WeChat, owned by Tencent Holdings, says it's not a direct challenge to the dominant mobile platforms, but some analysts and developers say the new business could eat into that of iOS and Android app ecosystems.
"In the long-term, the relationship between Tencent and Apple's ecosystems will be co-existence and 'co-opetition' — intense competition in some areas and time periods, coupled with some form of cooperation in others," said Su Ning, professor of Information Systems at Ivey Business School in Canada.
With more than 938 million users, WeChat, known as Weixin in China, already serves as a one-stop-shop for everything from reading news and booking taxis to ordering takeaways and making payments. Half the users spend more than 90 minutes a day on its chat app, according to WeChat.
WeChat's push on these nimble mini-apps comes as Google this week launched its own Android Instant Apps, which don't require downloading and are available on certain Android devices, though access to Google products in China is heavily restricted.
WeChat says there are about 200,000 third-party developers for the WeChat platform.
"A very strong trend in China is that demand for iOS and Android apps is waning, while that for programme developing based on WeChat is rising," said Leon Du, co-founder of Guangzhou-based Beansmile, a digital consultancy that develops apps and websites.
Helped by WeChat-based advertising and payment-related services, Tencent this week reported its highest profit growth in three years for the first quarter.