Messenger Apps: The way people communicate in US and Japan


It goes with out saying that social media has now become a part of our everyday life, allowing us to stay in touch and communicate with people on the other side of the planet. Messaging apps, as a social medium, has infiltrated people’s lives beyond anyone’s wildest imagination.

As shown below, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are respectively the most popular and used messaging apps around the world. China’s WeChat ranks 5th and LINE (a Japanese messaging service) is at the bottom of the chart. (Source: Statista)

Just when we thought the Internet would bring homogeneity to the world, an enormous pool of apps has created a diverse app market than ever before.

Source: BusinessofApps

In this article, the top 5 Android communication (category) apps in US and Japan in February 2019 are presented. In particular, we have provided specific data using App Ape – Japan’s No.1 App Analysis Platform- and will discuss the differences in attitude towards the possible reason to use such apps.

Apps in other countries

US: Messenger, not WhatsApp

The figure above shows that Android users in America prefer Gmail and Yahoo Mail as the primary mean to send emails. Now let’s look at messengers!

While it was previously shown that WhatsApp was the most used messenger in the world (in January) Facebook Messenger is the app with the highest number of MAUs in the US in February 2019. One may think that the number of users of both apps are in close proximity but the figure below shows the exact opposite.

The number of users who actively used Messenger in February is almost 4 times the number of WhatsApp’s MAUs. It is also fair to point out that Messenger in 2019 has grown when compared to two years ago whereas WhatsApp has seen very little increase in terms of MAUs.

Below are some basic usage data on the three apps. (To See More click here to sing up for App Ape’s free version)

“Messages” is Google’s social messenger app for texting (SMS, MMS) and chat. It also is compatible with Google Wallet enabling users to transfer and receive money from friends. As seen above, it used to possess more monthly active users than WhatsApp but lost its position in November 2017.

LINE: not just an app but a “Culture”

I do not think the above chart has taken anyone by surprise. The fact that LINE is THE primary mean of communication in Japan is well-know (at least in IT world)! But one might wonder why that is so. What is so special about LINE that has made Japanese users turn their back to any other messaging apps? This is exactly what we are going to talk about. First let’s start off with some basis app usage data.

The dominant age group is male users in their 40s. This may be due to the fact that Android is no longer popular amongst younger generation and that Android penetration rate in Japan is half of that of iOS’s according to the recent App Ape Mobile Market White Paper 2018. (Click here to know more about Market White Paper and request a copy)

Not only the app is used 15.7 times a day it also has one of the highest Monthly and Daily active rates, 96.1% and 84.6% respectively, in the app marketplace. This means that, in February, 96.1% of those who have LINE installed on their phones activated the app. Another unique feature of the app is its User Loyalty Ratio. The app has a “Heavy User” status which is an indication of its users, according to App Ape’s data 72.6% of them, being active more than 2/3 of the month in February. That doesn’t happen much often in mobile app world, does it?

Now let’s go back to our question: why?!

It is the “Stickers”. That is right. Believe it or not, LINE stickers are the driving force behind the app being so popular in Japan. Of course other features that the app offers such as group messages, free voice and video calls, and many more have had a great influence on its success. But, they cannot be compared to stickers which bring millions of dollars into the company every year! Stickers play an important part as Japanese LINE users tend to personalize their messages using Kawaii characters.

Moreover, the app opened its own store in December 2013 in Harajuku, the most famous shopping district for the young, called “LINE FRIENDS” selling LINE merchandise and products. The app also offers payment services through LINE Pay, and businesses can avail from LINE@(LINEat) to communicate with clients .

Nowadays LINE is not considered to be just some messenger. It has penetrated in to Japanese everyday life and has changed the culture of how people communicate in the country.

Gmail and SP-Mode Mail (a local mail service) are the two primary means used by Japanese user to send emails.

Even though Facebook Messenger appears on the top 5 chart, it doesn’t have as many active users. The chart below produced by App Ape shows that the number of LINE MAUs are in multiple of 9 when compared to Messenger’s.

Where are Eastern apps in US and vice versa

This section sheds some light on how good primary messaging apps are doing in other countries.

LINE has been increasing over the past 3 months in terms of MAUs and jumped up 8 ranks in February compared to that of December’s. Having said that, LINE is not doing so good in the US. At least not as good as KakaoTalk. The highest position the app has been able to achieve over the past two years is 15 (January and April 2018).

WhatsApp is doing much better in South Korea than in Japan in terms of both the number of MAUs and chart ranking position. As seen below, the number of MAUs have constantly been increasing over the past year and half but the figure is nowhere near securing a place in the top 10 chart. At least not in the near future…

The table below shows ranking position of primary messaging apps in different countries.

*Change in chart when compared to January ranking

The biggest change in ranking belongs to American LINE MAUs. The app jumped 5 places up in February. KakaoTalk, on the other hand, seems to be doing pretty good in US market, securing a place in February top 10 chart. And, LINE in Korea (10th) has more users than KakaoTalk (18th) in Japan.

WhatsApp, ranked 46th and 27th in Japan and South Korea respectively, is not at all popular in these far eastern countries and it seems that it will never be able to break into the market.


Thanks to the recent update to App Ape’s “Compare App” tool, users can now view up to 6 different apps (of any country) and compare the relative data (for more information read our blog on the new Compare App tool function). We have used such convenient tool to present you the following.

  • Japan prefers its own local-born messenger LINE
  • Although WhatsApp is the most used messaging app (worldwide), it’s not as popular as Facebook Messenger in US
  • Messenger is the only app that appears in both countries’ top 5 chart.
  • Messenger in Japan has the lowest number of MAUs
  • WhatsApp will (most likely) never be accepted as the primary way of communication in Japan

The data presented in this article have been collected by App Ape, a mobile app data analytical platform which is the leader of the industry in Japan with more than 5000 clients around the globe.

The various data demonstrated in this article is just a small portion of what App Ape is capable of analyzing. App Ape, consisting of more than 50 indicators, provides detailed and accurate data usage in 7 countries. The indicators include daily, hourly active users (DAU, HAU), number of daily installs, demographics, mutual app possession rate and many many more.

Subscription to App Ape services is free which allows access to basic data. App Ape has recently introduced a self-serve service where users can personally look at paid-subscription plans on their user profile and choose the plan that fits their needs.

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US Japan Summary Primary apps in other countries

This article is targeted at communication apps such as social messengers, email services, etc. If you would like to know about Social Networking applications click here