Messaging app Line is set to make a big push into AI, later this year rolling out a Siri-esque voice assistant and an Amazon Alexa-style smart speaker, the Japanese company announced yesterday at Mobile World Congress.
“AI is our most important project at Line, and represents a paradigm shift as dramatic as the rise of the smartphone a decade ago,” said CEO Takeshi Idezawa.
Line’s answer to Siri is called Clova, short for “cloud virtual assistant.” Its speaker, Wave, will also feature the AI assistant.
Both will launch “early summer” in Japan and South Korea.
Line also announced it has acquired a controlling stake in the Japanese startup behind a holographic anime bot designed as a companion for lonely salarymen and anime-obsessed otaku. The financial details were not revealed.
Vinclu’s Gatebox hologram is oddly reminiscent of Dr. Krieger’s waifu in Archer (Pam: “How do you not murder her every day?” Krieger: “I do!”).
The coffee-maker-sized virtual bot gizmo, unveiled last year, costs US$2,700.
Talk to her
“On the strength of its popular messenger and extensive content base – news, music, weather, translations, and more – Line has developed an unparalleled understanding of localization in Asia, home to a fast-growing middle class of over 650 million people,” said Line in a statement.
The big push into AI comes as Line is struggling in Facebook’s shadow. The app lost three million active users in the final three months of last year, stumbling from 220 to 217 million. Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp each have a billion users.
Line, which ties into an array of companion apps for things like payments, music, ebooks, and news, is primarily popular in Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Thailand, and Taiwan.
While the social network is failing to grow, the company behind it is making more money than ever on the back of its growing number of other web services. Line Corp pulled in a full-year net profit of US$66.6 million in 2016 in place of its similarly sized loss in 2015.
Like with Siri and Alexa, Line promises that people can “hold a natural conversation with Clova, call up a wide range of information” online, or even “manage the lights and other aspects of their home.”
Clova will initially only integrate with Line and its broad suite of sister apps, but eventually the AI assistant will be able to plug into other apps and services.
BONUS: Here’s more on the hologram:
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