How many apps do you have on your phone, and how often do you use them? Are they are part of your daily life? How long have those apps been on your phone? Which apps do you download immediately upon getting a new model? And which ones did you regularly use just a year ago that now remained untouched? Maybe they do not even exist anymore?
This might seem like a barrage of questions, but we want you to start thinking about your smartphone, and more specifically, what is on it. Apps make the smartphone, and apps make much of what we consider 21st-century life possible. So much has changed since the early days of Myspace and flip phones that we effectively live in an entirely different digital world. You might be reading this article in one app or another, and there are millions of apps available.
Yet not all were made equally, and you do not have the time to go over them all. You do not even have the time to investigate all the most popular ones. Therefore, we are here to give you an overview of the most popular apps over the last decade. We've weighted our findings in no particular direction in terms of time, the number of downloads, or other metrics for reasons we will explain.
Going over all the apps created and put in app stores over the last decade, how can one determine which ones were the most popular or the most important? We can look at the number of downloads, and we certainly do when that information is accurately available. Still, we also want to consider how often people used them and their impact on the internet and smartphone market in general. It seems disingenuous to say that an app is popular if it's downloaded and only used once a year, or just once in general. We barely remember the fads of last year, much less the fads of a decade ago.
Therefore, the following lists consider multiple data points and are not necessarily in order of importance. Remember that cultural impact is just as significant as anything else. Some apps of today effectively combine several apps that were bought up or imitated in terms of major features. It truly is a complicated environment.
Without further wait, here are our top selections for apps, divided into several distinct categories. While we could add more, we can only go on for so long, and we want to focus on the main entries.
The internet has allowed us to communicate in ways previously not thought possible and stay constantly connected, for better or for worse. There have been plenty of apps released to help us communicate on top of general SMS, with some focused on privacy, some focused on pictures, and others focused on niche topics. Social media itself is a cultural force that has swung elections, helped form social movements and more. With hundreds of millions to billions of users, you can expect billions of downloads of each of these apps.
Even if you have sworn off social media yourself, you are sure to recognize nearly all these names:
It comes as no surprise that Facebook would be one of the most popular apps of the last decade, being perhaps the first social media network that simply everyone had to use. There is no need to explain it in-depth, as its messaging system (we are including Facebook Messenger in this discussion) and posting are so common they have been adopted in part everywhere. Yet, there is so much more Facebook is trying to do, including dating and being an online marketplace.
Today it is installed by default on many devices, and while there is some public backlash, there are still nearly 2.8 billion active users of the service as of the last quarter of 2020. This is more people than live in any country and more people than lived on the planet less than a century ago. There are, however, still markets to conquer for the tech giant. Like all social media companies, they will seek to expand into different markets and functionalities, hoping to stay relevant in an accelerated online world. Regardless of their path, people will be using Facebook for some time to come.
Similarly, Twitter is one of the most popular apps on smartphones today. Since its inception and early growth, it has become basically the main alternative to Facebook, simpler and more rapid. In this discussion, you cannot mention one without the other. You can probably open your phone and send a quick tweet in the time it takes you to read this section about Twitter. The entire infrastructure feels like it was made for mobile use.
Yet its rapid nature is not always good. A bad tweet has brought down many a celebrity, and tweets have become news headlines for better or worse. The tweet has become a form of press release, and the tweet could be anything. Character limits have been extended, and functionality increased to better incorporate videos and photos. People use Twitter every day, and people make their living from Twitter in various ways. Even discounting bots (of which there are a ton), there are hundreds of millions of tweets each day.
All of this means that we cannot understate its popularity. There are about 340 million active users currently, and the platform is trying to gain more, although there have been fluctuations in recent quarters. How the social media company moves forward will undoubtedly be a subject of interest.
While initially focused on online gaming, and to some degree, this is still the case; Discord allows people to have both chatrooms and several voice chatrooms. The app has expanded to become a meeting place for many online denizens, allowing groups of people to come together in ways that other social media platforms cannot. Some might even argue against it being considered a social media platform and more of a general communications tool.
