While most westerners who use free mobile calling or video calling systems tend to use Skype, most Asians use a company and an app called LINE. Other than Japan, where the messaging and voice over internet protocol (VoIP) app originated, nowhere is LINE more popular than in Thailand, however, where just about every Thai with a phone tends to use LINE — often for several hours a day.
So why is LINE so popular in Thailand? And why will it always beat Skype in Thailand and the rest of Asia?
LINE’s cute design
To me it all seems to boil down to the cute design of LINE’s app. Thais, no matter how old they are or if they are male or female, love anything cute, or ‘kawaii’ as the Japanese say. Like hundreds of millions of Asians that means they’ll use just about any service that offers them something that’s cuter than any other.
LINE, being smart, has used Japanese-style cartoon characters from the get-go to market its brand and has thus snapped up users all over Thailand, who can’t wait to get onto LINE and text friends and then add cute ‘stickers’ to make their message even more expressive.
LINE uses a couple of main characters called Brown the bear and Cony the rabbit to market its app, along with other cute animal and Japanese cartoon characters. Some of them pop up on every LINE app page and, like I said, you can even use them to decorate text messages or videos before you send them.
Even 30-year-old men love these characters on LINE as Spanish tennis player Rafael Nadal proved when he used LINE to send messages from live tennis events. (Sure, LINE is paying him to promote their product, but he certainly doesn’t seem to mind!).
LINE is Japanese
Thais are obsessed with anything Japanese – food, clothes, music, make-up, hair products, manga and anime — and now LINE.
The minute LINE became available for the Thai market and Thais saw the app was incredibly cute and Japanese, they were sold. Numbers of LINE users in Thailand have been climbing ever since, and don’t show any sign of stopping.
With more than 15 million users in Thailand, LINE now holds the market share of messaging and voice over internet protocol (VoIP) apps. In fact, it left Skype in the dust a couple of years ago. Will Skype ever catch up?
Not unless they become Japanese and market everything with a cute Skype the sea lion character.
LINE not monitored by the NSA
As we all now know, everything that goes on with Skype is monitored and stored by the NSA – your telephone calls, your video calls, your text messages. Since I learned that, I’ve rarely used my Skype account, yet my LINE app I use several times a day.
While most Thais don’t seem to be too concerned about being monitored by the NSA (they’re often a bit too trusting and naive that way!), I have had several Thai friends tell me they’ve closed down their Skype accounts after the NSA spying became public knowledge and now only use their LINE app to send text messages and videos.
Across the world, LINE not being monitored by the NSA (or at least as far as we know) is now a huge selling point for the Japanese mobile phone app and it’s likely to increase its customers base both in Thailand and everywhere else because of it.
All in all, while LINE definitely has its limitations (you can’t use it on more than one app, so have to sign up for several accounts to cover a phone and a tablet for instance, and you can’t use it on a PC unless you also have a mobile phone), I don’t see LINE’s popularity in Thailand fading anytime soon.
Let’s face it, if I’m an avid LINE user, and I’m a western woman who is quite a few years beyond ‘teenager’ or ‘early 20s’, and my closest male Thai friend in his late 40s uses it and loves it, then just about everyone in Thailand is likely to use it.