How WeChat's ascent suggests the iPhone may never again dominate in China

Posted:
in General Discussion edited April 2020
WeChat has become so ubiquitous in China that the iPhone is increasingly measured by how well it runs this one app -- and it's now millions of "mini-programs" that are supplanting the App Store.

WeChat is available everywhere, but totally dominates in China
WeChat is available everywhere, but totally dominates in China


Apple may have just seen its sales grow again in China, but one app that became enormous because of the iPhone now looks inexorably set on becoming the tail the wags the dog. Tencent's WeChat, a kind of combination messaging, social media, and e-payment app, has become so important in China that Apple is having to adapt to it.

WeChat seemingly flouts App Store rules, and Apple gives in. Apple delays updates to WeChat -- and customers may go to Android. With WeChat designed to work equally well on both platforms, Apple's competitive edge in great software design is being eroded.

What's perhaps ironic is that WeChat is more reminiscent of the web apps that Steve Jobs initially believed would be right for the iPhone. He had to be persuaded into what we now know as apps, and if Apple has created a brilliant tool for us in the App Store, it has also profited gigantically.

WeChat itself is an app, but within it, users can open what maker Tencent calls mini-programs. Right from the start, it appears that Apple recognized the potential for mini-programs to offer App Store-style services without playing by App Store rules.

According to The Information, a team from Tencent visited Apple around 2017 specifically to reassure Tim Cook that mini-programs were not apps. That mini-programs were not a threat.

The argument then was that these mini-programs were limited in functionality and did not even attempt to compete with full-blown apps. Now, however, they do. Some mini-programs include live video streaming, and even augmented reality.

They can do this because they are part of WeChat and if a user allows that app to, for instance, access the camera or the internet, they are allowing every mini-program to do the same. There's an argument to be made about the security of this compared to Apple's locked-down App Store, but Apple isn't making that case. At least, not concerning the WeChat app yet.

In 2017, the heads of Tencent gave Tim Cook a framed piece of Chinese folk art
In 2017, the heads of Tencent gave Tim Cook a framed piece of Chinese folk art


"WeChat is definitely breaking [App Store] rules," Shanghai-based developer Sinia Spasojevic told The Information. "WeChat has APIs for camera access, GPS, all of it."

"The danger is that [it] is going to become a new operating system," continues Spasojevic. "It doesn't matter if I like the phone or whether it works well. I can't live in China with a phone that doesn't have WeChat."

Apple can continue to produce secure, leading-edge software, but in China, it's close to worthless unless the iPhone supports WeChat -- and supports it well. WeChat is so much a part of Chinese life that it is hard to conceive of anything similar in the US.

It's far bigger than Facebook, and far more of a threat to Apple than anything it has faced to date. Where firms worldwide may find it good to support Apple Pay, ones in China simply must support WeChat's equivalent because users expect it so much. Even Apple has to accept WeChat Pay.

In the three years since mini-programs started, they have grown to become much more than the simple tools that Tencent told Apple. There are limitations, though, such as a 10MB limit. This, however, makes them simpler to create than full-blown applications, which means there are more of them.

According to The Information, there are 2.4 million mini-programs, ranging from games to major consumer brands such as Nike and McDonald's. Google, which sees its services limited or banned in China, has tried out a game as a mini-program.

The number and range of mini-programs may have reached a tipping point where companies choose to concentrate on producing these instead of regular apps. And the number of mini-programs, plus the overwhelming ubiquity of WeChat, may well have reached a tipping point from which Apple can't re-assert its previous smartphone success.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 54
    I wonder what would happen if Facebook tried doing the same thing. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 54
    tjwolftjwolf Posts: 398member
    This article is, what, 5+ years late?  WeChat has been the dominant social/payment/everything app in China for years now.  Articles on how WeChat *is the operating system" have come and gone for years.  WeChat's *ascent* has been over for awhile.
    CloudTalkingutengelprismaticsleavingthebiggGeorgeBMactokyojimuFileMakerFellermuthuk_vanalingamwatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 54
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 9,477member
    So for Apple to succeed it must let go of all of its security and privacy? Is that what the author is saying? The author seems to imply that unless Apple does this it is doomed. I guess that’s okay in a totalitarian dictatorship but what about democracies burdened with human rights and privacy protections?

