Dear Whatsapp, Aren’t You Threatened By WeChat?

Willis Wee
10:03 am on Sep 21, 2012


Whatsapp no doubt was the app that started the wave of mobile messaging, timed pefectly to coincide with the rise of smartphones. It was clearly the leader. But as the race goes on, I’m starting to doubt if Whatsapp can continue to stay at the top.

Whatsapp has failed to innovate. The app is still pretty much the same as it was a couple of years ago. It kept it basic. That was good for starters, but as time goes by, other messaging apps started to innovate. Apps like Tencent’s WeChat (or Weixin in Chinese), Line, and Kakaotalk have evolved beyond just being messaging apps.

I will just talk about WeChat since I’m spending quite a fair amount of time on it each day. WeChat has some interesting functions that allow you, for example, to make video calls, read news, backup your contacts on the cloud, search for people nearby to chat to, and more. All those features come as a “plug-in” on WeChat and users have a choice to install more, or remove them.

Grow with your users

Not to forget WeChat has emoticons, which I think is important for any messaging service in Asia. And WeChat has a much better user experience for its voice messages. Whatsapp’s voice messaging seriously sucks. Recording a voice message requires users to take multiple steps. WeChat needs just one step to send a voice message; plus, the recipient can listen to it almost instantaneously. Whatsapp’s just can’t compete on this front, period.

I know voice messaging, though huge in China, might not be an important function in the western part of the world. So not improving on that may be understandable. But WeChat beats Whatsapp on almost every front. Even its design feels much better than Whatsapp. Plus, WeChat has opened room for imagination by allowing developers to build applications – those plug-ins – on top of its platform. But Whatsapp has remained basic, apparently not wanting to improve and innovate.

I fear that Whatsapp may lose it mojo if it continues to rest on its laurels. I know Whatsapp has been doing work in Asia, Indonesia especially. But I don’t think that’s enough. Because if you want to talk distribution, Tencent (owner of WeChat) surely has more bargaining power. If you wanna talk about resources, Tencent also surely has more. Most importantly, WeChat has innovated with the times and let its 200 million users re-imagine what a simple messaging app could do, while Whatsapp stayed put with only tiny improvements in each update.

  • Ted

    Instinctively I find myself asking friends on whatsapp to start downloading WeChat as well

  • Jonny

    I think Whatsapp is still strong in the west. i like it basic but i do agree that it is also nice to have more features moving along. every whatsapp update always the same, as if the company hasn’t been working for a long time. there should be some innovation to improve current service. wechat sounds like a sweet deal. i will check it out to see what it has to offer.

  • Lucy Chan

    I use both Whatsapp and WeChat. The only reason I’m still on Whatsapp is coz most of my friends are still on it, but otherwise, WeChat offers a better user experience with the emoticons and voice messaging.

  • Antoine Bunel

    I much prefer WeChat too!!! Shame “established” companies stop to innovate. One argument in favour of Whatsapp though: image management. WeChat terribly lacks a gallery feature like Whatsapp, the ability to scroll through past downloaded images, etc..

  • samwize

    They have not yet read “The Innovator’s Dilemma”

  • Maxim

    “I know voice messaging, though huge in China, might not be an important function in the western part of the world.”

    I disagree, it’s a killer feature that was the first reason I swapped from Whatsapp to WeChat!

    I still have Whatsapp on my phone but if there was a thing such as digital dust, it would be covered in it :)

  • Willis Wee

    @Lucy – Right, friends are what keeping me on Whatsapp. Good point which I didn’t include in the article.

    @Maxim – Thanks for sharing your experience!

  • ura

    Is it also cross platform app? Why can’t I find it in bberry? I prefer Touch for the substitue of whatsapp.

  • Aria Rajasa

    I like it basic, i hate bloated app. Another reason is that everybody i know is on whatsapp so it’s rather a bother to move everyone.

  • Willis Wee

    Hey @aria. Thanks for your comment. :) True that friends add stickiness for whatsapp (i’m on both). but i wouldn’t call wechat bloated. Give Wechat a try.

