How do you feel about the apps on your phone? Do they bring you joy, or is it a love-hate relationship that swings into the red all too often? For most of the world, research suggests it might be the latter. Legend has it that the average person has 80 apps on their phone – but uses less than 10 of them on a daily basis. And that's despite us spending 4 hours and 10 minutes on our phones each day in 2020 (up 20% from the year before). So, do apps just not bring us happiness? Or is there more to the story?
This is a table of the top downloaded apps of all time in the UK (yes, that's 5 billion total downloads for the top apps on the list). We used a variety of sites – including the App Store and the Google Play Store – to discover more about them. Factors included number of downloads, average rating, geographical availability and transparency, all cross-referenced with various characteristics (such as popularity, name of the publisher, genre and so forth).
Notice anything? We did. Follow along for some key trends we observed about the UK's most sought-after apps.
If you're dating in this century and you don't have a dating app, are you really dating? All combined, 2020's most-downloaded dating apps have been downloaded 215 million times, with Tinder and Badoo leading the pack for number of downloads. And yet, this category of apps has the lowest average rating compared to other categories.
On average, dating apps only secure an average rating of 3.86 out of 5, well below the overall average of 4.25. So why are we swiping left on dating apps? The reason could be just that. Research shows a link between “swipe-based dating applications” and higher levels of depression, anxiety and distress - which could also explain why the godfather of swipe apps - Tinder – has the lowest score in the category (3.8).
The next time you're oiling up your thumb for another round of online dating, give your mood a thought too.
It's probably no surprise that Google LLC is listed as the publisher for 4 out of the 6 apps that have seen over 5 billion downloads since launch. They own the Google Play Store, after all. Fortunately for the tech giant, their apps are rated pretty highly, too. Overall, Google apps in our list get an average rating of 4.22, although a few of the big Google apps surprisingly struggle: Google Chrome (3.9), YouTube Music (3.95), Phone by Google (3.7).
And, if you're wondering about download figures for Apple's own apps, it's removed from this analysis because most of them come pre-loaded with Apple products.
Out of the 60 apps evaluated, half of them rank in the top download charts of at least 153 countries. That is, these apps get downloaded in massive numbers in 153 countries around the world.
We also delved deeper to find out which apps are particularly sought after in each country. YouTube reaches the top 10 download charts in 144 countries, followed by Instagram (134 countries), WhatsApp (127), Facebook (120) and relative newcomer TikTok (119). Four of these top apps also get top review scores, with YouTube getting an average rating of 4.4 out of 5, Instagram getting 4.55, WhatsApp getting 4.5 and TikTok getting 4.6. There's global power in these social media and messaging apps.
While Facebook is one of the world's top apps – sitting comfortably in the 5 billion downloads bracket – it has a low user review score of only 3.3. In contrast, other social media apps all score above 4 out of 5 (except Facebook-owned Snapchat which just misses out with 3.95).
So, what are the common complaints about the Facebook app? While most disgruntled users had issue with the layout and functionality of the app itself, others projected their issues with Facebook's business practices into their reviews of the app (such as censorship and data privacy).
Another factor we looked into was just how snoopy these top apps like to be. When we looked at the number of permissions each app seeks from us before we can download it, the Google app came up top. It asks for access to 15 phone features, from our contacts and storage to being able to read our SMS messages.
In all, 21 apps ask for access to at least 11 features, including Fitbit looking to access a whopping 13, and the Galaxy Watch Plug In, Phone by Google, Samsung Email, Google Maps, Messenger, Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram all asking for 13. On the flipside, the NHS COVID-19 app asks for surprisingly little – just access to your camera to take photos (such as of QR codes when checking into locations), and the ability to connect to networks like Bluetooth.
The Disney+ app joins the minimal permissions club, asking for permission to change TV channel information, internet access and access to your microphone. Disney Sing-Along, anyone?
As well as individual apps, there's a global app story brewing too. We looked at the countries that create the most apps, as well as the ones that are the best received, that are used the most, and that make the most money. A few nuggets from our research are below.
It's probably no surprise that the home of Silicon Valley produces more apps than any other country. The US creates 6% of the world's apps – although it is followed closely by India at 5%. Joint third place is taken by Indonesia and Brazil at 2% each. While 42matters.com identifies Indonesia as one of the world's fastest growing mobile app markets, Business of Apps says Brazil's app use is likely to keep growing, too.
The above points might explain this one. While Indonesia takes the crown at a whopping 6 hours per day, we found that users in India and Brazil spend a lot of time on their phones too – 4.8 hours per day each – and seem to be happiest on them. India's users give apps an average rating of 3.73 out of 5 while Brazil's users dole out a decent 3.65. Indonesia makes a comeback on this list, with an average user rating of 3.56. The countries that rate apps the lowest are Japan (2.82) and Russia (2.83).
In the business of apps, games apps are in a league of their own. Over 1 billion games are downloaded every week according to App Annie, and the top games bring in the equivalent in moolah too. In 2020, just five games generated over $1 billion in revenue.
That's perhaps why, in four of the top ten global app markets, a significant portion of apps created were games. Japan leads here, with 27% of its apps being games. South Korea follows at 25% and the UK and Russia round off the top four at 22% each.
How long is too long to spend on your phone? According to App Annie, the average person spends 4.1 hours per day on apps, and this has steadily grown year-on-year. If that figure sounds modest compared to your usage, or if you're simply looking to cut back this year, the best way to curb your appetite is... er, to keep using apps (at least to start).
That's because the first step to pursuing happiness with your app use is to become aware of why you use it and how it makes you feel.
Keep in mind, if your apps help make your life easier – say, for smashing out a quick email, staying in touch, getting things done or staying on track – it makes sense to keep it on your app rota. On the other hand, apps you compulsively open for no reason can be destined for the 'delete' button.
Whatever approach you'd like to take, the end goal is to reach that pot of golden app happiness. Staying on top of your tech use is a way to do just that. And it's also why you might want to browse the best SIM free deals next time you shop for a phone. SIM free phones give you the freedom to choose the phone you like, without it being attached to a phone contract or a specific network. Handpick every element of your mobile use, and follow our tips to enhance your app use - so you're always in control.
A list of 60 top-downloaded apps, and their various characteristics, was created using information from the sites 42matters, Business of Apps, SimplyWeb, Applyzer and SimForm. The top 10 app markets in the world was found using site 42matters, App Annie and Business of Apps, although data from China was excluded due to potential issues with reliability. A variety of sources were used to find the tips for reducing app usage, including Medium, review42, App Annie, Humane Tech, Hive Life and Dazed Digital. All data collected December 2020-January 2021. All data, including a full methodology and sources, can be found here: Carphone Warehouse: Pursuit of Appiness raw data.