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.