Chinese tech giant Tencent has taken its fight to redefine the idea of a platform straight to Apple’s and Google’s operating systems. The company launched WeChat mini apps, a catalog of more than 580,000 apps that run directly inside the WeChat messaging app, bypassing Apple’s App Store and Google Play entirely.
WeChat Mini Apps
WeChat is one of the dominant means of communicating in China, with about a billion users (967 million in the second quarter of 2017). While WeChat is available in the U.S., too, it’s a way of life in China. It’s almost enough to make the hardware and software on your smartphone an afterthought, as noted by Dave Hamilton in Monday’s Daily Observations.
Mini apps are small—they must be less than 10MB each. While 10MB may not sound like a lot, remember that the original Mario Brothers weighed in at a whopping 32 kilobytes. And to that end, there’s a game called Tiao Yi Tiao in the WeChat mini app catalog that earned 400 million users in three days.
For comparison’s sake, the U.S. had some 326.1 million people in 2016. And never mind that Tiao Yi Tiao is a ripoff of Ketchapp’s Bottle Flip.
Win/Lose for Apple
For Apple, this is a win some, lose some proposition. The iPhone maker’s whole model is predicated on making all of its customers its customers. iPhone users use other people’s apps on their iPhones, and they downloaded those apps from the App Store. That is, that’s the case in much of the world, but not in China.
While Apple operates an App Store in China—and people certainly download apps from it—WeChat and Weibo (owned by Sina Weibo) are destinations in and of themselves. Many in China own their smartphones to use those two platforms, using the platforms to communicate, watch videos, get news, buy things, and even send each other money.
Apple tried to limit that last function by banning tipping through WeChat in 2017. Last week, Apple and WeChat reached a compromise that saw the return of tipping in WeChat, but the reality is WeChat always had the upper hand in that fight. If Apple tries to limit too much of what WeChat (or Weibo) users can do on their iOS apps, many of those users will get another device.
By allowing these services, Apple looses some of its famous control, but it continues to sell hardware to Chinese customers. In a nutshell, this is a sign of just how successful WeChat has been at developing its ever-growing platform in China.
As for Google, its Goole Play store doesn’t operate in China at all.