- Chinese social networking giant Tencent plans to add a voice-powered virtual assistant to WeChat, the messaging app with more than 1 billion users worldwide. The "Xiaowei" assistant will let WeChat users perform simple actions like playing music or hailing a ride with a voice command, Bloomberg reported from a Tencent conference.
- Tencent also wants to boost the monetization of advertising on Mini Programs, an open-source platform for "sub-applications" that work inside WeChat's messaging app. The company plans to test more ad formats and expand its inventory, a company executive said at the conference.
- Allen Zhang, the founder of WeChat, also wants to create satellite apps that share functions and links to the main app while also existing on their own. Another goal is to make the platform more like real life with livestreams, Pymnts.com reported.
Voice-powered virtual assistants may see explosive growth in China as Tencent gets behind the budding technology. China has innovative companies like iFlytek, whose voice-recognition app iFlytek Input is used by about 500 million people to send voice messages that transform into text. The company is collaborating with wireless carriers including China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom on voice-activated smart devices for the mass market, the South China Morning Post reported.
Tencent and fellow tech giants Alibaba and Baidu already sell smart speakers in the country, but Tencent previously hadn't offered voice-activated features on WeChat. The company needs to find ways to maintain user engagement as its gaming business slows amid greater government restrictions on game approvals and play time. It also faces a threat from Bytedance, whose TikTok app has become an explosively popular platform for sharing user-generated videos and music. Bytedance this week launched a video social networking app called Duoshan to take on WeChat.
In mobile payments, Tencent has locked in competition with the more popular Alipay. WeChat seeks to boost its market share by supplying retailers with facial recognition technology and customer management services, per Bloomberg. WeChat also created a "WeChat Payments Score" that's gradually being rolled out in the country to rank users' shopping and contract-fulfilling records, TechCrunch reported. More comprehensive data gathering may help to cement the company's place in online transactions and payments, especially as it wades deeper into voice technology.
As it compete with Alibaba, Baidu and Bytedance, Tencent's plans to better monetize its Mini Programs platform with more ad formats and an expanded inventory could give the company another revenue stream while providing an opening for mobile advertisers in China.