    Anyone who thinks ANY Chinese company is not monitored and controlled by the government is simply delusional.

    One good thing that has come out of the pandemic so far is that people are realizing that almost all PPE is produced in China. The U.S. makes almost none of it, from masks, to ventilators, to hand sanitizer. Oh, and almost ALL generic drugs are manufactured in China too. That blood pressure or diabetes medication you take... made in and shipped from China. Because of cheap labor don’t you know. We now know that we in the U.S. are basically at China’s mercy economically. Maybe, just maybe, this crisis will open some eyes but I doubt it. Price trumps everything, just like the trolls who scream about Apple’s products being overpriced.

    And as for the author’s claim that Google’s services are banned in China, I dispute that. As I recall Google made the decision to exit China because it would not acquiesce to the communist dictatorship’s demands.
    edited April 2020 razorpittmaytenchi211OferStrangeDaysGG1mwhiteJWSCflyingdpmuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 4 of 54
    How is this app that much different any app that has 'everything-and-the-kitchen-sink' built into them (like Facebook had they not broken Messenger out into a separate app)? 

    And why is WeChat so popular in China?  What's to prevent the latest and greatest chap app to come around in a year or two to knock it off its pertch?

    watto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 54
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 9,477member
    substance said:
    How is this app that much different any app that has 'everything-and-the-kitchen-sink' built into them (like Facebook had they not broken Messenger out into a separate app)? 

    And why is WeChat so popular in China?  What's to prevent the latest and greatest chap app to come around in a year or two to knock it off its pertch?

    Why so popular? Probably because the dictatorship wants it to be since it almost certainly has access to all data flowing through it. The Chinese people have no freedom of speech, no right to assemble to petition the government (think Tiananmen  Square), no right to a political opinion (unless it conforms to the dictatorship’s), no real religious freedom. Look what the dictatorship did to Tibet (a cultural genocide) and now the Uighurs (a physical and cultural genocide. Watch the latest PBS Frontline show). The Chinese people are only a half-step above the poor souls who were unfortunate enough to be born in North Korea.  
    razorpitOferplanetary paulronnchristopher126JWSCflyingdpwatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 6 of 54
    substance said:
    How is this app that much different any app that has 'everything-and-the-kitchen-sink' built into them (like Facebook had they not broken Messenger out into a separate app)? 

    And why is WeChat so popular in China?  What's to prevent the latest and greatest chap app to come around in a year or two to knock it off its pertch?

    Facebook isn't even close to being like WeChat.  Bet your bottom dollar, they are trying though.  So are all the major players. The article touches on it, but doesn't go far enough.  WeChat is a fully fleshed out ecosystem in a single app.  It's built so that a user never has to leave their environment to do anything that's done electronically.  A Chinese user could have no other apps on their phone besides WeChat and they wouldn't miss a beat.  ← That's not hyperbole.  Whether using an iOS or Android device, every aspect of a users digital life can be handled through WeChat.  The user never has to leave the app.  The next largest social app in China is QQ.  Both are owned by Tencent.  That is one thing that is similar.  Facebook (WhatsApp & FB Messenger) and Tencent (WeChat & QQ) own the top two messaging apps in their respective spheres of influence.  No one else is even close.
    glnfJWSC
  • Reply 7 of 54
    razorpitrazorpit Posts: 1,796member
    @lkrupp read A River in Darkness. If your eyes aren’t swelling at the end of it you have no heart.

    https://www.amazon.com/River-Darkness-Escape-North-Korea-ebook/dp/B06XKRKFZL
    edited April 2020
  • Reply 8 of 54
    BeatsBeats Posts: 2,532member
    lkrupp said:
    So for Apple to succeed it must let go of all of its security and privacy? Is that what the author is saying? The author seems to imply that unless Apple does this it is doomed. I guess that’s okay in a totalitarian dictatorship but what about democracies burdened with human rights and privacy protections?

