11 min read
What Apps Make the Most Money
While app stores have millions of apps available to users around the world ($1.96 million on Apple’s App Store alone), that doesn’t mean they’re all making the same amount of money—or any money at all, in fact.
How much profit an app generates depends on many factors, like what revenue model you choose for your app and how well you market your app and get downloads.
But the biggest factor is what type of app you plan on creating. Remember, some app categories experience more success and higher revenue than others.
Some of these categories include lifestyle, entertainment, gaming, dating, finance, fitness, and more.
And each of these app types earn money in different ways. Some rely on in-app advertisements while others rely on in-app purchases for generating revenue.
So what type of app makes the most money, and how do they do it?
In this article, we’ll highlight the highest earning app categories, the top grossing mobile apps on the market, and what you should consider when choosing a revenue model for your mobile app project.
Table of Contents
- High Earning App Categories
- Gaming Apps
- Social Networking Apps
- Entertainment Apps
- Top Grossing Mobile Apps
- Honor of Kings
- Cash App
- What to Consider Before Making Money
- Your App’s Purpose
- Your Target Audience
- Competitor Analysis
Chapter #1: High-Earning App Categories
Everyone wants to create an app that’s profitable. And while a high quality app that’s marketed well may experience success, high earnings are never guaranteed.
The truth is, some categories of apps have an easier time generating revenue than others.
In this section, we’ll highlight the most profitable app categories you should consider when building your mobile app.
1.1 Gaming Apps
According to Statista, mobile gaming apps are currently the highest-earning category of apps, with a revenue of over $200 billion U.S. dollars, followed by social networking apps which earned $31 billion dollars.
Remember, pretty much everyone owns a smartphone, but not everyone owns a Playstation, Xbox, or other expensive gaming platform.
Gaming apps are easy to access, they’re affordable, and high-performing, especially as mobile technology improves.
They’re also addictive.
Mobile gaming apps are often free to download and use, but developers make their money through various methods, like Free-to-Play (FTP or F2P).
This allows users to download the app for free, but it requires payment for various upgrades.
The Freemium monetization model is also popular.
This lets users download and play the game for free, but offers in-app purchases, or microtransactions, like virtual goods, loot boxes, cosmetic skins, gear, in-app currency, and more.
Many gaming apps also use advertising, especially in free games, or require an up-front payment to download and play the app.
1.2 Social Networking Apps
Social networking is a major part of our lives, with apps like Facebook and Instagram estimated to reach $3.96 billion users in 2022.
Facebook had $2.4 billion active users in 2021, putting them in the lead.
(Facebook also owns Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, and Twitter)
All of these social media apps have one big thing in common: high engagement.
And high engagement, of course, leads to high revenue from advertising and other monetization methods.
Social media apps can earn a lot in revenue, but it’s hard to turn out a successful app like the ones mentioned above. Most social media apps you see in app stores that aren’t big name apps struggle to earn even a small fraction of what apps like Facebook make.
1.3 Entertainment Apps
This category encompasses quite a bit.
Entertainment apps are meant to…well, entertain! These apps offer value by keeping users busy and engaged, which translates to more revenue due to high engagement.
This can include streaming services like Netflix and Youtube, music, video calls, and more.
TikTok is one of the fastest growing entertainment apps and has gained more than $800 million users around the globe.
In fact, TikTok was the most downloaded app in this category in the US in August 2020, with over 5.5 million installs. We’ll review more key stats about this app in the next chapter.
Apps in this category also utilize several monetization methods, from advertising to in-app purchases.
Chapter #2: Top Grossing Mobile Apps
So which apps specifically are rolling in the dough, and why do users love them?
Let’s take a look at what the top grossing apps were in 2021 from several different categories, how much they made, and other key statistics.
2.1 Honor of Kings
Honor of Kings was highest grossing game of 2022. Since this article’s publication (2023), this multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game has generated over $10 billion in revenue and surpassed 200 million downloads.
This fast-paced action game immerses players in a fantasy world where they choose from a diverse roster of characters, each with unique abilities, to compete in team-based battles.
Players can connect and compete with friends, and the game has regular updates that introduce new features and characters, keeping the it fresh and engaging for its ever-growing fan base.
