The Bookstore to the App Store: What Our Apps Say About Us

This week has been tumultous, to say the least. The geopolitical environment is extremely tense, the discourse is combative, and no one can agree on anything. I spent the last week or so in Kentucky, and came back to Los Angeles last night.

When I was in Kentucky, I set aside almost everyday to spend with friends and family. When you move across the country alone, you realize how important these relationships are. I’ve always been a one-person ship (to my detriment), and often need others to help me steer the right way.

When I was thinking about what I wanted to write about, I wasn’t certain. I was thinking about writing about how women’s voices have become audiply deeper since the 1950’s, dropping 23 Hz due to changing social roles and the need to be taken seriously.

Or I was thinking about writing about battling entropy, how we spend more time trying to give order to a day rather than creating and building.

Or Harland Duman’s training of OpenAI’s GPT2 to write blog posts based on Marginal Revolutions articles from 2010-2016. GPT-2 is incredible, generating content that seems pretty believable. Just give it a prompt, and it will predict the following words and create a decent piece of work.

I decided to write about the most downloaded apps of 2019, because it felt fitting as we move into 2020 to reflect, once again. There’s also a lot of interesting tidbits that can be scraped from this data.



Source: Apptopia

“A man’s bookcase will tell you everything you’ll ever need to know about him,” – Walter Mosley

All the below images are from Apptopia unless otherwise stated


Garena took the lead in 2019, with over 266M downloads. This is the platform that supports games such as Defense of the Ancients and Age of Empires, as well as publishes League of Legends and Black Shot.

A year-over-year comparison doesn’t reveal too much continuity between the games, besides Subway Surfers. I’ve personally never played Subway Surfers, but obviously most of the world has. Most of the games either fall into the Endless Runner or MMPOG (or something similar) category.

Source: Author, Wikipedia

Social / Messaging

WhatsApp once again sweeps the table, with TikTok making big moves in 2019. Apptopia estimates TikTok to have 682.2M downloads for 2019, which is only 10% less than WhatsApp. Facebook owns the majority of the apps in the top 10, including Messenger, Instagram, Facebook Lite, WhatsApp. Helo is an app that is used primarily in India, and Telegram is an “encrypted cloud-based instant messaging service” that is a direct competitor with Messenger.


Netflix sweeps the table here. YouTube Kids, Amazon Prime, Hotstar (owned by Disney) and JioTv , Indian entertainment apps, return in 2019 from 2018. It’s interesting to see Twitch rise in the ranks and Xbox and PlayStation fall – the streaming of content might be outweighing the playing of content. Watermelon and Tencent are Chinese apps. In 6th place is ZEDGE, a wallpaper and ringtone app.

Food and Drink

UberEats is the most popular app in the Food and Entertainment section, followed by McDonalds. DoorDash, Swiggy (serving India), foodpanda (Philippines), Rappi (South America) and iFood (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico), Grubhub, and Postmates are ALL food delivery services. McDonalds and Starbucks are the only true “food apps” of 2019. Zomato and Chick-fil-A got bumped. 2020 is the year of having EVERYTHING delivered.


Tinder remains number one. According to Apptopia, Tinder had 60% more downloads than Badoo in 2019. Tantan, the Tinder of China, worked its way well into number 3. The Meet Group has representation through MeetMe, LOVOO, and Skout, with Match Group leading the way with Tinder and Plenty of Fish. This space is constantly evolving, and its not uncommon to hear someone’s “dating app pitch” now.


Uber takes the cake here, followed by Google Maps, in the same fashion as 2018. is pretty interesting, with an estimated 11.2M more downloads than Airbnb. Grab is a Singapore-based company offering ride-sharing and food delivery, as well as payment services. Google Earth is an interactive way to explore the world, which is pretty cool. Where is my Train is an app that is primarily used in India, to locate trains (aptly named). Ola Cabs and GOJEK both operate primarily in Southeast Asia.


Wish had 128% more downloads than Amazon this year. AliExpress remains extremely dominant as well, outpacing Amazon for the second spot. Pinduoduo is a Chinese group buying platform and Club Factory and SHEIN are Chinese e-commerce stores. Lazada, owned by Alibaba, and Shopee, owned by Sea Group aka Garena, serve Southeast Asia. SHEIN is another Chinese e-commerce company. Flipkart operates primarily in India. MercadoLibre is an online marketplace headquartered in Argentina.

Music & Audio

Spotify and YouTube remain dominant, followed by Shazam. SoundCloud moved its way up the list this year, with Smule (a “social music-making app”) falling back. JioMusic and Gaana Music are apps specializing in Bollywood and other regional Indian music. Deezer is a music streaming app, similar to Spotify and Amazon Music.

Health and Fitness

Apptopia did not have a comparison for 2018 for Health and Fitness. But apparently, 40.5M people need reminders to drink water (myself included). Mi Fit is an app that pairs with an Xiaomi band to track all things health and fitness. Flo Period and Ovulation and Period Tracker are pretty self-explanatory and are a part of a growing women’s health market. Calm is a meditation app. Samsung Health and Fitbit are fitness trackers, and Home Workout and Six Pack in 30 days are both workout apps.


Apptopia did not have a comparison for 2018 for Finance. Google Pay, PayPal, Cash App, Alipay and Cloud Flash (Chinese Apps), Venmo, and PhonePe (located in India, owned by Walmart) are all mobile payment apps. Sberbank is based in Russia, and Cashier is a financial app in Brazil that allows user to access several different accounts.


I think the biggest takeaway from this analysis is the continued growth of India and Southeast Asia. As those regions continue to gain Internet access, their dominance and influence will only follow.

It’s also interesting to watch the app space because it shows where priorities lie.

I would like to see Finance apps grow in usage, as well as see learning apps such as Duolingo or Grasshopper make these lists one day. Our phones have a lot of power, and I hope that we can use them wisely.

The most downloaded app of 2019 was WhatsApp, far outpacing Garena or Netflix. Social / Messaging apps remain the centerpoint of our attention. We like to check in on each other, we like to people watch, and we like to talk to one another. In an age where face-to-face interaction is increasingly replaced by interfaces such as WhatsApp, I personally think its heartening to know that we are still interacting with one another, despite it being behind a screen. When we lose ourselves to online shopping or endless streaming, perhaps that’s when we should reevaluate our priorities.

It looks like social interaction, gaming, streaming, music, and shopping are the five top things that round out the lives of everyone around the world. It will be interesting to see what our phones say about us in 2021, and if that narrative still remains intact.

“A man’s bookcase will tell you everything you’ll ever need to know about him,” – Walter Mosley

Perhaps now, a person’s phone will tell you everything that you will need to know about them.

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