The coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, swept the world in 2020 and caused a vast array of lifestyle and behavioral changes in order to prevent the infection from spreading.
In this article, we’ll go through seven app categories that scored the highest growth rates since the new normal brought on by the pandemic. We’ll uncover interesting numbers, trends, and amusing facts.
Table of Contents
The mobile app evolution at a glance
Even though the 2020 pandemic year is globally famous for being infamous, for the stay-at-home economy it was a blessing.
Since people weren’t allowed to leave the house, they had to find entertainment elsewhere. And that elsewhere ended up being on their phones.
Social isolation or “coronacation” greatly influenced the amount of time people spend on their phones, which made mobile apps enter the fancy list of the most profitable industries.
Back in 2014, worldwide revenue from mobile apps was a little shy of $100 billion. In the year that is now behind us, that number is considered to be around $580 billion.
And, if we listen to the predictions, in the next 5 years it will be almost double than 2020. That is a mind-blowing average growth of almost $100 billion a year.
In the last 5 years, mobile app downloads have jumped from 140 billion to nearly 220 billion. Looks like a promising industry to be in, doesn’t it?
Let’s take a look at the seven app categories: gaming, communication & social apps, eCommerce & retail, finance apps, entertainment, education, and food & beverage.
People, in general, always have some time to spare, and they usually use it to entertain themselves.
A lot of them do that by playing games. What was a short game on the way to work once before, in 2020 ended up being an all-night binge?
Even though only around 66% of mobile phone users have a gaming app installed on their device, mobile gaming is, for sure, a huge industry. And here is why.
Pocketgamer.biz shows you an active count of current Applications in the US app store. In May 2021, out of a total of 4,572,979 apps available for download at the moment, 983,020 were games.
That is 21,5% of all the apps, or in other words, a lot. And this number changes daily, a weekly change in the number of total apps is around 1000.
If you look at game prices, around 84% of them are free. Less than 1% of games total charge their users more than 10$ for download, but on the other hand, most of them will ask you for payment info once you are in.
In the US, just the iPhone players create more than $3 million playing Roblox, around $2 million on Candy Crush and a little more than a million playing Coin Master, in daily revenue.
Revenue generated by gaming apps (App Store & Google Play) was close to $50 billion in the period from September 2019 to August 2020.
In the second quarter of 2020, Google Play Store recorded gross revenues of $7.7 billion from mobile games, up from $6.9 billion generated in the previous quarter. App store revenue jumped from $10,6 billion to $11,6 billion in between those two quarters.
PUBG Mobile (Player Unknown Battleground) became the world’s most profitable game on the App Store and Google Play in 2020, earning its creators around $2.6 billion.
Communication & Social Apps
During the pandemic spending time in person with our friends & family wasn’t allowed, so there is no surprise that usage of communication apps increased. On the other hand, social events, concerts and even fashion shows all embraced social apps as an alternative, and users followed the lead. In the absence of the “real deal,” social life migrated to social apps.
Back in 2016, there were around 2.31 billion people spending time on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms. By 2021, the number almost doubled and reached 4.20 billion users globally, with an average of 2h and 25 minutes spent on social media daily (Q3 2020).
On the list of Top 10 world’s apps with the most active users in 2020, 7 out of 10 are, guess what, social apps.
The first one is Facebook – expectedly, followed closely by WhatsApp (owned by FB), FB Messenger, and Instagram (again, FB). Sounds like 2020 was a good year for the Silicon Valley tech giant.
Even though it was a year of prosperity for the Facebook group, 2020 definitely was the year of Tik-Tok.
This Chinese-owned video-sharing social networking app grew by more than an astonishing 600%, making it the non-gaming app with the largest revenue in the App Store in 2020.
With more than 850 million downloads in 2020, it became controversial, broke all the records, stirred things up and raised a lot of discussions, and almost ended up being banned in the US. Indeed a productive year for the owner, ByteDance.
Market leader Facebook was the first social network to surpass 1 billion registered accounts and currently sits at more than 2.6 billion active monthly users.
Zoom had 477 million downloads in 2020, making it the second most downloaded communication app of 2020, right behind WhatsApp. Google Meet had 254 million downloads, while Microsoft Teams scored 153 million.
In August 2020, there were 41,666,667 messages shared & around 350k Instagram stories posted in just one internet minute.
More than 95% of all smartphone users have a communication or social app, and an average user has 8.8 social media accounts.
eCommerce & Retail
2020 is the year in which e-commerce became the vital shopping channel. When the retailers had to close their stores due to restrictions, they made the decision to turn to e-commerce for survival. And that decision saved the day.
Simplified checkout, optimized delivery with tracking, membership benefits and easy re-orderings are all significantly increasing conversion rates for e-retailers, and all of the referrals are easier to achieve through a well-crafted app.
The fact that people were spending a lot more time at home helped the situation, and it also positioned some not-so-usual products on the top-selling lists, such as exercise mats and household containers. The sudden switch to remote work also played its part, resulting in a global shortage of chips and web-cameras.
The first one on the list of 2020’s Top 10 world’s most popular apps that don’t come from Zuckerberg’s portfolio, is the online shopping giant, Bezos’ Amazon.
