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5 Mobile Apps Chinese Smartphone Users Can’t Live Without

Spencer Ng is a client service associate director at TNS – a global market research firm. He is interested in anything mobile and currently runs Mobile Behave (a smartphone usage metering program) in key Asian markets. You can email him to find out more about the program.


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Headlines in the China chat app scene have recently been overtaken by WeChat. Only two years old, the mobile chat app has already accumulated a user-base of over 300 million users with a large majority of them in China. Understandably, WeChat is huge in terms of users, but before we think it has become the single dominant force in social/communication, it’s worthwhile to remind ourselves of the other apps that the Chinese use to connect with each other.

Leveraging TNS’s Mobile Behave (1) panel, we can measure the time smartphone users spend with any one particular app as a proportion of total time spent facing their smartphone screens. This enables us to get a handle on the relative time spent on different social/communication apps.

Looking first at Android – the top five mobile apps account for 34 percent of time spent on a smartphones. Predictably, the top five is dominated by the usual suspects such as UCWeb mobile browser (#1). However, it is followed closely by Mobile QQ and WeChat which account for nine percent and seven percent of time respectively. Sina Weibo comes in at four percent.

top 5 android china

With iOS, users gravitate most towards Mobile QQ, which has 15 percent of the total time spent on iOS devices. This is followed by Weibo (13 percent) and WeChat (10 percent). Finally, as one would expect with Apple users, entertainment is an important aspect of their lives – in line with this, PPS (a peer to peer streaming video network) is next in the top five and accounts for three percent of users’ time.

top 5 ios china

Clearly, people spend a large proportion of their mobile device time on apps like Weibo, WeChat and Mobile QQ. Be it Android or iOS, these three apps have secured a place in the top five and together account for a substantial amount of activity on the smartphone. Connectivity in the form of enhanced instant messaging is a key need in Chinese smartphone users’ lives.

While WeChat is garnering lots of attention, it’s useful to note that both Mobile QQ and Weibo are also apps that the Chinese are using extensively to connect with one another. Not surprisingly, Mobile QQ gets more use than WeChat given that it has a longer history (it has roots as a desktop IM app before coming up with a mobile app for smartphone users). But regardless of whether WeChat or Mobile QQ leads the pack, it’s a win-win situation for Tencent, since it owns both platforms.

However, given the rapid pace at which the mobile app scene is developing, it’s anybody’s guess what the chat app scene will look like several more months down the line. Who would have known that WeChat, which only had 100 million users a year ago, would enjoy a growth trajectory that would rival the likes of Whatsapp on the international scene?


(1) TNS has actual behavioral metrics captured via an app installed on our smartphone user panels.


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