How apps are helping people work and learn in a time of crisis

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All over the world, people’s phones are buzzing with the message: your friends are in the house. Well, of course they are in the house. Everyone is self-isolating.

They can’t go out. But what these notifications are actually doing is inviting people to join a chat on House Party.

The House Party video conferencing app has enjoyed a huge spike since the C-19 crisis began. It was modestly popular before. But in the last few weeks, it has gone to the top of the Google Play chart.

The success of House Party and other utility/productivity apps shows how C-19 is making the world more dependent than ever on mobile services. People are working/learning from home in their millions. And this is causing a big increase in app downloads and activity.

Industry analysts are now starting to publish the data to reflect this, and the numbers are quite remarkable – especially for the types of apps that Calldorado developers specialize in: messaging, communications, collaboration. That said, it seems certain that app downloads and activity in most categories will continue to rise for as long as people self-isolate.

According to App Annie, daily time spent in mobile in China jumped sharply in February. It hit five hours per day on average, an increase of 30 percent on the average for 2019. As with House Party, the crisis made some unexpected apps extremely popular. For example, downloads of HUAWEI CLOUD WeLink, DingTalk and ZOOM Cloud Meetings all soared.

If the crisis has ‘helped’ some app categories, it has harmed others. Ridesharing apps have suffered as people avoid social contact. In France, for example, downloads of BlaBlaCar in the first week of March were two thirds down at the end of January.

DingTalk was a special case. For a few days in February, the free enterprise communication tool went from obscurity to the top of the app store charts. There was a good reason for Ding Talk’s success. It was being used by teachers to stay in touch with at-home children. In an interesting reverse, the pupils bombarded the app stores with bad reviews, and Ding Talk downloads declined.

Meanwhile, in South Korea, eNotifier (a messaging app used by over 1,600 schools in Korea) saw its downloads rise by 630 percent over February. Similar changes happened in Italy, where C-19 has hit especially hard. During the first week of March, Italians downloaded 761,000 business apps that occurred across iOS and Google Play. That was up 85 percent in a week.

Food delivery is another area where downloads have risen sharply. According to Apptopia, average daily US downloads of Instacart, Walmart Grocery, and Shipt rose 218 percent, 160 percent, and 124 percent respectively over the last month.

But what about the longer term?

How might coronavirus change the world? No one knows for sure. But it seems obvious that the consumers are about to get way more digital. People are already pretty addicted to digital services in some aspects of their lives (gaming, streaming video). However, the current crisis looks set to accelerate the transition in other ways.

When the crisis is over, will companies double down on home working? Will they hold more video meetings and reduce their overseas trips? Or will they relish the chance to go back to face to face contact? The way we structure work, for example, could change drastically. As Gartner’s Saikat Chatterjee said in a recent blog.

We’re being forced into the world’s largest work-from-home experiment.

Indeed, this is something many of us are getting used to now. Calldorado included. We recently posted on the topic on how to stay productive (part 1) and how to stay happy (part 2) during the period we are required to work from home.

And what about education? In China, after schools closed, 120 million Chinese now have access to learning material through live TV broadcasts. Perhaps enforced learning from home will lay the ground for fundamental changes in the way people think about education. Could apps play a part? The World Economic Forum thinks so.

In such difficult times, it’s good to be positive where possible. So take note of comments by Alibaba’s CEO Yong Zhang. Even though the e-commerce giant has been hit hard by the crisis, he is extremely upbeat about the future. Here is what he said in a recent earnings call:

The crisis is a very, very big challenge to society, but also gives people a chance to try a new way of living and a new way to work. So I think after all is done, more and more businesses and more and more customers will have a digital life or digital working style.

If Yong Zhang is right, then we should expect another surge in app downloads. Why? Because the future of digital services is on the smartphone, not the PC. Consumers in mature economies are already moving their thumbs to the smaller screen, while the billions of new users in developing economies are bypassing the PC completely.

In 2017, App Annie predicted that the app economy would reach $6.3 trillion in 2021. While many other industries might be rounding down their projections now, we might expect the app space to grow even more quickly.

Let’s hope that, when this crisis is over, app developers can play their part in finding creative solutions to help people work and learn together in new and inspiring ways.