Table of Contents
- 1 Top standard social media apps
- 2 Top video conferencing apps
- 3 Top messaging apps
As 2020, the year of most screen time per capita, begins to thankfully come to a close, it’s worth reviewing which social media apps captivated the American attention. These are the most downloaded apps — representing new downloads, not total users — across iOS and Android smartphones from January 2020 through November 2020, according to Apptopia, a software and data analytics company.
No surprise here, the winner is TikTok
Despite President Trump’s numerous attempts to ban the short-form video platform, or perhaps because of them, TikTok has become the most downloaded social media app of 2020, with over 82 million downloads. Owned by Chinese company ByteDance, the app makes it easy to create or binge-watch micro-entertainment, short vids dripping with pep and moxy and serving up Gen Z realness. Videos often take the form of challenges that run the gamut of dance challenges to relatable “Put a finger down if you…” to multi-generational explorations of music. Tutorials and life hacks also tend to go viral, and users often joke that they learn more from TikTok than they do from school.
Recently, Instagram added “Reels” to its repertoire, copying TikTok’s entertainment model. According to the data, Instagram didn’t see a spike in downloads around the time that it announced Reels, which was in early August, so it remains to be seen if this addition will lure over TikTok users who are renowned brand loyalists.
Why do people like TikTok?
“TikTok is enjoyable because the algorithm works to meet my needs and interests. So while I get to laugh at funny videos or pointed jokes, I also get to learn about new topics through fast-paced media” ~ My Gen Z sister.
Instagram comes in second at 57.5 million total downloads. The app has seen some iterations this year, taking on the Facebook ethos of a one-stop-shop. From Reels to Instagram’s new in-app Shop, from extending the IGTV limit to 4 hours long to its Guides feature that started out to provide mental health resources during the height of the pandemic but has since morphed into a way to introduce more long form content to the platform, Instagram is finding all sorts of fun new ways to keep us scrolling. Ahead of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, Instagram, along with Facebook, also debuted a Voting Information Center to help users combat misinformation.
What is perhaps unexpected is that Snapchat downloads exceed that of Facebook in the United States this year. With over 43 million downloads, Snap has maintained a steady growth, particularly as its augmented reality technology, known to users largely as Lenses, has become top of the line. In fact, it’s entirely conceivable that within the next few years Snap will be less of a social media company and more of a camera company, offering its Camera Kit to other developers and brands that want to utilize Snap’s AR technology for their own ends.
Facebook followed just behind Snapchat with 42 million total downloads. The app saw a bit of a spike in an otherwise steady stream of downloads in May. Perhaps this was when Boomers finally accepted the necessarily digital nature of the pandemic world and decided to give in and scroll Facebook on their phones instead of their computers. After all, Uncle Gary’s coronavirus conspiracy theories weren’t going to ‘like’ themselves!
The company did seriously work to up its game of either removing or providing context to misinformation related to both the election and the pandemic, but mainly as a result of repeated pressure from employees, the media and the public at large. Zuckerberg has always said he never wanted Facebook to be the arbiters of truth, but with a doozy of an election like this one, Facebook slowly took on more responsibility, eventually banning new political ads in the week before the election and beyond.
Facebook has also invested in the world of gaming this year, launching free cloud-streamed games that require no download and no hardware. And for the sake of altruism, Facebook has launched its Drives feature this year as part of its Community Help Hub, enabling users to rally communities around a cause and fundraise.
Meanwhile, in the sector of Facebook apparently designed to swallow ideas from other apps, Facebook also introduced Neighbors, a rip off from the popular neighborhood app called NextDoor.
The id of the internet, Twitter has 25 million new downloads this year. The social media company has also taken a strong stance in the lead up to the election, banning all political ads, fact-checking Donald Trump’s claims about mail-in voting and prompting users to either read the article they’re retweeting or provide their own commentary. One of the most interesting additions to the app this year has been Fleets, a take from Stories that one would see on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.
Other updates include Twitter giving users discretion over who can reply to their tweets, more context given to trending topics and the ability to react to DMs with the internet’s language of choice, emojis.
At just over 7 million downloads this year, Parler can’t yet hold a candle to the big social media companies. But it’s worth noting that the app has seen a serious increase in downloads this year, from just over 1,000 in January to 4 million at the end of November.
Marketing itself as an “unbiased social media focused on real user experiences and engagement” that promises “free expression without violence and no censorship”, Parler has become a home to right-wing conservatives and Donald Trump supporters who feel disillusioned with and biased against mainstream platforms.
