November 9th, 2023 · Written by Samuel Jesse
Reaching users in China's massive mobile market requires publishing through the country's leading app stores. With Google Play blocked and tight regulations, developers must navigate a complex landscape dominated by Chinese tech giants.
With nearly 1 billion smartphone users who rely on apps for everything from communication to entertainment, understanding China's app ecosystem provides crucial insights for developers looking to expand their global reach.
In this post, we will cover the top 10 Chinese app stores that developers and publishers need to know, along with crucial information on some new regulations introduced in 2023, distribution, monetization, and more.
No, Google Play is not available in China. The country's extensive internet censorship system, known as the Great Firewall, prevents access to the Google Play Store and most other Google services like Gmail, Google Maps, etc.
This is due to the country's extensive internet censorship system, the Great Firewall of China. Google withdrew its operations from the Chinese mainland market in 2010 after continuous demands for censorship.
As a result, Google Play does not have a license to distribute apps in China directly. For developers accustomed to Google Play in other markets, this challenges reaching Chinese users.
However, Chinese smartphone brands like Huawei and Xiaomi that sell devices internationally do provide Google Play Store access and Google Mobile Services when sold outside China. But phones made for the domestic Chinese market rely on local app stores only.
Within mainland China, Android app distribution is handled entirely through third-party app stores operated by major Chinese companies. Developers have to navigate these alternative platforms to reach Chinese users.
Yes, the Apple App Store is available in China and is actively used by millions of iPhone owners. China has overtaken the US as the biggest iPhone market in 2023. iPhones comprise over 25% of China's smartphone market, with Huawei being its main competitor in the region.
However, Apple is required to comply with stringent Chinese government regulations to keep the App Store accessible. It promptly removes any apps deemed objectionable or illegal by Chinese authorities.
To get App Store approval, developers must carefully ensure their app updates comply with Chinese internet laws. As of 2023, Apps also require a Chinese business license to publish. You can find more about the updated regulations here - FAQ About China’s New ICP Policy for Mobile Apps on the Apple App Store
Apple also proactively filters out apps related to sensitive topics that are restricted by local regulations. Developers may need to exclude or alter certain features specifically for the Chinese market.
Integrating with major Chinese platforms like WeChat and supporting local payment methods is key for the App Store in China. Despite the challenges, the App Store provides the most globally recognized and trusted app store experience for Chinese iOS users.
With Google Play blocked, Android app distribution in China is dominated by third-party app stores operated by the country's largest tech companies:
Huawei AppGallery is the official app store for Huawei devices. It comes pre-installed on all Huawei and Honor smartphones, rapidly growing to become one of the top phone brands worldwide.
Huawei's smartphone market share in China hit 19.4% in October 2023. AppGallery provides access to Huawei's enormous user base in its home market.
As one of the world's largest telecommunications equipment suppliers, Huawei is at the forefront of 5G technology. It aims to leverage its leadership in 5G, cloud computing, and AI into the app ecosystem. In response to losing Google services, Huawei is heavily investing in AppGallery. Huawei offers app developers technical support and cloud resources.
AppGallery has over 580 million monthly active users globally as of early 2022. It is available in over 170 countries and supports multiple currencies. While still reliant on Chinese apps, Huawei is quickly expanding AppGallery's international content.
Huawei's dominance in China makes AppGallery a key channel for developers. Tapping into Huawei's brand reach and loyal user base is crucial in China's competitive app market.
With over 163 million monthly active users, Tencent My App Store is China's largest third-party Android marketplace. Owned by tech giant Tencent, it focuses heavily on games, entertainment, and social media apps tailored to local tastes.
Founded in 1998, Tencent is China's biggest gaming, social media, and entertainment company. It owns WeChat, the country's dominant messaging app with over 1 billion monthly active users. WeChat is a universal portal for social, payments, ecommerce, and more services.
Integrating with WeChat via its massive API surface provides huge exposure for apps on My App. WeChat capabilities can be deeply incorporated. Users can easily share and recommend apps via WeChat moments.
As an independently operated app store not tied to a phone OEM, My App has amassed over 163 million MAUs. Tencent's brand effect, WeChat integration, and entertainment focus make it a strategic channel for developers.
MIUI App Store is the official app marketplace for Xiaomi, one of China's most successful consumer electronics brands.
Founded in 2010, Xiaomi has rapidly grown to become one of China's largest smartphone makers.
Xiaomi's smartphones and other smart devices run MIUI, the company's customized firmware based on Android. MIUI comes with the Xiaomi App Store preloaded.
