It feels 2016 will definitely be the year WeChat introduces virtual reality to its huge user group in China.
WeChat – close to 700 million users now – is going to have to push new frontiers to stay ahead in a market where consumer will ‘love you, and leave’ if you failure to innovate.
You can do a lot on WeChat. Far more than just a messaging app, WeChat can be used for payment and regulating remote devices. To put Chinese consumers’ expectation of WeChat in perspective, they would find Facebook messenger or Whatsapp, even Snapchat, a little basic, and may assume it is retro not contemporary.
So Tencent, WeChat’s owner, there is massive pressure to continually innovate the platform as a key competitive strategy – that is, constantly staying ahead of the pack.
The next evolution in WeChat is likely to be leveraging virtual reality (VR) to the platform – an absolute game changer for both consumers and brands in China.
Read on to understand, simply, how this will affect Digital China and your brand.
Before we start, important definitions. VR = Virtual Reality – you put on a headset and then are immersed in a different place/place. This is different to AR = Augmented Reality – you see the world around you but add additional information and objects ( for example, you could see a person next to you while he/she is not here physically).
WeChat extension into VR Messaging and Group Chats
Tencent, Wechat’s owner announced plans to add VR functionality into the messaging app last November. Their intent was evidenced by their previous investment in VR-enabled companies; Epic Games and Altspace VR.
Without over-technologizing, we see two key areas of VR where WeChat will look to extend their platform.
- Creation of Traces We expect to build on their messaging foundation to allow users to leave “Augmented Reality messages” messages to each other. Users will replace the voice messages they send to friends with little “bubbles” or items they will be able to find and open as they browse their augmented reality world via their phones or headset.On either virtual medium – through your phone or headset – messages will appear in front of our eyes. It could be a small note left by your boyfriend or girlfriend at home, or on your way to work. Very personal and customised forms of communications will be digitised. An interesting prospect for brands wanting to enhance particular aspects of their retail or heritage story.
- Virtual Group Hangouts Instead of hanging around with friends in WeChat groups, WeChatters will interact with each other directly in virtual worlds. This feels close, already v.Time (a virtual social network site) allows users to hang out in virtual environments under the appearance of a 3D avatar.But WeChat is not alone in this endeavour, Facebook spent two billion dollars to purchase Oculus Rift – with the aim of establishing itself at the new of social networking. A fascinating challenge is how do brands become a participant is this environment – as part of the VR environment of as a direct participant.
This feels soon, at SMART we run a bespoke Futures 2025 Workshop, which challenges clients to think about how certain demographics will live in the future – one of our scenarios is the future VR and AR extension of WeChat or its successor. Fun stuff, the responses we get from clients is quite incredible.