Most-Downloaded App of the Decade: Which Developer Won?

Thanks to imaginative and intrepid mobile app developers, the past decade saw the smartphone evolve into an “everything device.” You could use your iPhone or Android device to order food, play games, watch movies, post to your social network of choice, and check into your flight—and that’s just a small sliver of the accomplishable tasks.

But when it comes to developing the most popular apps worldwide, one company stands above all: Facebook. According to a new analysis by App Annie, the firm that slices and dices all kinds of mobile-related data, Facebook produced and/or maintained the four most-used apps of the decade: The “core” Facebook app, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp Messenger, and Instagram.

In fifth place: Snapchat, which could have been a Facebook company if only Snap CEO Evan Spiegel had decided to accept a buyout offer from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Instead, Snap remains an aggressive rival in the social-media space, specializing in AR filters that take advantage of newer smartphones’ amazing cameras. Check out App Annie’s full chart of the decade’s most-downloaded apps:

But number of downloads doesn’t necessarily equate with revenue, and the list of the decade’s highest-earning apps is a little different. (You’ll also notice there are no games on this list; that’s a separate breakdown from App Annie that we’ll save for a future article.)

“Communication and social media apps are consumer favorites, accounting for 7 of the top 10 apps by downloads this decade,” App Annie wrote in a blog posting accompanying the data. “In terms of Consumer spend, video streaming and music apps were well represented with Netflix, Pandora Music and Tencent Video all appearing in the top five. Tinder was the most successful dating app of the decade in terms of consumer spend, coming in second place in the overall ranking behind Netflix.”

One company is conspicuously missing from this list: Google. Despite the prevalence of Android—not to mention the ubiquity of Google services such as Search and Gmail—the only Google app to make App Annie’s lists is YouTube. Perhaps App Annie isn’t counting the Google apps that come pre-installed on Android devices as active downloads, which certainly makes sense.

In addition, Google’s absence from the “consumer spend” ranking speaks to one of the search-engine giant’s core issues over the past decade: An inability to expand its revenue streams beyond search-related advertising. It’s one thing to have software that everyone wants to download and use; but if it’s free, you’re not making any money off those users (unless you repackage and sell their data to a third party, of course).

What’s the lesson here? If you want to build mobile software that can quickly leverage a massive audience, a decade of data suggests that social networking is the way to go. But well-entrenched players with billions of dollars at their disposal also dominate this space, making it difficult (if not impossible) for many startups to compete at scale. As 2020 approaches, smartphones are more powerful than ever—but standing out as a mobile developer, particularly a small-shop one, is only getting more difficult.