In 2012 South Korean mobile messaging was dominated by Kakao Talk, which received major press coverage around the highly successful launch of its social game service. But a new superpower in the space has emerged, in the form of NHN’s Line messenger, which reached 100 million global users this week (in comparison to Kakao Talk’s 70 million).
Japanese Line had already surpassed Kakao in terms of registered users back in June 2012, despite having been released a year after the Korean service, but due to the global nature of its user base (currently available in 230 countries) it received fewer big headlines, but that is changing, and with its foothold established, the sky’s the limit.
Currently Kakao boasts 95% smartphone penetration in South Korea, and has attracted a considerable overseas user base, reaching 30 million by the end of 2012. In 2013 there are also a number of new services due to be released, such as a marketing platform (Story Plus), an enhanced messaging service with third-party apps (Chatting Plus), and a micropublishing platform (KakaoPage) which enables users to monetize their own content. Kakao has also responded to complaints that its UI and message sending speeds are slower than Line’s, and has updated within the last week. However, growth has been a little sluggish, since crossing the 70 million mark in December 2012.
In comparison, Line Head of Business, Kang Hyun-bin, is confident, and having breached 100 million users and has set high targets of up to 400 million registered users before year end (2013). The company has one asset (along-side faster data trasfer speeds) that Line is capitalizing on in a big way, and which is driving a growing movement away from Kakao Talk. Its ‘stickers’, which have been described as ‘next generation emoticons’, are proving incredibly popular. In Thailand a second version of the emoticons was produced to leverage the huge popularity they have attracted.
Can Kakao innovate enough to keep the advance of Line at bay on home turf, and perhaps more importantly, can it start to reel in global users in bigger numbers? It will be interesting to see how the messaging space continues to unfold in 2013.