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WhatsApp dominates download charts, but it may have a hidden weakness

Updated Dec 19th, 2018 8:40PM EST
WhatsApp Market Share

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WhatsApp has reigned as the undisputed messaging app champion across dozens of countries over the past two years. However, huge download volumes in all these countries doesn’t necessarily translate to high consumer engagement. A research firm called Mobidia has provided BGR with a fascinating comparison chart providing a direct engagement level comparison between WhatsApp and its major rivals in some of the biggest mobile markets. Mobidia chose a cut-off-point of 2 MB per month to make sure it is counting only consumers who truly use a messaging app actively.

Using these parameters, WhatsApp suddenly does not look like a behemoth anymore. WhatsApp is used actively by nearly 40% of smartphone users in Brazil, but its penetration level is well below 20% in China and 10% in the United States.

Many of WhatsApp’s rivals have achieved a truly towering status in their home markets, with WeChat hitting 50% market penetration in China, LINE topping 60% in Japan and Kakao talk utterly dominating South Korea with more than 90% market penetration.

And in America, both Facebook Messenger and Skype have higher market penetrations than WhatsApp.

In a way, this is just one example of how radically different the picture painted by download volumes can be compared to actual consumer engagement.

Rovio’s Angry Birds franchise has racked up 1.7 billion downloads and has a dazzlingly high brand recognition level. Yet its top game is at No.88 on the U.S. iPhone app revenue chart, with the recent Angry Birds Star Wars title tumbling to No.111 as of March 21st.

Meanwhile, the complex but hypnotic Rage of Bahamut is not even in the top-1000 on the iPhone download charts, but it managed to cling to No.15 spot on the revenue chart. According to Onavo‘s Guy Rosen, Rage of Bahamut achieves shocking sales performance even though it is used by only 0.4% of iPhone owners.

App download numbers do not correspond with revenue generation or engagement level; the industry is seeking new ways to measure relevance.

Vancouver-based Mobidia belongs to a new wave of analytics companies that are moving beyond counting app download numbers, instead opting to measure actual user engagement and provide contextual data about the way people use mobile content. Companies like Mobidia and Onavo are providing a new kind of window to the app market as the industry shifts towards measuring minutes and the proportion of consumers who are engaged on weekly or monthly basis.

After launching mobile game company SpringToys tragically early in 2000, Tero Kuittinen spent eight years doing equity research at firms including Alliance Capital and Opstock. He is currently an analyst and VP of North American sales at mobile diagnostics and expense management Alekstra, and has contributed to, Forbes and Business 2.0 Magazine in addition to BGR.