What would a region obsessed with using mobile internet do during a year of almost no socialising? It’s a rhetorical question.

Southeast Asia’s mobile internet consumers spend well over the average of 3hr 13min busy on chats, watching videos, buying stuff online, according to a 2019 report report Google e-Conomy SEA 2019 Read more from Google and Singapore sovereign fund Temasek. And 2020 was just icing on the cake. The region registered a marked increase in mobile downloads and mobile spending, reversing an annual decline and slowing growth in the previous year.

What is it that people were downloading so fervently? For the most part, Chinese tech leader ByteDance’s popular short video app TikTok. TikTok downloads in Southeast Asia nearly doubled year-on-year to reach 136 million last year.

TikTok’s sudden Southeast Asia success after being banned in India and the US is not a coincidence. (Tencent, owner of popular Chinese messaging app WeChat, faced a ban in the US last year, along with TikTok. India, too, clamped down with a ban on more than 100 Chinese apps.) TikTok has pushed pushed The Ken The clock is ticking on the TikTok-ByteDance SEA expansion Read more for growth in Southeast Asia to replace some of its lost user base. Also piggybacking on TikTok are numerous video editing apps that have surged in popularity too. Because, how else would you make a viral video?

As people spent more time indoors this past year due to various lockdown measures, they also purchased more online. App spending saw a 30% jump to nearly US$3 billion across Southeast Asia in 2020, according to data from mobile app tracking company App Annie. (In 2019, app revenue grew only 17%.) But oddly, this didn’t do TikTok much good.

The app is yet to monetise, while its competitor BIGO LIVE, owned by Chinese company JOYY, is creeping up on TikTok. Valued at about US$5 billion US$5 billion Seeking Alpha JOYY's Q3'20 Results - Bigo's Rapid Growth Continues, A Potential Multibagger Read more , BIGO LIVE—also an app banned in India—is the only live streaming player to make it to app tracker Apptopia’s Top 50 for in-app revenue.

Still, TikTok’s breakout year has catapulted parent company ByteDance—the world’s most valuable startup with a US$100 billion tag—into the ranks of Southeast Asia’s digital giants. It is the region’s third-largest app published based on downloads, with only Facebook and Google ahead of it. That’s significant because, as we’ve reported reported The Ken The clock is ticking on the TikTok-ByteDance SEA expansion Read more , ByteDance has designs on launching many other services in Southeast Asia, from financial services to messaging and productivity.