We’ve experimented with Alipay Mini Programs

Here’s what we found, and how they really differ with WeChat.

A little bit of context

With 520 million registered users reported, Alipay has currently released around 60 mini programs available to users.

These mini programs fall into one of three categories:

  • developed solely by Alipay;
  • developed in collaboration with another Alibaba-owned enterprise, such as Taobao or Youku;
  • or they were developed in collaboration with few third-party companies, such as Didi Chuxing, Airbnb, Ctrip etc.

Here’s where to find them:

  1. In Alipay, search “小程序” or “Mini Programs”

2. Once you’ve started to use any, a new 小程序 tab appears in your “Friends” list

3. From offline QR codes, obviously!

With this in mind, we decided to go ahead and test out the private developers beta, just opened end of August 2017.

How much are they really different from WeChat?

Technically, only by 1%.

Seriously…

Alipay’s Integrated Development Environment (“IDE”)

You may have seen the recent embarrassing news already!

Alipay issued official apologies after being accused of copying WeChat.

The letter and comments are worth a read:

👉 https://zhuanlan.zhihu.com/p/28605175

“Hats off to the WeChat mini programs Engineers”

🤦‍

So what is the 1% technical difference from WeChat mini programs?

What we found (as of now)…

Access:

  • Only for Enterprises account (no individual registration during Beta)
  • Entering beta program takes 1 day of application audit
  • 1 Enterprise account can create up to 10 mini programs
  • One mini program can get 10 developers and 50 testers

Dev environment:

  • The IDE has advanced Preview modes: “Push to yourself” or “Push to developers” (notifies all at once!)
  • Your style is in .ACSS (AntFinancial Cascading Stylesheets)
  • Your markup / page structure is built in .AXML (AntFinancial Markup Language)
  • Built-in ESLint support & Applet-specific syntax hints

Unique functions:

Wait! from a product point of view now…

This Sesame Credit Score could be a big thing.

Quick reminder: Alibaba’s Sesame Credit rates users credit with scores of between 350 and 950 based on their credit history, behavior preferences (shopping, payment, and P2P transaction histories), ability to honor an agreement, identity features (education, career, and other behavior tied to real-name identity), and social connections. In addition to the first mover advantage (it’s running since 2015), Sesame Credit’s biggest advantage is in the commercial purchase data and user behavior insights Alibaba has been collecting over the years through Taobao, Alipay, and Tmall.

Functionally speaking, that’s an entire new world of consumer data to work with. Credit-based services are a whole new product canvas! Many innovative programs are to be done with it.

In comparison marketers and developers alike still have a dilemma with WeChat: “should we build an H5 or a MP !?…

Already, there are a multitude of credit-based services inside Alipay, such as deposit-free bike rentals and a virtual credit card. Through Alipay’s mini programs, more services could waive deposits — especially in the hospitality industry — or offer new credit-based products.
– Eva Xiao, Tech in Asia on Sept 8.

What developers say?

We’ve looked into the forums, where developers are currently giving a hard time to Alipay mini programs engineers

(1) They challenge Alipay’s version against WeChat’s: “this is possible in WeChat!”

(2) They expect Alipay to provide the IDE fully translated to Chinese…

(3) They discuss shortcuts to convert their source code from WeChat to Alipay mini apps directly — since essentially the logic is the same but only differ file extensions and API names.

Hold on. That’s actually very positive!

If the two frameworks are almost identical, it’s saving us from a lot of duplicate development work. Take iOS versus Android apps as example…

Here, one Mini Program could in theory be coded once (it’s just Javascript ES6 and some markup), then converted to the two platforms very quickly.

There’s still some major functionality discrepancy to consider.

WeChat provides unique features (as of now) not available in Alipay:

  • wx.getWeRunData
  • wx.chooseInvoiceTitle
  • Customer Service APIs
  • Template messages for notifications
  • Navigate from/to another Mini Program
  • WXML nodes
  • Access to accelerometer, compass etc

On top of the platform stickiness, all the social aspects and the customer services!

Where we think this whole thing might go…

As a conclusion;

(1) From a technical point of view, we can expect the growing popularity of frameworks like WEPT to boost development time outside of proprietary IDEs and then adapt the source code quickly.

https://chemzqm.github.io/wept/

(2) From a service point of view, we can imagine large enterprises, banks, airlines, hospitals adopting this channel to upsell loyal clients against benefits (VIP queue sir?), reducing the friction of security deposits, and provide a host of privileges for the big spenders. Anything encouraging consumerism…

Look I have 900 Sesame! => This way please. (Photo Credit: MARK CHEONG)

Some Alipay MP resources.

Github accounts to follow:
https://github.com/openwayne/ConsolePanel

The developer forum:
https://openclub.alipay.com

The official doc:
https://docs.alipay.com/mini/developer/

Le Wagon is a coding school bringing technical skills to creative entrepreneurs in China. Rated 1st Coding Bootcamp worldwide, the Full Stack curriculum empowers participants to learn JavaScript and design Mini Programs from scratch.

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