SEOUL/JAKARTA - South Korea's pioneering mobile messaging apps have taken their oversized emoticons to Indonesia, intent on breaking the dominance of BlackBerry Ltd's BBM messaging service in one of the world's most active social media markets.
Kakao Corp has hired pop stars and Naver Corp unit Line Corp has partnered Samsung Electronics Co in a country whose capital Jakarta boasts the most users of Twitter Inc's microblog by city, according to researcher McKinsey & Company.
BBM has long been Indonesia's most popular messaging app, with Facebook Inc's US$19 billion (S$24 billion) buyout target WhatsApp in pursuit. But KakaoTalk and Line have connected with younger users by also offering voice calls, games, shopping, merchandise and stickers, or message-conveying cartoons.
Under-30s make up over half of the 240 million Indonesians, where just 20 per cent use smartphones, making the country a prime growth market for app makers. Estimates put smartphone use at 50 per cent before the end of the decade, by which time messaging apps' global revenue could be over US$24 billion. "Indonesia is probably the most competitive mobile messenger market right now... And it's a key market we want to win," said Kate Sohn, vice president of Kakao's global business development division.
KakaoTalk has gained 16 million users in just one year in Indonesia after Kakao signed an advertising deal with Big Bang - a K-Pop boy band popular in Indonesia - and started offering unlimited KakaoTalk data through carrier Telkomsel.
KakaoTalk, whose maker plans to list in Korea around May next year, was Indonesia's 37th most downloaded free app on Apple Inc's App Store as of March 7, and 14th on Google Inc's Google Play, according to researcher App Annie.
BBM was first on both since becoming available through those stores in October. Broadening compatibility freed BBM users from BlackBerry handsets, and left BlackBerry with just 5 per cent of Indonesia's smartphone market in October-December from 34 per cent a year earlier. "BlackBerry's falling domination... has made Indonesia more dynamic and created a big opportunity for new entrants," said Kakao's Sohn. "Indonesia has the right mix of big scale, growing number of smartphone users and the market is really in flux."