WeChat, known in China as the app that offers everything from messaging to a ubiquitous payment service, is getting its own augmented reality framework; at over 963 million active users, the popular Chinese app could put AR in the hands (and minds) in more than just the mobile tech savvy.
Update (09/21/17): We’ve recently been told by a source familiar with the company that the QAR program, still active as late as December 2016, is no longer being developed. We’ve reached out to Tencent for further comment, and will update soon. The original article follows below.
Original Article (09/18/17): Tech in Asia recently caught wind of WeChat parent company Tencent’s plans to bring AR to the app’s gargantuan feature list, which includes payments, entertainment, shopping, and transportation. In some Chinese cities, it even has a ‘City Service’ that even lets you book doctors appointments, pay electricity bills and traffic fines.
Called QAR, WeChat’s AR framework is touted to be an open platform for third-party developers looking to get in on the coming tide of AR apps.
And why does China need another AR app marketplace when both Apple and Google have their own in the works, thanks to Apple ARKit and Google ARCore? Well, China’s government regularly blocks popular Western apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the entire Google Play Store, and also levies heavy restrictions on Apple’s App Store, so it’s not a surprise the largest ‘everything app’ is looking to capture the coming AR app boom.
More importantly, Tencent has been building out its own digital marketplace for some time now. Back in April, the company teased a sort of in-app app store (via China Channel), populated with something called “WeChat Mini Programs,” or light apps built on top of WeChat that are both quick to download and integrate into the WeChat payment ecosystem. These Mini Programs would also include AR, and considering Tencent is the largest gaming company in the world, it means the app wields considerable influence in China.
According to Tech in Asia, WeChat’s AI team is also building its own 3D rendering engine and their own simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) technology to boot. A few tech demos captured with a screen recording app show the possibilities of the platform’s casual, smartphone-based AR.
While there’s no release date in sight, you can bet when WeChat finally launches its AR framework, it’ll command more than a few curious glances from the West hoping to understand how China’s ‘everything app’ fares.