MEF Member OnDevice Research has released a fascinating new report on the mobile habits of consumers in Myanmar (also known as Burma), thought to be the first survey of its kind in the country.

It found, among many observations, that half of the mobile internet population came online during the past 12 months, and for 62 per cent of the respondents, mobile is the primary way to get online.

Nine years of military dictatorship that cut Myanmar off from the outside world turned a former economic success into the backwater of Asia. In 2011 the country opened up again, and the world opened up to the locals.

Taking advantage of the growing mobile ownership, On Device Research surveyed almost 600 mobile internet users in Myanmar for the first time ever.

A mobile-only nation

Plummeting device prices, cheaper SIM cards and data packages helped double the mobile internet population in the last 12 months.

And majority of the respondents use mobile as their main device to go online. Only 38% use a PC or a laptop on a weekly basis.

It is likely that most newcomers to the web will leapfrog PCs completely. This trend is strongest among the younger generation – 71% of mobile-only internet users are under the age of 34.

Internet beats other media

Usage of different forms of media in Myanmar varies greatly. The most popular is mobile internet with nearly three quarters of the mobile internet population using it daily, followed by 61% of the population watching television.

Reporters Without Borders ranked Burma 151th out of 178 in its 2013 Press Freedom Index despite the fact that in theory censorship was removed in 2011 (see Media in Burma for more info).

People are voting with their attention and going online on their phones in search of uncensored local and global news.

Huawei’s dominance

Not since Nokia’s heyday have we seen one handset brand dominate a market in such a way – Huawei was used by 71%. Global giant Samsung followed by only 14% share.

Myanmar is also almost exclusively an Android playground with 95% market share. We found very little feature phone usage and iPhones are clearly too expensive, only a handful of respondents were using those.

Starting from a clean slate in 2011, lack of legacy handset and tumbling prices of Android handsets have created a unique situation where people go from having no phone straight to owning a smartphone.

Favourite mobile brands

Although Huawei controls the current market our research shows that its lead as a favourite brand is not quite as strong.

Samsung is in a good position to improve its current standing as people’s incomes increase. Women in particular are favourable to the South Korean brand – 69% women vs 52% men say that they prefer Samsung.

Apple may be #3 in popularity, but low average income means few will be able to afford it for quite some time.

Facebook and Viber rule in Myanmar

Discovering the monopoly of Viber among the chat apps was the biggest surprise for us. More people use Viber than Facebook and other heavyweights of the world like WhatsApp, WeChat and Line, barely register.

When asked about their usage of social networking, a whopping 84% said they used social networks. Over half these respondents said they use Facebook, followed by 31% using YouTube and 19% using Google+. Twitter, Instagram, and other popular Western services remain below the 5% threshold. Surprisingly, local mobile social network MySquare wasn’t popular either.

You can see the full report here. This article first appeared on the Ondevice Research Blog, and is re-used here with permission.

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