Around ten years ago, the catchphrase “I’ve got an app for that” was everywhere. People thought that apps had already been invented for every conceivable purpose, and the market was saturated. In reality, we’d barely begun to scratch the surface of what apps were capable of. Apps are becoming more advanced with every passing year, and they can also be used on an increasing number of devices. They’re no longer confined to your smartphone or your tablet. Apps are now just as likely to appear on your standard desktop or laptop computer. You might even have a few apps on your smartphone if you’re lucky enough to own such a thing.
Because so many apps are now available and we’ve come to be familiar with them and trust them, we’re spending more money on them than ever before. Combine that with the fact that much of 2020 was spent in quarantine conditions while the world deals with a pandemic, and it’s no surprise that more money has been spent on apps in the past few months than at any other point in history. People have spent most of the last year looking for entertainment, and they’ve found it through apps. Amazingly, we’re now almost at the point where we’re spending billions of dollars on apps every month. On Christmas Day alone, app spending reached and then passed the four hundred million dollar mark.
That’s a remarkable amount of money, and it’s even more remarkable when you consider the fact that people were suspicious of spending money through their mobile phones as recently as ten years ago. Just as people were distrustful of spending money through the internet when the world wide web was a new feature in most people’s homes, people didn’t trust the security of sending or receiving payments through their phones. That started to change when online slots became mobile slots, and people started playing casino games through their phones. The casino industry often doesn’t get enough credit for the influence it’s had on the progress of technology, but it likely doesn’t care. People spend more than fifty billion dollars a year on online slots. It says a lot about the unique appeal of 2021 slots that, despite being a ‘niche’ interest, they still attract half of the amount spent on every kind of app put together.
Just as surprising as the four hundred million dollar figure is the way that money has been spent. While it might be tempting to believe that almost all of that money has been spent on games, that isn’t the case. Just under three hundred million dollars ($295m for those who are interested in specifics) went on games. The remainder of the cash was spent on streaming services and other apps, the purpose of which isn’t immediately clear in the data that’s come from the Sensor Tower organization. We do know that Disney Plus is the most popular streaming service on mobile phones, though, which is another feather in the cap of the platform after an incredible first year in business. It hasn’t quite reached the level of Netflix across all platforms yet, but its rate of progress is probably enough for Netflix executives to start worrying.
One of the other significant facts that’s apparent from looking at the figures is that citizens of the United States of America seem to be far more inclined to spend money on mobile apps than those anywhere else in the world. $130m of the $407m total spend came from the USA. Americans spent a larger proportion of that money on games than the rest of the world did, and spent $6.6m on “Roblox” alone. If you don’t know what “Roblox” is, ask your children. “Fortnite” and “Minecraft” might get all of the attention in the press, but “Roblox” is what all the money’s being spent on. The game has recently started to feature musical performances (just as “Fortnite” has), so it’s likely to attract even more attention and money in years to come.
While “Roblox” made the most money in total, it wasn’t the most downloaded game during the Christmas period. That honor went to “Honor of Kings” by Tencent, which is riding high on the back of a prominent video marketing campaign. If you’ve had your YouTube browsing time rudely interrupted by an unwanted commercial about a mobile game during the past two months, it was probably a commercial for “Honor of Kings.” It made $10.7m across the world – more than was spent on “Roblox” in America, but not quite enough to take the number one position on the global chart. No individual game could quite manage to compete with the amount of cash being thrown at Tik Tok, though, which $4.7m spent on that app on Christmas Day alone. Its legal status in the United States of America might be just as precarious as it was three months ago, but that obviously doesn’t stop people feeling comfortable spending money on it.
No matter what happened on Christmas Day, this was always going to be a record-setting year for apps. The total spend for 2020 passed one hundred billion dollars in November, which was itself a new record, and so everything that happened after that point was a bonus as far as app makers were concerned. The question that app developers have to answer now is whether they can build on this next year or whether the market has peaked. All things being well, 2021 won’t be like 2020. The pandemic will eventually end. People will begin to go back to their normal lives, and they presumably won’t be spending as much time or money on apps. The money that’s rolling in right now probably won’t continue to roll in for the next few years unless, of course, developers have something up their sleeves. All we can do in respect of that is wait and see.
If there’s anything beyond the figures to take from this story, perhaps it’s not to feel guilty if you spent Christmas Day staring at your mobile phone. It’s apparent that millions of other people all over the world were doing the same thing, and if you managed to avoid spending big money on yours, you probably did a lot better than most of those other people did.