Facebook may have shelled out for Instagram, but don’t expect a billion-dollar acquisition of a mobile startup by Tencent anytime soon.

Instead, version 4.0 of the Weixin mobile app is vintage Tencent. The new release adds a host of new SNS features, many of which copy from Path, Instagram, and Google Circles, and still others that are unique. It’s a prime example of the homegrown combination of copying, remixing, and innovation that Tencent executes to perfection.

Moreover, with the release of version 4.0, Weixin (微信) has an official English name: WeChat. Tencent has its sights on the global market: in addition to English and Chinese, the app is now available in Arabic, Vietnamese, Indonesian, and Portuguese.

Weixin is already TechRice’s prediction for product of the year 2012, and this release only strengthens its claim.

Pony and WeChat

Pony Ma is a rare breed of internet CEO in China. Like Mark Zuckerberg, he started as a programmer, and later became a product guy. Inside Tencent he is worshiped by his employees as the “Super Product Manager”.

Pony Ma demands that things get done and rewards employees when that happens. WeChat’s team each received a Macbook Air for the Chinese New Year.

At 4:11 a.m 29th March, Pony Ma posted to his Tencent Weibo announcing that WeChat had just reached 100 million registered user. Just 4 months ago Tecent claimed 50 million registered and 25 million active. After starting with a team of 10 developers, the team now has over one hundred members.

Pony is investing heavily into mobile social networking and WeChat might be his biggest bet of all. The goal is to create a whole new lifestyle for the white-collars in China, a demographic that previously eluded Tencent and its QQ empire.

WeChat 4.0′s New Features

1). Timeline Photo Album

WeChat’s new photo sharing is designed in the same timeline style as Path, but with a simple blue interface design. Users can share photos with comments, i.e. what they were doing and with who.

Since 3.0, Weixin has included a set of special effects for photo editing: think of it as Instagram in Facebook Messenger.

One of the best features is that WeChat’s top-notch compression minimizes the volume of data consumed via this rich multimedia messaging.

2). Circles

Next up, WeChat takes a page out of Google Plus by offering new friends ‘circles’. Contents can be locked as ‘private’ so that they are only accessible to users in the private circle. After starting from one-on-one messaging, Tencent is now experimenting with building out a social network.

Also new is the name card feature: users have a personal card that they can exchange just as they might a business card.

None of these are original ideas on their own, but Tencent is integrating them in a way and at a scale never tried before. By comparison, Facebook is far more conservative with its mobile app: features are an extension of the website, rather than truly new experiences and functionality.

3). WeChat Open API

This is perhaps the most impressive of all new features in 4.0: third-party apps can now access WeChat’s API to share contents from their Apps to the messenger. For example, if I were to find a piece of sharp news in Google Reader, I may soon be able to share it to friends on WeChat.

One new cooperation is with Tencent’s own QQMusic. Users can easily stream songs via that service from within the app’s timeline.

4). Message Forwarding

Received a funny photo that you would like to share with other friends? Just forward it. In WeChat, you can now forward all content to other contacts.

5). Location Sharing

This is a long-overdue feature that I think WeChat really should have included in earlier versions. A few friends of mine beg to differ though: it can lead to rather delicate location-tracking situations for those in a relationship!

6). Favorite Contacts

Wanting to access that special person instantly? Fave her! Or him. WeChat now allows you to keep a collection of starred contacts who’re special to you, so you can find them easily among the hundreds of others.

7). Group Messaging

Finally, this is a feature that in my personal opinion makes WeChat a truly killer app. In China, people love SMS’ing, and now they are hooked in sending messages via WeChat. Goup chat will extend that even further!

 

Back in September of last year, I saw WeChat as a revolutionary mobile messaging app because it didn’t solely clone, it polished and perfected what it cloned. User experience is everything for the developer team at WeChat, and as a user I love it.

At TechRice we see WeChat as a potential game-changer in how Chinese users communicate with each other via mobile devices. On the one side, more and more users are using smartphones, and on the other side WeChat’s team worked hard on offering a complete cross platform App that now even include Windows Phones (Windows just entered the Chinese market this month, officially).

Our prediction is that WeChat will be China’s Internet product of the year in 2012, perhaps even greater than Weibo was in 2011.With 100 million registered users, torrid growth, a host of terrific new features, it’s looking like WeChat will hit the mark.

Get WeChat here.

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  • 512261897

    That’s why Chinese 山寨 always holds my respect. They are able to incorporate all the existing features of different products to make something better and more innovative. I guess calling them 山寨 is kind of insulting and no longer appropriate

  • Sent

    Nice article but too rosy. You need to talk about what are the difficulties that Weixin might encounter too.

    Here is one big deal with all these messaging apps. Their main function is BY FAR to send free text messages. When mobile operators change their pricing model to data from call/texting, their actual usefulness will be seriously tested. If people actually start using Weixin like Instagram or a mobile Facebook (which is not a given. It’s not because you add functions that people use them – see weibo -) then yes they will have won the game. Otherwise this app is dead a few years from now. I don’t really think there is a middle ground.

  • Anonymous

    There’s still some optimization and reorganization of the UI that needs to be done on WeChat.  e.g. placement of plug-ins in contacts location?  That does cause a bit of confusion.  Also some of the plug-ins don’t work well like their e-mail, constantly askes user for e-mail verification when on one of the pages in the settings area says verified.  See some potential but the program needs to be revised and assessed as there are some UI issues and stability problems.

    • Anonymous

      Since WeChat is aiming for the international market their plug-ins should be in English or allow the user to choose language interface of their choice.  The plug-ins appear to be half baked as there are still menus and options that are in chinese like the “pushed folders” option.  There’s still issues about e-mail issues ie “Unable to receive message by real-time.  Please change…”  There’s no .pdf or help for users  to explain the “set now” or “later”.  There are quite a few plug-ins showing in the social tab.  But however the interface is inconsistent, there are some programs from the plug-ins that do not show in the social section.

  • Martinhancn

    Wechat’s globalization from it’s reputation and the important is to bundle with smart mobiel phone…Tencent need to nego with Mobile providers to contain it into the software package

  • tiger

    halo