Yet, the app is whatever its users want it to be. There is a discord server for every interest or even sub-groups within an interest. Groups of friends might have one to avoid other social media and make it easier to just hop on a voice call. With a perfectly working mobile app, friends or potential friends are often just a couple of screen taps away.
Discord is still growing and is a relative newcomer. It is more rooted in internet culture and interests than other social media interests, but its potential seems limitless in a time where people are seeking more connections and new people to meet and get to know. There is nothing stopping it from expanding outside of its own image and competitors adopting some of its more user and group-friendly features.
Technically another arm of Facebook, Instagram is the most photo-obsessed social media network and potentially the most beautiful if you know who to follow. Some people make their living off of Instagram, and Instagram culture is something unto itself. Despite the media portrayal of a selfie-obsessed culture instigated by the app, there is something for everyone on Instagram. It serves as another means of connection in a disconnected time if people know how to use it.
The app is wildly successful, as one might imagine, and smartphones now can easily allow people to view the images (and videos) in all their splendor, and take great photos and share them on their phone, anywhere, and at any time. Whether you are interested in celebrity culture, nature, or bringing an egg to the heights of greatness, Instagram will continue to offer something to users.
Reddit has been around long before the news stories came about it nearly taking down Wall Street, and it has built itself over time to be one of the most popular places online people can anonymously communicate and share posts, with the content rising and falling by its own virtue as opposed to the popularity of the user. A lot can go into a Reddit post, and looking back through past content can quickly lead to wasted hours.
For a long time, the app was not as popular as the website, at least compared to other social media networks. Lately, there have been efforts to update the app and a strong push to move people towards it (you will constantly be reminded of the app if you go on the mobile site).
While there are certainly some of the more unsavory parts of Reddit, as with most networks, and while it certainly has its own culture, there is a subreddit for everything, including the most niche of interests. Whether you like books, vintage cars, niche philosophical concepts, or experimental music, there is a subreddit for you, making the app worthy of its popularity.
While not as popular as it might have been during its heyday, the immediate deletion of images after viewing brought a different air for users than the relative permanence of other social media posts. This and some of the more exciting filters have kept it relevant. Today, there is still a dedicated userbase, even if much of the general public has moved on.
It has proven to be very popular with younger people and social media influencers who want an additional platform to share more of their daily lives without diluting their feeds. However, whether Snapchat can turn it around in regards to growth remains to be seen.
TikTok has been a recent phenomenon, only coming out worldwide in 2018. Recently its growth has skyrocketed, easily becoming one of the biggest app success stories of the last year. Users share and watch short videos, approving or disapproving of them regularly and following creators they enjoy.
TikTok has found itself a bit of a center of controversy. This is primarily due to surveillance and data collecting concerns as well as being at the center of some political turmoil with China (some take issue with its Chinese ownership and those surveillance concerns). TikTok has also found itself at risk of being banned in some countries, making users and content creators nervous. However, as of this writing, the app remains in use.
TikTok is another social media app with a bit of a culture of its own and is generally popular with younger people more than anything else. Short videos make it the successor to Vine, although it can be argued that Tiktok has become mired in its own trends and loops, making it old to users quickly.
People being able to watch their favorite shows and content anywhere has meant creating more apps to do so. Here are a few of the most popular options:
YouTube is a legend in its own right. Everyone uses YouTube, has favorite channels, and checks it regularly. How often it is downloaded is somewhat irrelevant as it comes installed on the vast majority of phones, and in some cases, can only be disabled, not uninstalled. People use it every day whether they need reference or entertainment, and no app has been able to compete with it.
For some people, it effectively replaces TV, and it remains more flexible and versatile for many than traditional television. Whether you are waiting in the office, in the car, in line, or just waking up in the morning, there is a video for you.
