Tag Archives: wechat

WeChat’s humble beginnings

The return of a blog is not an auspicious moment, but it’s worse to apologize for it.  Yet, after literally years of half written missives sitting in Evernote, I’m trying again — shorter form stuff that’s just too long for 5 tweets, but short enough not to be annoying or Wrong.

WeChat has enjoyed absolutely explosive growth and has begun an international push the likes of which we don’t’ often see from Chinese companies. On my last trip through India, I saw WeChat’s TV ad with Lionel Messi eleventy billion times. It’s now one of the most frequently used apps worldwide.

Statista and Global Web Index graph of most used iPhone apps globally[Source]

All of this is interesting, but I wanted to reflect on how very Asian WeChat’s core offering is, and what that may say about the future of the global mobile experience:

I first installed Weixin not long after it launched. The feature set was thin, focusing on asynchronous voice chat, which was a unique solution to two issues facing the average Chinese smartphone mobile user:

  • Voice calls are crazy expensive (if you consider PPP and compare it to data rates)
  • Data services is spotty / slow, most users are on 2G, and 3G is really 3G in name-only.

WeChat’s asynchronous voice eliminates reliability issues for data-connection drive voice communications, for a fraction of the cost of the equivalent voice call.1 From my perspective, I grew up with Answering machines and Voicemail, so I hated (and continue to rarely use) the Voice Chat feature. I don’t get it. Also, I was clearly not the target user.

While WeChat has expanded past this Asynchronous voice feature, it’s dominance in China has been so amazing that every other IP messaging service has added a version of asynchronous Voice Chat: WhatsApp, the very most western of IP messaging services, is the final adopter to launch voice chat this month

I look at this two ways:
* If your app solves a pressing problem for an Asian market, you’ve got a shot at tons of users (forgetting that revenue problem for a moment)
* “western” apps are looking to Asia to grow their businesses, and adopting features that may not be in demand within their core user base.

I could go on and make a deeper point, but let’s keep the first post in 2 years a bit light, eh?


1 It also wasn’t really their idea, Bubbly[http;//bubblemotion.com] launched earlier with a similar voice-chat offering, but was mysteriously was blocked in China not long before WeChat’s launch.