    Anyone who thinks ANY Chinese company is not monitored and controlled by the government is simply delusional.

    One good thing that has come out of the pandemic so far is that people are realizing that almost all PPE is produced in China. The U.S. makes almost none of it, from masks, to ventilators, to hand sanitizer. Oh, and almost ALL generic drugs are manufactured in China too. That blood pressure or diabetes medication you take... made in and shipped from China. Because of cheap labor don’t you know. We now know that we in the U.S. are basically at China’s mercy economically. Maybe, just maybe, this crisis will open some eyes but I doubt it. Price trumps everything, just like the trolls who scream about Apple’s products being overpriced.

    And as for the author’s claim that Google’s services are banned in China, I dispute that. As I recall Google made the decision to exit China because it would not acquiesce to the communist dictatorship’s demands.

    China didn't want Google spying on their citizens.
    GeorgeBMacjony0
  • Reply 9 of 54
    BeatsBeats Posts: 2,532member
    The fact that iPhoneys can run identical apps ruined Apples marketshare.
  • Reply 10 of 54
    GG1GG1 Posts: 452member
    substance said:
    How is this app that much different any app that has 'everything-and-the-kitchen-sink' built into them (like Facebook had they not broken Messenger out into a separate app)? 

    And why is WeChat so popular in China?  What's to prevent the latest and greatest chap app to come around in a year or two to knock it off its pertch?

    Facebook isn't even close to being like WeChat.  Bet your bottom dollar, they are trying though.  So are all the major players. The article touches on it, but doesn't go far enough.  WeChat is a fully fleshed out ecosystem in a single app.  It's built so that a user never has to leave their environment to do anything that's done electronically.  A Chinese user could have no other apps on their phone besides WeChat and they wouldn't miss a beat.  ← That's not hyperbole.  Whether using an iOS or Android device, every aspect of a users digital life can be handled through WeChat.  The user never has to leave the app.  The next largest social app in China is QQ.  Both are owned by Tencent.  That is one thing that is similar.  Facebook (WhatsApp & FB Messenger) and Tencent (WeChat & QQ) own the top two messaging apps in their respective spheres of influence.  No one else is even close.
    I observed this in China. It really offers so much beyond chat it really could be an OS with multiple services. Where Amazon failed with Fire Phone (only shopping), I think Tencent could succeed with a WeChat Phone (payment, banking, shopping, social media, mass transit ticketing, etc.). Built by Huawei.

    Edited for clarity.
    edited April 2020 MaxLe0p0ldforgot username
  • Reply 11 of 54
    BeatsBeats Posts: 2,532member
    GG1 said:
    substance said:
    How is this app that much different any app that has 'everything-and-the-kitchen-sink' built into them (like Facebook had they not broken Messenger out into a separate app)? 

    And why is WeChat so popular in China?  What's to prevent the latest and greatest chap app to come around in a year or two to knock it off its pertch?

    Facebook isn't even close to being like WeChat.  Bet your bottom dollar, they are trying though.  So are all the major players. The article touches on it, but doesn't go far enough.  WeChat is a fully fleshed out ecosystem in a single app.  It's built so that a user never has to leave their environment to do anything that's done electronically.  A Chinese user could have no other apps on their phone besides WeChat and they wouldn't miss a beat.  ← That's not hyperbole.  Whether using an iOS or Android device, every aspect of a users digital life can be handled through WeChat.  The user never has to leave the app.  The next largest social app in China is QQ.  Both are owned by Tencent.  That is one thing that is similar.  Facebook (WhatsApp & FB Messenger) and Tencent (WeChat & QQ) own the top two messaging apps in their respective spheres of influence.  No one else is even close.
    I observed this in China. It really offers so much beyond chat it really could be an OS with multiple services. Where Amazon failed with Fire Phone (only shopping), I think Tencent could succeed with a WeChat Phone (payment, banking, shopping, social media, mass transit ticketing, etc.). Built by Huawei.

    Edited for clarity.

