“No mini-app stores, no entry point in WeChat, limited push notifications, no sharing in WeChat Moments.”

This description from Zhang Xiaolong, Tencent senior vice president and the “Father of WeChat,” on mini-apps has shaken public predictions about WeChat’s product structure. From what we can tell so far, Tencent has been strikingly restrained in integrating mini-apps into WeChat ecosystem.

In anticipation of the official launch of mini-app on January 9th, increasing attentions is being paid to the new feature, expected to create another boost to China’s internet industry like what WeChat has done with public accounts (公众号).

TechNode had the pleasure of speaking to Zhao Jiuzhou, CEO of HuosuMobi, to hear his insights on the prospect and potential impacts of mini-apps. Founded in 2015, HuosuMobi is a B2B service dedicated to HTML5 app and mini-app development.

WeChat mini-app VS H5 and native apps

H5 apps have once been widely regarded as an alternative to overtake native apps. However, both the pros and cons of this technology are obvious: high development efficiency but poor UX/performance. After years of debate, H5 still lacks traction for developers who want to promote user stickiness and gradually turned into a tool for company or product introduction.

Native apps sure can guarantee rich UI and engaging user experience, but it poses higher demands on development and marketing costs. Moreover, it’s difficult to get users download native apps that only offer low-frequency services.

Zhao believes that mini-apps have combined the advantages of H5 and native apps while get rid of their disadvantages.

“Mini-apps have a similar development process with H5 apps. WeChat is a container and mini-app is more efficient because it has put the key elements for loading on WeChat platform (as compared with H5 which needs to download everything),” he says. “Mini-app provides user experiences similar to native apps. That’s why some media consider it a combination of H5’s acquisition model and native app experience.”

Don’t pin your hopes on WeChat traffic: This about connecting offline to WeChat (O2W)

Perhaps more than the technology, people care about whether mini-apps are going to bring new market opportunities. Despite the limited integration with the WeChat system, many are hoping that mini-apps will bring a traffic boost to their brand or product, like the public account feature. However, they may be sadly disappointed.

With 768 million daily active users as of the end of last year, WeChat is shifting its focus from acheiving a larger user base to engaging current users for a longer period of time. In the past, WeChat is the go-to place for social networking and payment. However, even though we may pay for products and services through WeChat, it is not where the sale begins or ends.

Tencent wants to see more users spending more time on WeChat through mini-apps for shopping and entertainment. Furthermore, the company’s real focus is not only about the consumption made online, but the traffic in offline in bricks-and-mortar stores or spaces. In order to truly connect the physical world to the digital, WeChat has given mini-app the best entrance: the QR code.

In the long-term, mini-apps will be the tool for offline merchants to digitalize their customer base. Of course, it may also bring detrimental impacts to online tools. Once discovering a convenient and hassle-free mini-app, who would download a more heavy and complicated native app?

The leading players in different verticals may start feeling the pressure.

This article is translated from a post that first appeared on our sister site, TechNode Chinese.

Image credit: WeChat

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Emma Lee

Emma Lee (Li Xin) was TechNode's e-commerce and new retail reporter until June 2022, when she moved to Sixth Tone to cover technology and consumption. Get in touch with her via lixin@sixthtone.com or Twitter.