TOKYO: Line, the Japanese messaging app, is planning to launch a new chatbot service for smartphone users as it attempts to ramp up its challenge to major players in the field, such as Facebook and China's WeChat.

Line's new service entails chatbots, or AI-empowered computer software, learning to respond to specific inquiries from users, and the move by Line follows Facebook's recent launch of a new Messenger platform for bots.

"If you look across the world, everyone is taking a similar approach," said Takeshi Idezawa, chief executive of Line, in comments to the Financial Times.

"In terms of company size and human resources, we're no doubt in the challenger's position,” he added, perhaps in recognition of how Line's 215m monthly active users compare to the 650m who use WeChat or Facebook's 1.5bn monthly users.

Although a relative minnow compared to rival social networks, Line is nonetheless popular in its home market of Japan, but also in Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia. The company added 7.7m monthly users in these four markets in the last quarter.

Idezawa confirmed that Line, which is owned by South Korean internet portal Naver, would continue to focus its efforts on Asia before expanding further afield.

And some analysts have suggested that the introduction of a chatbot service could be one way in which Line bridges the gap with its larger competitors while also aligning advertisers with its user base.

"Because the mobile instant messenger service is a closed ecosystem, the degree of information Line has for any particular user lags the level that Facebook enjoys," said Justin Lee, an analyst at BNP Paribas.

"In that sense, the way Line can target users is also inferior compared to Facebook," he added. "[But] by introducing chatbots, Line is trying to introduce more tailor-made services in a bid to bring the users and advertisers closer."

Data sourced from Financial Times, Top Tech News; additional content by Warc staff