Smartisan’s new messaging app looks to include payment features as it competes with WeChat
Chinese smartphone maker Smartisan may be a start-up, but founder Luo Yonghao has no qualms about taking on internet behemoth Tencent’s WeChat, the ubiquitous all-in-one app that has become a permanent fixture in the devices of over a billion users.
A week after Smartisan launched a messaging app called Zidan Duanxin, which means Bullet Messaging, the outspoken Chinese entrepreneur posted on Weibo that it may soon include payment features from Alipay.
Including Alipay features into Zidan Duanxin would give the app a leg up in competition with WeChat, which not only allows users to communicate with their friends but also make mobile payments and peer-to-peer transfers through WeChat Pay. WeChat Pay and Alibaba-affiliated Alipay are China’s two dominant third-party payment players.
Since its launch, Zidan Duanxin has shot up app store charts and currently ranks as the most downloaded free app on the Apple iOS app store in China, according to app analytics platform App Annie.
Zidan Duanxin differs from WeChat in that it has an automatic voice-to-text function that uses Chinese voice recognition company iFlyTek’s voice input technology, whereas WeChat users have to listen to each voice message individually to figure out its content or manually select a transcription feature to see the text. However, Ziduan Duanxin does not yet have a social newsfeed, like WeChat’s Moments, where users post links, photos and status updates, as well as being able to see what their friends have shared.
“It’s not realistic to uninstall WeChat, but Alipay may soon be integrated into Zidan Duanxin,” Luo, who also serves as chief executive of Smartisan, wrote in response to a user who asked if Alipay’s payment features could be included in the app.
A spokesperson for Ant Financial, which operates Alipay, said it welcomes “all eligible businesses to incorporate Alipay’s solutions into their products and services”.
A Smartisan spokesperson said both companies were "in talks". Tencent did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Smartisan has differentiated itself in China’s competitive smartphone industry by transforming product launches into annual variety shows, where people buy tickets to be entertained by Luo, who is an internet celebrity. He founded the company in 2012 with 8 million yuan in start-up capital.
Smartisan’s decision to possibly include Alipay’s payments features into its app comes as China’s internet companies race to expand their ecosystem of services to increase user stickiness and engagement.
China, as the world’s largest smartphone market with 717 million smartphone users according to the China Internet Report co-authored by the South China Morning Post, its tech news site Abacus and San Francisco-based venture capital firm 500 start-ups, represents a massive opportunity for Chinese internet giants like Alibaba and Tencent. For these companies, attracting and keeping users within their ecosystem of services is key to gaining market share and remaining dominant.
WeChat, which started out as a messaging app, has since evolved into an all-in-one platform that includes games, payments, food delivery features and access to a variety of services via mini programs in the app.
Alipay itself has integrated a variety of features into its smartphone app, including the ability to hail a ride and even shop for discounted deals on its e-commerce platform Taobao.
Alibaba is the parent company of the Post.