Possible Future Endeavors for the REST Server for Circles

Customers in Australia also complained about the service—from double billing to slow speeds. Bad reviews on product sites significantly outnumbered the good. Tellingly, the source also revealed that subscriber numbers are low in Australia—there were just 25 customer activations in February 2020. Although numbers are said to be picking up, today, only three people are left from a team that was 25-strong—a marketing person, sent from Singapore; a single customer service representative; and the former general manager of Australia, who is now working on ad-hoc projects.

Ironically, Circles’ lack of a physical footprint—something it has long considered an advantage—may have hurt its overseas ventures. “Not having stores sometimes hurt its credibility and subscribers are not confident about the kind of service it can offer. [This can] Often result in slower growth in markets, or it will have to roll out aggressive promos like it did in Australia, with its four-month free offering,” said Batra. Circles doesn’t even sell its SIM cards at stores.

Circles’ Bengaluru centre, too, saw a similar fate.

Cuts and bruises

Bengaluru, which was supposed to be a centre to develop applications outside the telco business, saw a hiring surge in May 2019. “But over months, that really did not take off, I guess, and the office sort of became a back office for their Singapore operations,” said a former employee, who was laid off from the Bengaluru centre..

There was a management struggle, where local executives had no real power, said the person quoted earlier. Singapore was pulling the strings. Things started going downhill when Dhanush Hetti, the new chief technology officer, came onboard. The management made employees work extra hours despite knowing that these employees were not going to be part of Circles’ future plans, the person added.

The layoffs started all of a sudden in November 2019. “Before Diwali, there was a performance review, which was weird because we had one a few months back,” said the former employee. “They gave us more work during the process; we thought it was performance evaluation, but in fact, it was just extra work.”

A list of people were fired, purportedly over performance, the source said. While three employees still work out of Bengaluru, it’s all a charade to show that the centre is not completely shut, the former employee claimed.

Even in Singapore, its best performing market, employees were not spared.

While the company was on its expansion spree, Circles had also entered new sectors in Singapore, eventually getting trapped in its own concentric circles.

It launched its event discovery platform, Discover, in November 2018. The platform was the MVNO’s digital shot at moving beyond telephony, with artificial intelligence learning a user’s preference and recommending events they would be interested in. The plan was to eventually offer tickets that could be purchased directly on the app.

Rewards programme

The MVNO was also attempting credit and a rewards programme—Rides for Rewards, which was linked to the commuter payment system, EZ-Link. The programme offered points for every ride taken which could then be redeemed for rewards. Circles was also looking into building an e-wallet and issuing its own card for use, the person noted.

 

Applications of Rest Framework with PHP/HTML Web Service in comparison with an android conversational app

Competition has now gotten stiffer with TPG Telecom launching its postpaid plans on 31 March. Subscribers can get 50GB of data for S$10 (US$6.99) a month, pushing the notion of cheap data and a price war even further.

In all this, the Circles-M1 tie-up, stuck at no. 3, is doing little to change the Singapore telco landscape. In fact, M1 has taken on another MVNO, Geenet Mobile, on its network after holding off for four years.

Going round in Circles

Singapore wasn’t the only market Circles wanted to capture though. And in that ambition, Circles went further than it could afford to.

Circles raised an undisclosed Series C funding round in February 2019, led by venture capital firm Sequoia India. Armed with these funds, the company was ready to make big investments. More than $50 million for each new market launch, as well as $25 million into Circles-X, its proprietary software platform. It went to Taiwan and Australia, with the promise of three more markets in the future. It is currently preparing to launch services in Indonesia.

The MVNO also put S$25 million down for the Bengaluru centre.

Taiwan and Australia are local moves. The combined market—with 29.3 million and 28.3 million mobile phone subscribers, respectively, as of 2018—dwarfs Singapore’s 8.6 million, whilst retaining similar consumer dynamics.

“Circles.life has carefully chosen these markets where individuals are more comfortable transacting online and rely on digital means more than the physical means,” said IDC’s Batra. “It falls in line with [its] strategy to have a lean footprint and operational costs by not having stores, etc.”