    So basically rip off Apple's hard work with ZERO originality and push them out of the market.
  • Reply 12 of 54
    GG1GG1 Posts: 452member
    Beats said:
    GG1 said:
    substance said:
    How is this app that much different any app that has 'everything-and-the-kitchen-sink' built into them (like Facebook had they not broken Messenger out into a separate app)? 

    And why is WeChat so popular in China?  What's to prevent the latest and greatest chap app to come around in a year or two to knock it off its pertch?

    Facebook isn't even close to being like WeChat.  Bet your bottom dollar, they are trying though.  So are all the major players. The article touches on it, but doesn't go far enough.  WeChat is a fully fleshed out ecosystem in a single app.  It's built so that a user never has to leave their environment to do anything that's done electronically.  A Chinese user could have no other apps on their phone besides WeChat and they wouldn't miss a beat.  ← That's not hyperbole.  Whether using an iOS or Android device, every aspect of a users digital life can be handled through WeChat.  The user never has to leave the app.  The next largest social app in China is QQ.  Both are owned by Tencent.  That is one thing that is similar.  Facebook (WhatsApp & FB Messenger) and Tencent (WeChat & QQ) own the top two messaging apps in their respective spheres of influence.  No one else is even close.
    I observed this in China. It really offers so much beyond chat it really could be an OS with multiple services. Where Amazon failed with Fire Phone (only shopping), I think Tencent could succeed with a WeChat Phone (payment, banking, shopping, social media, mass transit ticketing, etc.). Built by Huawei.

    Edited for clarity.

    So basically rip off Apple's hard work with ZERO originality and push them out of the market.
    That is basically China's MO for any foreign (western country) company's IP.

    christopher126dedgeckowatto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 54
    WeChat is not a freedom approved app. XD
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 54
    cpsrocpsro Posts: 2,899member
    TenCent is a dangerous company. For the past year, I've encountered major issues with them because their widely used mail server is rejecting completely legitimate, user-requested emails.
    Oh, and by the way, China is a dangerous country.
    edited April 2020 Beatswatto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 54
    yuck9yuck9 Posts: 112member
    lkrupp said:
    So for Apple to succeed it must let go of all of its security and privacy? Is that what the author is saying? The author seems to imply that unless Apple does this it is doomed. I guess that’s okay in a totalitarian dictatorship but what about democracies burdened with human rights and privacy protections?

    Anyone who thinks ANY Chinese company is not monitored and controlled by the government is simply delusional.

    One good thing that has come out of the pandemic so far is that people are realizing that almost all PPE is produced in China. The U.S. makes almost none of it, from masks, to ventilators, to hand sanitizer. Oh, and almost ALL generic drugs are manufactured in China too. That blood pressure or diabetes medication you take... made in and shipped from China. Because of cheap labor don’t you know. We now know that we in the U.S. are basically at China’s mercy economically. Maybe, just maybe, this crisis will open some eyes but I doubt it. Price trumps everything, just like the trolls who scream about Apple’s products being overpriced.

    And as for the author’s claim that Google’s services are banned in China, I dispute that. As I recall Google made the decision to exit China because it would not acquiesce to the communist dictatorship’s demands.
    Apple would sell their mother for a profit.  They talk Big, but bottom line is they will do anything and everything for the almighty buck. All the story's about privacy is only true if no one calls them on it.
    spice-boyasdasdKITA
  • Reply 16 of 54
    BeatsBeats Posts: 2,532member
    GG1 said:
    Beats said:
    GG1 said:
    substance said:
    How is this app that much different any app that has 'everything-and-the-kitchen-sink' built into them (like Facebook had they not broken Messenger out into a separate app)? 

    And why is WeChat so popular in China?  What's to prevent the latest and greatest chap app to come around in a year or two to knock it off its pertch?