Xiaomi App Store provides access to over 204 million monthly active users on MIUI devices across China.
The store focuses on local apps with strong user ratings and reviews. Categories like shopping, delivery, fintech, and education cater to local user needs. The games section features multiplayer and immersive Chinese titles.
For developers, the Xiaomi App Store provides a targeted channel to engage an active installed base. Xiaomi even offers full localization assistance, including UI translation and hosting.
With affordable but high-spec devices, Xiaomi's passionate fan base represents an attractive target audience. Xiaomi's market position makes its app store a must-have channel in China.
Baidu Mobile Assistant leverages Baidu's position as the leading search engine in China. It is often called "The Google of China".
Founded in 2000, Baidu commands over 70% of China's search engine market share. Users searching for apps on Baidu will be presented with direct download links for Baidu Assistant.
This integration with search gives Baidu Assistant strong app discovery capabilities. It acts as a recommendation engine fueled by Baidu's data on Chinese user search habits and preferences.
The reach of its search engine and the breadth of its integrated services make Baidu Assistant a strategic part of reaching Chinese mobile users. Tapping into "The Google of China" provides powerful exposure.
360 Mobile Assistant comes from Qihoo 360, China's leading internet security company. Qihoo 360 has over 1 billion PC and mobile users of its security products.
Founded in 2005, Qihoo 360 built its reputation in China as a top antivirus software provider. It remains the biggest supplier of PC/mobile security apps in China.
Leveraging this heritage, 360 Mobile Assistant has China's most comprehensive suite of security and optimization apps. Flagship offerings include 360 Security, 360 Cleaner, 360 AppLock, and 360 Browser.360 Mobile Assistant is widely trusted for protecting Chinese mobile users.
Oppo Software Store is the official app store for Oppo, one of China's top smartphone brands.
Founded in 2004, Oppo is owned by BBK Electronics, which also owns Vivo, Realme, and OnePlus. Oppo is primarily known for its selfie camera phones and fast charging technology.
Oppo mobile devices are affordable for younger demographics. Its phones come preloaded with Oppo Software Store, providing developers access to a young, engaged user base. Gaming and youth-centric apps have high engagement.
Lenovo LeStore is the official app marketplace for Lenovo, the world's largest PC maker and one of China's major smartphone brands.
Founded in 1984, Lenovo makes PCs, tablets, smartphones, smart devices, data center infrastructure, and more.
With a catalog of over 60,000 apps, LeStore curates content optimized for Lenovo hardware like gaming PCs, tablets, and smart home devices.
For developers, LeStore provides access to Lenovo's 100 million active device users across its PC and smartphone products. Apps can be tailored to capabilities like large screens, stylus input, and unique features.
Wandoujia is a pioneering Chinese Android app store founded by a former Google employee Junyu Wang in 2009. At its peak, Wandoujia was China's 2nd most popular Android marketplace.
Initially focused on providing desktop Android app downloads, Wandoujia quickly pivoted to mobile. It innovated app recommendation feeds powered by user ratings and engagement analytics.
Wandoujia developed patented video compression technology for streaming media in a data-efficient manner. This fueled its video platform with content aggregated from various sources.
With over 200 million users at its height, Wandoujia was noted for its clean UI, personalized recommendations, and content discovery features. It was famous for finding trending new apps.
After being acquired by Alibaba in 2016, Wandoujia was rebranded as Alibaba Mobile Assistant and integrated into other Alibaba apps. But its legacy lives on through innovations in Android app distribution.
PP Assistant is the Android app store operated by Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba. It was initially launched as the Pailitao Store in 2011 before being rebranded.
Beyond Android apps, PP Assistant also runs two iOS app stores - PP Helper for normal iOS devices and Kuaiyong for jailbroken iPhones.
This gives PP Assistant a unique position in straddling both major mobile ecosystems. Developers can use PP Assistant to publish Android and iOS apps targeting Chinese users.
Vivo App Store is the official marketplace for Vivo, one of China's most popular smartphone brands and a rising force in the global mobile industry.
Vivo is owned by BBK Electronics, also the parent company of Oppo, Realme, and OnePlus. Founded in 2009, Vivo initially gained popularity through its thin and stylish designs. Recently, Vivo has focused on embedding advanced camera and display technologies into phones for mobile photography enthusiasts.
The Vivo App Store comes preloaded on all Vivo phones, providing app access to a growing user base.
