If you have ever been interested in China, you may have heard the names of many Internet companies in China. Tencent, Baidu, Alibaba, Bytedance and so on.

But do you really know what kind of App Chinese people use every day?

There is actually a relatively fixed ranking here. According to Quest Mobile, Chinese Internet users open an average of 25 different App per month.

This means that if ranked by the number of monthly active users, the top 20 App can basically describe how Chinese people use the Internet.

So, does this list exist?

Yes, this list exists. Analysys China, a consulting firm, publishes a monthly list of Top 100th monthly active users of App in the Chinese market.

We will intercept the top 20 of the company’s January 2021 list to show which App is used by China’s “average netizens”.

First of all, let’s take a brief look at this list:

RankEnglish NameChinese NameCategoryMAU
1WeChat微信Instant Messaging998.91 million
2AliPay支付宝Mobile Payment837.82 million
3Taobao淘宝Online Shopping790.81 million
4Pinduoduo(PDD)拼多多Online Shopping719.31 million
5Douyin (Tiktok for China)抖音Short Video656.83 million
6iQiyi爱奇艺Streaming Media650.36 million
7QQQQInstant Messaging633.45 million
8Tecent Video腾讯视频Streaming Media562.45 million
9Sogou Pinyin搜狗拼音输入法Input Method Editor492.12 million
10Baidu百度News/Search Engine479.84 million
11Weibo微博Social Network462.67 million
12Kuaishou(Kwai for China)快手Short Viddeo436.61 million
13AMap高德地图Map411.17 million
14Baidu Map百度地图Map391.11 million
15WiFi MasterWiFi万能钥匙Public WiFi342.89 million
16QQ BrowserQQ浏览器Browser342.49 million
17JD京东Online Shopping319.13 million
18Today’s Headline今日头条News313.98 million
19Tencent News腾讯新闻News305.15 million
20Huawei App Store华为应用商店App Store261.38 million
21Kugou酷狗音乐Music258.69 million
22UC BrowserUC浏览器Browser246.33 million
23Youku优酷Streaming Media239.07 million
24QQ MusicQQ音乐Music227.58 million
25Tencent Mobile Manager
腾讯手机管家Optimization Tool224.58 million

Well, I only translated one part of the list. The focus of this article is to introduce what the 20 most popular App in the Chinese market are used for, so I will not update this list later. If you are interested, you can check the latest list (in Chinese) through this link.

I have to remind you that China is a country with more than 1 billion Internet users, so you need to reset the frame of reference in your mind when you read this list.

For example, although QQ Browser has more monthly active users than the total population of the United States, it is even not one of the top 10 Apps in China.

One tip is that when you read any Internet business report in China, you should use the difference between 1 billion and the number of users to measure the true strength of a product in China. For example, almost all Chinese netizens use browsers, but QQ Browser only gets 342.49 million of them, which means it actually loses most of its potential users.

OK, based on this list and this simple logic, let’s briefly introduce what App the Chinese use on a daily basis.

1. WeChat

I don’t seem to need to introduce WeChat. Anyone who knows anything about the Chinese Internet has heard of WeChat. It is like the Chinese people’s own Facebook.

WeChat is not a simple social network. It also includes many other features, such as mobile payment tools, reading services and built-in application distribution.

In addition, the digital versions of almost all offline shopping malls and public services in China need to be accessed by scanning a QR code on Wechat. As a result, WeChat is also the largest single sign-on service provider in China.

It has more than 1 billion daily active users in China, although that number seems to be much smaller than Facebook’s 1.8 billion daily active users. But considering that it only serves China’s 1.4 billion people, this means that almost any Chinese who can use a mobile phone normally is using WeChat.

To be honest, it’s more like WhatsApp, and you need to use it to contact everyone (even colleagues and partners). Wechat has encountered some crises over the years, and although its number of users is still slowly growing (approaching its limit), fewer and fewer people are using it to socialize, but just to use it as an address book.

Because how could you post pictures of you fooling around in a nightclub if you need to communicate with your boss, partner and teacher on Wechat?

Wechat belongs to Tencent and Tencent generally regarded as China’s Internet giant, social giant or gaming giant. But in fact, it has six large business groups, hundreds of businesses and has invested in thousands of startups.

In terms of corporate form, Tencent is more like Alphabet than Facebook.

2. Alipay

Alipay is a mobile payment tool launched by Tencent’s old competitor Alibaba Group.

Alipay’s initial users came from Taobao, a consumer-to-consumer trading site owned by Alibaba. Taobao was initially very similar to eBay, with a large number of individual sellers. During that time, the experience of shopping on Taobao was so bad that you may not only receive fake goods, but may not even receive any goods, and the seller will disappear after you pay.

