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Droning On - WeChat Releases Cheap 4K Drone in China

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Drones are everywhere these days, whether on our doorsteps with Amazon Prime Air, in our skies where Facebook and Alphabet are duking it out, or expanding overseas with giant internet-providing drones. One place that neither Facebook nor Alphabet have been able to make many inroads is the great firewalled China, but that's not to say the region's own major players haven't been making moves. Tencent, behemoth ISP and owner of WeChat, China's most dominant messaging app with over 800 million users, are releasing their own video capture drone known as the Ying. Designed purely to send video to the WeChat platform, the drone comes in at a relatively modest $299 and can capture 4K video and stream at 720p. You can see the promo video here:


Despite some flagrant airspace violations in the video like buzzing around the Eiffel Tower and harassing a jogger at low altitude, the drone looks pretty smart. It's not much bigger than an iPhone, weighs less than half a kilo, and is foldable, so you can take it with you to pester pedestrians on the go. The Ying is manufactured by Chinese drone maker Zerotech, with the chip and Snapdragon control platform coming from wireless tech company Qualcomm.

Drones are growing in popularity in China, with the world's largest drone maker DJI based in the country. Their offering, however, is much more expensive at $999, so the Ying could really squeeze in and undercut them. No news on whether the drone will be available outside China, but Chinese tech innovations are becoming increasingly influential, so it's possible something similar will turn up in the West.

The potential japery with this thing is fun to imagine. Drone selfies, bird's eye views of your runs, 360° videos of your lunch... OK, that amount of coverage is almost nauseating. At least you could strap a few together and stick them to a space hopper to fly around the place.



So why is a messaging app like WeChat going into drones? Well, WeChat is not a single-use app. In China it can be used for so much more, from ordering at restaurants to sharing photos of and reviewing the food, to ordering a taxi home. The app seeks to keep its users engaged in any way or form possible, and drone video adds a new dimension to all facets of user interaction. The New York Times did a great video on the extent of WeChat's in-app integration, and how it could have repercussions on how apps work in the West:



The closed nature of China's web app ecosystem has created some really unique developments and trends, and the growing spotlight on them in the West could lead to some novel advancements cross-pollinating.

The growth of integrated social apps is one things to keep an eye on, but the continued march (or flight) of the drones is another. They seem destined to continue their ascent, and that can lead to some great things, such as amazing photos, or internet provision in hard-to-reach areas. But there are also safety concerns, with increases in pilot sightings and near misses, and privacy concerns leading people in America to blast them out of the sky. The issues surrounding them aren't going to go away, so reactions to them will have to keep evolving at pace, such as the Tokyo Police department's interceptor drones, with their anti-drone nets.

Tencent's tiny drone is pretty cute, and much less threatening, but still it may not be the cutest drone ever:

Dead Cat Helicopter [video]
methodshop.com on Flickr

OK on second thoughts that is actually the scariest drone ever. I would still use it if it could stream 4K though. WeCat?



With a masters in Literature, Sam inhales books and anything readable, spending his working hours reformulating the info he gathers into digestible articles. When not reading or writing, he likes to put his camera to work around the world, snapping street photography from Stockholm to Tokyo. Too much of this time spent in Japan teaching English has nurtured a weakness for sashimi, Japanese whisky, and robot cafés. Follow him @SamF_Songbird


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Droning On - WeChat Releases Cheap 4K Drone in China Reviewed by Sam Franklin on Tuesday, October 18, 2016 Rating: 5

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