An advertisement for WeChat, Tencent's messaging application for the international market. (Internet photo)
Chinese internet giant Tencent is facing increasing competition to its Weixin (meaning microletter) app in the United States, particularly from instant messaging applications such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, Shanghai's First Financial Daily reports.
Tencent sent a group email on Feb. 25 to employees, saying its Guangzhou research and development division had established a Weixin US office responsible for researching and developing its user base in the US, as well as establishing relations and expanding cooperation with the company's clients.
"The United States is a very difficult and important market for internet businesses; it's a place where a number of excellent products and enterprises were born and many enterprises are eager to launch their ideas, and this including Weixin," a company source told the newspaper.
Weixin is already the world's biggest messaging application by user count, having accrued 100 million users as of April last year.
Industry insiders told the newspaper that the most influential social networking services, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, had been unable to enter China for a number of reasons --chief among them that all of these are inaccessible inside the country due to state internet censorship-- which was why Weixin hopes to seize this opportunity to expand globally. However, it will undoubtedly face a range of challenges as it attempts to make a mark on the mature US market.
An industry expert also said that a developing country would want to export goods to developed countries, so Weixin had to overcome technology and quality thresholds, while breaking Western users' loyalty for their own products. This had proved to be a major hindrance for Weixin's designs for expansion into Europe and the US.
Currently, Weixin's international version, WeChat, is available for several platforms, including the iPhone, Android, Windows phones, Symbian and Blackberry and has been launched in various languages, including traditional Chinese for Taiwan and Hong Kong, English, Thai, Indonesian, Vietnamese and Portuguese. It also supports mobile phone microletter accounts and the opening of Facebook's main pages in more than 100 countries and regions abroad.
Until now, Weixin's expansion has primarily been in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Southeast Asian countries, the report said, adding that it had not gained popularity in Europe and US. Figures show that as of September 2012, the number of registered users in the US touched 100,000, though these are largely Chinese international students.
Other Chinese internet powers such as Baidu, the nation's leading search provider, are also facing challenges in their global forays. For instance, Baidu lost US$108 million in its bid to venture into Japan's search engine market in 2011.