Line Up For Japan's Number One Camera App

What happens when you mix Japan’s obsession with kawaii (cute) images and its increase in demand for mobile messaging? LINE Camera. Find out more in this article.

What happens when you mix Japan’s obsession with kawaii (cute) images and its increase in demand for mobile messaging? Thirty million downloads of the country’s latest camera application, LINE camera, in just 12 months.

With downloads coming from 210 countries, LINE camera has become the number one app in the camera category of Google Play in Japan and 16 other countries.

LINE camera is an auxiliary app from LINE, the free-calling and messaging app launched in June 2011. LINE is operated and owned by Naver, known as NHN (Next Human Network) Japan Corporation.

LINE itself, as a messaging app, has also experienced explosive growth. In its first six months it clocked up 10 million subscribers and in the following six months another 40 million. By January this year, it had more than 100 million registered users across the globe and according to Tech in Asia, it has just reached the 120 millionth download. It was iTunes’s number one free app in 2012.

More than 30 million LINE users are Japanese: LINE’s latest spin-off app, LINE camera, was definitely built with them in mind.

Mobile chat apps have overtaken Twitter and Facebook in Japan and LINE has attempted to differentiate itself from competitors like Skype and Whatsapp. LINE camera is a clever way to do this.

LINE camera allows users to decorate their photos. The app offers over 1,000 stamps, 100 picture frames and numerous unique filters and brushes. This lets users personalise each photo before sharing with their networks through LINE, Facebook, Twitter, Mixi… the usual suspects.

Shiori Yamamoto, a 28 year old office worker and LINE camera user from Chiba, near Tokyo, says:

“LINE camera has some really cute emojis (characters), called stamps, which you can include with your messages. They are not like small emoticons but, big, clear, realistic, colourful and very cute characters that have a strong impact. Girls especially love using these characters and it makes communication more fun.”

But Japan’s love of cute images on photos isn’t new. Purikura (Print club), developed by Atlus and Sega almost two decades ago, is a photo booth vending machine which has enjoyed incredible popularity across Japan. Children and adults alike queue to have their pictures taken, they then decorate with cute images and effects before uploading to their networks.

LINE camera was reviewed in USA Today this week. The verdict says it all:

“LINE Camera doesn't need these crazy characters to make a solid impression; its slick interface, impressive functionality, and streamlined performance already make it one of the better creative editing apps we've seen. The crazy character stamps only add to the overall experience, in our opinion, and explain the app's popularity in so many countries.”

LINE was smart. Purikura and mobile messaging were already huge successes in Japan. Combine the two, add an option to pay-upgrade to additional images and you’ve found a way to monetise the offering. With LINE already enjoying critical mass in Japan, LINE camera is likely to continue in the same growth trajectory. No doubt its numbers will very soon equal its parent app, LINE.

And what’s next for the LINE family of kawaii characters? Well, they’ve only gone and released LINE Town, its very own Anime TV show.

LINE camera is available free on iPhone and Android.

Jerome Watanabe is a writer and communication consultant for international technology brands. He splits his time between Hammersmith and Harajuku.