Chinese Internet giant Tencent recently added video and voice calling to its popular Weixin mobile messaging application, and now those very same features have been brought to its international version, WeChat.

The additions bring the service into direct competition with messaging heavyweights like Skype and FaceTime, while increasing the heat on its mobile app rivals. Though it may not trouble the establishment in the West for some time (if ever), it is already making progress in Asia’s fast developing mobile market, with Tencent claiming Weixin and WeChat have together surpassed more than 100 million cumulative downloads.

Initially rolled out to iPhone owners, the updated version of WeChat is already available to download from the App Store. The chief new feature is HD-quality video calling, but improved sharing of status updates and responses are among others included:

  • Selective sharing of Moments using Visibility and custom-define groups
  • Reply directly to a friends’s comment in Moments using @
  • Support for BlueTooth headsets

Tencent has also unveiled a Web-based version of the app which provides another communication platform for users to stay connected through.

There is an interesting specification for it however, as users are only able to get the Web-based platform if they have downloaded the iOS app. Access to the Web app is gained via a QR code — found at wx.qq.com — which must be scanned by the reader inside the WeChat iOS app first.

Android owners will need to wait a little longer for these new features to hit the Google Play store, and no date is confirmed as yet.

While WeChat may be comparatively unknown worldwide, Tencent is increasingly focusing on overseas markets, and the app — which supports 9 languages, including English — is a key service that it is pushing to international users.

Tencent and search firm Baidu are among a number of China’s top Internet firms that are broadening their reach by launching ventures across Asia, with a particular focus on Southeast Asia.

Indonesia is one primary market for Tencent and, in addition to WeChat, where the firm also recently launched Qute, a mobile messaging app that is available for low-end Web-enabled phones, as well as more expensive smartphones. Tech In Asia reports that this app has already garnered 1 million downloads within its first month of going live, despite the fact that RIM’s BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) and WhatsApp are dominant.

The Web firm is also making progress in other markets, such as Thailand, where its position as majority owner of leading local Internet brand Sanook is helping to generate attention in and downloads of WeChat.

With rival applications Line (45 million uses) and KakaoTalk (50 million plus users) both targeting Southeast Asia with apps that include voice calling, Tencent has overtaken the two by offering Skype-like video capabilities in addition to simply voice calls.

The race for mobile app domination is a fascinating one in Asia. As we recently wrote, these three firms, and others, are rivalling established social networks like Facebook and Twitter to become the central point of contact for smartphones users.

Interestingly, this year Tencent invested $80 million to grab a 13.8 percent percent stake in Kako Talk, and it remains to be seen how that relationship will progress as the rivalries heat up.

➤ WeChat for iPhone

Image via Flickr / Faykwong