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By Matt Tubergen, EVP of global strategy and corporate development at Digital Turbine

China has seen a tremendous rise in its manufacturing of mobile phones, part of a nationwide push to raise spending on research and development for major technology breakthroughs by 7% annually from 2021 through 2025. It’s part of the country’s “century transition,” which aims to pull ahead in economic growth.

The average smartphone in China has more than 60 apps. Users there spend 5.1 hours a day consuming and creating content. There’s a lot of opportunity for app developers and advertisers in terms of China smartphones. 

Here are five tips for acquiring smartphone users in China: 

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1. Understand privacy laws 

One of the challenges marketers face when it comes to acquiring users in the China market has to do with privacy laws, which may soon be even stronger than in the U.S. when it comes to collecting data. The country’s new Personal Information Protection Law (PIPL), similar to the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, went into effect on November 1, 2021, and changed how data can be used. 

It not only dictates how data is collected, stored, and used in China, but also lays out requirements for companies based outside of China. That includes passing a security assessment conducted by state authorities. 

It also requires that foreign companies processing personal data to provide products and services to Chinese consumers, and analyzing the behavior of Chinese consumers, must have designated agencies or representatives in China to manage personal data protection. 

2. Localize, localize, localize 

There are some unique barriers for app developers and advertisers wanting to enter the China market. It’s critical to carefully research an app’s user interface and experience to localize it appropriately for China. 

Developers should note that apps in China have a very different look than we are used to in the U.S. Even professional apps designed for business have a busier look and use toy-like design and anime-like characters. Apps designed for a Western audience don’t “look right” to a China audience and aren’t as well used. 

In addition to different app standards, apps require at least six licenses and permits. Because almost everything in China goes through WeChat, for instance, an app needs a WeChat login, which requires a permit. Apps also need to be in Mandarin, though they might also have an English interface. 

3. Navigating different app stores in China

Because China-based OEMs are banned from Google Play along with many core Google Play Services, they are developing their own ecosystems. They are creating their own app stores, ad networks, payment platforms, and distribution services. 

Android has more than 70% of market share in China, and there are many different app stores to download Android apps from. None, though, are Google Play, which isn’t even pre-installed on Android phones sold in China. It’s a challenge for developers to support dozens of distribution models instead of primarily relying on the Apple Store and Google Play.  

There are services and providers that can help developers port games and apps across a series of app stores, such as Flexion. They handle much of the complexities and challenges.

Other challenges: 

  • Having to publish multiple Android Package Kits (APKs) per app store will make their management more complex. 
  • Different app stores’ support can mean different billing platforms that are separate and distinct from each other.
  • Each app store may have different merchandise price points. 
  • It’s possible that further embargoes could mean more blockades.  

4. Payment methods in China 

It’s important to realize how payments are made in China. Chinese citizens rarely use debit cards, credit cards, or cash. They almost exclusively pay using a QR code on their phone, whether it’s for a big-ticket item, a utility bill, or a snack on the street. 

A PWC survey found that in 2019, 86% of China’s population used mobile payment apps. That’s by far the highest rate in the world. 

More than 90% of mobile payments go through the “super apps” Alipay and WeChat Pay, and they’re inexpensive and easy to use. Super apps are well-used platforms that provide access to a large variety of services — everything from ordering groceries to making a doctor’s appointment, calling a taxi, reimbursing a friend, and managing your finances. They eliminate the need to have multiple apps for various services. 

5. Capture the China app user experience 

In addition to “all in one” apps, which combine a variety of services in one app, the user experience in China differs in other ways. For example:

  • Chinese apps tend to use brighter colors than we’re used to in the U.S. 
  • QR codes are everywhere — for adding someone to your contacts, paying, logging into websites, and on ads. Even street vendors accept payment by QR code. 
  • Chinese apps accept Latin characters as search terms and return Chinese-language results. 
  • You can use both voice and messaging with chatbots. 

Taking advantage of the strategies above — by localizing content, designing an app specifically to China standards, researching necessary licenses and permits, and understanding Chinese payment methods, to name just a few — can help app developers and advertisers acquire users in the enormous China market.

Matt Tubergen is the EVP of global strategy and corporate development Digital Turbine.

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