Welcome to the Selfie Capital!
The mobile-addicted country has become one of the most attractive markets for investors in the internet branch: people are glued to their mobile phones, sending text messages to friends, loved ones or officemates, or simply scrolling down their Instagram or Facebook feeds. Read More
If you walk the streets of Manila on any given day, whether in the darkest alley or a well-lit shopping district, the scene is the same: people are glued to their mobile phones, sending text messages to friends, loved ones or officemates, or simply scrolling down their Instagram or Facebook feeds. It is the same even in the slums, though sometimes the phones are not.
Welcome to the Philippines, a country of 98 million people, dubbed the texting capital of the world, because according to industry data, 600 million text messages (SMS) are sent here by 110 million cell phone users each day. A single short message costs P1 or US$0.022. This is more than the price in the United States and Europe combined.
Filipinos just love texting. To some, it is a way of communicating with people without having to actually talk to them in person. Texts have allowed us to say things we could never say in person, things that could get messy if said face to face.
"The short answer is because it puts some extra space between us and our recipients. It removes us from reality just enough so that we get up the chutzpa to say those things we’d normally be too anxious to reveal or ask of another," says Alice Walton, a health journalist and contributor to Forbes Magazine.
But to some, texting is really just another innovative way of communicating, sharing ideas, catching up, or simply saying hello. And Filipinos love that too. For the price, texting really is a convenient way to go. It's way cheaper than making a phone call, which costs eight pesos per minute.
FAST FORWARD TO THE ERA OF SMART PHONES
From its role as the texting capital, the Philippines now enjoys the distinction of being the Selfie Capital of the World named by Time Magazine in March this year. Specifically, Time called Makati City, the financial center of the Philippines, as the selfie capital.
"An examination of hundreds of thousands of selfies - the low-fi, self-shot photographs that are intensely popular among younger social media users - suggests that the city, part of metropolitan Manila and home to 500,000 people, produces more selfies per capita than any other city in the world," Time reported.
That's how popular phone usage has become in the country - with over a million subscribers to date from just 35 million three years ago. Against this backdrop, rival mobile companies have also launched respective promotions, capitalizing on Filipinos' penchant for phone usage.
More and more attractive for Investors
Because of the fast growing mobile phone and Internet usage in the country, companies are ramping up investments for the country's digital future. Berlin-based technology startup company Rocket Internet has decided to come to the Philippines. In January, the company signed an agreement with top carrier PLDT to develop an internet-based business in the Philippines.
"PLDT and the Asia Pacific Internet Group (APACIG) will become partners in the new Philippines Internet Group (PHIG) which will concentrate on creating and developing online businesses in the Philippines," publicly-listed PLDT reported in a disclosure to the Philippine Stock Exchange. The agreement aims to develop online startups such as prominent internet brands in the Philippines including the online stores Zalora and Lazada.
In the early 2000s, Chikka Philippines released an Internet-based instant messaging application, Chikka, which allows free SMS or text messaging between online users. The company grew so big that Smart Communications, a mobile phone giant, acquired it in 2009. It also expanded internationally through partnerships.
Indeed, mobile phone usage in the Philippines has become so popular that the government wants to impose a tax on text messages as a way of bolstering state coffers. Department of Finance Undersecretary Jeremias Paul said a tax on text is being considered.
“That is in the pipeline. But how to implement it is another issue. This is something that needs to be discussed with lawmakers and affected parties,” Paul said in a recent briefing here. The proposal didn't just come out of nowhere. Even the International Monetary Fund has urged government revenue authorities to tax text messages. IMF chief Christine Lagarde said the “broad base” of text messaging in the Philippines makes it a candidate for “good taxation.” This, however, would surely be passed on to consumers by the big businesses behind mobile phone usage in the country.
But then again, here in the texting and selfie capital, there's really no stopping Filipinos from sending daily greetings to their friends and loved ones. Or an electronic hug, if you wish.
Did you know that 94% of all internet users in the Philippines use Facebook but only 54% do in the US? And that about 40% of smartphone owners in the Philippines spend over 5 hours a day on their phones?
Click here for facts about mobile and internet usage.