Mobile apps are some of the things that have the most impact on our lives, and we now use them for practically everything. Whether you need a ride, need to buy something, want to contact someone or do something entirely different on your phone, you are opening your app and getting the job done. So, what does our relationship with these apps look like? What trends are there in data revolving around apps? Ultimately, how do we use apps, and how do they affect us?
Here are some key facts and figures to get yourself started:
Before focusing in on specific categories or facets of apps or the app store, let us first consider just how common apps are, how often people use them, and how people interact with smartphones in general. We want you to keep these in mind for all of the stats to follow:
- Every day, there are about 250 million or more app downloads, according to data from 2019-2020. This is only expected to rise as more people get smartphones and regularly use an app store.
- Overall, there were about 218 billion app downloads across all platforms in 2020. This is a bit more than 28 app downloads for every person on this earth, and not everyone has a cell phone, much less a smartphone that can download so many apps. Some of us are clearly trying out more apps than others.
- As for how many apps people have, as of the end of 2019, few people have less than ten apps and very few people with no apps. See the chart below for more info.
- About 90 percent of time spent on smartphones is spent using apps (note that this is opposed to a browser, which some might consider an app). This is surprising, but given how apps are well-designed for smartphones and practically all information can be obtained there, perhaps it is not so far-fetched an idea. It also depends on whether you might consider mobile browsers apps or not.
- More specifically, people are expected to spend an average of just a little more than four hours a day on their phones by 2022. As it stands, people spent about three hours and 35 minutes on apps each day and four hours and one minute on their phone. This amount is expected to increase, though with so many hours in the day; we can only wonder what people are not doing instead.
- While apps are extremely popular and commonly used, people do often feel resistance to downloading an app. About 78 percent of people in the United States using smartphones will not download an app to continue a transaction, despite how easy it is. People are possibly protective of their digital space and do not want to invite confusion, clutter, and unnecessary notifications onto their devices.
- Some app types are more popular than others. Looking at downloads from the Apple App Store, games take up 21.86 percent of downloads (more on games later). They know what you like, and app developers will probably invest big in the future to make sure you get it.
- Some of this might also be skewed by the number of available apps and the desire for novelty. Games have a mostly limited shelf life, despite developer efforts to the contrary. Yet, once someone finds a news app they like, they are unlikely to download another one or find a need to reinstall it.
- Demographics matter when it comes to app usage. See the graph below:
- However, the future is uncertain for this one, as the younger generations of today will be the older generations of tomorrow. They will be far more used to apps than the elders of today who grew up without apps and can go without them. We also still need to learn about the usage habits of people younger than 18, some of which genuinely grew up with smartphones and know nothing else. Will there be a backlash, or will the trend continue?
- Where people download apps also matters, if only so you can know where development is focused. China is the clear powerhouse with downloads, though many apps are available in China or Asian countries only, and you would not have heard of them. It is a different market in many regards, but with examples such as TikTok, we might see some prominent imports in the future.
A Tale of Two App Stores
The vast majority of people either have a smartphone that uses either the Apple App Store or Google Play to get all of their apps. Between them, there is near-complete dominance of the market. There is a sense that there is no other option, and this is incredibly impactful for app developers, who have to give a significant percentage of earnings from one or both to developers if they want access to any audience at all.
By looking at these app stores and how people use them, we can understand quite a bit about smartphones, so here are some things you should be aware of:
- Much like everything else online, we are effectively reliant on algorithms to sort our lives and provide the best experience. There are 2.1 million apps on the Apple App Store and 3.1 million apps on Google Play as of late last year, and the number is generally rising. We cannot hope to sort through those ourselves or even sort through a category of the app.
- As expected, we will see more downloads over time on both stores, though the rate of change for each store is interesting. If you look at the chart below, you will see that while Google Play is predicted to get more downloads over time, the App Store is just a bit more stagnant in its growth.
- While this is not necessarily a bad thing (people might find apps they like more on the App Store), it may also mean that experimentation is less encouraged on the platform. Also, note that this statistic is focused on downloads and not usage, affecting how we might perceive the research.
- People generally do not like to pay for apps upfront, and most of the apps on the App Store are free, as shown below.
- If you have used apps before, you'll know that most free apps will have advertisements, a premium option, microtransactions, or something similar to monetize the product. How this happens is constantly changing and evolving as people become savvy to some of the more predatory methods on the market.
In the future, we can probably expect these two app stores to continue along their established lines unless something comes along to cause a significant shakeup or a controversy erupts, causing people to flee from one app store. However, we also cannot rule out the possibility of another app store rising up to create some more competition. While Microsoft has poor results in the past, they certainly have the resources to try again should they see a worthwhile opportunity.
Social Media Apps
By far the most common category of apps people download is social media and messaging. You probably have several apps on your phone, and you likely have checked a few of them within the last hour, if not the past five minutes. They keep you constantly connected (for better or worse) and have become a cultural force in themselves. Here is a little bit more about them:
To start with, we should consider what the most popular social media networks are, as shown by this graphic:
- In terms of active users, Facebook is still king, though the lead is shrinking.
- Twitter takes up so much time on the news and cultural consciousness, but it is not as popular as you might think. That might be because its focus is on the United States, and many people have sworn it off entirely.
- Looking at the list, you might also notice that there are plenty of apps you haven't heard of yet. Perhaps you might like to try them out or at least look them up to see what they are about. Some, though, are primarily for non-English speakers or strictly for people in one region or country, which might limit their usage and appeal.
