The Pushers behind China iPhone Applications

According to statistics, there are already more than 2 million iPhones in China, and the number is expected to rise after the recent official launch of Apple’s iPhone 3G by China Unicom. Apart from the reported pushers, apple and China Unicom, there are a lot of invisible pushes who accelerates the apple popularity.

Even before the Apple smart phone was officially launched in China, Chinese and foreign firms have been releasing applictions targeting China’s iPhone users, among which the most popular ones are Chinese-English dictionaries and Chinese city maps.
Big local companies have already rushed to the market. Leading Web portal has provided users with Chinese news on the iPhone App Store and enable them to update their blogs via iPhone. Tencent, the Internet company that runs the popular Chinese instant messaging system QQ, also offers QQ for iPhone users in and outside China.

Smaller businesses and individual developers are also aims at the market. Below are the conversation between The Wall Street Journal and a couple of the folks behind some of China iPhone apps.

Mao Guangcan is CEO of Beijing-based tech company Colorme Info Tech, which has an iPhone development team working in its mobile applications division, HandCN. Shi Weixing, founder and CEO of mobile application Service Company 9thQ, previously led the iPhone app team at HandCN, but his current venture takes a different route. While Mao’s company seeks to cash in the iPhone game mania, Shi sees even bigger opportunities in other areas.

The Wall Street Journal: When did you start developing apps especially for iPhone? Why?

Mr. Mao: We have been developing iPhone apps since October 2008. We think the prospects for iPhone apps are pretty good. Now we have our own iPhone developing team, and also have team developing mobile application services on GPhone.

Mr. Shi: When Apple first launched its SDK and App Store, I strongly believed that it was set to be an attractive, energetic and innovative platform, and my team was the first to carry out app development for iPhone [in China].

WSJ: What apps have you developed so far?

Mr. Mao: We’ve so far published a total of 15 apps. These include the e-book reading tool My Reader and 14 game apps.

Golden Miner is our first best-selling app. So far, the Golden Miner game has been downloaded over 100,000 times [and] brings us monthly revenues of about 400,000 RMB (after Apple takes its share).

Mr. Shi: With the new company, I will focus on the development of auxiliary software to help users find apps they want quickly and handily. We expect to release the new product in December.

WSJ: How’s the business? What does the launch of China Unicom iPhone mean for your business?

Mr. Mao: Our iPhone development team should be China’s largest and earliest professional group of iPhone developers. The official launch of China Unicom’s iPhone helps us better develop the domestic market. Before, most of our revenues came from overseas, such as the U.S. and the European countries, and only a small fraction came from the Chinese market

Mr. Shi: We are currently in the start-up phase of business. I am positive that the launch of iPhone in China could be a huge opportunity for us, though the price of the Unicom iPhone is high.

The 3G network is still in its initial stage in China, which might affect the sales of iPhone and other smart phones in the short term. The gray market activity is another negative factor. In the long run, however, I think the iPhone sales will grow with more subscribers using value-added services such as the app stores.

WSJ: What are the apps you think might be particular exciting for Chinese iPhone users?

Mr. Mao: Currently, we work mainly on transplanting some classic games. Golden Miner, for instance, is a typical example. We also develop some apps with “Chinese characteristics”, such as Painting Scroll, Flowerz and Rattle Drum.

Mr. Shi: Personally, I think the following factors make an app more popular:

Firstly, the most important thing is localization. I mean the products should be as much in line with Chinese lifestyles as possible (including details like the product’s name, logo, voice and text). For example, Chinese prefer “Chinese poker” to Texas hold ‘em.

Then, in the initial phase, practical applications (e.g., reading tools and information-related software) will be more popular compared to games and entertainment apps, since the former can be used repeatedly.

At last, of course, if the software were free, it will be even more popular with users (but then developers have to find other ways to profit).

WSJ: What’s the most difficult part of working in this business?

Mr. Mao: The most difficult part should be the differences between Eastern and Western cultures. Our apps are used by different users, so we have to consider what kind of games are appealing to users from the West and the East, respectively. Interestingly, we sometimes encounter the situation in which the games we developed for the Western users turn out to be best-seller in app stores in China.

Mr. Shi: Developers devote time and resources but don’t get reasonable returns. This makes developers lose the enthusiasm and motivation to move on. The most serious problems are “jailbroken” iPhones and rip-off applications. These activities harm not only the interests of developers but also the mobile operators, handset manufacturers and even the users themselves in a long-term perspective. If not effectively controlled, the ecological circle of app development will be destroyed.

WSJ: What are you going to do next?

Mr. Mao: We will try to cooperate with other platforms, including China Mobile MM and the GPhone.

Mr. Shi: We are now busy working on our new product and expect to launch it in December. With the new product, we hope to provide app store users, especially the Chinese users, with real-time, high-quality information service about applications. For the Chinese market-oriented developers, we hope to find them a way to promote their products.

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