App downloads keep up momentum

December 13, 2021

Closely image of woman is making an on-line purchase via cell telephone, while is sitting with friends in hipster cafe interior.

Jonathan Kriegel


The latest Store Intelligence Data Digest report from Sensor Tower suggests that global app downloads are continuing to level down after their 2020 peak, but show signs of losing the momentum first gained during long periods of coronavirus-induced social and economic restrictions.

Global app downloads fell marginally to 35.7bn in the third quarter of 2021, down 1.9% on the corresponding quarter of 2020 (36.4bn). The decline impacted both major app stores almost equally, with Google Play downloads dropping 2% to 27.6bn and App Store downloads falling 1.4% to 8.1bn.

Streaming video and commerce apps prominent

Social media and messaging platforms dominate the top ten most downloaded apps once again. These were led by TikTok, Facebook and Instagram though conferencing and collaboration apps Zoom and Google Meet made 8th and 10th respectively and free video editing app CapCut was 9th.

Streaming audio and video apps Spotify and Netflix also made the global top 20, as did both subscription video on demand (SVOD) platforms HBO Max, Disney+, Peacock TV and Hulu in the US specifically, alongside ad supported equivalents Tubi and Peacock TV. A pair of eCommerce apps featured globally: Shopee, which is popular in Southeast Asia and Taiwan, and Shein, the international business to consumer fast fashion app used predominantly in Europe, America, Australia, and the Middle East. Amazon registered in the top 20 only in the US, where it was the 12th most downloaded app in Q321.

Android exclusive social eCommerce app Meesho – which enables small businesses and merchants in India to start online stores via social channels such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram – was a surprise inclusion at number 16. Nearly all of Meesho downloads originate in India, but social commerce apps are forecast to rapidly expand in their user base and activity rates in other parts of the world too.

Statista estimates that global social commerce sales will grow 31% year on year to be worth US$732bn this year, before expanding further to be worth US$2.9tn by 2026. TikTok’s expanded partnership with eCommerce platform provider Shopify is a good example of leading providers are collaborating to foster market growth (read more in this article by Jonathan Bennett on how TikTok Shopping increases social commerce through a partnership with Shopify.)

India and Southeast Asia see most app downloads

India’s population of 1.4bn once again accounted for more app downloads than any other country. The exceeded 7bn in Q321 (more than double the 3bn downloaded in the US in second place) the fourth time that figure has been reached in the last five quarters. The fact that they have now jumped from 5.2bn in Q121 suggests that use of mobile apps has continued to grow in that country post pandemic as more consumers go online.

The rest of the top ten countries ranked by app downloads remained unchanged, though Vietnam (7th   with 900m) and Pakistan (8th with 800m) leapfrogged Turkey in 9th place. With the addition of Indonesia and the Philippines, Southeast Asian countries represented half of the countries in the top ten, highlighting the growing appetite for smartphones and mobile apps in the region.

Games downloads outnumber all other categories

Downloads of mobile games continue to dwarf those of other apps on a global basis, accounting for 13.6bn in Q321, accounting for 37% of the overall total. The numbers were down significantly on the third quarter of 2020 however, with App Store game downloads down 8% and Google Play game downloads down 2.6%.

The single most popular title was Tencent’s PUBG Mobile, with rival first person shoot ‘em up Garena Free Fire taking third place. Virtual pet game My Talking Angela 2, released in July 2021, placed second while hyper casual titles Count Masters and Subway Surfers occupied fourth and fifth position.

Another multiplayer online battle arena game – Nintendo’s Pokémon Unite – topped the App Store download charts however, with sandbox game Roblox also making the top five. Over on Google Play hyper casual games Fidget Toys Trading and Bridge Race also made the top five.

Though they generate much smaller volumes, other app categories did see expansion. Tools – which cover a broad range of utility apps including cyber security suites, QR barcode readers, smart cleaners, file managers and backup platforms – saw downloads on Google Play increase 23% year on year to 2.8bn from 2.25bn in the third quarter of 2020. The equivalent Utilities category on Apple’s App Store also saw downloads increase almost 10% year on year to 581m suggesting many consumers deploying essential, everyday apps may be using their smartphones for the first time, or at least more often.

While Social (1.21bn) app downloads via Google Play decreased by around 5% year on year, there was a big jump in the volume of finance apps downloaded – up 22% year on year to 1.1bn. Fortunes were more mixed for Entertainment apps though down 5.3% during the year on Google Play (1.48bn) but growing 2.3% on the App Store (550m).

Sensor Tower’s quarterly digest is a good indicator of how global consumers are increasingly coming to build their lives around the smartphone, and it will be interesting to see if 2022 reflects the same trends.

Related Posts