Most of a apps jostling for space on Southeast Asian users’ smartphones are small famous in a West, nonetheless they already have millions of users in a region.
Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

SINGAPORE—When

Listri Samudra,

an equity sales deputy in a Indonesian city of Bandung, opens her smartphone to bond with her clients, she has 3 messaging apps to select from.

She customarily prefers


BlackBerry



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Messenger, that stays rarely renouned in Indonesia, nonetheless also mostly uses WhatsApp—the association


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recently concluded to buy for $19 billion—or Line, a Japanese app that is fast gaining belligerent in a region.



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The throng of giveaway messaging apps on Ms. Samudra’s phone illustrates given Southeast Asia is moulding adult as an vicious bridgehead for messaging app makers. The region, in that no transparent messaging personality has emerged, is critical, in part, given many of a roughly 600 million people have nonetheless to ascent from simple cellphones to smartphones.

That means consumers’ preferences for such apps are malleable, and given many people miss Web entrance elsewhere, their inclination could paint their categorical gateway to a Internet.

Data from researcher Nielsen shows about half of Thailand’s mobile-phone users possess smartphones, compared with usually 23% in Indonesia and a small 15% in a Philippines—much reduce than China’s 71% smartphone penetration. Indonesian smartphone users have an normal of 4.2 messaging apps commissioned on their phones, according to a 2013 consult by On Device Research, twice as many as in a U.S.

Most of a apps jostling for space on Southeast Asian users’ smartphones are small famous in a West, nonetheless they already have millions of users in a region.


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Line,


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‘s WeChat and Kakao Corp.’s KakaoTalk have spin mainstream. Lesser-known apps also creation inroads in a segment embody Cyprus-based Viber, a association that Japanese e-commerce hulk


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concluded to acquire for $900 million in February, and Vietnam’s Zalo, that has gained 10 million domestic users given a 2012 launch.

“There’s really utterly a exhilarated battle” in Southeast Asia, pronounced Neha Dharia, an researcher during investigate organisation Ovum. “If we get these [mobile] users bending on your app, it’s really important.”

Even if a apps are generally free, a business can be remunerative as many unchanging users finish adult purchasing additional services such as practical products for games and “stickers,” or animation images that can be sent as messages.

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While Silicon Valley-based WhatsApp is a widespread messaging app globally with some-more than 500 million monthly active users, it has struggled to benefit traction in some tools of Southeast Asia, partly given competing apps are going out of their approach to support to internal tastes.

In Thailand, for example, Line overtook WhatsApp as a country’s many renouned messaging app final year, helped by a internal promotion pull and special stickers tailored to a market, analysts say.

Line says it has 450 million purebred users globally, including 27 million in Thailand. In Indonesia, where it has 20 million users, Line has customized some of a stickers featuring a animation total to interest to a Muslim population. During Ramadan, characters were featured praying or celebrating with fireworks.

“What we try to do is to focus and compensate courtesy to detail, optimizing a services for a user’s country,” pronounced Line Chief Operating Officer

Takeshi Idezawa

in an interview. Parent association Naver is deliberation a open inventory that could value it during over $9.8 billion. China’s WeChat, that relies on stickers and videogames to beget revenue, has focused on locally tailored promotions to supplement to a 396 million tellurian monthly active users, pronounced

Poshu Yeung,

clamp boss of general business during primogenitor association Tencent.

In one of WeChat’s promotions in Malaysia, users who follow a central WeChat comment of Chatime—a teahouse franchise—can accept ignored drinks. In Indonesia, WeChat sponsors radio programs like “Indonesian Idol” and a dancing foe show.

Tencent doesn’t divulge marketplace share by nation or accurate income total for WeChat, nonetheless pronounced it generated between 200 million and 300 million yuan ($32 million and $48 million) in a fourth entertain final year. WeChat is a most-used messaging app in Malaysia, and among a many renouned in Vietnam, Indonesia and a Philippines, pronounced

Tom Mowat,

conduct of Asia-Pacific investigate during advisory organisation Analysys Mason.

BlackBerry Messenger, a messaging app of struggling smartphone builder BlackBerry Ltd., is still series one in Indonesia, where a inclination have traditionally been popular, Mr. Mowat said. But even a app’s devotees, like Ms. Samudra, have begun embracing a likes of WhatsApp, Line and WeChat.

BlackBerry in May kicked off a initial tellurian handset launch in Indonesia, charity a new low-cost smartphone in one of a company’s final tellurian strongholds. Messenger, that BlackBerry deliberate spinning off final year, still has 85 million monthly active users globally, nonetheless it is no longer among a tip apps outward of Indonesia.

Meanwhile, Rakuten’s Viber has spin renouned in Malaysia, a Philippines and Vietnam with a facilities charity giveaway texting and phone calls. The association says it has some-more than 300 million tellurian users.

“Southeast Asia is an intensely vicious segment for Viber,” pronounced a company’s arch executive,

Talmon Marco,

citing a region’s vast race and flourishing smartphone invasion rates as vicious factors. Viber sells stickers and credits to make calls to non-Viber users, nonetheless a association has nonetheless to spin a profit, losing $29.5 million in 2013.

Sirgoo Lee,

KakaoTalk’s co-chief executive, pronounced recently that his association is focusing on Malaysia, a Philippines and Indonesia as a subsequent markets for expansion after a messaging app gained recognition in Korea. KakaoTalk, that has 150 million purebred users, offers games, sells stickers and generates some income by permitting celebrities and brands to send messages to their subscribers.

In Vietnam,

Le Hong Minh,

arch executive of VNG Corp., that grown Zalo, pronounced his use attracts users by mobile, print, and promote advertising, along with luminary promotions. But distinct a rivals, Zalo stays focused on a home nation for now. The app is accessible usually in Vietnamese, offers locally tailored stickers, and skeleton to make income from advertisements displayed within a app, pronounced Mr. Minh.

“The pivotal summary we deliver” is that “Vietnam can have a possess messaging app,” Mr. Minh said.

—Vu Trong Khanh in Hanoi and we Made Sentana in Jakarta contributed to this article.

Write to Newley Purnell during newley.purnell @wsj.com