Not Using WeChat Yet? You Might Be Soon

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Imaginechina / AP

The icon of mobile messaging app Weixin, or WeChat, of Tencent, center, is seen on the screen of an Apple iPhone smartphone in Shanghai, China, 5 April 2013.

Facebook Messenger. WhatsApp. Viber. Skype. There are already plenty of mobile-messaging systems you can use to keep in touch with family and friends. But soon you might be getting familiar with another, especially if you live in Asia: WeChat.

Developed by China’s largest listed Internet company Tencent, WeChat — known as Weixin in China — has all the basic features of a mobile-messaging app, with users chatting by text or voice and making video calls. But uniquely, there are functions that allow you to speak to a group of friends (turning your phone into a walkie-talkie) and to chat one-on-one using quick audio snippets instead of text — extremely useful when you’re too distracted to concentrate on writing an SMS, or if you’re writing in Chinese characters, which takes longer using a standard alphabet.

“It’s fun using WeChat,” said Wei Ziwei, a 23-year-old living in Chongqing, a city in China’s southwestern region. “Being able to give a voice to your messages makes them so much more interesting.”

Other rich features include an abundance of emoticons that can be sent when the right words just can’t be found (you can also make your own emoticons using photos you’ve taken yourself). There’s a social-media aspect to the app too, allowing you to post your photos, and share interests and locations, on a page that’s similar to a Facebook profile. And if you want a shot at love or just the chance of a new friendship, WeChat has a few options: the Shake function pairs users up with others who are looking to meet new people; the Drift feature sends a message to a random user; and the Look Around function lets users find other people in the vicinity who are using WeChat. Think Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Skype and the Tinder dating app wrapped into one.

WeChat was launched in January 2011 and has grown exponentially in China in the absence of major competitors (Facebook, the world’s biggest social network, with its own messenger app, is blocked by the Great Firewall, as is Twitter). Today, the service has some 400 million subscribers, and Tencent, based in the booming southern city of Shenzhen, is looking to expand to other parts of Asia, where it has already notched up 50 million users in markets like Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and India. The U.N. launched its official WeChat account last week, days before Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon began his visit to China on Tuesday.

Analysts say it’ll be tough for the app to compete on a global level, pointing out that the marketplace is already crowded. “No one wants to leave a platform where all their friends are hanging out just to go to a place that has the same experience,” says Jay Oatway, a social-business consultant based in Hong Kong. “But if everyone decides to move together to try something exciting and new, then a new platform can usurp an old one.”

Besides WeChat, two other Asian-based platforms are vying to offer that new experience. Line, a cross-platform communication service and app from NHN Japan — the Japanese arm of South Korean search giant Naver — boasts 160 million users worldwide and offers a social-messaging platform with free calls and messages, games and “stickers” (similar to emoticons). The website Tech in Asia notes that Line has grown faster than ever, adding 50 million users in a little more than three months. There’s also KakaoTalk, based just south of Seoul, with 90 million registered users (nearly 4 million of them in the U.S. and a steadily growing user base of 15 million in Japan).

Both of WeChat’s rivals have been making smart moves. KakaoTalk launched a social-gaming platform for its users in Indonesia and Vietnam in early May, and has allowed third-party game developers to create Indonesian- and Vietnamese-language versions of their gaming titles. Meanwhile, Line has found a promising income stream in sticker sales. Each sticker costs about $2, and according to thenextweb.com, make up 30% of Line’s revenues, which stand at just over $17 million.

Tencent is sure to be considering similar income streams for its currently unmonetized WeChat. Alicia Yap, an analyst with Barclays Capital in Hong Kong, said in a May research note that the management’s tone during a conference call to announce first-quarter results suggested monetization would “likely occur very soon” via micropayments associated with mobile games. On Tuesday, WeChat also started to roll out a merchant-payment service for users of Tencent’s TenPay system (similar to PayPal), with McDonald’s becoming the first vendor to sign up.

While Tencent figures out how to turn WeChat into a cash cow, the social-messaging app continues to chase that elusive “freshness and a momentum,” as Oatway puts it, that will win over more users in other countries. “If enough of your friends decide that WeChat is the new cool,” he says, “then that’s where you will move your online presence.” With Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram trying to keep up, it looks like staying in touch will soon become a full-time job.

