The 60 most popular apps of 2016 (so far)

By Robbie Allan

We’re now more than halfway through the year, so we’re taking a look the the most popular apps of the first six months of 2016 to see what noteworthy app market trends and insights they reveal. (Note that the massively-popular Pokémon Go app was released on July 6, so you won’t see it appear in these rankings.)

To get beyond the hype, we’re looking not only at the most-downloaded apps, but also at the most-used apps in the U.S. app stores. And as you’ll see, the most-downloaded apps are not necessarily the most-used.

All our data comes from SurveyMonkey Intelligence, which provides detailed metrics on thousands of apps in the iOS and Android app stores.

The most downloaded apps of 2016 (so far)

This year it’s been harder than ever to hit the top of the charts. But whether it’s by spending a small fortune of VC money, giving away free sandwiches, or making a really great product that gets word-of-mouth or network effects, here are the apps that have made it to the top of the U.S. app store download charts this year.

The most used apps of 2016 (so far)

Whether the goal of your app is to drive in-app purchases or ad revenue, or provide better customer service, the first step is to get people to actually use your app. Monthly active users (MAU) counts the number of people who opened the app at least once in a given month.

Unlike downloads, which just measures new users to an app, monthly active users captures how many people actually use an app, so it’s an effective, simple way to measure and compare relative app popularity.

Here are the top 30 most-used apps of January through June, looking across both Android and iOS:

What can app developers learn from the most popular apps?

Downloads and usage are both important app metrics, and neither one should be considered without considering the other. (A lot of app downloads won’t do you much good if the app usage rate is low, and vice versa)

So what, then, can we learn by considering all of the popular apps of 2016, by both download and usage?

Facebook, Apple, and Google have mobile on lock

You need to go as far down as the thirteenth most-used app (Snapchat) to find something that isn’t owned by either Facebook, Apple, or Google. Fully 40% of the most-used apps come pre-loaded on the operating system, highlighting the importance of Android and iOS to Google and Apple, and giving some insight into Facebook’s ongoing desire to control this deeper layer of the stack.

The most-used apps are also the most downloaded apps

With the exception of pre-loaded apps such as Safari and Apple Music, all of the apps that are most-used also feature on the most-downloaded apps list. So if you want your app to be among the most used-apps (and you’re not a core app developed by Apple or Google) then you need to eventually hit the most-downloaded charts. (Note that The Weather Channel and 360 Security don’t feature on our list of the top 30 most downloaded apps, but they are within the top 50.)

But not all most downloaded apps are most used

Just under half of the most-downloaded apps do not appear on the most-used apps list. This suggests that theses apps are either new entrants still building a user base, or they simply can’t retain the users that they acquire. In most cases, the problem is probably retention. Getting users to download your app is hard, but getting them to keep using it is harder.

None of the most-used apps are games

Consumers definitely like to spend their time on mobile playing games, however no individual game is particularly dominant. None of the top 30 most used apps of 2016 are games. That said, more than one-in-five of the most downloaded apps were games. This highlights the relatively low retention and hits-driven nature of mobile games.

The most-used apps have an incredible amount of users

We’ve talked previously about just how hard it is to make a successful, chart-topping app. Comparing the most used apps to the most downloaded apps, you get a sense of how hard it is to climb to the top of the most-used apps list. Even if you were a top-10 most-downloaded app with outstanding user retention, it’d still take well over a year to crack the most used apps. To further put this in perspective, you’d need to convince one in every four men, women, and children in the US to use your app!

Surprise! Pandora is very strong on mobile

Headlines about Pandora are seldom good these days. But amid all the hot takes and disappointing earnings announcements, it appears that everyone’s forgotten just how popular the Pandora app still is. Pandora’s app has an audience almost twice the size of Spotify’s and has driven more downloads than Youtube. Maybe it’s time to give them a break.

Keep an eye on Musical.ly

We’ve already detailed Musical.ly’s eye-popping app metrics that underpin its recent funding round. The app’s Snapchat-for-karaoke features put a natural limit on the breadth and frequency of its usage, which makes it all the more remarkable that its audience is comparable to Whatsapp’s. You have to believe the team is working on ways to broaden the app out into a full social network to compete for time and attention with Snapchat and Facebook. Watch this space.

Don’t focus on having the biggest app, just try to have the best app

Getting to the top of the downloads chart is really hard. For the most part Facebook, Apple, and Google have the charts locked-up. Breaking in is extremely expensive to do via advertising, and even if you do crack the top 10, it doesn’t guarantee app usage or retention success.

Instead, focus on building a great app that keeps users coming back and prompts natural reasons to share within the network. If you build something that’s useful, shareable, and has broad appeal (by no means an easy ask) you too could be raising a $100 million dollar venture capital round.

This post originally appeared on July 27, 2016 on the blog of SurveyMonkey Intelligence, a provider of competitive intelligence for the mobile app industry.

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