Taiwan looked like a smart choice—Circles claimed in a press release that over 84% of Taiwanese are online shoppers and 64% of them prefer to shop on their mobile devices. Over 80% of Circles’ users signed up via the MVNO’s website at launch and, publicly, it looked like a success.

However, behind the scenes, Circles was hamstrung by its partner in the region, Chunghwa Telecom, and had little leeway with regulations, according to the previously mentioned person. “It couldn’t do promos, or price changes, basically couldn’t do anything. For Taiwan, it underestimated the customer’s behaviour and the partner,” the person added.

Circles offered the same old promos and features in Taiwan as it had in Singapore—cheaper data, no lock-ins—but it was no first-mover in the region. Line Mobile and Ibon Mobile were already established players in Taiwan.

Eventually, the axe fell on its near-50-strong Taiwan team. While reports of layoffs only came out in February 2020, the same person quoted above revealed they’d started in September 2019. First, the operations and customer service people were let go, a second batch was fired just a month later, and a third batch was laid off in February. Even the general manager of Circles’ Taiwan operations wasn’t spared, with a replacement hired soon after.

In Australia, it was a problem of plenty—this is a market with 22 other MVNOs. And when the promos stopped, customers left as well, said the person. “They didn’t have anything unique to offer.”

 

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The MVNO has also been consistently loss-making since its inception. According to company filings, between May-Dec 2017, Circles reported a loss of S$5.6 million (US$3.91 million), which widened to S$8.6 million (US$6.1 million) for the year ended Dec 2018. These heavy losses come despite revenues of S$68.5 million (US$47.9 million) for 2018 and S$31.9 million (US$22.3 million) for 2017.

Circles did not report its financials for 2019 at the time of publishing. It also declined to participate in this story.

It’s the worst time to be flailing. There’s competition rising all over—more MVNOs are in the market, while incumbent telcos are employing new tactics like cheaper data, data rollovers and no lock-ins. From changing the rules of the game, Circles is now playing catch up. While marketing has been the company’s strong suit, its out-of-the-box marketing stunts can only take it so far.

Once positioned to upend the telco market, Singapore’s biggest MVNO is now performing a high-wire act.

Old tricks, new game

Singapore is an outlier in the Southeast Asian region, with mobile penetration above 100%. This makes it a potentially lucrative market for mobile operators. In fact, new telco entrant TPG Telecom wanted to use Singapore as a testbed for its Australian operations, as we previously reported.

Circles’ ploy for a Singapore takeover was simple. Cheap data.

The first plan launched by Circles gave customers 3GB of data for S$28 (US$19.57) a month. In comparison, Singtel was offering 3GB for S$62.90 (US$43.96) a month back in 2016.

Soon enough, almost all incumbents started offering more data as an add-on to current plans. For instance, Singtel offered subscribers twice their current free data allocation for an extra S$5.90 (US$4.12) a month.

Handset subsidies

Before long, telcos were eschewing one of their biggest customer draws—handset subsidies to offer SIM-only plans. Handset subsidies come with a 12-month or 24-month contract for a cheaper upfront cost for a smartphone. Termination of the contract early would result in financial penalties, incentivising subscribers to renew contracts for newer phones.

Things got worse as features that Circles introduced in 2016 became standard across the telco industry. Prices plummeted as telcos raced to match each other’s SIM-only plans and features.

In June 2019, the scales tipped. Telcos announced monthly excess data rollover and, suddenly, Circles found itself following suit, instead of leading from the front.

Circles’ troubles come at a time when it’s surrounded by MVNOs in Singapore. Nine—Zero1, RedOne, VivoBee, MyRepublic, GridMobile, ViviFi, Geenet Mobile, CMLink SG—excluding the now-defunct Zero SG, which lasted all of two years.

A person familiar with Circles noted that it had an easy model to copy. As telcos got involved, it became a price war. “Circles’ unique sales proposition was giving power back to the customers, which, customers say, is true,” said the person. This meant understanding customer demand and delivering. For instance, Circles had a WhatsApp and instant messaging add-on to its data pack. This meant customers could use WhatsApp without exhausting their data.

