What Apple’s App Store Reveals About the Coronavirus Economy

Zoom has led the app store charts for more consecutive days than Fortnite, TikTok, Snapchat, or Angry Birds

A photo of coronavirus-related apps on a person’s iPhone home screen.
Some apps about corona are seen on an iPhone amid the coronavirus outbreak on April 12, 2020 in Veghel, Netherlands. Photo: Joris Verwijst/BSR Agency/Getty Images

On April 1, Zoom CEO Eric Yuan wrote a blog post that included a stat that would seem perfectly appropriate for an April Fool’s announcement given how unbelievable it seemed. But in this case, he was totally serious. Yuan wrote, “Last year, the maximum number of daily meeting participants, both free and paid, conducted on Zoom was approximately 10 million. In March this year, we reached more than 200 million daily meeting participants.”

Wait, 200 million daily active users? Even in these unusual times caused by the coronavirus pandemic, 200 million daily active users (DAUs) is a monster number. That’s more than Twitter (152 million) and almost as much as Snapchat (218 million), all from a service that before March had never broken into the top 100 most popular apps in the Apple App Store in its nine-year life.

And consider this: It took Snapchat five years to grow from 10 million to 200 million DAUs. Zoom did that in a single month. This is absolute rocket ship progress, and not from a social network, or a mobile game, or some other hit consumer app that became part of the cultural zeitgeist. Zoom is setting growth records and topping the App Store charts.

It’s not just impressive. Like the coronavirus pandemic, it’s unprecedented.

The hit parade

I have a longtime fascination with which iPhone apps are the most popular by category and geography. (For the data in this article, I referred to the iPhone app charts compiled by App Annie.) With mobile phone usage now capturing 25% of some Americans’ waking days, the App Store charts are no longer just a signal of consumer behavior on iPhones. They’re a statistically significant and incredibly representative signal of consumer behavior in the world—in particular, how that consumer behavior is changing.

Zoom began this year ranked #691 on the App Store charts in the United States. A few months later, it is now the #1 most popular iPhone app in 68 countries.

Normally, big cultural occasions or national events that affect consumer behavior all register clear as day on App Store charts, like the start of a school year (homework study apps rising in popularity), Christmas (Santa Claus tracking apps spiking), and New Year’s Day (weight-loss apps becoming all the rage). Right now, the event that’s gripping this country and the entire world is the coronavirus pandemic. The coronavirus has completely disrupted day-to-day life, and those disruptions or changes in consumer behavior are being reflected in App Store charts, starting first and foremost with Zoom.

Zoom has been king of the App Store since March 16. Zoom began this year ranked #691 on the App Store charts in the United States. A few months later, it is now the #1 most popular iPhone app in 68 countries, including the United States. An app in the business category topping the Apps charts is almost unheard of. In the past 10 years, only one other business app ever reached the #1 position: Zello Walkie Talkie, which topped the charts in September 2017 and September 2018 because of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Florence — two acts of nature that, like the coronavirus, rewrote consumer behavior for a moment in time. But even then, Zello Walkie Talkie only spent a total of 10 days at #1.

Zoom daily Apps Chart ranking and downloads in 2020. Image: Eric Feng

Zoom now has more consecutive days at #1 than even Fortnite, TikTok, Pokémon Go, Angry Birds, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, or Snapchat ever did. In the past three years, only Disney+ has had a better streak, when it topped the charts for 38 consecutive days for its U.S. launch. And I’m betting Zoom will soon beat that record.

Besides Zoom’s unprecedented dominance, here are some other changes that the coronavirus pandemic has brought about in the App Store charts.

Shifting behaviors

To see the impact of the coronavirus in the United States, I’ve looked across various App Store categories and tracked which apps were the top ranked in those categories at the beginning of 2020. I then plotted a running seven-day average of their cumulative downloads before and after coronavirus social distancing began to take hold in the United States, around March 10, to track any noticeable changes.

The coronavirus has helped steer a massive shift in communication preference to video for all use cases, business and personal alike.

One of the biggest changes was in the travel category. The top travel category apps (Google Maps, Uber, Lyft, Yelp, Airbnb) have seen downloads fall by 60% during Covid-19; the top apps in the airline category (Southwest, American, United, Delta, JetBlue, Frontier, Spirit, Alaska) have dropped 81%.

Image: Eric Feng

At the same time, there’s been a big increase in downloads in the top apps in the categories of shopping (+35%), entertainment media (+50%), news (+71%), and education (+192%), as they’ve become necessities for those sheltered at home.

Image: Eric Feng

Sports, jobs, and communication

The coronavirus pandemic has also caused shifts in the sports category. Sports apps have long exhibited strong seasonality in the App Store, like a spike in popularity around the Super Bowl. But even taking seasonality into account, the top sports media apps (ESPN, CBS Sports, Yahoo Sports, Fox Sports, NBC Sports) collectively dropped 74% after the coronavirus hit the United States in March and led to the cancellation of NBA, NCAA, and MLB games.

Image: Eric Feng

Another category to also see lower demand is jobs. The top jobs apps from earlier this year (LinkedIn, Indeed, ZipRecruiter, Glassdoor, Fiverr) are down 37% during the pandemic, as the job market has collapsed.

Image: Eric Feng

There’s also been an uptick in demand for the top apps in the bible category (+55%), as churches went virtual, and dating (+15%) apps correlated to the timing of Covid-19.

Image: Eric Feng

Zoom-like video apps are also taking off in the communication category. While text-based communication apps are up modestly, demand for the top video-based communication apps (led by Houseparty, Google Duo, Hangouts, and Skype) has skyrocketed 503%. The coronavirus has helped steer a massive shift in communication preference to video for all use cases, business and personal alike.

Image: Eric Feng

While nothing can match the staggering growth of video communication since the coronavirus hit, one category of apps in the United States has been close: food delivery.

The food delivery category falls into two buckets: restaurants (led by DoorDash, Uber Eats, Grubhub, Domino’s, McDonald’s, Postmates) and groceries (led by Instacart, Walmart Grocery, Amazon Prime Now, Shipt, Costco, and Sam’s Club). And while it’s not surprising that both subcategories have seen a surge in business from the coronavirus, what may be surprising is that the surge for grocery delivery has been more than six times that of restaurant delivery. Grocery app downloads are up 337%, compared to 51% for restaurant apps. Whereas the coronavirus accelerated existing consumer behavior around ordering takeout and delivery from restaurants, it has created new consumer behavior around ordering groceries that never existed before for many people.

Image: Eric Feng

These changes in the App Store are telling us that consumers are now both communicating more through video and ordering food to their doorsteps in greater numbers than ever before.

Post-coronavirus

What shifts might be coming next? App Store downloads in China might offer a glimpse. On April 8, China officially ended the lockdown of Wuhan, the city of 11 million people where the coronavirus pandemic first began. For the first time in more than two months, residents were allowed to leave the city, an important step toward rebuilding communities, economies, and ways of life across the entire country.

On the China Apps charts, this change was also reflected in a big spike in downloads of the app for Luckin Coffee, the leading domestic coffee chain. It hit an all-time high of #2, a remarkable comeback after falling off the charts entirely in early February when the coronavirus was at its peak in that country. Demand across China for coffee is now stronger than ever.

Luckin Coffee ranking. Image: Eric Feng

This could be a sign that everyday life in China is starting to return to normal. Or at least that there’s a pent-up demand for coffee.

Leading Commerce Incubations at $FB. Was co-founder at Packagd (acq.), GP at Kleiner Perkins, and writing messy code at Hulu, Flipboard, Erly (acq.), and $MSFT.

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