The Chinese mobile landscape is a fascinating market to study.

On the first hand we see a vast population over a very large and diverse geography.

This has been the perfect condition for fast mobile growth in recent years, even nearing 100% penetration as we enter 2016.

And while the market is certainly big, it is also somewhat hermetic, a trait I noticed of the broader digital landscape when writing my China: Digital Market Landscape Report back in 2012.

This is taken from my introduction to the report:

It is easy to see why the region is of interest to digital marketers and businesses. But China’s digital ecosystem has other unique traits…

For instance, government censorship and strict vetting processes across the internet, including on social media and search engines, can make online visibility difficult and unpredictable.

This has given rise to a number of state-friendly digital powerhouses such as Baidu, Tencent and Renren which take the place of western names like Google and Facebook.

Indeed, when it comes to mobile in the region, names such as Baidu and Tencent certainly dominate alongside others such as WeChat and QQ.

But as we can see from recent TalkingData statistics which looks specifically at the app market, Western names are gaining some surprisingly successful footholds in the market.

And just by the way, all the stats used in this post are included in the latest version of our Internet Statistics Compendium.

It’s updated monthly and covers 11 different topics from advertising, content, customer experience, mobile, ecommerce and social.

Leading apps in China are domestic

First, let’s look to some TalkingData stats released in October to get a top level view of the Chinese mobile app market.

Instant messaging service WeChat is the Chinese mobile app market leader, reaching more than 80% of all mobile users; nearly 1bn people.

QQ, another IM client, also reaches a good proportion of mobile users (75%) and also has a presence with its browser (QQ Mobile Browser) and music service (QQ Music).

Messaging apps certainly rule the roost, and domestic apps really do dominate the Top 20.

But international apps are making headway

While the above table doesn’t suggest that Western apps are being used on Chinese mobiles in any major way, further research by TalkingData actually suggests otherwise.

They found that 25% of the country’s mobile users have used at least one international app such as Facebook, Uber or Google Chrome.

This percentage might not seem like a lot, but actually equates to 310m people. For comparison, that’s nearly as many people as there are living in the United States.

Facebook pushes international social message app use

The appetite Chinese mobile users have for messaging and related tools is reflected in the international corner of the market too.

Social messaging apps make up more than 15% of the international app market in the region. Facebook is really driving this, being the number one international app on iOS devices.

It’s worth noting that iPhones account for the biggest share of the smartphone device market (more than 33% according to TrustData and China Internet Watch).

And Flipboard is big on Android

When it comes to Android devices, the key success story for international apps in China is Flipboard.

The social network aggregation app allows users to easily ‘flip’ between their various social networks, news and other feeds in an easy magazine-style tool.

And with the rich variety of social and information services on offer to Chinese consumers, one can see why such a tool has taken off so well in the market.

It is the leading international app on Android and is growing at an average monthly rate of 7.6% - although it does have some domestic competition from Zaker and Viva.

It's also worth remembering that Flipboard comes pre-installed on some Android devices.

Even so, these TalkingData statistics show that there is room in the China mobile market for international names to make an impact.

Domestic brands may have majority share of the app landscape, but the market’s size and diversity means that even seemingly small international services can still be of use to quite sizeable numbers of people provided they are – in essence – useful.

For more stats see our monthly-updated Internet Statistics Compendium.

Luke Richards

Published 15 December, 2015 by Luke Richards

Luke Richards is a freelance writer and a guest blogger on Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or check out his blog

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