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How did LINE succeed in Japan when WhatsApp and WeChat failed?

For a foreigner in Japan, the first culture shock is definitely seeing people use LINE app for communication over WhatsApp. LINE and WeChat were two companies that released their products to India but just could not retain the market share while everyone switched to WhatsApp. Today, WhatsApp has over 487 million active users in India.

So what is the success story of LINE app (NAVER Corporation) in Japan? It is the timing and market understanding. 

The story goes back to 2011, March when Tohoku prefecture in Japan was hit by a huge earthquake and tsunami. With millions without power, and phone lines and SMS networks being overwhelmed, WiFi and 3G was the only option. Naver Corporation (Korea) whose subsidiary NHN Japan (in Japan) was already testing something like Whatsapp and released the app within a few months (June, 2011) which became an instant success. 

But was timing the only reason? It was understanding the local needs of the market as well. The UX/UI was certainly according to what the Japanese prefer. It is also true that the UX/UI would fail to impress the outside world but was a success in Japan. This sort of isolated development of a global product is referred as Galápagos syndrome (especially for Japanese products)

The stickers, free messaging, calling was an instant success, within 2 years of time there were 50 million users in Japan. Today, there are 86 million active users in Japan which is 68%+ of the Japanese population. LINE is not just a messaging app, within the app there was LINE Pay, Line Mobile and other services. 

But LINE (Naver Corporation) merged with Yahoo! Japan under Z Holdings, which is a subsidiary of SoftBank to compete with other tech giants of the world. The merger also gives Z Holdings three additional Asian markets where Line is popular: Taiwan, Thailand, and Indonesia. it is yet to see how Z Holdings will dominate in the Asian market.

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