Developed by South Korean internet portal Naver in 2011, Line is a free messaging app that has become hugely successful in Japan and south-east Asian countries such as Thailand. It built its popularity around cute “stickers” of animal or comic characters that users can share in chat rooms. As of November last year, 300 million people were using Line worldwide. In less than three years, Line has become a cash cow for Naver, which operates South Korea’s most visited web portal, but is little known outside of east Asia. Its money-making prowess makes it a rarity among messaging apps, with most of its revenue coming from mobile games. Line raked in revenue of 454.2 billion won (R4.6bn) last year.


Created by Cyprus-based Viber Media, Viber offers its core internet phone call function for free to its 280 million global users. Japan’s top online retailer Rakuten said last week it would buy Viber for $900 million (R10bn) as the retail giant was eager to expand outside Japan. Rakuten founder Hiroshi Mikitani sees Viber as a potential platform for games and other content. Viber users can make video calls and exchange photos and messages between mobile devices and desktop computers. Access from a desktop computer is a feature that more mobile messenger apps are offering as they want users to stick with their service as they shift between devices.


China’s dominant mobile messaging app, WeChat was launched in 2011 by Tencent Holdings, one of China’s leading internet companies. Tencent, which makes most of its revenue from games, said WeChat had 272 million active users last year, with more than 100 million of them abroad. Other Chinese companies, including internet portals Alibaba and Baidu and cellular operator China Mobile, also offer instant messaging apps, but have far fewer users. WeChat has added features including short voice messages and video calls over wi-fi, which saves users money on phone calls. WeChat has added a payment feature for use in e-commerce. Alibaba sees that as a threat to its online payment service and is scrambling to shore up its dominance.

Kakao Talk

Created in 2010 by Seoul-based start-up Kakao, Kakao Talk spread quickly in South Korea along with rapid adoption of smartphones. It has become the go-to free messaging service enjoyed by almost all Korean smartphone users, giving birth to new idioms such as “Let’s do Ka Talk”. Some government officials and business people hold online meetings in Kakao Talk’s group chat rooms. Abroad, it has lagged behind LINE and others in popularity. As of last month, Kakao Talk had 130 million users exchanging 5.5 billion messages a day and spending 213 minutes on the app every week. Kakao Talk is looking for ways to extend beyond messaging and mobile games to become a portal for navigating the mobile internet and an e-commerce platform. - Sapa-AP