Mobile adoption soared in 2021 with growth across usage, downloads and app store consumer spend. App Annie’s “State of Mobile 2022” report breaks down those numbers and trends across mobile gaming, finance, retail and other sectors.

Globally, last year saw 230 billion downloads, $170 billion in consumer spend and a combined 3.8 trillion hours spent on mobile. The US experienced tremendous growth in consumer spend due in part to mobile gaming and in-app subscriptions going mainstream, adding an additional $10.4 billion on top of 2020’s figure for a total of $43 billion in 2021.

Emerging markets, on the other hand, had the most growth when it came to downloads. Pakistan, Peru and the Philippines were among the fastest-growing markets for downloads at 25 percent growth year-over-year each. China had the most with close to 100 billion downloads, followed by India (about 28 billion) and the US (about 11 billion).

The weighted average of time spent in mobile apps globally in 2021 approached five hours per day, an increase of 30 percent since 2019. South Korean, Brazilian and Indonesian users surpassed five hours per day while Americans spent just over four hours per day on mobile devices.

The pandemic stimulated existing mobile habits which were solidified in 2021. Users engaged more deeply in early-mover categories like social and communication and photo and video, App Annie found. Seventy percent of the time spent on mobile last year was spent in social and photo and video apps like YouTube and TikTok.

Despite the fact that photo and video apps experienced an increase in market share of time spent, current habits haven’t shifted much. Rather, consumers converted historically ‘non-mobile’ time into time spent on apps and playing games.

In 2021, 233 apps and games generated over $100 million as consumers shifted their consumption of entertainment and games to mobile, a 20 percent increase from 2020. Improved connectivity, screen size and hardware are a few explanations for why the shift was so seamless. Thirteen apps and games even surpassed $1 billion in consumer spend, according to App Annie.

The top Gen Z app by monthly active users by likelihood of use in 2021 was Instagram. for millennials it was Facebook and for Gen X and baby boomers, it was BOM Weather.

Global mobile ad spend increased by 23 percent YoY to reach $295 billion in 2021. Amid an economic rebound and cyclical events such as the EUFA European Championship and the Tokyo Olympics, coupled with engrained mobile habits, ad dollars flowed to mobile as the primary channel for engaging users—representing 70 percent of ad spend. 

With the Beijing Olympics and the US midterm elections slated for next year, the majority of digital ad spend is expected to be driven by mobile. App Annie expects global mobile ad spend to reach $350 billion next year.

Brands seeking to capitalize on this phenomenon should keep an eye on changing best practices in mobile advertising, determine which ad creatives perform best and study growth strategies employed by leaders in the mobile user acquisition landscape.

Moving on to mobile games, App Annie found an additional $16 billion in gaming consumer spend was added in 2021 for a total of $116 billion. Additionally, 2021 saw mobile game downloads hit 82.98 billion with 3.03 billion having been added last year alone.

Hit games such as Roblox and Genshin Impact experienced tremendous growth globally while Harry Potter Magic Awakened and League of Legends: Wild Rift saw growth in China. 

In finance, Gen Z are most likely to use trading apps and neobanks across regions while Gen X and baby boomers largely use retail banks. Gen Z also prefer to use money transfer apps like Venmo due to their increasing comfort with—and reliance on—their mobile phones. 

Finance app publishers seeking to capture some of this market should recognize Gen Z’s expectations involving fast and simple money movement and financial flexibility.

Mobile retail apps fared extremely well last year. Time spent in shopping apps reached over 100 billion hours globally, up from roughly 85 billion in 2020 for an 18 percent YoY increase. Fast fashion, social shopping and mobile-savvy big-box players experienced particularly strong movement.

Indonesia (52 percent), Singapore (46 percent) and Brazil (45 percent) were among the countries that experienced uniquely strong growth in retail apps.

The total number of hours spent watching video streaming apps grew by 16 percent globally since before the pandemic with Indonesia, Russia and Argentina contributing the greatest increases. China saw a decline of over 40 percent as consumers gravitated toward short-form video apps like TikTok and Kwai, which saw total time spent in-app increase by 205 percent and 225 percent since 2019, respectively. 

Among video streaming trends, the research shows exclusive content releases drove surges in video streaming app downloads as more people were forced indoors due to the pandemic. Providers remained competitive by utilizing exclusive content releases to capture market share. The TV series Made for Love, for example, coincided with a 61 percent spike in HBO Max app downloads, while Squid Game’s release coincided with a 6 percent increase in Netflix app downloads, according to App Annie.

In the quick-service restaurant (QSR) space, branded food delivery keywords dominated the top searches in 2021 in established markets such as the US, UK and France, followed by QSR brand names. 

“Food” was a top-five keyword in several regions and the first most-searched keyword in Canada, Mexico and Australia, and the second most-searched keyword in Turkey.

In terms of social media, the amount of time mobile users spent in the top 25 live streaming apps outpaced the social market by a factor of nine and experienced YoY growth of 40 percent compared to all social apps (5 percent). Live streaming apps drove significant consumer spend in social apps as consumers tip their favorite content creators. Global consumer spend in the top 25 live streaming apps experienced YoY growth of 55 percent.

TikTok was 2021’s clear winner in terms of per-user engagement among the top five social apps that command the most time spent. TikTok also experienced the greatest in-depth engagement over the last four years, reaching an average of roughly 20 hours spent per user per month, matching Facebook and outpacing WhatsApp Messenger, Instagram and Facebook Messenger.

Demand for avatar social apps has increased as consumers gain interest in metaverses, including Litmatch, REALITY by Wright Flyer and ZEPETO, with downloads having grown 160 percent YoY. Litmatch downloads alone grew 405 percent YoY.