Q&A on Bullet Messenger and its “Non-impactful Innovations”

A senior product manager of a well-known social messaging tool shared some of his personal thoughts on how Bullet messenger is doing compared to the “almighty” WeChat.

Bullet Messenger, a messaging app developed by Beijing Kuairu Technology Co., Ltd. and invested in by Smartisan Technology, has climbed up to the top of Apple’s App Store download list just two days after the launch of Nut Pro 2S. I myself downloaded it out of curiosity and was very much impressed by the accuracy of its voice recognition. Just like “Big Bang” and “Flash Capsule”, Smartisan have always excelled at creating detailed but delicate products.

Q: Why did WeChat gain such popularity in China?

Before WeChat, Tencent had a more popular social platform—QQ, but unfortunately the amount of effort thrown into QQ did not match up to WeChat. At the time, the mobile version of QQ simply had the same functions as its PC counterpart, including certain functions supported by the Symbian OS, and later also in the Android system. Both apps have now advanced and currently share many similarities as opposed to before. Tencent has been cultivating the mobile version of WeChat since the very beginning, and did not release a computer version until much later. And even then, it had many problems and was far from being satisfactory. This shows the difference in focus of WeChat and QQ. For the longest time, many of QQ’s functions could only be used on a computer. For example, the only way to add friends was through typing out the other person’s QQ ID. WeChat, on the other hand, was the first to learn from WhatsApp and allow users to add friends from their contact list. They also found other efficient ways to add contacts such as by scanning QR codes. This shows the difference of the platforms’ respective focuses: QQ has more of a traditional style compared to WeChat’s business-like approach.

Furthermore, there was a problem with the mobile QQ where number of friends on your friend list eventually got out of hand because it was too long. Your friend list included old colleagues and distant relatives and it became tedious for users to manage their friend lists. Consequently, it became more annoying to send messages using the app. This lead to a strong desire for a new app to be built where users could establish new social relationships easily. Fortunately, WeChat came through and saved the day.

WeChat was a really engaging app for young people at the time. It had all kinds of refreshing functions, such as serving as a walkie-talkie, minigames like Airplane War, and “Look Around” (a feature used to find nearby friends), which all kept users entertained. Although these features are rarely used nowadays, they had a strategic significance at the time. WeChat also achieved a surge in user growth in its early stages. Its “Look Around” feature, which resembled the dating app MoMo, exploded in popularity. But once the platform had achieved an exponential user growth and rapid expansion, these features began to experience diminished returns.

WeChat also made sure to routinely upgrade the mobile platform, always keeping things relevant and up-to-date.

Q: What are the advantages and disadvantages of Bullet Messenger and WeChat?

Bullet Messenger and WeChat

Users tend to compare Bullet Messenger with WeChat because both products’ main purpose is to facilitate social interaction. However, the starting point of the two could not have been more different. Evidently, WeChat has a larger variety of features, and much like Facebook, users can communicate with friends, expand their social circle, and share their own content.

Bullet Messenger, for one, does not have a function for sharing contents such as images and videos. Its primary aim is to allow text and voice messages to be sent to other users (and non-users) in an easy and efficient way. It is in its essence very similar to WhatsApp. WhatsApp is an enhanced substitute for traditional texting, without any complicated additional functions, advertisement, public updates, and the platform does not make a profit from public accounts. The app is financed, instead, by annual fees.

To ask whether Bullet Messenger can be successful is equivalent to asking whether the WhatsApp model works in China. And for China, it’s all about efficient socializing. If the app fails to excel as a socializing platform, and WeChat refrains from making bad decisions, then users are unlikely to migrate to a new platform.

This is merely an observation of the difference between the two platforms from a socializing perspective. But in fact, WeChat was a far more ambitious product to begin with, or at least it is now. WeChat wants to create an entire ecosystem, with socializing as the core, surrounded by the content from public accounts and mini programs, as well as the payment feature you mentioned. This goal is not only massively ambitious in the domestic market, but also on a global scale. In this sense, Bullet Messenger is just a replica of WeChat, but unfortunately nowhere close to it in terms of ecological significance.

Bullet Messenger also offers information flow, and intends to develop its own content instead of relying solely on other news aggregators such as Tencent and Toutiao. The platform also wants to build its own content chain and gain a higher short term profit margin. I find it hard to believe that focusing on information flow will be particularly beneficial to Bullet Messenger, instead they need to figure out their long-term profit model.

Nevertheless, Bullet messenger undoubtedly trumps its competitors when it comes to user-friendly features, such as automatic voice-to-text transfer, simultaneous voice and text input, and the additional voice message progress bar. Users can save unread messages into the list of “Read Later”, and reply directly in a chat list without having to open the conversation tab.

However, these features are all something I would like term “non-impactful innovations”—let’s just call them NII’s. What I mean is, the new functions are attractive and innovative, but not significant enough for users to reel in family members and friends just because of these functions. I will admit, typing and communication efficiency was certainly enhanced, but social interaction was not changed on a fundamental level, nor was the way we lived our lives. If you have studied Smartisan OS before, you would find a lot of such innovations in the system, such as “Big Bang” and “Flash Capsule”. You get an initial element of surprise for the addition of new functions, but the feeling is just that—initial. And only until you have finally used it, do you find it mediocre and not exactly impactful. The new changes can definitely feel refreshing and improve your life to some extent, but the scale of change is not major enough for you to consider it a crucial addition for a better future. Thus, this explains the term I have given it—NII.

Q: What do you think are the most important aspects of social messaging products? In addition to social functions and financial payment (WeChat), what are the other potential areas for improvement?

I think I already answered this in the previous question. The intention of Bullet Messenger was to establish an efficient communication platform for professionals. WeChat Payment is only a complementary function and the content ecosystem simply exists for profitability and originality. I believe the essence of social products is to find a unique way of socializing, like Snapchat with the “best friend” feature, and the Tinder-like Tantan with its “appearance-oriented” model. With that in mind, it is evident that Bullet Messenger needs to contemplate upon its comparative advantage.

Q: Temporary or not, many people choose to use Bullet Messenger because they are tired of the constant information flow on WeChat Moments and even disabled the feature. What is your view on this matter?

The stabilization of social relationships on one platform makes people want to relocate their social interactions to another. This is inevitable for any social product, as we have witnessed user migration from QQ to WeChat, and overseas from Facebook to Snapchat.

In this sense, WeChat has indeed made some efforts in adding the “visible for up to three days” setting for its Moments, and allowed users to divide contacts into separate groups for privacy. However, there is an inherent contradiction between reducing contact inflation and improving user stickiness. The desire to get away from or disable WeChat Moments is perfectly natural, but Bullet Messenger is not a good place to escape to. And as I have mentioned above, these two products belong to different categories. In the near future, I believe that users will find that Bullet Messenger is not a perfect substitute for WeChat, and will miss WeChat Payment and the array of special features. Thus, why jump on the bandwagon to begin with? Bullet Messenger does not give a better answer to how one should deal with the dilemma of contact inflation and user stickiness. It is just another product that learns from its predecessors and adds a few of its own innovative ideas.