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The apps that won lockdown (and those that struggled)

Apptaura – the app development agency

The apps that won lockdown (and those that struggled)

The apps that won lockdown. The apps that struggled in lockdown. What has changed in the tech, app and digital space this year. We puff out our cheeks and dive in…

A few weeks ago Tim Cook kicked off the iPhone 12 release with the words “This year our homes have become even more important in our daily lives” – perhaps the understatement of the year, but also an echo back to something our CTO Tom Colvin mentioned in May. When writing for Basingstoke Tech site TechJuice Tom noted that our homes had truly become the centre of our lives under lockdown.

“It’s where we work from, where we entertain ourselves, and where we connect with friends. All this has fuelled a boom in the app industry as people seek ways to live in the new normal” – Tom Colvin, CTO Apptaura

Now, we’re not convinced that yet another smart speaker will make lockdown life that much more enjoyable. Certainly now that we’re experiencing a winter lockdown. And given the crowded market the HomePod is dropping into. And the fact that Amazon seemed to be trying to give away Echo Dots during Prime Day.

But back in May, Tom speculated that app entrepreneurs had the opportunity to take advantage of new gaps in the marketplace. That opportunities for new apps would emerge and that apps that have been previously overlooked would receive more attention as house-bound users sought new digital solutions, or at the very least alternative solutions. The prediction that some start-ups and smaller businesses would become overnight household names was particularly accurate as new social and communication apps won lockdown, but the big boys largely got bigger too.

Apps that won lockdown

Communications Apps

Apps that won lockdown
The successes were sometimes blindingly obvious as lockdown started to bite. If any apps won lockdown it was communications apps. Zoom doubled in value this year, peaking at 300 million daily users and comfortably outstripping more established competitors like Skype (remember them?). Security concerns then sent business users scurrying to Microsoft Teams for their conference calling / company presentations / Friday drinks socials. WhatsApp saw a 40% surge by the mid phase of the lockdown with 70%+ growth in countries most severely impacted by lockdowns.

Streaming and gaming

Netflix added 16 million subscribers in the first three months of the year, although growth appears to be tapering off as the year progresses. Disney+ couldn’t have launched to a more receptive market, shooting up to 50 million subscribers.

In more traditional gaming channels… Perfect Cream, a cake decoration game went from 36k downloads at the start of lockdown to 4.3 million downloads a month later. Fortnite developer Epic saw players spend over 3.2 billion hours in play during April… and who knows, maybe lockdown inspired growth accelerated their Apple confrontation.

Delivery and shopping Apps

Amazon doubled its profit during lockdownJustEat UK food sales surged 43%, although delivery apps in were accused of profiting off the woes of traditional restaurants who were forced to pivot to delivery-only models. ASOS profits quadrupled in 2020 as demand for casual wear soared and they added nearly 3 million new customers. In a potentially related development, buy now, pay later service Klarna marked a 36% growth in operating income and welcomed 14 million new customers, albeit maintaining that they also tightened their lending policy during lockdown.

Social & Dating Apps

Social apps grew – led by TikTok’s rising popularity, raking in 315 million downloads in Q1 2020. Not bad for a service that was facing a ban across the US. Houseparty reported 50 million sign ups in March. Facebook reported that in one month 3 billion internet users logged on to a Facebook service (including Messenger, Instragram and Whatsapp) – that’s a mere two thirds of the world’s total internet user base.  Social / casual gaming behemoth Words with Friends saw downloads increase by 614%. Perhaps bizarrely given the circumstances, dating apps have flourished in lockdown. Hinge launched an ambitious marketing campaign and Tinder reported pulling in 3 billion global swipes in a single day.

Fitness Apps

Fitness apps grew by nearly 50% during the first half of 2020 as house-bound users looked to get fit, searched for alternatives to their usual gym routines and made the best of their allocated hour outside the home. Strava rocked up a record 3.4 million downloads in May, a trend that matched the increased demand for bicycles seen by Halfords. Peleton looks set to double sales this year… despite their advertising Fubar and of course there was Joe Wicks. World record setting Joe Wicks. Leaving millions of us in agony Joe Wicks. Urgh.

What many of these apps provided was a social experience for their users, a new way of interacting with each other, without the need for personal contact. They allowed us to catch up with friends and family, sometimes in ways that were relatively routine, and sometimes in ways that transcended the usual communication channels. Others fed into our need to find things to keep us occupied, be it gaming or streaming, or bingeing the entire run of Star Wars… followed by a deep dive into the Marvel Universe. I even finished an entire Assassin’s Creed game. Side missions and all.

Notable apps that struggled in lockdown

Unfortunately, not all of the changes wrought on the app and tech industries this year were positive. Whilst apps won lockdown in some industries, they stuttered in others. As consumer behaviour changed, economies stalled and spending dipped some digital companies took major knocks and sadly this also ended up impacting their workforce.

