Running Your Life from Your Smart Phone

Back in February, I wrote that more and more functions are being moved into our smart phones. That includes things like ATM cards, credit cards, driver licenses, and even unlocking doors. This is something I welcome—although Noonian Atall pushes back a bit—as a simplification of my life and a reduction in the number of things I have to carry around.

These advances are still nascent here in the U.S. and probably most of the Western world but China has fully embraced the concept. The story of how the Chinese leverage their phones for running their lives is an interesting one. I first learned of this from a Daring Fireball post about problems the iPhone is having in China. You can read Gruber’s post for the details but the TL;DR is that iOS doesn’t have the loyalty in China that it does elsewhere because the Chinese experience in concentrated in a single app: WeChat. WeChat is the portal through which the Chinese access all the services they need in their daily lives. It has, in effect, replaced iOS and Android as the operating system for smart phones, at least from a user perspective.

Gruber quotes Ben Thompson as saying

There is nothing in any other country that is comparable: not LINE, not WhatsApp, not Facebook. All of those are about communication or wasting time: WeChat is that, but it is also for reading news, for hailing taxis, for paying for lunch (try and pay with cash for lunch, and you’ll look like a luddite), for accessing government resources, for business. For all intents and purposes WeChat is your phone, and to a far greater extent in China than anywhere else, your phone is everything.

If you want to know more about WeChat and its influence in China, Connie Chan has a great post about it over at the Andreessen Horowitz blog.

I’m not sure that WeChat is what I want for the future but I do love how the Chinese can handle so many mundane chores with their phones. My guess is that iOS and Android will begin integrating more and more of these functions if only to avoid being made irrelevant. I prefer that solution if for no other reason than the single point of failure—Apple or Google in this case—is large enough that it probably isn’t going away soon. Apple also has the advantage that they aren’t interested in harvesting your information and selling it to advertisers, something I very much care about.

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