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What Are Mini Apps and Why Should Marketers Care?

Alekh Verma | March 1, 2023
mini apps

With apps gaining enormous popularity over the last decade, every business is questioning whether they should have an app too and what purpose would it fulfill? Fortunately, unless your small business's product is an app — or you have a talented development team on staff — you generally don't need to invest a lot of time and money on it just yet. Building an app is not an easy task- especially for smaller businesses- it consists of multiple steps from ideation, development, and launch to then promoting the final product and making sure it’s a success. All these steps require meticulous planning, tons of budget & time, and a strong development and marketing team.

However, if you’re a business that could gain a lot from having a mobile app then there’s something else that could interest you- and it does not demand as much money, time, or resources from your end.

Among the very few trends that have come out of the mobile app industry in recent years, mini-apps possibly have garnered the most attention. They are on the way to becoming the future of the app marketing industry. Some software businesses have begun to invest in "mini-apps" in recent years. And, if these programs grow, there may be potential for businesses to experiment with a smaller app experience.

What are Mini Apps?

Mini apps are smaller versions of apps with limited features in a bigger app. It is generally smaller than 4 MB in size, and it is often co-created or developed by a brand that partners with the company that developed the main app.

Mini-apps have grown in popularity significantly after their introduction in 2017 on Chinese platforms. Tencent, the firm that founded WeChat, announced the debut of WeChat Mini Programs in the same year. WeChat had an established reputation of 846 million monthly active users when Tencent published mini-programs in the beta version. People were particularly attracted to these stripped-down mini versions of apps as they required no installation and were extremely fast to download. Another reason for its rapid popularity could be that these mini-apps did not waste any data or storage space for the user.

Miniature app-like experiences have recently gained the attention of Western internet corporations such as Apple and Snapchat, following their success on apps like WeChat. But how do these applications work, and how do they benefit the companies that created them? Before we deep dive into answering these questions, let’s discuss the companies that have already adopted and launched mini-app platforms.

Early Mini-App Platforms

1. WeChat Mini Programs

Mini-Programs, according to a 2017 report from TechCrunch, is a simple app that can be accessed via WeChat. Despite the fact that tech journalists refer to these as "mini-apps," Tencent was unable to designate them as such due to concerns about infringing on Apple and Google trademarks.

Mini-programs on WeChat are "sub-apps" within the WeChat ecosystem. They allow for additional features such as e-commerce, virtual store tours, task management, coupons, and other services to be provided to users.

As of now, the WeChat Mini Program is now only available for Weixin, the app's original Chinese version. A marketer can apply for a Mini Program account if they are aiming to raise awareness about this platform. However, this part can be a little tricky as Mini-programs have a number of limitations according to a report posted in 2019. First, they cannot send out push notifications. Second, mini-programs must be written in a special "language" (a Tencent-developed JavaScript framework). Instead of typical HTML and CSS, developers must create WXML and WXSS, and use this framework for all of their development). Last, mini-programs for WeChat can only be used within WeChat (while traditional web-App works on any browser).

2. Snap Minis

Snap Minis are small sponsored experiences within the Snapchat app that were announced in 2020. A user opens a chat with a buddy or group to gain access to Snap Minis. They'll then select the spaceship icon, which will display a list of searchable mini-programs. There are a variety of branded experiences available, ranging from games to meditation applets to scheduling tools.

These HTML-based apps are intended to increase user engagement by allowing them to execute a variety of extra tasks without leaving the Snap app. Moreover, it takes things one step further as it allows the audience to share the content with others, unlike WeChat Mini Programs which just allowed interaction with the content. This is an excellent choice for tech marketers or digital firms who want Snapchat users to actively share branded material with others in their group.

Snap does acknowledge that minis are extremely easy to build with HTML5 code. Many of the snap minis are available across the platform. Some of the live mini apps are: a studying collaboration tool Flashcards, a meditation service Headspace, an interactive messaging service called Prediction Master, and an app that allows users to make decisions with friends called Let’s Do It.

Interested brands must apply for early access to the Minis program at this time. Businesses must include their contact information and a description of how the Mini will be used in the Snap application.

3. Apple App Clips

As of now, Apple Clips will remain unavailable for brands that are unable to create their own Apple App Store app. They are, nonetheless, fascinating examples of mini-apps worth noticing, especially if your company already has an app. Apple App Clips are minor aspects of a larger app that's now available in the App Store, and they debuted with the iPhone IOS 10.14 upgrade in 2020. Users can locate App Clips via scanning QR codes, visiting the brand’s website, walking near an App Clip business with an NFC tag, or clicking on a specifically designed link. Furthermore, these can also be found in other apps like Apple’s Messenger or Maps.

When someone is talking about or looking for something relevant to a company that has an Apple Program Clip, a call-to-action will appear, allowing the user to "Open" the Clip without having to download the entire app. After that, a user can use one of the app's fundamental features. While businesses that do not already have an app won't benefit from App Clips, digital entrepreneurs and tech firms still should keep an eye on them.

Why Should Marketers Care?

Although some mini-app programs, such as those offered by Apple and Snapchat, are now more exclusive and less accessible to smaller businesses, they may become useful marketing tools for more businesses in the future. As mini-app programs grow and spread, here are some things to keep in mind for marketers.

1. Brands that embrace digital transformation will reap more "mini" benefits.

One thing that every business should keep in mind is that in order to experience all the benefits of a mini-app, their existing app should already have the features that a mini-app could enhance. If your app does not have the provision to incorporate how a mini-app would better its features then there’s no point in introducing a mini-app for your business.

So, if you’re a small business that does not already have an app then it’s time that you invest in developing an app and embrace the digital transformation that mini-apps are bringing along. This strategy might not be accessible to you now, but it can be in the future as the world becomes more connected to apps.

2. Big apps will only host mini-apps that are mutually beneficial.

No matter how tempting it be, a big brand, or any brand for that matter, would not partner with someone that does not cater to the same audience group. It does not make any sense for big apps to associate themselves with a brand that does not match their already well-curated and established image. Moreover, a big app also wouldn’t associate itself with a competitor brand as it would most definitely have an adverse effect.

The ultimate goal behind a brand venture into creating a mini-version of their app or a mini-app is to spread awareness to businesses with the same audiences and offer additional features or digital experiences to users that result in them staying longer on the main app. This is probably why businesses like Snapchat and WeChat require advertisers to apply for their mini-programs rather than simply purchasing space for a mini-app.

3. Brands will still need to undertake some groundwork to create mini-apps.

In certain cases, to create mini-apps a business might not need to have its in-house developer or development team. For example, in the instance of WeChat, the company offers a mini-program in which businesses can apply and pay to have a mini-app created and launched for them.

Despite the simplicity with which some platforms can be used, others, such as Apple, will require you to have already produced an app. Additionally, Snapchat has not made public knowledge of what it entails to build Snap Minis.

4. "Mini" collaborations will not be available to all brands.

Mini-apps open a lot of doors of opportunities for businesses, however, not every brand will be able to utilize the potential of mini-apps, and it’s especially true for smaller businesses.

Moreover, as already mentioned above, most big brands are looking to associate themselves with businesses that can serve the same purpose and cater to similar audiences, and they might not be particularly looking to partner with smaller businesses.

We again reiterate that this technology might not be available to you now, but as the world is advancing and moving towards everything being connected through mobile apps, it is quite possible that even smaller businesses might be able to utilize mini-apps in the future. Until then, we suggest you invest in building a mobile application for your business. And the good news is that we can help you with that!

Contact our team of skilled developers to build the mobile application of your dreams.

Alekh Verma

CEO and Founder at eSearch Logix Technologies!

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