Today I spent my afternoon in an amphitheater next to Tokyo Disneyland to watch Line & # 39; s annual conference. Line is one of the most prominent technical companies in Japan, with a chat app that almost everyone uses here and that offers various adjacent services, from gaming to ride hailing to personal finance.
Line's international push did not really go further than well-known stores that sell merchandise from its cute mascot characters – another just opened on Hollywood Blvd. – and now the company focuses on its core markets of Japan, Indonesia, Taiwan and Thailand. As you will see from today's announcements, the advantage of this approach is that the services can be much more meaningful in their real-world use potential, because they are better targeted at specific regions.
This is what I wanted to see:
Unfortunately I was disappointed with that front. But Line still had a lot of interesting news to share, and here are some highlights.
Line is increasingly pushing itself as a fintech company, with Line Pay as a popular digital wallet and even a vehicle for personal investment and insurance purchases. Line Score is perhaps the most groundbreaking product in that space to date – it is an AI-driven social credit rating system that offers deals and different offers to users based on their score. A separate loan service called Line Pocket Money determines the rates and credit limits based on the Line Score of a user.
Line Score is not as ambitious as the Chinese social credit scores that you may have read about dubious horror stories about, but it has a lot in common with Alibaba's Sesame system. Line emphasizes that the product is opt-in-only, will never read chat or call data and requires approval if a third party wants to have access to it. (Line offers end-to-end encryption for chats since 2015.)
However, the timing is striking, following yesterday's recommendation that AI-activated social credit scores are banned in the EU. Line seems to have nothing to do with his score, but it is still possible that customers in his core markets are shocked by the concept.
Line also regards itself as an AI company and showed an impressive – but not live – demo of Line Duet, which is in fact his view of the Duplex voice chatbot from Google. It will probably be some time before Google will be able to launch Duplex in Japanese, and Line has demonstrated that it is already working with popular restaurants to implement the technology for reservations and other calls.
LINE MINI APP
The Mini-app platform from Line is another new product that is rocking out of Google's notes while it may make a lot of sense for Japan. Just like with Android Instant Apps, companies with Line Mini-app can offer ready-made apps that do not need to be downloaded.
Companies in Japan will be able to use QR codes, both invented in Japan and still very popular here, don't forget to show customers menus, get access to loyalty cards, get discount coupons, and so on. This integrates with Line's chat function, so that customers can, for example, use a point card in a Mini app and then receive message notifications when an order is ready for delivery.
Line Music, the company's music streaming service, was a big hit in Japan with more than 11 million monthly active users. Now the company is launching a freemium model called "One Play", which gives access to a library of 54 million individual tracks simultaneously with no listening limits. The idea is that people then upgrade to the plan to access full albums, playlists, and so on.
Line also adds music videos to Line Music and this fall, the app will have an important new design with various new functions, such as an equalizer and dark mode. Line also helps import your playlists from competing music services by using OCR technology on screen shots, which is certainly a way to address the problem.
PREMIUM LINE STICKERS
Line is probably more responsible than any other company for pushing the concept of stickers – huge, often animated emoji, actually – and is now starting a monthly subscription service. Line Stickers Premium costs 240 yen (~ $ 2.20) for access to more than three million sets of stickers from the Creators Market – the company says it would cost you 380 million yen (more than $ 3.5 million) to get them all to buy.
Line News is an important content portal in Japan because it has a full tab of the Line app to itself and Line is trying to make it a more robust entertainment destination. The company has just been released Vision, a new product for video makers who want to deliver mobile-first portrait videos directly to Line News. Line not only focuses on YouTubers here – they have registered video makers such as famous designer Yugo Nakamura and Kundo Koyama, screenwriter of Oscar-winning film Departure.
To drive the point home, this is Vision's slogan:
No, Line will not compete with Google for web searches, but Line Search should be really useful for people who live large parts of their lives online. It is an in-app search function that retrieves media and information from chats, as well as all content services that Line offers.
Line has a food delivery service called Line Delima, but from today it offers a separate collection option Pockeo line where you can order food at a nearby restaurant and pick it up yourself. The space is of particular importance in Japan at the moment, as takeaway meals will be exempt from a sales tax coming into effect later this year. Line says it is launching a business version of Pockeo that helps restaurants offer takeaway options, even if they don't.
Line occasionally spoke about chat during today's conference. The big announcement in that area was OpenChat, a new feature designed to make it easier for people to use and manage group chat. Users can have different profiles for different groups, while people can create and participate in group chat based on specific interests and with member approval manager functions.
Finally, Line announced the launch of Brain line, are special AI activities. Line Brain is responsible for products such as Duet and the Clova AI voice assistant and plans to license its chatbot, OCR and speech-to-text technologies to other companies.