Having used a lot of free mobile messaging app in the last couple of years gave us a good idea that one no longer has any need (or much limited need) of SMS when you have unlimited data to communicate with each other or to a group.
In the past couple of years, I’ve started with iMessage on the iPhone, then moved to Viber, then again to WhatsApp and Voxer. Each one has their own particular benefit and, normally, we tend to shift towards a platform where most of our contacts (or close friends in particular) are already familiar with.
Then, WeChat came into the scene and showed up in almost all App Stores locally available — Android, iOS, BlackBerry, Windows Phone and Symbian (it actually became the No. 1 App in the iTunes store last week after some heavy endorsements from a lot of local celebrities).
The messaging app is pretty simple and straight-forward but unlike the previous ones that we’ve been using, WeChat incorporates a slew of additional features including location-based social gamification.
Messaging feature is central to the app. Works like threaded SMS and allows from one-on-one conversation or group conversation (I believe it supports up to 50 people in a group chat). The app adds a lot of add-on features that might look similar to other similar apps (much like Emoji icons) but adds far more selection of special emoticons that really reminded us of YM.
Aside from the usual SMS-like service, WeChat also support voice chat and video calls. The voice chat feature allows you to send audio recordings instead of just text so the other party can listen to it instead reading really long messages (I actually find this feature very useful especially when I am driving and have been using it as our group messaging tool for TeamTechSquad with Voxer).
The other social component of WeChat involves location-based discovery like Look Around (shows you other WeChat users within your area, from a few meters away from you up to several kilometers), Moments (an Instagram-Twitter like timeline of places you’ve been to, stuff you’re doing or just a random thought — works like a microblog, actually), and Shake (a fancy way of meeting/discovering users who are also shaking their WeChat phone at the same time as you do).
I must admit that some of the core features are somewhat gimmicky and bordering on the stalkerish side but you always have the option not to use them and just stick to the messaging functions if you’re that paranoid about your whereabouts.
By the looks of it, WeChat attempts to consolidate the nice features we’ve already seen with the likes of iMessage, WhatsApp, Viber and Voxer and put them in one single app. They have over 300 million downloads already but I have yet to see some close friends and contacts pop up in my recommended list.
Disclosure: WeChat is a banner display advertiser on this blog and we will be using WeChat in some of out future contests and giveaways. Watch out for them soon. Hint: Download WeChat and add us up in your contact list.