On Monday January 11th the man popularly known as ‘the father of WeChat‘, Allen Zhang, gave a rare public speech. At the end of his nearly 1 hour talk he dropped some major news, revealing for the first time WeChat’s plans to launch a completely new kind of WeChat account: WeChat App Accounts (yingyonghao 应用号). The ramifications of this new direction are pretty clear: WeChat is going to take on the app store.
When Allen Zhang speaks, China listens. There simply is no higher authoritative source of WeChat information. Softly spoken Allen has legendary status, having personally led the WeChat core development team from day 1 until now (see our previous article for more info).
While he used much of his rare public appearance to elaborate his philosophy & principles of providing value to WeChat users, it was the last 5 minutes where he let the big news out of the bag: WeChat app accounts, they’re coming!
Above: Our mock up of how a WeChat app store could look like
First some brief background
WeChat currently has 3 types of official account:
Subscription accounts – Which reside in your subscription account folder. These are meant to be for news and other content. ChCh is a good example 😉
Service accounts – which pop up in your timeline like a friend. These are meant to be for companies to provide service. A good example for foreigners in China is Spoonhunt which provides a menu translation service.
Enterprise accounts – used for company internal communication (most users will never see these).
So how are WeChat App Accounts different?
Well, we didn’t get many details yet. But it seems the accounts will work basically as web applications that are accessed through the WeChat browser.
“As long as users subscribe to the (app) accounts in WeChat, they can access the services via functional HTML 5 sites rather than downloading separate applications.”
Above: Could ‘apps’ now be added to our list of search categories within WeChat?
Alan talked about the current problems with app development in China and how WeChat can help:
1. The resources of time and money needed to develop apps for both Android and iOS is high. In China, WeChat has already become the platform of choice for many start-ups helped by a combination of high traffic and low user acquisition costs.
2. The process of downloading, installing and constantly updating the apps for users is tiresome. Not to mention registering new accounts for each app or inputting payment information.
3. Do I really need to download an app just for home design? Some tasks you don’t need to do that often. Downloading and installing a specific app for all these different tasks can seem excessive.
4. In the absence of the Google Play Store, the highly fragmented and highly competitive Chinese android app market lacks a standard.
WeChat App accounts: Really a new way?
You could of course argue that WeChat already has an app store, it’s called WeChat wallet (below), the place where you can buy train tickets, mobile top up, financial products, cinema tickets and much more.
Not forgetting that we also already have a game center that really does act as an app store for Tencent’s games.
What happens to service accounts?
Allen made it clear that he was dissatisfied with how service accounts are being used. These accounts were meant to be primarily for providing services. Instead many service accounts are simply glorified (more visible) subscription accounts. i.e. primarily being used to push content (articles) to followers.
If WeChat app accounts end up providing a much better service experience and with subscription accounts being better for those wanting to publish regular content; could service accounts end up being left as an awkward halfway house?
What happens if WeChat’s new strategy pays off and it ends up mostly replacing the app store in China. What next? Is it beyond the realm of possibility to think WeChat will one day try to make the jump into becoming an operating system?