Kakao Talk eyes Middle East

By Kim Young-won

Merger with Daum to be factor in enhancing messenger’s global reach

  • Published : Aug 11, 2014 - 21:26
  • Updated : Aug 11, 2014 - 21:26
Kakao Talk, South Korea’s largest mobile messenger, is taking aim at the Middle East by scaling up its Arabic language services.

The mobile application was the most popular free mobile messenger in 2011 in some Middle Eastern nations, including Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Kuwait and the UAE, according to Kakao.

However, it was soon outpaced by global social networking service messengers, such as Google Hangouts, Facebook Messenger, and Naver’s Line.

As part of its efforts to regain its footing in the Middle East, Kakao Corp., the operator of Kakao Talk, added Arabic to its list of supported languages in June.

“On the back of the increasing popularity of hallyu (the Korean cultural wave) in the Middle East, the Korean messaging service could once again take a big leap in the region,” said a market analyst, who declined to be named.

“Just as with Naver’s Line, which provides localized services such as emoticons and stickers designed to meet the tastes of local users, Kakao may have to come up with similar, or better, marketing measures to attract users in the Middle East,” he added.

Kakao refused to comment on its plans for the region, saying it was currently focusing on its merger with Web-portal operator Daum. 
Lee Sir-goo, co-CEO of Kakao Corp.

Market watchers said that the merger was likely to give the messenger firm greater momentum in beefing up its activities in global markets.

The mobile messenger operator is considering launching a slew of new services this year, including a taxi-hailing service and a news application.

Kakao Corp. is scheduled to hold a shareholders’ meeting Aug. 27 where the stakeholders will decide whether to approve the merger between Kakao and Daum.

Some market watchers said success in the Middle East, one of the fastest growing smartphone markets, could be a game changer in the world’s SNS messenger industry.

New York-based market research company eMarketer predicted in its report that the number of smartphone users in the Middle East and Africa would jump from 156.4 million in 2014 to 251.9 million in 2017.

The 2013 smartphone penetration rates in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait and Lebanon, stood at 79 percent, 72 percent, 69 percent and 63 percent, respectively, according to global research institute Ipsos MediaCT.

The figures all increased by at least 11 percent compared to those of 2012.

By Kim Young-won (