11 July 2020 | By DF


If good artists copy and great artists steal, Apple is certainly a great artist.

During the recent online-only WWDC, Apple's App Clip announcement prompted me to Tweet about how App Clip drew inspiration from WeChat’s Mini-Program:


I noted that App Clip is similar to WeChat’s Mini-Program in (1) using QR code for discovery and (2) integrating its own identity and digital payment services. (Left is Apple’s “visually beautiful and distinct” App Clip. Right is WeChat’s Mini-Program QR code.)


I further predicted that App Clip—as an iOS-exclusive feature—is unlikely to fare well in China against cross-platform Mini-Program by Chinese BigTechCos unless there are App Clip-only APIs that enables a significantly differentiated user experience.

Upon further research, I discovered that Apple is only the latest in a long line of WeChat’s Mini-Programs imitators. But Apple’s App Clip has come closest to capturing the underlying philosophy of Mini-Programs. These imitators are:

  1. Other Mini-Programs: after WeChat proved the viability of Mini-Programs, other Chinese technology companies followed quickly. Of these, only Alipay has achieved a success of comparable scale.
  2. Google Play Instant: Google has previously rolled out the conceptually similar Android Instant Apps back in May 2017, which has since been re-branded as Google Play Instant. Its lack of mindshare (in contrast to, say, WeChat’s Mini-Program) speaks to the extent of its success.
  3. Quick App (快应用): the Android-only, China-only alternative to Google Play Instant and Mini Programs formed by a consortium of Chinese smartphone manufacturers in March 2018. The provenance of Quick App should be enough to raise eyebrows.