Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba launched an instant messaging app, competing with Tencent’s Weixin in the world’s largest mobile market.
Alibaba’s news website, Alizila, said that Laiwang supports group chats of up to 500 people and offers voice messaging, video, stickers and the ability to share maps.
It also includes privacy settings for photo albums and a ‘burn after reading’ feature that deletes messages after they have been read. Alibaba is also working on bringing VoIP calls to the app.
A selection of Alibaba apps — including Laiwang — could soon be pre-installed on smartphones provided by China Telecom, according to a report by Reuters.
Tencent has already partnered with China Unicom to offer a SIM card supporting WeChat.
Alibaba recently created an internet communications unit to lead the company’s mobile strategy. The company bought a stake in Sina’s Weibo microblogging platform in April and subsequently released a product to allow Weibo users to shop via its Taobao Marketplace on their mobiles.
Messaging apps have grown hugely in the past year. US-based WhatsApp recently passed the 300 million monthly active user mark while LINE is targeting the same figure by the end of the year.
Analyst firm App Annie found that a focus on regional growth and differentiating features have fuelled the recent success of messaging apps.
For example, LINE has grown significantly in India after running a TV advertising campaign in the country, while WeChat has seen huge user growth outside its home market, recently passing 100 million international users.