Lockdown measures imposed in a number of countries to combat the spread of Covid-19 (coronavirus) are unprecedented. Understandably, in times of social distancing, many people are looking to mobile apps for entertainment, to socialise, work and even keep fit.

Of course apps and technology services as a whole have been around for years, but arguably have never been so important. People are adjusting to a new normal, underpinned by the virtual world.

So, with the help of data and analyst companies, I looked at five major lifestyle categories and compiled a list of one app from each which demonstrated some of the biggest gains in terms of download numbers and wider popularity since the crisis commenced at the start of 2020.

Video conferencing surged as people began working from home, with Zoom proving a stand-out.

Omdia research analyst Louise Shorthouse told Mobile World Live (MWL) data from mobile app intelligence tool Priori Data showed “Zoom racked up almost 300 million downloads across Google Play and Apple App Store” from the beginning of the year to 1 June, “growth of 2,000 per cent” over the same period of 2019.

In April alone, the app was installed more times than in the period from its launch in September 2014 to September 2019, at 96 million compared with 51 million.

UK operator EE highlighted Zoom as one of the most popular apps used on its network since a lockdown commenced on 23 March.

However, the rise in adoption was accompanied by increased concerns over Zoom’s security, with a number of reports of uninvited individuals invading meetings.

This led to the service being probed in the US and even banned by some German authorities in April. In response, Zoom introduced password requests for users joining meetings.

Shorthouse predicted Zoom’s users would remain engaged into the second half of the year, despite an expected flattening in download numbers.

Being creative on social media appeared a major way to kill time at home, shown by TikTok’s rising popularity.

In Q1 it recorded the most installs for any app ever in a single quarter with 315 million downloads compared with 188 million in Q1 2019, Sensor Tower data showed.

“Downloads of the app have increased month-on-month, especially for Western territories. The popularity of TikTok has exploded in the UK. As with many apps, engagement levels post-lockdown are likely to wane, but the already-dominant global presence of TikTok suggests that it is here to stay, especially as partnerships with other media forms increase”, Shorthouse said.

However, as seen with Zoom, increased popularity inevitably means more attention. TikTok’s owner, ByteDance, faced scrutiny by US senators at the end of May who urged the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to examine whether it violated child privacy protections by keeping videos made by children under 13 years old.

In response, the company offered assurances it would introduce new protection measures for young people.

The situation, apparently, didn’t affect the app’s popularity, with Sensor Tower data showing global downloads of more than 111.9 million in May.

Plague Inc.
Gaming was one of the most successful app categories, with weekly downloads of 1.2 billion between the start of January and the week ending on 2 May, representing a new world record, a collaborative report by App Annie and IDC showed.

And if you think users would steer clear of a game based on a virtual pandemic world, you’d be wrong.

Plague Inc. game invites players to bring about the end of humanity by creating and adapting a global plague.

It launched on iOS in May 2012 and on Google Play two years later, and its popularity spiked during outbreaks of diseases, particularly around Zika and Ebola.

Covid-19 has proven no different, with Apptopia stating the game was downloaded 15 million times in Q1, up 265 per cent year-on-year.

Google Classroom
Another notable category was education, as students turned to virtual classrooms.

Google Classroom, a collaboration service, topped the tables, with Sensor Tower noting it became the tenth most-downloaded app globally in March and took top spot in the education segment a month later when it registered 28.2 million downloads worldwide, 21-times higher than April 2019.

The majority of downloads (15 per cent) were from US users, followed by India (13 per cent).

Covid-19 lockdowns also apparently spurred uptake of health and fitness apps: preliminary data from Sensor Tower points to a 47 per cent year-on-year rise in downloads during the current quarter to 656 million.

The company noted Strava had registered “a particularly sharp rise in downloads and user spending so far in 2020”, with a record 3.4 million downloads in May.

Strava launched in 2009, employing device GPS to track users when walking, running and cycling, and offering the ability to share the data with other users. The app also offers challenges to help motivate users, and analysis of performances over set periods of time.

For all this, though, it remains to be seen if the upturn in app usage fuelled by Covid-19 will continue as lockdowns are lifted.

Shorthouse said mobile gaming could enjoy the longest benefits because lockdowns had introduced many people to the category for the first time.

“For many of these new players, the end of social distancing will mean they no longer need mobile game apps to remain connected. However, some will undoubtedly continue to engage with them, if only to sustain new connections made with family and friends”.

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.