Ant Financial launches mini-program business unit as it plays catch-up to Tencent’s WeChat–South China Morning Post

What happened: On Wednesday, September 12, Alibaba’s Ant Financial announced that it will spend RMB 1 billion on developing mini programs for its Alipay app over the next three years. The decision comes after an initial trial run last September, followed by the establishment of an official mini-program business unit. Similar to Tencent’s WeChat mini programs, the feature allows users to access different services from within Alipay without leaving the app. Ant Financial plans to use mini-programs to link together some of Alibaba’s diverse offerings, such as food delivery service Koubei or navigation-based AutoNavi.

Why it’s important: Ant Financial has been cautious in its launch of Alipay mini programs, announcing their official rollout almost a year after beta testing first began. Although Alipay’s options – 20,000 mini-programs – still pale next to WeChat’s one million, Ant Financial may start moving more quickly now. That spells convenience for the hundreds of millions that regularly use its payment app, although it may restrict independent app developers’ options.

Bailey Hu is based in China’s hardware capital, Shenzhen. Her interests include local maker culture, grassroots innovation and how tech shapes society, as well as vice versa.

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