It’s no coincidence at all that WeChat is the only “everything app” anyone can cite, and it comes from China, an authoritarian regime. In practice, the concept really only makes sense there. It doesn’t benefit users that WeChat dominates all aspects of digital life — it benefits the authoritarian Chinese Communist Party. (And investors in Tencent, WeChat’s Chinese-government-controlled parent company.)
To attribute to the success of WeChat to an “authoritarian” government is lazy and shows a lack of understanding of the socioeconomic factors while looking at the situation with lenses coloured by bias.
When I moved to Shenzhen, the WeChat and Alipay apps were only getting off the ground and I have witnessed the incredible growth over the past years.
There are certain segments in the population that would have a hard time downloading and installing apps on their smartphones, especially when a large proportion of these segments are on Android phones. By having apps like WeChat and Alipay where they are able to do everything within one app, it removes friction that improves service adoption.
This also makes sense to an app developer. Instead of having to educate potential users how to download an install an app, they can launch a mini-program in WeChat or Alipay and get access to many services. This would result in higher app and service adoption rates.
The recent success of the Sheep a Sheep game shows how even games go viral by being a WeChat mini-program. The game was frustrating and people were encouraged to share their scores on social media or directly to a friend. It is as simple as tapping on a link to launch the app and get hooked to the game. I’m pretty sure the game wouldn’t have gone viral if people had to download a separate app to play it.
I use the China Mobile iOS app to check my mobile usage and phone bills. But I can do the same with the China Mobile WeChat mini-program as well without having to download and install the app. Using the mini-program also allows me to log in with my WeChat credentials and skip the login process that I would need to go through in the iOS app.
The lack of friction makes me launch the China Mobile mini-program in Wechat instead of using the iOS app. And after a while, it just makes sense to delete the iOS app and use the mini-program to free up space on the phone.
On the flip side, Tencent and Alibaba can leverage on having leverage of user base to attract financial, healthcare and many other services to become part of the app itself.
To clamp down on scams, WeChat and Alipay requires identity verification to access the payments features. This increases accountability and makes users responsible for their actions with their accounts. And identity verification opens up more opportunities for Tencent and Alibaba to integrate with services.
The growth of the apps and their ecosystems makes becoming an “everything app” the obvious path. It is not as though people were forced to use the apps, just as people are not forced to be on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. You are most likely on that platform because of your social circle and what the apps enables you to do.