(Credit: LN.Vector pattern/Shutterstock)

WeChat might not be a household name in the west, but the messaging app is kind of a big deal in China, where it serves over one billion monthly active users, making it one of the biggest social platforms in the world. Beyond texting, you can also use it for rideshare, food delivery, dating, online shopping and countless other things, without ever leaving the app. In China, WeChat is the teeming nation's central hub for communication and commerce.

And WeChat (download for iOS or Android) has just made an aggressive move against the Apple App Store, right on your iPhone or iPad, reports Tech in Asia. Following up on an app update it made on the Android side in 2016, the iOS version of the app now has its own "instant app" catalog available one swipe away from WeChat's message inbox.

SEE: Tencent's WeChat adds virtual assistant support, continues upward trajectory

Here, you can organize your apps that come directly from WeChat's internal app store, and you can search for others. When you find one, you don't need to download it, which is where the "instant" part comes in. Instead, it loads in a manner of seconds, basically treating WeChat like a web browser where the app is one particular page or site.

This is a big deal because WeChat's catalog contains over one million apps, separately from the iOS App Store. Ordinarily, Apple would strictly prohibit such a practice -- for security reasons at least, if not for platform cohesion -- but if a western company wants to do business in China, concessions must be made. And it may not be entirely be bad news for the Silicon Valley juggernaut.

The Google Play Store is effectively unavailable for Android devices in China, reportedly due to disagreements between Google and the Chinese government over user privacy and corporate independence, so WeChat filling the gap with its own storefront made sense there. But the iOS App Store remains open for business in the People's Republic, though many western apps remain unavailable due to political restrictions.

FOLLOW Download.com on Twitter for all the latest app news.

Will this help or hurt Apple?

Despite the new competition from WeChat, this app update may actually improve Apple's fortunes in China, where the iPhone XR is getting its price slashed due to slow sales.

As in other markets around the world, Apple's premium-conditioned customers have not taken to the less-premium XR model, which uses a cheaper LCD screen incapable of 1080p resolution, instead of the hi-res and thin-bezeled OLED found in the iPhone XS. The XR cameras also lack an optical zoom.

(In either case, you'll also need to buy a separate power adapter to charge quickly, because Apple still bundles the same meager 5-watt unit that it first released in 2012, despite roughly doubling the size of its iPhone batteries since that time.)

With WeChat's overwhelming dominance in China, making it a more potent platform on iPhones and iPads may be what Apple needs to shore up sales in that region.

Takeaways

  • The iOS version of WeChat now has an app marketplace within the app, separate from the iOS App Store, following a similar update on Android in 2016.
  • WeChat is estimated to have over one billion monthly active users in China, where sales of the iPhone XR have been underperforming.
  • Because of WeChat's huge audience, which is accustomed to using its internal app store instead of the official ones provided by Google or Apple, this app update may improve sales of Apple's phone in the region.

Read more

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.