We’re chatting with Apptopia’s VP of Insights Adam Blacker about the top 100 apps of 2019.
Which made the cut … what surprised us … what this means for tech giants like Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and all the others in 2020 …
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And here’s a full transcript of our talk
John Koetsier: Hello! What were the top 100 apps of 2019?
It’s the last day of 2019 and let me be the first wish you a Happy New Year. My name is John, and this is Tech First Draft. Today we’re chatting with Apptopia’s VP of Insights, Adam Blacker, about the top 100 apps of 2019. Which apps made the cut? What surprised us and what this means for tech giants like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and all the others in 2020.
So Adam Blacker is the VP of Insights for Apptopia, it’s a mobile analytics company. Adam, welcome.
Adam Blacker: Yeah, thanks for having me. Happy New Year. I’m really excited today, not just to talk about some mobile app data which always gets me going, but it’s a special night. I got a ribeye with my name on it later, so I’m just ready.
John Koetsier: Wow. It is New Year’s Eve and you are working, so good for you. Give me some of the highlights. What apps blew away the competition in 2019?
Adam Blacker: So it’s interesting. You can look, we did 10 different categories and you could look at them individually, or you can just look at the worldwide down leaders kind of as a whole and pull out some themes.
And what I found interesting is across all the categories, they’re pretty top heavy actually, so with the exception of Games, the first one, or in some cases one or two apps, really had just millions, or in some cases hundreds of millions of downloads more than their next closest competitors on the list.
The only one that was, or the closest knit group was actually Games. As we know, Games is the biggest category on mobile and the competition there was a lot closer, but for everything else, there’s really a top dog and then the drop off is pretty significant. Specifically what blew me away I would say, I think you came to this conclusion as well. Garena Free Fire, it’s a battle royale game that beat out… we always hear about PUBG, we hear about Fortnite, but Garena Free Fire came in at number one. I did not see that coming personally.
And then from the Health & Fitness perspective an app whose core function is to remind you to drink water and be healthy that way came in number one. I expected it to be Calm, just because I hear so much about Calm, but that was not the case.
John Koetsier: Yeah, yeah. That was interesting as well. I hadn’t heard of Garena Free Fire so bad on me obviously.
Adam Blacker: Really? Ok.
John Koetsier: But it was really interesting to see a battle royale game beating out hyper casual games, not just in revenue which you expect, but in downloads.
Adam Blacker: Sure. Yeah. So here’s what we have to take into consideration. This chart is download leaders. So it’s not necessarily MAU, which by the way Garena Free Fire actually has a ton of active users, so they’d be high up there as well. But this is downloads, so this is new users.
When you think of new users, where are they probably coming from? They’re probably coming from emerging markets. So we’re talking about Brazil, we’re talking about India, Southeast Asia, Latin America, and that’s where the bulk of Garena’s downloads come from, and that’s where they focus on.
I actually got a chance to speak with Garena’s producer of Free Fire a few months ago, and he told me they really focus on Latin America and local events there. They have offices in all of those countries and they try to make things special around Carnival and other local holidays. So it’s been a focus for them. They’re taking advantage of these growing markets.
John Koetsier: Nice, nice. Let’s talk about maybe some surprise misses, some names that you thought would make it but didn’t make the list.
Adam Blacker: Yeah. My number one takeaway here is if we look at the Food & Drink category, Zomato. Where is Zomato? So Zomato is one of the top two, three players in India as it pertains to food delivery. And they actually are in talks with Uber to try and buy a chunk of Uber’s business, or all of it I believe actually in India, because Uber, you know, they want to be, if they’re not the top player, they’re out.
That’s how they roll.
But Zomato, if you look into it, this is very interesting. In the middle of the year, maybe July, they had a little bit of a fiasco. It was called the log out campaign. And these restaurants working with Zomato were just absolutely sick of what they called deep discounting, essentially, that they felt burdened by it. And so a bunch of restaurants were like, we’re off Zomato and you know, when the restaurants go, the consumers go. So I think that really impacted them and I think that’s probably why they weren’t on the list. But initially I was pretty surprised. What about you?
John Koetsier: You know, what surprised me is I thought TikTok would have totally run away in Social Messaging which is the category that they’re in right now.
