Interested in knowing how to launch an app in China?
The Chinese app market is huge and it presents enormous opportunities for growth for companies that are willing to take the chance. Let’s see in detail how you can launch an app in China.
The Smartphone User Base in China: A Vast Market
Why do we say that you can’t overlook Chinese users when you think of offering a mobile app for the global market? Well, smartphone penetration is huge in China.
According to Statista, on average, Chinese mobile users have 65 mobile apps installed on their smartphones and they spend 5.1 hours a day using these apps. Moreover, China is leading the list of total smartphone users in a country with over 911 million smartphone users today.
You can read “Number of smartphone users in China from 2017 to 2023” to learn more about this projection, however, don’t be surprised if China surpasses this projection! After all, this report had projected 748.3 million smartphone users in China in 2019. As we have already seen, China has surpassed this!
If you are targeting specific geography, e.g., North America, with your mobile app, then the massive user base in China isn’t that relevant to you. However, if you are launching an app targeting a global user base, then you simply can’t ignore the Chinese users!
Which mobile operating systems dominate the Chinese market? Well, Android and iOS hold 99.24% of the Chinese market between them. As of April 2022, Android has a 77.99% market share in China, whereas iOS holds a 21.4% market share.
Read more about this in “Mobile operating system market share China”.
Internet Censorship in Mainland China: An Altogether Different Ball-Game
Most of us take access to the Internet for granted, don’t we? Well, it’s quite different in China, and that has a substantial impact on the market for apps in this country.
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China imposes significant restrictions on its Internet users. The Chinese government has enacted stringent regulations that aid in Internet censorship. It also works with telecommunications and technology companies in the country to implement technical measures to censor the Internet.
According to a Freedom House report, China is one of those countries that provide the least Internet freedom. The report cites various aspects to substantiate its conclusion, e.g., obstacles to access, limits on content, etc.
China is further tightening its Internet censorship with more regulations, which can help the Chinese government to categorize content on the Internet as illegal. Read “China’s new Internet-censorship rules highlight the role of algorithms” for more information.
China has implemented a vast array of technical measures to censor the Internet, and it’s commonly known as the “Great Firewall of China”. The country blocks Google, Facebook, YouTube, etc., and Apple had to delete apps from its app store to satisfy the Chinese government.
Read “The Great Firewall of China” for more insights. It is sufficient to say that you need to do things quite differently if you plan to launch an app in China, and we will touch upon this aspect shortly.
Note that Hong Kong, a “Special Administrative Region” (SAR) in China isn’t subject to this kind of Internet censorship. Although Hong Kong is part of the “People’s Republic of China” (PROC), it has its own governance and legal systems.
As part of the “One Country, Two Systems” arrangement, Hong Kong has substantial autonomy. You can read more about this in this Wikipedia entry about the “Great Firewall”.
Let’s now take a deep dive into how you can launch an app in China.
Launch an App in China
You will follow the following steps to launch an app in China:
1. Prepare to comply with the regulations of the People’s Republic of China
If you are launching an app in China, then you are going to operate a business in that country. This is the very first thing that you need to realize, therefore, prepare to comply with the app compliance laws in China.
Take the following important steps:
- Understand how you can operate a business in China and choose an option. There are a few options for you in terms of the operating structure, e.g., “Wholly-owned foreign enterprise”, “Contractual or Cooperative Joint Venture”, “Equity Joint Venture”, etc. Discuss with experts and choose the option that works for you.
- Accurately define the scope and nature of your business.
- Choose a cost-effective location for your business in China.
- Learn about your minimum registered capital requirements, and prepare accordingly.
- Familiarise yourself with Chinese labor laws.
- If you are working with a Chinese partner, conduct a thorough background check before entering into a contractual arrangement.
- Create an effective employee management system that you will use in China.
- Prepare to meet the legal requirements of running a business in China.
- Plan to protect your “Intellectual Property” (IP) rights.
Read “10 things you should know about starting a business in China” for more information.
2. Launching an app in China? Familiarize yourself with the app stores in China
What do you do when you plan to launch a mobile app in most countries? Well, if you are launching an iOS app, then you submit it to the Apple App Store. On the other hand, if you are offering an Android app, then you will publish it to Google Play.
The scenario differs significantly in China. Well, you still have the Apple App Store in China, however, it’s in Chinese. You will need to provide the content for the Apple App Store in Chinese.
The situation changes drastically for Android users since China blocks Google Play. If you are offering an Android app, then you will need to choose one or more Android app stores that are popular in China. The following are a few examples of popular app stores in China:
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- Tencent MyApp App Store;
- Oppo App Store;
- Huawei App Store;
- 360 Mobile Assistant;
- Xiaomi App Store;
- Baidu Mobile Assistant;
- VIVO App Store.
Read more about popular Chinese App Stores in “Chinese app store list: Top 10 app stores in China”. Keep in mind that there are many app stores in China for Android apps, however, you can focus on making your app available in the top 10 app stores.
3. Value cultural sensitivity when you create an app for the Chinese market
China is an ancient civilization, and the Chinese people retain their ancient culture while embracing modernity. The country has plenty of diversity vis-à-vis ethnicity, language, religion, art, food, and customs.
