Snapchat loses in emerging markets while Facebook wins

Every single day there are hundreds (if not thousands) of articles about how Snapchat will take over the social media world. Or, how Snapchat has revolutionized social media. When Snapchat launched Spectacles – glasses that record you Snapchat videos and stream them via Bluetooth into your phone – caused so much buzz I couldn’t even believe. News the new colourful Spectacles flooded my newsfeed – from tech savvy couples using it in the bedroom to a surgeon performing a live surgery using it.

It seems that everyone in “the world” – especially millennials – are using Snapchat, doesn’t it? Well, that depends what you call “the world”. If you talk about where almost everybody has a top-range handset, broadband Wi-Fi are widely available, internet data plans are cheap and fast (3G and/or 4G) and signals are reliable, then yes – that’s the world Snapchat is taking over.

According to Statista, Snapchat has been growing in absolute number of users, especially in North America and Europe, for the same reasons I described in the paragraph above. The rest of the world has almost no change. In fact, it only represents around 20 – 30% of the total number of users.


The rest of the world has some pretty big markets take can’t be taken for granted: India, China, Indonesia, Brazil and other developing nations. Come on Snapchat, Africa is a mobile-first continent!

So, what do you do with an app, where people don’t necessarily have top range handsets, signals are unreliable and mobile data is expensive? You come up with a “lite” version of your app.

Lite apps are a strip-down version of your usual app – they have almost the same functionalities, usually use less than a megabyte of memory and are designed to function on 2G networks.

Lite apps are not a new phenomenon, they’ve been in app stores for years. In the beginning, they would function as feature-restricted versions of more capable apps, offered to attract users to buy the full version of the app. What is new, it is how lite apps have been flooding emerging markets, exactly where 2G network connections are the norm, and users don’t own top-range phones.

In September 2016, LinkedIn Lite was launched in India – LinkedIn’s second largest market. With over 37 million users already in the country, LinkedIn Lite was aimed to grow LinkedIn’s user base as well as user engagement.

In Ethiopia, ZayRide launched its Uber-style app especially designed to be used on 2G connections, a great advantage as Uber requires 3G, LTE or fast internet speeds.

Music app Shazam, chose 6 developing countries to launch its lite version (India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines and Nigeria.).

Facebook seems to be the one eyeing emerging markets the most. In 2015, it launched the lite version of its Facebook app. Earlier this year, Messenger lite has been rolled out in many African countries and in South East Asia.

Also, Facebook is famous for trying to go head-to-head with Snapchat – sometimes “copying” the same features of Snapchat but it failed badly in the US – where Snapchat dominates.

However, Facebook already introduced its own Snapchat-like app aimed to emerging markets, called Flash.

Dubbed as “Snapchat clone”, Flash is less than 25MB in size, roughly one third of Snapchat Android app. For instance, if teenagers in Brazil can get a lightweight version of an app that does exactly the same thing of Snapchat does, perhaps they won’t need Snapchat at all. It seems to me like a very clever strategy.

Having said that, it seems Snapchat won’t taking over the world any time soon.

Main photo: Facebook Flash app

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