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Apps, OSes, and devices: how China’s mobile internet usage has grown

In the gradual but massive shift to the mobile internet, Asia is leading the way. The continent has seen 192.5% growth in mobile internet traffic in recent years — way more than any other region. Pushing all this forward is China, with just over a billion mobile subscribers, coupled with a fast-expanding middle class that’s taking Asia’s mobile web the way of smartphones and 3G connectivity.

Tech In Asia
Tech in Asia is an online technology news startup based in Asia, with team members all across the region. As a crew of journalists and bloggers with... More

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Let’s unpack China’s role in this — from apps to mobile OS to lifestyles — with help from a new report from UCWeb. This infographic uses data from Statcounter. And bear in mind here that Cisco has projected (as cited by UCWeb) that Asia, with all that growth, will generate the most mobile internet traffic in the world by 2015.

To back up Cisco’s vision, this graph highlights the sheer number of people and mobiles in China in 2015 that’ll be generating all those mobile web clicks and swipes:

And, as we already know, the turning point has already been reached, with mobile internet users surpassing in number those on desktop PCs earlier this year in China:

Of course, everybody needs to be included in the mobile web so that things like m-commerce can prosper. Budget smartphones will be at the heart of that, and Chinese phone-makers have been particularly adept at making sub–1,000 RMB (US$158) and off-contract devices that are attractive and open up the whole world of Android apps:

That socioeconomic need for a fairer range of prices in smartphones has helped keep Nokia afloat in China for a while – but Nokia’s old Symbian phones are still plummeting in demand among consumers. And so China is an Android nation, with the iPhone accounting for only 7.5% of smartphone market share in the country at 2012 Q2 (in contrast to 34% for the iPhone in the US). Most of those Samsung, Lenovo, Coolpad, Huawei, and ZTE sales are Android phones:

Mind the cultural gap
So, despite the strength of China’s mobile internet, there are significant differences to look out for, especially for app developers. One we’ve often discussed is the range of third-party app stores that Chinese consumers tend to use — particularly for Android. Whereas US consumers stick to iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon (with perhaps a bit of piracy thrown in), Chinese smartphone users trawl a mixture of sources — apparently preferring that to being locked into Apple’s or Google’s overbearing ecosystem:

Other divergences to look out for in China and Asia, points out the UCWeb report, include an aversion to paid apps in many markets (not counting in Japan or South Korea), necessitating free apps with ads, or a freemium model that’s backed up by in-app purchases.

Even everyday lifestyle patterns in China and the region make the mobile web an important part of life, such as a large percentage of the populace — relative to the west — living in urban environments. That means that phones and the web become a part of commuting, with more screen time available. Also, social activities in Asia and China tend to be more communal, and so apps and the web have become integral to socializing in China too.

One final point is that — and bear in mind this report comes from the makers of a web browser — but mobile browsers are more important as must-have apps to Chinese than to Americans. And so browser makers need to remember to offer up a range of content to Asian browser users as soon as they start an app, not just show a dumb blank page like Apple’s Mobile Safari, or just a bunch of bookmarks like Google’s Chrome for Android.

This article by Steven Millward originally appeared on Tech in Asia and was published with permission.