However, WeChat is being tipped as the first Chinese social media app with the potential to go global. In the past, it has proved difficult for Chinese apps to expand beyond the country. But WeChat breaks the boundaries as it is now one of the most downloaded apps in surrounding Asian countries.
The Similarities and Differences with Western Apps
WeChat is similar to WhatsApp. But WeChat does more. It is an amalgamation of other digital tools akin to Twitter, Line and Apple Pay. It also comes in several languages including Chinese, English, Korean, and Russian. Despite WeChat being first released in January 2011 as a text/voice/photo-sharing app, it has expanded to provide functionality so that their users can book taxis, buy event tickets, play games, check in for flights and pay bills in any retail store and most Chinese shopping centres.
“I used WhatsApp before I went back to China and found all my friends were using WeChat. It contains lots of different functionalities, some of them are similar with the western chat apps. For example, the feature ‘Moments’ works similar to ‘Stories’ in Snapchat and Instagram, allowing Users to share photos and life moments.” said Liu, who is 25 and had studied abroad for few years.
Another feature is WeChat allows Users to ‘Shake’ (also known as the ‘hook-up’ feature), which allows Users to chat with strangers nearby by randomly shaking their smartphone. It’s notable that WeChat also contains the feature that links with User’s card details allowing them to make contactless payments. This feature is similar to Apple Pay. “We don’t need to bring any cash or bank card with us when we visit most shopping centres in China,” said Liu.
At its core, WeChat doesn’t bring anything new to the table. But it combines the best features from several popular apps that result in a unified experience for all its Users.
The WeChat features speak for themselves:
- Send and receive text message, voice/video calls
- Live chats – a new feature similar to using walkie-talkies
- Send and receive special emoticons
- Group chat – this feature that’s consistently highlighted in their marketing material
- Moments – named “Friend Circle” where Users can share their photos, similar to Snapchat and Instagram Stories
- There’s ample integration with the User’s social and financial accounts.
- Support all online banking features, such as; purchasing shopping, transferring money, paying bills, etc.
- Support Multi-platform, such as Web WeChat, PC WeChat, making the whole experience somewhat richer.
Based in mainland China, it’s an amazing feat that WeChat continues to grow its user-base so fast despite several censorship rules that the government enforces on the online/software companies in the country. As of November 2016, WeChat has 800 million users globally, making it one of the most popular chat apps in the world.