WeChat official accounts function is out for only 3 years, the kinda influence it had over marketing industry is incredible. This time, WeChat is back with something seemingly even more ambitious. This time, rumour has it, WeChat wants to replace all other applications. They call it 'WeChat small apps', or 'lite' apps if you will, because you can only use the apps through WeChat and the apps are gone after you use it. Zhang Xiaolong made a keynote speech at the end of 2016 and talked all about it. Here is a collection of what he said and my thoughts on it.
WeChat 'lite' apps:
do not require installation
are within your hands' reach
enable you to use it and close it
do not need to uninstall
One analogy to summarise what WeChat 'lite' app is: the next generation websites on your phone. Xiaolong's speech was sincere and he showed us the engineering side of him. It is not hard to feel his excitement when he talked about the time (20 years ago) he read a book written by Bill Gates. He admires Bill Gates' foresight of how the world could be connected by the Internet and with his engineer's humility he visioned something similar for WeChat 'lite' app. To be honest, I am not entirely sold on the idea, but I have to admit it poses a big question mark for me, that I respect.
Last time I went to Shenzhen Airport, there is something interesting to many signboards. 80% of them have QR code, the QR code that links you to a particular WeChat official account (a lite content publisher). In the PC era, every ad comes with the website. I am very happy nowadays WeChat QR code replaced websites.
One thing my western audience might not understand is that consumers in China behave in a very different way. QR code is an excellent example. In China, you can buy your breakfast just by scanning the QR code. You might say that we have apple pay, android pay. Yes, it is true, but that requires a POS machine. This QR code thing, is huge in China and it is a critical component for 'lite' app's success. Imagine the use case where you go to a restaurant and are waiting at a queue, with no one serving you, you scan the QR code and order all your food on the 'lite' app. I can image the 'lite' app bringing value in this particular case.
"Where should we find 'lite' app in Wechat ?"
There is no entry point for WeChat 'lite' app. This conforms with the decentralised vision for WeChat. if you do not actively seek for the 'lite' app, it would not appear in WeChat.
'Will there be an 'lite' appstore?'
No. There will be neither app ranking nor app distributing stores. WeChat has considered AI recommendation before, but since WeChat is a social application. We will leave this job to your friends.
"Do you subscribe to a 'lite' app?'
No. Going back to the Website analogy, you do not subscribe to a website.
"Will there be push notifications?"
"Can these 'lite' apps be shared?"
Yes, they can be shared to chats and chat groups but not to Moments.
"Can 'lite' apps be searched?"
Yes. But through a very restricted sense, avoid people taking advantage of the first mover advantage.
What is the relationship of 'lite' app and official accounts?
Not related, they are independent of each other however, through one, you would be able to see the other.
'When is 'lite' apps available?'
Tentatively, 9 Jan 2017.
It is not hard to see how the future is planned out for WeChat. However, track record has proven once and once over that social apps like WeChat and Facebook have natural life cycles. Back to the topic of 'lite' apps, I think because the name 'lite apps', people have some unrealistic hopes for it. It is certain (from Xiaolong's speech) that WeChat apps will not replace the everyday apps you use. However, on the battlefield of fighting for people's attention, WeChat might have just won again on the strategic level.