Taobao launched Alipay in 2003, which intercepts cash payments from buyers. Until the buyer signs to receive the goods, then send the money to the seller, which effectively solves the problem of integrity in the transaction.

In 2008, Alipay began to explore businesses outside Taobao and began to become a mobile payment tool.

Although we mentioned above, Wechat is one of the favorite mobile payment tools in China. But Alipay also has 711 million monthly active users. People use Alipay instead of Wechat for two reasons:

1. Many people think it is not safe to bind a bank card to a Wechat account or store cash in WeChat Pay’s account. Because as a chat tool, you don’t need a password or fingerprint to open Wechat.

2. Alipay launched a social game called Ant Forest(蚂蚁森林) in 2016, which allows users to generate green energy through mobile payments, which they can consume to plant a real tree in China’s desert. This is a simplified but more realistic Happy Farm, that significantly improves Alipay users.

It is worth mentioning that although 800 million people open it every month. But no one will hang out in it, people just open it-pay someone else-close it. As a result, it is actually not as important as it seems.

3. Taobao

This is another App that seems needless to say. Even the most rudimentary China fans know that Taobao is the largest e-commerce platform in China.

But it is worth noting that it has changed from a C2C trading platform similar to eBay to a mixed platform of B2C and C2C. Most of its sellers are no longer individuals but small distribution companies.

Alibaba has developed a whole ecosystem based on this site/app, including supply chain finance, logistics, warehousing, marketing services and so on. Just like as an ordinary citizen, you can’t leave WeChat. As a businessman, it is difficult to do business in China without Alibaba.

4. Pinduoduo / PDD / Buy together

Founded in 2015, Chinese e-commerce giant pinduoduo has become Taobao’s biggest competitor.

It has adopted a new form of e-commerce called “social e-commerce” to carry out its business, which has made online shopping popular in China’s third-tier cities and rural areas.

To put it simply, although in 2015, most Chinese analysts believed that Taobao and JD.com had formed an oligopoly in China’s e-commerce market. But in fact, at the time, the number of e-commerce users in China was only 340 million, which means that there were still more than 1 billion users in China who were not using E-commerce.

Pinduoduo carried out viral marketing by “sharing and getting discounts”, solved the problem of low digital literacy people using e-commerce for the first time, and expanded the scale of China’s e-commerce market. This also allows PDD to get a large number of users.

We have explained the rise of Pinduoduo in detail in this article. If you are interested, you can read: Pinduoduo: sell goods to another 400 million Chinese.

5. Douyin

Well, what else is there to say? This is the original version of TikTok.

We wrote a article about its growth story. Especially its competition with Chinese social giant Tencent.

Douyin is now an App with more than 600 million daily active users in China. Tencent’s counterattack against it has not been effective.

6. iQiyi

iQiyi is one of China’s Netflix. There are three products in China that want to be Netflix, namely iqiyi, Tencent Video and Youku.

iQiyi,from Baidu, launched in 2010 as an independent business outside of Baidu’s search engine (just like YouTube). But soon it became an independent company (Baidu still has a stake in it) and listed on Nasdaq in 2018.

iQiyi’s membership fee in 2021 is 25 yuan ($3.84) per month, which seems cheap to consumers in Europe and the United States, but Chinese users paid 10 yuan ($1.54) a month a few years ago, so Chinese consumers are actually very unhappy with the price increase.

In the earlier Chinese market, “watching movies and TV dramas on the Internet” basically meant piracy, which we have explained in this article: Is China’s “piracy” problem serious?

In addition, the cost of cable TV in China is about 18 yuan per year, which can watch hundreds of channels. This is also one of the reasons why China’s streaming business has been losing money all the time. If the price of HBO is $10 a year, you wouldn’t subscribe to Netflix at all, would you?

As a result, Chinese consumers are still less willing to pay in this area.

FYI, iQiyi has an international version that serves users outside China. Its domain name is shocking, iq.com.

7. QQ

QQ is a chat tool launched by Tencent in 1999. At first, it was called OICQ (OPEN-ICQ).

In 1998, AOL acquired ICQ, another instant messaging tool that was most popular on the planet at the time. As a result, AOL sent a letter of lawyer to Tencent shortly after the release of OICQ.

Tencent renamed OICQ to QQ, and the software has survived to this day.

Although in China’s business analysis, QQ seems to have disappeared after 2013. But in fact, it still has 617 million monthly active users.

It still retains many of the features of the previous generation of instant messaging software, such as using Email adresss and numbers as accounts rather than mobile numbers. In addition, it has far more “basic functions” than Wechat.

You may think WeChat is already a “Super App”. For example, you can pay your electricity bill in Wechat. But QQ is better at basic functions, such as guessing riddles or playing games with friends in groups.

