Tencent’s messaging platform WeChat has launched a new platform called Mini Programs, where brands and businesses developers are able to build programs on the platform without users having to leave the app. Users can scan a QR code or search for the name of program to be opened within WeChat. Tencent claims that messaging app will remain lean as the cloud-based platform requires no extra storage space. Mini Programs can be seen as an alternative to traditional app store distribution but Tencent claims Mini Programs is different because it does not provide central location to distribute apps like Apple App Store and Google Play Store.
Mini Programs will continue to help Tencent to drive user engagement and position WeChat as the central portal for a range of experiences as users will not have to leave the messaging app to go to a different application. WeChat will also be able monetise this when developers register on its new platform.
Western messaging services are starting to follow WeChat’s lead but are still some way behind. Apple launched its iMessage platform in September 2016 that enables developers to build third party apps to integrate with iMessage. Google had also previously explored a similar approach to instant content with the launch of “web of apps” in 2015, in which Google Chrome users are able to download app extension within the web browser.
“Mini Programs” attracts developers to build “lighter” apps
Instead of developing a standalone app, developers or start-ups are able to build program on this platform. The platform is attractive for developers with lesser budget or those who are not confident to invest in building a new app, considering they do not have to build separate apps for iOS and Android. Developers will also hope to benefit from the scale of the WeChat audience (846 million monthly active users in the third quarter of 2016) and its ability to monetise its users. In return, developers will have to decide whether they are willing cede more control of the user experience to WeChat.
WeChat’s new platform will not impact existing app stores, at least for now
The new platform will not impact global app stores, like Apple App Store and Google Play Store for now. However, it may have more impact on smaller apps on apps stores in China, including MyApp, Baidu Mobile Assistant, 360 Mobile Assistant and Xiaomi App Store. This is because more than 70% of WeChat’s MAUs are from China and the international version of WeChat does not draw as much user engagement compared to the one in China. However, Mini Programs will only affect lighter apps, but not applications with heavier function, such as streaming videos, music and games.
With Mini Programs, Tencent will be able to drive more user engagement and monetisation, as well as greater access to user data. This is important for the company to further strengthen its position as tech giant in China. However, it will take time for app developers and consumers to adapt to the new platform.