How to Use WeChat Mini Programs

The App-less future is hidden from the West.

WeChat’s mini programs launched to much fanfare in January 2017. However outside China they remain unknown. WeChat hasn’t promoted mini programs to it’s small non-Chinese user base and Apple dictates that there can be no ‘App Store’ for mini programs making them difficult to find.

Outside China people are missing a revolutionary new technology and learning what it can enable them to do. It’s another example of the growing divergence between the Chinese internet and the rest of the world and it’s going unnoticed.

Here’s how to change it.

A WeChat mini program— not another app

What are WeChat Mini Programs?

In the words of WeChat’s founder Allan Zhang:

Mini programs are a kind of app that don’t need to be downloaded or installed to be used. They realise the dream that apps can be accessible everywhere. You ‘use it then go’ and you don’t need to worry about installing too many apps. Apps can be absolutely everywhere, you can use them anytime, and you don’t need to install anything.

The benefits are speed and ease of use. Mini programs don’t need to be downloaded, installed, registered, or logged in. They don’t need data to download and they don’t take up memory on your phone.

How to Find WeChat’s Mini Programs:

Mini programs are hidden by default. To unlock them:

  1. Type 小程序示例 into your WeChat search bar. The Chinese phrase means ‘mini program example’. You can long press to copy and paste it.
  2. Click on the first result and enter the example mini program.

Congratulations, you have now unlocked mini programs!

You can now find mini programs on the Discover page of your WeChat. There you can search for any of the mini programs in the rest of this article and many more.

What are Mini Program Used For?

Mini programs have not replaced apps yet. Apple wouldn’t let it for a start. However since launching 6 months ago mini programs have carved out a niche in high-frequency use cases such as travel, dining and offline to online services.

1. Checking Bus Times (车来了精准的实时公交)

Users scan a QR code at a bus stop and see exactly where their bus is.

2. Hiring Bikes (摩拜单车)

The №1 mini program in China. Users scan a QR code on a bike, unlock it, and pay for it without downloading an app or registering. For Mobike, pictured below, this provides a superior new user experience to its native app.

3. Booking Taxis (滴滴出行)

Didi Chuxing, best known in the West for acquiring Uber in China, has a mini program that avoids the need for an app. Users can search for, receive prices, book, and pay for taxis. This means a new user without Didi’s native app can book a cab using Didi instantly when it’s raining out.

4. Ordering Takeouts (美团生活)

Like an upgraded Uber Eats or Deliveroo, but without an app. As well as ordering food, users can share the mini program in a group chat so group members see when their pizza will arrive.

In another food example users can scan a QR code on a restaurant table and enter the restaurant’s mini programme to order food, pay for it, and have it delivered to their table.

5. Booking Travel (携程)

Users can book flights in under a minute without downloading an app or registering as a user. Similar to, but much faster than, Kayak or Skyscanner.

These use cases may not appear anything new. They can all be done in native apps after all. What’s special is that they are, of course, not native apps at all. They’re mini programs that don’t require downloading, installation, user registration or logging in, and yet they look like and feel like fluid native apps.

Top 5 Mini Programs:

To understand the potential of an app-less future try the following mini programs yourself:

1. Painting Filters (名画滤镜APP)

This is a Chinese version of the Prisma app that anyone can use instantly. Shoot new photos or upload existing ones from your camera roll and add artistic filter effects. Once you’re happy you can save your masterpiece to your phone.

2. Customised Stickers (表情家园)

Use this fun sticker app to customise a huge number of ready to go gifs on the fly. Perfect for enhancing conversations or dropping the metaphorical mic.

3. Hangzhou Plus (HZPlus)

The first WeChat mini program in English. Scroll through this community platform to navigate life as an expat in Hangzhou. You might even find your next job here.

4. Sound Generator (小睡眠)

Listen to soothing sounds as you go about your day. Enjoy the noises of gravel crunching or waves crashing to take you to another world.

5. Tencent Video (腾讯视频)

Tencent, the owner of WeChat, has poured its resources into this mini program to showcase the potential of mini program. Experience rich media delivered on demand without a native app.

Let me know in the comments what you think of mini programs and please share any interesting ones you find.