Adam Blacker: Yeah.
John Koetsier: We can talk about that category as well, that’s kind of interesting to see them in that category, but I know TikTok had over 500 million, I think it was 614 million is what you had it at, and it’s just huge download numbers, but WhatsApp just absolutely blew me away with the number of downloads it had in 2019.
I mean, this is not an emerging app. This is not a surprise story that just came from nowhere. This is an app that already had hundreds of millions of users. And to see the growth that WhatsApp had in 2019 was a shocker.
Adam Blacker: I agree. And again, I wonder if they’re taking advantage of emerging markets. I think a lot of people might not realize that Facebook owns WhatsApp. Because I think there’s a lot of people who are maybe trying to get away from Messenger, they feel bad about Facebook, oh they’re in the news with all these privacy concerns and they’re like, oh WhatsApp says it’s encrypted end to end, maybe I’ll use WhatsApp and they don’t realize that it’s owned by Facebook. I’m not sure. With regards to TikTok, Apptopia tracks the iOS App Store and Google Play. And so we don’t see third-party Android stores, what we call third-party Android stores in China. So we don’t see, you know, the 10 cent app store and the other big ones. So I’m betting if we were counting those, TikTok absolutely would have hit the number one spot.
John Koetsier: Interesting.
Adam Blacker: And that’s what I’m assuming accounts for that.
John Koetsier: Yeah, interesting. You also called out in your blog post on the Apptopia blog. You called out an app called Helo. I didn’t know how you pronounce it even, it’s H-E-L-O in social messaging. Talk to us a little bit about that surprise.
Adam Blacker: Yeah, so I had not heard of this app until it showed up on my list. I request data from my engineers, they give it to me and I go, oh wow. So I looked at it and here’s where it gets interesting. It’s big in India first of all, that’s where this market is, it’s an Indian social app. It launched in I think June 2018 and it really started to ramp up in 2019, but guess who owns it. Bytedance. Bytedance is also the owner of TikTok.
John Koetsier: No way, interesting!
Adam Blacker: Yeah, so if I was Facebook, I’d be even more nervous now because they’re really they’re kind of taking over here.
John Koetsier: Very, very interesting. I mean, we see this in a couple other categories we’ll get into it as well. Chinese-led companies that are doing things on the global stage.
Adam Blacker: It’s a big theme here.
John Koetsier: Doing very, very well.
Adam Blacker: Right.
John Koetsier: Let’s jump into the Entertainment category. There’s some names there that we recognize, right? We see Netflix at the top of that category.
Adam Blacker: Of course.
John Koetsier: Talk about them and some of the other incumbents that you expected to see there.
Adam Blacker: Yeah. So Netflix is an obvious one. I will say for anyone curious, YouTube and YouTube Kids, you can go back and forth on this whether they go in the Social & Messaging category or they go in the Entertainment category.
I believe my engineers put them in the Entertainment category because of maybe how they were categorized on the app stores. I’m not sure, but we chose to put them there. I feel like at least for me personally, I use YouTube a little more for entertainment than I do to talk to other people. But I understand, you know, if you have an argument, I welcome arguments and debate and conversation. But, no, I think YouTube Kids is interesting because it’s… I don’t have any kids, but for other people it’s their children, and this is a big category I think for a lot of publishers and developers, the educational space and the entertainment for children, right?
You see, especially if you’re traveling this time of year, the holidays, parents are putting iPads and iPhones in front of their kids. And it’s so what are they using? And maybe next year it’ll be interesting to look at that, look at some children’s apps, some educational apps, but this lets us see a little bit that hey, YouTube Kids is pretty strong here. Watermelon Video and Tencent video those are both Chinese apps, and so I don’t know a ton about them, but I do know anytime there’s a Chinese app on here, it’s pretty impressive because a lot of times they don’t have those Google Play downloads because again, they’re not on Google Play. It just doesn’t exist in China. So it’s just even more impressive that they’re getting all those downloads through iOS.
John Koetsier: Right.
