How Android Became the King of Apps in Southeast Asia – And Why They Bought 100 Million Indian Phones

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.