The rise of Netflix is singular in many ways. While there are many imitators in terms of video streaming and content production (most tech giants and some longstanding media companies have tried to get in on the market), with some successes and failures, none still match the cultural impact and singular power of Netflix. It is still the first content streaming service people think of and has some of the best bargaining power and name recognition in the industry.
While people might not think of the mobile app first when they want to watch Netflix, watching a favorite show on the go or in bed before falling asleep remains a popular option, and smartphones now can show content in higher resolutions. Whatever happens in the app world, Netflix will do its best to stay modern and relevant.
Games and Diversion
People do not need dedicated devices to play games anymore. The mobile game market has surpassed traditional gaming in terms of revenue and has taken off beyond comprehension in Asian markets. Also, with the processing happening in the cloud, more high-end games will be accessible to the average smartphone user. Combine this with content streaming and other entertainment options, and the smartphone can completely handle someone's entertainment needs.
Here are some of the games and apps that took over the decade:
If you have heard of any game over the past decade, you have probably heard of Fortnite. The battle royale game has taken off to become far more than just the game itself, with Fortnite dances becoming prime meme material and concerts being held virtually through it. It is a way many kids and teenagers stay in touch (many people will just hang out in the lobby), and the game updates regularly to stay relevant). The creators likely have content planned out for years.
It might not be the most popular app listed here in terms of downloads, if only because many people play on their computer or gaming console still, but in terms of cultural impact and the hours people do play put in, it is near the top for sure.
Candy Crush Saga
There were many mobile games that we could have considered here, but none of them compete with Candy Crush, which brought mobile gaming to a large host of people that otherwise wouldn't touch it. Candy Crush has been around in some form for more than a decade.
It also popularized some of the mechanics and features creators often get criticized for as part of the free-to-play model. There are many imitators not only in the simple (but not necessarily easy) yet addictive gameplay but also in terms of monetization. Quite a few credit cards have been maxed out a few dollars at a time due to the need to play just one more round or get one more bonus.
There have been several iterations of the game through the years, but we won't differentiate between them. If apps differ or there are other versions of the game, it remains Candy Crush, and people (except for enthusiasts) only think of that brand.
Picking the most popular and influential music streaming service out of all those that appeared over the past decade was a complex task. Still, looking at the download numbers, we found that Spotify was the clear winner, with 286 million users. iTunes is something more built-in as a program or function to apple devices, but Spotify is mainly an app through and through. Furthermore, Apple Music only has 60 million subscribers, and it is in second place.
Now that CDs are more of a collector's item than anything else and that everyone streams nearly all of their music, Spotify has taken the lead with their music streaming service. Both free and premium have an immense library that no one can listen to in its entirety, even if they had multiple lifetimes. Add to that their forays into exclusive podcasts and availability on every device with easy-to-use apps, and Spotify cements itself as a singular powerhouse.
Do you remember when everyone was out in the world playing Pokémon Go? While Pokémon is one of the biggest media franchises of all time in terms of merchandise sales and already known for video games (initially being video games), Pokémon Go truly hit the mainstream. It brought the franchise back into the public eye (if it ever left). During its peak, businesses would advertise themselves as hotspots for Pokémon Go, and cemeteries and memorial sites had to discourage potential players from swarming the area.
With a large player base, more friends wanted to join in, creating a snowball effect of activity. All these factors coming together combined with the possibility of meeting new people and going outside playing the game means that there is still an active community today. Even during the pandemic, the game has adapted to allow for more forms of remote play and interaction. As long as people like Pokémon and there is no replacement, people will be playing Pokémon Go.
The internet is for more than just communicating with each other and sharing pictures. It also allows many of us to get work done, and in some cases, our entire jobs revolve around the internet and apps. It stands to reason that there would be plenty of apps dedicated to helping us keep track of our time and tasks and better collaborate on projects. Here are some of the most popular and noteworthy of these from the past decade:
When organizations large and small need to get together, most of them use Slack even if they use other tools for project management. It is mobile-friendly, easy to control, and has gained traction, which are vital factors in making a successful productivity and communications app. Perhaps its greatest success is staying out of users' way and letting people communicate without too much interjection and potential sources of confusion, a mistake many other apps make.
