China’s most popular app and the world’s first super app, WeChat, reported promising growth for multiple services despite regulatory headwinds and fierce competition. The app, which is operated by Tencent and has more than 1.2 billion users, is exploring fresh opportunities as new regulations are constricting the growth that tech companies in China can engage in.
The steady climb was driven by the growing user base of WeChat mini programs, said Lake Zeng Ming, head of Weixin Open Platform, during WeChat’s annual developer forum held in Guangzhou on Thursday. Mini programs now serve all manner of consumer needs, and have more than 450 million daily active users, up nearly 13% from 2020.
Like Apple’s App Store, WeChat’s mini program feature allows third-party developers to build lightweight apps that are embedded in WeChat’s ecosystem. This gives the developers access to WeChat’s massive user base. More than 700 million users have used mini programs to store records of COVID-19 tests and book vaccine appointments, Zeng said, and over 100 million people access government services through mini programs daily.
Another feature that has gained ground in WeChat is its short video service, Channels. Launched in 2020, Channels accumulated over 200 million users by June 2021, a press release from Tencent shows.
Tencent didn’t reveal the number of users who actively use Channels at Thursday’s conference, but did indicate that more than 27 million people watched Irish boy band Westlife’s online concert in 2021, and 15 million people viewed the Shenzhou 12 spaceflight launch on WeChat.
WeChat said it will recommend more original content to users, giving professional content creators an edge and placing it squarely in competition with Kuaishou and TikTok sibling Douyin.
Meanwhile, WeChat’s search function, which allows users to search for accounts, mini programs, chat histories, social feed posts, news content, and more within its ecosystem, has gained over 700 million monthly users in 2021, the company said.
In the payments vertical, WeChat Pay is one of the largest mobile payment methods and a major rival of Ant Group’s Alipay. It has partnered with over 1,800 financial institutions and facilitated more than RMB 5.2 trillion (USD 82 billion) in transactions in “the past few years,” the company said.
WeChat has also started to accept the digital yuan in its payments service, Tencent said. This may significantly boost the adoption of the central bank digital currency.
To transition small businesses to the digital realm, WeChat will offer subsidies worth more than RMB 10 billion (USD 1.57 billion) to independent merchants in the next three years to improve their digital infrastructure.
As one of the key targets of China’s sweeping crackdown of major internet conglomerates, Tencent reported the slowest quarterly revenue growth since it went public in 2004. Multiple business lines of the company, including video games, music and video streaming, and online advertising, have been hampered by the regulatory headwinds.
The emergence of WeChat as a super app has spawned imitators around the world. Facebook (now Meta) attempted to model its app ecosystem after the ubiquitous Chinese app, with those endeavors falling flat. Over in Southeast Asia, Grab and Gojek are shaping their respective apps to offer a range of daily services in hopes of shoring up user growth and developing diverse revenue streams across Southeast Asia.