The Chinese Mobile App Market

The Chinese Mobile App Market

There’s a reason they call China a “digital leviathan.” The growth rate and scope of the Chinese IT industry is simply unparalleled. But breaking into the Chinese market is still like swimming in the open ocean — you’ll need guts and a lot of training just to stay afloat. This is especially true when it comes to something as massive as the mobile app market.

By 2019, a third of the world’s app revenue was earned by Chinese companies, and things have only gotten better for them since then. The Chinese segment makes up half of the App Store’s revenue. This should come as no surprise — according to Statista, China has over 911 million smartphone users. Moreover, China was one of the first countries to enter the age of 5G.

The Chinese Mobile App Market

A smartphone has already become an inextricable part of every Chinese person’s life. According to China Internet Watch, residents of China spend six and a half hours a day on their phones, and they spend most of that time chatting on messengers and watching videos.

But for Chinese people, a smartphone is about more than just convenient functionality that encompasses every aspect of daily life — it’s also a way to pay for goods and services using local payment systems such as WeChat, Alipay, and UnionPay. Debit cards have virtually become an anachronism there.

App Stores

This isn’t the best news for foreign developers — they’ll have to forget about PayPal, Visa, and Mastercard. But Apple has made things a lot easier by integrating Chinese payment systems into Apple Pay, and your revenue is sent to your account automatically. Apple isn’t the most popular brand in China, however. Only 22% of Chinese smartphones run on iOS. But an iPhone is still a status symbol in China.

Android has retained its huge lead — 76% of Chinese smartphones are Android-based. Okay, this is where things get really complicated.

In 2011, the government banned Google Play in China because it failed to meet the demands of a Chinese security project called the Great Firewall of China. Hundreds of local Android stores quickly took its place. According to AppInChina, the largest stores are:

App store

Daily active users

Huawei App Market

368 mil.

Oppo Software Store

210 mil.

Tencent My App

192 mil.

VIVO App Store

171 mil.

MIUI App Store

105 mil.

360 Mobile Assistant

76 mil.

Baidu Mobile Assistant

65 mil.

Samsung App Store

53 mil.

PP Assistant

16 mil.

Some of these stores — Huawei, Oppo, VIVO, and Samsung — belong to smartphone manufacturers, and their apps come pre-installed on many models. Tencent, whose platform is number three in China, is a technology giant, as well as the developer of the popular apps WeChat and QQ, which are mentioned below.

As a rule, large stores are either part of an existing advertising network (Tencent, 360, Baidu) or have their own. You can use them to promote your app, but only once it’s been approved for release.

Social Media

There are two other ways to promote your app: through a landing page or on social media. Websites work in a more or less familiar way, but things get more complicated when it comes to social media. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have also been banned by the Chinese government. Chinese people use QQ, WeChat, DingTalk, Lark, and other apps instead.

Chinese app

Western equivalent


WhatsApp + Facebook и т. д.



Sina Weibo






Tencent Video



Amazon + eBay







WeChat is a unique platform with an audience of about 1.16 billion. It’s both a social network and a collection of handy apps that cover every aspect of daily life, from minigames to food delivery. 1.1 billion transactions a day are made on these apps alone. WeChat has so much functionality and so many options that many users spend at least four hours a day on it, playing, chatting, paying for purchases, and using familiar services. This platform could be an excellent place for you to start.

You can also promote your app via Weibo, Douyin, and Baidu Ads accounts. But keep in mind that nice-looking banners and slogans probably aren’t going to cut it. Chinese people don’t care much for ads and prefer to carefully research a product before paying for it. If you want to earn their trust, you’ll have to post information about your app and facilitate feedback from your audience.

The Great Firewall of China

But these challenges are just the tip of the iceberg. The main problem faced by Western developers is the Great Firewall of China. About twenty years ago, this state-run project isolated China’s internet space from the rest of the world, creating a unique ecosystem. From a cyber-politics perspective, China became one of the most closed-off countries in the world.

The Chinese Mobile App Market

And the government’s demands on foreign companies have only become harsher since then. For example, they often ask developers to remove interface and design elements that could lead to addictive behavior. Having celebrities in an ad could get it blocked. Like it or not, if you want to break into the Chinese market, you’re going to have to adhere to all the country’s legal requirements. But the surprises don’t end there.

You’ll have to get lots of licenses and permits, as well as intellectual property rights for your app. Partnering with mobile stores, attracting traffic, and running ad campaigns will also require a number of documents, some of which are simply not available to foreign companies — they’re only for Chinese citizens. So what are you supposed to do?

You could create your own corporation in China, but this will require you to rent an office and hire staff. You could also sign a contract with local developers to promote your app in exchange for a percentage of the profits. Another option is to enlist the support of a partner (not for free, of course) to lead you through all the red tape, including all the countless evaluation stages, meetings, and negotiations.

Adapting Apps for Chinese Culture

But your adventure won’t end there. A simple translation into Chinese won’t be enough. You’ll have to adapt your app’s design, graphics, interface, etc. for the Chinese market.

These changes will probably extend to the name of your company as well. The Chinese government does everything in its power to preserve the purity of the Chinese language, so even famous brands have had to change their names for the Chinese market, typically choosing something that either sounds similar or has a similar meaning in Chinese. But you’ll definitely want to recruit Chinese natives for these linguistic experiments — a single inaccuracy could cost you your reputation.

You’ll also have to work on your app’s presentation. It’ll need to be even more vibrant, colorful, and flashy than it already is. Adapt screens for translation beforehand — Chinese text is much more compact than languages that use an alphabet.

And keep in mind that Chinese culture is steeped in mysticism and symbolism. Their holidays are based on an ancient lunar calendar. They treat numerology with great reverence, with certain numbers being lucky, others — unlucky. Familiarity with these and other cultural peculiarities could help you avoid stumbling blocks — and it’ll be useful for marketing purposes too.

There are countless nuances you’ll need to consider. You can learn more about them (and a whole lot more) in our articles:

The road to China is a hard one, and it’s bound by roadblocks at every turn. But Logrus IT’s team can help you localize your app and get it ready for the Chinese market.

Plus, you always have another crucial resource: other developers’ experience. Analyze your competitors’ strengths, plan your strategy several moves in advance, be patient, and one day the Great Wall of China will become a symbol of your personal victory.

Similar materials:

How Do You Localize an Online Store?

Localizing Marketing Materials for China

How to Localize a Mobile App

What You Need to Know about Website Localization

What is Gamification in Education?

What is e-learning?

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