So you have put your blood, sweat and tears into creating a cool app, which has already gained a large number of active users in your country. Now you want to expand, and what better place to consider than China, right? With almost 700 million smart phone users and digital ad spending of over 50 billion US Dollars, it has become hard to ignore the market opportunities that China presents.
However, localizing your app for China isn’t as simple as translating content and putting it out there. It requires a deeper understanding of the culture, regulations, user preferences, billing systems, and of course how to adapt to the market beyond the great firewall.
We often get approached by companies who want to know how much it would cost to customize their app for China, and the answer is anywhere between $1000 - $50,000. This may sound like a wide range, but it is reflective of the many different approaches you could take, some simple, some more complex, to reach your goal. As a starting point here some key elements of localization that need to be considered before you launch your app.
Translating the app and hosting it on servers outside of China would be the quickest, most economical approach but not the most efficient one. Note that if your app is content heavy, not only will the language require translation, but also the context and writing style. Chinese Internet users have their own set of online slang terms that are considered cool (网络用语), and you may use lose eyeballs if your content doesn’t seem up-to-date.
Getting around Google services
It’s pretty well known now that Google is blocked in China. So you will have to find alternatives to the Google APIs your app may use, example Baidu Maps instead of Google Maps, Microsoft translator instead of Google translator.
Launching in Android stores
As an extension to the above point, Google Play being blocked in China means that Android users have to find alternative sources to download their apps. The challenge is that there isn’t just one popular store. Instead sales of Android apps are distributed across several platforms such as Tencent MyApp (24.7%), 360 Mobile Assistant (15.5%), Xiaomi App Store (13.0%), Huawei (10.5%), OPPO (7.4%) among others. Each has their own set of regulations and procedures to follow, so launching on all the stores can be a cumbersome process.
ReignDesign works with an experienced partner agency to help international companies navigate through this process. Occasionally, when time or budget are constraints, we help clients to create a web landing page with self hosted APK.
WeChat / WeiBo
It is practically impossible to succeed in the Chinese market without embedding the local social media, especially WeChat. Users spend up to 4 hours a day on WeChat using it to plan their entire day including communication with friends and colleagues, reading news, sharing links, ordering takeout, shopping etc. WeiBo, a relatively smaller yet nevertheless powerful social media, is a blog style platform, which users frequent to follow their favorite brands, celebrities or bloggers.
Billing Options – WeChat and Alipay
If your app involves making monetary transactions, then including the local e-payment options WeChat Pay (微信支付）and Alipay（支付宝）are a must. You can read more about the popularity of mobile payments in China in this article on our blog: China Already Went Cashless
Local sign-in options
Chinese users are used to simple sign-in processes and using WeChat or SMS code are much more popular than say email or Facebook (also blocked).
Local vs. International Servers
One of the important decisions that you will have to make will be where to host your app. While international servers can seem like the easy answer, it can greatly affect the speed and functionality of the app. Local servers provide the better user experience but you will need to have a local company, and an associated ICP license to purchase space. This is not a difficult process, but can take a fair amount of time so plan ahead.
UX and UI Review
Finally, delighting Chinese users is very dependent on understanding their browsing preferences. In our years of experience building both Chinese and international apps we have often noticed how intuition guides Chinese users to navigate the app in a different way. A simple example is that Chinese users are adept at navigating and finding information on content heavy screens, and in fact prefer to have a lot of information packed into small space.
To be more geared towards local tastes we have helped several clients conduct UX and UI reviews to see if making tweaks could improve the local user experience. To do this we take a look at the existing app, apply our knowledge and experience to suggest changes, and help implement those changes.
In some cases, we even suggest conducting in-depth research prior to launch in the form of large scale user testing. For example when a popular sports app wanted to launch in China, we created two black and white prototypes, one closely modeled around the international app, and another specially created to fit (predicted) local tastes. We then conducted user tests with their local target audience, filming the process, and collecting valuable feedback to create the blueprint for their China app strategy.
The above are some general pointers, and depending on your specific app, other factors may also be applicable. You can always reach out to our team for more information if you plan to make your big China debut.