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This is potentially very big. Chinese internet giant Tencent is looking to take its massively successful instant messaging service WeChat to South Africa, where it will take on the likes of Mxit, Africa’s largest mobile social network.
WeChat has seen phenomenal growth in recent times. Last week, Tencent revealed that the company has passed the 300-million user mark, with the last 100-million having joined in the past three months. Much of that growth has been outside of China, with the service finding particular favour in other Asian markets. Now though, it looks like Tencent has its eyes set further abroad.
Emerging markets internet giant Naspers, which holds a 35% stake in Tencent, is believed to be behind the push into South Africa. According to TechCentral, the company’s investment arm MIH has appointed Brett Loubser, a former Samsung South Africa exec, as WeChat’s “Africa specialist” and has tasked him with the deployment and growth of the service across the continent.
WeChat offers multimedia communication flexibility and convenience with text messaging, hold-to-talk voice messaging, broadcast (one-to-many) messaging, photo/video sharing, location sharing, and contact information exchange. The service also supports social networking via shared streaming content feeds and location-based social plug-ins to chat with and befriend local and international WeChat users.
That sets it up to take mobile social network Mxit head on. Like Mxit, WeChat is available on iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Symbian, and BlackBerry OS. Unlike Mxit though, it doesn’t have a feature phone base. Given that feature phones still make up the majority of devices in Africa, that means the amount of traction it gain is limited.
That said, Mxit has struggled to find a place for itself in the smartphone world. WeChat on the other hand has been built for smartphones from the get go.
Naspers does have experience running a mobile instant messaging service, Mxit to be exact. The company offloaded the social network to the recently deposed Alan Knott Craig Junior in late 2011, giving the impression that it wasn’t really sure what to do with the property.
After that, Mxit pursued a new path, aggressively pushing itself as a viable platform. Chief marketing officer Vincent Maher reckons the success of WeChat shows that this was the right way of going about things. He also reckons that the competition should help drive innovation on the market, something that will ultimately benefit consumers.