- There are some social media platforms and apps that are harder to track. How easy is it to say how many Reddit and Quora users there are when it is so easy to make a unique account? Even data collection on them can be complex, and proper measurement of users is not done as frequently as other apps and networks.
- As you can likely tell from experience, the above chart is by no means a permanent ranking or chart. Instead, it is a snapshot of what will be a volatile history. Next year everything could be different, though numbers across the board will likely go up.
- In total, there are about 3.5 billion social media users worldwide. The vast majority of those people use apps for most of their browsing.
- These people use social media a lot, spending an average of three hours a day on the sites. Perhaps it occurs only a few minutes at a time, but those minutes add up each day. Assuming you reach that average, what would you be able to accomplish with an additional three hours a day back in your life?
- More specifically, about 91 percent of social media users access these networks via mobile devices, and 80 percent of the time spent on these sites is done on a mobile device. Clearly, social media giants investing more time and resources into the mobile experience was a wise decision.
Gaming and Entertainment Apps
Whether we realize it or not, our smartphones, at least the most modern ones, are practically portable gaming consoles now, complete with a massive library of games. Mobile gaming is many people's only form of gaming, and it is the main form of gaming in many countries that do not have too many gaming consoles.
On top of that, apps have allowed us to access a massive entertainment library, from movies to books to audiobooks. If you can consume it on a tablet, computer, or television, you can consume it on a smartphone.
Whether and however you use your smartphone to keep yourself entertained during those boring waits, here are some stats to keep yourself in the know and give you some new ideas:
- To accurately figure out where the mobile gaming sphere is, we should look at the most popular games. Yet doing even that can seem impossible depending on how you look at it. A list of the most popular games for March of this year will have games that will be completely forgotten in a few weeks and will have little impact, mixed with a few others with major influence.
- You can look at some revenue numbers instead to see what people will spend their money on. This can indicate an active player base and people invested in the progress they have made.
- Looking at the numbers for March, you will see some known names such as Pokémon GO and Roblox as well as some other games you might not have heard of, perhaps because their player base is primarily in another country.
- Again, this is another category where everything is expected to change. Many of today's most popular mobile games were not even around two years ago, and with a few exceptions, these will be replaced by newcomers eventually.
The next things to consider are video streaming apps and video streaming in general (the two are effectively intertwined). First off, out of the subscription services, which are the most popular?
- As you can see above, Netflix still reigns supreme, followed by Amazon Prime Video and Disney+. It should be noted that Amazon Prime Video subscribers might just be interested in other services from Amazon and not use the service, and Disney+ memberships often come in other promotions. Usage data still is most important, and that data is unfortunately not fully available.
- Looking outside of paid options, YouTube is by far the most popular option for people, and you likely use it yourself. They have more than two billion regular users and growing. The amount of free content on the site is growing, to the degree that YouTube is as much a search engine as it is anything else.
- Across all devices, people spend an average of 41.9 minutes a day on the site.
Overall, as both smartphones and the nature of entertainment change, we might start to measure different things or think about survey results differently. If we think about how the world was even a decade ago and imagine what will change over the next decade, we have a lot of excitement and innovation to look forward to when it comes to entertainment.
Unexpected Growth and the Future
The entire app market is volatile and, at times, confusing. Fortunately, unless you are a developer or a publisher, you do not need to worry about it all that much. You use what you are going to use, leave the rest behind, and that is that. Yet looking towards the future is always important and undoubtedly interesting when it comes to anything technology-related. Here are a few facts and figures we think you should know about:
- The usage of voice assistants is expected to go up over time, to the degree that about 93 percent of users will use them by 2023. As to why this might be the case, it can be a combination of convenience, necessity (to avoid using the phone while driving), and improved voice recognition technology.
- As more people use them, the competition to create the best voice assistant will increase in intensity, perhaps leading to further developments.
- As mentioned before, mobile gaming is becoming increasingly popular, with more games being available, more revenue being taken in by mobile games, and more games being developed (including major studios hoping to cash in on popular IPs). With cloud gaming services such as Stadia coming out (albeit to mixed results), the point where people can play top-tier releases with their phone and a controller is not far away.
- Both AR and VR apps are being developed regularly, and the market for these types of apps is growing. While they might be associated with gaming primarily at the moment, it is not hard to imagine a VR app that allows for house tours or viewing of special events as if you are there. Some will be mobile-focused, while others might require a bit more processing power, but what first comes somewhere else will eventually come to mobile.
While you are looking at all the above stats and figures, app stores and app developers are as well. They are constantly trying to optimize both the user experience and take in the most profit (or procure the most downloads, whatever is best for their business model). While we will not bore you with too many more business figures in this article, we can say that following the money will show you the future, even if there is just a slew of imitators.
Many mobile apps result from much of the research and technological development that has occurred over the past couple of decades. We could have barely imagined all the statistics above years ago, and yet here we are. Reading this might have inspired you to download a few more apps. Or perhaps it has done the opposite, and you have resolved to lessen your screen time; both options are wholly justified.
Whether you are on social media, doing taxes, dating, or something else entirely on your phone (and therefore its apps), we hope you have learned about where smartphone technology is and where it is going. There is so much more to consider, so we encourage you to do more research if you are interested and to keep up to date with these numbers.