Chinese people celebrate their festivals enthusiastically, and festivals like the “Spring Festival” attract massive public participation. Read more about Chinese culture in “Chinese Culture: customs & Traditions of China”.
Pay close attention to the unique cultural traits of the country and design the content in your app in accordance with them. This will help you to attract and retain Chinese users.
Which language should you use in your app? While China is a vast country with many languages, the national language is known as “Standard Chinese”. It’s spoken widely in mainland China, and the language is also known as “Standard Mandarin”.
While “Standard Chinese” is a standardized dialect of the Mandarin language, it also includes several aspects of quite a few other common dialects. Chinese people refer to it as “Putonghua”, which means “common speech”. Read more about this in “What languages are spoken In China?”.
4. Design the UI of your app keeping your Chinese audience in mind
Do you mostly use apps offered by North American or Western European businesses? You likely see “User Interface” (UI) designs that are minimalist, and the popular apps you use probably minimize clutter to a great extent.
What if you try to use the same UI design style for launching an app in China? Well, you might not meet with success!
Popular Chinese apps have UIs that present a lot of text and information, moreover, they contain many “Call To Action” (CTA) links/buttons. The concentration of texts, information, and CTAs on the UI of these apps is significantly higher than the apps that are popular in the Western world.
There are many reasons for this key difference, e.g., the inherent complexity in the characters of the Chinese language script. Read more about this in “Battle of the Chinese vs Western style UI & UX”.
Keep in mind that your UI design needs to appeal to your audience, and if you are launching an app in China, then it needs to appeal to the Chinese people. Design your app UI accordingly.
5. Integrate with the Chinese social media platforms when you launch an app in China
Are you planning to incorporate social media integration into your app? Well, you would likely think of using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and WhatsApp integration, wouldn’t you? Except, that wouldn’t quite work in China!
The Chinese government has banned Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and WhatsApp, therefore, you need to look for their Chinese alternatives. Consider integrating your app with the following social media platforms in China:
- WeChat: It’s a very popular chat app in China. For the Chinese people, it’s the alternative to WhatsApp.
- Weibo: A microblogging platform, Weibo is the alternative to Twitter in China.
- Youku Tudou: This is the Chinese alternative to YouTube.
Read more about these platforms in “China’s Facebook and other social media platform alternatives”.
6. Find Chinese alternatives for common services
You have likely planned to offer several common features as part of your app, e.g., “push notifications”, an integration with a mapping service, etc. If you are launching your app in most places other than China, you will likely use popular services to offer these features.
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Let’s see the following examples:
- You could use the “Apple Push Notifications Service” (APNS) to offer the “push notifications” feature in your iOS app.
- You would likely use “Google Cloud Messaging” (GCM) or “Firebase Cloud Messaging” (FCM) services to incorporate the “push notifications” feature in your Android app.
- For mapping integration, you will likely use the “Google Maps Platform”.
You need to do things quite differently in China, though! While APNS works in China, GCM, and FCM don’t. You will need to use Chinese alternatives like “Baidu Push”, “jPush”, etc. Read more about this in “Which third-party chat API works and provides the push notification feature in China?”.
The “Google Maps Platform” doesn’t work in China, therefore, you need to use a Chinese alternative. You could integrate “Baidu Maps” or “OsmAnd Maps” into your app. Read “How to use Google Maps in China (plus best alternatives)” to learn more about these Chinese mapping platforms.
How about payment services? If you are targeting the North American or Western European markets, you will likely integrate Stripe or similar payment services into your app. The scenario is quite different in China, where these payment providers face very stiff competition.
Payment service providers like Stripe are entering into agreements with Chinese payment providers like Alipay and WeChat Pay, which allow them to gain access to the Chinese market. Read more about this in “Stripe Strikes Alipay and WeChat Pay Deal for China Access”.
However, at the time of writing this guide, I recommend that you integrate Chinese payment providers like WeChat Pay or Alipay while creating an app for the Chinese market. This will help you to offer the “in-app purchase” feature relatively easily in China.
Planning to Launch an App in China?
As you can see, the Chinese market is quite different. There are many reasons for this, e.g., Internet censorship, the dominance of the local players, etc. You need to successfully navigate the complexities arising out of this, which will improve your chances of success.
When you launch an app in complex geography, then you should prepare for a complex project. I recommend that you engage a reputed software development company for such a project, and read our guide “How to find the best software development company?” to find one.
DevTeam.Space can help you with the complex project of launching a mobile in the Chinese market. We have a field-expert software developers community vetted for expertise in the latest development technologies and an AI-powered project management process in place to help you manage your app developers and their work.
You, as a business CEO or CTO, can easily partner with these mobile app developers by writing your initial app development and release requirements via this form and one of our account managers will get back to you to provide further assistance.
Frequently Asked Questions
Launching an app in the Chinese market can mean significant new numbers of users and profits. Read this guide for more information.
You will need to make sure that it complies with the terms and regulations for both the Chinese app store and government regulations. Read this article for more information.
The current political situation makes launching an app in China a huge risk. However, it is certainly worth doing a detailed risk assessment before you make your decision.