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商业 - 科技

这款app下载量冲到第一位,挑战微信霸主地位

Eamon Barrett 2018年09月05日

这款app令人吃惊地登上下载排行榜首,意味着国民通讯软件微信遇到了罕见的挑战。

上周中国下载次数最多的app榜单上,不是以往的游戏或短视频应用,而是新的即时通讯软件——子弹短信。这款app令人吃惊地登上下载排行榜首,意味着国民通讯软件微信遇到了罕见的挑战。

子弹短信起名源于快捷,这款app擅长即时语音通信,即用一连串短音频进行沟通。这种模式在西方尚未流行,但在中国是常态。

2012年,上线不久的微信让语音通信流行起来,但限制一直比较多。比如,微信上的语音信息只能整段播放。如果接收方没听清楚语音末尾某个关键词,就得从头再听一遍。另外,发语音后如果忘了某个重要细节,想搜索已发送信息或者查看已发送内容很困难。

子弹短信聪明地解决了这两个难题。首先,用户可以拖拽音频文件进度条,从任何一点重新播放。这项改进其实很简单,微信却一直没有实现,让人有点意外(就连Facebook的WhatsApp都有音频短信拖拽播放功能,而且WhatsApp是在微信之后才推出语音功能)。

子弹短信解决第二个问题的办法更出色,同样算不上多独特。软件能将语音短信同步转换成文字短信同时发出,从而为对话留下了可见记录。实现该功能的是中国人工智能翻译公司科大讯飞。去年,《麻省理工科技评论》(MIT Technology Review)将科大讯飞誉为中国“最聪明的公司”。微信也有将语音转换成文字的功能,但用户必须逐条选择点击转换。子弹短信简化了操作,整体而言用户体验更好,而这可能正是人们对子弹短信主要投资人——锤子科技的期望。

锤子科技(英文为Smartisan,由“smart(聪明)”和“artisan(工匠)”两个单词组合而成)成立于2012年,创始人罗永浩曾在纽交所上市公司新东方担任英语教师。罗永浩因为讲课风格幽默让成为网络红人,2011年在西门子北京总部外砸西门子冰箱而出名。当时罗永浩认为西门子冰箱有设计缺陷,所以砸冰箱维权。

如今锤子科技造的是智能手机,不是冰箱。手机销量或许有点惨淡,仅占2017年中国智能手机市场的1%,但聚集了一批热情的追随者。今年5月,2.3万粉丝云集鸟巢,也就是2008年北京奥运会主体育场,参加锤子科技坚果R1手机发布会,门票最贵的达140美元。罗永浩邀请吉尼斯世界纪录大全到场见证盛会,吉尼斯纪录称之为迄今为止“观众人数最多的科技产品发布会”。

罗永浩明确表示,子弹短信并不是要击败腾讯。他在微博上写道:“子弹短信没有挑战微信,而是做一个在意沟通效率的人群的细分领域而已”。但8月20日上线的子弹短信已经开始多元化布局,业务扩展到即时通信以外。

子弹短信app还有新闻推送功能——子弹新闻,设计上类似估值数十亿美元的新闻推荐引擎今日头条。子弹新闻把腾讯作为新闻源之一,毫不意外腾讯表示反对。罗永浩还暗示,子弹短信很快就会接入支付宝,也就是腾讯在移动支付领域的主要对手。

不过,支付宝还没有表示将和子弹短信正式合作。阿里巴巴旗下负责管理支付宝的蚂蚁金服也只是说:“支付宝欢迎所有具备资质的公司将支付宝接入其产品和服务中。”蚂蚁金服未表示支付宝将接入子弹短信,而此举可能是对付微信最有效的手段。

由于子弹短信内部不具备多种业务生态系统,不太可能分流微信的用户。新app的卖点完全基于用户体验,而用户体验很容易模仿。目前来看,子弹短信只是一次示警,刺激微信改善语音短信服务体验,或许还提供了明确的方向。(财富中文网)

译者:Charlie

审校:夏林

 

This week, China’s most downloaded app wasn’t a game or a short-video app like normal but a new messaging service called Bullet. The app’s startling assent to the top marks a rare challenge to Tencent’s WeChat—China’s go-to choice for messaging.

Bullet, so called for the swiftness of its service, specializes in instant voice messaging, whereby users communicate through a rally of short audio clips. That method hasn’t caught on in the West, but in China, it’s the norm.

WeChat popularized that style of communication during its early days, in 2012, but its system has always been comparably limited. For one, WeChat only allows voice messages to be played in full, so if a listener misses a vital word towards the end of a clip, they have to start over from the beginning. Also, sending audio files makes it harder to scan through previous messages and check what’s already been said, in case you’ve forgotten an important detail.

Bullet has smartly solved both of these problems. Firstly, it allows users to scrub through audio files and start playback at any point—a simple enough fix that it’s surprising WeChat hasn’t introduced this function itself. (Scrubbing through voice messages is even a feature on Facebook-owned WhatsApp, which introduced voice messages after WeChat did.)

Bullet’s second solution is more impressive, but also not inimitable. The app instantly transcribes audio into a text message and sends the text along with the voice clip, leaving a visible record of the conversation. That magic is powered by iFlyTek, a local AI translation wizard that MIT Technology Review ranked as the “smartest company” in China last year.

WeChat has a transcription feature, too, but the user has to choose to transcribe each message. Bullet has streamlined the process and generally provides a greater user experience, which is something you would expect of the messaging app’s key investor, Smartisan.

Smartisan (a portmanteau of “smart” and “artisan”) was founded in 2012 by Luo Yonghao, a former English teacher at New York-listed New Oriental. Luo gathered popularity online for his humorous classes, but he gained notoriety in 2011 for smashing Siemens refrigerators outside of the German brand’s Beijing headquarters. The demonstration was a protest of what Luo believed was Siemens’ shoddy design.

But Smartisan doesn’t make fridges, it makes smartphones. Sales might be slight—accounting for just 1% of the Chinese smartphone market in 2017—but the company has an ardent following. In May this year, 23,000 fans flocked to the Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing, home of the 2008 Summer Olympics, to attend the launch of the phone maker’s R1 model, paying up to $140 for entry. According to Guinness World Records, which Luo had invited to witness the spectacle, it was the “largest audience for a technology product launch” to date.

Luo has stated that Bullet is not an attempt to topple Tencent. Writing on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, Luo said, “We are not challenging WeChat. We are creating a niche product for people who care about the efficiency of communication.” But Bullet, which was launched on August 20, has already diversified its service beyond messaging.

The app runs a news feed, which is similar in design to that of multi-billion-dollar news aggregator, Toutiao. The newsfeed featured content skimmed from Tencent News until, unsurprisingly, Tencent told Bullet to stop. Luo has also hinted that the app will soon include payment services provided by Alipay, Tencent’s arch-rival in the mobile payments war.

But Alipay hasn’t suggested it would form an official partnership with Bullet. Ant Financial, the Alibaba affiliate that manages Alipay, has simply said, “Alipay welcomes all eligible businesses to incorporate Alipay solutions into their products and services.” It hasn’t suggested Bullet will feature within the Alipay app, where it would be the most effective as a weapon against WeChat.

Without a rich ecosystem of services to pad it out, Bullet’s app is unlikely to divert followers away from WeChat. The upstart’s key selling points are all based on user experience, which can be easily emulated. For now, Bullet is just a shot across the bow, providing WeChat with an incentive—and perhaps a guide—to improve its own audio messaging service.

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