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Since Covid-19 is a new disease, Digit didn’t have past data on its severity and escalation. So, the insurer studied other infectious diseases like SARS and looked at how it had panned out in the affected nations, added Chaturvedi.

As a fixed-benefit product under the sandbox regulations, the liability of Digit’s policy was predetermined. IRDAI sets limits on the sales of a product under the sandbox: sell for either six months, or till you sell 10,000 policies, or sell upto Rs 50 lakh.

“We hit the Rs 50 lakh limit in about three weeks, so we had to stop it,” said Chaturvedi. “We are now looking at the data to see if we want to launch a retail product [outside the sandbox].”

Digit’s Covid-19 policy was the only retail product in the market for three weeks. Most companies have only launched group policies with fixed benefits to limit their risk. A retail insurance policy is bought by individuals, while a group policy is typically offered by companies to its employees as a health benefit. Retail insurance is more robust than group insurance, as the retail policies come up for regular renewals and are not subject to as much pricing pressure as group policies.

“We are seeing how the disease progresses before launching retail products,” said Sanjay Datta, chief underwriting officer at ICICI Lombard. The insurer has launched a plan where it sells Covid-specific cover through companies like e- commerce retailer Flipkart. “We are planning to limit the number of policies sold. These are hard to get right,” Datta added.

Like Digit, other companies have also studied the epidemiology of diseases similar to Covid-19, such as SARS and H1N1, to come up with pricing for their policies. But these diseases were far more contained than Covid-19, making this pandemic particularly hard to price.

Ayushman Bharat

The Indian government’s scheme, which gives free health insurance to 500 million people, is going to add to the burden. The government usually pays the premium to private insurers. “We are anticipating an increase in the volume of claims from this route too,” said an executive at HDFC Ergo.

Uncalculated risk

Star Health’s Dr Prakash says the incidence of Covid-19 is higher than any respiratory-related illness. To remove uncertainties, insurers have gone the fixed-benefit route. They pay a fixed lump sum on detection of Covid-19 rather than covering the cost of treatment. But there’s a big risk here: if the incidence rate is miscalculated, insurance companies may face a massive number of claims.

“Covid-19 covers are a bad idea for insurers unless they have a definite strategy of quick scaling and also upselling their base plan,” said Jayan Mathews, co-founder of Vital, a platform for health insurance and financing. He was the former product head at Apollo Munich Health Insurance, before it was acquired by HDFC Ergo in January. “If they don’t get the adequate numbers quickly or ensure they have the correct risk premium, they won’t have a diversified enough portfolio to bear the concentration of risk.”

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Insurers are hoping that the Indian government sets a cap on the Covid-19 treatment cost like it did with testing. If that doesn’t happen, insurers are in for a wild ride. But even in the absence of such an assurance, some insurers have already taken the plunge by launching Covid-specific covers. What gives?

The disease-cover route

The biggest problem for India’s insurance sector is people’s fatalistic belief that it won’t happen to them. Not many want to spend on a premium of Rs 10,000 a year for something they don’t consider likely. And even many of those who buy a policy look at it as a tax-saving instrument.

Employers, too, purchase coverage for their workers—usually group policies—but these cover expenses of only around Rs 1-3 lakh ($1,312.7 – $3,938.3)—a sum that would only partially cover a major hospitalisation.

Instead, insurers find it easier to nudge people into buying insurance via disease-based coverage. Like a dengue-specific policy if monsoons are severe where you live; a diabetes or cancer care insurance if you are genetically predisposed to it. In general, critical illness policies that cover for cancer sell more than infectious disease policies, said Dr Prakash. People also tend to renew critical illness-based covers more than a dengue cover.

Yearly premiums for such policies are less than Rs 1,000 ($13.13), while offering significant coverage. Moreover, a diabetic person wouldn’t be allowed to buy a general health insurance policy even if they wanted one. But that’s not the case with disease-based covers, which can be bought even by people who are already suffering from a disease.

