Tencent releases “Mini Apps” on WeChat

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Tencent senior vice president Zhang Xialong depicted WeChat’s Moments feed littered with Mini Apps, a feature that lets users interact with app-like services within the popular Chinese chat app without having to download them.

There were reports that the company had been trialing Mini Apps with a select group of beta testers earlier this month, according to The Information.

Should Mini Apps take off, it could further entrench the dominance of Tencent, WeChat’s parent company, in the Chinese app market.

  • It could extend Tencent’s lead as an app vendor. Tencent’s third-party app store, Myapp, has an install base of around 24% in the country, according to Newzoo. WeChat’s massive install base — which as of the end of 2015 makes up around 93% of Chinese smartphone owners in Tier 1 and 2 cities — could incentivize users to not use other app vendors.
  • It provides Tencent the ability to tap into the iOS market. Apple’s closed ecosystem means that iPhone users can download apps only from the App Store, locking Tencent out from these lucrative users, who typically spend more than Android users. Mini Apps provides Tencent the ability to reach iOS consumers from within WeChat.
  • It keeps users spending even more time in WeChat. WeChat already accounts for 30% of all mobile online time spent in China, The Economist notes. However, these users will need to at some point access apps outside of WeChat. Giving them the ability to stream certain parts of an app within the chat window keeps them more tightly entwined.

Tencent is not alone in launching “apps within apps.” 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.

For example, Apple recently gave developers the ability to build and launch apps within iMessage, its native messaging service. And Google unveiled Instant Apps, which lets users engage with portions of apps through deep links without having to download them. This could give brands and businesses new and more valuable ways of reaching consumers.

Mobile-app makers and content creators are vying for consumer attention in a crowded and noisy market.

Even if an app can stand out enough to prompt a consumer to download it from among a list of millions, it then faces the challenge of enticing him or her to use it enough times to recuperate development, maintenance, and marketing costs. To make matters worse, those marketing costs have hit record-high levels over the past year as discoverability has become more challenging.

And while consumers are spending more time in apps, most of that time is spent in a few favorites. Consumers spend almost three-quarters of their total smartphone app time in just their three favorite apps, according to comScore.

But it’s not all doom and gloom: There are numerous tools at a publisher’s disposal to engage and re-engage consumers, and there are new products and solutions coming to market that can help alleviate some of the issues around this app engagement crisis.