Top video conferencing apps
Zoom dominates, but you already knew that
With over 73 million new users this year, Zoom has almost become synonymous with video conferencing. The company saw a meteoric rise this year, particularly in April and May, as the app was used for everything from remote working to Zoom happy hours to live streaming weddings.
For a little while there, people had fun changing their backgrounds to entertain themselves and conference members, but now the app has simply become essential for our consistently socially distant way of life.
Google Duo, with 18 million new users in 2020, is the second most downloaded video conferencing app, clearly demonstrating Zoom’s dominance. It saw the most downloads in April, and is enjoyed by users as a person-to-person video calling app, as opposed to Hangouts or Meet which are more oriented towards businesses. The app has a reputation of being a universal video calling app, supported on Android, iOS and desktops, making it a good replacement for FaceTime for Android users.
Houseparty’s rise in popularity, especially among Gen Z, has been impressive this year. The app has seen over 15 million new users in 2020. Houseparty had only around 370,000 downloads in January, but by March that number was up to over 2 million, rising to over 6 million by April.
Houseparty’s schtick has been to enable group video chats by pinging friends with a notification when you’re hanging out in a virtual room. Friends can essentially wander in and out of their friends’ digital spaces as if they were at a house party. In addition, Houseparty made it easy for users to watch Netflix shows or play games together like Heads Up through the app.
As people around the country became more open to trying out new apps and ways to connect during the pandemic, BIGO Live has seen a steady rise in new users, with a total of 10.5 million this year. The app lets you live-stream whatever you want to either show to your friends or to gain followers. Live streamers with larger followings are usually talented dancers, singers, foodies, gamers or comedians.
But the app doesn’t stop at live streams. Users can also have one-on-one video chats or larger group chats, and with a nod to ChatRoulette, enables you to be matched in a chat room with people around the world. BIGO Live also offers voice chats, dare challenges and vlogs.
With 5 million new users this year, Marco Polo is slowly gaining attention for being like a Snapchat for millennials. The app enables users to have video conversations with loved ones and close friends. Marco Polo positions itself as a lifeline for socially distanced folks who desire close, personal connections with those who matter most. Celebrities like Kristen Bell, Pink, Mandy Moore and Amy Poehler swear by it, and what’s more, the app is committed to never collecting user data or running ads. Hoorah!
Top messaging apps
Messenger, Facebook’s direct messaging platform, is the top app for, well, messaging, with over 51 million new users this year. One of the biggest changes this year was the introduction of cross-app communication between Instagram and Messenger, as well as the ability for users to double tap a message to heart it, a la Instagram, or to hover and respond to a message with emojis. If we could just step back into Facebook’s sector of taking other app ideas, Messenger also introduced the ability to create Rooms and allow users to watch or play together via the app, a la Houseparty.
With 41 million downloads in the U.S., WhatsApp is gaining popularity that it has had for years abroad, perhaps in large part due to its encrypted messaging. This year WhatsApp introduced dark mode to save power and protect the eyes from harmful blue light. Rumor has it that the app will soon create a reverse image searching ability for the app, a means by which users could avoid being catfished, apparently, and that WhatsApp will also add a self-destructing message feature, perfect for drug deals and illicit affairs!
Discord is a free app for mobile and PC that enables chat via text, voice, video or real time, with Reddit-like discussion boards. It started out as a gaming app, made popular by Fortnite users, but has since expanded to be everything from a free version of Slack for remote workers to a place where communities could meet to discuss interests like anime, music and TV. With 29 million downloads this year, it looks like this app will only increase in popularity due to its ease of use and adaptability to different use scenarios.
With about 15 million new downloads in 2020, Telegram is an online messaging app that is pretty indistinguishable from WhatsApp or Messenger. The difference is that it’s not owned by Facebook, and it prioritizes security with end-to-end encryption, leaving no trace on Telegram’s servers.
Telegram has a reputation for being used in the Hong Kong protests for organizers to evade authorities, and it also became popular during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests in America.
With 6 million total new users, there are other messaging apps (like GroupMe, Text Free and Kik) that beat Signal’s numbers for 2020. But like Telegram, it’s worth noting that Signal offers users end-to-end encryption, and due to the need for civil rights organizers and Black Lives Matter protesters to operate without tipping off authorities, Signal downloads significantly increased in June this year. According to the New York Times, many people around the country used Signal to be able to find and participate in BLM protests this year.