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With over a billion active users, China's WeChat is everywhere, a chat messenger so deeply ingrained that it has its own app store for transportation, games, payment systems, and countless other activities. Despite that, a new rival called Bullet Messaging has scored millions of downloads on China's iOS App Store, just in the first week of its launch.

SEE: Chinese messaging app DingTalk creates backlash from workers over surveillance concerns

Part of this is thank to some interesting features in Bullet Messaging that WeChat lacks, and there's also a celebrity factor. The wizard of this Oz is Luo Yonghao, founder of phone maker Smartisan and the collector of millions of followers on Weibo, which is basically China's answer to Twitter.

Smartisan hired Kuairu Technology to develop the app -- and so far, Bullet is the only one of theirs on China's iOS App Store. Kuairu does not appear to have a website of its own yet, but given its meteoric rise, that may soon change.

Until then, Yonghao is leveraging his visibility on Weibo to help rocket the app to the top of the charts. According to Bullet Messaging's feed on Weibo, the app made it to the No. 4 spot on the App Store on the first day of availability, so the system appears to be working.

But it's not all marketing, because Bullet does a few things that you won't find in WeChat, at least for now. Quartz reports that, unlike WeChat, Bullet will automatically produce audio transcriptions of chat messages (which in China tend to be dictated rather than typed), so that the recipient can read the transcription instead of playing the audio message.

This allows for a greater degree of privacy, and the recipient also doesn't have to worry about noisy environments making the message difficult to hear. WeChat has a function to create transcriptions, but it's a manual action, and it can't be used in all situations.

In addition, Bullet users can respond to messages without leaving the message list, whereas WeChat makes you open each conversation before you can record a message to sent to that specific contact.

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Security, privacy, and content issues may slow Bullet's advance

While Bullet offers some helpful new features, it doesn't appear to have been built with security or privacy in mind. Technode reports that Bullet came out of the gate lacking end-to-end encryption and two-factor authentication, and certain actions could accidentally expose a user's phone number. Bullet has addressed some of these issues with updates to the app.

With end-to-end encryption, messages can only be decrypted on the sender's and recipient's devices. This helps ensure privacy. With two-factor authentication, you receive a temporary single-use code that's used in addition to your user name and password. This helps prevent people from getting unauthorized access to your account.

However, while WeChat offers login verification, it also lacks end-to-end encryption. Instead, it uses "transport encryption," which means that WeChat servers can decrypt and view your messages.

Another possible factor in Bullet's rise to prominence is its lax approach to policing adult content. Explicit images and videos are illegal in China, but the app appears to lack controls to filter this material -- and pornography is as popular in China as it is anywhere else, despite its unambiguous legal status there, so any platform that allows you to bypass the authorities is bound to generate some interest.

The takeaways

  • WeChat challenger Bullet Messaging has recorded millions of downloads on China's iOS App Store in the first week of its availability, thanks to a combination of unique features, a highly visible promoter, and the availability of adult content, which is illegal in China.
  • Bullet Messaging is the only app on the App Store attributed to developer Kuairu Technology, who also lacks a website.

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Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.