The crazy year that was 2020 through the lens of the App Store charts

Covid-19 infecting the App Charts

2020 was a breakout year for mobile apps. There was a record 130 billion app downloads and $112 billion in mobile App Store spend as Covid-19 accelerated mobile adoption by 2–3 years according to analytics firm App Annie. This has made the App Charts that rank the most popular mobile apps an even more important indicator of consumer behavior shifts than ever before.

The road to recovery

To measure changing US consumer behavior from Covid-19, I’ve examined the top 5 iPhone apps (courtesy of App Annie) at the beginning of the year that best represent demand of various App Store categories from Travel to Education to Entertainment. I then charted a running 7-day average of downloads of those apps throughout both 2020 and 2019 to visualize trends before and after Covid-19. Each chart is divided into 3 time frames:

  1. March — May: Covid-19 Onset, when the US first went into shelter in place
  2. May — September: Covid-19 Recovery, when the US started to emerge from shelter in place
  3. September — December: Covid-19 Steady State, the period now as the US is living alongside the virus

The hardest hit: Travel, Airlines, Sports, Jobs

Four App Chart categories that were particularly hard hit by Covid-19 were Travel, Airlines, Sports, and Jobs apps. During the Onset phase, downloads of Travel and Airline apps were down 72% and 80% respectively compared to 2019. In the Recovery phase, demand for Travel apps approached their 2019 levels but the category remains down 28% year-over-year as we exit 2020 in the Steady State phase. Airline apps have experienced a much slower bounce back during the Recovery phase and are down a more painful 41% year-over-year in the Steady State phase.

The most accelerated: Food Delivery, Grocery, Communication, Education, and Entertainment

Covid-19 was a huge boon for a number of App Chart categories as the onset of shelter in place spiked demand for iPhone apps that could bring activities and services from the real world into people’s homes. But for most categories, that spike has turned out to be short lived. In the Recovery phase, downloads generally fell back to normal levels and the steady state demand ended up looking a lot like it did in 2019, pre Covid-19.

Some form of normality

“Today is the first day on the long road to go back to normal”

Mona Moghareh, pharmacist who administered one of the first Covid-19 vaccines

On Monday, December 14th, the first ever Covid-19 vaccine shots were administered in the US, the beginning of a long process to end the pandemic which has at last count infected more than 16 million people in this country. Dr. Anthony Fauci estimates that most people in the US could be vaccinated by this summer if the collective willingness is there. And assuming that were to happen, Dr. Fauci says “by the time we get into the fall, we can start essentially approaching some form of normality”.



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Eric Feng

Eric Feng


Current: Co-founder of @cymbalxyz, Co-founder of @GoldHouseCo Ventures. Past: @Meta (via Packagd), GP at @KleinerPerkins, and CTO of @Hulu and @Flipboard.