KakaoTalk and Line are no longer merely smartphone messaging apps, providing various other features including mobile games, music streaming and even financial services.
Money transfer, shopping, diverse other services will be available to users
By Bahk Eun-ji
Smartphone messaging apps have evolved with various new features on offer. Kakao Talk, the nation's most popular messaging app has not only become a near ubiquitous part of daily life for Koreans but also a new platform.
It is broadening its social networking service (SNS) platform by launching Kakao Story, mobile games, music streaming and is even prepared to offer financial services.
Traditionally, when Koreans express congratulations to newly-wed couples or condolences to their bereaved family or friends, they give cash gifts in an envelope.
However, the trend may change, with the newest feature by Kakao, named "Bank Wallet Kakao." Kakao will introduce a program for users to transfer money through the app in the second half. Users can deposit 500,000 won into the Kakao wallet, and can transfer up to 100,000 won per day to friends on their messenger list.
"Hopefully, Korean users will use the convenient service for common acts like sending gifts or congratulations or condolences to their acquaintances" said an official at Kakao.
Money transfer features through mobile messengers are attracting more attention abroad.
Tencent, China's largest Internet company, has offered its Xinnian Hongbao service through its messaging app, WeChat, since the beginning of the year.
Through the service, users can send cash coupons to their friends. As soon as the Xinnian Hongbao service was launched, it quickly went viral during Chinese New Year's Day.
There were 20 million transactions, and the turnover was about 18 million yuan (2.9 million won) just two days after it was launched.
The money transfer feature is just one example of how the evolution of mobile messengers is paving new ways for social exchange.
The shopping platform from the mobile messengers is also believed to be a promising business.
Line, Naver's messaging app, has become the most popular mobile messenger in East Asia, especially in Thailand with around 22 million users.
Users in Thailand have observed several cases of Line's shopping app being almost overwhelmed when popular products are offered; those of Maybelline New York, a global cosmetic brand, were sold out in five minutes through Line Hot Deal.
Plus Friend of Kakao launched in 2011 allows users to receive content and discount coupons from brands, media and even celebrities after they "friend" them.
An official of Line said the unique character of mobile messengers ― the high engagement of users, extensive networks, and the simple payment basis ― will lead to the service to become a successful new platform in the mobile shopping segment.
The power of mobile messengers can be reflected in the recent mergers and acquisitions (M&A) in the global IT industry.
Facebook bought a popular mobile messaging startup WhatsApp for $19 billion in February. The purchase price was the highest recorded, even more than Google's acquisition of Motorola in 2011, which was then the most expensive M&A in history.
Kakao announced that it had agreed to merge with the domestic Internet portal operator Daum Communications in May. The valuation of the M&A is 4.2 trillion won, a record in Korea.
WhatsApp and Kakao Talk are the most popular messaging apps and the latter is especially solidifying itself as a dominant player in the market by providing different kinds of services, built up on its user-base.
An official of Kakao said, however, that mobile messengers can't be developed as a new platform just because they have many users.
"The most important thing to keep attracting users is for the messenger to provide benefits for them when using services," the official said.