WeChat, one of the most popular and widely used social media applications in China, has several design principle that may throne its user group. The combinatory design principle exist makes the WeChat an app that “rule it all”. In January 2017, a new program called Mini Program came into use in WeChat app. The program is an integration of various applications; insist on the principle of “to use and to go”. It used the technology of HTML5 web-based application and improve user experience to a large extend. In a few months after the Mini Program appeared, user group of the program has reached more than 200 million people. So why this program so competitive in the market and what is the design principle behind this program?
WeChat is a very popular app in China. It is originally an instant messenger app at first from Tencent Company. It is now the dominating social media apps in Chinese market. As such a successful app, there are many technical design principles there which enable the success for WeChat.
According to the annual report in Tencent Inc Ltd, In 2017, the monthly active user of WeChat app (in both Chinese version of weixin app and international version of WeChat) has reached 889 million people. One user would have 128 contact people within the platform on average, and the number of online payment transaction is more than 600 million per month. As easily can be seen, one of the most distinctive features of WeChat is that it is a combinatory of various functions. WeChat has the function of Facebook, voice message, Instagram, Tweeter, streaming video, online bank and so on. Each time the new functions appearance would bring an increase in user group, and finally lead to such a large scale of user number.
“In 2016, Tencent company, with a set of strategies and comprehensive online economic ecosystem, has reinforce its leading position in the industry and became more competitive. The convenient social and local service functions have enabled the promising future of WeChat and QQ.” (Ma Huateng, co-founder of Tencent)
Why WeChat has such a large user group
The WeChat came to the market in 2011, January. In the very beginning, it has very limited functions as instant message apps, can only be used for text and send photos. In the end of 2011, WeChat has firstly work interactively with other functions online. The app implement the function of Talkbox, which users can use the voice message to communicate with each other, and that is the first time number of user group has increased significantly.
The moment function came the second year since the WeChat came into the market, which came with the boom of user group here, up to more than 100 million people. the moment function, which also called “ friend circle”, it is a sharing function similar to the Instagram and path, you can share your photos or video in moment with texts, or you can record and take pictures then sharing instantly in the moment.
The reason that WeChat have such a large user group can also be attributed to the design thinking of affordance. The clear interface of the app makes functions more visualized trackable and easier to learn. Take a look at the interface of the application, at the bottom is four main pages that can be switched at can be clearly seen named “chats”, which is the place serve as the basic chatting function, “Contacts”, which is the the place that shows all the name of your WeChat contacts, “ discover”, where the function of moment, scan QR code, Shake, nearby people and message in a bottle collect, and “me”, where shows your account information, including your online bank information.
The design principle of dependence is also seen in the app. It’s obvious that to achieve such a mixture of functions, WeChat need to use all the native features of smartphones. For example, to post a picture in the moment, WeChat need the access to the camera, speaker, memory chip, access to Internet. The online payment function also cooperates with the online banking system, and Alipay application, other online shopping website as well. User number has large scale increase each time with the increase of functions. It is going with the development of cellphone. Now WeChat is available to both ios and Android operation system, can cover 94% of smartphones in Chinese market. This illustrate that the dependence of WeChat design is also a factor that enabled the success of this application.
In January 2017, a new program called “mini program” came into exist. The main design principle behind the mini program is modularity. It is a combinatory of all the functions of other apps, which makes the WeChat an app of apps. Mini program is in the form of a formal application with the whole functions. It can be found in the “discover” page after the first time you try the mini program in WeChat. By scanning QR code, or search the name in search bar, sharing from friends or groups, search for nearby programs you may get access to different mini programs. And the interface of the mini program is similar to the original apps. WeChat user who gets into the mini program can also use different functions provided by the program.
From the program creator’s perspective, it is providing a platform for anyone can write code and develop their own app with no need to get permission from the app store for selling. To develop your own mini program, user will need to register for an App ID first. Then setting your program name and tag, combine your ID with certain user account. After that user can log in with ID as manager identity and write code for the program. The text, adjustment can all be done in this page. To help user better and easier to create their own application with more comprehensive functions and interface, the WeChat would also provide the API and access WeChat have to its user-developer, and even with the framework of java code.
The Mini program is making WeChat more a penalty of modularity. The designer is not design anything new, any new technology neither. He was combining the pre-exist technologies together, to create this new and appealing functions. The Mini program, used the concept of HTML5 apps, the search function, scan for QR code, get access to contactor, original technology from other apps or the native function on smartphone that pre-exist already. It combined the new function with the WeChat native functions, but in a new way and making it such an appealing new design. WeChat believe that by housing those applications inside of its app, user would be more willing to stay in one app, and there can still be a boom increase of WeChat user and more business transaction inside WeChat as well. So as the integration of functions within WeChat, those small companies with official website and applications would also be willing to have a mini app within WeChat so that they can be more competitive and gain more users there as well as the resources Tencent would provide. Those big companies’ apps would also want to be part of the program since they may lose their competitive capability if they are the only one that not get involve and their native apps may not as convenient as the Mini Program. For developers, they will also be glad to use this function since it will be harder for them to develop and cultivate and marketing a brand new application by themselves.
In the WeChat, it has the subscription accounts and service accounts, which are both official accounts created by users that can send news, and provide service information of the account, like hospital information, or restaurants, which can be local service. To complete the service, now the mini program came out as an underpinning of those official accounts. One of the accomplish goal done through the mini program is the connection with offline business. For instance, when you scan the QR code offline, you can get into the WeChat mini program app of the service or anything, the QR code can be poster in subway station, or it can be the offline activity hosted by some real shops, and by get into the mini program you may attend the activity and get rewards or service offline. This kind of connection is actually making user experience not only limited in digital world, but making the service distributed around in the environment through the interface of WeChat app. This program, is realizing the connection between people to people, people to business, people to service.
