App Downloads & Engagement in the Age of Coronavirus

As COVID-19 restricts movement in the United States, the way people use technology to continue daily life is changing. The pandemic has not only affected the tech industry but people’s use of technology. One thing is certain: as people spend more time in their homes, app downloads and engagement will surge. 

While we are still in the nascent stages of how apps might spike during the global pandemic, we can use China as a case study.

China Quarantine Led to a Boom in App Downloads

Smartphone users in China downloaded a record number of apps as the coronavirus confined millions of people to their homes. According to App Annie data, there were 222 million downloads from the Apple iOS App Store in the week starting February 2. The two weeks following showed a 40% jump in average weekly downloads compared to the annual average for 2019. Goldman Sachs also reported that overall mobile internet usage increased by an average of 1 hour and 14 minutes between the Lunar New Year and February 9. 

In terms of specific verticals, revenue from mobile games rose 12% compared to the same time the previous year. Education apps also showed a surge. Shares in New Oriental Education, which provides online education in China, jumped 17%. China’s outbreak also coincided with a surge in food delivery app downloads. Overall downloads of the top 10 apps in the food-ordering category increased by 68% from January 13 to February 3.

covid china chart

Source: Financial Times


App Usage in the US is About to go Viral

As Americans shift to working and learning from home in an effort to flatten the curve of coronavirus exposure, the use of the internet and certain apps will surge. According to AppsFlyer, in the past week alone, there has been a 10% increase in organic app installs in the US. 

Across categories this includes:

  • Communication installs: increased 35%
  • News installs: increased 15%
  • Entertainment: increased 15% 
  • Shopping installs: increased by almost 10%
  • Finance installs: increased by more than triple in the past two weeks

The verticals that allow Americans to connect from a distance, purchase meals and entertain themselves will continue to tick upwards during this time.


Grocery Delivery App Downloads Will See Record Growth

Since coronavirus began restricting people’s movements, grocery delivery apps have seen record numbers of daily downloads according to Apptopia. Instacart, Walmart Grocery and Shipt have all seen increases in downloads by 218%, 160% and 124%, respectively. 

grocery delivery chart

Source: Apptopia

Though not quite as expansive, Target’s app also showed massive gains in downloads this year in comparison to this time last year. On March 15th, the Target app saw an increase of 98% over the average number of daily downloads in February.

target covid graph

Source: Apptopia

Based on these trends, our prediction is that grocery delivery apps will continue to see a boom in downloads and revenue as shelter in place measures are implemented and consumers stock up on resources. Grocery apps have an opportunity to drive revenue as consumers “panic-buy” to prepare for long periods of quarantine.

That being said, ongoing issues with logistics to meet the surge in buying demand in certain designated marketing areas might lead to a boom in downloads but a bust in long-term engagement. The boom in organic installs will require retargeting to reduce user churn once logistics are smoothed out following the surge.

Streaming Communication Apps Will Continue to Top the Charts

Remote communication apps like Zoom Video Communications and Google Hangouts have seen massive gains in downloads and engagement as more and more employees move to work remotely. Zoom released a statement in February that average daily downloads were up 90%, with a 17% increase in user session per day and a 3% increase in average session length.

Since then the Zoom app’s reach has continued to expand. As of March, Zoom clocked over 160,000 daily downloads and a whopping 1.35M active daily users. On the Apple App Store, Zoom has also ranked #1 of the top free apps by downloads since March 16th, the first day shelter in place orders were mandated in select counties in California.

Zoom Communications App Daily Downloads & DAU

zoom two charts

Source: Apptopia

Apps that allow you to Netflix & Chill with your friends from afar are also on the rise. Rave & Chill, ShareTube and Netflix Party allow users to stream a movie, TV show or YouTube video in real-time with friends. According to Apptopia, Rave & Chill has seen a sharp rise in daily downloads this past week.

rave app chart covid

Source: Apptopia


Remote Learning Apps Are the New Normal

Google Classroom continues to top the Apple App Store charts since shelter in place measures were first instituted. The app has grown to over 130,000 daily downloads and 1.2M DAU as students move to remote learning. 

Google Classroom App Daily Downloads & DAU

google classroom charts

Source: Apptopia

Other education apps have seen increases in downloads since outbreak prevention policies have been instituted. The language learning app, Duolingo, has also seen a rise in daily downloads since March 16th, increasing from 29,000 to over 35,000 daily downloads according to data from Apptopia


Mobile Game Downloads Are Still Climbing 

If China’s mobile game usage during the height of C19’s outbreak is any indication, mobile games in the U.S. will see a boom as homebound players look for ways to keep themselves entertained. According to data from Sensor Tower, mobile game downloads worldwide climbed 39% in February, with China contributing the lion share. The App Store showed a 62% jump in China alone. Currently, four mobile games rank in the top apps by downloads in the U.S. These include Perfect Cream, Ultimate Disc, Spiral Roll and Brain Test. 

Top Apps in the U.S. by Downloads on March 20th, 2020

top apps in the US covid

Source: Sensor Tower

Using Spiral Roll as an example, the game has seen a dip since its initial rise when the first shelter in place measures were instituted. That said, DAU has been climbing, indicating that acquired users might be slowing but existing users are logging longer sessions. It will be interesting to see if there will be the continued engagement of new users during this surge in downloads as social distancing measures are implemented.

Spiral Roll App Daily Downloads & DAU

spital app charts

Source: Apptopia


If China’s app usage during the height of it’s coronavirus outbreak is any indication, apps in grocery delivery, remote work, distance learning, and gaming will see a boom in downloads and engagement in the United States. 

While grocery app downloads will see record growth, streaming communication apps will be the most used tools for workers and friends to find ways to connect. Education apps that help students transition to digital classrooms and methods of learning will also see a boom in downloads and consistent engagement during the pandemic. Finally, mobile gaming apps are on the rise, though less rapidly than apps in the aforementioned categories.

This poses a great question to us all... how do we balance the cost of acquiring new users vs retargeting in 2020?

While the challenges of the period ahead cannot be overstated, there will also be a great many opportunities for apps in many verticals to engage and support new and existing customers as people depend more and more on technology to adapt to this new reality.