2020 has turned out to be an unpredictable year, to say the least. But these 10 Chinese mobile apps have emerged successful in overseas markets, attracting new global users and hitting new DAU records, thanks to a surge in demand as millions of people are forced to stay at home during the pandemic.
From R&D to product building and marketing strategies to implementation, these companies — not listed in any particular order — are solid proof of expertise and talent within China’s technology sector. Not to mention the thousands of Chinese companies following closely behind, as the the world’s second largest economy continues to pursue its ambition to cement its position as a technology powerhouse.
The APUS Launcher, offered by Beijing-based APUS Group, is a launcher that organizes mobile apps into various folders, such as communication, news & books, media, and other categories, making it easier and faster to use the Android operating system with a touch of personality.
Fast growth is what APUS is all about. It was founded in June 2014 by Tao Li, a former VP with Chinese internet security company Qihoo 360, and within the first year, it managed to raise $100 million in the company’s Series B funding, as well as reaching 90 million registered users.
The company’s dedication to provide localized and customized products through tight partnerships with local teams and services companies in each market it serves also drove its popularity among users over the years.
As of this year, APUS (which stands for A Perfect User System) has seen more than 2 billion downloads across its family of apps, the company told Pandaily, fueled by growth across Southeast Asia, Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe and North America.
The company said future plans include transitioning its products from tools to content and service products, and strengthening its positioning and development back in China.
Released in 2013, Grid Diary is a simple but very powerful and effective personal growth app. Combining diary and planner templates with prompts for guided writing and features like habit checker, it allows the user to own an ultra-personalized diary system.
The popular app was created by Sumi Interactive, a team based in Xiamen, and was listed on Google Play’s Best Apps of 2020 in the best everyday essential apps category.
Sumi Interactive, founded by CEO Kevin Cao in 2012, has also developed two other apps for its domestic market, including Q Air, an app showing cities’ air quality indexes in real time, and Q Weather, a weather forecast app.
Baidu-owned video platform iQIYI, China’s answer to Netflix, has been rapidly expanding its global footprint this past year following the release of the international version of its application in June 2019.
Partnering with local media brands and operators and leveraging their networks is one of iQIYI’s avenues for user acquisition. The Beijing-based company formed a strategic partnership with Malaysian television operator Astro in January last year to further expand its business outside of China.
The Nasdaq-listed company had been successful in distributing its self-produced content including TV programs, reality shows, and online movies in North America, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, etc. Just this month, the company announced the establishment of its international headquarters in Singapore, where it plans to hire more than 200 staff members.
iQIYI, founded in 2010, operates a freemium platform, where users can watch a limited library of ad-supported videos for free, while paid subscribers have access to ad-free videos and additional content.
The platform’s total number of subscribers slipped 1% year-on-year to 104.8 million last quarter, the company said. It blamed the decline on a shortage of new content amid the pandemic as well as users spending more time on short video apps like ByteDance’s DouYin/TikTok.
iQIYI was accused of fraud and inflating its financial numbers by Wolfpack Research in April, by approximately 8 billion yuan ($1.2 billion) to 13 billion yuan ($1.9 billion), or 27% to 44%.
The company pushed back against the report and said it contains “numerous errors, unsubstantiated statements and misleading conclusions and interpretations.” In October, the company announced an internal review has been substantially completed and did not uncover any evidence that would substantiate the allegations.
Kwai, known as Kuaishou in China, is a video-sharing and live-streaming mobile app with a particularly strong user base among users in China’s lower-tier cities and rural communities (as opposed to its main competitor, DouYin).
The Tencent-backed company, founded in March 2011, has gained considerable popularity outside of mainland China, topping Google Play and Apple App Store’s Most Downloaded lists in eight countries. It also diversified its business scope by adding film production and distribution last year.
In November, Kuaishou filed an application for a Hong Kong initial public offering, and documents showed that the app had 776 million average MAU worldwide in the first half of 2020. In early September, the platform reached 3 million DAU in Brazil. Active users spent an average of more than 85 minutes daily on its main app.
Access to Kwai is free, with revenue generated from a cut of the tips users give to their favorite live-streaming hosts. The company is also increasingly expanding into advertising and e-commerce. Sales in the first half of 2020 continued to grow at 48%, hitting 25.3 billion yuan ($3.8 billion).
The company, along with 58 other apps, was banned in November by Modi’s government following a border dispute between India and China. Another one of its apps, Snack Video, which had led the download charts for over 15 weeks following its release in India, was blocked by the Indian government in late November, only five months after its debut.
SHAREit, a file-sharing app developed by a Beijing-based team, is one of the most popular apps with 1.8 billion users worldwide and more than 500 million MAU operating in 45 different languages.
SHAREit allows users to transfer videos, photos, music, contacts, apps, and other files regardless of devices’ operating systems. The application uses a secure connection protocol and has transfer speeds faster than Bluetooth and NFC.
Founded in April 2015, the app also offers its users a range of digital entertainment including videos, music, films within its app by collaborating with partners such as Times Music.
In November, the company moved its commercial headquarters to Singapore, where it will continue to expand with 50 to 100 employees.
The app was included in the third round of Chinese apps banned by the Indian government in late November. It quickly pivoted to other markets. The company said it already has 20 million MAU in South Africa and is targeting Indonesia.
TikTok, the viral platform ran by ByteDance, has taken the world by storm, gaining huge popularity in many foreign markets including the US, Southeast Asia and Europe. Its success in the US market is unprecedented for any Chinese tech company.
