Mainland mobile social media networks at the forefront of the ‘all-in-one’ app revolution
WeChat has introduced a ‘mini app’ that it hopes will keep its 800 million users glued to its site, without the need to visit other online stores
A new feature for WeChat’s nearly 800 million users has generated quite a buzz across the country. It was obviously intentional that Tencent, WeChat’s owner, launched the so-called in-app function on the 10th anniversary of Apple’s iPhone. Just as the late Steve Jobs’ iconic creation has brought mobile computing to the masses, WeChat is hoping to achieve something comparably far-reaching. There is no guarantee that the new “in-app” ecology that WeChat is creating will succeed, but there is no question that the future of mobile apps is going in that direction.
In the last 10 years, iPhone, WeChat and other rival services have evolved so much technologically that they have changed our way of life. Advances in mobile computing have enhanced productivity and connectivity among people. But they have also created new problems such as cybersecurity and privacy, as well as information overload.
Advances such as WeChat’s “in-app” aim to economise the need to download so many apps. The new feature enables users to find and access new mobile apps while on WeChat, without having to visit app stores. Such “mini apps”, called Xiaochengxu, span everything from file sharing and video chatting to ride-hailing and online payments.
They have great appeal because they are easy to access and use. But what makes traditional app stores such as Apple’s successful is that standards are enforced, features are rated and their availability is concentrated in one place. Without effective quality control, mini apps can quickly become unruly, with the mediocre and useless competing in the same space as the truly great in-apps. Xiaochengxu must march and even outrun traditional killer-apps in convenience, productivity, safety and appeal in order to generate their own ecology. That’s a tall order.
Be that as it may, social media and mobile apps are clearly ready for a radical overhaul. And mainland networks like WeChat are at the forefront of this transformation for the next generation of killer apps.