The biggest long-term threat to the iPhone isn’t Android, Samsung Electronics Co. or China’s bevy of cheap phone makers. Instead, it’s a deceptively simple idea: Apps work better if you embed them in a single program, rather than let them proliferate across your home screen. WeChat, China’s leading social media app, just launched a new platform with exactly that idea in mind. It has the potential to reconfigure smartphones as radically as anything since the first iPhone was released.
The company calls the concept “mini programs,” and the idea is that users can call up useful features from third parties — photo filters, language tools, ride-sharing services — within the WeChat app and use them instantly, with no downloading or installation required. Although that sounds like a modest innovation, it solves two crucial problems plaguing the app model.