App Annie: Smartphone users spent 3.8 trillion hours on mobile in 2021

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Smartphone users spent 3.8 trillion hours on mobile in 2021, according to a State of Mobile 2022 report by mobile data and analytics firm App Annie.

The hours spent was up from a year earlier — and it was up 30% over the past two years — as consumers continued to embrace a mobile lifestyle in the ongoing pandemic, said Lexi Sydow, head of market insights at App Annie, in an interview with GamesBeat.

Gaming numbers

Mobile gaming grew to $116 billion an increase of 15%, fueled by the growth of hypercasual games. And interest in the metaverse catapulted leading avatar apps forward with 160% year-over-year growth.

In the top 10 mobile markets, consumers spent 4.8 hours a day on mobile. The growth came from deeper use per person as well as more devices in the market, Sydow said. In the U.S., the number was 4.2 hours per day spent on mobile.


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Above: Hypercasual games saw growth in 2021.

Image Credit: App Annie

Social and communications drove the growth in total time spent, followed by photo and video. Games was about 10% per market on total time spent. But gaming is the biggest in terms of spending, as games accounted for 68% of consumer spending in mobile apps, Sydow said. And every year, time spent on games has gone up.

In gaming, App Annie studied the top subgenres for the past decade. In 2011, there were titles like Fruit Ninja, Angry Birds, and Words With Friends. So that was slicing actin, physics puzzles, and word puzzles. Now, very few of those genres survived in the top ranks. The one exception was Subway Surfers, an endless runner that is still popular today.

Instead, in 2021, many of the top titles were hypercasual games, which are played in a minute or less and are ad-based.

“This really shows an evolution of consumer preferences,” Sydow said.

One of the hottest recent apps is Wordle, a web-based game created by a lone developer. It’s growing about 850% per week, from a low base of around 40,000. The game was profiled in the New York Times. App Annie doesn’t have its 2022 forecast ready for games yet.

TikTok’s growth

Above: Hours spent in apps grew a lot in 2021.

Image Credit: App Annie

“In China, we’ve seen a big trend emerge of time shifting from traditional video streaming platforms to TikTok and some short-form video players in the space,” Sydow said. “We’ve seen indications of that as well emerging in other markets.”

In the U.S., people who use Netflix doubled their use of TikTok during the past year. Outside of China, TikTok grew by 90% in terms of total hours spent with the app.

And they spent $170 billion on apps, which is up 19% from last year. Downloads continue growing at 5% year over year to reach 230 billion.

Led by TikTok (an increase of 90% globally outside of China), seven of every 10 minutes was spent on either social, photo, and/or video apps.

Publishers released 2 million new apps and games, bringing the cumulative total to 21 million.

“China was slower because they were the first mover in the space for TikTok, so the growth is about 45% year over year,” Sydow said.

Facebook still dominates in terms of apps in the space for total time spent. Facebook is at No. 1 in total time spent with an app, followed by WhatsApp, Instagram, and then TikTok and Facebook Messenger.

“The really compelling point is around the average time per user, because outside of China globally, Facebook and TikTok average 19.6 hours per month for the average person, but the growth of TikTok is phenomenal,” Sydow said.

TikTok has grown around 465% growth over a four-year period, which is just huge, on a global basis. In average time per user, outside of China, TikTok hit 25.6 hours per person per month, compared with 15 for Facebook, when it comes to current users.

“TikTok’s growth is unparalleled in the top cohorts of social apps,” Sydow said. “We call it the TikTok tidal wave.”

IDFA change

Above: Gaming growth in mobile in 2021.

Image Credit: App Annie

Apple made changes to how users opt-in to the Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA), and the result was more consumers chose privacy over being targeted by ads. Despite that, advertising spend topped $295 billion, up 23% year over year, and is estimated to top $350 billion in 2022.

And apps earning more than $100 million in consumer spend grew by 20%.

“At this point in time, we’re not seeing a huge impact on our gaming metrics,” Sydow said. “We still see downloads, consumer spend, and usage, through the App Store,” Sydow said. “So we acknowledge and definitely there were fears of the IDFA change’s impact. But I think on a macro level, we haven’t seen it soften the demand to place the ads.”

Worldwide consumer spend on dating apps surged past $4.2 billion (55% increase from 2019).

Time in shopping apps reached 100 billion hours, up by 18% year over year, led by fast fashion, social shopping, and big box players.

Food and drink apps hit a new milestone at 194 billion sessions in 2021 (up 50% year over year)

Metaverse apps

As for the metaverse apps, Sydow said there is an emerging trend for avatar apps. This includes social apps, user-generated content, and creativity. Litmatch has seen 405% growth in the past year. Geppetto has also grown significantly. In such apps, you can dress up a virtual character. Project Makeover was popular in the holidays.

Roblox had a big year in consumer spending among games.

“Like the social media apps, I would say it’s going to be benefiting again from the metaverse and the rise of interest in it,” said Sydow.

Pandemic growth

Above: Top rankings for games in 2021.

Image Credit: App Annie

During the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020, App Annie saw several years of growth for mobile materialize in a single year, compared to previous forecasts. There was more average time per user, and average usage per day. Apps from grocery apps to shopping apps took off. Rapid delivery apps are expected to continue to grow as people got hooked on the habit.

In 2021, she said, “We basically accelerated what we were building on for the habits that were catalyzed during 2020. And I think this is where the habits are forming, where now once you’ve used that app, you’ve done food delivery, or the new Walmart experience, it becomes a habit.”

Finance also saw a massive increase in 2020, and they continued to grow in 2021. Cryptocurrency apps were also a major area of growth.

Another pandemic effect: meditation apps did well, with Calm ranking in the top five most-searched health and fitness keyword searches.

The Great Resignation, where more people quit their jobs during the pandemic, was reflected in the downloads, as business apps like WhatsApp did well, as did DoorDash delivery driving.


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App Annie: Smartphone users spent 3.8 trillion hours on mobile in 2021