WeChat launches new style QR codes For Mini Programs

Matthew Brennan Features

Last night WeChat launched a completely new kind of QR code for China entitled Mini Program Codes (小程序码). Check out a sample below and read on to find out: How do the new codes work? Why are WeChat launching them? and Is WeChat copying Facebook now?

Example of the new QR codes below:

KFC Mini Program Code

How do they work?

For a WeChat user the new QR codes work exactly the same as the old ones. Long press to open up the scan option from within WeChat and use the front facing camera when you see one offline. The codes are only for developers of WeChat mini programs (If you still don’t know what mini programs are then read our previous article). As long as you have the latest version of WeChat currently version 6.5.7 then you will be able to scan the new codes.

Subway Mini Program Code

Subway map mini program

(actually a really, really useful mini program)

Hang on, these new codes will only work in WeChat right? This looks like a land grab. Isn’t it their new way of claiming QR codes for themselves and making it so they only work in WeChat and no anywhere else?

I have news for you. WeChat QR codes are already proprietary to WeChat and have been so for a long long time. Don’t believe me? Below is an Alipay QR code. Try scanning it with WeChat and you will get an error message.

Alipay to WeChat QR codes

Left: an Alipay QR code Right: Error message when scanned in WeChat

Try scanning a WeChat QR code with Taobao’s scanner. Again you won’t be able to. You’ll get a message like this below.

Taobao to WeChat QR codes

Is WeChat copying Facebook now?

For once Western messaging apps can finally claim that WeChat is copying them. It’s nearly always the other way round as WeChat is widely considered to be 2 to 3 years ahead of Western messaging apps.Facebook Messenger, Snapchat & Kik have had their own pretty versions of QR codes for a considerable time now.

Facebook Messenger & Snapchat QR codes

Above: What do you mean you don’t follow DJ Khaled on Snapchat?

Outside China and Japan, QR codes have had shall we say have had a bit of a reputation problem to date and as such Western apps have in general tried to hide the technology by making it look prettier for some time now. To quote former WeChat team member and tech industry blogger Dan Grover “They (QR codes) look like robot barf”.

Robot QR code puke

So why are WeChat launching new QR codes now?

The new style QR codes are part of a simply staggering number of new features for Mini Programs that WeChat has released in the past 2 weeks. It’s quite unprecedented to see so many new features being rolled out in such a short space of time even for WeChat. It’s beyond break neck pace currently and the new features blitzkrieg shows little sign of holding up.


Will the new QR codes be a success?

The novelty factor of the new QR codes will definitely lead to a short term spike in mini program usage. We can expect most WeChat users to give the new QR codes a try simply out of curiosity which in itself will be a huge short term boost to the mini programs initiative. In the longer term the only thing we know right now for sure is that Alipay will shamelessly copy and paste the shit out of this.