Adam Blacker: Yeah. And then Hotstar is interesting because it was on this list last year, and so I expected it to be on there again. But what a lot of people don’t realize is that, I don’t know when the acquisition took place, I think it was a few years ago, but Disney owns Hotstar. And so Disney+ hasn’t gotten to India yet, but a lot of people don’t realize that they already kind of have a bit of a foothold in the streaming service in India.
John Koetsier: And what’s interesting about that for me is that we don’t see Disney+ here. Obviously it launched late in the year so it hasn’t had much time to build. It was one of the top apps to be downloaded on both the major app stores in the Western world, at least when it came out. And it’ll be interesting where that comes out. I didn’t see HBO Go here. I know that’s a perennial top somewhere in the 20-25 list or so for Entertainment as well but will be interesting to see where those shake out in 2020.
Adam Blacker: So I can tell you that I checked Disney+ and it was around, I think it was early 20s for overall, so even though it’s only been out, it launched November 12th I believe, and so it’s only been out a little while and still it came close to making it. And HBO you gotta wonder what impact the end of Game of Thrones is going to have and if that’s kind of what helped lower those downloads.
John Koetsier: Very interesting. What will be the next Game of Thrones for them? Super interesting. Let’s jump into Food & Drink a second. I saw that McDonald’s did really, really well there. Uber Eats of course is the tops, I mean, as you said Uber wants to be the top in whatever category that they’re in. And they do really well, they push hard, they know how to get mobile users, and they know how to drive business there. But I saw McDonald’s must have had a major push in 2019 because they weren’t at the top of the list I don’t think last year.
Adam Blacker: Yup. McDonald’s and Uber Eats both, and you’re correct. So we’ve seen by the way at Apptopia, we’ve seen fast food in general, fast food mobile apps growing. We talk to these brands all the time as well, and they’re just now understanding the significance of mobile and the role it can play for them.
So we’ve actually seen a surge not just to McDonald’s. This is worldwide. And so that’s what I was going to say is Uber Eats, McDonald’s, it’s really more of a commentary on that they have this global footprint. But I bet if we did a USA-only chart, which actually people have asked for a lot now, so maybe we will do that. You would probably see Burger King and maybe Dairy Queen, Chick-fil-A. We’ve seen all those apps really surge in 2019 as mobile has become more important for them. So what I do have to call out with McDonald’s is the way they do it is annoying, right? So if you have Snapchat, Snapchat’s one app, and so you just look at if I were to go look up Snapchat’s data in Apptopia, I would just be looking at that one app and that’s it. McDonald’s really localizes they’re truly global. And so what they do is they set up a separate app for most countries, and if not a country then a region. So in order to get my mass data here what I did was I found all of the McDonald’s apps and I added their downloads together. Otherwise it would just, I would be essentially picking a country and that’s not what this chart is.
This chart is the worldwide download leaders. And the same thing goes for Starbucks. Starbucks does the same strategy. So those are accumulated there.
John Koetsier: I feel your pain. I did the same thing when I did a top apps for the Fortune 1000 companies and finding all the apps for each individual company is sometimes a challenge.
Adam Blacker: Yeah, yeah, exactly. But we see a lot of international growth here as well. What surprised me here was DoorDash. DoorDash is only available in the United States and Canada. Obviously the United States is a pretty big market, but I was pretty impressed to see it at number three, ahead of Starbucks and ahead of something like Swiggy which is in India, and it’s just India has such a large population.
John Koetsier: That is super impressive and it really speaks to that on-demand economy right, in the fact that SkipTheDishes, DoorDash, those sorts of things are really, really what people want to have these days.
Adam Blacker: Exactly. And I think except for McDonald’s and Starbucks, I think all of these are food delivery apps. So I guess that’s the strength of this category
John Koetsier: We want what we want when we want it right?
Adam Blacker: It’s amazing. It’s amazing.
John Koetsier: Cool. Let’s move to Dating. I mean we see Tinder all the time. They’re still doing amazing, they’re still doing really, really well. I saw Badoo on the list and I thought, you know what the heck I’ll go check out their website. Their website says 460 million people have signed up for their service. These are not small platforms here.
Adam Blacker: No. And so is it BAD-oo or Ba-DOO?
John Koetsier: You know what, you’re right it’s probably Ba-DOO.
