5 Chinese online trends every developer needs to know about

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With 1.3 billion people supporting a booming mobile and software development industry, China is the blue whale of emerging tech markets. China will be the No. 1 market for Apple moving forward, but everyone in the mobile sector needs to think about how to develop for China’s market and work with Chinese developers, who have a much better understanding of the culture than we do.

With its recent deal to sell the iPhone on China Mobile, the world’s largest mobile carrier, Apple, looks to move an additional 20 to 40 million devices. Currently, China’s mobile market is dominated by Android devices (72% of phones shipped during 2013’s third quarter).

Samsung, Apple’s biggest rival, has been incredibly successful in China. In order to compete, we’re likely to see even cheaper iPhones than the iPhone 5c to accommodate lower-income Chinese consumers. When the iPhone 5c was introduced to the market, it was being sold for US$733, but this “low-cost” phone is still much more than Android devices, which are priced between $150 and $300 and account for 90% of handset sales. Xiaomi, one of the most successful Android device businesses based in China, introduced and sold out its US$99 Hongmi model in 36 seconds last year.

With such a large consumer base, now is a good time to familiarise yourself with a few cultural nuances to help you tackle this huge market.

1. China loves American products

The Chinese are obsessed with American consumerism. Iconic American brand names such as Apple, Coach, and Lady Gaga are coveted as status symbols in China. This doesn’t mean there aren’t just as many iconic Chinese brands — just understand that American culture is considered “hipper” or “cooler” in comparison to homegrown brands.

2. China loves shopping

Instead of Cyber Monday, China celebrates Singles’ Day, or Guanggun Jie, on November 11. On November 11, 2013, China set a world record for online sales, hitting US$5.8-billion in a 24-hour period. This shows us that, when given the chance to celebrate solo, the Chinese tend to do it online.

3. China loves gaming

If you’ve ever played World of Warcraft or EverQuest, you’ve likely heard of the prevalence of “gold mining” in China — powering through servers focusing more on earning gold than end-level gear. Not only does China have many dedicated MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) fans, but its mobile market was projected to surpass $1.2 billion in 2013, with card, racing, and fighting games leading the pack. China’s video game industry inspired U.S. gaming giants like EA and Zynga to implement the freemium model in their marketing strategies.

4. China loves free stuff, but will pay

The freemium model works well in China. In fact, it’s practically the standard. Chinese people don’t like paying up front for their apps and games. Instead, they prefer the à la carte nature of freemium choices. This may be due, in part, to the fact that many people don’t have credit cards, which are required to set up an iTunes or Google Checkout account.

In addition, since Google got kicked out of China, Google Play’s market is basically nonexistent. Instead, mobile users discover and download apps from sites like Qihoo 360, Wandoujia, China Mobile’s app store, and 91Mobiles. Developers need to implement carrier billing to charge individual customers and work on distributing their app through multiple mobile platforms.

5. China loves all-in-one apps

Chinese consumers prefer apps with multiple uses. In the U.S., apps like Instagram and Vine are great at one thing (sharing pictures and videos, respectively). In China, these features are integrated into a default messaging system, like WeChat. If you want to take up valuable real estate on a Chinese smartphone, your app needs to be a digital duct tape, able to perform a variety of tasks. Doing just one thing, no matter how well you do it, isn’t enough to penetrate the Chinese market, so consider partnering with other development teams to integrate and create suites of functionalities within your app.

As you can see, there are many factors to consider when developing your app or game for the Chinese mobile market. Chinese consumers have demands and priorities that are different than, and often foreshadow, American trends. It’s not as easy as simply adding Chinese language support (as MoboT¬ap learned with its Dolphin Browser launch in China) or translating your Twitter or Facebook campaigns (both sites are blocked).

It’s important to fully grasp the differences between both cultures in order to successfully penetrate China. Brand awareness and status still matter, but it’s equally essential to focus on functionality and quality. To capture the big blue whale in the market, you have to make sure you have the right net.

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