For insurers, disease-based covers are, in theory, good products to sell as their loss ratios are lesser than those of general health insurance plans. This makes them a favourable proposition for insurers.

However, they are still not profit-making products, according to the senior executive quoted earlier. For starters, they only really sell online, and usually as add-on products. Insurance agents, after all, earn commissions on policies sold, so low-ticket products aren’t something they care to flog. The problem with selling digitally, though, is that most insurers say they don’t have the budget for digital marketing. As a result, insurers generally view these policies as a way to get a foot in the door to upsell general health insurance coverage.

Disrupting the film and TV movie market with premium service at affordable price

Take Digit, for example. Its Covid-19 policy is a way of promoting its recently launched health insurance product. Call it foresight or just plain luck, Digit had filed for need-based insurance for health under the IRDAI’s sandbox regulations and had received an approval in January 2020.

“While we were contemplating the best manner to project this sandbox application, we witnessed the rapid increase of this disease in India,” said Vivek Chaturvedi, head of marketing at Digit. “We finalised on the modalities and documents, and it took us about two weeks to launch the policy. All we had to do was change the variables [like frequency and severity of the disease] in our database and we had a new product.”

What Went Wrong at GoPlay? Why the Costly hiccup in growth

GoPlay also offers its content in a bundle with vouchers for GoFood, the food delivery service of Gojek. For IDR 99,000 (US$6.09), you get a one-month subscription of GoPlay and IDR 240,000-worth (US$14.76) of food vouchers. This means, if you’re a regular food delivery user, Gojek subsidises you with IDR 141,000 (US$8.67) to try out its video app. That’s worth five caffe lattes at Starbucks.

Launched in 2015, Gojek first made plans to get into the content creation and distribution business public in May 2018. It raised more than US$2 billion that year and became Indonesia’s highest-valued tech company, scratching the $10 billion mark.

Cancelled commitments

With its charismatic founder and CEO Nadiem Makarim still at the helm, Gojek wanted to inhabit all corners of Indonesians’ digital lives. Instead of merely forming the layer through which people ordered services or bought food, Gojek thought: why not get into concerts, sports events, and movies, and distribute them through its own channels?

But amidst this feverish pursuit, some projects floundered and struggled to find direction. GoPlay is one of them.

Some of those involved with GoPlay, either as former employees or partners, said that giving the outward impression of a growing content business in addition to Gojek’s other services helped with fundraising and justified skyrocketing valuations. However, they added that there wasn’t a full buy-in internally, at the shareholder level. Makarim has since left the firm and now serves as Indonesia’s Minister of Education and Culture.

The chaos left some filmmakers whom Gojek had agreed to support stranded. They had already begun working on projects and had even spent from their own pockets to get things started.

It’s a drama that will never make it into the GoPlay content library, but one that shows business processes can be messy, even at one of the brightest and best-equipped tech companies in the country.

The first cracks in Gojek’s newfound interest in film and entertainment began to show in the second half of 2018.

At a press conference in Jakarta in July that year, several smiling faces beamed down from a stage. There were Gojek representatives, and people from Indonesia’s documentary film scene. The creative economy agency, a government body, was also present.

Press conference to announce the Docs By The Sea Co-Production Fund in July 2018. Image: Indonesia’s Creative

Economy Agency (Bekraf)

The event marked the launch of the “Docs By The Sea Co-Production Fund”. Under this initiative, Gojek’s newly formed film production unit, Go-Studio, would co-finance 12 Indonesian documentary projects and mentor filmmakers. The aim was to obtain global distribution for these documentaries. In August, the films selected for this scheme were announced at an event in Bali.

However, Gojek pulled out of its commitment about three months after the announcement, according to Amelia Hapsari, head of Docs By The Sea. “I was told that Gojek was going through a massive restructuring,” she said. Gojek told her that the people spearheading the fund didn’t have an actual authorisation from the company to do so. Hence, their commitments weren’t valid.

