WeChat, a rich media data messaging app by Tencent, has crossed 300 million users globally on January 15, 2012.WeChat gained 300 million users in just about two years since its launch and added the last 100 million users in just about four months. WeChat also launched its application on the BlackBerry platform on January 21, 2012. Interestingly, WeChat launched its BlackBerry app to cater to Indian users. The app is already available on iOS, Symbian, Windows phone, and Android platform.
Jack Lau (Country Manager – India, Tencent International Business Group), in an interaction with MediaNama, declined to share India numbers. Rahul Razdan, President, ibibo Games & Mobile, pointed us to the report by Techinasia, that India is actually the second-most popular area for WeChat outside of its native China, and although he said he doesn’t “endorse” the report.
The relationship between TenCent and Ibibo
Interestingly, TenCent launched the app in India through Ibibo (MIH India). Ibibo will help distribute and market the app in the Indian market. While Tencent didn’t necessarily have to launch the app through ibibo, Lau had been evasive about the approach. He looks after the entire WeChat operations in India including product placement, performance and improvements, among others, while ibibo looks after marketing and tie-ups. Recently ibibo had partnered with Blogadda to launch a blogger’s campaign in India. Razdan informs us that the campaign was carried out for getting user feedback rather than promoting.
Note that Tencent has a 20% stake in ibibo (MIH India), while Naspers has 80%. Naspers also holds stake in other instant messaging app, Nimbuzz.
TenCent’s Plans For India
Lau informs us that Tencent is globally focusing on WeChat and has no plans to launch any other Tencent products in India for a while. Earlier, Tencent and ibibo had launched iBrowser mobile browser in India, which the company claimed had crossed the 6 million downloads mark, with 50% active users by last year.
In Talks For Operator Tie-ups
WeChat has not tied up with any telecom operators in India yet. However, they are in talks with various handset manufacturers and telecom operators, Razdan informs. Tie-ups with telecom operators will only help WeChat boost it’s user numbers, especially with customized data plans for WeChat. WhatsApp, which is widely used in India, has been relatively slow in tying up with operators, and has an exclusive tie-up with Reliance Communications, for a plan which offers unlimited usage of WhatsApp across the country for Rs. 16/month.
Monetization Through Official Accounts
WeChat also offers brands and personalities to create an official account. This is only available on the web and not on the mobile. While it’s free for users to create an official account, to operate the account, users are required to get an approval from the WeChat team. WeChat users can follow official account to receive their messages. Currently, Official accounts can send only a message per day, this is to control spam.
Official accounts are hugely popular in China, however, Razdan informs us that it’s too early in the Indian market and no Indian brands or personality has signed up for official accounts yet. WeChat might use this feature as a way to monetize in the near future.
Push To Talk
WeChat comes with a wide range of features including instant messaging, look around, shake to connect, moments, push to talk, location based sharing, group chat, among others. Its push to talk feature remains a most used feature by users. However, WeChat did not disclose whether this feature was popular among Indian users. (Nikhil adds: We were under the impression that push-to-talk is illegal in India).
WeChat has also launched a web interface to allow users to continue chatting with their connections once on a a laptop. All a user has to do is log in to web.wechat.com and scan the QR code from WeChat, the application then sends all new messages to your connected desktop device and on phone simultaneously. The web based interaction does not store any messages.
While WeChat does allow one to connect with strangers with their location based look around, shake to connect, and WeChat id, interestingly users have to send a request to connect to users. Only once approved by them, one can send messages. In reference, Whatsapp, kik, hike, and other instant messaging apps scan user’s phonebook and add contacts to the app that already use the app. This has become a huge privacy concern for many users as anyone with your phone number can send you a message, including for marketing.
With the introduction of Do Not Disturb service by TRAI, where it allows one to opt out of receiving spam messages through SMS, the noise has been reduced. However, a similar option is not available on WhatsApp and other messaging services. If your phone number has spread out to marketing guys, you are bound to receive spam messages and the only option to stop them is to block the contact.
iPhone app update
In coming weeks WeChat will be launching a new version, WeChat 4.5, on the iPhone with new features.