Line, the mobile messaging company from Japan, is borrowing a strategy from Facebook after it launched a lightweight version of its service for Android devices in emerging markets.
The service counts 205 million monthly active users, but over half of those are located in just three countries: Japan, Thailand and Taiwan. With this new app, Line is hoping that a smaller and less bloated version will help it gain traction with users in emerging markets who often have cheaper devices and more limited internet connections. Facebook is the master of this approach: its latest emerging market app, Facebook Lite, launched in June following a quiet beta rollout in January.
Line Lite, which the company said is just a 1MB download, is initially available in eleven countries — Algeria, Cambodia, Colombia, Egypt, India, Mexico, Pakistan, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Korea, and Vietnam. It’s a stripped down version of the service that is kept slender because there are no video or audio calling features and its ‘Timeline’ social feed is not present. That just leaves text chat, although Line said in a statement that it intends to “actively introduce new features in the future.”
Don’t expect a lite app for Apple device owners, though. “We do not have any concrete plan for releasing the iOS version yet,” a Line spokesperson told TechCrunch when we asked the question. (That answer isn’t a huge surprise given that iOS devices are better specc’ed and more capable than budget Androids.)
Line is seeing success in parts of Asia, and in particular the three aforementioned countries, which is helping the firm to expand into value-added services, including music, taxi hailing and payments, but it retains the ambition to grow its presence in other parts of the world too.
It introduced an emoji keyboard app in the U.S. market last month, in a bid to gain traction among the country’s fragmented messaging space where it has little recognition, while it has also launched gimmicky apps, such as Popcorn Buzz — a calling app for up to 200 people at a time — and a slew of new social games in an effort to attract users in other, more subtle ways.
While the Line Lite app is an interesting addition, it’s hard to see it making a big impact in many emerging markets, where WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and other players have long established themselves as the primary chat apps. Line is, once again, relying on the network effect, and if a watered-down version of its service doesn’t differentiate it from other services that are already being used, you’d suspect few people will move away from their existing apps of choice and adopt Line.
That said, the company needs to show that it can still grow. Line was tipped for a public listing last year, only to pull the plug on a proposed dual US-Japan IPO. The company renewed its IPO application earlier this year, opening the possibility that it will finally go public. Investors will be keen to see growth, however, and we should expect the company to continue to work on other apps and services aimed at increasing its userbase worldwide, in conjunction with its focus on expanding online-to-offline services in markets where it is already established.