The Crypto War in Singapore that Nobody is Talking About

The caps would also affect expatriates or freelancers in Singapore who use multi-currency accounts to receive their salaries, said Venkatesh Saha, head of Asia Pacific and Middle East expansion at online money transfer platform TransferWise.

The average monthly salary in Singapore works out to be S$67,200 annually, according to Saha. “With the caps, they would not be able to hold their full monthly salary in their account, nor use our product to send out the full annual amount to perhaps their family member’s bank account overseas, for example.”

History of Crypto Regulation in Singapore

History of Crypto Regulation in Singapore

The caps would also bring down the volume of transactions on Singapore’s fintech platforms. This would hamstring fintechs in terms of disrupting banks, especially on the foreign exchange front, the founders argue.

“[Fintech companies] threaten to eliminate foreign exchange fee incomes for banks,” said a fintech founder who requested anonymity. “When Singaporeans travel, banks typically make 3%-4% on exchange rates. It’s a massive business for Singapore’s banks—a cash cow.”

“The transaction caps mean that we are unable to offer our Singapore customers the same convenient and low-cost experience that we offer in, say, Australia or the United Kingdom. Globally, our customers save £1 billion (S$1.8 billion) a year when they use us instead of banks.”

VENKATESH SAHA, HEAD OF APAC AND MIDDLE EAST EXPANSION AT TRANSFERWISE

Another restriction Singapore’s fintech users face is that they cannot use their wallet-linked cards to withdraw money from ATMs. “Fintech startups are trying to chip away at local banks,” added the founder quoted above. “We are striving towards a cashless society and forcing banks to do a better job for the user. But I don’t see how this [Act] is better for Singapore. It’s not good for the consumer.”

Bryan Tan, partner at law firm Pinsent Masons MPillay also pointed out various costs that the fintech startups will have to bear, such as preparing the licence application, licensing fees, trustee arrangements, putting in place Know Your Customer and anti-money laundering processes and documentation, and other regulations such as cyber hygiene and technology risk management.

“We’ve spent considerable resources over the past four years to improve our Singapore product to pass on savings to our customers, but in complying with the Act we are ironically making our product more expensive for them,” said TransferWise’s Saha.

Most of the startups, however, claim that complying with the new Act is not an issue. For YouTrip, the PSA was a good chance to beef up their compliance team, which is now 20-strong. This team, according to YouTrip’s Chu, is responsible for monitoring transactions and regulations across the jurisdictions that the multi-currency wallet operates out of.

However, cyptocurrency exchange Luno does see some challenges with the PSA’s wire-transfer requirements. Singapore’s fintechs have to ensure that anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism financing frameworks are followed because a global task force, called the Financial Action Task Force, has oversight across borders.

“There are technical obstacles, specifically identifying and implementing a complete solution that allows the lawful and effective transfer of requisite information to counterparts,” said Sherry Goh, country manager, Singapore, at Luno. “That said, we see progressive discussions in the industry and are on a good track to promptly comply with all requirements.”

The Cold Virus that Medicines Can’t Beat: How the Philippine FMMEs are Fighting Back

Generally, Southeast Asia’s food delivery industry has experienced higher order volumes with people holed up in their homes for weeks now. Thailand, for example, has seen a hiring spree among delivery apps, while in Indonesia, ride-hailing firms Grab and Gojek have reported a surge in food orders. The Philippines is not too different.

Even though they’re permitted to stay open, small grocers like Ferch Reynoso are capitalising on the delivery surge. Reynoso, who sells vegan products and employs three people, said she shut her doors to walk-ins and shifted to social media selling when the lockdown began. Last week, she also set up an online store so she could offer digital payment options.

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“I thought it was safer for both my customers and employees if we minimised face-to-face transactions,” she said. From an average of US$295 a day sales prior to the lockdown, Reynoso is seeing US$690 sales a day. “I’m so glad we took this big leap.”

It makes her store operations more efficient as inventory can be seen in real-time, getting rid of the need to handle inquiries via chat. It also extends the store’s reach. However, Reynoso said it takes a while to book deliveries via platforms like Grab and Lalamove. She thinks that with their skeletal driver pools, the apps are finding it hard to meet the deluge of orders.

