Just as the entire Android system is largely open, so the method of getting apps onto Google’s mobile OS is also unfettered. In most of the rest of the world, the official Android Market suffices as the primary app source – but in China, the situation has evolved quite differently. That’s where dozens of app stores – some legitimate; some dodgy – come into play.
Statistics from research firm DCCI suggest that Android has 23 percent of global mobile OS market share, with Symbian still the leader at 29 percent. But, as the graph below shows, the two platforms are on opposing trajectories. Google’s Android – with its spread of low-end $100 phones, up to dual-core iPhone 4 competitors – will soon exceed Symbian’s worldwide usage in a few months time. It’ll take a bit longer in China; but it’s heading the same way.
Estimates vary on the number of Android smartphones in use in China. They range from 10 to 18 million, and likely beat Apple’s iPhone by virtue of catering to a wider range of budgets. But Google (NSDQ: GOOG) has not been able to implement paid apps support in China, which leaves a large market open to cater to the needs of China’s smartphone-toting app lovers. So, skip past the graph for eight hip and happening unofficial app stores that are fighting for the attention of these millions of app consumers.
The Eight Contenders
1. Tencent’s App Store arrived on the scene last week, just in time to complement its desktop syncing Tencent App Assistant from last month. It’s a very social store, allowing for login with a QQ number, and features sharing and commenting on the apps in the store. Between this and its desktop counterpart, it seems that Tencent is implementing app, photo, and music sharing on Android better than Google is managing it. Take a look here.
2. PeaPod is a Chinese start-up that got into the Android syncing business earlier than most, and is the only other example of opting for a desktop-only approach to a Chinese-made Android store. It’s an Innovation Works product, which means the firm has been incubated by Li Kai-fu, one of China’s leading web gurus and entrepreneurs (and former head of Google China). Innovation Works got itself another $180 million in funding last week – this time from Silicon Valley. Check out Peapod over here.
3. AppChina is another young company to have benefitted from an input of cash and know-how from Innovation Works. This association means that it has become tied to the Android-based mobile OS Tapas, made by Diaxin, which is also backed by Mr. Li, and will likely come pre-installed on future Tapas OS devices. AppChina gives the option of downloading an app from its site straight into the afore-mentioned PeaPod desktop utility. Have a poke around AppChina here.
4. HiMarket / HiAPK has had funding from NetDragon, which we encountered last week in a list of market revenue from online gaming in China (though NetDragon raked in only 1.5 percent of the total). Its HiMarket, as with numbers three to eight on this list, can be added to any existing Android app. Alternatively, it can often be found pre-installed on grey-import devices, especially on enormously popular unlocked HTC smartphones. Check out the app here.
5. GoMarket / GoAPK grew out of its riotously popular BBS, where users share free and pirated apps. Now a standalone market app – again, often found pre-installed on bootleg (but genuine) HTC phones in China – it features ad-supported or mostly licensed apps that it publishes with the overseas developer’s consent, in a similar manner to all the other stores on this list. Back in June it got $1 million in funding from Chines tech giant Shanda (NSDQ: SNDA). Take a peek at it here.
6. N-Duo Market / Nduoa had been graced in the past with backing from Shanda, but that has fizzled out. Nonetheless, it is soldiering on, and has one of the best-looking tablet versions of its marketplace app. Give it a look over on this link.
7. EOE Market brings us closer to the periphary, where smaller players struggle to survive on the advertising and distribution revenue of their marketplaces. Despite no reported funding, EOE is looking in good shape, with deals to distribute most of China’s popular apps – including the ubiquitous Angry Birds. Take a look here.
8. Lastly, GFans leads us to the grassroots of Android app sharing in China. Although it started out as a mere forum – replete with piracy of paid apps – GFans has gone through some revamps and rethinks to make it into a fairly popular and pretty much legit app spource. It’s also thinking ahead, with a cute tablet version of its own app store.
So, there’s the list. As Android edges towards 20 million users in China, these stores have some chance to build on the popularity of Google’s Android, and build up their start-up into the bargain.
Of course, China’s three telcos have app stores of their own, but they lack the range and selection of these other marketplaces, making them something of a ‘chump-choice’ for people who haven’t figured out where to get other stuff. Which is a pity, as no-one has yet properly figured out a decent app payment system in China. The telcos have implemented carrier billing, but their paltry offerings are not yet convincing enough for it to take off.
» This article was first published by Penn Olson, The Asian Tech Catalog, and is reproduced here with permission.
This article originally appeared in Penn Olson.