App publishing in China

  • Written by  Clive

China has the world’s largest installed base of connected devices - almost 25% of the world’s mobile devices. 500 million Smartphones are predicted to be active by the end of 2013, and possibly exceeding the combined European and USA smartphone user market by the end of 2015!

Although Chinese users follow the rest of the world in their interest in games, compared to American users, they tend to be more interested in news apps and are more likely to make in app purchases.

The English speaking world has traditionally been the largest market as localization is fairly painless. However, this market is becoming saturated and developers have realized the need to look elsewhere. China seems to be a good prospect despite the many barriers to entry, such as piracy, monetization difficulties, fragmentation of the distribution network and naturally cultural differences.

Developers in the smaller non-English speaking countries were forced to consider the Chinese market a while back. The decision to do so was made easier for them as they already were faced with a small local market for their apps. It was natural for them to expand into foreign markets including the English market. Localizing their apps for the Chinese market was no different than doing so for the English market.


Incentives for going Chinese

  • Chinese users are more willing to pay for content
  • The Chinese are not as price sensitive as US users
  • There is an enthusiastic consumer base
  • The size and dynamic nature of the Chinese mobile market is encouraging

A broad overview of the Chines market

500 million smartphones

Most of these are low-end android phones, so prospective developers should re-optimize their apps to run on them.


Localization is challenging at its best and developers should consider both language and cultural differences. To be successful, the app also needs to fit seamlessly into the local social media platforms (the equivalents to Google+, Facebook and Twitter).

Cloud technology

If your app relies on cloud connections, be aware that connections to western servers are slow and unreliable due to a government firewall. To overcome this hurdle, you would need to partner up with local cloud service providers.

Credit card payment

For payment, developers will have to implement local online payments and work with mobile carriers who bill the consumer directly.

Many app stores

To complicate matters, there are hundreds of app stores, each with their own Quality Assessment and certification procedures. The leading handset manufacturers also have their own app stores hardwired to their devices. The three mobile carriers also each have their own app stores. 

There are app stores for cities, provinces, demographic markets, and market segments. Thankfully there are only 20 top stores. These are the ones to aim for.

Each store not only has their own vetting procedure but also have different pricing structures (as does the government). Bear in mind also that the stores rankings change all the time due to the dynamic nature of the industry. 

Type of apps

As in the west, games dominate but Chinese users tend to also be interested in news apps, educational apps, basic utilities and of course, chatting and communication apps.

Chinese developers tend to dominate the market in the popular areas so be careful when trying to go head to head with them – you’ll need a deep pocket! However, this opens up opportunities because they ignore other areas, for example exercise apps and other possible niches.

To be successful, apps need to integrate the local social networks as a means of discovery.

Someone’s probably already published your app

China, the land of piracy and copying almost guarantees that popular apps are copied and distributed illegally. The solution to this is to partner up with a local partner familiar with Chinese app stores. They can then get the pirated copy removed and replaced with the official app.

Chinese apps in the west

China has 2 app companies in the Google Play top 10. Revenue from Chinese apps on Google Play rank in the top 3.

Chinese developers believe that competition is fairer in the international market and feel encouraged to enter it – mainly in Asia and Africa.

Globalization of the app industry

  • Low cost of development contributes to its potential to become global
  • The likes of the Apple app store and Google Play make it easy to distribute apps
  • There is a large market which is growing rapidly – developers anywhere can create apps for users anywhere
  • Geography has all but become irrelevant


There is massive potential for penetration and growth in the Chinese app market where users are willing to pay for premium content in high quality apps.