How to break into the 5.5 billion download Chinese app market

Total mobile application downloads for both smartphones and feature phones in China will reach 5.5 billion next year. “As the app market in the West gets crowded, content providers and developers are eyeing new markets, such as China, which has the world’s largest subscriber base,” says practice director Dan Shey.

Expansion of China’s 3G subscriptions, which are expected to jump from 102 million in 2011 to 540 million in 2016, are driving app download growth. “Feature phones are an important market for app developers, maintaining a large share of the app store user base over the next few years,” says research analyst Fei-Feng Seet. “Regardless of device type, successful apps in the Chinese market are those with a local look and feel and incorporate local content.”

Examples are game apps like PopCap’s “Plants vs. Zombies” and Electronic Arts’ “Need for Speed,” which has instructions in Chinese so users could easily understand the game. Halfbrick Studios launched a tailored version of “Fruit Ninja for China” that includes peaches as a new fruit and has a background image with the 12 Chinese zodiac animals. The localized app was updated five times ahead of the main English app, which was pirated.

App localization can also mean working with local partners such as Renren and Weibo, two Chinese social networking sites. Today, more than 90% of apps offered by China-based app stores are in Chinese and include local content.

“Pricing and payment options are critical to success in the Chinese app market,” adds vice president Jake Saunders. “Chinese consumers are very price sensitive and less willing to pay the same fees as US consumers for the same content.” To help alleviate such issues, local app stores Mobile Market, WoStore, and eStore allow developers to price apps much lower than other stores, such as Apple. They also offer mobile carrier billing or support for local online payment accounts.

ABI Research’s study, “Chinese Mobile Application Market,” provides an overview of the mobile applications ecosystem in China. It also identifies consumers’ preference, drivers, and challenges of app development in China, as well as trends and opportunities in the industry.

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