Restocking also poses a challenge. Reynoso said delivery of supplies to her store is usually delayed due to a general slowdown in the movement of goods in Luzon. That’s because manufacturers, logistics firms, as well as distributors and retailers are required to acquire government-issued quarantine passes which they must present at checkpoints.

Tough choices

Tough choices

Not everyone has the option to continue operating though. Nonessential businesses find themselves up against a wall as they’ve been ordered to padlock their doors during the quarantine period. Violators face penalty, jail time and even the possibility of losing their permits.

For the first time in almost a decade, Kim Salvino halted his small printing business, with a dark cloud of uncertainty about the future hanging over his head.

As the business—which supplies things like receipts, delivery forms and packaging materials—has no cash buffer, Salvino pays the company’s expenses, including the salaries of his 10-member staff, out of pocket. Salvino expects to incur US$10,000 month’s worth of losses, broken down into US$2,000 worth of expenses and an US$8,000 revenue loss.

“It’s absolutely a sacrifice on our part but we’re after the welfare of our employees, most of whom have been with us since the beginning,” he said.

What he’s most worried about is the fact that his company has been unable to service clients that qualify as essentials—like a food manufacturer and a cooking gas supplier—slowing down the operations of those clients, too. “Good thing we’ve had long relationships with them and they’ve been very understanding about the unusual situation right now. But until when can they wait?”

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LINE, for instance, offers its users a newsfeed, and options for shopping and food ordering. Zalo, meanwhile, offers integration with shopping options and lets the user ‘search’ people around them. These function as “little WeChats” in Southeast Asia—WeChat is the super app owned by China internet behemoth Tencent—that serve multiple functions like chatting, entertainment, and shopping all in one ap. This is a transformation Facebook is angling for but hasn’t yet fully achieved.

The dark horse

The dark horse

Since Chinese short-video app TikTok first entered Southeast Asia in late 2017, it has consistently been among the most downloaded apps. But after downloading, do people forget it’s on their phones?

TikTok doesn’t even make it into the top 20 by MAU. That’s why you don’t see an MAU line in the chart above.

That’s understandable, said Kabeer Chaudhary, managing partner at marketing firm M&C Saatchi Performance, Asia-Pacific. “Facebook’s family of apps has been around for eight to 10 years, or more. TikTok is a new entrant.”

He wouldn’t be surprised if the Chinese app shows up in the top MAU chart this year as he’s “already seen a lot of traction for TikTok in markets like India”.

TikTok launched in India roughly around the same time as in Southeast Asia and quickly accrued active users there, almost 200 million a month. Why wasn’t there a time lag there? TikTok’s growth in India comes mostly from tier-2 and -3 cities. So, perhaps TikTok simply hasn’t found the right way to crack that user profile in Southeast Asia yet.

TikTok aside, there is one Chinese app that is quite actively used in this region. SHAREit.

The 10th most popular app by MAU by the end of 2019, SHAREit doesn’t come from the usual suspects—China’s social media giants ByteDance, Tencent or YY. It started out as a utility app made by Chinese tech company Lenovo, but then decoupled into a standalone app. Its primary function is to share apps and files without using precious data bandwidth.

In Southeast Asia, first-time smartphone users sometimes rely on the help of another person—shopkeepers, friends, family—to install some basic apps on their new phones. This is where SHAREit comes in handy. Once SHAREit is installed on both phones, you can transfer apps and files from one to the other offline. (You can read how this works in India in our story from 2018. SHAREit had already made it to 200 million active users in India at the time.)

More offline transfers, less data usage. There’s something TikTok can’t offer.

Shopee’s sprint

With Southeast Asia’s e-commerce market tipped to grow almost 4X to US$153 billion by 2025 (from US$39 billion in 2019), online marketplaces are having a moment in the sun. Lazada and Shopee, which both operate across the region, have staked their claims to the title of being the No. 1 player in the region.

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.