Zhang Xiaolong, Tencent's vice president, speaks at a meeting in Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong Province on Wednesday.
Feature expected to challenge app distributors, build user loyalty
WeChat, a popular instant messaging tool run by Tencent Holdings, aims to help users access mobile services without downloading separate apps, which experts said may challenge the business of smartphone app distributors such as Apple Store.
This new feature, dubbed "Xiaochengxu" (Little Program), allows WeChat users to find a variety of services such as ticket buying by scanning a quick-response code, saving them the trouble of installing a number of different apps on smart devices, according to the transcript of a speech by Zhang Xiaolong, Tencent's senior executive vice president, on Wednesday. The new function is expected to come online on January 9.
Zhang, known as the father of WeChat, emphasized that Little Program is not a mobile app distributing function.
He spoke in Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong Province.
Still, experts and app developers said that the rollout of Little Program on WeChat will erode the market share of app distributors like Apple Store in China.
"Little Program will attract lots of start-ups, because a program based on WeChat can help them build up businesses at much lower costs," Hao Peiqiang, a Shanghai-based app developer, told the Global Times Wednesday.
If a start-up wants to promote its business via a separate application, it has to hire a special team to develop two different apps - one each for iOS and Android, Hao added.
Little Program also appears to be appealing to consumers.
Yuan Xin, a 25-year-old Beijing resident, expressed excitement about the upcoming launch when speaking with the Global Times.
"Thanks to Little Program, many services such as ticket buying, restaurant reservations and car-hailing can be done via WeChat alone. Therefore, I can save lots of valuable storage space on my phone," said Yuan.
Launched in 2011, WeChat has evolved to include services such as car-hailing, food deliveries, e-commerce and utility payments from just an instant messaging app. "Little Program is something that the firm expects to bank on to facilitate its efforts to connect users with more mobile services, a goal of Tencent to further enhance user loyalty after its success in making people-to-people links," Ma Jihua, a telecom analyst with Beijing Daojing Consultant Co, told the Global Times on Wednesday.
Tencent's latest quarterly financial report showed in November that the monthly active users of WeChat at home and abroad rose 30 percent year-on-year to 846 million during the third quarter.
Of those, 50 percent of the users use WeChat for 90 minutes a day, according to data revealed by WeChat on Wednesday.
Tao Chuanliang, an industry analyst with Beijing-based CCID Consulting, argued that the impact Little Program has on app distributors will be limited in the foreseeable future.
"Given the limited data computing ability of WeChat, its Little Program would mainly replace apps related to e-commerce and online-to-offline services," Tao told the Global Times Wednesday.
Ma agreed, noting that WeChat itself is a mobile application that is hard to use when it comes to running large-scale programs such as mobile games.