Tuesday, June 25, 2013

WeChat: A Commentary

Since Whatsapp first introduced the possibility of texting someone without incurring loads of SMSes fees (at least for me), there have been dozen of other instant messaging apps that wanted to copy Whatsapp's successes. I know of a few examples such as ChatOn, Viber and Ebuddy that are currently in the market now, but because the majority of my friends are on Whatsapp, there is no incentive for me to change and try out the other apps, despite the possibility that they may indeed be better.

Coming back to Malaysia, however, has sort of forced me to use a up and rising star in the instant messaging app called WeChat. Most of my Malaysian friends are using and as I wanted to stay in touch, I ended up downloading it too, wanting to see how it compares with Whatsapp at the same time as I am currently looking for a replacement for Whatsapp due to the fact that it will be charging fees soon enough.


the free is the main pull actually


After a few weeks of playing with it, I would say that WeChat in itself is more than just a instant messaging app where you use to keep in touch with friends through text, but rather a mobile social networking service that reminds me of ICQ, Instagram, Twitter and also MSN Messenger. It has several nifty features in addition to the basic functionality of an instant messaging app that cause it to stand out among the rest and to be widely used among people now. From my experience, there's several features that I think makes it unique in its own right and cause it to be popular and they are:

1. The Instant Messaging

Of course, the most basic function of the app, which is instant messaging, has to be good as it is the foundation of the app itself. While the text messaging itself is quite similar to many of its competitors, WeChat aims to add an edge by introducing voice chat into it. It's slightly different than one used by Viber or Skype for where you have to place a call much like using a phone, instead users are able to send bits of voice messages over without having to call or hang up.

The voice messages are very similar to a sentence when you're texting, only that you now need to press a key to record your voice and send it over, in other words sending your recorded voice message over. It's more convenient in that the receiver does not need to be free the moment you "call" and can listen to your message when he/she is free and your message can be replayed over and over again. It's also much faster than texting as all you need is to press one key. The only downside is that you would look pretty stupid speaking into your phone sometimes in the eyes of people without WeChat.

Another feature that I liked is the animated emoticons that you can use whenever in chat, something that is lacking now in Whatsapp. It somehow helps in better communicating (I think) and you can also download custom emoticons if you want, much like how MSN Messenger used to be.

With the voice and animated emoticons in addition to the traditional text messaging, I find that the instant messaging feature of the app itself offers many new and different ways into communicating with your friends and keep the conversation going.


example of the interface for chatting. source: apktablet.com

2. The Sociability

Perhaps the function that is making the app look attractive is that in comparison with other more traditional instant messaging apps, this app does not constrain you to your contact list but gives you the additional option to meet new people through two function in the app, which is Look Around and Shake.

Look Around is basically checking the people around you to see who is also a WeChat user and you can then send a greeting to the person asking them to add you into their contact list. Shake on the other hand, randomly pairs you with someone (no matter how far away) which is also using the Shake function.

Both function allows you to meet new people and potentially get to know new friends, which is suspect is the most attractive function of the app as it allows a more open environment where users can freely interact without being limited to their phone's contact list. It's a great way to get to know new friends without having to possess their phone number first. Reminds me of the search function once upon a time in ICQ in which I used to know a lot of girls from Ipoh when I was young.


the look around function where you can scan for wechat users around you and attempt to add them as friends. source: techinasia.com


3. The Stage

Last but not least, the app also offers a blend of Instagram and Twitter where users can post pictures and status updates to their profile which their friends and others can see, called Moments in the app.

It is also a popular feature where people can camwhore and post emo status updates and where you can use it to stalk your friends or as a conversation starter. It's also a great way to keep yourself updated with your friends' activities as you can "like" and comment on their Moments updates. It's like a Twitter homepage where you can view the photos and status updates of the user.

My only complain is the lack of cross platform posting, as there is no function that allows you to post the picture that you posted in WeChat Moments into Instagram (or the other way around) so it's kinda troublesome as you need to do it separately. It would be perfect if Instagram for example adds WeChat as a supported platform into their app and allows cross posting.


your personal moments album in wechat, something like a profile page. source: mis-asia.com


From my experience with it, I would say that WeChat holds a tremendous potential due to its simplicity but nifty new functions, with the only problem being that there is still a lack of support for the app itself as most are still on Whatsapp. I personally find the app more useful, in that besides allowing you to chat with your current friends, you can also look for new one when you're bored. It also allows for narcissistic tendencies as you can post photos up there to show the world. 

Perhaps the support for the app would increase when Whatsapp decides to finally charge for their app services.


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