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China's Group Messaging Giant to Get English Name, WeChat, and Go Global

Steven Millward

Weixin is already the world’s biggest group messaging app, having last week accrued 100 million users. But that was achieved mostly thanks to enthusiastic Chinese users. Now, new reports suggest that Tencent (HKG:0700.HK - News), China’s social media giant, will give its app an English name - WeChat - in order to take it international.

The WeChat branding will come in v4.0 of the app which is due in the coming weeks. Already, Tencent has snagged the wechat.me URL but has not yet made the name changes evident on the site. The reasoning perhaps is that ‘Weixin’ is a puzzle to pronounce to non-Chinese speakers, especially that ‘x’ which would probably be mis-pronounced as ‘z’ or ‘s’ by speakers of most other languages (actually it’s fairly close to the English ‘sh’ phonic sound). The popular group-messaging app already added an English localization in October of last year, along with support for sign-up via SMS in over 100 countries. Also, it already supports third-party Facebook sign-in as a parallel to the Tencent QQ login that many of its Chinese users employ. This rebranding seems to be the final step in its makeover.

But WeChat will be heading into a crowded and competitive market with no clear differentiator to its shiny new name. Whatsapp and Kik seem to be most popular in the west and Southeast Asia, while KakaoTalk and the newcomer Line are proving to be a hit with Japanese and Korean folks. Since we heard Tencent explain recently how it’s going to target Indonesia, which has such a vast and very young mobile user-base, perhaps it will start there - though the lack of a version for BlackBerry might hamper progress in that country. The Chinese-made UC Browser has expanded in this way, and today announced it has 40 million overseas users.

Presumably Tencent did its homework before the upcoming name-change, and realises that there’s already an app called WeChat in the iTunes App Store, albeit one that’s just a rather ugly Facebook chat client. We’ve reached out to Tencent to hear more about its plans in the group messaging field, and will update if we hear back.

[Source: Techweb - article in Chinese]