While only a couple of years ago smartphones were the plaything of the rich, or those who wanted to be rich, now everyone seems to use them. From market stallholders and motorbike security guards through to school kids and rural farmers, everywhere you look in Vietnam you see smartphones.
Statistics published in January on the website, wearesocial.sg, put this into perspective.
As of January 2016, 93% of adults in Vietnam were using a mobile phone. Of this, 55% (more than one in two people) use a smartphone.
Out of a population of 93 million people, 39.7 million access the internet on their mobile phone and four in five of all internet users are online every day. Of this, 73% of people with smartphones are using social media. At present, the share of total web views in Vietnam is rising by 40% a year on mobile phones and 4% a year on tablets.
Smartphones are increasingly the preferred method for accessing not just the internet, but social media. The fact that 34% of the whole population are using mobile messengers and 29% are watching videos, while 19% are using mobile banking, 28% mobile map services and 23% are playing games on their mobile is indicative of another phenomenon; the smartphone in Vietnam is being used for almost everything.
An Expensive Toy?
Considering that the average salary is around VND3.3 million a month, Vietnamese people are spending the equivalent of one month’s pay to buy even the cheapest smartphone. To purchase the entry level iPhone 6S, which costs VND12.8 million, this rises to the equivalent of 3.9 months salary.
That the everyday Vietnamese is prepared to spend such a large amount of their income on these devices shows how important they are. Smartphones are seen as status symbols, rather like 20 years ago, when wearing gold or a nice watch showed that you had money. If you use a smartphone, then you are successful, modern and part of the new Vietnam. You are connected. Use an iPhone or the latest Samsung Galaxy, and you are wealthy.
Also important is the adoption of the internet and social media. With 43% of the population accessing the internet on their phones, this suggests that Vietnamese people en masse are buying into the modern world of digital. The possibilities this creates for communication and doing business online in a country with the world’s 14th largest population are boundless.
What should be the role of the internet in modernday life? Should it remain anarchic or libertarian, in the image of its creators, or should it be regulated and controlled like so many other aspects of the ‘free’ modern world? In a country where for so many years there has been little public debate, the internet and — in particular — social media, offer the everyday person a chance to express how they feel. And of course, the main medium for Vietnam is Facebook.
The adoption of Mark Zuckerberg’s brainchild is startling. According to a survey by local newspaper Tuoi Tre, by June 2015, Facebook had 30 million users in Vietnam, of whom 27 million people accessed the social media website via their smartphone or tablet. Of these users, 20 million people were on Facebook daily — 17 million via mobile.
Last year there were a number of Facebook campaigns in opposition to unpopular policies. The highest profile was the movement in Hanoi to stop the felling of 100-year-old French planted trees. It made national headlines and for a few weeks was the talk of Vietnam. Growing access to the internet fuelled by the widespread use of smartphones played a huge role. Using their devices as cameras or video recorders, Facebook ‘activists’ could go to tree felling sites, and instantly upload images to social media.
By owning a smartphone, you not only own a status symbol, but also have access to information from all over the world, and if used in a certain way, it can give you a voice. It’s something that today’s digital generation in Vietnam are very attuned to.