Where are they heading?

On January 9th this year Tencent introduced WeChat Mini Programs after a long period of waiting. Before their launch, Mini Programs were the hottest topic among marketers and developers since they might well change the current mobile application market that is dominated by the App Store and Chinese alternatives to Google Play (since Google Play is not available in China).

What are WeChat Mini Programs?

WeChat Mini Programs is another function Tencent created for WeChat, a very popular app that has over 900 million monthly active users as of Q1 2017. The Mini Programs are developed based on the WeChat platform and can be run within WeChat itself. In other words, it’s an app within another app. Hence, mobile users don’t need to download a virtual app from the app marketplace, but can use the applications simply by opening WeChat.

What are the benefits WeChat Mini Programs bring?
Any Limitations?

There are mainly two benefits WeChat Mini Programs can bring to end users: time and mobile space efficiency and life convenience.

Nowadays, there are numerous apps available in each of the app markets, however the time end users have and the space available on their mobiles are limited. It doesn’t make sense for end users to download an app if they only need to use it once in a while. For instance, when you wait in the queue at a restaurant and want to pre-order dishes through their mobile app, you need to download the app first - and maybe you’ll delete it right after when you are done eating. With WeChat Mini Programs, you only need to scan a QR code and you will be able to use the dish ordering Mini Program right away. No downloading is needed and you can just close the program to quit.

The life conveniences Mini Programs bring to end users are mainly reflected in the service industry, e.g. making doctor appointments; shared bike riding; weather forecasting and even e-commerce purchasing. Mini Programs will also change the usage of touch screen machines. In many places the touch screens on vending machines or ticket printing machines can be broken. However Mini Programs can replace the touch screens with your mobile’s screen. Once you’ve scanned the QR code of the Mini Program, you can already view the products/tickets on your mobile, and subsequent actions can be managed on your mobile phone.

Even though the Mini Programs sound very promising there are still a few limitations. For example, the current WeChat Mini Programs don't have the full functionalities a normal app has, since the program codes are saved on the server with WeChat, while a normal app is run in an operational system. Therefore complicated apps may have limitations running in WeChat. In addition to this, Tencent has also restricted the types of apps that are allowed to develop a WeChat Mini Program, e.g. game apps cannot develop Mini Programs in WeChat.

What does the future look like for WeChat Mini Programs?

The unveiling of Mini Programs was widely hailed as a possible sea change for WeChat usage, but 6 months after its launch, only 20.4% of those surveyed had used one. In addition, almost one-third (32.8%) of respondents had never even heard of Mini Programs, a clear indication that WeChat needs to do a better job educating its users about their potential benefits. There are already over 50% of WeChat users who spend at least 90 minutes each day browsing the app, and with the launch of these Mini Programs Tencent should be going to get even more of people’s time.

Below are some examples of WeChat Mini Programs that have been launched in the last 6 months.

1. Eleme Food Take-out Mini Program

Eleme is a very popular food take-out app. Instead of installing the app on your mobile, you can just use its mini program in WeChat by searching “Eleme” in discovery.


2. LiZhi FM Mini Program

You can listen to the radio by using Mini Programs on WeChat.

3. JingDong (JD) e-Commerce Mini Program

You can buy things on JD and use WeChat Pay to pay when you check out.





A very useful group buy mini program. 
You can get coupons for many offline activities, such as going to beauty salons, restaurants, movies, KTV, etc.

5. Starbucks Mini Program.

This is a good example that shows how a B2C business can take advantage of the social needs people have on the biggest social platform in China. In this Mini Program, you can send a coupon for a Starbucks coffee to your friends on WeChat, purchased by WeChat Pay.