Messaging apps have always been a hot media topic in the Middle East. News about messaging and communication apps being banned are among the top headlines seen in the past years. But what are the region’s most used messaging apps currently?
Going through country by country there are common threads on why some apps are used more than the others. Whatsapp is still the most popular messaging app used in most countries in the region and Telegram is the dominant app in Iran and Iraq in terms of popularity and number of users.
Here are the dominant messaging apps by country (For the sake of this post we will also add Turkey to this list):
Right up to 2015, Viber was the dominant messaging app used for text messaging and cellular calling in Iran. A wave of negative opinions rose against Viber regarding the countrie’s data security. Soon more server conflicts appeared which caused Viber users to switch their daily text messaging app to WhatsApp, Line and later Telegram. It was at this time were Telegram users grew to a point which is now the main messaging app Iranians use. WhatsApp is mostly used by those who communicate with contacts in foreign countries which is a small percentage comparing to Telegram users in Iran. With Telegram’s social media functionalities, it has also become the most popular social media platform for Iranians, because of its easy portable accessibility and its simple number registration process. Another interesting fact is that around half of Telegram users are in Iran which also impacted the Iranian communication behavior greatly.
WhatsApp is still the dominant messaging app in Turkey. Facebook Messenger app is also very popular among the younger generation. Turkey’s decent internet and telecom infrastructure has driven many users to these apps in the past 6 years. Turkcell, Turkey’s largest mobile network also developed its own messaging app for its network subscribers called BiP. After WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, BiP could be considered as the third most popular messaging app in Turkey.
The 80 millioned population country also has a large amount of messaging app users. Comparing Egypt and Turkey, they both have a similar user behavior when it comes to messaging app usage. Like Turkey, WhatsApp is still the dominant messaging app and Facebook messenger as second popular in Egypt. WhatsApp’s users in Egypt are usually the ones that do not have a Facebook account, hence using WhatsApp as the app of choice.
Telegram is also the dominant messaging app used in Iraq as it has become popular with the youth lately. The app has gotten more popular in the past months. Facebook messenger is also popular with the younger generation and WhatsApp and Viber are also widely used. Viber is also the app of choice for cellular calls.
Saudi Arabia has always been a hot source of breaking news announcements about messaging apps being banned. Back in the 2013 governmental banning rampage, messaging apps like Viber got banned because they couldn’t blend in with the Saudi laws. Facebook messenger also got banned today in order to protect traditional operators. Skype over cellular network and WhatsApp calls are also banned in the country. Viber calls are unbanned with occasional network problems. KSA’s strict regulations on communication apps has created a though competitive atmosphere. Nonetheless Whatsapp is still the dominating app in the text messaging department. The country is also very famous for its very high internet penetration rate, which makes snapchat the second most popular messaging/social media app in the country. Line is also another app that is widely used and Imo has become popular for internet calling lately.
GCC (UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Jordan)
A similar pattern can be seen between these countries when it comes to using messaging apps. WhatsApp is the most popular messaging app in these countries. Facebook messenger and Snapchat are also the other popular communication apps. Like KSA, some of these countries like UAE also have strict regulations towards some of these apps. WhatsApp call and Skype via Cellular internet are also banned in the UAE which caused some of the residence to download Imo for cellular calls.
Same patterns again. WhatsApp as the dominant app, however comparing to GCC countries, popularity of Snapchat is much lower. Facebook messenger is widely popular among the youth however the number of messenger app users does not exceed more than the two country’s whatsapp users. Viber is mostly used for internet calling rather than text messaging in these countries.
How do you think the competition landscape will change in this region in the near future?