A brand new WeChat feature was recently introduced in WeChat version 6.6.7 for iOS. In this update, the WeChat team made some significant changes in the app - one of them being the ability to minimize an article or webpage into a floating button. This new function allows users to easily access the webpage or article again simply by clicking on the floating button.
Imagine you are at your favorite cafe overlooking the Bund. You are enjoying a nice cup of Americano along with some chocolate croissant while reading a great article about multitasking. But then the waitress comes, bombarding you with the request to pay for the bill. You have no choice but to exit the article and attend to his request. However, once you exit a WeChat webpage, you have to start from point zero to find the page before you can resume that wonderful article. That may be the very definition of “frustration”.
WeChat’s newest feature, the “floating window”, allows users to quickly save an article or webpage by tapping the 3 top-right dots and selecting “floating window” from the pop-up menu. With this button, you now have the freedom to leave at any time and resume exactly where you left off with a click of a button.
This new feature is extremely convenient for those busy multitaskers that often use multiple parts of WeChat simultaneously. How many times were we reading an article, while we wanted to check an urgent message from a friend, and we had to get back and look for the official account/chat/moments where it was originally shared. Now, going back to the article literally takes one click. Furthermore, by being floating it is extremely convenient to use and move around so that it does not block any specific part of the screen that we want to keep free. Also, reopening the article feels smooth and responsive - clearly a great experience.
At the same time, as soon as we start moving the floating window, a corner in the bottom-right corner appears, allowing us to easily discard the article that we are no longer interested in.
Furthermore, another issue that is solved by the floating window is the loading of heavy content or websites that are not China-friendly and that take more than 20 seconds to open. Since things are loaded asynchronously, the page will load in the background and will be ready by the time you reopen the floating window. No more awkwardly looking at a blank screen waiting for the content to load.
The floating windows are certainly an improvement over the previous system, but it also has their limitations: the first one being its restricted visibility on the user’s mobile devices. This means that the floating window only appears on your screen when you are in the WeChat app. Tencent, the parent company of WeChat, could not create a Picture-in-Picture (PIP) function for the floating window to stay visible on the user’s mobile screen when they are outside the WeChat app, because Apple tends to restrict third-party apps from creating notification function that alters its display - such as a tiny float window that covers only 1/50 of the screen. This decreases the floating windows practicality if a user tends to exit WeChat web pages to visit different apps. However, floating notifications are available on Android devices, so WeChat should definitely add the floating window feature in their next Android update!
Another fallback of the floating window is that it can only support one page at a time, which means if you minimize another article or webpage, WeChat will override the previous floating window. Since the feature is limited to saving only one button at a time, it may not be useful for those who often browse multiple pages at once. Thus, there is definitely room for WeChat to maximize the value this new feature can bring.
Another common complaint regarding the floating windows is the lack of support for different types of files, such as PDF, infographics, and mini-programs. At the moment, only articles are supported. While most files can be accessed via the “Favorites” feature, the process of pulling them back is much more clunky and is not readily accessible in every area of WeChat - good luck finding your conveniently saved office address written in Chinese while you are browsing a mini-program. Being able to effortlessly show a pdf, a PowerPoint or a long and detailed infographic (or even a message sent by a friend!) via the floating windows on any area of WeChat would definitely improve the overall experience. Now, you finally won’t have to repeat “wait..” 50 times to your friend before showing him that funny post you saw yesterday!
The introduction of the “floating window” can be seen as one of WeChat’s strategies to increase the user retention rate. It also aligns with their overall strategy of keeping the users more engaged inside their ecosystem. Since its launch in May, the “floating window” has received mixed reviews on whether it is useful for users or not. However, we cannot ignore the potentials that this feature has to increase user experience and satisfaction.
Here is what we would like to see in the next iterations:
1. More Visibility: the ability to keep the floating window when outside the WeChat app, to truly let users access saved content at any time.
ITC’s Recommendation: As we’ve mentioned earlier in the article, iOS currently may not support popup notification that alters its display such as covering a minor portion of the screen. However, the PIP function is supported on Android devices, so we would recommend WeChat to push out the Floating Window feature on their next Android app update that allows users to access the floating window anywhere on their phone at any time. A concept is similar to Facebook Messenger Chat Head that allows the user to conveniently access their chat while they are using other apps.
2. More Choices: the ability to save a few articles rather than just one or a way to access previously saved articles.
ITC’s Recommendation: We envision 2 potential ways WeChat could let people access more articles via the floating window: a simpler application and a more complex one. The first, simpler application would show more windows upon tapping the main one so that users could quickly access up to 5 articles in a matter of seconds.
Potential improvements: allowing the users to preview up to five articles via floating windows
A more complex and powerful implementation that we would love to see on WeChat is a feature that resembles Pocket’s reading list (which we are great fans of) where people could easily keep a folder of articles that is ready to be read. While this would be similar to the favorites, what we envision is a folder that is easy to access, find a document to read, and discard quickly. The favorite folder would be solely for documents we want to keep for an indefinite amount of time, well organized, and tagged properly.
Floating Windows - Quick Implementation Example
3. More types of content: while the floating window works great for articles, being able to quickly get back to shared documents, pdf, and other types of content would be a great integration for this feature.
ITC’s Recommendation: if it can be saved in the favorites, we want to be able to save it in the floating window - it’s as simple as that!
WeChat floating window is a welcomed improvement but still has its flaws, that we hope will be addressed in the next versions. What do you think are some potential improvements to the current system?