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WeChat challenges Skype with calls to cell phones and landlines

WeChat

Chinese messaging app WeChat is moving into new territory, launching a feature that lets users call cell phones and landlines. WeChat Out, as the service is called, is currently available only in the USA, Hong Kong, and India, but the company is promising coverage for "more countries and regions in the near future." The move follows the launch of a similar service from Line (another extremely popular, multifunction Asian messaging app) in 2014, and puts WeChat in direct competition with the likes of Skype and WhatsApp. As a "New Year gift," WeChat has also given all of its users 99 cents of credit, which the company says will provide "up to 100 minutes of free calls" around the globe.

WeChat is owned by Chinese internet giant Tencent, and since its launch in 2011 as Weixin, it's become one of the most popular apps in the world, with 650 million users in the third quarter of 2015 (compared to WhatsApp's 900 million or so). But while WhatsApp is focused mostly on messaging, WeChat has expanded into all sorts of services, partnering with different companies to let users shop, book flights, or hail a taxi, all through a single app. (A lot of the movement in this area — especially from Facebook's Messenger app — is thanks to the resurgence of bots.) Offering calls to cell phones and landlines is hardly the most exciting thing WeChat has done, but it'll still be a cause for worry for competing firms.