Japanese messaging service Line is lining up to enter a new market again, and this time it’s a significant one: China, where it arrives as a serious underdog to Tencent’s WeChat (know locally as “Weixin”).
The Chinese name for the service — owned by Korean Internet giant Naver — is “Lian Wo“, as Marbridge Reports. It has been made available for iPhone and Android phones, while versions exist for Windows and Mac computers.
Line says it is used in over 230 countries around the world, with a total of more than 80 million users. The company’s stronghold of users is in Japan, though it is also popular throughout Asia. For instance, it recently revealed that it has passed the 10 million download mark in Thailand, where Facebook itself has 18 million users.
The new Chinese service will be going up against a massive incumbent. WeChat hit 200 million users in September, and it is expected to pass 300 million early next year. Most of those downloads have come from mainland China, although Tencent says — like all of the Asian messaging apps — that it is seeing increased adoption among overseas Chinese populations in Southeast Asia and the US.
It’s hard to overstate the meteoric rise that WeChat has experienced — it doubled its size from 100 million in just six months. Last year, Sina’s Weibo microblogging service was the story of the year in the Chinese Internet space, and it’s still going strong with 400 million registered accounts, but Sina surprised investors by candidly admitting that time spent on Weibo was down specifically because of WeChat.
There is also a tricky political situation to contend with in China. Japanese companies and their products are being rejected by many who were angered by Japan’s decision to buy the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. This hot potato is affecting Japanese firms in China and, despite its Chinese name, it will be interesting to see how the smartphone-owning public in China take to Line.
Asia’s mobile messaging space has grown quickly but no contenders have gained serious traction outside of its domestic markets. For Line, that means Japan — where it was developed — and, though it is taking a crack at China, it is hard to see it suitably differentiate itself from WeChat to make a significant impact. In Southeast Asia — one key battle ground — WeChat and Line are roughly on par, but that varies country to country.
Like the social networks that they compete with, messaging apps are based on communities and, with WeChat more than established in China, Line has a difficult task on its hands.
Josh Ong also contributed to this report.
Headline image via Line / Facebook