#Asia The search for India’s answer to WeChat

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Photo credit: gerlos

At first glance, they look similar. WeChat and Hike are messaging apps and they’re both focused on their home nations.

Though WeChat has attemped the international stage, features like Lucky Money, based on the tradition of gifting red envelopes, are unabashedly Chinese. Hike was specifically designed for what founder and CEO Kavin Bharti Mittal calls the mobile-first people in India who are coming onto the internet for the first time. These users don’t have a lot of data, and Hike caters specifically to that audience.

It’s hard to get data in India. Many phones can only manage a 2G connection, and even if the app loads what you’re looking for, the connection can be quite slow. Hike Direct, for example, connects a smartphone with another phone within 100 meters of it – no wifi needed. It also features an offline service that converts messages into SMS when a user is not connected to the web.

The app also offers a hidden mode that allows the user to hide messages and protect his or her privacy. “In a tier 2 or 3 town, phones are often shared in the household,” Kavin explains.

Sounds good. So is Hike really set to become to India what WeChat is to China? At the moment, it doesn’t seem like it, and here’s why.

Hike is not the most popular messaging app in the country

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Photo credit: Sinchen.Lin

Unlike in China, where WeChat is overwhelmingly the most popular messaging app, India’s most popular messenger remains Whatsapp. 56 percent of Indian instant messaging users chat on Whatsapp. Facebook dominates social media in India, which means Facebook Messenger also claims a decent amount of instant messaging users.

In short, Hike faces competition that WeChat doesn’t. India doesn’t have China’s censorship laws that block apps like Facebook Messenger, and India’s market is a lot easier for the US market to crack than China’s. Whatsapp has a small user base in China, but WeChat can do for Chinese users everything Whatsapp does and more, particularly inside the country’s borders.

For now, Hike’s use is mostly limited to messaging

WeChat isn’t just China’s most popular messaging app – it also makes life so much easier. The app can be used for anything from video chat and calls over wifi to paying bills, ordering cabs, and buying plane tickets. WeChat has evolved from being a simple messaging app to being a go-between for any transaction requiring two parties. It’s the equivalent to several apps in one, and similar apps are trying to get a piece of the action.

Currently, Hike allows for text messaging, file sharing, networking, and social updates. Its users can check the weather and news as well.

Hike plans on remaining a domestic app

WeChat rebranded itself for the international market in 2012 and has since become available in a number of countries, although Tencent has not provided data for how many active users the app has outside of China.

According to Kavin, Hike is best suited to India. For the time being, India’s where the app will stay.

“We don’t look at the US, Europe, or China at all – those are not our markets,” he says. “Our model works extremely well in a mobile-first market, and […] we’ll remain in India for now.” He adds that Hike’s considering looking into nearby markets like Sri Lanka’s, but no definitive plans have been made.

He hints that next year may see Hike adding food recommendation and cab hailing services to the app.

WeChat’s had more time to establish itself

The easiest difference to spot between the two apps is age. WeChat’s had more time and room to establish itself. The app was founded in January 2011, while Hike got its start nearly two years later in December 2012.

WeChat has Chinese tech giant Tencent on its side. WeChat is valued at an estimated US$83.6 billion, nearly half of Tencent’s current market capitalization.

Hike is a startup creation, but it isn’t without its own resources. We named Hike India’s 14th most-funded startup earlier this year.

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Photo credit: Pabak Sarkar

Hike shouldn’t by any means be written off just yet. According to Kavin, 2016 holds a lot of promise for the app.

“Global is fantastic, but we’re going to keep up what we’re doing,” he says. “We want to focus on reshowcasing what it means to have microsocial as a platform.” He adds that Hike’s focus is on innovating further the concept of messaging in India. For example, he’s interested in broadening the app’s use as a web browser. I bring up tapping into India’s quickly growing ecommerce market as another option, and he agrees that it’s a good idea and one that remains to be seen.

Hike’s biggest challenge, however, remains competing within its own market against larger, international players like Whatsapp that aren’t going anywhere soon.

“We believe that people use more than one messaging app on their [phones],” Kavin says. He doesn’t mind if people are using Whatsapp and Hike together – as long as they’re using Hike.

This post The search for India’s answer to WeChat appeared first on Tech in Asia.

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