Main trends

The Philippines emerged as the "fastest growing app market" in Southeast Asia as of 2017, as reported by global trade body Mobile Ecosystem Forum (Galvez, 2018). With the number of mobile phone subscriptions exceeding the total population as of 2016 (Globe Telecom, 2016, cited by Garcia, 2016), an increasing number of activities and transactions are done through mobile applications. Moreover, the Philippine market "can be a gold mine for app developers" because of "high install growth (driven by low cost devices and cheap data plans)" and the fact that "app localisation is almost unnecessary" as a significant part of the population speaks English and 40 percent of mobile Internet users prefer it over the national language Filipino, according to global mobile advertising company Applift (2015). However, although it was predicted that the app market would grow 2019 onwards, "expansion in value will be limited by the very slow connection speeds the current 4G network can achieve" (MarketLine, 2018, p 7).

When it comes to using networked services through mobile phones, the most common activity is using messaging apps (33 percent), followed by watching videos (26 percent) and playing games (23 percent), according a 2018 report by advertising Agency We Are Social and social media management platform company Hootsuite. There is no recent empirical data on the demographics of mobile app users and which particular apps are used by which group. The available data shows that the younger population uses the Internet most heavily, although it does not specify whether the access is through mobile apps, desktop apps, or browser. The highest amount of Internet usage was observed among Filipinos in the 18 to 24 age bracket (81 percent), followed by the 25 to 34 bracket (65 percent), based on a 2018 survey by the Social Weather Stations (Flores, 2018). From this data, one can assume that mobile app users are mostly the younger Filipinos – or the digital natives, so to speak.

By economic strata, the "emerging affluent" tend to use apps for a variety of services, such as booking transportation, more than the other socio-economic categories, based on the data from the Visa Consumer payment Attitudes survey in 2016. About 70 percent of the "emerging affluent" in the sample use apps to avail of services, higher than the average 6 out of 10 for all strata.

The app ecosystem in the Philippines is diverse: Filipinos use apps for social networking, banking, movie and series streaming, deliveries, music download and streaming, transportation, mobile money, and even healthcare. A significant number of Filipinos are using mobile money services offered by the telecommunication giants PLDT and Globe Telecom. In 2012, Maurer (2012) noted that people remit money to family members residing in remote islands through Globe GCASH, which at that time was used by over two million people (p 589). PLDT’s mobile money app, Paymaya, along with its mobile money Smart Money, has eight million users as of 2018 (Esmael, 2018). According to Paymaya executive Paolo Azzola, the company is targeting 30 million users by 2019.

Especially in the urban Philippines, most Filipinos now tend to use mobile banking instead of visiting branches. According to the Visa Consumer Payment Attitudes study in 2016, nearly three in four Filipinos have a banking app on their mobile phones and 80 percent of Filipinos prefer to transact through the app instead of going to the bank branch. Furthermore, 65 percent have used their smartphones to make purchases and 41 percent make mobile payments at least once a week.

The use of mobile apps for the healthcare sector is also emerging, as health maintenance companies started using apps to streamline services. PhilhealthCare, for example, introduced apps to "allow members to consult with doctors using smartphones, skip the long lines in waiting for medical care, produce electronic vouchers, find the nearest clinics, generate letters of authority or obtain an electronic medical prescription" (dela Cruz, 2018). Although empirical usage data are not yet available, it can be assumed that these digital services are used in particular by the urban middle class.