Latest WeChat update hints at its ‘operating system’ ambitions

1 min read
Left: WeChat’s previous swipe-down mini-program menu. Middle and right: The same feature after the update. (Image credit: TechNode/Emma Lee)

China’s super messaging app WeChat rolled out an update earlier this week allowing users to find and use its download-free mini-programs more easily in an experience like that offered in an operating system.

The new version gives more prominence to mini-programs, which are hidden by default in the messaging app. To view the mini-programs, users need to swipe down from the top of the app’s “Chats” window. Previously, this would have opened a half-screen menu displaying a list of recently used and liked mini-programs with little additional functionality.

With the update, a window resembling a smartphone’s home screen is displayed when swiping down from within the app. The embedded applications also have been made directly searchable from the window, with WeChat adding a mini-program search bar.

Mini-programs are lightweight alternatives to apps that run inside existing applications on a smartphone. WeChat appears to want to be a  “new home screen” for Chinese netizens, providing them with an operating system within its messaging app. With their increased popularity, Tencent is moving to optimize the mini-program ecosystem and help app developers retain users.

The new swipe-down interface features a clearer design centered around the mini-programs, providing them with a more accessible home. If pressed firmly, the icons of the mini-programs jiggle, allowing users to move the mini-apps around to categorize or delete them.

By mid-November, more than 1.5 million developers had created in excess of 1 million mini-programs since the feature was introduced at the beginning of 2017, the company said in a report last year, adding that over 200 million users open mini-programs every day.

Zhang Xiaolong, WeChat founder and president of Weixin Group, the business unit at Tencent that runs WeChat, said earlier this month that the company’s priority for mini-program growth in 2019 includes improving the search function to better connect users.