7 Unique Traits of Apps in China

Girls Promote China App WeChat

17 Mar 7 Unique Traits of Apps in China

China drives 1 out of every 3 app downloads. Let’s pause to admire this. With popular apps such as Facebook, Google Maps, and Snapchat basically useless in China, Chinese users are interacting with a whole different universe of apps- and there are a ton of them out there.

China’s fervent app consumption will bring global app revenues to more than $26 billion annually by 2020.  Without a doubt, apps are the backbone of China’s mobile-first communication and consumption habits. However, in China, apps have strikingly unique design customs and features. That’s why we want to introduce some of the basics behind China’s app behavior and design preference.


When discussing apps in China, it is impossible to ignore the app of all apps- WeChat. At its core, WeChat is a messaging app but it’s become integrated into almost every aspect of Chinese life. In-app features include a wallet, music identifier, newsfeed, games center, mail client, and video call system. WeChat can be used to pay bills, hail a taxi, order takeout, or meet a stranger.

This is a core difference between Western and Chinese app design. Whereas unbundling (Facebook rolling out a separate Messenger app, for example) is common in the West, a Chinese app will offer a dozen functionalities beyond its core purpose.


This all-in-one feature isn’t unique to WeChat. Something you will see in almost every app is a “Discover’’ button, which acts as a portal to extra features.  On a map app, for example, you might see local deals or strangers nearby.  The discover tab enables Chinese apps to shove in as many features as possible.


There’s a fundamental difference in design aesthetic between in China and the U.S. In the U.S., we like things to be clean and minimalistic. In China, it’s the more the merrier for both website and app design. As discussed above, Westerners prefer apps that are minimalist and focused, offering just a few services. Chinese apps include dozens of functionalities but also include more text and designs than suitable for minimalist Western tastes. This holds true for colors, as well.

Contact Us to learn how we design apps for the Chinese market!


We’ve said this before– China’s app design is much more colorful than in the West. Kendra Schaefer ran a comparison of the West and China’s top apps and confirmed that Chinese app icon colors really are brighter. In-app design features more colors than Western apps, which favor white space.


Something very popular in China? Voice messages. It’s not unusual to see a young person walking down China’s streets, muttering a quick phrase or two into their favorite social app (probably WeChat). It’s also not rare, and relatively irksome, for that same person to also play a couple of voice messages aloud, regardless of location.

These voice messages have even been a way for celebrities to make money on WeChat. A few innovators charge their fans for subscriptions,

Chinese App Icon Description from The PIxellary

A color saturation analysis of the icons from the 360 App Store’s top apps. Image from The Pixellary.

in which their users receive premium content like daily voice recordings wishing them a happy morning or good night.


In many places, QR codes haven’t lived up to their hype. We’ve all seen someone try to figure out what to do with a QR code and just take a picture of the code with their iPhone camera. Well, in China, QR codes are everywhere and used for almost everything. Each WeChat and Weibo (China’s Twitter equivalent) account has its own QR code, so you can find and add someone just by scanning their code. QR codes are especially popular with business such as restaurants. Most establishments use QR codes to connect guests to their Wifi or offer promotions.


Sticker on a table at a Chinese restaurant. Image from Dan Grover’s More Chinese UI Trends.


Chinese apps always want to know your location and will constantly ask for it. Once confirmed, almost every app will try to offer local deals and connect you with nearby strangers. As geotargeting is a key part of essentially every Chinese app, any product entering the market needs a city-by-city marketing approach.

 How Can You Join The App Party In China?

China’s app ecosystem is a world away from that of the West. Different design preferences, use cases, and privacy barriers make this market unique. That is, of course, without even discussing the monster that is app stores in China. Chinese app design and use is so different from that in the West, which is why an app needs a local approach to make an impact in the Chinese market.


Want to know how your app can dominate in the Chinese market? Contact us for a free 30-minute app consultation.


Image by Sinchen.Lin

Share this: