Chinese people on average sent fewer text messages in 2012 than they did in 2011, according to statistics released by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT). Yes, the total number of texts sent rose year-on-year but just over two percent, but that’s because the number of mobile users grew by 11 percent in 2012; the per-person number of texts sent actually dropped by nine percent. Moreover, MIIT’s numbers show that around 200 million Chinese mobile users don’t send text messages at all.
So why are Chinese people sending fewer texts? The short answer is WeChat. Tencent’s WeChat and other multimedia messaging apps have taken Chinese mobile phones by storm, and quite frankly, they’re just more fun than regular texting. For example, when my wife and I got Xiaomi phones, we started using Xiaomi’s MMS app Miliao because it allowed us to send each other dumb scribbles, audio messages, and even hand-written text easily. And when her friends started switching to WeChat, my wife (previously a big texter) did too.
Some 420 million Chinese have phones that can access the internet and thus make use of services like WeChat, and that is almost certainly what is responsible for the drop in text messages. Since the number of Chinese adopting smartphones and making use of apps like WeChat continues to climb rapidly, it’s likely that test messaging numbers will continue to drop over the course of 2013, perhaps even more sharply than they did in 2012. The text message is dying, and WeChat killing it. I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing.