This sponsored post is produced by Neumob.
Mobile app developers and app makers are bullish on China, and it’s little wonder. There’s something to be said for working to corner a market of well over half a billion mobile-savvy, smartphone-carrying consumers, despite the linguistic and cultural barriers to entry and the lengthened development timelines that come from trying to overcome them.
However, I see something far more daunting than an internal localization program and having to learn how to submit to Baidu and Tencent’s app stores, and it’s a problem that affects virtually all mobile apps, from mobile commerce to travel to games. It’s what happens when a combination of government firewalls, rapid network build-outs, a surging user base, legacy smartphones, and plain-old internet-to-mobile network handoffs result in sluggish app performance, app time-outs, and highly frustrated users.
Let’s take a look at why China is worth the struggle and demanding of a little extra attention at the same time.
The realities of Chinese mobile app churn
There’s little need to invest too much time in this piece on hyperbolic rhetoric on why China’s such a stunning technology market and how its consumer power to download, buy, and consume apps came to be so wildly strong. Just know that in 2015, Chinese app users, like their American counterparts, are spending 2 hours per day within apps, yet unlike Americans, they’re spending money hand over fist within apps like WeChat and others (for various reasons, paying for an app upfront is just not common practice in China).
Ad-monetized apps are also state of the art here. Forget the mobile web (aka browsers); for every 1 rmb of advertising campaigns spent on mobile web, there’s another 5 rmb spent by advertisers to reach consumers within Chinese mobile apps. Having a popular mobile app in China can clearly be a direct pathway to profits, whether it’s ad-supported or uses in-app upgrades or purchases to monetize.
Yet app retention is absolutely murderous in China, with the majority of apps unable to retain users after even a single week. It’s not merely fickleness at work here; there’s a cultural willingness to abandon apps quickly if they’re not performing to users’ liking.
What do we mean when we say this? Globally, we know that the number one reason users uninstall apps in the first place is slow speeds (both initial load times and in-app performance), with 48 percent of app users citing this as their chief reason for doing so, and 79 percent saying that they’ll only try an app 1-2 more times if it doesn’t work the first time. Given that, what do we know about the unique and convoluted ways in which mobile app traffic travels in China?
A cumbersome, circuitous Chinese mobile app experience
The path for content to travel within China in a cumbersome, circuitous, and difficult one. “The Great Chinese Firewall”, the Communist Party-mandated barrier that keeps Facebook, Twitter, most Google products, and many others from reaching Chinese consumers, has the effect of making mobile app performance in China highly unpredictable. On “normal” mobile networks — ones not subject to a government-mandated firewall — 70-90 percent of all app latency already occurs within the so-called last mile, the handoff from the edge of the Internet to the mobile network to your device.
In China, this mobile network problem is far bigger, as an app’s content has to go through standard fixed telecommunication companies’ lease lines, plus the mobile networks, through the firewall, and then travel backward and forward through this labyrinth multiple times just to bring you an app’s images, videos, advertisements and so on.
Moreover, Mainland China is only now rolling out 4G/LTE across the majority the country, leaving most Chinese users subject to the whims and vagaries of slower 2G and 3G networks when accessing apps. Is it any wonder Chinese users are churning through and deleting apps so quickly? The problem is one that frustrates many app developers and app product managers in the western world who’ve designed their apps with numerous third-party calls and all sorts of bells and whistles, only to see them “die on the vine” once they start traveling the twisted path of the Chinese Internet and app infrastructure.
What the SDK revolution does for chinese app performance
I’ve been working in the CDN industry — and now with a uniquely mobile-first CDN — long enough to know that China’s network issues are usually near the top of the list of every app developer and content provider’s must-solve issues. They want to continue to front-load their apps with new third-party data calls, mobile ad network SDKs, analytics tools, and the like, but they also want their apps to load quickly and deliver smooth, consistent performance, no matter where in the world the user happens to be: in China, Chile, the Congo, or Chicago.
Funny enough, it’s the same SDK revolution that’s helped to make apps so heavy and cumbersome in the first place that’s also a solution for speeding up content in difficult markets like China’s. The first step is to diagnose that there’s a performance problem to be reckoned with at all, which is a challenge if you’re a western app maker trying to figure out how your app’s performing in different parts of China.
Lightweight SDKs from analytics and performance experts such as Apteligent, New Relic, and AppDynamics have a big role to play here. App developers and app owners also now have off-the-shelf SDKs that they can easily integrate into their apps to provide instant mobile app acceleration, even on the world’s slowest (or most firewalled) networks. These help apps bypass the great Chinese firewall, while lessening the impact of all those third-party calls on app performance.
For the app owner looking to make money in China, the benefits that flow from focusing a bit more on “function”, as opposed to “fashion”, might be as simple as serving more advertisements to them; it might be higher in-app shopping cart conversions; it might even be Chinese users that stick around longer than a week and use the app more frequently because they know that it’s reliable, and that it will load when they want it to. You don’t need to necessarily be striking a hammer blow for freedom — perhaps ensuring a predictably smooth, speedy, and pleasurable mobile app experience for those half-billion smartphone-dependent Chinese app users is enough revolutionary activity for one day.
Jeff Kim is CEO of Neumob.
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