Adam Blacker: I don’t know. But anyway, they’re owned by a company called MagicLab which also owns Bumble. So they show up twice here with Badoo and Bumble. And honestly, I’ve never used most of these apps. I have used Tinder in the past, and I think I downloaded Bumble once to check out Bumble Bizz ’cause I thought that was interesting. I haven’t heard much about it lately, so I don’t really know how successful that’s been. But yeah, I mean the hard thing about this category is I had to do a little bit of self aggregation because iOS doesn’t even have a Dating category, by the way. And when you look at Google Play’s Dating category, Tinder, Bumble and some other apps actually choose not to be listed there at all.
They don’t actually want to be looked at as dating. They want to be looked at as these networking sites. And so you’ve got to do a little bit of AI and self-aggregating here to try and get all the dating apps. But yeah, Tantan another Chinese app I believe that is just in China and iOS only again, so super impressive. And they were actually shut down for a short period of time in China because China likes to, I’m not an expert on China by any means, but they like to really review everything that’s going on and make sure it’s up to par with their values and their system.
John Koetsier: And make sure they can see what’s going on in each app and each platform…
Adam Blacker: Yeah. And so even through a period of essentially being removed from the store it still had a really strong showing. So it’s just the growth of mobile in China is really felt in this chart.
John Koetsier: Super interesting. And that also speaks to Android which is big in China, obviously for sideloading as well in case it’s not available on a store, there you go. Interesting. Let’s talk about Shopping a little bit. Super interesting category for me of course, we see the battles between Walmart, Amazon there. We see Wish had a really big year.
Adam Blacker: Wish, they’ve had a big year for a while now since maybe they’ve launched. Yeah, they’re really strong. I think that the value prop of just really cheap shipping and products that you want but maybe necessarily couldn’t afford from the name brand, drives a lot for them because we hear, I’m not going to get political, but just we hear of the growing wealth divide and there’s a massive market opportunity for people who don’t have money, and Wish saw that and Wish is taking advantage of it. Or have less money than others I should say, obviously they have money, they’re buying things on Wish. But I think that was a really great thing for… I don’t know who their CEO founder is, but he saw that, he noticed it and he took advantage of the opportunity. The thing that stuck out to me with the Shopping category was that these 10 apps, well all of them except for Amazon, are based outside of the United States.
John Koetsier: Right.
Adam Blacker: So again, very, very global, and again we see Latin America, we see India, Southeast Asia, and really just Amazon from the United States.
John Koetsier: Yes. And that totally speaks to how mobile-first the rest of the world really is besides North America and Europe. So India, totally mobile almost. And so then you see the Indian startups there, same with China of course in Southeast Asia as well.
Adam Blacker: Yeah. So I’m trying to think, and in case anyone didn’t know, Flipkart is actually owned by Walmart. I looked into Walmart, they own way more than I than I thought they did.
John Koetsier: They’ve invested a lot into India in the past couple of years to try and develop that market. And interestingly Amazon and Walmart are really competing to be the next major retailer in India. And of course there’s domestic competition for them as well. So super interesting to see what’s going to happen there in 2020.
Adam Blacker: Exactly. Club Factory also from India also showed up on the list.
John Koetsier: Nice. Music & Audio, let’s take a look at that for a second. We see Spotify is winning. That’s no small feat, Spotify is up against huge competitors. I mean, we’re talking the Googles and the Apples and the Amazons of the world. They don’t come bigger than that, and they’re doing really, really well. Talk to me a little bit about Spotify and some of the other things that you see in that category.
Adam Blacker: Yeah, Spotify, and I’ll be honest, I’m not an expert on… so this is an interesting little sidebar. Like we, my company Apptopia, we track over 7 million apps, right? And so I come out with a lot of data.
John Koetsier: Yeah you can’t be an expert on all of them, I totally get it!
Adam Blacker: Got to be an expert on all of them, so I know a little bit and I can speak to it a little bit, but some things I’m like, oh I don’t really know. But what I think, what I assume, is that they’ve done a really great job with marketing. I live in Boston and so I see the MBTA which is our subway. There’s a lot of different ads up and a lot of them are fun, and they’re actually data-driven, they’re like, hey this was the most played song of 2019. Or, this song was played the most in 2019 by Boston listeners. So I think they have really interesting data-driven marketing.
