People are looking to date and they're still turning to apps, even as crowds have returned to bars, venues and other places to meet strangers. First-time installs of dating apps Bumble, Tinder and Hinge hit 106 million last year, up 17% from 2019.
But it's not swiping as usual. The apps that have seen the most success are those iterating on traditional dating, upstarts focused on specific demographics and interests, and those innovating in new formats. One thing unites them all: thinking beyond basic features.
‘The novelty of simply messaging potential partners may be wearing off,’ says Avinash Akhal, a behavioral analyst at trend forecasting agency Canvas8.
While dating apps were supposed to use tech to make meeting up easier, people are waiting longer and exchanging more messages before setting a date. It's tough to fit dating into a busy schedule and people are getting dating fatigue from the seemingly endless options presented on an app.
Dating app companies have realized the opportunity in facilitating meet-cutes off the screen. Thursday, an app that allows messaging only on its namesake day – to prevent digital burnout – has held singles parties for its members in London and New York. Inner Circle has traditional profiles, but it also hosts cocktail hours in Buenos Aires and boat parties in Amsterdam. While most apps still make money from users upgrading to premium features, Inner Circle and Thursday also charge for some of their events, offering an additional revenue stream.
That said, people are also realizing that dating apps offer the opportunity to connect with people over interests and traits beyond a profile photo and a single relationship status – there are apps connecting meme lovers and daters with autism, and platforms making matches based on astrology signs.
So Syncd matches people based on their Myers-Briggs personality type and has gained a user base of 250,000 since it launched in February 2021. ‘There are dating apps with 100 million users so, for someone to use a dating app with a smaller user base, they truly have to believe that their ideal match is more likely to be on that specific platform because the quality of profiles is higher,’ says co-founder Jessica Alderson.
While building a swipe-style dating app has never been cheaper, it's also a format that has connotations of hookup culture, which isn't as enticing to today's daters, with only 11% of singles wanting to date casually.
Multimedia is likely to play a bigger role in the future of dating apps – Heart to Heart is an audio-first app that has seen early success in connecting people beyond profile photos. Other apps seek to mimic social media – Feels, for example, lets people react and comment on profiles, rather than swipe, while Lolly asks users to upload short videos rather than static pictures and prompts.
‘Gen Z and [millennials] place less importance on physical connection, favoring other forms of intimacy. Dating apps are evolving to reflect this,’ says Avinash.