More than 25 million smart devices from more than 2400 hardware makers have connected to WeChat’s hardware platform, the company announced last month (August 2015).

After having signed up more than one billion human accounts, WeChat aims to register all kinds of connected machines, enabling users to interact with their devices through ‘WeChat Public Account’, a platform where developers can build sophisticated functions and features with the available API. In short, a WeChat Public Account can function like a web app.

WeChat-connected iHealth Fitness Tracker
WeChat-connected iHealth Fitness Tracker

Since mid-2014 WeChat began releasing APIs and solutions for connected devices that their respective WeChat Public Accounts can add mobile payment (WeChat Payment), speech recognition, customer service and other capabilities.

Now these accounts are able to control connected devices, interact with their users, collect user data, see user metrics, among other things.

Also, there’s a marketplace for WeChat-connected devices and WeChat promises to help with online marketing and sales by partnering with JD.com, the leading online retailer in which WeChat’s parent company Tencent holds a stake.

The Third Unignorable Mobile Development Platform

WeChat Public Account is aiming to become a third prominent mobile platform in China, after iOS and Android. Some businesses even prioritize the WeChat platform, and many organizations or individuals who don’t have iOS or Android apps are actively building their presence on WeChat.

Aside from the huge base of active users everyone wants to access, other reasons include the massive amount of time Chinese users spend on WeChat, as well as the chance of getting users to add a WeChat Public Account is higher with the one-click option. E-coupons or promo posts published through WeChat are more likely to go viral, in an attempt to promote its own content publishing system. Public Accounts are also able to communicate with their followers directly with an intimate interface.

WeChat Fitness Chart
WeChat Fitness Chart (image: Sina.com.cn)

Social is another major factor that differentiates WeChat from the rest platforms. WeChat Fitness ranks you and all your WeChat contacts based on activity data collected, no matter what activity tracking devices you use.

All the activity tracking devices that connect to the WeChat platform are required to integrate WeChat Fitness. Users can share results to Moments – WeChat’s content sharing platform – or to their WeChat friends.

Innovative Use Cases

The hardware-user interactions enabled by WeChat, such as scanning a QR code on a device to subscribe to its WeChat Public Account, have inspired a host of interesting services.

ICON Printer by Welomo
ICON Printer by Welomo

ICON, one of the earliest players to take advantage of the WeChat platform, will print out a digital photo after you send it to its WeChat Public Account and pay with WeChat Payment.

The WeChat Public Account of a Meeting Room Displays Indoor Environmental Quality Factors
The WeChat Public Account of a Meeting Room Displays Indoor Environmental Quality Factors

Ayla Networks, a U.S.-based internet-of-things solution provider, built a smart meeting room at WeChat headquarters in 2014. After scanning the QR code on a door to sign in the WeChat Public Account, meeting members are able to open the door, schedule meetings, check indoor environmental quality factors, and control all the connected devices in the room, ranging from air conditioners to projectors.

Ayla Networks later debuted a WeChat-connected smart hotel together with The LINQ Hotel & Casino during the international Consumer Electronics Show 2015.

Some TV makers such as TCL have transformed their WeChat Public Account into a remote control. These TVs can be controlled through either virtual buttons or voice commands. Viewers are also able to manage their watchlists or take screen shots through a WeChat Public Account.

WeChat Game Tian Tian Ku Pao on Razer
WeChat Game Tian Tian Ku Pao on Razer

Razer Nabu, an activity tracking wristband by gaming hardware and software developer Razer, released a WeChat-connected version where users will be rewarded for real-life exercise with virtual items for Tian Tian Ku Pao, a popular running game on WeChat. The band also alerts those who’ve received WeChat messages and can get two WeChat users connected via a high-five or a handshake.

Shaking to Receive e-Coupons with WeChat
Shaking to Receive e-Coupons with WeChat

Through an API released in January 2015, beacon-enabled features can be added to a WeChat Public Account. In stores that have implemented Beacons users will receive e-coupons or other promo messages using WeChat’s Shake feature.

Also, participants will automatically become subscribers of the store’s WeChat Public Account. On the shady side – the store can then access their personal information, even if they delete the account after participating in the campaign.

Image credit: WeChat, Sina.com.cn

Tracey Xiang is Beijing, China-based tech writer. Reach her at traceyxiang@gmail.com

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