How WeChat is walking the talk
Messaging app has evolved into an economic driver in China and beyond
China's rise as an economic superpower was driven by several factors, but one dynamic has stood out - the harmony between man and machine.
But don't take this literally: It's the underlying technology powering these machines - painstakingly and dedicatedly developed - that have caused an increasingly seamless way of life in the country and even beyond.
These and more were discussed at the annual WeChat Open Class Pro here in Guangzhou, its flagship conference where it discusses the latest innovations, successful case studies and in-depth reports on the Tencent-owned platform's ecosystem.
The 2020 edition of the event - which gathered developers, stakeholders and a large number of international media - also marked the third anniversary of WeChat's Mini Programs, an instant-experience feature within the app that connects brands to customer bases.
In turn, business has skyrocketed: WeChat revealed that the total transaction value generated by Mini Programs exceeded 800 billion yuan (Dh422.7 billion), a 160 per cent year-on-year leap.
The celebration was also an opportunity for the founder of the 'super app' to reiterate the call for a safer Internet.
"While people use technology more, the more they should be concerned about privacy," Allen Zhang said in his opening keynote.
It all begins with us - "what kind of information is sent is what will be seen," he stresses - urging users to be responsible in what we share on the Web.
And while he acknowledges that even with the best innovations it will be difficult to judge the veracity of content, Zhang pointed out that "we must use technology to protect" the integrity of the entire ecosystem so that trust would prevail.
The pace of its growth has also come along with the rise of China: WeChat has evolved from being a mere messaging platform into a driver for the world's second-largest economy, diversifying into several other sectors.
The most widely-recognised platform is WeChat Pay, a contactless cross-border payment service now available in over 60 markets - including the UAE - and supports 16 currencies. In China, its users apply the app to almost anything, from shopping to payments and transport to booking an appointment with a doctor.
In the fourth quarter of 2018, its total daily payment transaction pipped one billion, with over 800 monthly active users.
And with the Chinese among the biggest tourism drivers globally, WeChat has been there for them: Official statistics show that Chinese citizens made over 149 million overseas trips last year, and WeChat Pay has followed them - "where the Chinese tourists are, we'll be there," as one WeChat official said in an interaction with the media - and replicated the same conveniences they enjoy in their homeland.
In May 2018, Tencent and Dubai Tourism signed an agreement that allowed the UAE market to use WeChat and WeChat Pay. In February 2019, WeChat Pay was rolled out by Majid Al Futtaim at its establishments, most notably Dubai's Mall of the Emirates.
And with the tech times ever-changing, WeChat is ready to adapt.
"We used to focus on perfecting every feature we launched. Today, we are more focused on how to prioritise and dedicate our efforts to creating value for users and customers," Zhang said.
"With the rapid development of mobile Internet in recent years, everyone is online at all times, facing massive amounts of information and significant challenges," he added. "Through our own efforts and open collaboration with all partners and players across the industry, we are committed to exploring emerging issues, as well as addressing the challenges facing WeChat and the industry."
Mobile and agile
Tencent - the Chinese Internet and social media giant- is the world's largest gaming company, owning significant or entire stakes in some of the biggest mobile titles such us PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, League of Legends, Fortnite and Call of Duty. As at the second quarter of 2019, its revenue was up at $4.64 billion, edging out Sony and Microsoft, according to Newzoo research.
The Shenzhen-based firm also led the overall market in 2018; that year, the top 25 public game companies were responsible for over 80 per cent of the global industry's revenue, generating $107.3 billion, according to Newzoo. Tencent's game-related revenue alone grew 9 per cent to $19.7 billion, which was almost 15 per cent of the entire games market.
Tencent is also the developer of WeChat, which is the third-largest messaging app globally. As of September 2019, it has 1.15 billion monthly active users, behind only Facebook Messenger (1.3 billion) and WhatsApp (1.6 billion). It is hosting the 2020 edition of the WeChat Open Class PRO here in Guangzhou, in which it will highlight the results of its digital trends report and how its ecosystem has developed in the past nine years.
What is Mini Programs?
Mini Programs is WeChat's in-app user interaction between brands to users. The first-in-its-class feature, launched in January 2017, can be opened by scanning a QR code or searching on the WeChat platform, without about downloading any new apps.
As of September 30, 2019, daily active users of Mini Programs exceeded 300 million. As of June 2019, more than one million had been launched, with over 1.5 million developers and more than 8,200 third-party service providers joining the ecosystem.
The Mini Programs ecosystem is continuously being expanded and improved, and currently covers more than 200 sub-sectors, with the top five industries served being self-operated businesses; daily life services; food and beverage; business services and tools; and offline industries. The transaction volume of various industries' programs - including F&B, sports and outdoor, footwear and accessories, and beauty and cosmetics - has increased more than fivefold year-on-year.
In China, Mini Programs have been widely used and are now well accepted by diverse age groups including the elderly, and reaching users in third- and fourth-tier cities. The capabilities of Mini Programs are constantly being developed as their fields of application expand and the situations in which they can be applied steadily increase. When it comes to municipal services and people's daily living needs, as of August 2019, Mini Programs covered more than 9,900 services across 30 categories including public security, traffic management, taxation, medical needs, education, housing, civil affairs, transportation, meteorology, car refuelling, utility payment and various aspects of culture and entertainment, serving more than 570 million users accumulatively.
Mini Programs' overseas performance was announced by WeChat for the first time in August 2019. Compared with the same period last year, the number of Mini Programs for overseas entities has increased five-fold year-on-year, while weekly usage increased by 70 per cent.
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