I have no idea what people are using in the U.S. to message each other these days. The last I heard, people were using “WhatsApp” to message each other instead of paying fees for text messaging. For those that don’t live in Japan, you may not be familiar with the most popular messaging app that almost everyone with a smartphone uses: The popular messaging app LINE. It launched in Japan in 2011 and by 2013, it had already gained 200 MILLION users. That’s incredible growth. If you want to message people from Japan and want to know where you can find them, they’re all probably on the LINE app.
Why is the LINE app popular?
Compared to other messaging apps, LINE from the beginning was designed to appeal to an Asian market. The killer feature with LINE for young people is “stickers” Yeah, I said stickers.
LINE stickers are basically big versions of emoji that consist of different cartoon characters. In the beginning all the LINE stickers were of original characters created by LINE, but then the LINE sticker shop opened and other companies have been able to sell stickers of their famous characters/brands.
Japanese users want to express themselves in various ways. If you simply send a message with no emoji or extra pzazz, you’ll be seen as cold and boring. I personally experienced this myself during my first year or so in Japan. People react better to you through messaging if you make more of an effort to “decorate” the content of your messaage.
LINE is addicting
I have to admit, if I were younger when I discovered LINE, I’d probably be using it all the time. However, I’m glad I was past the age point where I would have become obsessed with it. After the Great Tohoku Earthquake and tsunami of 2011, the developers of LINE changed the behavior of messaging.
From that point on, whenever you send a message, you get a notice if the other person read your message or not. There is no option to turn this off, so anyone will know if you read the message or not. This has lead to interesting scenarios involving people checking the preview of the message but never opening it for fear that the other person would know.
LINE continues to try to innovate
Another thing that separates LINE from the other messaging apps is its ability to create additional services and features for its users. LINE started as a messaging app, but it has expanded into other markets. There is now “LINE Taxi”, which was inspired by the Uber app in the United States. Depending where you are, you can use the LINE Taxi app to notify a taxi to come pick you up wherever you are.
In 2015, LINE launched a music service to compete with Apple Music, Spotify, etc. I have no interest in using this service, but it’s interesting to see LINE making efforts to go beyond just being a messaging service.
From a marketing standpoint, LINE has been very good at letting its users know about new apps or features. There are now games, a special camera app, and tons more of things to do once you have a LINE account.
Why is LINE not popular in the U.S.?
That’s a good question, and I think I know why. For most people, something like WhatsApp or the other alternatives are fine. They have some basic emoji and that is usually enough for everyone. However, those apps don’t have the how to say…”cuteness” that Asian users perhaps expect from their services and apps. This is where cultural differences come into play.
For example, if you live in the U.S., there is a good chance you don’t want to use the LINE app to message your dad. A simple message through iMessage or some other app is sufficient. You don’t need cute stickers, emoji, or window designs to talk to each other. The built-in options are usually enough for most people.
What I like about LINE
- I like that LINE is available for most platforms out there. iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac! This means I can message people from my computer and I don’t have to use my iPhone. I don’t like writing lengthy messages in Japanese on my phone, so the desktop version of LINE is a big help for me.
- I have to admit, some of the stickers are fun to use. I personally have some Star Wars ones I bought and they are really cool to see inside a message window. Who wouldn’t enjoy receiving a message with Darth Vader holding a rose or a Stormtrooper kicking a rock being embarassed?
What I don’t like about LINE
- LINE messages are NOT encrypted, so if anyone is monitoring a network and capturing data, they will be able to see the contents of your message. LINE has stated that they are working on implementing the encryption feature for messages for all users, but there is no set date for that roll-out.
- The unable-to-disable “read” feature of messages. You have no choice when it comes to letting others know that you saw their message. For privacy reasons, I want the ability to turn the automatic read receipt feature off. If I want to reply to someone, I will. I don’t want the other person knowing when or if I read the message they sent.
- The lack of clarity when it comes to a LINE account. There are a lot of people that don’t realize you can transfer your account if you change phones or buy a new smartphone. I can’t tell you how many people have messaged me with yet ANOTHER new account saying they bought a new phone. This is more a user error, but I think LINE should do more to let people know their accounts are not limited to the one phone they are using.
LINE is quite a phenomenon in Japan and is growing throughout Asia. I don’t know if it will ever catch on in the US, but if you ever are in Japan, it will benefit you to have a LINE account to message people.
Who knows, you may just have some fun looking at stickers and get caught up in messaging some friends.