Chinese App WeChat Is Expanding in Australia, Will the U.S. Be Next?
WeChat is quickly becoming a Goliath in the age of apps and social media. The China-based app has exploded in popularity with users ever since it launched in 2011. It currently has more than 900 million daily active users, which puts Instagram to shame. The app offers a variety of services, including text messages, sending audio and video, and geolocation services that let people know when one of their contacts is nearby. But the most valuable service offered by the app seems to be its mobile payment service, helping users quickly stay on top of all their finances with just a few clicks. The app is continuing to expand throughout the transpacific region, and it’s making the jump to hundreds of thousands of businesses in Australia. Which is leading many in the tech community to wonder, will we ever see something like it in the U.S.?
WeChat’s Path to Success
WeChat began as a simple instant messaging service in 2011, gaining nearly 100 million users in the first year. But the company decided to take things one step further. They developed new features, including geolocation services for finding contacts nearby and a payment system that allows users to complete all kinds of purchases with their phone. Paying a tab at a restaurant or checking out at the grocery store could all be automated, saving the user precious time throughout their day.
The secret to the app’s success is the country’s willingness to incorporate the app’s payment services throughout its economy. WeChat can be used almost anywhere around China, giving users an incentive to sign up. The same is happening in Australia, a common destination for Chinese tourists. Australian businesses are asking to join the WeChat community, with 10,000 already on the app’s radar.
How WeChat’s Competitors Are Trying to Cash In
Clearly, WeChat has struck a chord with mobile device users, which is wetting the appetites of the folks in Silicon Valley who are anxious to develop something similar for users in the U.S. Facebook recently tried to capitalize on this trend, creating a virtual personal assistant that was meant to help users simplify all their daily tasks and responsibilities. The app, known simply as “M”, was shut down on January 8th, 2018 because hardly anyone was using it.
Unlike WeChat, M was using humans to help users complete certain tasks like booking a table at a restaurant, scheduling an event, or ordering delivery. Facebook was hoping that humans would be able to teach the program’s AI to do just about everything itself, but the technology has been slow to develop. As of now, the company is repurposing its efforts by integrating AI services with its instant messaging platform.
The U.S. already has plenty of mobile payment services like PayPal and Venmo that make it easy for users to send and receive funds, but that’s about all these apps can do. They aren’t synced up with the millions of businesses and vendors all over the country, and users can’t send messages to their friends like they would on SnapChat or WhatsApp.
Is WeChat Coming to the U.S.?
Currently, users need a Chinese bank account to sign up for WeChat, so it’s still largely driven by the country’s users. As the service spreads beyond China, more countries in the region are likely to get on the bandwagon. However, India recently tried to block the app, claiming that the Chinese government is using the technology to collect data on its citizens. So, the app will probably get some pushback as it expands in the coming years.
U.S. tech companies might have what it takes to create their own version of WeChat, but it would mean trying to capitalize on the success of other apps. If any effort is going to be as successful as WeChat, it will need to combine the features of Venmo, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Facebook, which might be more than some companies are willing to handle.