Thoughts about the top mobile apps list

A few weeks ago Nielsen released data on the top 10 mobile apps for 2015, for US smartphone users. While the list itself wasn’t surprising, it was a bit, well, boring.

Top 10 apps in the last three years. Facebook's apps in blue, Google's in red, and Apple's in yellow. Source: Nielsen for 2013, 2014, and 2015.

Top 10 apps in the last three years based on an average of unique monthly users in January through October of each year. Facebook’s apps in blue, Google’s in red, and Apple’s in yellow.
Source: Nielsen for 2013, 2014, and 2015.

Looking at this year’s list, and comparing it to Nielsen’s list from 2014 and 2013, (in 2012 Nielsen split lists for Android and iPhone users) it’s clear that besides a few minor changes at the bottom of the chart two things are obvious:

  1. There are barely any changes in the top 10 in the last three years. 
  2. All apps in the top 10 were developed by one of three companies: Google, Facebook, and Apple. The only new app to crack the top 10 during these three years was Facebook’s Messenger app after Facebook ripped out Messenger functionality from its main app in 2014 to “nudge” users to install the standalone app.
Top 15 apps in November 2015, by number of unique monthly users.  Source: ComScore

Top 15 apps in November 2015, by number of unique monthly users. Apps not by the Big Three in green.
Source: ComScore

To see if Nielsen’s methodology was biased, I took a look at ComScore’s list of 15 most popular apps for November 2015. It was almost exactly the same except it included apps not from the Big Three, though only Pandora, at number 8, cracked the top 10. Amazon was at 11, Yahoo Stocks at 12, and Twitter at 14.

What surprised me is that there are no games in the top 10, no weather apps, no “sharing economy” apps, no news apps, and no payment apps. These charts are focused only on the number of users opening an app at least once a month, not time spent in the app. If we read the hype around some of these categories, surely they would be on these lists. Where’s Uber? WhatsApp (OK, perhaps it is ranked higher in a non-US list)? Venmo? Snapchat? AirBnb? Pinterest? Slack? Where’s Spotify, since other music apps made the list and music is clearly something users want to access on-the-go?

It’s disheartening that only Facebook, with its immense user base, or Google and Apple, with their ability to pre-install their basic apps on phones with their operating system, make it on to Nielsen’s annual list. It’s also incredible that no one has come up with an email app that can best Gmail, or a different/better video sharing platform than YouTube. Are these the best apps in their category or are these just the apps users are most accustomed to? Is inertia the driving force behind app use?

Let’s see what 2016 brings, shall we?

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