John Koetsier: They made a huge recent investment in podcasting as well.
Adam Blacker: I was just going to bring that up. Yes, exactly. Podcasting is massive, I listen to podcasts on my commute. They obviously are aware of that and then that’s helping them grow. And you spoke to the competition. You’re right, they’re up against Apple. They’re up against Google, and we see Google Play Music, I know you called out that they didn’t make it so I looked them up. They were less than 3 million downloads away from making this top chart here.
But you’ll notice they kind of made it in a way, right? Because YouTube Music is number two, and it’s owned by Google. So I don’t know how they balance that, like do they want people to sign up for Google Play Music or do they want YouTube Music? I don’t know what they want.
John Koetsier: I struggle with the strategy there too. I mean, we’ve seen Google… maybe that’s their strategy in a lot of places we’ve seen like five different messaging platforms from them in the last couple years, and maybe they’re doing the same thing in music.
Adam Blacker: That’s a good point. Yeah, so I’m not sure. And then for anyone wondering about Apple Music, we basically don’t track Apple Music, so I don’t have an inkling about where it lands, so I wish I could. Everyone always asks me about Apple Music. The problem is on iOS phones, it comes preloaded and the way that we aggregate our data, preloaded apps are a no-go. If we want, sometimes we can do this really intense custom analysis, which we actually have done for a few companies before, but it requires some man hours and I wasn’t able to get that for this.
John Koetsier: That’s fair anyways, because preloading is unfair in some sense. It’s just on the phone, it doesn’t require an extra download, right. So that’s fair in that sense anyways. It was interesting for me to see Amazon Music make it onto the list as well.
Adam Blacker: They were number 10 last year as well.
John Koetsier: They invested heavily over the past few years as well.
Adam Blacker: Yeah. So what do you use? Do you use, oh Pandora by the way did not make the list this year, but previous years it has. And Shazam, an app that I thought was dead a few years ago has risen and has been good, I guess since really Apple bought it.
John Koetsier: Yeah. And that’s kind of a Trojan horse for Apple Music because it’s so easy to buy music on Apple Music through Shazam. That might be a little window into how well Apple Music is doing as well. So that’s pretty interesting also. Let’s move on to Health & Fitness. And here I think was your biggest surprise of the whole top 100 apps of the year, Drink Water Reminder, which doesn’t sound like a very sophisticated app.
Adam Blacker: Ah, no. I looked at it a little bit, and yeah the main function is to remind you to drink water. But it’ll also track, if you input it obviously, how much water you’ve been drinking. And so I wonder if that was just a big New Year’s resolution for a lot of people, and it got so many downloads maybe in the beginning of the year that it hung around and was able to obtain the number one spot. Yeah, just super interesting to me. I don’t really know what to take away from that. What I think is more interesting is the ovulation and period tracking apps.
Women’s health is really big right now. I work with a woman named Madeline, and she’s actually been doing some research into health tech, woman’s health tech. So we’ll probably have some more insight around that coming out, but you know, we see it come up in the top 10 most downloaded apps in the world. So it’s definitely on the rise.
John Koetsier: That’s a big deal. And we see Samsung and Xiaomi that have fitness bands, Mi Fit and others, and smart watches of course for Samsung.
Adam Blacker: Right.
John Koetsier: So they’re getting their apps in place as well as at hardware. That’s interesting to see. I did see Six Pack in 30 Days made the list, you know, sign me up. I haven’t got it yet.
Adam Blacker: I wonder, I know I was thinking I should try a bunch of these apps and see if their promises come true and all those things. So, yeah, I don’t know. I meant to ask you for Music & Audio, are you a fan of any of these apps? Do you use Spotify? Do you use Pandora?
John Koetsier: I have a bunch, but we actually pay for a family subscription for Apple Music. It works with everything, we have a pretty Sonos-ified house as well. Fits well into that, so yeah it just fits for me. And you said you were a Spotify guy, is that correct?
Adam Blacker: No, I use Pandora because I’m lazy. I don’t want to create anything. I just want to hit the shuffle button, that’s all I want to do. I don’t do a lot of creation I guess, I just hit go.
