WeChat sends beta invitations for Miniapp feature, enabling web apps inside the app

A picture illustration shows a WeChat app icon.

Image Credit: REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic

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Let’s face it, we’ve all found ourselves trapped this loop: We install certain apps whenever the need arises, run out of space two weeks later, and after long and thorough deliberation, finally decide which ones get to stay and which ones have to go — to make room for selfies — only to eventually reinstall them again later.

Soon, WeChat users may finally be emancipated from this never-ending cycle of installing and deleting. Since midnight last Thursday, Tencent’s increasingly encompassing WeChat app has been sending out beta invites for its long-anticipated Miniapp functions. These are essentially web apps that are embedded inside the WeChat app and that you can find and use without installing bulky applications on your phone.

WeChat Miniapp’s beta invite reads:

We’re offering a way for developers to quickly create an app that can be easily shared and disseminated within WeChat, with an outstanding user experience.

So how will these nifty web apps be accessed through WeChat’s app? Tencent published a six-second sneak-peek video, where one lucky invitee entered a screenful of Miniapp icons after tapping the newly added Miniapp bar under the Discover tab. The user in the video opened a stock trading Miniapp, showing real-time stock quotes. According to Tencent, the APIs that creators can work with include videos, GPS, data cache, log-in, graphs, and, of course, WeChat pay.

“Father of WeChat” Zhang Xiaolong’s post.

Zhang Xiaolong, the mastermind and creator of WeChat, has offered his personal definition of Miniapps: “These are apps that you don’t need to install, you can open them simply by searching or scanning them, which accommodates a ‘delete after use’  habit.” This would reinvent the mobile app to make them ubiquitous and constantly accessible.

Blueprints for Application Accounts (corresponding to the existent Service Accounts, Public accounts, etc.) within the WeChat app were first revealed in January this year, when Xiaolong proclaimed that, in the grand scheme of things, WeChat had bigger things in mind than distribution of content — notably, helping to provide services.

With it becoming almost prohibitively expensive to acquire downloads and registered users — nearly 100 RMB ($15USD) to acquire each new user, according to Wang Guanxiong, founder of Beijing consultancy Entrance Product Institute, it’s easy to see why people are so enthusiastic about WeChat’s Miniapps. At least in the first flush following the product launch, Miniapps will likely shave user acquisition costs by tapping directly into WeChat’s immense user base.

However, we can reasonably expect that once the number of Miniapps proliferates and competition rapidly ascends to near the current breakneck rate, rewards from developing within WeChat will wane.

Rejoice as users may over the redemption of their over-saturated phones, developers have nagging doubts as to how well Miniapps will serve clients in comparison to a full-fledged app.

Billy Chan, who runs B2B liquor platform Foowala in Shanghai voiced his concerns: “For basic html functionality, it works amazingly well. But as we’re increasing the complexity behind our features, I’m worried the ‘app within an app’ concept will affect overall performance.”

This story originally appeared on TechNode. Copyright 2016


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