Imagine a mobile application that combines the best features of Skype, Whatsapp, iMessage, Instagram and even Google’s Circles. Well, it’s here in China, and it’s called Weixin. This mobile app for smartphones was recently re-dubbed WeChat as Tencent prepares to launch it into global markets.
Tencent is first and foremost known for its QQ product. This popular instant messaging platform boasts over 700 million users and is the leader in China. In addition, Tencent has built China’s highest revenue generating online game company. The Internet company has also launched products in e-commerce, social networking services (SNS), and even video.
Despite some of its major successes, Tencent has had a challenge in breaking into social media and SNS. The WeChat product could be the killer product that changes all of that. With it, Tencent is purporting to break out of the teenager gaming demographic into the greater global social media market. Here are some reasons why WeChat gets our thumbs up:
The user interface is intuitive and easy to use and understand. Users can just start using the application directly after installation. WeChat uses your mobile phone contact list as a starting point for creating your contact list. Since you already have mobile numbers and names, it can get you up and running almost immediately.
WeChat introduces a “Walkie Talkie” function that is pretty handy. Why type or text when you can push a button like a walkie talkie and its send out short audio bursts to your contact. The lag is minimal – just slightly slower than a voice call – but still faster than an SMS and able to capture tone. Since it’s all saved, you can time shift your response similar to an SMS and reply when you have more time. Having a wifi or 3G connection is required but these days, that’s the norm for most communication tools.
It’s free. There are no further in-app purchases and you can send messages and voice messages around the world anywhere for free to your contacts as long as you have wifi or internet connection. As a tool, WeChat will become an iPhone essential.
The application is well written and as far as we can tell, relatively bug free. Rumor has it that this application was done not by Tencent’s internal QQ team but by an acquired team which has led to some friction within the already cutthroat divisions. However, if competition breeds innovation and high quality applications, then who isn’t for a little bit of competition now and then.
WeChat also has some other features which users can use or ignore such as sharing picture albums and even sending files or music. One can create friend circles or play with other similar SNS-like functions. We felt the most creative usage of the app was that it’s discovery tool connected you with random and available people nearby. Can we say hook-up tool, anybody? There’s even a message in a bottle feature that lets you leave random messages for the community.
Many observers are still waiting what further additions WeChat will incorporate like more enhanced gaming or even advanced microblogging options. Unlike other SNS or social media tools in China which started from the web for PCs and desktops, WeChat has been built from the ground up for mobile devices, taking advantage all the features and sensors that smartphones can provide from GPS to a Camera.
In in the Western market, we don’t see any clear counterpart for WeChat, so Tencent is foraying into blue ocean here with plenty of iOS and Android fish in the sea.
Could this be the Trojan horse that Tencent has been looking for to help it move beyond teenagers in China to the digital elite around the world?