Software and the Coronavirus Pandemic

May 14, 2020

Source: Sensor Tower Source: Sensor Tower

When we think of the toll that COVID-19 has inflicted on society, our thoughts go immediately to the human aspect — keeping our families safe, the tough road ahead for those infected and the bravery of our health care workers and first responders. We also think about the fragility of our businesses, as well as those that have faced the financial impact of the crisis head-on — airlines, travel and leisure, restaurants, brick-and-mortar retail and oil and gas, to name a few. We all look forward to getting back to a time when we can resume our pre-COVID-19 lives, supporting the broader economy through our labor and consumption — both necessary for a sustainable economy. With all of the pain that the pandemic has inflicted, we tend to not give as much thought to the things that have allowed us to maintain our productivity and sanity while we shelter in place. Many of these tools are a direct result of software technology, much of which was not in existence as recently as the global financial crisis about a decade ago.

Our personal devices (phones and tablets), combined with cloud-based software and data, have replaced desktops and laptops for many of our computing needs. As such, a look at application (app) downloads gives a solid glimpse into how society has been living, working and playing during our time at home. The impact of the shelter-in-place restrictions on app downloads has been swift, according to data aggregator Sensor Tower. Comparing the 30 days following each country’s 200th confirmed case of COVID-19 versus the prior 30 days, Sensor Tower found that both business and education app downloads increased by nearly 130%. Not surprisingly, downloads of apps that keep us connected to the outside world — news and social networking — also increased meaningfully, up 87% and 61%, respectively. To put all of this growth into perspective, travel app downloads decreased by more than 50% over the same time period, while sports app downloads were down 25%.

Business apps in the United States with the highest download growth rates from Q4 2019 to Q1 2020 included Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams — productivity tools that seek to offer a seamless mobile work environment. According to Sensor Tower, Microsoft Teams and Zoom experienced a combined 1457% increase in downloads between March 2 and March 16. In Zoom’s case, at least some of this popularity has been driven by its use as a social tool. Who hasn’t done a Zoom happy hour at this point?

Home education apps have also experienced strong download activity, as teachers scrambled initially to get their lesson plans online and settle into the new normal of education. Google Classroom was a clear winner amid this trend, becoming the only education app to land in the worldwide top 10 of most downloaded non-game apps for March. The app serves as a platform for educators to paperlessly create lesson plans, distribute and grade assignments and send feedback to students. In fact, Google Classroom, along with ABCmouse — a digital learning platform for children ages 2-8 — saw downloads increase 1087% between March 2 and March 16.

Many historically popular entertainment apps have continued their dominance during this stay-at-home period as well. Video-sharing social networking platform TikTok continues to climb to the top of the non-game download list as people look to entertain themselves and others. WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger remain popular apps for group video calls, voice calls and text messaging. Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat continue to be go-to social apps. Netflix has also grown its subscriber base and there is no reason to believe it won’t continue to thrive as shelter-in-place restrictions begin to ease. Where else are you going to satisfy your “Tiger King” cravings?

Key Takeaway

It is unimaginable to think of how different our lives would have been if this pandemic had struck just 10 years ago — a time when many of the companies and/or applications that have managed to keep us productive and sane did not even exist. With all of their possible faults, I remain bullish that great technology companies will continue to be built in the future. On the whole, technology makes us more productive, keeps us entertained, helps to educate us and allows us to maintain our social networks.

Tags: Coronavirus | technology companies | mobile apps | Social media

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