Travel and Holiday

Holiday providers and apps took a huge hit this year. AirBnB slashed their ad budgets and laid off a quarter of their staff as bookings plummeted and refund requests surged. They saw a summer staycation rebound, but local lockdowns and lockdown 2.0 will be biting.  Expedia laid off 12% of their global staff in February and look set to roll out further cuts. Airlines were grounded. Hotels were empty. Online holiday purchases dropped by as much as 93%.

Sharing Economy & Shared transport

The travails of AirBnB hit the rest of the sharing economy equally hard. Sharing services, hardware, cars, parking spaces all starts to look less appetising during a global pandemic. Similarly  transport apps (often positioned in the sharing space) took a major hit during lockdown. Uber reported that trip bookings were down 75%.  BMW and Daimler are reported to be looking to offload their Uber rival FreeNow who at the height of lockdown were said to have experienced between 60 to 95% drops in ride hailing volumes in April. Softbank backed Ola was forced to cut 35% of it’s workforce. Glancing back at the BMW/Daimler giant joint venture, they are now rumoured to be looking to sell off their parking app business ParkNow for ‘hundreds of millions’ as they scramble to shore up their manufacturing arm in the face of some of the worst car sales figures in decades.

Talking of Softbank backed ventures… WeWork was already struggling pre-Covid. Post lockdown it will be fascinating to see if it can pivot fast enough to benefit from the potential opportunities shared office space might present particularly to remote workers struggling to cope with the mental or physical strains of enforced home working.

Financial Services

Financial services largely performed as predicted, though early on in lockdown challenger banks appeared to be struggling with app downloads slumping 23% and Monzo tracking a YOY decline of 36%.


Quibi, the much publicised micro-streaming platform, was unable to take advantage of all those extra eyes on screens craving entertainment and have folded nearly as quickly as some of their content wrapped up. Possibly detrimentally impacted by the lack of commuters on public transport eager for something to while away that 5 minutes between tube stops the highly funded start-up leaves an upcoming library of short-form content up for grabs… will one of the big boys sweep in and attempt to revive the concept?

Contact-tracing apps

The elephant in the room…Contact-tracing apps. They work, or they don’t work. Perhaps they capture too much data, or not enough data. They haven’t been set up correctly. Old phones can’t run the app. Or really new phones for that matter. It’s been up and down, round and round and still no-one seems quite sure whether they have worked or not. Though as I type this I’m  barricaded back in my house, so….

And that’s not just here in the UK.

In fact, probably the best thing about all the fuss was an en masse realisation that the apps on your phone can (and do) gather a lot of info about you. Some of which they need. Some of which they probably don’t. Tom had some choice words to say about contact tracing apps back at the start of lockdown.

Customer behaviour changes in lockdown

Customer behaviour changed on an unprecedented scale during lockdown. People spent way more time with digital devices. 45% of people reported spending more time using their laptops. 32% said the same for their desktop. Games console use was up with a relatively conservative 17% of users.

A whopping 76% of people polled reported spending more time on their smartphones. 36% reported spending more time using apps. 46% spent more time on messenger services. 15% on creating and uploading videos.

Ecommerce transactions exploded in certain sectors. Home furnishings and DIY up by 120%. Sporting equipment and fitness up by 77%. Supermarket transactions up 76%. Technology purchases up 62%.

So what is going to change?

A lot of it already has. Digital take up has grown. Cashless payments via mobile has grown. Communication apps have flourished. But anyone who has tried to get their grandparents linked onto a Zoom call for a quiz has discovered, it isn’t easy. There are definitely gaps in the market for communication apps built specifically for  users unfamiliar with the more corporate  systems.

Is there a gap in the market for social spaces for shielding users. A change to fitness apps to focus more on home workouts or guided exercise regimes? Can the shared economy pivot into a hub for at-risk groups? To crowd source help / assistance, be it with their food shops or getting a neighbour to help set up their new webcam?

Mindfulness and stress busting apps have seen increased usage during lockdown. That trend seems set to continue. But can an increasingly remote-working workforce keep some form of human interaction to replace the water cooler Stranger Things chats? Or will we find ourselves looking for more ways to avoid contact? More smart doorbells, postal drops, smart meters. Drones dropping off our takeaways. Will the apps that won the lockdown first time round grow even more?

It’s clear that things will be changing. And as Tom said:

“Many new start-ups are going to become household names in short span, as they prove themselves to be nimbler than the massive enterprises, which currently control our digital existences… So it’s an exciting time to be involved in the digital world. These are the spaces that are seeing the largest growth, and will probably continue to for a long time yet.”