Messaging is no longer just about messaging. Last year saw the West wake up to the potential of messaging apps — largely thanks to Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp — and 2015 is the year that U.S. apps will become platforms. Few places is that trend illustrated best than Japan, where top chat app Line has just launched its own taxi service.
Line Taxi is built into the existing Line app, just like its recently introduced payments service, and its launch pits the company against dominant player Uber and British rival Hailo.
The Line service is starting off slowly. The company partnered with Nihon Kotsu, Japan’s top private car firm, to offer an initial 3,300 plus cars in selected parts of Tokyo, but it plans to ramp up to 23,000 nationwide over time.
An initial report from Tech In Asia suggests Line offered more options and shorter wait times when compared to Uber, which leads the on-demand cab space in Japan, but time will tell how it goes.
A messaging app integrating a taxi app might sound an odd pairing, but it has been done before. China’s top chat app WeChat tied up with taxi on-demand service Didi Dache last year and there’s been talk of Facebook Messenger integrating with Uber — a chat app launching its own taxi service is something unique, however.
Line has 170 million monthly active users (and over 500 million registered users) worldwide but Japan is its largest market. It has over 50 million registered users on its home turf, and the kind of dominance that it believes supports a wide selection of offline and on-demand services that tie into the messaging experience.
Line Japan has introduced taxi booking this week, but it also has plans for on-demand food delivery, it has its own maps app which could support online-to-offline commerce for retailers, and it is dabbling in social commerce too. There are also plans for a music streaming service — which will be global thanks to Line’s acquisition of MixRadio from Microsoft — and more than 30 apps and games are tied into its core chat service.
Line isn’t alone in building out its messaging experience. WeChat is doing the same in China. This week parent company Tencent launched an online bank — WeBank — which is likely to become a focus of its messaging platform, alongside existing pushes into retail, payments, taxi-hailing and more.
Line Taxi won’t be global, but you’d imagine that the company will consider implementing it (and similar on-demand services) in countries where its network is strong enough. That’s not likely to include the U.S., but today’s news gives those in the West an idea of what is possible when a mobile app becomes a daily necessity for tens of millions of people.