Zhang Xiaolong is rather unknown in Europe, but has changed the lives of millions of Chinese people. The graduate of Huazhong University of Science and Technology developed his own messaging app in 2010.
At first glance, WeChat looks like a Chinese version of the Facebook Messenger. At any rate, there was a demand for such a service in China: Because all Facebook applications are still blocked in China today. However, the app launched by Zhang Xiaolong has long since emancipated itself from the American model and added a large number of its own functions. In the meantime, the app is no longer a pure messenger, but rather a digital assistant.
Because almost all everyday things can be done via the Messenger: Ordering food, booking flights, taking out loans and even buying bonds - all these things can be handled easily via the WeChat app. Of course, this brings enormous convenience for the users. But for the providers of other apps this becomes a problem because many Chinese users never leave the messenger service when they pick up their smartphone. The WeChat concept seems to be well received in China, at least: The service has more than 800 million users. By comparison, WhatsApp and the Facebook Messenger each have about one billion users worldwide.
Now the developers of the WeChat app are going one step further. The service now also supports so-called mini-programs. Unlike classic apps, these can be loaded and used directly via Messenger. The idea behind it is clear: users should be even more bound to their own app and ideally not need any alternative offers at all. So far, however, the functions of these mini-programs are still very limited - not least because they cannot be larger than one megabyte. Nevertheless, the imagination of numerous developers has already been fired. Hundreds of mini-programs are already available today.
However, this means that the app is no longer just a competitor for classic messenger services, but is now directly attacking the manufacturers of the operating systems. After all, if everything is done via the WeChat app anyway, it ultimately makes no difference whether Android, iOS or any other system is installed on the smartphone. The Google Play Store and the AppStore would also probably become superfluous in the long term. It remains to be seen how Apple and Google will react to this threat. Because there are also initial tendencies in this direction in Europe and the United States: for example, chat bots from other companies can now be installed on the Facebook Messenger.
However, this does not yet cover such a broad spectrum as in China. European companies would be well advised, however, to start thinking about a future after the classic apps today and experiment with chat bots, for example. WeChat, on the other hand, has been trying for some time to gain a foothold outside China. However, the service is currently only available in Canada and the USA in a reduced form - for example, there is no integrated payment function. The company is also struggling with another problem: Chinese users are required to censor all messages that contain certain terms specified by the government. Tibet or Tiananmen, for example. So far, the developers are still looking for technical possibilities to carry out this censorship only for Chinese users.