As Google Play is officially banned in China, there are dozens of third-party Android stores in the country. They have to fight for users’ attention, using different rules and even hijacking competitors’ links. Here are the main characteristics of this huge and complex market.

On May 31, independent analyst Benedict Evans wrote a thread on Twitter based on internal documents that were disclosed during a trial between Apple and Epic Games.

Key facts from the documents

  • The market is now in a phase of consolidation. If there were 7,500 Android app stores in China in 2021, now there are around 100 stores, with 20 of them that really matter.
  • These stores have their own requirements for publishing apps, from the number of images in listing to the app review timeline. In order to keep up with different rules, developers respond by hosting their APK on their server or outsourcing the publishing process to other companies.
  • Different stores have different commissions, which are usually higher than Google Play’s 30% rate. For example, Tencent My App Store’s commission starts at 40% for apps with ¥500K+ revenue and may rise to 70% for apps with ¥10M+ revenue.
  • In their fight for users’ attention, third-party stores monitor competitors’ updates on people’s phones and send notifications to install their new versions.
  • OEM stores go further and attract users by saying that competitors’ apps are “not safe.” Developers try to use WebViews, a Chrome-based system component that allows users to display web pages as a part of the activity layout.

  • Due to a large number of competing apps and stores, Chinese users are in need of so-called “device cleaners,” with around 550 thousand people using this type of apps.
  • Developers have to use obfuscation services and DCL (dynamic code loading) libraries to protect their apps from being hacked, modified, and re-uploaded to other app markets.
  • OEMs are concerned about WeChat’s dominance (the app is owned by Tencent). Third-party stores monitor users’ messages and change links that take people outside the popular messenger.

“If you think getting rid of app stores or allowing multiple app stores would be simple and easy, or a clear benefit to users and developers, you’re out of your mind,” Evans concludes.

The full thread with all screenshots can be found here.

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