What has become especially interesting is that more people were working remotely during the recent pandemic if they were able. Slack was one of the main tools people used. As more people will remain working remotely for the foreseeable future, how will Slack maintain its share of the market and keep both its desktop and mobile platforms competitive?
There are several apps or programs like Trello. Still, by our measurements, none of them have surpassed Trello, a project management application that uses cards and lists to simplify most tasks. At the same time, it allows attachments, notes, and messages on cards to allow for more in-depth instructions. With various viewing modes, filters, and additional features (some premium, some free), it works well on both desktops and mobile, and measures such as filtering make it easier for mobile users to get the information they need.
While there might be other project management programs, and while it may not be as popular as the social media apps or most-used games, Trello takes the prize when it comes to this sort of work and management help.
Some other apps are worth mentioning that might not otherwise fit into some categories (though we could certainly make them). You are sure to recognize these names, though:
We were tempted not even to include Google as an app here, as most people would not think of it that way. Still, the search engine has made such an impact on mobile phones and other devices that we feel absolutely compelled to include it, with the search engine or search app being built-in to every Android phone and used regularly. We do not need to state its popularity further.
The entire Google Suite of apps cannot be listed entirely here, but their presence is known, and they are installed on literally billions of devices. Whether it is a calendar with reminders, help with instructions, handling documents, or something else entirely, Google has an app for it. That level of dominance all feeds into the popularity of the company.
When you want to buy something online and are not sure as the brand and agnostic as to the source (which is more common than you might think), you probably go to Amazon first and go by their recommendations and search algorithms. Amazon itself can meet the average person's needs nearly completely, except for some perishable items and bigger ticket items (and even those might be available). However, the shopping app is not only a storefront but a marketplace, and finding used products from a variety of sellers is an option right from your phone.
And Amazon being Amazon, one can also expect that there is a whole host of additional functions from the tech giant, to the degree that Amazon shopping is a portal to an entire online life that you rarely have to leave. If you plug into the infrastructure, Amazon Music, Prime Video, and more are at your fingertips, sometimes in connected apps and sometimes not. Essentially, with Amazon, you can get whatever you want.
eBay might not have the same impact today as it did in the earlier days of the internet when there were fewer competitors and greater centralization. Yet over the past decade, there is no denying its impact on the online sales market, with many people still making their living on the online auction site, which has also trended a bit more towards standard eCommerce. People might use the desktop app as much as the mobile version, if not more, but there are millions upon millions of downloads and millions of users.
eBay users can now track their bids and auctions at any time, further leading to the app's addictiveness. Payment options and ease-of-use is improving, and selling and taking pictures of products has never been more accessible. The features will only expand as phones become more advanced.
In any regard, we cannot ignore the impact eBay had on eCommerce.
When you need to go somewhere and do not have a car of your own (or do not want to drive), you call an Uber. It probably is as simple as that. Uber is just what people think of first, especially in larger cities where there are plenty of drivers and more reasons to avoid bringing your car. Some would say that taxis' general failure to keep up with modern times led to the growth of Uber into the true giant it is today, and labor issues aside, there is no sign of Uber's dominance slowing worldwide.
There has indeed been a downturn with Uber lately due to the recent pandemic. Still, the same could be said of many options, and expansion into food delivery has allowed Uber to find new revenue sources and find new reasons for people to keep using the app. When the world returns to normal, Uber will be what people use to get to events.
Determining what constitutes a popular app can be difficult, and we are sure you might have some different ideas from what is listed above. No matter the category and no matter the specific app, there is a history behind each major choice, and collectively they have all changed our world, for better or for worse. The apps themselves and their popularity are perhaps not what you should take away here, but instead, the impact each of them left upon our modern lives.