Social apps like WhatsApp and Kik have made a big deal out of their efforts to partner with brands on emoji keyboards. With new data on 2015 app usage trends from Flurry, that strategy suddenly makes a lot more sense — emoji keyboards and other personalization apps saw 332% growth in usage through 2015.
Yahoo-owned Flurry, one of the world’s largest mobile ad networks with around 700,000 apps represented, reviewed data from 3.2 trillion user sessions over the course of the year, and broke down which categories saw the most growth. Personalization apps (a category that includes emoji icon sets along with Android homescreen apps, photo filters and widgets) saw by far the most growth, followed by news and magazines and productivity apps.
After a bit of digging, Flurry concluded that most of the growth in personalization really was thanks to emoji keyboards. By now, emoji use is close to ubiquitous with 64% of chat users of all ages saying they use one at least a couple of times a week. Emoji keyboard apps — which can be free or paid for — come with a library of additional icons for users to personalize their messages with, from beloved cartoon characters to a pack of Burger King chicken fries or Kim Kardashian’s butt.
2015 saw an explosion in the number of different emoji add-ons available, both from developers recognizing the demand for a more personal chat experience, and from brands that wanted to get in on the action. Apple, for example, added 150 new icons in iOS 9.1, while Facebook Messenger now boasts dozens of third-party GIF and sticker libraries.
Brands have done everything they can to reinforce the trend. Companies like Swyft Media have built an entire business model around branded emojis, claiming it’s developed keyboards for more than 300 brands and media properties. Brands like Mentos, Ikea, Coca-Cola and Burger King have all created their own custom keyboards. Kim Kardashian made her inevitable entry into the space over the Christmas break, and within days had become one of the top 10 grossing entertainment apps on the Apple App Store.
News and magazine apps in rude health
Flurry’s reporting also had good news for legacy media, which saw considerable growth in mobile app sessions, particularly on large-format smartphones and tablets. Session counts were up 721% in the “phablet” category, likely thanks to a wealth of tablet-specialized news experiences.
The success of news apps contributed to a 334% increase in overall app usage coming from phablets, though the bigger trend is the growth in phablet ownership. Flurry says 27% of all new devices activated at Christmas were phablets, and it projects that by Q1 2017 more than half of all device activations will be phablets.
In total, Flurry says that mobile app use worldwide was up 58% over 2014, and that time spent with mobile apps was up 117%. An earlier report from Flurry focused on the Canadian market found that usage in Canada was up a more modest 26% year over year, with sports and fitness apps being the fastest growing category among Canadians (though that report didn’t break out “personalization” as a category separate to social and messaging).
Flurry’s network reaches 2 billion unique devices, 37 million of which are in Canada.