Known as DouYin in its home market, the app was launched by Zhang Yiming in September 2016, entering the global market as Tik Tok the following year. Both apps use the same software, but operate separate networks in order to comply with Chinese censorship restrictions.
Its short video and sharing format is widely popular among young people, allowing users to create, share, and view viral content including singing, pranks and skits. As a way for the Chinese app to enter the US market, TikTok merged with Musical.ly in August 2018.
Currently, it has around 800 monthly active users around the world, 41% of them aged between 16 and 24, according to data from Hootsuite, Datareportal and We Are Social.
As of April this year, TikTok has been downloaded more than two billion times worldwide, doubling its downloads in just over a year. In the first quarter alone, 315 million worldwide downloads were recorded, a 58% jump from the previous quarter due to the pandemic.
Towards the end of 2020, the platform has done particularly well in South America, with 3.08 million downloads in Brazil in September alone.
However, since August, TikTok has been faced with a series of ban threats brought by the Trump administration, which contends TikTok a national security concern as the personal data of US users could be obtained by the Chinese government. The company has denied the allegations.
Under pressure from the US government, ByteDance has been in talks for months to finalize a deal with Oracle and Walmart to shift TikTok’s US assets into a new entity. However, the deadline for the forced sale — Dec 4 — was not enforced, leaving the company and the deal in a limbo.
In June, TikTok was included in the list of banned apps in India, where it has 200 million users. At one point, downloads in India made up nearly 30% of the app’s overall downloads.
Vigo Video, the overseas version of Chinese short video app Huoshan Video, topped the download chart in Brazil and Indonesia’s Google Play store just three months after breaking into overseas markets in 2017.
The ByteDance-owned short video social platform allows users to create and share short-form sketches and lip-syncs to Bollywood songs.
Unlike TikTok, Vigo Video has not yet gained a lot of traction in the country, with about 4 million active users last month, while its lite version Vigo Lite had only about 1.5 million users, according to TechCrunch.
In June, ByteDance announced in “a farewell latter” that Vigo Video and Vigo Lite will be taken down on October 31, and asked its users to export their content to TikTok.
The company later confirmed that the app will be shut down in every other market, including Brazil and the Middle East, saying it was a “regular business adjustment.”
Founded in 2008, Meitu is China’s largest photo and post-editing app. With 282 million MAU worldwide, the app is particularly popular among women aged 18-35.
The Xiamen-based firm has expanded overseas since 2014, and has 112 million MAU outside of China, most of them in Indonesia, South Korea and Thailand.
Last year, in an effort to bolster global engagement and widen its user demographic, the Hong Kong-listed company announced it has agreed to pay about HK$2.7 billion ($348 million) for a 31% stake in game publishing company Dreamscape Horizon.
In August this year, it partnered with SpotX, a video advertising platform, to implement programmatic video advertising on the app.
Under the deal, Meitu will be able to monetize video ad inventory sold on its key platforms BeautyPlus, Beauty Cam and Meitu via SpotX’s supply side platform and ad server technology, and secure advertising growth beyond its home market in China.
Launched in March 2016, Bigo Live is owned by Singapore-based Bigo Technology. Available in Southeast Asia, Europe, the Middle East and US, it’s one of the world’s fastest-growing live streaming platforms.
The app has accumulated 28 million monthly active users (MAU) by September and generated an increase in revenue from new markets in Europe and East Pacific regions, according to a Q3 earnings report issued by its parent company, Joyy. The latter acquired Bigo at a valuation of about $2.2 billion in March 2019.
Returns from Bigo grew by 120.8% year-on-year to 3.4 billion yuan ($520 million), mostly driven by the uptick in its live-streaming revenues. The segment generated 6 billion yuan ($917 million) in this period, accounting for 96% of the company’s total revenue.
In July, Bigo Live announced it would delist temporarily from Google Play and App Store in India after the Modi government placed it on a list of 59 banned mobile apps from China. This was a result of mounting geopolitical tensions between the two countries following a border dispute that turned fatal in June.
In November, short seller Muddy Waters accused Bigo and Joyy of faking revenues and user data. Bigo is “substantially fraudulent,” the company said in a report. Although Joyy rejected the claims and said the report was full of “misinformation, erroneous statements and misleading conclusions,” the company’s US-traded shares plunged more than 26% on the day the report was published — its biggest-ever decline.
The allegations also cast doubt on a deal between Baidu Inc and Joyy, in which the Chinese search giant had agreed to buy Joyy’s YY live-stream business for $3.6 billion in an all-cash deal.
Likee, formerly known as LIKE Video, is a short video creation and sharing platform developed by Bigo Technology.
Users can shoot clips and add stickers, filters, and music to their videos and the app is most famous for its variety of 4D effects and AI face swap feature. The platform allows influencers to make money from virtual gifts they receive from fans.
As of June, Likee’s MAU reached 150 million and gained much popularity in Southeast Asia, India, and Russia, according to an earnings report from Joyy, its parent company.
Similar to Bigo Live and Kwai mentioned above, the video platform pulled out of Google Play and App Store shortly after a ban was issued in India, it’s biggest market. Executives at Joyy reassured investors that even though the regional ban will have a short-term impact on user size, it would not impact the overall strategy and monetization for Likee.
The US is Likee’s second-largest market, with the company accumulating 7.25 million downloads from early July to early August there. Elsewhere in Russia and Indonesia, the app is enjoying rapid user growth as well.