New Features (updated on 29 March, 2017):
Apps are getting tiresome. You have to install different apps for different things. This takes up a lot of precious space on your phone. If you did delete infrequently used apps, let’s say, Uber, chances are you’re going to find yourself running late for a meeting while trying to download it with your slow data. Surely there’s a better solution?
WeChat is attempting to revolutionise the status quo by introducing “mini programs”. These are similar to apps but there’s no need to install or uninstall them. They won’t take up any storage space on your phone. They sit within WeChat. You just scan QR codes or input the exact names on WeChat to launch them. Once you’ve finished using the programs, you can simply quit. You might think: if it’s such an amazing idea, surely WeChat is not the only one in the game? In fact, Google has announced a similar idea called “instant apps”. You can check it out here if you're curious.
So… does this spell the end of apps? Well WeChat is an app itself so it might spell the end of other apps except for WeChat. This, however, is unlikely to happen soon. Mini programs are still in the initial stages of development. Most users are still figuring out how to find a use for them. However, it's likely to affect simple apps which are infrequently used as they can be replaced by mini programs easily. So maybe the death of some apps but not all apps (yet).
WeChat said it would not create a mini program store. It hopes that the use of mini programs will be triggered by their users’ actual needs. For example, in a Chinese coach station passengers simply scan a QR code and the mini program to buy tickets is launched immediately. There’s no need to download any apps let alone wait in queues! How efficient!
Will our future generation be shocked at the idea of downloading apps? Maybe one day we'll live in a world where everything is just within one touch. It's still unclear how mini programs will be received in China. Some businesses are not wowed by it. Businesses can't convert visitors to subscribers, there isn't a mini program store and users can't get push notifications after they've left.
Why are there so many limitations? Why does WeChat want the use of mini programs to be based on actual needs? In my opinion WeChat has a bigger ambition: it's not trying to become the next Apple App Store but to reshape the way we interact with our environment and surroundings through the use of mini programs and QR codes. If mini programs take off, we'll become the puppets of the WeChat empire (obviously only applies to places with a strong WeChat presence).
A few examples of WeChat mini programs