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
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.
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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