10 Alternative Android App Stores From China [2012 Edition]

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Pictured left-to-right: Wandoujia, D.cn Games Center, and Baidu App Store.

Third-party Android app stores in China are looking stronger and more numerous than ever – and a lot prettier too. Last summer I profiled eight of them; now it’s time to look again at all the alternative Android stores out there and pick, this time, ten that look to be the most dynamic and interesting.

The good news is that the stores look better than ever. Bad news is that piracy is still rife, and there’s still the risk of malware getting into these stores with such lax gate-keeping. Also, no-one has effectively tackled the Android app payment problem in China, leaving the whole sector oriented towards free and ad-based apps.

Google Play, the official Android store, is mostly by-passed in China by both developers and consumers, and lacks support for paid apps. That means these third-party stores are still as needed as ever. Here’s my 10-strong list:

The 10 Contenders

  1. Baidu App Store (link). This first one is actually an aggregator, picking out apps from numerous third-party stores (including some of those listed below). But it’s significant as it’s new and comes from Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU), China’s leading search engine. This freemium app store is linked prominently on the Baidu mobile frontpage. It comes with its own app.

  2. Tencent App Gem (link). Yes, China’s other web giant, Tencent (HKG:0700), is in on the app-tastic Android action as well. This has changed its name, URL, and look since last summer, which is a bit confusing. It’s still loosely tied in to Tencent’s “iTunes for Android” app that allows for Android-to-PC syncing. Tencent App Gem comes in the form of an app, as well as a separate version of the store for Android tablets.

  3. Wandoujia (link), or SnapPea in English (link). Speaking of desktop syncing apps, Wandoujia was the first to figure that Chinese smartphone users are not overly fond of managing everything in the cloud. And so it comes with an extensive app store, a mobile app store, and a PC syncing app. Wandoujia has been raising its profile this year with some interesting tie-ups, such as getting first dibs (well, along with AppChina) on the ‘China edition’ of Flipboard for Android. It’s actually an aggregator and doesn’t host the apps itself.

    The Beijing-based startup has also – uniquely among these third-party stores – decided to go global, launching last month as SnapPea. But for the global version there’s no website-based app store.

  4. AppChina (link). As mentioned above, AppChina has been trying to be more creative so as to stand out from the crowd. It has also revamped its website, and it now looks superb – the best of the bunch here, I reckon. It’s also – as it started to do last year – being very pro-active with local developers. Since looking at this last summer, AppChina wrapped up first-round funding worth 40 million RMB (then US$6.35 million) in February of this year.

  5. D.cn Games Center (link) has been revamped and tidied up a lot to look more professional. Last year it looked so bad that I left it off my previous list. It now has a sweet-looking Android app (see it here) for accessing the store. Its naming indicates that it focuses on games, but there are regular apps in there too. D.cn – or “Dang Le” in its Chinese name – has long been an official partner of Rovio Mobile for distributing the free-with-ads versions of Angry Birds titles.

  6. Gfan (link). Another startup app store to have had a recent face-lift, this has grown from being a BBS board into a fully-fledged store. We hear that it’s planning more tie-ups than ever before with developers and games studios alike.

  7. Anzhi (link) was formerly called GoAPK. It’s still very widely used thanks to its rather dodgy tactic of being pre-installed by many smartphone “grey importers” on phones that are smuggled in, tax-free, over a border and into China. Anzhi is presumably paying-off whoever “flashes” those Android phones – it’s just one method of user acquisition, I guess. This is why you should, as a foreigner, be immensely careful when buying an Android phone in China – it’ll probably be pre-flashed and had the Google Play store ripped out. In fact, just don’t buy an Android phone or tablet when visiting China.

  8. HiAPK (link) is another one that, like, Anzhi, has grown via the most dubious method imaginable. Nonetheless, its mobile store app is regularly updated and now looks better than ever.

  9. N-Duo Market (link). It’s good to see the startup site has also been prettified and now includes a very useful section devoted to Android tablet apps.

  10. Taobao App Market (link) was launched last month, marking a curious entry by China’s biggest e-commerce site into the Android app scene. Perhaps this one could actually solve the Android e-payment issue in China as it’s run by Alibaba, which also operates the massive Alipay online payment platform. But for now, it’s just another third-party app store.

The only store to have been dumped from the list from last year is EOE Market, which looks to be little used relative to the others. For example, the phenomenally popular messaging app Weixin (or WeChat in English) has only had a few million downloads on EOE Market, compared to the tens of millions via most of the other stores.

Now, which of those 10 on the list are actually going to do something really innovative and useful, such as sorting out the e-payments situation? It really is about time.

[UPDATE a few hours after publishing: Added in a detail about Wandoujia, and a relevant link added to the Gfan entry]

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