The 8 Hottest Mobile App Trends of 2021
Global mobile app revenue is projected to hit $693 billion in 2021. That’s up from $581.9 billion in 2020.
With all that money comes massive opportunity.
But also competition.
That’s why we put together this list of the year's biggest mobile app trends. Watch these trends to help stay ahead of the game -- whether you’re a coder, entrepreneur, investor or journalist.
1. Premium Apps Are Challenging Google
Search volume for "JotForm" over time.
It used to be a given that Google's free apps were the default.
Everyone used Gmail.
And if they didn't use Excel, they used Google Sheets.
But now, people are actively switching away from some of the most popular apps in the world. Rather than relying on Google’s free solutions, they're using paid apps that let them do the same things…
This trend started years ago. But it’s been accelerating lately.
Gmail users are flocking to Superhuman, at $30 per month.
The promise of spending less time in their inboxes.
Superhuman touts itself as "the fastest email experience ever made".
Many Google Hangouts (now Google Meet) users have switched to Zoom.
In fact, Zoom has become the de facto standard video conference tool for business people. It went from 10 million daily meeting participants in December 2019 to 300 million in April 2020.
Even Google Sheets is feeling the pain of this trend. More and more spreadsheet users are using Airtable to crunch data and get things done.
Who knows what new threats to Google's services will emerge this year?
2. Privacy Is Getting More Focus
Data privacy has become a big concern for users of all types.
According to a recent study by Cisco, 32% of adults have switched companies or service providers based on their data or data-sharing policies.
(Privacy is also part of the reason people are switching away from some Google apps, as you saw above.)
Web apps and mobile apps involved in this trend include:
End-to-end encrypted messaging apps like Telegram.
Privacy-focused browsers like Firefox and Brave.
The cookie-free search engine DuckDuckGo (which also offers a tracker-blocking Chrome extension and standalone mobile web browser).
Searches for DuckDuckGo have been taking off.
Plus there are more advanced solutions like Pi-hole, which operates at the network level.
All in all, privacy is definitely a trend to keep an eye on this year.
3. Developers Are Embracing Low-Code and No-Code
The low-code / no-code movement is a huge app development trend this year.
And it's unlocking all sorts of talent in the process. Now, anyone can build a killer app -- no coding skills required.
(Or if you ARE a developer, the low-code movement provides a lot of shortcuts.)
For example, Zapier offers plug-and-play integrations with other services and applications.
Searches for "Zapier" over time. They took a dip recently, but are still up over 5 years.
While Bubble lets non-technical designers and entrepreneurs build full web apps.
And in January, Google acquired the no-code mobile app platform AppSheet.
AppSheet, recently acquired by Google for an undisclosed sum. (AppSheet was valued at $60M at the time.)
The low-code trend isn't going to make manual coding obsolete. At least, not this year.
But its effects are hard to overstate, as it opens up new opportunities for applications and businesses that wouldn't exist otherwise.
4. Everyone's Getting On Camera
U.S. Google searches for "TikTok" exploded in 2020, and are still on the rise in 2021.
Part of the massive work-from-home trend means people are jumping on video calls a whole lot more than they used to. In a single week in March, videoconferencing apps were downloaded a record-breaking 62 million times.
Google Meet, Zoom, and even old-school Skype have seen their usage skyrocket.
So have video-based social networks like YouTube and Facebook Watch.
But newcomers like TikTok are also giving the old stalwarts a run for their money.
Houseparty had its moment in 2020 - but lacked the staying power of the likes of TikTok.
People just can't get enough of apps that help them broadcast videos, connect with friends, and build followings.
Niche challengers are attacking the streaming entertainment space as well.
It will be interesting to see how this space continues to develop in 2021.
5. Social Media is Calling an Audible
Video may be the next big thing.
But an older format is getting plenty of attention in the social space, too:
Audio chat app Clubhouse is taking Silicon Valley by storm.
Clubhouse basically works like old-school AOL chat rooms. Only using voice instead of text.
It's a spontaneous experience: just jump into a voice chat room and join the conversation.
But this audio trend has a problem.
The biggest social networks natively support video, but not straight audio clips.
Wavve solves that problem by turning users' audio clips into short, shareable waveform videos. So people can share their thoughts, music, or clips from podcasts on existing social networks like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Wavve's homepage. Wavve has been exploding in popularity this year.
Of course, audio is also a meta-trend that goes FAR beyond social media.
And interest in audiobooks is growing every year too, as you can see from the search volume trends for the keyword "Audible" (Amazon's audiobook service).
6. Banking Is Going (Even More) Mobile
Interest in mobile banking has been growing for years.
What was once niche is now mainstream: 86% of US banks currently offer mobile bill-pay services.
And fintech startups like Chime bank are competing for mobile-first banking customers, offering basic financial services with fewer fees.
This is a HUGE mobile apps trend.
And it is global.
Indonesia's PAYFAZZ has the backing of Y Combinator.
In Germany, they have N26.
In the UK: Starling Bank.
While one of China's most popular forms of payment for years has been WeChat Pay. According to the latest known figures, 1 billion commercial transactions are made through the WeChat app every day.
And those are just a few examples.
There are also peer-to-peer payment networks like Venmo:
Venmo is a digital wallet service owned by PayPal.
Not to mention Apple Pay and Google Pay, which each boast tens of millions of US users.
Even Facebook has entered its apps into the mobile payments arena.
7. Apps Are Getting Smarter (Yes, This Is About AI)
Search volume for "machine learning" over time.
AI has probably appeared on every list of tech trends published in the last decade.
But things are heating up even more in 2021.
How can you tell?
One clear metric is the number of AI startup acquisitions.
Here are just a few from last year alone:
Snap snapped up AIFactory, the backbone of Snapchat's "Cameos" feature, for $166 million.
Freshworks bought AnsweriQ to help power its "Freddy AI" machine-learning-powered predictive intelligence bot.
And even Ikea recently purchased an AI startup, Geomagical labs, to help improve their AR imaging capabilities.
And this trend shows no signs of stopping.
8. Augmented Reality Is Getting Real
Ask anyone what they think about augmented reality.
Assuming they're familiar with the term, they'll probably name one concern: faked videos.
"Deep fakes" have made the news recently for their use in spreading disinformation, adding female celebrities' faces to pornography, and more.
US Google searches for "deep fake" over time.
The Russian novelty app FaceApp is another recent example of the AR trend. Before it came under fire as a potential counterintelligence threat, people uploaded tens of millions of photos to see how they might look in the future.
But there are plenty of legitimate uses for augmented reality in mobile apps.
In the AI trend we just discussed, we already mentioned efforts by Snapchat and Ikea to bolster their AR features. ("Cameos" and "Place", respectively.)
SketchAR gives iOS and Android users the ability to "lift" drawings from a piece of paper and apply them to another surface, using augmented reality.
And if you search Google for "tiger" on an AR-enabled phone, you'll see an option to view it in 3D. (It also works with some other animals, like wolves, pandas and ducks.)
Google's AR Tiger (Image credit: The Verge)
Google Maps has joined the trend too, with Google Maps AR. This feature puts augmented reality directions on your screen as you use Google Maps to navigate while walking.
It will be interesting to see what other AR features and apps get released in 2021.
That wraps up our list of the 8 hottest app trends of 2021.
The world of mobile app development is changing rapidly. But these trends seem to have staying power: they'll probably continue through this year and beyond.
Stay ahead of the game by taking advantage of them yourself.