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"Every time I try to introduce the Line concept to American friends, they look at the app and go ‘This looks weird,’ or ‘This looks like a cartoon.’ I personally think the design approach will not resonate with the mainstream in the US." But Idezawa believes the company is adept at adapting its product to different audiences."I do think [American and Japanese users] want different things.If you’ve been using Line for any time at all, the ensemble of characters starts to feel like the cast of a soap opera — one where you’re compelled to pay to unlock the next "episode," or sticker set.The characters permeate Line’s other content offerings.

But although it shares the same core messaging functionality, Line is much more ambitious than the likes of Whats App or Viber. And, between Brown and Cony, there’s a sticker to convey just about any emotion you can think of.The company enforces a strict curation policy that only allows a select few partners."Having a few dozen games, most of which are made by Asian companies, for a user base of over 500 million isn't enough," according to Toto, the games consultant.Gaming is an important part of the Line equation, and one that the company believes can be a real differentiator."Back in the day with online games you had these ranking systems but it was just someone’s ID, and you had no real familiarity with this person," says Idezawa.When asked what Line is doing to tailor its service to the US, Idezawa points to Skype-style low-cost calls to landlines, a new Selfie Sticker app that lets you create and send stickers of your own face — "We think that’s very attractive for the American market," he says — along with a new partnership with Disney.Line launched a puzzle game called Disney Tsum Tsum in the US last month that, despite the odd name (it’s a romanization of the Japanese word for "stack", referring to the cute Disney characters you arrange on the board), should be more familiar to US audiences.It’s available on pretty much every platform imaginable. It’s no secret that messaging is the killer app for smartphones, and there are a lot of contenders aiming to own the space.In the last year the market has seen massive amounts of money invested — Facebook bought Whats App for billion-plus and there’s talk of a funding round valuing Snapchat at billion. "If you had to say what makes Line stand out, I would have to say our user experience," says affable COO Takeshi Idezawa (above) on the 29th floor of a stunning new Shibuya office and shopping complex.You can get a Line Weather app that shows their reaction to the onset of a thunderstorm.There’s a Line Camera app that lets you put them in your photos.