    Facebook isn't even close to being like WeChat.  Bet your bottom dollar, they are trying though.  So are all the major players. The article touches on it, but doesn't go far enough.  WeChat is a fully fleshed out ecosystem in a single app.  It's built so that a user never has to leave their environment to do anything that's done electronically.  A Chinese user could have no other apps on their phone besides WeChat and they wouldn't miss a beat.  ← That's not hyperbole.  Whether using an iOS or Android device, every aspect of a users digital life can be handled through WeChat.  The user never has to leave the app.  The next largest social app in China is QQ.  Both are owned by Tencent.  That is one thing that is similar.  Facebook (WhatsApp & FB Messenger) and Tencent (WeChat & QQ) own the top two messaging apps in their respective spheres of influence.  No one else is even close.
    I observed this in China. It really offers so much beyond chat it really could be an OS with multiple services. Where Amazon failed with Fire Phone (only shopping), I think Tencent could succeed with a WeChat Phone (payment, banking, shopping, social media, mass transit ticketing, etc.). Built by Huawei.

    Edited for clarity.

    So basically rip off Apple's hard work with ZERO originality and push them out of the market.
    That is basically China's MO for any foreign (western country) company's IP.

    That's a terrible and fragmented way of thinking.

    Maybe it's time to replace Chinese labor with robots.
  • Reply 17 of 54
    spice-boyspice-boy Posts: 1,439member
    China is a bigger monopoly than Apple. 
  • Reply 18 of 54
    spice-boyspice-boy Posts: 1,439member
    cpsro said:
    TenCent is a dangerous company. For the past year, I've encountered major issues with them because their widely used mail server is rejecting completely legitimate, user-requested emails.
    Oh, and by the way, China is a dangerous country.
    Yes they have a dictator just like us.
    glnfGeorgeBMacFileMakerFeller
  • Reply 19 of 54
    spice-boyspice-boy Posts: 1,439member

    lkrupp said:
    substance said:
    How is this app that much different any app that has 'everything-and-the-kitchen-sink' built into them (like Facebook had they not broken Messenger out into a separate app)? 

    And why is WeChat so popular in China?  What's to prevent the latest and greatest chap app to come around in a year or two to knock it off its pertch?

    Why so popular? Probably because the dictatorship wants it to be since it almost certainly has access to all data flowing through it. The Chinese people have no freedom of speech, no right to assemble to petition the government (think Tiananmen  Square), no right to a political opinion (unless it conforms to the dictatorship’s), no real religious freedom. Look what the dictatorship did to Tibet (a cultural genocide) and now the Uighurs (a physical and cultural genocide. Watch the latest PBS Frontline show). The Chinese people are only a half-step above the poor souls who were unfortunate enough to be born in North Korea.  
    I wish we had freedom from religion, freedom from guns, freedom from dummies, freedom from forums. 
    macplusplusGeorgeBMactokyojimuforgot username
  • Reply 20 of 54
    larryjwlarryjw Posts: 836member
    lkrupp said:
    So for Apple to succeed it must let go of all of its security and privacy? Is that what the author is saying? The author seems to imply that unless Apple does this it is doomed. I guess that’s okay in a totalitarian dictatorship but what about democracies burdened with human rights and privacy protections?

    Anyone who thinks ANY Chinese company is not monitored and controlled by the government is simply delusional.

    One good thing that has come out of the pandemic so far is that people are realizing that almost all PPE is produced in China. The U.S. makes almost none of it, from masks, to ventilators, to hand sanitizer. Oh, and almost ALL generic drugs are manufactured in China too. That blood pressure or diabetes medication you take... made in and shipped from China. Because of cheap labor don’t you know. We now know that we in the U.S. are basically at China’s mercy economically. Maybe, just maybe, this crisis will open some eyes but I doubt it. Price trumps everything, just like the trolls who scream about Apple’s products being overpriced.

    And as for the author’s claim that Google’s services are banned in China, I dispute that. As I recall Google made the decision to exit China because it would not acquiesce to the communist dictatorship’s demands.
    First, most drugs, the common critical drugs on every ER cart are made in China OR India. 

    But, not cheap labor but a lot of labor -- skilled labor. The number of people with a necessary skill in China would fill several football stadiums -- in the US, we might be able to fill the orchestra seats in a theater. 
    asdasdmacpluspluslkruppchristopher126FileMakerFellerwatto_cobra
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