Asia loves mobile instant messaging, and China is no exception. For youngsters, the most popular monthly mobile phone contract packages probably include hundreds of free SMS. In addition to SMS, China also has QQ, the decade-old instant messaging that thoroughly dominates the space.
Now Tencent, the company behind QQ, is bringing the latest mobile messaging service to the mainstream. Whether you call them a fast follower or an unashamed copycat, Tencent is adept at spotting and pushing the latest internet trends to its vast userbase. Tencent’s version is called Weixin (微信).
From the start, Weixin was likely a clone of Talkbox, an instant voice messaging startup from Hong Kong. After Talkbox’s runaway success it became the target of many others including MiTalk (米聊 by Xiaomi), Kiki Messenger, Youni, and of course Tencent’s Weixin.
But Weixin has one key advantage the others can only dream of: 700 million registered users. Just about every single Chinese internet user has a QQ account, for many QQ is the internet. For Weixin, a QQ account is the only log-in option, which also immediately allows the app to pull from a user’s existing QQ social graph.
Functionality-wise Weixin is fairly standard comparing to its competitors. All have text messaging, photo sharing, voice messaging, location-sharing, and group messaging.
But Weixin once again further leverages Tencent’s massive user base by offering an edgy geo-location service. You can see and message any users within a 1000m radius of your GPS position, whether they are a friend or not.
Now you can strike up a conversation with a random stranger near you, and we can all imagine the other applications this neat little feature can lead to. One friend told me it was an excellent way to find 美女, ‘beautiful girls’ in his vicinity.
And to give you an idea of how far Tencent’s userbase extends, let me offer an example:
For me, my location search normally reveals 30+ strangers near my home, a residential area. In CBD Shanghai, that number will be considerably higher nearing 50. That’s 50 users every 1000m already using Weixin–and imagine how many more QQ users aren’t yet on Weixin.
For a friend in Singapore, his search came up with 7 strangers, so clearly with Weixin you can find people for an interesting chat just about anywhere in Asia Pacific area and maybe also in Japan.
Of course you can erase yourself from this search if peace and quiet is your style. But the default is opt-in.
Weixin is available on Android, iPhone and Symbian, to experience it you can download the app here.
Weixin a Threat to SMS?
Weixin is for users with a mobile data package (GPRS/3G) access, so with consideration of data volume limits users might turn away users. But Weixin’s development team promises their app is optimized for the lowest data usage possible.
And Tencent went even a step further. In China’s GuangDong province, they signed a deal with China Unicom, the second largest mobile service provider in the country, to offer all China Unicom users free data access when using Weixin within GuangDong province.
Any user who activates a specific data package before end of December will have unlimited access of Weixin for the next 24 months, which means free SMS, MMS, voice mail and any other forms of mobile communication that Weixin introduces in the next 2 years.
It will be a huge threat for SMS in GuangDong and the rest of China if this free deal extends to the rest of the country. But China Unicom could stand to win if users abandon China Mobile, its main competitor.
China has a slew of new mobile messaging services. Here are a few key competitors:
1). Xiaomi MiTalk (米聊)
The Xiaomi phone received over 300,000 pre-orders on it’s first day of pre-order sales. MiTalk (or Miliao / 米聊 in Chinese) comes pre-installed one each one.
Each MiTalk users has a wall on which friends can post messages. And MiTalk also offers a ‘doodle pad’ so you can send your friends your touch-screen sketches.
2). Feixin IM (飞信)
This is an app by China Mobile, a surprising hit for the state-supported telecom that struggles with original content. Its biggest selling point is free SMS for you and your Feixin friends.
China Mobile is the one other company that approaches Tencent with its control of a massive userbase. Let the race begin.
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