Business / Tech

Line plans smart speaker to challenge Amazon, Google

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

Line Corp. said Thursday it plans to focus more on artificial intelligence, saying AI-related services will be the next big thing after the smartphone boom.

“Because of the smartphone trend, Line was born and we have grown this far. But looking at five or 10 years from now, what comes after the smartphone era? It’s the era of AI,” said Jun Masuda, Line’s chief strategy and marketing officer, at a news conference in Tokyo, where the company disclosed its strategy going forward.

The Tokyo-based messaging-app giant said the new core service it is developing will be called Clova, an internet-based AI system or “virtual assistant.”

“We are aiming to realize a world where Clova is connected to every environment,” Masuda said.

The firm demonstrated a smart speaker named Wave, the first product in its Clova line. The device, which can perform chat with users, keep their daily schedules, play music and search the internet, among other tasks, communicates through a voice interface system. Line said Wave will go on sale this fall for ¥15,000.

Jun Masuda, chief strategy and marketing officer of Line Corp., holds the company
Jun Masuda, chief strategy and marketing officer of Line Corp., holds the company’s Wave smart speaker during the company’s annual strategy briefing in Tokyo on Thursday. | BLOOMBERG

Technology and other companies are increasingly entering the smart speaker market. Amazon and Google already sell similar smart speakers named Echo and Google Home, respectively. And Apple has recently announced the launch of a similar device.

Line said it will use Clova to team up with FamilyMart Co. to improve services offered by the convenience store chain. Moreover, Line has agreed to jointly work with Toyota Motor Corp. on a Clova-based voice assistant that can be used in vehicles. The company said it plans to release the service with Toyota next year.

Last year, Line debuted on the New York and Tokyo stock exchanges, raising more than ¥100 billion. In the messaging app market, however, Line is lagging rivals Whatsapp and China’s WeChat in terms of users.

The Japanese firm said the global battle for market share is pretty much over, so its strategy going forward is to concentrate on increasing sales and profits in the markets it dominates: Japan, Thailand, Indonesia and Taiwan. Line said it has about 171 million monthly active users in those countries.

In the past, mobile games were its main profit maker. But Line has since diversified into new businesses including music streaming, live video and payment services to widen its revenue sources.

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