WeChat Mini-APPs Online Now!

Oct 16, 2016 By NetFin

What do WeChat mini-APPs look like? Before we start exposing grandiose theories about the future of WeChat (we’ll get there) you might want to know what the thing actually looks like.  

What can WeChat mini-APPs do?

The answer to this question is simple: they can do more or less what a service account can do:

  • Access the WeChat API for voice recording, voice recognition, log-in, payments, etc…
  • Send messages to users in a fashion which is similar to a service account
  • You can build web-APPs on top of it (using WeChat UI elements provided by Tencent, here’s a little demo we made…)

You can expect to see mini-APPs appearing in the next few weeks enabling you to:

  • Buy products
  • Order food
  • Book a time for your ayi to clean your place
  • Handle your dry cleaning
  • And more…

So basically WeChat mini-APPs are another way to provide services through WeChat, with a few innovations…  

What are the differences with service accounts?

There are a few differences between WeChat APP accounts and service accounts:

  • Accessibility: min-APPs are accessed through a special panel. This panel is directly accessible from the “Discover” section of your account (like Moments, and unlike service accounts which are simply alphabetically ordered together with subscription accounts). This will make mini-APPs much easier to access and organize for users
  • Speed: mini-APPs enable to store some of the code and data directly on the phone, increasing the speed and giving more of a “native” feel to the applications

  We now know what WeChat mini-APPs look like, and what they can do. But how are they built?  

What are WeChat mini-APPs made of?

Okay, it’s nerd time! What are mini-APPs? Are they just web-pages like WeChat APPs linked to service accounts? Or are they native APPs like you would find on the Apple APP Store? Well… somewhere in between! WeChat mini-APPs are built with a special framework designed by Tencent. This framework is based on JavaScript (very similar to Angular.js and React.js). For instance: it doesn’t use html but wxml, and uses wxss instead of css!   What does it means in practice?

  • If you want to build WeChat APPs you have to learn a new language! (but not really, people familiar with JavaScript development will find it easy)
  • The code from the mini-APPs can’t be used outside WeChat! (as it relies on Tencent’s proprietary format)
How can I play around with them?

To get a fully functional WeChat mini-APP, you’ll need a private invitation from Tencent. But you can already play around with their framework and get a preview of the result on your own laptop. Want to tinker with it? You can download demo code here and download the developer tools to run it here for mac, here for windows 64 and here for windows 32. Select “no APP ID” in the main page to get started right away if you don’t have your own WeChat mini-APP developer account yet. And you can get the full documentation here.

Why should I care?

Well, the short answer is: for now you should not care. Mini-APP surely show some interesting features, but it’s still way too early to tell if they’ll be a thing. As of now, they seem a bit too similar to service accounts, and appear as a risky bet for brands and developers. One thing is sure: if you are among the very first mini-APPs, you will sure get a lot of traction and press. Just like moment ads, where first advertisers made a lot of buzz, but which turned out to be a disappointment. Mini-APPs might meet a similar fate. There is a small chance this new approach might further establish WeChat as the leading eco-system for brands in China. But there is a bigger chance that mini-APPs will join the graveyard of failed tech innovations.

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