What is WeChat, or will WeChat be the first Chinese web product to succeed outside of China?
Like every smart phone user, you have probably downloaded a fair number of mobile apps with the secret hope that one of them will finally do everything that you want it to do without inflicting psychedelic pop-up ads and wasting your battery. Like me you have come to the conclusion that there is still some water to go under the bridge before you see it happening.
I was surprised to find out that WeChat actually is this all-in-one mobile communicator that seem to be able to do everything a smartphone user can possibly want. Free video chat, text messaging, hold-to-talk voice messaging, photo/video sharing, location sharing, and contact information exchange. Like Instagram, photos can be taken and embellished with artistic filters shared to friends. Surprisingly for an app originated from a Facebookophobic area of the world, registration can be done via Facebook Connect. Another interesting feature is the possibility to meet new people by shaking your phone simultaneously with as another random user. Brand-wise, the application was initially launched as Weixin in China in January 2011 was re-branded as WeChat in April 2012. It now counts more than 100 million users.
Technically speaking, WeChat (Chinese: 微信; pinyin: Wēixìn; literally “micro message”) was developed by Tencent in China, the company behind QQ. It is now available for Android, iPhone, Windows Phone, and Symbian platforms. It supports English, traditional/simplified Chinese, Indonesian, Portuguese, Thai, Vietnamese, and Russian. WeChat is supported on Wi-Fi, 3G, and 4G data networks, etc. I spare you the rest of the jargon.
WeChat seems to have gained its popularity in China because of the possibility to send messages without having to type them in Chinese. Everyone who has tried to write Chinese on a mobile phone can appreciate the comfort that this is bringing to Chinese users. But Tencent has been able to tap into its huge QQ user base to make of Weixin/WeChat a nationwide phenomenon.
What is different from WhatsApp?
WeChat has at least two options that differentiate it from the very popular WhatsApp. The first is the “Look around” that shows all the people that are also looking for people around. People are sorted in a list by the shortest distance from the user. The second one is the “Drift Bottle” which consists on writing a message or talk, put the message in a bottle, and throw it to the virtual sea. Soon or later a random person will take the bottle with your message and he could reply to you or add you in his/her contact list.
Is it working?
“Tencent has a solution that is being praised in Asian tech press and beyond, and they have plenty of cash to back up their push. There are reasons why they could fail, but even if the international push doesn’t go to plan you’re left with China’s biggest internet company and a mobile app in China that is quickly moving to rival Sina’s Weibo in popularity”
Fredrik Oqvist, on www.tradingfloor.com
The figures below of its stock performance seem to show that Tencent’s popular app WeChat is about to become this global hit.
In conclusion, WeChat is a really well designed communication app that seems to respond to smartphones users’ needs. It definitely competes with other world popular apps like Instagram, Whatsapp, Viber or Facebook Messenger. Time will tell if it can become China’s first consumer internet product to succeed outside of China. In any case, WeChat will definitely remain the most used communication applications in the Chinese market for a long time.
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