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Global Consumer Spending in Mobile Apps Reached $133 Billion in 2021, Up Nearly 20% from 2020

Sensor Tower data forecasts that consumers spent $133 billion in mobile apps in 2021, up 20 percent Y/Y from a little more than $111 billion in 2020.

Consumers spent $133 billion in mobile apps in 2021.

After the boom in adoption and spending for both mobile games and non-game apps in 2020, market trends began normalizing in 2021 as worldwide consumer spending is projected to reach approximately $133 billion on in-app purchases, premium apps, and subscriptions across the App Store and Google Play, according to Sensor Tower Store Intelligence data. This represents 19.7 percent year-over-year growth from $111.1 billion in 2020, nearly mirroring the 21 percent Y/Y growth consumer spending experienced in 2019.

Worldwide Mobile App Revenue and Downloads

Globally, consumer spending on the App Store will reach $85.1 billion, up 17.7 percent Y/Y from $72.3 billion in 2020. Although users have spent less on Google Play, that platform will see more Y/Y growth, climbing 23.5 percent to $47.9 billion from $38.8 billion. The two platforms' spending relative to each other remains the same as in 2020, with the App Store seeing about 1.8 times the revenue as Google's marketplace.

Global consumer spending in non-game apps grew 19.7 percent to $133 billion in 2021.

TikTok, including Douyin on iOS in China, will maintain its dominance at the top of the chart as the non-game app that saw the most revenue across both app stores combined. ByteDance's short video platform passed $3 billion in lifetime revenue earlier this year—in the first 11 months of 2021, the app saw $2 billion in revenue, up 67 percent Y/Y from $1.2 billion. By the end of the year, Sensor Tower forecasts that the app will see $2.3 billion in spending, bringing its lifetime total to $3.8 billion.

Although TikTok was the highest earning non-game app when looking at both app stores together, it trails behind Google Play when that platform was studied on its own. On Android devices, Google One continued to see the most revenue in 2021. By the end of 2021, the app will reach $1 billion in consumer spending, up 123 percent Y/Y from $448.5 million in 2020.

2021's top non-game apps by revenue.

First-time installs remain relatively flat when compared to 2020, growing 0.5 percent Y/Y across the App Store and Google Play to 143.6 billion in 2021 from 142.9 billion in 2020. This is driven mainly by app adoption on Google Play, which will see installs climb 2.6 percent Y/Y to 111.3 billion from 108.5 billion; Apple's marketplace will generate about 32.3 billion installs this year, down 6.1 percent from 34.4 billion.

Worldwide app downloads grew 0.5 percent year-over-year to 143.6 billion in 2021.

TikTok is the most downloaded app on the App Store for 2021, racking up 745.9 million installs across both app stores. This is despite a dip of 24 percent Y/Y from 980.7 million installs in 2020, demonstrating the app's global popularity even as it was removed from its top market India.

On Google Play, Facebook tops the charts with about 500.9 million installs on that marketplace alone. Across both marketplaces, the app will see about 624.9 million installs, down 12 percent Y/Y from 707.8 million.

20201's top non-game apps by downloads.

Worldwide Mobile Game Revenue and Downloads

Mobile game spending has continued to grow in 2021, and will reach $89.6 billion from across the App Store and Google Play. This represents 12.6 percent Y/Y growth from $79.6 billion in 2020 and also 67.4 percent of all in-app spending this year. While the category is still climbing annually, its share of overall consumer spending has declined. In 2019, mobile games represented 74.1 percent of all app spending; in 2020, its share fell a little more than 2 percentage points to 71.7 percent, and in 2021, we project that its share will fall approximately 6.7 percentage points from 2019's figure. This points to the persistent growth of non-game categories such as Entertainment, which received a large boost from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite this, mobile games still account for the majority of spending on each marketplace, representing 61.5 percent of iOS revenue and 78 percent of revenue on Google Play.

Global consumer spending in mobile games grew 12.6 percent to $89.6 billion in 2021.

On the App Store, mobile gamers are projected to spend $52.3 billion globally by the end of the year, up 9.9 percent Y/Y from $47.6 billion in 2020. Honor of Kings from Tencent is the highest grossing iOS game, generating $2.9 billion on that platform, up 16 percent Y/Y from $2.5 billion. The title recently passed the $10 billion milestone earlier this year.

Games on Google Play will see $37.3 billion in worldwide consumer spending in 2021, up 16.6 percent Y/Y from $32 billion in the previous year. The highest grossing title on Google's platform is once again Moon Active's Coin Master, which saw its revenue increase 13 percent Y/Y to nearly $912 million from 2020's total of $809.8 million on that marketplace.

2021's top earning mobile games.

First-time installs of mobile games will reach 55.3 billion in 2021 across the App Store and Google Play, Sensor Tower projects, declining 1.6 percent Y/Y from 56.2 billion last year. This slight dip is expected, however, following the unprecedented surge in adoption seen in 2020 due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Approximately 84 percent of all game installs or 46.7 billion are on Google Play, up 1.3 percent Y/Y. On Google's platform, Garena Free Fire will have seen the most downloads, reaching 218.8 million installs on that platform, down 14 percent Y/Y.

Worldwide downloads of mobile games fell 1.6 percent to 55.3 billion in 2021.

Mobile games will have been downloaded approximately 8.6 billion times globally on the App Store in 2021, down 14.9 percent Y/Y. Tencent will also take the top spot with PUBG Mobile, including the Chinese localized version Game for Peace. The title will reach approximately 47.5 million installs on the App Store by the end of year, down 18.5 percent from 58.3 million.

2021's top mobile games by downloads.

After 2020 supercharged the mobile market, the ecosystem has seen some normalization this year while some trends that emerged continue to develop. Our in-depth analysis of the mobile app ecosystem and its continuing trends will come in early January, including additional insights into 2021's top apps, games, and publishers.

Note: The revenue estimates contained in this report are not inclusive of local taxes, in-app advertising, or in-app user spending on mobile commerce, e.g., purchases via the Amazon app, rides via the Lyft app, or food deliveries via the DoorDash app. Refunds are also not reflected in the provided figures.

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Stephanie Chan

Written by: Stephanie Chan, Mobile Insights Strategist

Date: December 2021