| Mobile messengers developed in Northeast Asian countries -- Kakao Talk (South Korea), Line (Japan) and WeChat (China) are having their heydays, as they have become the main communication tools in various Asian countries. They even draw attention as next-generation social networking services market currently dominated by U.S. service providers such as Twitter and Facebook.
In particular, Kakao Talk and Line, both provided by South Korean capital, technology and contents, are emerging as global services, having attracted over 100 million users for the first time among South Korea-developed Internet services. Both are in service in some 200 countries. Kakao Talk has more than 120 million users, while Line has more than 260 million. The two services are in a heated competition over Asian mobile markets with WeChat, which has 460 million users on the basis of the stable Chinese market.
Kakao Talk is the first service that challenged the global market. It has a dominant share in the Korea mobile communication market, where 95 percent of smartphone users have downloaded it. The social networking services market is paying attention Kakao Talk, which has created a unique profit model by combining the mobile messaging service with online games, shopping and contents. Based on such services, Kakao Talk is popular in various countries in Southeast Asia, where the popularity of the Korean Wave is high.
In Japan, Line has become a must-have service among smartphone users from elementary school students to politicians. At 5:21 a.m. on September 8, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent an online message via Line to Japanese people from Buenos Aires, Argentina, announcing that his country had just been selected as the venue for the 2020 Olympic Games. More than 50 million people, or over 70 percent of Japanese smartphone subscribers, are using Line.
As Line is based in Japan, it made faster forays into overseas markets, as many users in Taiwan, Thailand and other Asians countries with close connection with the Japanese economy found it necessary.
Line`s global success owes much to the "Line Sticker" service, which was developed by South Korea`s top Internet portal Naver. Allowing users to continue their online conversations with just pictures, Line Sticker made significant contributions to Line`s discrimination of itself from WhatsApp of the U.S. and WeChat of China. The Line service provider rakes in some 12 billion won (11.2 billion U.S. dollars) worth of monthly revenues from the sale of some 10,000 kinds of Line Stickers.
Line is also the top or no. 2 online messaging service providers in terms of the number of users in Taiwan (17 million users), Thailand (16 million) and Indonesia (14 million). The New York Times recently reported that South Korea`s NHN, the operator of Naver, has attracted more than 200 million users, a milestone that Facebook failed to achieve five years after its founding.
NHN Japan, the South Korean portal operator`s subsidiary in Japan, developed the Line service in 2011 specifically for the Japanese market. Line Corp., the operator of Line, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Naver. Lee Hae-jin, chairman of Naver`s board of directors, has also been serving as Line`s board chairman since last year. Interestingly enough, Lee and Kakao Talk chairman Kim Beom-su were the co-founders of Naver.
The biggest rival of Line and Kakao Talk are China`s WeChat. Tencent, which operates WeChat, also controls QQ.com, an Internet messenger with some 800 million users. It is also a large player in many mobile markets in Asia, as the company is the second-largest shareholder of Kakao Talk. With a rapid growth of China`s Internet users, WeChant is quickly expanding its market. The Chinese service has also become a must-have item among South Korean businesspeople who frequently visit China.
The heated competition among Kakao Talk, Line and WeChat can be seen in many major cities in Asia outside of South Korea, China and Japan. The operators are engaged in a promotion war by installing advertisement billboards as well as airing TV ads using world-class models.
One of the most salient characteristics of the mobile messenger market is that the top player enjoys a nearly monopolistic status. Each of the three messenger services have an absolute status in its home country. Industry experts say that it is very important to occupy the Asian market ahead of others in order to compete with Facebook and Twitter.