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Facebook bought WhatsApp for its global reach—except in the world’s biggest mobile market

AP Images/Imaginechina
Is it WeChat’s world?
Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Facebook just placed a $19 billion bet on the mobile messaging service WhatsApp, which has grown to a staggering 450 million monthly users in only a few years—many of them in fast-growing international markets like India, Brazil, and Mexico. But there’s one market where WhatsApp has failed to make much of a dent, and that’s in China. Here, Tencent’s WeChat, better known as Weixin in Mandarin, has taken a commanding lead in the world’s biggest telecom market.

WeChat’s users have tripled in the last year to 272 million, with the majority of them in China. Now, Tencent is working its market-leading mobile platform into every aspect of daily Chinese life from shopping online to ordering food and drinks—including from a vending machine, or sending Lunar New Year gifts. (Users can also invest or book doctor appointments through their Wechat accounts.) The company is also making a big push outside of China, with a $200 million ad campaign across India, South Africa, Spain, and Italy.

There are a host of other competitors in the game: Japan-based Line, the recently acquired Viber, and South Korea’s Kakao Talk have all amassed large user bases and will be vying for many of the same users in Asia. But with the exception of Hong Kong, where WhatsApp has a 45% market share, the company’s new owners might be wise to direct their efforts away from China. The mainland is WeChat country.

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