WeChat is the messaging app that’s more like a mobile OS

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China's WeChat is a messaging app tha offers just about everything, from text messaging to instant payments. It's a monster, with mote than 1 billion registered users.
China's WeChat is a messaging app tha offers just about everything, from text messaging to instant payments. It's a monster, with mote than 1 billion registered users.
Photo: Virginia Werner/Cult of Mac

Made_in_china_bugMainland China is Apple’s second biggest market, and will one day be its first. The company is making a big push on the mainland, opening new stores and investing in home-grown companies. Why the interest? Because China is the new Japan — it’s where the future is happening. All this week we take a look at the cutting-edge apps that define mobile life on the mainland.

SHANGHAI CITY, China — Now that I use WeChat, I don’t need much else when it comes to social media apps. In fact, WeChat has almost entirely replaced text messaging in China. I am able to link up with other WeChat users through their username without providing a telephone number, so it is a great platform for communicating with new acquaintances or people I am working with.

I have hundreds of WeChat contacts, but only a handful of telephone numbers in my iPhone. The app also recently introduced group video messaging and has an extensive WeChat Wallet service (similar to Zhifubao) available to Chinese bank account holders.

WeChat
WeChat basically owns the messaging game in China.
Screenshots: WeChat

China’s multipurpose messenger: WeChat


App name: WeChat
What it is: Chat app that does everything
Owned by: Tencent, one of the largest Internet companies in the world
What it does: Everything, from text messaging to video conferencing and video games.
Special sauce: Some think it’s the mobile platform of the future

Here are my favorite features of WeChat:

Voice messaging: I can now leave a message for a friend at any time, without needing to type everything out. Chinese people are often seen holding their smartphones up to their mouths, murmuring messages into the mouthpieces while on the move. iMessage also has this capability, but for some reason this method of communication hasn’t caught on among American youth. My question now is, why the heck not?

Sights: I enjoy sending these brief video messages to my friends directly in our message feed. Too bad they don’t self-destruct like Snapchats.

Message recalling: This is truly a valuable asset for a generation that communicates (and subsequently regrets communicating) so quickly. The other person will receive a notification that the message has been recalled, but its content will be forever lost in cyberspace as long as it is recalled within one minute of being sent.

Stickers: Emojis are a thing of the past, thanks to WeChat’s extensive selection of themed, animated-GIF style “stickers.” They are cute, hilarious, downloadable and collectible — and many feed off a subculture based on popular memes.

Moments: This feature functions similarly to Facebook’s News Feed and allows users to post links, text, photos and videos for all their friends to see. They have the option to “like” or comment on posts, and only mutual friends can see the feedback. This completely eliminates my least-favorite social trend — the race to get as many “likes” as possible. Now, nobody will ever know how many total “likes” you have other than you.

More than 360 million people currently use WeChat. It is faster than e-mail, cheaper than text messaging and comes with all the entertaining functions of instant messaging. What’s not to love?

Up Next: China’s Groupon + Yelp — Da Zhong Dian Ping

headshot-80x80Virginia Werner is a freelance writer, photographer and editor from Fremont, California with a B.A. in Journalism and Chinese from the University of Oregon. She currently lives in Shanghai City, China.

  • BenGleck

    People who live in China become enamored with WeChat. People who don’t live in China, or who never have lived in China…not so much.

    Until Tencent builds a version of WeChat for OS X that actually works (just check the Mac App Store reviews), those of us who type faster on our Macs than our phones and aren’t tethered to our phones don’t want to have to grab our phones every time we need to use WeChat. There’s a reason why there’s an OS X version of Messages.