The interface of Mini Program
To have a clearer concept of what Mini program looks like, take Didi Dache as an example here. The Mini program stays in the last selection of “discover” page within the app interface once you use one of the Mini program. By searching the name of the program, user will be able to find the program there. And when you click into the Mini program page, the program that you previously used will be shown there just under the search bar. Once click into the application page, you can use the function provided by the Mini program. Like in the Didi Dache, I made a comparation of WeChat house app and its native app, the interface is the same and it also provided same functions there.
Didi Dache is a taxi booking application similar to the Uber and Lyft. It is a very popular program in Mini program. Now with this Mini program, you will not need to download the native one to book a taxi, it is just house inside the WeChat app and will not take up your smartphone storage. In the Android operation system it will even able to create a homescreen icon in the smartphone that will make it easier to use.
Thrive of QR code
As the Mini program is tied offline world closely with online apps, the QR code is being an unique hyper markup link invented in China. The QR code is in the form of an icon that can be easy to print offline. With a QR code, people may scan it to pay the bill, to add new friends, to attain information about certain account, or to achieve one website. QR code, with a unique but easy to recognize form, prevailed quickly after appearance. The http can all transferred into a QR code there.
Now with the Mini program’s invention, QR code has become an important part since a lot of the apps would need you to scan the code. For example, many restaurants have the QR code on their poster, and it can be posted not only inside of the restaurants, but also in public place like bus station, flyers, or shopping mall. As it is such a convenience and strong marketing tool, QR code is in large use in Mini program, it acts as the gateway of Mini program that contain the vital information. As this new function would still increase user group, QR code is also going to become more popular around the world.
A tool of connection
The designer of the Mini Program explained that he is trying to think from the perspective of users, to make the program serve people instead of thinking from the interest of the application.
The fundamental principle of WeChat is that the app is only act as an effective tool for communication. All the connection and service would finally lead to the access to some certain people, this is the nature of WeChat usage. It is making efforts on build a bridge between people. This is why the service account and subscription account can be so popular and became one characteristic of WeChat while those business account and online shopping functions is not that welcomed in contrast. What’s more, it should also be highly effective when building the bridge, to make WeChat just a highly effective tool and this is also why the Mini Program was designed to directly use and no need for download and delete afterwards. As the designer of the Mini Program has ever said: the access to website is search bar while the access to application is QR code.
Now the technology of HTML5 is being largely used for web-based applications. The technology has the advantage that they can storage information for the offline application. And the HTML5 make it possible for all in one application model, that different app will be able to navigate in one web browser.
Baidu, one of the largest search company in China, used to initiate a Light App Campaign, aiming at using HTML5 web based application technology to develop its new function just like mini program, but did not get the same feedback due to its search engine nature that different from social platforms which would have larger user group and easier to communicate.
The Mini Program now is using the HTML5 technology, and pack up the data file information in the zip format, and it is already being stored with HTML5, so that user can open the app within seconds. This design is a change from application to the web appfication, from local storage service to cloud service. We can operate on this application as what we do in PC web browser: we can open several pages at the same time and making them working separately. And we will not download software for one time use and then delate. But the Mini Program is actually a compromise of both web browser and application format, it has the advantages but this also constraints the further development of WeChat program since this still need to install the WeChat application first, and will be effect by the hardware and data flow.
With this technology, the Mini Program will also be very attractive to Android system, since the Mini Program can realize the same program running in both Android system and ios system, it may improve drawbacks exist in Android system due to its massive out-of-control app store, thus improve user experience, which would become a great chance for those app developers with business.
How Mini Program being competitive
The Mini program, since it is firstly published in January 2017, the user group has reached 200 million within months. This is such a huge figure and proved that Mini program is being liked and welcomed by user here. What makes this new mini program so popular in the market?
Firstly, the real time sharing functions of WeChat is also available in mini program. When you share information from one app in mini program, your friends can directly see the information page without search and open the mini program again.
Secondly, the connection between the official account and the app is being settled. Users can open the mini program through the subscription account, and save time for user when they find themselves interested in this website but need extra search and download process to get the application. And when you have problem with the app, you may send message to the official account and get feedback faster.
Thirdly, the Mini program has the function of searching for nearby app. Image one situation that you are in the middle of nowhere and want to search for the nearby station and want to know when the bus would come. In that case, you can use the “nearby program” function, to easily get the app and information with few data.
Also, the Mini program has the function that multiple apps can work in the same time, which means that user will not need to close one processing app before opening the other one. This function is really important and can make the house app more like a real one in the user generate experience. You may also open another mini program within the page of one program, since some program can be related to each other.
As an integration of various function apps, WeChat has large flow of data, which can promote processing speed when using some apps. It cost small amount of money for design and cultivation, does not need to invest more on advertising. The easy use easy go model fits to the rapid life pace in modern life, and thus makes it being advocated by users.
WeChat, a popular social media app with monthly active user of 879 million people, has released a new program called Mini Program, and attained more than 200 million users after a few months. The program is a platform that full of different apps, it is an app of apps. User did not have to download the original app and can use the function of the native app inside the WeChat. Using HTML5 web application technology, users have a better experience and can open the app and use it within one second and realize all in one house apps. The WeChat insist on the principle of design its product as a tool used by its target group. Modularity is also a very important part of design principle which enables the well function of Mini Program. Though with a few disadvantages, Mini Program is becoming more and more popular since its release, and there must be a large market for it since it fits for the future technical structure for application and always focusing on user experience.
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