Tencent’s WeChat to Get a Digital Assistant Called Xiaowei
Bloomberg is reporting that Tencent will add a digital assistant to WeChat called “Xiaowei.” The article says the information surfaced when “WeChat executive Zhou Jie told attendees at a company conference. It’s unclear when Xiaowei will be rolled out, or how much the Chinese company intends to build up the service.”
Tencent division JD has a smart speaker called LingLong DingDong that has largely been overshadowed by products from Alibaba, Xiaomi, and Baidu. Canalys reports that Alibaba and Xiaomi controlled more than 70% of smart speaker sales in China for most of 2018 with Baidu’s DuerOS-based products rising quickly in the latter half of the year. However, WeChat has over 1 billion user accounts and 900 million daily active users, so a smart assistant incorporated into the social network and messaging platform could quickly outpace usage of Aligenie (Alibaba’s assistant) and DuerOS.
The Advantage of a Large, Active User Base
Scale of distribution has been a key ingredient for digital assistant success to date. That is largely why the largest companies in the world are currently dominating the market. Amazon and Alibaba utilized their online retailing might to quickly sell millions of devices to loyal shoppers. Google and Baidu leveraged vast partner and OS-level ecosystems to quickly achieve scale. Google recently announced Assistant is now accessible on over one billion devices, ten times greater than Amazon’s reach of 100 million devices despite coming to market two years later.
There is a big difference between an announcement and usage, but Tencent’s WeChat is one of the few platforms that can reach a large number of users quickly. It is also a platform that many users access multiple times per day to perform a wide range of tasks beyond communications such as shopping, ride-hailing, consuming media, and playing games.
WeChat and Voice
While the announcement offers few details on WeChat’s plans, it is not clear whether the assistant will be a text-based chatbot, a voice assistant, or both. However, voice messaging is very popular on WeChat. Even in 2017, the number of daily voice messages topped six billion per day. It is likely that any digital assistant coming to WeChat would emulate a Google Assistant-like inclusion of both text and voice interaction.