How WeChat Leverages Chat UI to Offer Diverse Features

December 15, 2015 - 2 minutes read

WeChatWeChat doesn’t look like much from a western mobile app developer’s perspective. Is it WhatsApp for Asia? Is it Google for China? Then you see the staggering statistics behind the chat app’s wild growth since its 2011 launch: above 90 percent of the population in all first-tier Chinese cities use the app regularly. Beijing alone is bigger than NYC by over a million people. An app with that sort of penetration is insane; making WeChat sort of like an Asian Facebook, albeit a more humble and strange one.

The vogue for mobile app and startup strategy is to be specific, at least when it comes to feature sets. Users are suspicious of overly-complicated apps, and older users in particular get confused by add-on features. So one of the most interesting things about WeChat’s success, from an NYC iPhone developer’s standpoint, is the enormous feature set. Features to sell real estate. Features to find jobs. Features to hail cabs. Features to share pictures, and Twitter-esque “moments.” What is this app actually for again?

So how did they pull it off? The answer is obviously complicated, with China’s stringent censors part of the situation, but at the core of the WeChat success story is something simple: the universal appeal of a chat UI.

Driven in part by the ubiquitous iMessage interface and the common familiarity all users have with back-and-forth text messaging, chat interfaces have been seeing a surge in popularity. Even for apps like WeChat, with features that have so little to do with chatting, the message feed is more logical on first glance than the chaos of a social media feed or the learning curve of a UI dashboard. 2015 saw even apps with unrelated functionality such as security systems replacing mobile app dashboards with chat feeds. Rather than a person on the other end, users interact with a combination of help bots, notifications, and automated messaging.

For WeChat, the rewards of embracing a chat UI for non-chat functionality have been huge. Mobile app developers can expect that the chat UI trend will continue to find new applications in the coming years.

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