Months after opening for beta tests, Tencent announced today more details about its long-awaited mini-app (小程序) feature. Zhang Xiaolong, Tencent Senior Vice President and the “Father of WeChat,” disclosed at the WeChat Open Class that the new feature will be released on January 9th.
At the beginning of the year, Zhang Xiaolong defined mini-apps as “. . . apps that you don’t need to install, you can open them simply by searching or scanning them, which accommodates a ‘delete after use’ habit.”
What will Mini-Apps Look Like?
There will be no entry point for mini-apps inside the WeChat app itself. Rather, mini-apps will only be accessible through QR codes.
Zhang explained that the design is consistent with the company’s initiative of forming a decentralized landscape away from WeChat.
“This will also motivate internet companies to work closer with offline stores because the entry point of mini-apps is in QR codes rather than WeChat,” he said.
In good news for app stores, Zhang reiterated that WeChat has no plan to develop a store for mini-apps or get involved in app distribution. In addition, these apps will only have limited push notification functions so that users won’t get bombarded with spam. However, if a user wishes, they can choose to receive a limited set of notifications. The details of how this will actually work remains unclear.
It seems that Tencent is aiming something completely different from its previous features. Users cannot share mini-apps in their WeChat Moments, but can send them to friends of group chats. In addition, mini-app search and gaming features are not supported.
There’s Too Many Apps, Does This Solve the Problem?
In today’s world of more than 2 million Apps, we could safely say that There’s TOO MANY APPS for that. Mini-apps could be an option to reinvent the mobile app to make them ubiquitous and constantly accessible.
Tencent is not alone in seeing this market change. Both Apple and Google released some “apps within apps“ feature to give brands and businesses new and more valuable ways of reaching consumers.
WeChat has certainly been the dominant social media player since launching in 2011. However, with its growing ubiquity has also come a growing saturation and stagnant user growth. Mini-apps, a threat to app stores or no, seem to be another move by WeChat to ensure that their service stays as sticky as possible, both online and off.
Update, Dec 29: The original article stated that mini-apps could only be found by scanning QR codes in physical stores. This is inaccurate: WeChat did not specify that mini-app QR codes could only be found in certain places, online or off.