— With reporting by Yue Wang

98 comments
Min Thein Naing
Min Thein Naing

Myanmar people use to regard USA as champion of democracy and friend of Myanmar. This reckless insult on Buddhism by Time will alienate many of us. It is a big mistake in an era of soft power.

Julia Hyewon Kim
Julia Hyewon Kim

As someone who uses kakaotalk, line, whatsapp and wechat.. I have to say LINE offers the best features and also the clearest call quality (even better than Skype). In comparison wechat seems pretty basic and simple to me.. Unless you enjoy talking to random strangers in your vicinity.

Bryan Sales
Bryan Sales

If one doesn't mind getting hacked that is. Can be exploited by the government of China for intel gathering.

Fu Alex
Fu Alex

in fact, wechat has some really good functions for someway...

Jiacai Liu
Jiacai Liu

yeah,it can't be compared with facebook

Zachary Michaels
Zachary Michaels

Every religion has extremists that use terror as a political tool. Yours is no exception.

Amazon Panda
Amazon Panda

nah ,,,. we chat is chinese gov tool to spy on pp

paulgomez
paulgomez

What?? WeChat is from China? now i have to remove this from my app list... Don't trust that country and anything coming from them!!

Thinh Hai Tran
Thinh Hai Tran

Beware, for WeChat is dark and full of malwares.

Ricky Ric
Ricky Ric

Whîch_1 mäd3_1ñ Chînâ,xc3pt W31_80:

Nancy Avila
Nancy Avila

Don't like WeChat. WOuld not recommend to anyone.

Mazen Tamer
Mazen Tamer

Can't wait until Chinese companies partner with foreign companies.......Can you imagine the reach and potential!!!

Daniel Scapol
Daniel Scapol

Pretty sure there are 400m because it is chinese population...Prob like 1% is from the outside of China

David  Wang
David Wang

It's amazing because I am WeChat user too.

Oki Mikito
Oki Mikito

Now that submitting your data to Communist China has gotten sooooo much easier! ;-) Try this, and you'll be making lots of friends there!!!

Martin Herbst
Martin Herbst

yes, of course. and everyone will use baidu.com instead of google... lol

Will Dean
Will Dean

So... a village on the outskirts? When will it see mainstream popularity? :P

aussie_guy
aussie_guy

I am surprised that countries outside china are allowing Chinese companies like Tencent to roll out their products overseas given that China has blocked overseas competitors like Facebook and Twitter. We (those of us outside China) seem to be incredibly naive about fair competition and equal market access. Clearly China doesn't play by the same rules and we are blind enough to allow them to do whatever they want.

SuckTheMarrowZA
SuckTheMarrowZA

@khayadlanga this app currently has around 700m users here - it will destroy whatsapp!! Every person ive met so far in china uses it!

Kyah H Wee
Kyah H Wee

TIME is al Qaeda Media. TIME Magazine of TERROR.al Qaeda TIME Media. Magazine of TERROR.al Qaeda Media. Magazine of TERROR.al Qaeda HANNAH BEECH !!!

Techinasia
Techinasia

@GinnyTonkin @TIME TIME has the right URL to us, but that's a weird redirect happening. not sure if issue on our side.

Ngan Tree
Ngan Tree

it's popular!!!!! Caleb Bhatnagar

Kyah H Wee
Kyah H Wee

al Qaeda Media. Magazine of TERROR.al Qaeda Media. Magazine of TERROR.al Qaeda Media. Magazine of TERROR.al Qaeda Leader OBAMA !!!al Qaeda Media. Magazine of TERROR.al Qaeda Media. Magazine of TERROR.al Qaeda Media. Magazine of TERROR.al Qaeda Leader OBAMA !!!

Harry H. Feng
Harry H. Feng

WeChat, the way we chat. Tried it and the best so far!

Katherine Lam
Katherine Lam

what happen with Time? are they still on ICQ , can they write something really up-to-date?

Rome270AD
Rome270AD

It's only $23.0 trillion debt lmao, nothing to worry about, and that's the official figure, other massive debt is hidden rofl.


Yea no panic!

Jennifer Sanders
Jennifer Sanders

Using cell phone service (to talk) is still very expensive in most countries, data is much cheaper than minutes or free in places there is wifi.

YoMAMAYo
YoMAMAYo

@Thinh Hai Tran well, US spies on ppl too.. Typical Viet thinking..

hetta_m4events
hetta_m4events

@kaapin sodra terug die Kaap! Oppad Innibos! My wyne nog net so lekker:) lekker dag x