Tencent might develop a VR version of WeChat

Tencent might develop a VR version of WeChat

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Strap on a VR headset and hang out with your friends’ virtual avatars in a virtual space — that’s the idea of a VR social network. Now Tencent could be making its own version of that.

“It’s time to seriously consider developing a VR version of WeChat”, Tencent CEO Pony Ma said today at the Wuzhen World Internet Conference.

Why now? Ma cited greater internet speed thanks to 5G, and more VR headsets that’ll possibly be released next year. Download speeds at China Telecom’s 5G test site at the conference reached 17GB per second, Ma said, quoting China Telecom’s chairman.

But it’s probably not coming any time soon. A Tencent executive denied Chinese media reports that said the VR version of WeChat will be launched next year.

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Tencent didn’t reveal anything about the new VR WeChat, so it’s hard to say how exactly it would work. But judging by previous examples, like Facebook’s Spaces, users should be able to do a bunch of virtual… stuff with their friends, interacting with each others’ avatars in vague ways.

(Companies always highlight all sorts of advanced gestures you can pull off in VR, but what always ends up happening is people just wave their hands a lot and do some cheesy dance moves.)

Social VR has obvious appeal for users, but it hasn’t really caught on. That’s partly due to the problems of VR itself, including the fact that user experience is still not good enough, and hardware still lacks the accessibility for mass adoption.

It could also be the amount of things required to hang out with your friends in the digital space. Everybody has to have a headset, and they need to be able to use the headset at the same time. And can you imagine using it outdoors? I do most of my WeChat messaging on the go, but I can’t imagine strapping a VR headset to my face outside of my house to wave at some virtual friends.

AltspaceVR had to shut down before being bought by Microsoft, and Facebook’s Spaces doesn’t seem to have gained any momentum after a high-profile launch, which, you can probably tell from the user comments on Facebook Spaces. Even Facebook’s head of VR herself admitted that they’re “scrambling” to offer users more things to do in Spaces.

But for China, there might be reasons to be optimistic. While VR is slowing down in other parts of the world, China’s interest in VR appears to still be growing. In the first quarter of 2018, China’s VR headset market grew 200%, and accounted for 82% of the world’s shipments of standalone VR headsets, according to a Canalys report. The report also says that worldwide VR headset market grew 16%, despite a decline in the US market.

This article originally appeared on Abacus, which focuses on China consumer tech for a global audience. For more Abacus stories, please follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.

Copyright (c) 2018. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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