At midnight last night WeChat finally launched its eagerly awaited mini programs! The launch was timed to coincide with the 10 year anniversary of the iPhone. It’s a big move that WeChat has been planning for just over a year. Read on find out: What are mini programs? And how do I use them?
Left: Mobike’s mini program Right: Mobike’s app
What are mini programs?
Mini programs are light apps built on top of WeChat. They were originally called ‘App accounts’ but in the end Apple did not allow WeChat to use the word ‘app’.
The concept is a simple but powerful one. Normal apps have a lot of problems. They need to be searched for on the app store, downloaded and installed. You might need to register an account to use the app; it will require to be updated regularly. If you want to buy something you’ll have to input your card information.
All of this is done away with when we use mini programs. One tap to open and you are there. One more tap to use your WeChat ID to login if the program requires. Use it and go. No install, no updates, no notifications bothering you.
How do I find a mini program?
Mini programs are deliberately meant to be discovered socially through friends or in the real world by scanning QR codes. There is no official app store for mini programs. There are 3 ways to find a mini program:
1. From sharing in a group or directly from a friend
As you can see from the screenshot. The previews for Mini programs are BIG!
2. From scanning a QR code with your phone’s camera
QR codes in the real world are one of the primary ways to discover mini programs. The system is designed to drastically empower China’s online to offline (O2O) interactions.
3. Directly searching the name of the mini program
An option for mini programs lies on the discovery tab. To activate this new option make sure you are using the latest version of WeChat (6.5.3 at time of writing this article). If you are using an English interface have a friend share a mini program with you.
New mini programs option on the discovery tab
Once you use a mini program it will be stored in your list of recently used programs (see picture above). To search for a mini program by name, go into the mini programs option and select the search icon in the top right.
Used mini programs will also turn up in your normal search results, see example below.
You can pin mini programs to your desktop of Android devices (see below).
4 Interesting Mini Programs We’ve Found So Far
Virtually all of the mini programs out currently are Chinese language ones (the vast majority of WeChat users are after all Chinese). We can expect more English language ones to be coming out in the near future.
This Chinese version of Prisma doesn’t require any language skills to operate. Simply go in, add a picture from your camera roll and start selecting the filters. Save the picture to your phone once you’re happy with the results.
English pronunciation practice
A mini program is for Chinese to practice their English. The app has speech recognition built in to grade you on your pronunciation.
Search for 天天练口语 in mini programs (long press the name to copy and paste).
This crazy looking program allows you access to thousands of stickers which you can customize with your own text.
Search for 表情家园 in mini programs (long press the name to copy and paste).
The mobike mini program works almost exactly the same as the normal version.
It’s no exaggeration to say that with the mini programs framework in place WeChat is now a full device neutral operating system. The deliberate timing of the launch to coincide with the 10 year anniversary of the iPhone is quite ominous. WeChat feels it’s time for a shake up to apps in China.