A Look into China’s Most Dominant App

Keeping up with all of the apps we have at our fingertips here in the US is a daunting task. There’s always an update to each of these every time you look. And if you think you’re doing something cool, outcomes something even cooler.

Complicate this with the different functions of these apps. As form and function go, we have something for everything. Social Media apps. Editing apps. Money exchange apps. Coupon apps. Delivery apps. You name it, the App Store or Google Play have it.

When I moved to China last year, all of this was flipped on its head. Flipped and shoved into one app called WeChat.

When you get dumbfounded looks about not knowing how to post a story on Instagram, imagine that same look…when you’re checking out at the grocery store. “What? You’re paying with cash? What’s that?!”

Or when someone asks to find you on Facebook and you tell them you’re not on it. “What’s your WeChat ID? You don’t have one?! Are you even real?!!” 

And finally…when you’re trying to split the bill at dinner. “Try Quickpay, Venmo, Square, PayPal, Facebook Messenger…” I’ll take all of your money apps and raise you just one, “WeChat me how much you owe.”

By now you’ve probably guessed it. In China, you can do all of this (and everything under the sun) with WeChat.

What is WeChat? WeChat is a Chinese multi-purpose messaging, social media and mobile payment app developed by the behemoth company, Tencent (Let’s hold on explaining who Tencent is for another day).

Downloading WeChat was hands down the biggest recommendation I got after moving to Shanghai. It was right up there with people telling me not to drink the tap water or buying face masks when the air quality measure goes past post-nuclear apocalypse (There’s an icon for this. Really. Think gas mask. Yup. A story for another day.)

It’s no secret China has a habit of monitoring everything that goes on in the country. Social media is not immune. Promoting WeChat as the singular app in the country makes Big Brother’s job that much easier. After all, where else but WeChat would you manage your messages and chatcalls with your friends, pay for stuff or find the receipt for the dinosaur you ordered on Baopals (Baopals is another story for yet another day) or read up on news buzzing through the capital?

That knowledge aside, and have grown comfortable in the little bubble I set up in Shanghai, WeChat became one of my best friends instantly.

With one scan of a QR code, I either added a new friend or paid for a new face mask. Through WeChat Moments, I was able to share photos of my trip to Korea (which instantly made everyone jealous because I managed to escape another gray day). It’s where I discovered new restaurants serving up Western cuisine and new coffee shops that made the best cappuccino you could get this side of the hemisphere…all shared in intricately edited and precisely backlit photos (Shanghai happens to be one of the most cosmopolitan, most materialistic of all cities in the world).

Relying on WeChat while I lived in Shanghai taught me two very important things:

  1. The true value of an app if it serves a real, functional purpose in everyday life…in this one square thing I was able to get from one point of a foreign city to another without breaking down in tears.
  2. The value of seamless integration of social media, communication, and commerce…all in a simple, no-frills platform devoid of a million options that give you anxiety as you nervously ask yourself: “OMG, which filter should I use?!”