The Year 2020 Accelerated Mobile Adoption by Up to 3 Years

Lexi Sydow, App Annie

2020 was a monumental year. As COVID-19 has gripped the world, altered economics, and transformed daily lives, one thing is certain: we have all leaned on mobile usage to connect, work, learn, play and escape. At the height of the pandemic our mobile usage has sky-rocketed — accelerating mobile adoption by 2 to 3 years. In 2020, we saw more time spent, apps downloaded, and consumer and advertiser spend than ever before — to the tune of over 3.5 trillion hours on Android phones, apps downloaded, 218 billion new app downloads, $143 billion spent through the app stores and $240 billion spent on mobile ads. Top markets driving growth in app store spending included China, United States of America (U.S.), Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom and Germany. Meanwhile, emerging markets were among the top drivers of apps and games downloads, particularly China, India, the U.S., Brazil, Indonesia, Russia, Mexico, Turkey and Vietnam.

While mobile adoption records of the past were shattered, this was not a new trend. Instead, COVID-19 was a catalyst to existing trends in consumer behavior towards a mobile-first world. In 2020, the average time spent per user on mobile jumped 20% to 4.2 hours per day, equating to over a quarter of all waking hours. In the US, time spent on mobiles surpassed time spent watching live TV by 8% in H2 2020. Time spent on mobiles crossed generations, In the U.S., Gen Z, Millennials and Gen X/ Baby Boomers spent 16%, 18% and 30% more time per user year-on-year in their most-used apps.



The pandemic drove growth in at-home industries, as consumers sought connection and entertainment while stuck at home during COVID-19 lockdowns. Mobile games reached new heights, topping $100 billion in consumer spending in 2020, and record levels of downloads from a surge in demand as consumers turned to the portable gaming consoles in their pocket to pass time. Even while at home, consumers turned to their small screens to stream content, spending 40% more time in video streaming apps in 2020 than 2019. Social media apps continued to command nearly 50% of all time spent on mobiles, and innovative video playing apps like TikTok saw standout growth across the world; 325%  per user on average. In terms of average monthly time spent per user, TikTok ranked in the top 5 and grew faster than nearly every other app analyzed,  surpassing even Facebook. TikTok is on track to hit 1.2 billion active users in 2021.

Demand for at-home fitness, exercise and mindfulness apps spurred growth in mobile’s share of wallet, with 30% year-on-year growth in consumer spending to $2 billion. Medical app downloads grew 50% year-on-year due to demand for COVID-tracing and socially-distant telehealth apps. Economic uncertainty propelled the adoption of finance apps during the first waves of COVID-19 and throughout 2020 as consumers turned to mobile apps peer to peer payments, banking, investing and monitoring the stock market. Led by video conferencing apps like ZOOM, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams, time spent in business apps surged in 2020, up 275% year-on-year in Q4 2020, globally. Similarly, school closures amidst lockdowns and social distancing measures spurred significant growth in Education apps, like Google Classroom, Seesaw Class and Kahoot!. Mobile commerce had a breakout year as consumers turned to mobile apps for grocery and food delivery, socially distant shopping and innovating contactless pickup options. Outside of China, an early adopter of mobile shopping, global time spent in shopping apps grew 45% year-on-year. While the travel industry was hit hard by COVID-19, we saw local stays, outdoor exploration apps and micro-mobility platforms see strong growth in 2020 — as consumers sought local getaways, outdoor past-times and alternatives to public transport.



2021 and Beyond

During COVID-19, social distancing policies and lockdown measures were instituted to flatten the infection and death-toll curve and curb the spread. Consumers turned inward and settled into their homes — where mobile was the portal to the outside world. In 2021, we expect “at-home” activities to continue to dominate the landscape — with mobile solutions taking over a greater share of our lives in facilitating these activities. Time spent in key “at-home” categories is expected to top 1.3 trillion hours on Android phones alone in 2021.

Mobile usage has taken center stage in our lives — ingraining new app habits and permanently shifting the consumer landscape to a mobile-first world. Our new ways of living – and the greater demand for mobile solutions that come with it – means that we are likely to see app developers creating innovative solutions and performance improvements. By using App Annie data, the Global Innovation Index (GII) is keeping track-record of this in its mobile app creation indicator. Look out for the GII 2021, to be launched in September 2021 on how countries are performing in app creation.

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