APAC leads mobile app download surge in 2021

September 3, 2021

Asian girl downloads an app on her phone

Filippo Giachi

SVP – Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa

Smartphones entrenched their position at the epicentre of the global mobile ecosystem in 2020, and the Asia Pacific (APAC) region led the revolution. The latest Mobile App Trends 2021: A focus on APAC report highlights the considerable changes in app usage habits and trends in eleven countries during 2020 as consumers turned to their devices to help them cope with the pressures of coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

Marketing analytics platform provider Adjust assayed its top 910 APAC-based apps alongside the total dataset of all apps tracked by the company in India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

It found that app installs and sessions in APAC grew by 31% and 54% year on year, respectively, between 2019 and 2020, suggesting that developers are retaining the customer of users they enticed at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic whilst continuing to expand their user base. Retention rates remained consistent throughout the year, Adjust estimates, with the 30-day average being 5.68% in the fourth quarter.

Based on separate statistics compiled by BusinessofApps[i], Adjust estimates that APAC countries collectively led the world in mobile app download growth in 2020, accounting for almost two thirds (64%) of the global total.

Most countries and all verticals show continued growth

The number of mobile app installs aggregated across the eleven APAC countries analysed increased 31% in 2020 compared to 2019. Some of that momentum has continued into 2021, with the first five months of the year up 4% on the equivalent period in 2020 – an impressive performance considering the considerable spike in installs at the onset of coronavirus in the first quarter of last year.

Japan and Vietnam led the growth in 2020, with mobile app installs rising 32% and 27%, respectively, compared to their 2019 levels. India, Thailand and Indonesia also saw solid double-digit expansion. But whereas Singapore expanded its app install volumes just 2% during 2019 and 2020, activity has accelerated in the first five months of 2021 – the numbers were up 49% on the equivalent period in 2020, with growth rates only slightly ahead of Vietnam at 43% estimates Adjust.

Looking at specific categories of mobile apps, install growth was highest in hyper-casual games. Volumes rose 66% during 2019 and 2020, compared to 23% for all games led by Vietnam, Indonesia and India. Even more impressive, the growth of hyper games installs has surged another 49% in early 2021, compared to just 4% for the whole gaming category across all eleven countries despite surges in Singapore (up 80%), Vietnam (up 51%) and Japan (up 41%).

Separate research from GlobalData appears to back up Adjust’s findings. It estimates the APAC region accounted for 60% of mobile gaming revenue in 2020[ii], generating US$58bn in the process (although, unlike Adjust, GlobalData includes China in its calculations, estimated to account for 35% of mobile gaming revenue alone).

Fintech and eCommerce see sustained growth

Fintech apps have also seen strong APAC adoption, attributed to an increased consumer appetite for mobile banking and payment apps. Installs were up 36% year on year in 2020 and 18% in the first five months of 2021, calculates Adjust.

That trend was particularly apparent in Thailand and Vietnam, where fintech app install volumes doubled in 2020 compared to 2019. Singapore (up 72%) and India (up 71%) saw similarly impressive adoption in the same period, ahead of Indonesia (up 50% and South Korea (up 39%). But where those two countries may have lagged in 2020, both caught up with much higher expansion rates in early 2021 (up 89% and 62%, respectively) while Singapore maintained its 2020 growth rate (up 70%).

The next best performing category is eCommerce apps – install volumes expanded 27% on aggregate in 2020 as APAC consumers turned to online shopping due to widespread store closures and capacity restrictions over the last 18 months. Growth rates were highest in South Korea (up 45%) and Japan (up 31%) in 2020. But 2021 has predictably failed to deliver the same momentum, up just 8% in the first five months of the year compared to the same period in 2020 at the peak of lockdown restrictions.

Sessions and in-app patterns

Adjust used its extensive data set to analyse mobile app sessions – measured as the amount of time a user interacts with an app, usually triggered when the app is opened. The growth in app sessions did not come close to that seen in-app installs but suggest more significant user interaction levels.

Session volumes aggregated across all eleven APAC countries monitored surged 54% year on year in 2020, again coinciding with periods of pandemic-related social and economic restrictions. As such, 2021 has seen the APAC region average just 1% growth in the first five months of the year as those restrictions started to be eased, with only May reaching 2020’s first-quarter peak.

Again, there are some exciting variations by country. Adjust estimates that Japan doubled the volume of app sessions year on year in 2020, with growth continuing in 2021 (up a further 16%). Singapore, which saw session volumes advance just 1% year on year in 2020, has seen them now grow 34% since last January. Vietnam was the only country monitored by Adjust to see a decline in-app session volumes in 2020 (down 9% compared to 2019), but here too, they have accelerated by 12% so far in 2021.

Fintechs see biggest session growth

Measured by vertical, fintech apps saw the most significant rise in user sessions across the APAC region in 2020, more than doubling the 2019 total as consumers made more transactions using their smartphones in response to economic lockdowns. Growth in 2020 was highest in South Korea (up 123% year on year) and Japan (up 104%) – both countries where large numbers of consumers conduct smartphone purchases using direct carrier billing (DCB) as part of their mobile phone bills rather than using cards.

In 2021, it is the turn of Singapore to drive massive growth in fintech app session volumes, up 188% in the first five months of 2020, followed by Vietnam (up 136%), South Korea again (up 110%) and Indonesia (up 101%). A simultaneous boost in user engagement with eCommerce apps appears to confirm that APAC buyers made more mobile purchases in the face of widespread store closures. That activity was led again by Japan and South Korea (up 51% and 16%, respectively), with the aggregate growth rate across all eleven countries hitting 19%.
Participation in mobile games, too, saw a significant increase, particularly hyper-casual titles (such as those offered by Roblox, for example), which saw session volumes surged 60% year on year in 2020. However, growth has since tailed off to 5% in 2021. Players in Singapore (up 108%), Japan (up 99%) and Indonesia (up 84%) in particular appear to have spent more time playing hyper-casual mobile games in 2020 than they did in 2019.

Across all eleven countries and app verticals, average session lengths increased from 23.78 minutes in 2019 to 24.4 minutes in 2020 before dropping to 22.78 minutes in the first quarter of 2021. However, session lengths in the APAC region remain significantly longer than the global averages of 19.09 minutes in 2019 and 20.04 minutes in 2020.

Future APAC expansion

While Adjust has noted both install and session growth rates dropping off in the first five months of 2021 compared to their 2020 peaks, it still expects they will expand over the entire course of this year as smartphone adoption and fourth/fifth generation (4G/5G) mobile coverage continues to grow in the APAC region.

Other sources appear to confirm the trend. In its Global Mobile Apps Market 2020-2024 report, Technavio forecasts that the mobile app market in APAC will expand to account for 45% of the entire market’s growth between 2020 and 2024. If those predictions are correct, the opportunity for app developers to increase their revenue and customer base looks good, more so if they can offer flexible mobile billing options which cater to people in the region with low incomes and no bank account.


[i] App Download and Usage Statistics (2020), BusinessofApps, 6th May 2021

[ii] 60% mobile gaming revenue came from APAC region in 2020, led by China at 35%, GlobalData, 14th June 2021

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