Rich Data Points Replicates Southeast Asia’s App Addiction Cycle

To put it simply, the region’s love for apps is a data goldmine in understanding what makes it tick. With custom data compiled by mobile applications analytics firm App Annie, We were able to dive into this goldmine. But a single source data set is no fun, so we’ve also looked at App Annie’s 2020 State of Mobile report and We Are Social’s Digital 2020 reports.

The top apps by downloads and monthly active users (MAU) per quarter in the region’s six biggest markets—Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam—from 2017 to 2019 tell quite the story. Some major patterns in Southeast Asia’s app user habits—and obsessions—also emerge.

Facebook, we’re looking at you. But then again, so are all of Southeast Asia’s app users.

Facebook’s Fantastic Four

Facebook’s Fantastic Four

Facebook’s apps are highly popular in Southeast Asia, which isn’t a surprise. But the American social media giant holds the region in its grip so tightly that it’s almost a monopoly.

The top four ranking apps by MAU in the region are all Facebook’s crown jewels. There’s Facebook’s main app, Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp—and they’ve shown little fluctuation in the last three years.

LINE—the messaging app created by the Japan-based subsidiary of South Korean internet company Naver—is the only app to have lost to Team Facebook in this timeframe. In fact, members of this team are competing amongst themselves.

Like the rest of the world, Southeast Asia is a little bit divided on whether it prefers WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger to serve its need for constant chit-chat. WhatsApp has an edge over Messenger in Indonesia, but Messenger is preferred in Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Big deal, it’s all in the family anyway.

It’s Southeast Asia’s second layer of popular messaging and social apps that tell their individual stories. Pretty high up are LINE, Zalo and Viber, but these are actually quite country-specific.

Zalo, for instance, is only popular in its home country Vietnam, but that’s enough to bump it into the regional top 20. It’s been on a steady 13th rank since 2019. According to We Are Social’s report on Vietnam, 74% of Vietnamese between the ages of 16 to 64 say they use Zalo.

SEA’s apps diet

LINE is still immensely popular in Thailand. So much so that it surpasses Facebook with 44 million active users over Facebook’s estimated 27.4 million. This makes Thailand one of the few countries in the world where Facebook is not in the top spot. Line is also popular in Indonesia with a self-claimed 90 million users per month in 2018, although less so than Facebook’s apps.

Viber, a European messaging app, is common in the Philippines, and to some degree, in Vietnam. The company doesn’t disclose country-wise user bases.

While Facebook has the most access to users across the region, Southeast Asians like to keep alternative messaging apps on the side. And in some cases, like LINE and Zalo, these apps have morphed into much more than messaging.

3 Major Apps That Deliver During COVID-19 – Foodpanda, Grab and LINE! What to Order?

pproval takes one day, according to a spokesperson. That fastrack system led LINE MAN to increase the number of new restaurants joining its platform by 5X compared to January, but it remains to be seen whether there’s a compromise on quality or customer experience.

The process requires adaptation from restaurants, too.

“The premium restaurants are all desperately flocking [to] delivery. It’s interesting how many of them are super desperate now but were playing hard-to-get previously,” a senior executive at a company that works with food delivery services said. They requested anonymity because they’re not authorised to discuss client business with the media.

The food delivery companies declined to discuss specific merchants, but Nittayakasetwat shares that some eateries, including high-end Japanese restaurants, are “adapting their menu to be more ready-to-eat or suitable for food delivery packages.”

It isn’t just the restaurant menus that are adapting, there’s an opportunity for staff impacted by the ban to pick up new work as delivery drivers. That’s significant given that the partial shutdown on business has left tens of thousands of daily wage workers in the capital without income.

Mass exodus

Mass exodus

Some 100,000 workers are estimated to have returned to their home provinces, or—in the case of overseas workers—to neighbouring countries Laos and Cambodia.

“Demand for F&B jobs went to zero, but other industries are seeing a huge boom,” an executive at a recruitment company specialising in daily wage work in Thailand tells us. “For on-demand services, it is literally insane, demand is spiking.’

Beyond simply hiring for their fleets—which covers those with a motorbike license or simply on-foot ‘walkers’—companies like Foodpanda are adding customer support and admin roles to handle increased business. These roles require working from home and are often filled by workers whose jobs in hospitality or F&B industries are on pause right now, the executive quoted above explained.

Food delivery aside, grocery delivery services such as HappyFresh—which includes Grab among its investors; Grab offers the service as ‘GrabMart’—are hiring in significant numbers. As is conglomerate CP, which has said it wants 20,000 delivery people for a new on-demand service for Thailand’s ubiquitous 7-11 stores.

“We’re talking about tens of thousands of people,” the recruitment executive says.

Appetite for expansion

Despite the Covid-19 outbreak, Thailand’s food delivery firms are hungry to reach more of the population. Foodpanda currently operates in 50 provinces across Thailand, but it plans to reach all 76 this year. Grab, meanwhile, is aiming to more than double its Grab Food coverage from 14 provinces to 30, and LINE MAN’s expansion plan includes growing from 5 to 15 provinces.

1 million a day
But restaurants are still on the back foot.

“The rise in food delivery revenues is not sufficient to offset lower restaurant revenues,” Anantaporn Lapsakkarn, a senior researcher at K-Research, told The Bangkok Post this week. Lapsakkarn suggested that restaurants will try to handle their own delivery rather than relying on apps.