WeChat’s mini pro­grams could dis­rupt mar­ket

The Star Early Edition - - LETTERS -

THE big­gest long-term threat to the iPhone isn’t An­droid, Sam­sung or China’s bevy of cheap phones. In­stead, it’s that apps work bet­ter if you em­bed them in a sin­gle pro­gram.

WeChat, China’s lead­ing so­cial me­dia app, has just launched a new plat­form with that in mind. It has the po­ten­tial to re­con­fig­ure smart­phones rad­i­cally.

The com­pany calls the con­cept “mini pro­grams”, and the idea is that users can call up use­ful fea­tures from third par­ties – photo fil­ters, lan­guage tools, ride-shar­ing ser­vices – within the WeChat app and use them in­stantly, with no down­load­ing or in­stal­la­tion. This solves two cru­cial prob­lems plagu­ing the app model.

First, the av­er­age size of an app has been in­creas­ing as de­vel­op­ers pack in more fea­tures and me­dia. That’s not a prob­lem if you have un­lim­ited data and a new iPhone 7. But in emerg­ing mar­kets con­sumers tend to use capped data plans and older phone mod­els with less mem­ory.

The sec­ond prob­lem is shared by users world­wide: Reg­is­ter­ing an app is an­noy­ing.

Mini pro­grams, by con­trast, aren’t found in an app store. Users get links to them from friends or groups in a chat, or by scan­ning a QR code. Be­cause they op­er­ate from the cloud, there’s no band­width-eat­ing down­loads. Be­cause they ac­cept pay­ments from WeChat’s wal­let, there’s no need to reg­is­ter or di­vulge pay­ment in­for­ma­tion.

WeChat isn’t the only ser­vice to ex­per­i­ment with mini pro­grams, but it’s bet­ter po­si­tioned to suc­ceed with 768 mil­lion daily users.

For now, WeChat is chang­ing smart­phones in China. One day, soon, its im­pact will be felt world­wide.

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