Booting WeChat out of the App Store could drive down worldwide iPhone shipments by up to 30%, claims respected Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo.
While WeChat’s total removal from the App Store seems an unlikely prospect, it could be the worst-case scenario of President Donald Trump’s recent executive order to stop U.S. transactions with WeChat and parent company Tencent.
For anyone unfamiliar with China and WeChat, it’s impossible to overstate how essential the app is. Far from just a popular app, WeChat is more like an operating system. At its root, WeChat is a messaging app that’s used by more than a billion users each month. But it goes beyond just being China’s answer to, say, WhatsApp or Messenger.
WeChat: Most important app in China’s App Store
Many people in China prefer WeChat to email as a communication method. Because services like Facebook aren’t available in China, WeChat also acts like a social network, allowing people to post images and videos. They also use WeChat to pay for things, both offline and online. Finally, widget-style “super apps” exist within WeChat. These let customers do everything from banking to hailing rides. Frequently, people in China will use the mini-programs in WeChat rather than downloading standalone apps.
It’s tough to come up with a comparison in the United States because there simply isn’t one. The closest parallel would be if Facebook, Apple Pay, Uber, WhatsApp and a bunch of other top apps were all pulled from the App Store simultaneously without replacements.
The idea that WeChat could be kicked out of the App Store seems somewhat unlikely — but stranger things have happened. The app is mainly used in China, but it still has an international following. Lots of Chinese Americans, for instance, use it to communicate with their families.
It would make sense for an executive order like Trump’s to only apply to apps within the United States. But it also could compel Apple, an U.S. company, to not allow WeChat in any of its international App Stores. That would be a catastrophic decision for Apple’s business in China.