Chinese Internet giant Tencent Holdings on Monday officially launched “Mini Apps” within its instant messaging app WeChat to create a lightweight way for businesses to reach consumers.
The Mini Apps do not require installation. Users can open them simply by scanning QR codes or searching from their WeChat accounts. Each Mini App is less than 1MB in size.
The 768 million active WeChat users — more than double the entire population of the United States — made over 100 million voice and video calls each day via the app in 2016, according to Tencent.
After the Mini Apps went online, some netizens said that many of the apps on their cell phones could be uninstalled to save storage space, a point especially meaningful for users of 16GB phones.
But opening too many Mini Apps still consumes a lot of storage space, so the new apps help clear the cache on a regular basis. Those kept in the cache will no longer require loading of code resources when reopened.
Mini Apps that are less used will be placed lower on the list, and the latest one used will come up first. Only one app can be selected to always stay on top.
Will Mini Apps replace apps?
The launch of Mini Apps does not answer previous questions about whether they will completely replace conventional apps.
To mark the release, Allen Zhang, the founder of WeChat, posted several photos of Steve Jobs launching the first iPhone on January 9, 2007. Some interpret this as an homage to Jobs, while others say that it shows the challenges Tencent faces. Whatever the case, the lightweight program marks a milestone for WeChat’s growth in capturing the mobile Internet market.
According to a report by Business Insider, the new service could further consolidate the dominance of WeChat’s parent company Tencent in China’s app market, helping it bypass restrictions in Apple’s closed ecosystem to reach iOS consumers from within WeChat.
Some netizens say Mini Apps do not support the convenience of “long-press recognition” of QR codes but requires a scan, so they need two phones in order to use the service, which is inconvenient.
“Judging from their design, the apps are designed ‘not to disturb users’, but disabling long-press recognition of QR codes is a bit too much,” said Liu Xingliang, head of the DCCI Internet Research Institute.
Mini Apps also do not support fuzzy searches — inaccurate input of the name of a mini app will return no results.
A source from WeChat said: “We hope users will discover and use more of the Mini Apps they need, solve problems in their lives and get connected with more offline scenarios.”
To Liu, Mini Apps are good for less-frequent use, so their corresponding apps could be replaced. But the position of specialized or frequently used apps, which usually have highly loyal users, will be hard to shake.
Dong Xu, an analyst with Analysys, said whether Mini Apps are widely accepted will depend on technology development and user experience.
Mini Apps in the future
So far, the Mini Apps only offer simple functions. For example, the mini app “Didi Chuxing” only provides Kuaiche (public car service), while other services, such as Shunfengche (car pooling service), Zhuanche (private car service) and chauffeuring services are unavailable.
WeChat said more scenarios will be incorporated into Mini Apps in the future, and costs and thresholds for developers will be further lowered in a bid to make Mini Apps ubiquitous and accessible all the time. As well, “nearby stores” will be added to enable WeChat users to find nearby Mini Apps.
Yet there are functions Mini Apps will never have, such as pushing notifications, allowing subscriptions and followers, and recommending Mini Apps to other users.
According to Business Insider, Tencent is not alone in implementing the “apps within apps” concept. Apple recently enabled developers to build and launch apps within its messaging service iMessage, while Google unveiled Instant Apps, which allows users to engage with portions of apps through deep links without the need to download them.