Google Play Users’ Choice of 2021 is not what you might have expected


It’s that time of year again for retrospectives as well as forward-looking predictions of wishes. Although there are still 32 days left before the year is actually over, Google is already releasing the list of what its users have reported as their favorites from the company’s wide selection of apps and games for Android and all its incarnations, including wearables and TVs. Like every other year, a good number of the names on the winners’ list might not be familiar to most Android users or smartphone users in general. In fact, the actual winners for each category might catch you by surprise even.

The past two years have actually been beneficial to the mobile industry, mostly because the pandemic forced people indoors and become more dependent on their mobile devices. In order to counteract the potential addiction and overuse of smartphones during that period, Google says it focused its Best Of selection on apps that promoted personal growth. A bit ironically, only one of 2021’s top user choices actually met that criteria.

Under the Users’ Choice for 2021, the overall winners are Paramount+ and Garena Free Fire MAX. Unless you live in the US, you might not be that familiar with the newest arrival in the cutthroat video streaming market. Considering how new and limited it is, it’s actually surprising that it even made it to the top of the list. That said, Disney+ does top the “Popular on Google TV” chart, even if it isn’t a new service.

Garena Free Fire MAX, however, is a more puzzling awardee, considering how relatively unknown it is compared to the big hitters in the battle royale genre. Garena might not even be a brand that’s well-known among gamers outside of Asian markets. Pokemon UNITE does make it to the top of the year’s best games, despite some not-so-positive reviews of the MOBA game.

Balance is perhaps the app that best fits Google’s criteria for personal growth apps, and it is also one that might be more familiar with mobile users across different platforms. The meditation and sleep app tries to develop mindfulness habits that promote mental wellness. For Wear OS, the popular Calm app takes the top spot.

It’s not always that easy to take stock in “Best of” lists that are mostly based on user surveys. For one, the results might be skewed towards one market or another, especially since voting wasn’t actually open to all regions where Google Play Store is available. It may end up with apps and games that no one has heard about or are only available in select countries.

At the same time, such lists also open the opportunity to discover new experiences on Android devices. They might be unfamiliar, but their popularity carries some guarantee that it might very well be a mostly positive new adventure. That said, there have been times when even Google’s own Play Pass included a malware-carrying app, so the usual caution applies when trying out unfamiliar apps, even those with thousands of downloads.

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