Mobile IM Line and WeChat Compete for Malaysian Market Share

Facebook only came to Malaysian scene around year 2007 - 2008. I remember that well because I was the early adopter. I can still remember the location and time when I actually signed up for it, it was in the afternoon around 3pm to 4pm, I was in my office at Sunway Mentari, P.J and I was using my older IBM Thinkpad r61 laptop.

Facebook adoption was very well received by Malaysian after that and it literaly pushed Friendster to the brink of extinction. But Facebook wasn't the first of its kind in the industry, yet it is so successful today.

In the mobile messaging scene, we have WhatsApp, Viber, Line, Wechat and etc. Personally I am using all of it except for WeChat because I don't actually use a very sophisticated phone such as iPhone and Galaxy S - I am not early adopter of expensive smartphones.

Up til today, WhatsApp is still the king in the industry. And if I can squeeze some juices out of my brain to go back in time - even though I am not early adopter of smartphone - I can somehow come to a consensus that the success of WhatsApp is partly attributed to the rise of iPhone which resulted in the falling market share of Blackberry.

Why I say so ?

The consensus of Blackberry as a business phone has been around for some time where it was famous for a mobile phone which handles push email due to its signature keypad.  Hence, important enterprise executives such as CEOs who would like to receive emails all the time during meetings, while attending conferences, at home and etc were the core users of Blackberry's phone.

At the peak of Blackberry's success, it was the phone for enterprise business executives and for business people before the introduction of iPhone into the industry.

However, some people just don't really want to use Blackberry, period. I still remember vividly that I was at a Nokia store in 1Utama some time ago and a lady presumed to be a business executive and Nokia's fan walked into the shop and asked 'which one is the phone for business ?' Flabbergasted,I heard the shop attendant murmured something like; "so this model is suitable for this this this, that model is suitable for that that that...." - no good answer. It was so obvious to me that she was looking for a Blackberry alternative from Nokia.

So, the iPhone was unveiled to the world around Jan 2007 by Steve Jobs during MacWorld and then it spread like unchained-melody all over the world, slowly eating away market share of Blackberry for smartphone category.

But make no mistake that Blackberry was still very popular amongst its core users after iPhone was launched and one of the coolest feature for Blackberry was its messaging app (BBM) which allows Blackberry owners to instant-message each other at no costs.  This habit of IM via the Internet for free slowly grew into a phenomenon where money-minded people started to realize that using the conventional SMS which sends data through cellular network was way too old-fashion and costly and the world then dawned into a new horizon which worshiped just about using anything to talk and IM through Internet via smartphones such as iPhone and Blackberry.

Anyway, I also like to declare that I have never used a Blackberry phone before and not yet. I gotten these information through observations only.

Since Blackberry had its own proprietary BBM, and assuming that WhatsApp was launched on year 2010 (no exact info) and that it leveraged on the iPhone's wave to sweep the market which went far and wide.

Line and Wechat came much later. Before that, iPhone users would WhatsApp or Viber each others while Blackberry owners would use BBM. This means that WhatsApp became predominant because non-Blackberry users couldn't use BBM and WhatsApp came to the rescue.

As a result of first-mover advantage, WhatsApp is highly integrated with iOS and Android platform, coupled with its simplicity and robustness, it was destined for success - WhatsApp is now available to all platforms which include Blackberry and Windows phone.

I use Line for my work to communicate with my colleagues for one reason; it is the only instant-messaging app in the industry which caters for desktop version alongside its mobile version and it is free too.

I haven't started using WeChat because I don't think both of my smartphones can shake well.

However, let's look at what has been looming with WeChat.

My first encounter with WeChat was really just a few months ago when my colleague introduced to me to shake-it to check out who was around us. We started shaking his iPhone and then we found some people around us in Puchong area - it can be a fun thing to do during leisure time.

WeChat was launched in Malaysia in June 2012 and by Dec 2012, it was reported to have acquired 200 million subscribers globally by that time.

WeChat had been aggressive with the Malaysian market lately.

On Jan 8,2013 they decided to embarked on strategy to advertise on Malaysian TV Networks to acquire untapped market.

Jan 21, 2013, WeChat launched its Blackberry version alongside other new features.

February 03, 2013, WeChat reinforced competition with WhatsApp by reassuring users that it will be free and that its adoption has received 300 million user accounts globally.

Feb 12, 2013, WeChat launched walkie-talkie feature for version 4.2.

Apr 12, 2013, WeChat announced strategy to penetrate Malaysian market further.

Its latest strategy includes:

  1. Collaboration with local celebrities
  2. Collaboration with brands
  3. Collaboration with local developers --> good strategy.
  4. Localized language

As for Line, on Apr 12, 2013, it announced strategy to to advertise on Malaysian TV networks as well.

“We have carefully selected Malaysia as a key market for this new transition as we feel that Malaysia has a high growth potential and also has one of the highest smartphone penetration rates in the world. Therefore, we plan to shape LINE and its family brands to complement the needs of our users in the Malaysian market, by continuing to invest in enabling simpler and more convenient use of the service, connecting users around the world without any borders between desktop and mobile,” said Hyun-bin Kang, Head Director of LINE PLUS Corporation.


Malaysia is really the biggest market for social media. According to unconfirmed data, Malaysia is the number one for Facebook-ing and adoption of smartphones. I've often wonder why so ?

Maybe because the Internet is Malaysian's ultimate freedom.

On the strategy to advertise on TV networks,I feel that it has a 50:50 potential. The fact that most younger generations no longer watch TV anymore, lest they don't have the time. But it shows that investors are willing to take risks and it is a good sign for the economy and for entrepreneurs in Malaysia and globally. 

Going back to the Facebook phenomenon, I remember that I was still using Friendster heavily by end of 2006.

Thinking about what made Facebook a winner over Friendster, I have these in mind. First, Facebook was something fresh compared to Friendster but it was the latter who had laid the foundation for the culture in the first place. Secondly, during that time, Facebook already had more innovative features than Friendster. I don't remember having 'Wall' with Friendster and it wasn't easy to discover friends. I think the weakest point of Friendster was users couldn't find out what friends were doing and resulted in limited social interactions - it was kind of monotony flat.

Another factor is that Facebook was able to innovate faster than Friendster. It didn't take the former long to introduce the Facebook ecosystem which resulted in emergence of apps and games such as Farmville and etc.

I also think that the Facebook's name itself is a winner. Friendster is not too bad too, at least much better than Ringo, Hi-5 and whatever that I don't even remember now.

After the explosion of Facebook, most of us actually didn't have time to login to Friendster for a while.

For my case, I first went back to Friendster only after it was announced that it had been acquired by MOL in July 2011. This means that I literally didn't login to Friendster for 3 - 4 years gap. By the time I have gone in there, all my contacts and photos had been purged - it was that bad - I didn't even care, nobody does.

For WhatsApp and BBM, I think it is fair to say that BBM was Friendster and WhatsApp was Facebook. The truth is, what is so great about instant-messaging ? We had been doing it via the Internet since MiRC and ICQ days - that was retro - we used to love ICQ to death that we'd lived and breathed it until MSN and Skype came.

Hence, for the case of mobile IM, the heck was because conventional SMS requires charges per message and it was just really plain old text. Comparing to BBM and WhatsApp, it was like the using ICQ and Skype on mobile phone.

Had BBM been made available for all platforms, I think the smartphone scenario would have been a lot different today.

All these memories go way back years ago, please correct me if I am wrong.

Finally, on why I didn't become early adopter of smartphone ? Because I don't fancy talking a lot on the mobile phone.


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