ICON is a mobile photo printer that enables printing photos directly through WeChat. After adding an official WeChat account and sending a photo to it, you’ll have a Lomo style photo print in 30 seconds. The printer was developed and launched in 2012 by a startup WeLomo, not by WeChat or its parent company Tencent.
Commenting on ICON, Allen Zhang (aka. Zhang Xiaolong), lead of WeChat, said back in 2012 something like, “eventually … not only can WeChat connect people but also Internet-connected machines. Every machine will have a QR code as its ID and be controlled through WeChat.”
Tencent itself never developed any hardware in house but did launched a lot by partnering with third-party manufacturers. In late 2012 it rolled out a custom earphone for WeChat voice messaging.
It is expected more gadgets taking advantage of WeChat’s APIs like ICON will come out. And different from all other hardware products, WeChat solution-embedded products will be able to engage WeChat users and leverage the whole ecosystem.
More than a Mobile Photo Printer
It took WeLomo team three months to develop the prototype, hardware and software, but only nine days to get it work with WeChat, according to an interview with the company by Chinese tech site ifanr. It must have something to do with the fact that the company is based in the same city, Guangzhou, with WeChat team and was one of the first hardware products to take advantage of WeChat.
As both ICON and WeChat would evolve later on, users now can find the nearest ICON printer through WeChat’s “People Nearby” feature or pay for photo prints through WeChat Payment.
WeLomo has come up with a licensing program and tries to make ICON a WeChat marketing product for all kinds of businesses. China Unicom, one of the three Chinese carriers, announced yesterday that ICONs would be placed in 200 outlets in 32 Chinese cities. To get photo prints in an outlet, users need to subscribe to a WeChat account of China Unicom’s and pay RMB1 cent for a photo through WeChat Payment.
It looks like low cost entertainment for users, but for China Unicom it means WeChat subscribers that they can interact with later on and who will be able to make payments in one click as they must have bundled bank accounts onto WeChat Payment before they can pay the one cent. Unlike some social marketing campaigns that users may unsubscribe from a business’ account after they have won some rewards, most of the visitors to China Unicom’s outlets must be its users and are more likely to stay in touch with its official accounts.
WeLomo has developed more features on top of WeChat’s subscriber management system; for instance, an analytics service for businesses like China Unicom to track and analyze behaviors of their WeChat subscribers. Management software for ICON is also available for China Unicom to monitor every ICON so that they don’t have to visit every store to check on all of them.
ICONs now are in coffee shops, department stores, press conference, fashion shows and so on.
WeChat POS Machine
Rumors swirling about WeChat POS machine have been floating around for a while. It seems unlikely the WeChat team or any team at Tencent are developing it on their own, but it’s possible that WeChat is working with one or more manufacturing partners on it.
Yunyi is such a company rumored to be working on such a WeChat POS solution. According to a report by Sohu IT, the company is partnering Micro-life, Tencent’s local service division. Micro-life has created a platform on WeChat for merchants on its online platform to do CRM or sell goods, taking payments through WeChat Payment.
A WeChat POS solution is expected to help merchants collect money at their brick-and-mortar stores. What will have them choose such one over others must be WeChat ecosystem where they can interact with subscribers or see their consumption behaviors through an analytics system offered by the POS solution provider.
Update: WeiPass, a Chinese appcessory maker would announce such a WeChat POS machine, WeiPOS, on March 11th. A WeChat payment will be made through a QR code generated by the POS machine. Apart from WeChat Payment, WeiPOS also helps businesses manage e-coupons, group-buying deals, online ordering, among others.