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Remote Apps Aren’t Just For Work

The Top App Charts in America are now filled with apps that would have been considered obscure and unpopular just 90 days earlier.

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Remote Apps Aren’t Just For Work

Remote communication apps have been thrust into the global spotlight amidst the Coronavirus crisis. The most obvious beneficiary of this shift has been remote working apps, since people obviously still need to work if possible while they’re at home in quarantine.

But that’s not all people need to do in quarantine. Nothing has changed about the fundamental interests and behaviours that humans have, and that means people also need to find new ways to socialize, learn, and seek out entertainment while in quarantine.

In a previous post we explored the incredible growth rates of remote working apps like Zoom and Slack, but what about the remote communication apps that don’t fit into the “work” bucket? Apps like Google Classroom, Houseparty, and Google Duo have joined Zoom atop the US App Store charts, showing that it’s not just the remote working apps that are getting increased attention lately.

Using data from App Annie and Sensortower, we can compare and contrast the growth rates and app downloads of the above apps during the Coronavirus crisis, and stack those numbers up against other top technology apps. Let’s get into the data.

Top Charts

The Top App Charts in America are now filled with apps that would have been considered obscure and unpopular just 90 days earlier. Let’s take a look at the growth seen by a few of them:

These sharp transitions represent ‘once-in-a-blue-moon’ levels of growth that many apps never achieve. To rocket up the App Store leaderboard like this, these apps not only needed to get new users, but they needed to get new users at a faster rate than the other chart-topping apps which FAANG companies had already perfected.

Impressive accomplishment on the surface, but these rankings are published daily. How do we know that these apps are seeing consistent user growth, and aren’t just a flash in the pan?

App Downloads

According to Sensortower, Zoom has been the top app in the US App Store every single day for over three weeks. Prior to the most recent spike in users, Zoom also received 31 million worldwide downloads during February, more than the 21 million Snapchat received that month.

Houseparty has seen a similar growth trajectory as a new way for friends to connect and chat in quarantine. For the last two weeks, Houseparty has remained in the Top 10 of the US App Store, and recorded roughly 9 million worldwide downloads during February. 

Houseparty’s recent rise is perhaps the most impressive of all the four apps mentioned, simply because Houseparty’s use case is right in the wheelhouse of what Facebook, Google, Snapchat, Twitter, and Wechat already offer. It’s the hottest social media product out today, and all the social media giants missed out.

Google Classroom saw 17 million app downloads during February, during the first wave of Coronavirus lockdowns. For a week in March, the app received almost no new downloads, and then once Spring Break ended and students everywhere began their remote-studying experiment, downloads shot up once again (along with negative reviews, I wonder why?).

Google Duo had the smallest user base of the four apps, with just 4 million new downloads in February. But unlike Zoom and Google Classroom, Google Duo doesn’t come with a purpose-built use case. It’s just a general purpose video chat application. 

While Zoom and Google Classroom downloads may be coming from resentful workers or students who were hoping quarantine would offer some time to relax away from school and work, Duo downloaders appear to be finding and enjoying the app on their own.

App Stickiness

If the toughest part of creating a new application is getting users, the second toughest part is keeping them. While remote communication tools are being adopted for use cases well beyond the limits of “work”, it remains to be seen what kind of stickiness these products will have. 

One thing is certain though, if these apps fail to retain their new users, it won’t be for a lack of distribution. For remote communication apps, the current lockdown is acting as a “30 day free trial” where everyone with a smartphone is a potential user. Zoom recently announced they had 200 million daily active users, more than the daily active users of Twitter, Netflix, Snapchat, and almost as many as Spotify.

And while the retention of new users will likely be dictated by the severity and length of the lockdown in the near-term, the impact on long term retention for remote communication apps is still unclear. It’s possible that this lockdown shows people that classes, work, entertainment and social interaction can all be done primarily online, but it’s also possible that the pushback among resentful students and workers using apps like Zoom and Google Classroom leaves a nasty aftertaste that keeps them from coming back once physical infrastructure re-opens. 

Only time will tell.