7 Little-Known Facts About The Enormous Chinese Mobile App Market

By Patrick Yip | June 19th, 2015

As the second largest economy in the world (and one of the fastest growing), China offers a huge opportunity for many app developers. But it’s easy to miss certain quirks of the Chinese app ecosystem. In this post, I’ll dig into the essential—but often ignored—facts that every developer should know before tackling the Chinese mobile app market.

Mobile Dominates The Chinese Internet.

Like many developing countries, China has more and more mobile-only internet users. China’s overall internet penetration will reach 49.3% this year, with mobile internet usage surpassing that of PCs. According to 2014 data from the state-affiliated China Network Information Center, 83.4% of Chinese web users access the internet through mobile devices, while 80.9% do so via PC.

China’s sophisticated mobile payment market has helped drive internet traffic to mobile devices. According to Umeng, the number of active smartphones in China reached 990 million in the fourth quarter of 2014. Most of that growth has come from first time smartphone buyers. The price of smartphones has dropped dramatically, making them accessible to a larger chunk of China’s population. Right now, the spread of smartphones is driven by people in less developed inland cities, where cheaper Android devices are especially popular. That expansion will only continue; in the future, mobile will probably be the major channel to reach Chinese users.



Android Is Huge, But Google Play Is (Almost) Absent.

According to Talking Data, 70.5% of Chinese mobile gamers use Android devices. Along with Samsung, domestic smartphone manufacturers such as Xiaomi and Huawei are quickly winning a major share of the market.

Despite the popularity of Android devices, Google Play was late entering China. More importantly, in-app purchases are not enabled in China. Chinese users can only access free apps without in-app purchase via Google Play. In Google Play’s limited presence, a diverse ecosystem of app stores has flourished. Today, China has more than 200 different app stores, making it difficult to distribute a game across the entire Chinese market. Major third party stores include Tencent’s MyApp and Baidu’s Mobile Assistant. (For a full list of third party stores, go here).


In Spite Of Android’s Dominance, Chinese Consumers Crave Apple Products, And These Buyers Are Easier To Monetize.

Apple’s new iPhone 6—a high-end, larger-screened update to Apple’s signature phone—appeals to Chinese users’ preference for larger screens. Apple phones are especially popular among China’s growing middle and upper classes. Canalys, a research firm, estimates that Apple is now the largest smartphone manufacturer in China.

Accordingly, China is a major market for iOS apps. According to App Annie, China has the second highest number of iOS app downloads in the world (just behind the U.S.), and China generates the third most iOS app revenue of any country.


China’s Social Media Landscape Is Unique—And Omnipotent.

Facebook and Twitter have been banned in China. Instead, social media sites like WeChat and Weibo dominate the market, posing challenges for developers accustomed to integrating their apps with American social media sites.

WeChat and Weibo are much more than just clones of their American counterparts . Tencent’s WeChat, for example, is not just an app for sending messages. It is also able to deliver real cash, pay government bills, and call a taxi. You can even buy fruit on WeChat.

This kind of all- in-one-app functionality makes Chinese social media an important distribution channel for app developers. You can use WeChat channel to promote your app and deliver discount info.

Language Barriers Are High.

According to the 2014 EF English Proficiency Index, China has low English proficiency, ranking just 37th out of the 63 countries surveyed. Most of those English speakers are concentrated in just a few coastal cities.

Localization Into Chinese Is Essential.

Because English proficiency is so low in China, it’s essential to get your app translated into Chinese. And don’t just run your text through Google Translate! Bringing an app into a new language can be a delicate process, and it’s essential to have quality translators.

Some tips for translating into Chinese:

Most Chinese sentences consist of short strings of square-shaped characters. As a result, Chinese sentences occupy screen-space very differently from text in other languages. You’ll need to make sure that your interface can accommodate that change.

A plain writing style doesn’t work as well in Chinese as it does in English, which favors simple, straightforward writing. Chinese readers prefer more elaborate expressions. Idioms and some formulaic expressions (called 套語 TaoYu in Chinese) make text sound natural and accessible to Chinese users. As is always the case for translation, it’s helpful to tell your translators the kind of style you like, and to provide plenty of context for the original content.

Partnering With A Local Publisher Lightens Your Load.

Due to the many quirks of Chinese mobile app’s ecosystem, partnering with a local publisher can save you a lot of effort. A publisher will add customized content and storylines to your app. They’ll also optimize monetization channels and integration with social networks.

There are approximately 250 app publishers in China. Around 50 of them are large companies, such as iDreamSky and ChuKong. Partnering with a publisher is usually free up front, in exchange for around 30 - 40% of Chinese market revenue. If you’re curious to learn more about Chinese app publishers, check out this blog post.


Over To You.

Do you have any experience bringing your app into the Chinese mobile app market? Let us know in the comments!

Patrick Yip
Patrick Yip heads content at OneSky. Heavily attracted to any brilliant growth hack and the idea of making the Internet globally accessible. In his leisure time, he’s a lame, amateur hiker. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickYipHK.

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