The game primarily monetizes through in-app purchases (freemium model), where players can buy cosmetic items like character skins, unlock new characters, and access various in-game enhancements.
Gaming apps have an enormous amount of potential when it comes to generating revenue, and they’ll often mix several monetization methods that best suit their application. Just remember that they take much more time to develop than other types of apps.
As mentioned in the previous chapter, TikTok is an entertainment app.
To be more specific, it’s a short-form, video-sharing mobile application that lets users create and share brief 15-second videos on anything.
In 2021, TikTok was the highest grossing non-gaming app globally, and earned $1.71 billion in revenue.
TikTok makes money in three primary ways:
- Advertising through the use of in-feed ads, branded hashtags, and brand takeover ads
- In-app purchases like virtual coins
- Ecommerce offerings, like live-stream shopping events and Shopify integration
MyFitnessPal is a weight loss and fitness app, and was the top grossing productivity app in the United States and globally in 2021.
It generated over $8.2 million dollars in 2021, followed by Fitbit with $7 million dollars.
A big part of the app’s popularity is that it’s completely free to use, however, MyFitnessPal is able to successfully generate revenue through advertising and premium membership.
This is an example of the “freemium” model, where users can enjoy an app, free of charge, but have the opportunity to upgrade their plan to unlock more valuable features and functionality.
Other companies like Hulu and Spotify have taken advantage of this revenue model.
If your app goes the “freemium” route, you can earn ad revenue for users who are using the free version and a subscription/membership plan for those who are paying.
2.5 Cash App
Cash App is a financial app that lets people send, spend, bank, and invest their money. Payments are instant and you can send and receive money anytime, anywhere.
It was the Top Free finance app in the United States in 2021. It generated $5.9 billion in revenue in Q3 2021.
The app is free to download and users can access their core features, like making payments and transferring money, for free.
The app makes its money in a few ways.
They charge businesses to use the app and they charge individual users transaction fees when accessing additional services, like expedited transfers and credit card payments.
The app also allows users to use their balances to buy and sell bitcoin, which was free back when it first launched in 2019, and but now charges a fee.
This revenue model is very similar to how other free apps make money. Offer some core features to users for free, and charge for access to additional features.
Of course, since this is a financial app and not a gaming app, there are some nuances when it comes to establishing the right business model, but the concept is similar.
Chapter #3: What to Consider Before Making Money
While it’s tempting to look at what your competition is doing to generate revenue and copy that model, there are a few things you should consider first, like your app’s purpose and who your target audience is.
3.1 Your App’s Purpose
No matter what monetization method you think will be most effective for your app, it’s not going to work well if you don’t understand what type of app you have and what it’s purpose is.
This step is crucial and the revenue model you choose depends on it.
What problems are you trying to solve?
What services and features will your app offer users?
How will it serve your target audience’s needs?
Asking yourself these kinds of questions will help you when strategizing about how to generate revenue.
3.2 Your Target Audience
Another major factor that plays into what revenue model you choose is who your target audience is.
If your app is targeted to kids, for example, it’s a good idea to offer your app for free, which is common in gaming, and then you can earn revenue through in-app purchases or advertising.
And of course, understanding who your audience is is crucial for the various aspects of developing an app, from design to marketing.
Putting the user first is always key to creating the best user experience.
Take time to consider who your app is for and how they would feel about the various monetization methods. Would it annoy them too much? Or would they be willing to be a little annoyed if it means they can use the app for free?
3.3 Competitor Analysis
And finally, after considering your app’s purpose and your audience, researching the competition can also greatly help when it comes to selecting the right monetization method for you.
Just remember to think about how your app differs from the competition to ensure you should use the same methods as them.
If your app falls in the same category as another app but the features you offer are a huge upgrade, maybe another revenue model makes more sense.
That’s why competitor analysis should be just one factor in your decision and not the sole factor.
There are many ways for mobile apps to earn revenue, but just keep in mind that what works for one app doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll work for yours.
This is especially true for the various app categories—each of which can benefit from certain monetization methods.
An app that charges a subscription or membership probably shouldn’t also use advertising to make money.
But apps that are free to use, even with in-app purchases, can certainly benefit from an ad-based approach.
Take time to understand what type of app you’re creating, who it’s for, and which business model makes the most sense.
Which revenue model have you used in the past and which has worked best for you?
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