WeChat Mini-Apps: Reimagining Hybryd-Apps with Messaging

Last week, messaging giant WeChat unveiled the latest innovation innovation in its messaging platform: Miniapps. Conceptually, Miniapps are very simple web applications embedded in the WeChat messaging client. Using this model, WeChat hopes to partially address the distribution challenges of mobile applications. More importantly, WeChat Miniapps have some important implications for hybrid mobile apps and chatbots.

Distribution has long been one of the biggest challenges of mobile applications. Every time an app provider needs to release a new version of a mobile app, they need to undergo extensive periods of testing and be subjected to the complex distribution processes of mobile app marketplaces like the Apple App Store. Despite these challenges, native apps alternatives such as web and hybrid apps have failed to become a viable option for mission critical apps. With Miniapps, WeChat hopes to rethink that equation.

A New Runtime

Miniapps can be considered a hybrid model using messaging as the underlying runtime. From that perspective, users will discover and launch Miniapps [simple web applications] directly from the messaging client. Wechat will also provide the infrastructure for publishing, creating and distributing Miniapps.

Using messaging as the runtime is a very intriguing approach for hybrid apps. For starters, WeChat’s huge popularity guarantees the distribution of Miniapps to hundreds of millions of users that engage on WeChat on a regular basics. Additionally, WeChat’s natural language processing(NLP) capabilities could simplify the discovery of Miniapps. For instance, WeChat could analyze the object and intent of user’s conversations and recommend Miniapps relevant to that dialog.

Minimalistic Feature-set

At its names indicates, the featureset of Wechat’s Miniapps should be, well, very small based on the constraints of the user interface [it has to run inside a messaging client] and the shorts amounts of time users spends on a messaging client at any given time. From that perspective, Wechat’s Miniapps need to deliver a very effective and simple user experience.

Implications for Hybrid Apps

From a conceptual standpoint, WeChat’s Miniapps can be seen as hybrid mobile apps in which the native component is the WeChat messaging client. That level of consistency should remove some of challenges experienced by hybrid apps in terms of a native user experience expectations. Also, by constraining the runtime to the WeChat messaging app, Miniapps can be more effective that traditional hybrid apps.

Implications for Bots

When reading about WeChat’s Miniapps, we need to wonder about its overlap with chatbots and whether this overlap is going to cause a lot of confusion for users. Miniapps certain offer a model to reuse a lot of content ad functionality available today in websites. However, advanced bot frameworks such as Facebook Messenger provide a user interface model that could result very similar to Miniapps. From the initial description of Miniapps, it seems that WeChat is going to have to do some work clarifying the scenarios for each technology.

Will MiniApps Expand Beyond WeChat?

The success of Miniapps could cause other messaging platforms to jump into the space. However, its certainly too early to make any predictions in that regard. While offering a new model for the distribution of mobile apps and expanding the capabilities of messaging clients is attractive, we need to wait how well received Miniapps are within WeChat’s developer and user communities.

CEO of IntoTheBlock, Chief Scientist at Invector Labs, I write The Sequence Newsletter, Guest lecturer at Columbia University, Angel Investor, Author, Speaker.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store