A mobile platform is only as strong as its app line-up, which in turn relies on the co-operation and keenness of app developers. But looking at the situation in China, amongst Chinese startups and major web companies alike, the picture doesn’t look too good for Google’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android OS, with its official app store, now called Google Play, generally being subverted and/or ignored. Instead, every single one of the Chinese apps we surveyed gave the Android app ‘.apk’ file directly to consumers, with very few app developers even linking to the Play Store from their respective homepages.
Many are still using Google Play (formerly dubbed the Android Market), but seemingly only as a minor distribution channel. The Google Play store doesn’t support paid apps in China and many overseas developers choose not to publish their apps to local consumers on it. As so often occurs in China, local services have sprung up to fill in the gaps – done with a mixture of piracy and legitimate alternative app distribution. That’s the scene with the dozens of alternative Android app stores that have sprung up in the past year or so. A case in point is the newly-released Temple Run game, which is not in the Google Play store, but is easily available on other stores, such as by browsing through the Baidu app catalog which lists items from numerous third-party Chinese Android stores.
But let’s just focus on Chinese-made apps in this survey. I looked at 50 local apps, from tiny startups to well-established independent apps – like Jiepang – to those made by major web companies such as Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU) and Tencent (HKG:0700). I then noted three things: which apps were given to people as ‘.apk’ files from the app homepage; which apps were available on the Play Store; and which developers actually guided consumers to the Play Store to get their apps:
As you can see, then tendency is to distribute apps very directly, as occurred with all 50 of the surveyed apps. Only in eight out of 50 cases did the app homepage additionally encourage usage of the Play Store and linked to it as well. Generally, developers were more likely to guide users to local app stores instead (not indicated in the graph).
Smaller startups were less likely to have put their apps on Google Play, even though they had done so for the iOS version of their app with Apple’s iTunes app store. The full table (bottom) shows those very early startups listed along with their Chinese names. All the other apps will be familiar to regular readers – and so are given only with their English names – as we’ve covered and/or reviewed all of them before.
One final point. Yesterday we reported that Tencent’s hit group-messaging app, Weixin, had hit 100 million users. To hit such a major milestone, you’d expect the Weixin app to have been downloaded at least twice as many times as that across all four platforms that it’s on. But, looking at the app’s listing in the Play Store, the vague Google stat says it has been downloaded “1,000,000 – 5,000,000” times. If, say, a quarter of Android users are on Weixin, then that figure ought to be higher. Even the most popular app in the country, QQ instant messenger, has had only the same number of downloads for its outgoing 2011 version on the Play Store. Clearly, Chinese Android users – despite being huge fans of the smartphone OS – are getting their apps elsewhere.
We did contact Google about this; though Asia-based staff showed an interest in the findings, no-one on the Android team in the US could be drawn to comment.
Here are all the 50 Chinese-made apps I surveyed: