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How the Pandemic Shifted the App Ecosystem

Posted Jun 21, 2021

When the unexpected coronavirus started to conquer the world last year, no one predicted that this could still continue one year later. During the pandemic, our lifestyles and approach to daily things changed drastically, and mobile apps, particularly games, became our addiction while we were forced to spend most of our time indoors. After more than one year, while the world is starting to heal, Sensor Tower released a report to take a closer look at the changing ecosystem of mobile apps.

COVID-19’s App Impact: One Year Later report reveals that certain app categories are still experiencing the effects of school and office closures a year into the pandemic while the Sports category has recovered from the hit it took early on in the pandemic as live games were canceled or postponed. Sports installs returned by late 2020, although the rapid Sports app revenue growth seen prior to the pandemic has yet to return completely. Let’s take a closer look at the report to get better insights into the changing trends of the app categories, revenues, and downloads.

Business, News, and Education Apps Saw Historic Download Growth in the U.S.

Business, News, and Education apps saw historic download growth in the early months of the pandemic, with downloads in each of these categories doubling year-over-year. Medical and Health & Fitness also saw strong growth, while Navigation, Sports, and Travel downloads decreased as stay-at-home orders were enacted and sports games were canceled. In the early pandemic period, between March and April 2020, Business app downloads grew 149% compared to the same time period in 2019, while News apps increased by 106%. Due to all the education continued from the student’s homes, Education apps grew by 105% compared to the same period one year ago.

A significant fraction of the impact from COVID-19 persisted into early 2021, with Business downloads still up and Navigation and Travel installs below the usual levels came as no surprise. With the countries closing their borders to each other, and users still scared to travel, Travel apps continue to decline by 31% compared to last year. The effect is less pronounced than in early 2020, however, and some categories like Sports have completely recovered in 2021.

In the U.S., Business apps like Zoom and Google Meet saw the largest boost following COVID-19. These apps also retained the most growth into 2021, with downloads still up nearly 50% Y/Y a year into the pandemic. Other categories saw downloads return towards pre-pandemic levels. Education and Health & Fitness had much lower growth by early 2021. Meanwhile, Sports bounced back as leagues re-opened by summer 2020.

Business App Downloads in Europe Skyrocketed

Business app download growth was even more pronounced in Europe than in the U.S. Year-over-year growth peaked at more than 250% in the months immediately following the spread of COVID-19 and remained high for the following year. Health & Fitness apps also saw a larger boost in Europe than in the U.S. While U.S. download growth was near zero by early 2021, European downloads were up 23%.

Mobile Games’ Domination is Undeniable

It is no secret that mobile games became our biggest entertainer during the pandemic. Global mobile game year-over-year revenue growth increased from about 15% to 20% before the pandemic to nearly 40% in May 2020. Growth has remained high since, hovering between 25% and 35%. Revenue growth was highest in the U.S., peaking at 64% Y/Y in May 2020. U.S. revenue growth remained higher than Europe and Asia for the rest of the year. By early 2021, growth rates were similar between the regions.

While almost all genres saw growth in 2020, some gaming genres experienced a larger boost, most notably simulation grew 62%, followed by action with 51% and casino with 49% in the US.

Among Us Stands Out during the Pandemic

Mobile game download growth spiked in the first few months of the pandemic from 26% year-over-year in January 2020 to 63% Y/Y in April as consumers looked for new ways to entertain themselves. Download growth fell back towards January’s total by June, and it continued to decline during the rest of the year.

The biggest gains were from Innersloth’s Among Us in the last three quarters of 2020. The multiplayer social deduction game was released in 2018, but its popularity soared during the pandemic as it provided a way for friends to stay connected. Some of the top revenue gainers during the pandemic were also among the top games by U.S. download growth, including Roblox, Fishdom, and Coin Master. Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp saw a boost when its publisher released the hit Animal Crossing: New Horizons on Nintendo Switch in March 2020.

Overall, the pandemic created a boom in mobile game revenue and has stayed high into early 2021. Even if pre-pandemic growth rates return in 2021, mobile games have experienced a substantial and lasting boost. Mobile game revenue grew 15% to 20% year-over-year prior to the pandemic and saw growth accelerate in the last three quarters of 2020. Worldwide revenue growth peaked at nearly 40% Y/Y in May 2020 before settling in at 25% to 35% for the rest of the year. Hypercasual genre downloads decreased year-over-year each quarter between Q2 and Q4 2020. Other genres outside of Hypercasual saw growth accelerate in Q2 2020. This lift did not last, however, and mobile game downloads decreased Y/Y in Q4 2020.

About the Report
Sensor Tower’s COVID-19’s App Impact: One Year Later analyzed the mobile market app trends and how the pandemic affected it globally but especially in the U.S and Europe. Discover how COVID-19 shifted consumers’ approach to different app genres and what is expected of the mobile ecosystem in the future.

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