WeChat has issued its newest update signaling that mini programs are about to grow even more important. The new 6.2.2 beta version allows user access to open source applications from the WeChat mini program page inside the mobile app. This means that mini programs are able to open third-party apps but only if they were shared from the application to WeChat. WeChat has noted that it currently does not support any other paths to opening third-party apps. The feature is currently only available on Android devices.

Developers can now also customize the title bar section on the mini programs menu, meaning that businesses will be able to adjust the visual look of the mini app to match their brand.

Mini programs are available directly from WeChat and do not require downloading. They started slowly after their launch in January 2017, but the pace has picked up. Their number has grown and they have become more easily discoverable through the “Mini Programs Nearby” feature.

The latest version also supports account switching, a feature long-desired by users with big address books. WeChat only allows 5000 contacts per account; if you have more than that, you previously needed another phone and phone number.

According to WeChat, which announced its newest numbers at WeChat Open Class PRO last week, 170 million users are using mini programs every day. During the event, “Father of WeChat”  Allen Zhang disclosed that the company is planning to launch an independent app for Official Accounts, the popular feature among business and media accounts.

WeChat is now even offering Chinese citizens ID cards through mini apps. Their popularity is likely to grow even more since WeChat began offering mobile games through mini apps. Some of these games have gone viral even though they might actually be ripped off.

This article was updated on 26 January 2018 to clarify how third-party apps can be opened from WeChat’s mini programs.

Masha Borak is a technology reporter based in Beijing. Write to her at masha.borak [at] technode.com. Pitches with the word "disruptive" will be ignored. Read a good book - learn some more adjectives.

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