Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s WeChat application icon and website are displayed on an Apple Inc. iPhone 5s, right, and Apple Inc. iPad respectively in an arranged photograph in Hong Kong, China (Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg)

Tencent’s WeChat Abolishes Tipping Feature on Apple iPhones

(Bloomberg) -- Tencent Holdings Ltd. is shutting down a popular feature on WeChat that allows iPhone users to tip emoji and content creators to comply with Apple Inc.’s policy on in-app purchases.

After months of negotiations, Tencent said on its official WeChat account it “regrettably” had to abolish the feature on the instant message service to comply with new terms Apple laid down in June. According to Tencent, the iPhone maker said developers would be barred from including buttons or links that direct customers to purchasing systems outside of its iOS ecosystem.

Tencent’s doing away with a function credited with helping WeChat become China’s dominant mobile social media and payments platform, with more than 889 million users. Tipping encouraged users to deposit more money within the app’s wallet, while motivating writers and emoji designers to compete for tips, enhancing the overall quality of content. While Tencent doesn’t disclose the number of content-creators, they’re part of more than 10 million official accounts run by individuals, corporations and government agencies that broadcast news and updates to users.

Apple said in a statement that WeChat could still allow users to tip as long as it used Apple’s own in-app purchase system. Tencent’s latest suggestion for users is that they employ QR codes to receive payments instead, a practice that still isn’t compliant with Apple’s policies.

It’s unclear how other Chinese developers, from live-streaming to gaming apps, that employ their own tipping or payment features are affected.  Tencent is one of the biggest players in mobile app transactions: its payment system accounted for about 38 percent of market share in China at the end of the third quarter, according to research firm Analysys International.

The changes to payments target only the iPhone version of WeChat -- tipping remains available to all users of Google’s Android, which power the vast majority of smartphones in the country.

Separately, Beijing’s internet regulators said on Wednesday they are planning to inspect Apple on the way it screens apps, after authorities ordered three Chinese streaming sites to patch up “significant loopholes” related to content violation, user classification and identity verification, the official news agency Xinhua reported.