WeChat isn’t the only one doubling down on lite apps. Ever since China’s messaging titan introduced “mini programs” two years ago, a handful of its peers, including Alibaba and Baidu, have followed with their own manifestations.
Alipay, the payments solution affiliated with China’s e-commerce juggernaut Alibaba, today announced it surpassed 230 million daily active users and 120,000 lite apps. For some context, Tencent’s WeChat said it topped 200 million daily users and one million mini apps last November.
These stripped-down apps run within an all-in-one platform, or what some call the “super app,” allowing users to bypass the App Store. But not all native apps are replaceable by mini programs, for the former support more functionalities and give developers more control in aspects like monetization and access to user insight.
Like WeChat, Alipay added a swipe-down menu on the app’s homepage for mini programs to enhance their visibility. The redesign boosts user revisits to lite apps by 20 times over the past month, Alipay claims.
The Chinese super apps are each bringing their own strengths to the mini-app play. Alipay is a digital wallet at heart, with 1 billion monthly active users around the world — many of whom also consume its slew of third-party financial services. The top categories of Alipay’s mini apps, unsurprisingly, are services that see high-frequency transactions like retail, paying for utility bills and travel booking.
WeChat, on the other hand, is fundamentally a messenger, and as such developers rush to leverage the social graphs from its 1 billion monthly users. Group-buying site Pinduoduo, for example, started as a mini program and effectively used WeChat’s social networks to grow its group-buying business. Eventually, millions of Pinduoduo’s core users migrated to its native app, setting the Tencent-backed e-commerce startup up against Taobao. Similarly, video games, especially casual ones, embrace mini programs for their smaller file size and ability to be shared across family members and friends.
Correction: An early version of the article said Alipay had 12 million lite apps. The article has been corrected with the right number.