With 100 million users, LINE is the Japanese Facebook



Line, one of the most popular smartphone apps in Japan, recently reached the 100 million user milestone. The free chat application was made by NHN Japan Corporation, and launched back in June of 2011. The app makes use of the user’s phone directory, allowing them to get connected with people they actually know in real life. Sound familiar? Yes, Line is in many ways aspiring to be Japan’s Facebook — the primary difference being that Line is a social service born entirely on mobile.

Line is gaining popularity around the Asia region with about half of it’s users coming from outside Japan. Many celebrities in Japan are using the app including current prime minister Abe Shinzo who joined the service in January. The biggest reason behind the app’s success lies in the timing of its release. It came during a time when not-so-tech-savvy mainstream users began switching from feature phones to smartphones. With a completely different and unfamiliar tool, people turned to Line for help. With Line, all you needed to get connected with friends was their phone number. And everyone with a phone has that already.

Ubiquity, and beyond!

Line was first adopted by younger users but gradually gained popularity over mainstream users including seniors. With over 100 million users, it is the new digital marketing platform. To better take advantage of Line, many companies are conducting user surveys. A survey of married couples and their usage of Line was a particularly interesting one. It targeted 800 married men and women of age 20 to 40. 39.5% responded that the app increased communication with their spouse. 29.4% of respondents answered that their spousal relationship has improved since using the app.

line tenki
Line also launched Line Tenki, or Line Weather this past week

But since last summer, the chat app has become more of a platform than just smartphone chat application. NHN began providing a service named Line Channel in July of 2012, a year after the app’s initial release. On Line Channel, users are able to enjoy games, fortune-telling, and even discount coupons. One game, Line Pop, has been downloaded over 20 million times worldwide as of January 2013, just two months after it’s release.

But there is a cutthroat war brewing in the chat application market. Line is no doubt the pioneer in Japan, but DeNA’s Comm and Korea’s KakaoTalk have jumped in the ring recently too. At the end of 2012, Comm had been downloaded more than five million times since it’s October launch. Kakao Talk had about 70 million users as of December 2012, with 18 million of those overseas, and about 4 million of those in Japan.

We were in touch with the CEO of Viber this week as well, who pointed out that they are hoping to make a renewed push in Asia where the app has 50 million users in total. Interestingly, six million of those are in Japan.

But still, Line’s dominance is pretty secure at home, with about 41.5 million users in Japan. Stay tuned to see how it fares abroad this year.

This is part of our ‘Japanese internet in-depth’ series (RSS). Stay tuned for more features that aim to explain what makes the internet unique in Japan.

For more information on the growth of Line, please check out our interactive Line Timeline which chronicles its growth from its launch back in 2011 up until the present day.