How the pandemic’s impact is shaping the current mobile landscape

We’ve been living in a mobile world for quite some time and suffice it to say that the pandemic has further cemented mobile as the center of people’s lives. While mobile adoption has risen significantly in recent years – now surpassing desktop in terms of web traffic – one of the most notable sharp uptakes is in app usage.

Since 2018, the time Americans spend browsing mobile applications has seen a steady increase. The average US mobile user spends three hours and forty-seven minutes a day using apps, which equates to 88% of all mobile traffic. 1

COVID-19 has emphasized just how essential mobile technology is in keeping the world running in times of isolation. From community outreach and personal fitness or development to delivery services and beyond, mobile apps have shone during the pandemic.

Here, we’ll discuss four striking mobile app technology trends that have emerged during the COVID-19 era. But first, let’s look at the top five mobile app categories that are proving the most popular in the current climate:

  1. Food & grocery apps
  2. Delivery & fulfillment apps
  3. Educational apps
  4. Healthcare apps
  5. Social Media & Entertainment apps

1. The rise of the beacon

Beacon technology is becoming a driving force behind innovations in a host of sectors, including retail, hospitality, and healthcare.

The acceleration of digitalization has showcased the capabilities of digital innovations through the medium of the mobile app. Now, consumers expect a deep level of personalization or customization when it comes to mobile app engagement—and beacon technology helps deliver such experiences.

Beacons are kicking proximity-based messaging into action, offering personalized offers to customers and real-time insights that can help businesses provide a more seamless, tailored app experience while significantly enhancing the user journey.

In hospitality, for instance, beacon technology can facilitate smooth check-ins and check-outs, while event-based apps will benefit from real-time spectator navigation and content delivery at specific venue engagement points.

This level of proximity-driven innovation will prove invaluable as the pandemic continues—and even as it begins to slow.

Location Is Where It’s At

While on the topic of location technology, according to a recent study by our partners at Airship, there was a rise in opt-in rates during the pandemic.

Location sharing opt-ins among mobile apps reached their highest rates in years following COVID19-related lockdowns.

Interestingly enough, the study shows a good deal of cross-over when it comes to the most popular apps people are using (as listed earlier) and those that utilize location services. Categories including Medical, Health & Fitness (+150%), Finance & Insurance (+128%) and Travel & Transportation (+116%) even doubled their average location opt-in rates. What’s even more interesting is a 6.6% increase in “Always Allow” location services among iOS users when analyzing the percent change from February 2019 to June 2020.2

Retail apps saw some of the most notable opt-in rates across 12 verticals at 23.1%, which is likely tied to services such as curbside pickup and buy online, pickup in-store (BOPIS) where location-services are a necessary component.

In a separate study by App Annie, four out of the top ten North American shopping apps included stores that not only have a physical presence, but offer curbside pickup and BOPIS options.


To add one more study for fodder, surveyed 2,000 consumers on personalization tactics used by brands and “location-based marketing via mobile” came up as the top 5 strategies most likely to increase brand loyalty. 3

Case in point? Location is an extremely valuable component to many mobile app strategies from both an operational standpoint and consumer experience standpoint. While expedited by COVID, these are the types of services and trends that will stick around long into the future.

2. Artificial intelligence (AI)

Experts predict that by 2025, 95% of customer interactions will be driven by artificial intelligence (AI) technology.4

As consumers command a better, more seamless user experience, AI technology seems like the logical way forward. Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve already seen AI-driven innovations enter the mobile app realm across industries—and we believe that adoption will continue to rise in the coming months.

Post-COVID-19, in-app chatbots are likely to emerge through both text and voice-based interactions. Also, consider how this type of convenience and personalization may come into play once more stores start to open up. The cautions around person-to-person interaction will still be in place, but if location data is applied and the app understands a user’s location (i.e. in-store), it can provide recommendations based on past behaviors in store, new products, inventory updates, and more.

From answering customer queries and performing simple tasks (including issuing refunds or placing orders) to providing personalized in-app suggestions, content, or recommendations, AI innovations have the power to increase internal productivity while delivering mobile app experiences that encourage brand loyalty.

4. Immersive In-App Experiences

In recent years, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have transformed from a far-flung futuristic concept to a viable part of our everyday life. In-app experiences like

IKEA Place put immersive mobile technology on the map and many others are following suit.

When it comes to beauty supplies, there’s a clear advantage to going to a store to test and try on products before purchasing. However, given that trend is on pause for the foreseeable future, retailers like Ulta and Sephora have supplanted that experience with AR-driven apps that allow customers to virtually try on products before swatching and purchasing. This, coupled with curbside pickup and BOPIS, offer customers an even more integrated shopping experience.

During the pandemic, the value of VR-based technology is undeniable as people across the globe crave new ways of connecting with others. As time rolls on, mobile apps are likely to become the front runner of VR experience delivery.

Immersive dressing rooms, interactive virtual tours, virtual creative collaboration, and immersive tutorials are some of the ways that in-app VR and AR are changing the landscape right now. These are developments that will continue to gain momentum in the near future.

4. A shift in transportation & sharing economy apps

The pandemic has spurred on a level of community-driven innovation that is likely to change the way we live forever. What’s particularly interesting is that ride-sharing apps were down during the heart of the pandemic, and while their use is on the incline again, they are still down 21% compared to last year.5

Concerns over personal safety have caused a rise in car buying app downloads as well as bike-sharing apps as people look for alternative modes of transportation.

As people become more conscious of their travel arrangements, in addition to the rise in car-buying and bike-sharing apps, there is a new demand for travel optimization applications that deliver real-time information on best travel routes, transportation modes, and levels of rider traffic.

Boasting a seamless mix of real-time information – accessible through always-on location data – and peer-to-peer, the sharing economy is likely to survive the pandemic. But as accommodation ride-sharing apps slowly start to rebuild their audience, greener, more community-driven apps in this category will begin to emerge alongside them.

This thirst for informational, service-driven transportation apps is likely to intensify as time ticks on. Those who can tap into the ecosystem with personalized content, updates, and solutions will yield positive results.

The Future is Mobile

The mobile landscape is shifting and the usage and value of mobile apps will only continue to get stronger. For any brand looking to remain successful now and in the future, accelerating mobile maturity to meet the expectations of consumers is a must.

1 The Majority of Americans Mobile Time Spent Takes Place In Apps. eMarketer. July 9, 2020
2 The State of Mobile Engagement 2020. Airship. August 2020
3Brand Loyalty 2020: The Need for Hyper-Individualization. August 2020
4AI Will Power 95% of Customer Interactions by 2025. Finance Digest. 2020
5 Downloads and Usage of Transportation Apps Reveals Shifting Trends Post-COVID-19. Business of Apps. July 14, 2020