Line, the messaging upstart out of Japan, is adding group calling into its ever-expanding web of services. Popcorn Buzz, as the app is called, is entering a crowded market for group calling services -- they include dozens of conference calling businesses, along with Skype, Google, Kakao Talk and more. The twist (or gimmick, if you're a bit more cynical) here is that the service is totally free, and lets you add up to 200 people to the call. (That's in contrast even to Line's own voice service, Line Call, which is cheap but not free to use. Line also offers free calls to other Line users in the main app.) The service is live now on Android globally, with an iOS app to come soon. Also soon to come will be group video chat and the ability to talk with a pre-set LINE chat group. While much of what Line has launched to date has been squarely aimed at the consumer market, it seems to be pitching this to would-be business users as well. "Popcorn Buzz can be used to talk with friends and family, catch up with classmates, make plans with club members, and more. On top of that, Popcorn Buzz is a perfect replacement for existing paid business-grade conference call services," the company notes. "Popcorn Buzz accommodates both personal and business usage, all for free." (It's not specified but for business users contemplating this service, I have a feeling that Line will not be adding a quality of service assurance on those 200-person calls.) Line -- with 205 million users and a heavy concentration in its home market of Japan along with a handful of other countries in Asia -- trails behind other messaging services like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger in terms of size, but it has been trying to make up for it by expanding in to many different features beyond basic messaging. The idea is to use each of these other apps or services in the main app -- they include gaming, a dictionary, photo editing, shopping, TV and possibly soon music -- to both increase engagement with existing users and also to draw in new people who have not joined via its basic messaging offer. Then the company makes revenues by way of extras like stickers and other commissions in the apps. It's an interesting enough concept that we've seen others like Facebook also start to build more features into its Messenger app, too. While you have to register with Line to initiate a call, you can then share a call with Line and non-Line users by way of a URL. Those who are already on Line can sync up their Line contacts within Popcorn Buzz. As with other group calling services like Uber Conference and others, whenever a participant talks his or her icon will light up. Languages for this release include Arabic, Brazilian Portuguese, Chinese (Simplified and Traditional), English, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Thai, Turkish, and Vietnamese.
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