Chinese messaging app ​WeChat poised to conquer India, the world

WhatsApp may have received all the attention thanks to its acquisition by Facebook, but today it is Tencent's WeChat that is making waves around the world.
Written by Rajiv Rao, Contributing Writer

Some statistics were recently disclosed about how messaging apps in India have done over the last year, and it's no surprise that WhatsApp is a clear leader, with a user base of 70 million and 52 percent market share. It is followed by Facebook Messenger, with 42 percent, and Skype, with 37 percent market share. However, what is a real shocker is how well Chinese behemoth Tencent's app WeChat has done by grabbing a market share of 26 percent in just a year or so, according to a GlobalWebIndex (GWI) study. Trailing them are Viber, with 18 percent share, and Line, with 12 percent.

Numbers are often a funny business. For instance, homegrown messenger Hike, which was created by Bharti SoftBank a few years ago, claimed a user base of 35 million in August this year, but it doesn't figure anywhere in GlobalWebIndex's report.

Still, there's no debate about how China's WeChat has done, posting an eye-popping 2,356 percent growth in user numbers between 2013 and 2014, while WhatsApp's have grown by a meagre 334 percent in comparison, and Facebook Messenger's and Skype's have grown at 192 percent and 190 percent, respectively. Apparently, fears of spyware or malware from across the border have not really been able to keep the Indian masses from downloading the app, just as they have proven subservient to the ravenous appetite for Xiaomi phones.

Of course, WeChat has long been the dominant service in China, where 73 percent of the online population between the ages of 16 and 64 use it, but it is its trajectory outside of the country that has made people sit up and take notice recently. Its growth rate outside of China in the last year as a whole has been 1,099 percent, making it the fastest-growing app and fourth most popular mobile chat app globally, with a 13 percent non-China share. However, GWI expects the app to reach a 35 percent share by mid next year, although how it plans on nearly tripling its numbers in just six months is not very clear.

In India, other than the usual stickers and emoticons that messaging apps dish out in order to lure customers, video calls and voice messages have been powerful tools that allowed WeChat to expand its user base.

It turns out that WeChat's users are some of the most active mobile internet users; 64 percent of them have bought something using their smartphones, 68 percent are uploading photos, and 58 percent have made a VoIP call via their phones, according to the GWI study.

This may be impressive stuff, but is only the tip of the iceberg when you consider what WeChat fans in China have been doing with their messaging app. According to Techinisia, some of the things that have made WeChat such a phenomenon in its homeland include media organisations sending out daily news digests to subscribers who increasingly rely on its app for news; bloggers in China using WeChat as their primary channel for publishing posts and growing huge followings; small-time entrepreneurs thriving by conducting business via a WeChat channel; and Chinese users performing what for them are banal tasks like buying movie tickets or paying for cabs using a bank card tied to a messaging app. WeChat has also become hugely popular as an alternative to LinkedIn as a professional networking platform.

Indians, in a short space of time, have become seasoned app users, using them for a variety of things such as uploading pictures of secondhand goods or vehicles to send to prospective buyers or to post on sites such as OLX.

It should be only a matter of time before much of what is happening in China translates to a place like India. If so, we can expect an even more impressive ramp up in market share, and an upcoming revolution in the way we consume news or buy things.

Editorial standards