Top U.S. Mobile App Category Winners and Losers During Coronavirus

By Peter Farago, Flurry GM, and Estelle Laziuk, Flurry Analyst

Growth in U.S. mobile app usage during 2020 has skyrocketed. The onset of COVID-19 has driven people to stay-at-home. Not only is this change in societal behavior unprecedented, but it’s also taking place during the most technologically-connected era in history. As consumers look to fill newly “found time” many are reaching for smartphones to help pass that time. Since March, Flurry estimates that U.S. app usage has risen by approximately 10%. Considering how saturated the U.S. market is with smartphones, and already using apps at record levels, this additional and sudden lift is noteworthy. At the same time, while aggregate usage is up, usage across individual app categories varies wildly. At the extremes there are big winners and losers. In this report, Flurry reveals how usage has changed across the top app categories in the U.S. during the first 6 months of 2020.

Flurry Analytics, a Verizon Media company, measures end user behavior on 1 million iOS and Android applications across all app categories. For this analysis, Flurry selected a representative set of apps for each of the 15 largest app categories. As our key metric, we use monthly sessions, the total number of times that users launched apps per category each month. We set January 2020 as the baseline per category, and then compared growth against that baseline for each subsequent month, February through June. Note that we exclude the Social category from our analysis because of the unusual concentration of usage in just a handful of properties including Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, among others, which Flurry does not measure. While we speculate that Social is up considerably, we do not have specific data illustrating that trend. Let’s next find out which app categories gained and lost the most usage during the pandemic.

Change in US mobile app usage by app category

In the chart above, we show the percent change in monthly sessions compared to the January 2020 baseline for each app category. On the right, we rank app categories based on their app usage growth since the beginning of the year. We measure this change by averaging the change in usage relative to January during the months of February through June. Let’s examine some of the changes.

In March, the News category surged by 39% compared to January. This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, since we reported in a previous analysis that daily news app usage spiked in March due to COVID-19 related news, including the official declaration of the pandemic and stay-at-home orders. COVID-19 uncertainty in March also caused historical volatility in the stock market. As a result, the Investment category grew by 73% relative to January, indicating an increased interest in news covering the financial markets. 

Beginning in mid-March, schools closed and education moved online, which drove the Education category up by 40% in April relative to January. Note that Flurry does not track users under 13 years old, so this spike in usage represents high school and college students only. In April, as shelter-in-place directives spread across states and Americans were confined to their homes, navigation app usage fell by 24% relative to January. This corresponds to the drop in users traveling to and from U.S. airports in April, covered in a previous study. Next, let’s look at larger trends that emerged due to the change in user behavior because of COVID-19.

The app category that gained the most usage during the first half of 2020 is Investing, with a 56% average rise in usage from February to June compared to January. This is likely due to people checking and managing their investment portfolios given the market volatility and widespread financial uncertainty caused by the pandemic. During this period, the app category that lost the most usage is Sports, plunging on average 43% from February to June relative to January. With collegiate and professional sporting events cancelled during COVID-19, sports fans had no games to livestream and far less news to consume, resulting in a sharp drop in usage. 

Additionally, with many restaurants and bars closed, the Food and Drink category declined by an average of 18% from February to June relative to January. Note that we excluded cooking and recipe apps from the Food and Drink category to focus on dining out and ordering in. The Games category, on the other hand, gained on average 8% app usage from February to June compared to January. In a previous study, we reported that game app usage increased across all age groups, but most notably among Gen Z users. Lastly, with gyms closed and coronavirus representing a global health concern, the health and fitness app category experienced a 14% step up in usage as users found alternative ways to try to stay fit.

The first six months of 2020 constitute an overall unprecedented shift in app usage, with changes in the largest app categories between -60% and +89%. These changes map to the underlying factor that consumers were greatly limited to staying at home during coronavirus, and these changes have been both unprecedented and historical. We’ll continue to monitor more trends within and across mobile app categories and keep you informed.