John Koetsier: I totally get it. Let’s look at Finance and then we’ll wrap this up quickly after that.
Adam Blacker: All right, let’s do it.
John Koetsier: Google Pay was a big surprise to me and I didn’t realize really the extent of the competition in India for basically kind of a WeChat style app, or at least an app that sits between people who are buying things and people who are selling things, and it looks like Google really wants to own that.
Adam Blacker: So a big chunk of these downloads come from an app called Tez, which I believe has been rebranded to Google Play (Tez). So they bought that, that was the dominant mobile payment app in India. And that really I think pushed them over the edge for 2019 to lead the download category. To me, PayPal, no big surprise there. But number three is another Indian app. I don’t know how to pronounce, I’m going to call it “Phone-peh” or “Phone-pay” I’m not sure.
John Koetsier: I think it’s “Phone-pay.”
Adam Blacker: PhonePe, okay, and again in India. And what’s interesting is once again, Walmart owns it. And Cash App beat out Venmo. Venmo had beat out Cash App for the first few years of its life but since then Cash App has just taken on a life of its own.
John Koetsier: You know, it’s really interesting because you’ve said it a number of times as we’ve been going through this list and here’s this app and so and so owns it, and here’s that app and so and so owns that. I almost feel like doing a project of the top 100 apps of 2019 and identifying which ones are owned by which company, that would be an interesting study. It would take some time because those things aren’t always instantly obvious or available, but it would be an interesting study.
Adam Blacker: So we can talk offline… I have all this, I can send this information to you.
John Koetsier: Very cool.
Adam Blacker: Oh, and then one thing that made it that was a surprise to me, was this thing called, again, I don’t know if I’m pronouncing this right, so I’m sorry to any of my Russian friends, but Sberbank.
John Koetsier: Yes, you got it.
Adam Blacker: Okay, and that’s essentially a state-owned bank in Russia, which makes sense why I guess probably almost every Russian has downloaded it. And that’s why that shows up in our top 10.
John Koetsier: True story, a PR rep from Sberbank approached me at Web Summit like two years ago and started talking about Sberbank and I didn’t quite catch it, and she had a bit of a Russian accent and I said ‘sperm bank?’ And it was like a bad scenario, but we got over it and it was all good.
Adam Blacker: There will be an app for that soon enough, John.
John Koetsier: Exactly. So let’s tie a knot around this here. You know we’ve seen mobile really emerge not just as a thing that people do, and I’m talking North America now, Europe now, because this has been the case in India and China for some time, but as a primary means for brands to connect with consumers, a primary means for people to understand and live their lives.
What are you seeing as you see this overall sort of holistic list? What’s it say to you?
Adam Blacker: Yeah, man you’re right, as you should be ’cause you are a mobile savant… you’re right. Mobile is an extension of oneself, right? It’s the most personal device you have. Mobile gets more screen time than any other screen that exists, any other digital form, and so getting you to download, even if you never open the app. If you download a brand’s app and it’s on the front page of your phone, that’s the best real estate. That’s better than any billboard they could get.
You’re seeing that every day. You pick up your phone, I forget what the stat is, I think you like check it around 50x a day on average, I’m not sure, but to be seeing their logo that many times a day on this device that’s yours and you trust and you love, is very powerful. And so there’s a lot of competition for these downloads and it’s really impressive when a brand can take off.
So that, I guess, speaks more to the importance of mobile. But what I’ll say is, my main theme here is that mobile is indicative of the real world. And we see that because we know that these emerging markets exist. We see them in other industries and it comes through on mobile as well. So you can use the mobile market to track, and vice versa quite frankly, to track what’s happening in the real world.
John Koetsier: Yeah. Super interesting. Super interesting. Well, I want to thank you for joining us on Tech First Draft. That’s awesome.
Adam Blacker: Yeah, thanks for having me.
John Koetsier: Anybody who’s listening and is going to listen on the saved versions of this and on the audio podcasts as well, whatever platform you’re on, please like, subscribe, share, comment, and thank you for joining us. Until next time, this is John with Tech First Draft.
Mobile app categories we hit:
- Food & drink
- Music & audio
- Health & fitness
Companies and apps we talked about
- YouTube … Google