Tencent is to launch its own version of a digital voice assistant, in a move being seen as a major shift to expand beyond smartphone use for the WeChat app,

The Siri-like assistant could allow the WeChat app to be deployed in smart cars and offer multiple uses for businesses, the South China Morning Post reported.

WeChat, along with its collection of mini apps, is now used by over a billion people and is part of daily life for millions of Chinese consumers, who use it for everything from paying bills to ordering goods and services.

But Tencent’s consumer-facing business, mainly gaming and social media, is seen by many as close to saturation, and faces increased government regulations as well as tough competition from rivals such as TikTok and Toutiao, owned by Bytedance, the Post noted.

Tencent, along with others, is therefore looking for new revenue streams. In particular, it has an eye on the potential use of WeChat by businesses, as well as link-ups with the many smart, connected devices coming to market, from smart speakers in the home, to self-driving cars, all of which make up the so-called ‘industrial internet’.

The new virtual assistant – called Xiaowei, or WeChat italking in English – will work not just with Tencent’s own services, such as QQ Music, according to Bloomberg, but will connect with apps from third-parties such as Meitun Dianping and Didi Chuxing that supply on-demand services.

It will also be able to link with multiple other devices, including smart speakers and cars, according to the Shenzhen-based company. It’s not clear when the virtual assistant will be rolled out.

Even though Amazon and Google’s personal assistants are non-existent in China, Bloomberg said that Tencent is still late to the game in introducing its own version: other domestic companies are well advanced in installing voice-activated tech in a wide range of goods, from phones to fridges.

Sourced from South China Morning Post, Bloomberg; additional content by WARC staff