In fact, the main feature provided by Clubhouse is just a small update that QQ released years ago.

But because QQ is no longer widely believed to have more commercial potential, the update didn’t even attract anyone’s attention. It wasn’t until Clubhouse became popular that Chinese analysts discovered that QQ already had this function.

8. Tencent Video

Another Chinese version of Netflix, as its name suggests, comes from Chinese social giant Tencent.

But it is actually more like the Chinese version of Disney+, than the Chinese version of Netflix.

Because Tencent holdsa a huge copyright pool, “Chinese literature”. Tencent also has the most popular mobile game in China. In recent years, many online TV dramas in China have been adapted from novels and mobile games owned by Chinese literature groups.

Tencent operates these copyrights like Disney or Marvel, allowing them to make money in novels, music, animation, games, movies and other fields at the same time.

This gives Tencent Video the most advantage among China’s “three Netflix”. The price of Tencent Video’s membership is 198 yuan( About $30.36) per year in 2021, which is slightly cheaper than iQiyi.

In fact, many Users will buy the membership services of iqiyi and Tencent Video at the same time. Of course, as I said before, most netizens don’t buy any of them.

Tencent Video also has an international version called WeTV.

9. Sogou Pinyin

For native English speakers, it may be difficult to understand why an input method can get more than 500 million monthly active users.

But as the following meme is trying to make, you can’t type Chinese directly through the keyboard:

No, the Chinese don’t use such keyboards.

Chinese people generally use Pinyin (a Chinese independent phonetic system) to enter Chinese into computers and mobile phones. Therefore, almost all users who need to enter Chinese need an input method. Sogou Pinyin is one of the best, and Baidu input method is its main competitor.

It is worth noting that the two main Chinese input methods come from search engine companies, because when you use Pinyin input method to type Chinese, you will face a large number of homonyms. The natural language recognition technology accumulated by search engines business can better help users to judge which word they want to enter at that time, and significantly improve the typing speed.

10. Baidu

Overseas, Baidu has always been called “China’s Google”.

But if you feel the same way, you may not quite understand why Baidu, as China’s Google, only ranks ninth on this list.

In fact, this is because in the era of mobile Internet, search engines have become no longer important in China. I have explained the current difficulties facing Baidu in this article: How Baidu lags behind in the competition of Chinese Internet companies

In fact, I think Google may encounter similar problems with Baidu in five years’ time.

At the same time, Baidu and Google now have a major difference is that Baidu’s interface is no longer a simple search box. It invented the Google Discovery-like content feed service earlier than Google, which has now become Baidu’s main business, and search is less important in products.

For most Chinese users, Baidu now looks like a news reader rather than a search engine.

11. Weibo

Weibo is the Chinese version of Twitter.

Like Twitter, Weibo is seen in China as “public opinion” itself. But in fact, its monthly active users have just exceeded 500m, which means that more than half of Chinese still do not use Weibo. And most Weibo users only use it as a tool to find news or gossip and do not post any content.

Weibo’s own business model has been questioned as much as Twitter for years, but it has made more proactive attempts than Twitter. Therefore, for overseas users who are used to Twitter, it may be bad to use Weibo for the first time, because it offers so many strange features (stickers, stories, film review system, live streaming, online shopping, Tiktok-like videos).

These attempts can’t be said to be too successful, but at least make its financial statements look better than Twitter.

But in short, Weibo is indeed Chinese version of Twitter.

12. Kwai / Kuaishou

Although Kwai is described as another Tiktok in the Chinese market, it actually launched earlier than Douyin.

Overall, it is indeed another Tiktok in the Chinese market. What happens here is similar to Pinduoduo, which in its early days focused on serving third-tier urban and rural residents. Its content is more “local” than Douyin,.

We have written a separate article explaining why there is not only Douyin but also Kwai, in the Chinese market. You can read it if you are interested.

13. Amap

Chinese version of Google map.

But it is not fair to describe it this way, because Amap was founded in 2002. This is three years before the release of Google Maps.

Of course, Amap was a maker of in-car navigators at that time, but unlike most industry losers in Europe and the United States, it was successfully transformed into an Internet mapping service.

Compared with other competitors in the market, Amap has the best performance in the field of automobile navigation. As a result, Chinese drivers especially like to use this map.

The maps of China provided in Google Maps after 2006 are also from Amap. In 2010, the company listed on Nasdaq. In 2014, it was privatized by Alibaba. Now, it is a member of Alibaba Group.

14. Baidu Map

Another Chinese version of Google map is from Baidu.

It has more information about merchants, so users who don’t drive prefer to use it. It also provides a 360 °service similar to Google Street, and you can even use it to enable VR travel.

