It’s a bit odd, how connected we feel with the rest of the world because of the internet, but once you step out of the U.S. and see the internet in China, you realize how completely different it is. Your standard Facebook, Twitter, Google, or any Google product are all blocked by the great firewall of China.
And the apps used in China couldn’t be more different. Not just what they are, but how they work and the vision driving their growth and adoption. And perhaps it’s this vision that sets us so far apart.
So what better way to dive into China’s world of online and mobile than the Connect Mobile Summit in Beijing, where China’s top echelon of mobile companies are sharing stories around the campfire? Prior to the conference, we are given a tour around the city to view the facilities of some of the key partners presenting at the conference. The experience was eye-opening to say the least and humbling on many levels.
WeChat, therefore we are
When folks talk about tech in China, the conversation starts with BAT. That’s Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent. Tencent has its hands in online media creation, games, e-payments and social messaging, to name a few. Five years ago, Tencent launched its messaging juggernaut WeChat.
To explain the app landscape in China, you really need to look at WeChat first. It is like all our apps rolled into one. Maybe that’s why it’s on 700 million phones or why most Chinese spend half of their online time using it.
On first glance the app looks like a pretty simple chatting app, similar to google chat or facebook’s messaging app, but its austere surface aesthetic can be deceiving. The Chinese version gives its users the ability to pay for goods and services to businesses or friends much like Apple Pay. The difference is the adoption. WeChat pay is accepted EVERYWHERE, even vending machines.
The chat app has a ton of cool features like real-time geolocation to find friends, similar to Facebook’s find friends nearby, but way more functional. Friends can pop in or out of real-time geolocation. Or if you’re creeped out by that kind of tracking you can simply send a pin drop of your last location.
Official accounts allow users to access emergency services like ambulances or booking a doctor’s appointment. You can even pay your utility bills with WeChat.
Clean Master: small app, big data
One might assume that the holy grail for any Chinese company would be to migrate to the US. However after hearing over and over from Tencent, DiDi and JD.com that they’re not really interested in coming to the US. And why would they, we just don’t have the numbers.
What makes Cheetah Mobile different from many of the companies presenting at Connect is that 78% of its users are overseas.
Cheetah CEO Sheng Fu recalls his visit to the United States. Outdoors on the lawn of Stanford University, he wondered “Why does all the innovation come from the US?” And answered his own question: “They dare to dream big and think differently.” Last year Cheetah earned revenues of 174.9 million dollars.
Clean Master is Cheetah’s megahit. It appears on 630 million android phones. Like WeChat, it is more than appears on the surface. The secret sauce is insight derived from the data collected when cleaning out the bloat from phones. This big data can be used to derive all kinds of useful information, such as what are the fastest growing apps.
So why is big data so important? In some ways big data knows us better than we know ourselves. How do we know this? Next time you use netflix and it suggests that you watch a new film or series, it’s using that big data to find what other users with similar tastes watched, and suggest them to you, in the same way that amazon knows what you want to buy before you buy it. It’s everywhere now. Chinese taxi hailing company DiDi uses it to figure out when it needs more drivers.
Yuval Noah Harari, speaker at the Connect App Insight and author of the book ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind,’ thinks eventually we will leave the important decisions to big data. And why not? We already trust big data to tell us where to go to avoid traffic and who we should date.
So what’s next for the company that started with an app that cleans out your phone? Why not robots? Cheetah announced it’s investing 15 million dollars in Cheetah robotics, to develop new robots.
One thing is for sure, China’s tech sector is booming. They are taking the risks and improving on our models. Their apps are built tall like skyscrapers, giving their users more features instead of spinning them off into new ones. Meanwhile in the U.S., we’re buried in apps that do the same thing with minor differences. Perhaps we should take a step back and study what they are doing right.
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