing to the trial, but the free version of the app is very limited and doesn’t include the viral magic avatar feature. Even if you don’t subscribe to the unlimited plan, you’ll be hit with another in-app purchase screen if you try to make your very own magic avatar. At the lowest price tier, you’ll have to pay $3.99 for 50 unique avatars (five variations of 10 different styles). But hey, at least that’s cheaper than a blue check!
According to app analytics firm SensorTower, Lensa AI has amassed about 22.2 million worldwide downloads and almost $29 million in consumer spending since its launch in 2018. In the last month, the app has seen a significant spike with the release of magic avatars. In November, the app was downloaded 1.6 million times, up 631% from 219,000 downloads in October. The U.S. is Lensa AI’s largest market, generating 58% of consumer spending, but the app is especially popular in Brazil right now. Of all November downloads, 31% were from Brazil, where installs climbed 24,450% month over month.
Viral photo editing apps have a shady history, as some apps have been found to be vectors for malware. In other cases, users have worried about what happens to the photos they upload into these apps. These concerns came up around Russia-based AI editor FaceApp, which later made a statement that it might store updated photos in the cloud for “performance and traffic reasons,” but that most images are deleted within 48 hours.
Prisma Labs, the team behind Lensa AI, told TechCrunch that it uses AWS cloud services to process users’ photos. As soon as an AI model is trained on a user’s photos, the images are immediately deleted.