Line itself has introduced a Clova mobile app that works like Apple’s Siri and Samsung’s Bixby. It is also set to release a Clova-powered standalone smart speaker called Wave similar to Amazon Echo and Google Home, in Japan and Korea in the coming months.
With the move, Line is jumping -- somewhat belatedly -- into the highly competitive global race to dominate the AI platform business. While there are no clear winners yet, the Asian messaging firm is up for a tough fight against Western tech giants already ahead in terms of technology development and market entry.
The Line CTO says it will be an “uphill battle” but will be “worth every shot.” While admitting there are many technological gaps that have to be filled, Park believes Line has a critical resource that Western rivals lack -- quality user data involving Asian populations.
Over the years, Line as well as its parent company Naver have amassed a vast pool of data involving Asian users, whose habits, needs and interests often differ from those of their Western counterparts. As an AI algorithm is as good as the data it is trained on, Line believes it has a competitive edge over foreign rivals.
“We build and fine-tune our technologies using the social graphs based on our real time user data. This makes us a more attractive (AI platform) partner to work with (in our stronghold markets in Asia),” said Park.
Currently, Line’s presence in its four core markets goes beyond mobile chatting to span everything from payment, e-commerce and character franchising to games and webtoons. This makes Line an attractive platform to which new smart services can be synced.
Experts have pointed out that the company's accumulated knowledge on local languages and cultural norms are expected to give it an edge over other chat apps in the AI battle in the Asia region, especially Western ones, that use more of a cookie cutter approach and offer most of the times only basic chat functions.
According to the CTO, such reasons are precisely why Japan’s convenience store chain FamilyMart recently chose to work with Line to develop collaborative products and technologies using Line’s AI platform Clova as well as Line messenger.
“Why did FamilyMart decide to work with Line and not Amazon? FamilyMart chose us because it needed to target Line users more than Amazon users. It needed Line’s application programming interface more than it needed Amazon’s API,” she said.
In the past, localization tailored to individual markets allowed Line to gain an upper hand in the mobile messenger business in Asia. And the firm is hoping that sticking to the same strategy will work in its process to become a bigger consumer platform.
“We call it ‘culturalization.’ If you look at Apple or Google, they pursue a ‘one product’ strategy for markets worldwide. This approach assumes that every user worldwide, including Asian users, will want that same function,” Park said.
“However, users in different countries all display differing characteristics. Considering this, Line focuses on tailor-fitting its products and services in line with market-specific needs. It’s a process that continues to remain a challenge, yet one that pays off.”
By Sohn Ji-young (email@example.com)