China Mobile Internet Use Gains Sophistication, Hits Roadblocks

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China Mobile Data NuggetChina is one of the fastest-growing, largest mobile markets in the world.

Two new studies from Forrester Research and mobile developer-services platform Umeng delve into the unique characteristics of this continuously growing industry, including how consumers deal with the lack of high-speed data service and how social sharing plays a role in many apps.

According to Forrester's report, China had 411 million mobile Internet users in 2013, or 67% of the country's online population. And the country had 700 million smart connected devices by the end of 2013, according to the Umeng study.

Umeng also found that, in the fourth quarter of 2013, 59% of new device purchases came from existing mobile users upgrading or replacing their devices. Many are turning to higher-end devices, with 27% of smartphones in China costing more than $500. And 80% of those devices are iPhones.

Data from both reports shows that the mobile Internet industry in China is becoming more sophisticated and consumers are using their devices for a range of activities. Of mobile Internet users, Forrester found, those in metro areas, or tier-one and tier-two cities in China, are the most desirable. These users access the Internet via their mobile devices more often that metro users in the United States and United Kingdom, with 56% saying they do so more than once a day.

Additionally, 92% of consumers say they access the Internet via their mobile device weekly or more, compared to 67% of US consumers. They also are more likely to send or receive instant messages, use applications, and send or receive personal emails than their US counterparts.

China Mobile Data Chart 2

And according to Umeng, the fastest-growing areas of applications (excluding games) are news, which grew 275%, health care, with a growth rate of 220%, and social networking, which grew by 212%.

China Mobile Data Nugget Chart 1

While social networking apps, as a category, continue to grow in popularity, social sharing is another way Chinese consumers are becoming more sophisticated in their mobile Internet use, according to Umeng. Of the top 1,000 apps in China, 46% allow for social sharing, and 55% of the top 100 do.

Social sharing promotes these apps on social networks, and apps often reward users for sharing their experiences with friends. Both games and photography applications are popular for sharing. Umeng reported that, between March and November 2013, it observed 8,600% growth in social sharing of mobile apps on social site WeChat and a 2,900% increase on QQZone.

But even as Chinese users expand their mobile activities, availability of wireless data service remains a problem. Umeng reported that 4G service only became available in China in 2013 and, as of December 2013, only 1% of app launches happened over 4G. The end of 2013 saw the first push of 4G from mobile carriers in China, and Forrester went into more depth on how these challenges are impacting the ways Chinese consumers interact with their mobile devices and mobile Internet.

This issue is mitigated somewhat by Wi-Fi use, which accounts for 44% of Chinese mobile Internet time, according to Forrester, with 31% on 2G connections and 23% on 3G. Plus, only 24% of consumers said they use public Wi-Fi and hotspots with their phones. Marketers and app developers must remember this in creating lighter applications that can be used on slower speeds, like mobile messaging applications.

Mobile Internet use in China is, like mobile use in general, a fast-growing and unique space. More consumers are joining in and their use is becoming more mature. But consumers – and app developers and marketers – must navigate the challenges associated with lack of mobile data in order to thrive. The introduction of 4G in 2013 should push this industry forward, and as it moves ahead, marketing and advertising in the space will grow.

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