For developers, the Vivo App Store represents an opportunity to engage with its predominantly young demographic, heavy users of camera apps, mobile games, and social media.
Some other notable app marketplaces include:
Anzhi Market - Android app store with over 100 million users, focused on games.
CoolPad App Store - Official Android store for Coolpad smartphones.
China Telecom 189 Store - Preloaded app store from state-owned telco China Telecom.
ZTE App Store - Official app marketplace for ZTE Android devices.
Sogou Mobile Assistant - App store from leading Chinese search engine Sogou.
AppChina - Independent Android app store with over 100 million users.
Meizu Flyme - Meizu's official app store for its customized Android skin.
HiMarket - Android app store by mobile security firm Cheetah Mobile.
Zhuoyi - Fast-growing independent app store with over 100 million active users.
These provide additional distribution channels for developers in specific demographics or certain device brands. China's app ecosystem still needs to be more cohesive despite some consolidation.
This landscape will continue to evolve as Chinese tech giants compete for mobile dominance. However, a few leaders have cemented their position through pre-installation deals, strategic acquisitions, and strong branding.
There are some important distinctions between smartphone OEM app stores like Oppo, Xiaomi, and Huawei vs third-party stores like Tencent My App Store and 360 Mobile Assistant:
Pre-installed vs. Optional: OEM stores come preloaded on respective device brands, while third-party stores require manual download by users.
Optimized Content: OEM stores prioritize apps optimized and tested specifically for their devices. Third-party stores have more diverse content.
Business Model: OEM stores reinforce branding and device sales while third parties pursue ad revenue sharing and user data monetization.
App Vetting: OEM stores generally have stricter curation and control over apps that get listed. Third parties often have a longer tail of apps.
Payment Integrations: OEM app stores utilize their branded payment system. Third parties offer multiple payment options.
Exclusivity: OEM stores may have exclusive apps that leverage proprietary device capabilities.
While OEM app stores offer a captured set of users, third-party stores can aggregate a more extensive long-tail user base across brands. Both models are essential channels for user reach.
Follow these steps to meet China's app release requirements:
Form a Chinese company and obtain the required business/commercial license. A local entity is mandatory.
Partner with a Chinese cloud hosting provider for in-country servers and technical support.
Acquire the developer's license from China's Copyright Protection Center to protect IP for each app. Submit code samples.
Obtain the ICP license from the hosting provider to meet internet content regulations.
Localize the app into Simplified Chinese and tailor it to Chinese app store guidelines.
Note: Collaborating with a Chinese company can help navigate app store relations, marketing, localization, and cloud hosting within mainland China.
Integrate Chinese social SDKs like WeChat, Weibo, and QQ. Support local payment methods, like WeChat Pay, Alipay, and UnionPay.
Ensure the app architecture allows storing all Chinese user data within mainland China only.
Submit the required app store documentation and build for review/approval.
Release and continuously update the app to meet evolving regulatory and market requirements.
Navigating China's regulations and fragmented app ecosystem takes considerable effort but provides access to an enormously valuable mobile market. The complexities can be effectively managed with the right local partners and strategy.
While reaching China's nearly 1 billion mobile users presents massive opportunities, considerable effort is required to clear regulatory hurdles and compete with highly localized apps. But with the right strategies, partnerships, and patience, international developers can find success in this lucrative market.
The mobile landscape in China will continue evolving at a breakneck pace. Flexibility and learning quickly are imperative. But despite the nuances, China is too big a market to ignore for ambitious developers aiming for global growth.
Releasing apps in China's complex ecosystem requires an experienced local partner guiding your strategy. The right Chinese app developer provides indispensable knowledge and connections.
Shanghai-based Digital Creative understands the nuances of China's tech landscape. For over 7 years, we've helped leading global brands successfully navigate China's app development, regulations, distribution, and marketing.
With in-depth expertise across app development, UI/UX design, and e-commerce, Digital Creative builds full-stack solutions tailored for China. We focus on your users, adopting a mobile-first mindset.
Our portfolio includes category-leading apps for clients worldwide. We combine passion, creativity, and technical excellence to deliver digital products that engage Chinese audiences.
We believe trusted collaboration drives success. Through transparency and communication, we become a long-term partner in your China app strategy.
Don't leave your China app plans to chance. Partnering with the right local developer is the proven way to overcome hurdles and win in this lucrative market.
Ready to succeed in China? Let's connect.
Get valuable insights on the latest digital trends, strategies, and developments in China and globally delivered straight to your inbox.