Line is probably the biggest messaging app you’ve never heard of.
The Japanese messaging tool which offers users the chance to send messages and make voice calls using 3G, 4G and Wi-fi, is the biggest in its home country and now it’s got its sights set on the mega markets of China and the US. Great news for anyone who’s looking to make lots of calls or who’s looking for media jobs…
The company pulled in 50 million users in its native Japan in the first year — in comparison it took Facebook three years to achieve that figure. It took that figure and added 50 per cent just six months later. The 74 million liners it now boasts currently represent around one third of mobile users in Japan and around 86 per cent of those are active on a monthly basis. Forty per cent are on Line every day.
Born of Adversity
The birth of Line was difficult. Following the Japanese earthquake of March 2011, employees of NHN Japan – the company which also runs the search engine Naver — responded to the need to re-establish communication between residents as phone lines went down following the ‘quake. Employees who were forced to turn to the Internet to reach each other, developed Line and the app was launched just a few months later.
“People were not able to communicate with telephones or e‑mail services from mobile carriers and we wanted as many people as possible to carry out a conversation,” said Jun Masuda, chief strategy and marketing for NHN Japan. This desperate need to find a way to communicate following a tragic, natural disaster with one another probably goes some way to explain its meteoric rise to success.
But is it too cute?
Line’s USP is its colourful range of emoji – cute ‘stickers’ in the distinctive Japanese kawaii style that can be used to convey emotions and feelings when words just don’t cut it. From an energetic bunny, to a moon person, a rather depressed-looking bear and a man called James who is so handsome he blinds himself when he looks in the mirror. Only in Japan.
While some of the stickers come with the app, premium emoji including well-known characters such as Snoopy can be bought for around $2. Others are supported by big brands such as Coca Cola and noodle makers Nissin Foods. Emoji sales currently stand at approximately $3.75 million per month and with user figures set to reach 100 million by the end of the year this number can only do one thing.
There are questions over whether these cute characters will translate and prove successful in the US. While some kawaii such as Hello Kitty has proved popular, many feel the Line emojis will only work in countries that are culturally similar to Japan – so China and South Korea are predicted to be rich pickings for line.
What About the Competition?
Despite its stratospheric success in Japan, it will have fierce competition when it leaves home shores. Giants like Apple and Facebook, as well as the carriers will certainly give Line a run for its money. However the market is fragmented, with independent players such as the Sequoia-backed WhatsApp and Korea’s Kakao TALK also giving good messaging. Line will have to work hard to get a foothold in foreign markets.
The app comes with a translator bot which can convert messaging into Japanese, Chinese, Korean and English providing he’s invited into your chatroom and Line also comes with a camera, games and a social media-esque profile / timeline, complete with tiny profile pic which certainly lends it an air of Facebook.
It seems that if anyone can give the big boys a run for their money, it might be Line.