Apple’s recent troubles in China have been blamed on many things, but China’s reliance on mini programs inside WeChat -- and not exclusive apps only found on the iOS App Store -- is one major factor. And now WeChat could become even more powerful, thanks to a fresh tie-up with the world’s biggest smartphone brand.
New Samsung handset models sold in China will give users direct access to WeChat’s in-app mini programs without having to open WeChat first. Users can swipe right on the phone’s home screen to find their five most recently used mini programs. Or they can swipe left from the edge of the display to see their 10 favorite mini programs. Tapping an icon will bring up the mini program.
Since their launch in 2017, mini programs have become a key part of WeChat. These “apps within an app” are no bigger than 10MB each, so they can download and install almost instantly inside WeChat. And like any normal app, they can perform any number of different functions, including hailing a cab, playing games or ordering food online.
Together, mini programs allow WeChat to combine the functions of many apps into just one. As Stratechery’s Ben Thompson wrote, WeChat pretty much becomes your smartphone: The app alone does many of the things you’d expect from an entire phone operating system.
With the new Samsung partnership, WeChat gives users even more direct access to its ecosystem. People can now open a WeChat mini program from the phone’s home screen just like they would any other app.
While Samsung is collaborating with WeChat, other phone makers in Tencent’s home market have tried to fight its dominance.
Chinese smartphone brands Huawei, Xiaomi, Vivo, Oppo and several more announced last year they were working together to build their own version of mini programs, known as “ Quick Apps.” These lightweight apps can be accessed, for example, from the search bar on the home screen or through the phone’s voice assistant.