15. WiFi Master

You may have seen the company because you inadvertently visited wifi.com, a tool that helps you share the WiFi passwords stored on your phone.

A few years ago, formal Open WiFi coverage in China was small, especially in second-and third-tier cities or rural areas, where some restaurants, hotels or shopping malls simply bought a router and told guests the WPA2 password. These WiFi will not provide a web login page for you to apply for temporary access, you must find the exact WiFi password to use them.

But most of the time, you can’t find these free WIFI passwords at all. WiFi master comes in handy in this case.

Once someone shares the WPA2 password of a public WiFi in WiFi Master, others can automatically connect to the WiFi through WiFi Master.

Overall, as data costs in China fall and formal Open WiFi coverage increases, the App is losing its original users.

16. QQ Browser

Google can’t be used in China, so you don’t think Chrome is the main browser used by Chinese people, do you?

In fact, most Chinese people use browsers that are pre-installed when their phones ship out of the factory. Most of them are made by different software companies, so they don’t have a name.

QQ Browser is the only protagonist in the mobile field, mainly thanks to WeChat and QQ.
When you open a hyperlink in these two Tencent social networks, it will first open in the built-in browser, and then it prompts you to download QQ Browser if you want to open it in another browser.

This prompt can be skipped, you can still use the installed Chrome, Firefox or other browsers to open the page, but most ordinary users will not ignore this prompt.

17. JD

This is an online shopping App.

It used to be Taobao’s only competitor, but now it lags far behind Taobao and pinduoduo.

It’s more like a Chinese version of Amazon. It started by selling books and digital products, and then started selling everything. Similar to Amazon, it is characterized by “extremely fast delivery speed”.

Yes, but unlike Amazon, “JD speed” means “place the order by 23:00 today, and you will receive the goods by 24:00 the next day”.

Considering this “teleport” speed, the prices of similar goods on JD are a little more expensive than those on Taobao and Pinduoduo. JD itself does not admit this, but most consumers think so.

But not everyone needs to go that fast, right? JD has no bright spots in other areas, which I think is why it has been at a competitive disadvantage in the past two years.

For foreigners, the company may have been first heard of when its founder, Liu Qiangdong, was involved in a sexual assault in Minnesota in 2018.

18. Today’s Headline

A news reader released by TikTok’s parent company in 2012.

It uses recommendation algorithms to organize long articles. Despite it is called Today’s Headline its content is not just news, even most of it is not news.

A typical scenario is that you, as a new user, open Today’s Headline and read several articles about meditation, cats and entrepreneurship.

Next, every time you refresh the page, it will refresh eight articles related to these three topics for you. Then you start to indulge in reading. It has an almost endless library of content that you can read all the time.

What did you find? Yes, Bytedance created TikTok in exactly the same way.

You can refer to this article about how this App is successful in China.

19. Tencent News

Tencent News is Tencent’s version of Today’s Headline. It is formed by the transformation of Tencent’s web portal.

In 2003, Tencent launched its news service Tencent Web Portal(腾讯网), which was similar to the early Yahoo, AOL and MSN. This is taken for granted, when Tencent QQ had been online for 4 years, and there was still very little similar content on the Chinese Internet.

People needed more topics when chatting, so Tencent launched the Tencent Web Portal.

Later, the mobile internet almost replaced the PC Internet in China, so the Tencent Web Portal became Tencent News App.

Although it contains “news” in its name, like Today’s Headline, it is actually an interested reader like Medium. You can find ten times more cats in it than in the news.

20. Huawei App Store

As we all know, there is no direct access to Google from Chinese mainland, which includes Google Play.
So how do Chinese Android users download Apps?

Chinese-branded mobile phone manufacturers will pre-install their own App Store in their phones. Xiaomi’s phone is pre-installed with Xiaomi App Store. OPPO, OnePlus, and VIVO do the same.

Of course, Huawei App Store is pre-installed in Huawei’s mobile phone.

But only Huawei App Store appears in the Chinese Top 20 app, which is enough to show the popularity of Huawei in China.

In fact, according to Analysys, Huawei App Store has more than 260 million monthly active users, which is 80% of the total population of the United States. Considering that not all mobile phone users download new App, every month, you can guess how much Chinese consumers like Huawei.

When I read many English reports about the Internet in China, I found that these articles either provide in-depth reports on a certain App or company, or only use financial data to describe the development of the Internet in China as a whole.

No one seems to have ever tried to describe how a typical Chinese Internet user is surrounded by glittering unicorns.

So I wrote this article, which looks like a brief group photo of Chinese Internet companies.

If you are more interested in any of these companies, or if a Chinese Internet product that you think is very powerful does not appear on this list, you can find me on Twitter. I would be happy to buzzing this with you.



One response to “What are the 20 most commonly used App in China?”

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