Asian Chat Apps Go Global
Asian smartphone users are now spreading to other parts of the globe. Mobile messaging applications from Asia, such as Japan’s Line and China’s WeChat, are building up their marketing efforts to find new users around the world. Both Line and WeChat combine text and voice messaging with various additional features such as photo-sharing and status updates.
WeChat, launched in 2011 by Chinese Internet service, dominates the domestic market with 300 million registered users. Tencent is spending up to $200 million this year to advertise WeChat abroad, mainly in emerging markets, and the company said in August that WeChat’s overseas users had doubled to 100 million from 50 million in May. For example, South Africa is one of the markets where WeChat has gained more attention. In June, WeChat hosted a competition on a South African radio show offering listeners a chance to win a Samsung Galaxy phone. Listeners entered the competition by downloading WeChat on their smartphones and sending a voice message to the show.
Another major competitor for WeChat is Line, developed by a Japanese subsidiary of South Korean Internet portal Naver Corp. Line has more than 250 million registered users world-wide, and about 80% of its users are outside Japan.
Both Line and WeChat see enormous untapped demand in emerging markets, where many people are still replacing their basic cellphones with smartphones. Given rapidly changing consumer preferences for mobile apps, the prospects for WeChat and Line are far from assured, and it’s unclear how well they can establish themselves outside Asia. Still, their expansion could upend the established pattern of a U.S. tech trend spreading to the rest of the world, as has been the case with most social networks.