QQ might be less prominent than its younger sibling WeChat these days, but it’s back in the spotlight among Chinese smartphone users. The app saw a surge in downloads after an executive order from US President Donald Trump that threatens WeChat’s status in the country.
In the six days after Washington announced the order, the US saw a total of 15,000 installs of the Chinese messaging app, according to data provider Sensor Tower. The number is hardly significant compared with far more popular apps like Facebook Messenger or Snapchat. But it’s a whopping threefold jump for QQ compared with the previous period.
The Trump administration’s order specifically targets Tencent’s WeChat, banning any transactions related to the app made under US jurisdiction. But the order made no mention of Tencent’s other apps–a reason why some WeChat users said they see having QQ as a precautionary measure.
Outside China, WeChat is primarily used by the Chinese diaspora to keep in touch with friends and family back home. The prospect of a ban threatens to cut off an important communication channel for them given that so many other messaging apps are banned in China.
WeChat’s payment function is also widely used. While US installs made up just around 2% of WeChat’s global downloads in the first half of 2020, users there spent the most money on in-app purchases outside China, Sensor Tower said.
The administration has yet to elaborate on how the executive order will be executed, but it has separately called for the removal of “untrusted” Chinese apps from Apple’s and Google’s app stores. This, along with the vaguely worded order, has also triggered worries about the fate of other Tencent apps in the US–including QQ.
“This uncertainty around its future may be the reason why [QQ’s] daily installs have since returned to near their levels before the order’s announcement, after an initial spike in downloads,” said Sensor Tower analyst Stephanie Chan.
While QQ isn’t as well known in the rest of the world, it’s actually Tencent’s original hit messaging platform, predating the mobile revolution.
Launched in 1999, QQ started as a desktop program inspired by ICQ (Tencent dropped the original name OICQ after a lawsuit). But as more people started using smartphones, QQ’s popularity was overtaken by the younger and more mobile-friendly WeChat. Since then, QQ has reinvented itself as a refuge for young people who want to avoid the adults who are now all on WeChat.
Another alternative messaging app recently attracting attention is Signal. The US app, which adopts various privacy features, still works in China, where Facebook and WhatsApp are blocked. But it wasn’t until the US executive order came along that it saw a brief surge in interest.
Last Thursday, Signal was ranked 195th in China among social networking apps on iOS, according to figures from research firm App Annie. By Monday, it rose to 24th. Similarly, between Thursday and Tuesday, Sensor Tower registered a 30% increase in US installs of Signal. Downloads for the app have since come down in both China and the US.
This article was originally published by Abacus News.