Tencent is now offering more than 580,000 mini programs on its WeChat messaging platform just one year after their launch, according to statements made by program director Hu Renjie at the WeChat Open Class PRO event in Guangzhou last week.
For context, the App Store offered just 500,000 iOS apps from 2008 to 2012. Mini programs are stripped-down apps that can be launched within WeChat’s messaging interface, eliminating the need for consumers to download them separately. Currently, more than 170 million consumers use mini programs on a daily basis.
Consumers and developers alike are warming to the mini-app model within WeChat.There are now more than 1 million mini-program developers, up from 200,000 in May 2017. This rapid adoption has enabled WeChat’s mini-program ecosystem to flourish, with mini programs available across a number of categories, including retail, e-commerce, and government services. Furthermore, 95% of e-commerce platform brands have created a mini app.
WeChat’s platform of over half a million apps could threaten traditional app stores in China. That’s because mini programs can be instantly loaded directly within the WeChat app, which helps to keep a majority of users’ smartphone interactions within the chat app.For WeChat users, the app acts as a central hub to the digital world — consumers use it to perform tasks ranging from texting and calling friends, to paying bills for goods and services, to booking doctor appointments.
The added convenience of having a chat app that hosts mini-app-like experiences could give WeChat an advantage over Google and Apple.
- With Google Play blocked in China, there’s demand for a centralized app market for Android users that WeChat is aiming to fill. While China’s app market is currently the largest app market globally, it’s made up of over 400 app stores, making it highly fragmented. Tencent’s move to bundle apps within the chat app makes WeChat one of the most accessible app stores available in the country.
- The iOS App Store — the leading store in the region — could see decreased downloads if the draw of a centralized mini-app environment within WeChat continues to appeal to consumers.Apple’s App Store is China’s leading mobile app store by downloads, recording more than 500 million app downloads in March 2017. That’s more than twice the amount of downloads its closest rival Tencent recorded in the same period, accordingto China Internet Watch. But as WeChat moves to become a central app store, WeChat users may shift toward the chat app to download apps across both Android and iOS, which is a bad sign for Apple considering China is an important growth market for the company.
The “apps within apps” strategy isn’t a new one, but WeChat’s mini programs could become the most successful rollout of this approach yet. As social media and chat apps account for more and more time spent on mobile, app store vendors are looking for ways to reach and engage with consumers without the need for them to download apps. Apple gave developers the ability to build and launch apps within its native iMessage messaging service. Google unveiled Instant Apps, which lets users engage with portions of apps through deep links without downloading. And Facebook Messenger launched Instant Games, which lets users battle their friends in games that are streamed within the chat app.
None of these mini-app programs has truly taken off yet, but WeChat’s might, because it’s a de facto centralized hub for mobile users and businesses in China. Over one-third of WeChat’s users spend over 4 hours in the app each day, making the app an ideal ground for businesses to reach users where they’re already spending their time.
In 2009, Apple coined the phrase “there’s an app for that,” and within six years, its prophecy had been fulfilled.
Apps had become the primary way people navigate the internet, overtaking mobile and desktop web browsers. And now they account for the vast majority of time spent on mobile devices.
But, despite this dominance, an intensifying engagement crisis is putting the ecosystem at risk. App usage is consolidating and once they’ve tried an app, users mostly aren’t coming back for more.
This shift could usher in a “post-app” era, which could transform the way consumers access the internet and digital services. Mobile tech giants Apple, Facebook, and Google have each put in motion strategies that best ensure they emerge not only unscathed, but ahead of their competition. At stake is the dominance of an industry projected to reach $102 billion in value globally by 2020.
Laurie Beaver, research associate for BI Intelligence, Business Insider’s premium research service, has written a report on the end of apps that assesses the evolving app landscape, examines how the existing app model is threatened by the decline of broad app usage, profiles the promising new tech in the space across Apple, Facebook, and Google, and explores barriers standing in the way of user adoption.
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