  • kurniawan

    Cool apps….

  • arkhi

    I was asked to try Wechat but after desperately trying to find a way to export my data, I’m about to uninstall the app. Whatsapp allows to email the whole conversation, with files as attachements.

    So maybe I missed something… Since most of the people commenting here seem to use Wechat on a daily basis, could you explain me how to export data from Wechat?

    That’d be great and I would gratefully use Wechat if I am sure I own my data.

  • Tommy

    Whatsapp charges £ for iPhone users but wechat is free for all. All my friends are switching to wechat now. Bye bye whatsapp, with no video chat via wifi. Wechat has it all

  • Joe

    Beside lack of feature in Whatsapp, its fatal disadvantage is – NOT FREE anymore. Android users even have to pay YEARLY instead of a 1 time payment like Iphone users.

  • leon

    also prefer wechat to whatsapp.
    Wechat’s recent updates added the image management, now finally we could scroll media stuff which was whatsapp only.

    stay in whatsapp only because some friends still there….

  • Alen

    Is WeChat compatible with all the phone codes in the world.
    I’m trying to add my Croatian phone number and I keep getting invalid phone number error, tried multiple formats of the number, Has anybody else had this error?

  • shantanu

    hi guys, i am from india i am also getting invalid phone number. I am not able to use we chat. can anybody help???

  • Michelle

    Instead of signing up with my phone number. What I did was just signing up with my Facebook, after signing up I simply just went to settings and unlinked with Facebook. So I dont have use my number to sign up :)

  • Minh-Ha Nguyen

    There’s no question messaging apps disrupt the mobile landscape for tech giants like Facebook, Google and Yahoo and has telecom giants running scared that their core text messaging service (and key revenue stream) will soon be obsolete. Although China’s WeChat is often lumped together with other messaging apps like WhatsApp, it is so much more than that. WeChat is both a messaging and social media program that could be considered one of the first truly engaging mobile social networks to successfully harness the unique benefits of the mobile environment and engages users far better than even Facebook Mobile has been able to.

    Facebook and other established tech giants should be concerned about WeChat in particular, which launched just two years ago but already boasts over 300 million users, a phenomenal adoption rate by any measure. More time spent on WeChat means less time spent on Facebook and other platforms. As WeChat continues to add more features like reading news, back up contacts to a cloud and more, the line will blur between WeChat and services traditionally provided by these tech giants. I discuss this threat more on my blog (

    WeChat is widely considered to be one of the most innovative products designed by a Chinese Internet company with the potential to become a major global leader. It will be interesting to see WeChat as they go overseas and win over the global audience beyond their core China market, and try to unseat WhatsApp and Facebook as the most engaging mobile social networking platform.

  • Alan

    It makes me uncomfortable to know all my chats are routed through a server in China. How long before I take its security for granted and begin using it to discuss IT related projects or ideas with my partners? You know how bad the country is at enforcing IP rights.

  • someone

    The thing is I don’t want to be watched. Who knows? Alan is right. all msgs routed through china

  • Billy Bostickson

    Interesting article, wee willie, you may well be right! the only reason I won’t use Wechat is for security reasons as I enjoy freedom of speech, fighting tyrannical state dictatorships and promoting freedom and justice for all. Unfortunately, Whatsapp and Tencent follow Chinese censorship law, plus all
    Tencent servers are located in China. Like with Tom Skype, ‘key words’ trigger alarms in servers in Shanghai which then record conversations as well as friend lists. There have been many reports of
    dissidents, human right activists, etc being tracked and arrested due to use of Wechat especially the localisation app and voice message app. WeChat has plans to build two different platforms to avoid this problem in the future; one for Chinese national socialist mainlanders and one for the rest of the free world. The problem exists because WeChat’s servers are currently all located in China and thus subject to its censorship rules., “Human rights activist, Hu Jia was jailed for three years for sedition. He speculates that the guobao officials, or the internal security bureau, listened to his voicemail messages that were directed to his friends, repeating the words displayed within the voice mail messages to Hu Jia” Wikipedia.

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