And there is no surprise that it is the no. 1 retailer in the world, considering the investments that made it ultimately convenient for an average online shopper.
On the list of Top 5 world’s biggest online marketplaces, Amazon is followed by Yahoo Japan’s Pay Pay Mall, eBay, southern American Marcado Libre, and Chinese AliExpress.
E-commerce is growing nearly five times faster than in-store shopping, with that growth being led by the consumption of mobile devices
Amazon, Walmart, and Wish were the top three most downloaded shopping apps in the U.S. in 2020 (Amazon 41m, Walmart 34m, Wish 30m)
Even though Amazon is by far the favorite e-commerce retailer in the US for both genders, some online retailers were more popular among specific genders eg. women like Target more, while men prefer shopping on eBay
Due to COVID-19 and the popularization of cryptocurrencies, demand for finance apps grew among banking, investing, cash transfers, and government aid.
Financial institutions closed the doors, so even the clients that never were fans of “untouchable” banking, had to rapidly switch to their mobile devices if they wanted control over their finances.
As we all know, cryptocurrency popularity exploded during the pandemic, and it resulted in more and more people investing in it.
Reduced cost of social life that was a product of the lockdown also played its part in the rise of the market cap. And the number of downloads of trading apps rose with it.
Mobile payments are also on the rise, as contactless became a requirement and not a preference. Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay are the top providers globally, while different providers dominate in specific areas.
finance apps install increased by 15% in 2020, compared to 2019
top fintech app sessions outperform the best banking apps by a factor of up to 10.8x (3x UK, 4.7x Japan, 2.1x US)
Android offers marketers an opportunity. The cost of installs was 4.5x less expensive than iOS, and the cost of activations an astounding 8x less. Compounding this, Android users are as much as 2x more likely to convert
In 2020, users all around the world (excluding China) spent 45% more time on financial mobile apps compared to 2019
As the market is growing, fraud will likely also grow. Despite tighter controls and stricter regulations, cybercriminals are also becoming more sophisticated
Entertainment (Streaming & Music apps)
Besides gaming apps, people filled their spare time with other forms of entertainment too.
The entertainment apps category grew by almost 30% on the App Store and earned around 5,3 billion USD.
But, since the term “entertainment apps” is wide and covers a lot of conceptually different apps, we decided to focus on streaming and music apps in this part.
Subscription-based streaming giant, Netflix, holds the throne in that category, with 207 million paid subscribers worldwide as of the first quarter of 2021.
Second-placed Amazon Prime has just recently surpassed 200 million subscribers, but it is a little different since not every Prime member watches the company’s video content.
The third-placed streaming service, Disney+, is the latest launch in the streaming service category, and a highly successful one too, passing the magical number of 100 million paid subscribers in just 16 months.
In the music industry, Spotify is the one sitting on the throne. Out of its 356 million monthly active users, around 40% are paying for Spotify Premium, which is responsible for 90% of its revenue (Q1, 2021).
Its biggest rivals Apple Music and Amazon Music are trying to take over, but Spotify is successful in keeping them at a safe distance.
Even though Apple Music has more subscribers in the US, Spotify is stronger in South America and Europe.
One of the biggest and most-impactful consequences of the 2020 lockdown was, for sure, home-schooling.
It changed the daily routine of almost everyone with young children, as well as the life of all the students out there.
Every student and teacher started to go to class virtually, which resulted in the skyrocketing growth of educational and video-conferencing apps.
The most downloaded education app in 2020 was Google Classroom, with 128 million downloads globally. Language learning platform Duolingo was second (61mil), and Photomath, an app that solves math problems, was positioned third (48mil)
65% global upswing in education app downloads in the peak lockdown month (calculated by country) vs January 2020
At 5 minutes, education app users converted the fastest, a rate undoubtedly impacted by mandatory school and campus closures that prevented 1.6 billion students from attending school in person (Liftoff’s 2020 Mobile App trends Report)
Food & Beverage Delivery Apps
The previous year has provided a breakthrough for food and beverage delivery apps.
Restaurants & bars got closed, and even though home-cooking was trending, a big part of the demand moved to delivery apps. Users created about 128 billion sessions in such apps.
Internationally, Uber Eats is the most popular food delivery service, with 66 million users, available in 6000 cities with around 600,000 restaurants available.
Also, Uber Eats helped its big brother, Uber for transportation, to stay alive on the account of its growth.
The total number of food delivery app users grew from 66 million in 2015 to 111 million in 2020, and the revenue grew with them, from $8,7 billion in 2015 to almost $27 billion in 2020.
From the growth, you can also read not only that the number of users grew, but the frequency of usage too.
Even after the restaurants open and everything in the hospitality industry goes back to how it used to be, the delivery app market is expected to continue to grow.
One of the indicators is that there are a lot of investments made into “ghost kitchens,” kitchens that cook only food for delivery, located far from usually fancy restaurant sites.
DoorDash is the current leader in the food delivery market in the US, holding 45%. It’s followed by Uber Eats with 22% (5% in 2016) and GrubHub with 18% (70% in 2016)
The growth achieved in the last five years is partly owed to the introduction of platform-to-customer services, which were able to provide a wider selection of food available for ordering