Feb14

China Leapfrogs To Mobile – Western Developers Should Take Note

Mobile first attitudes may result in the western world being left behind the technological curve.

Today, most Western internet users probably first experienced the web through a desktop computer or a laptop. Indeed, long before smartphones could connect us online using 4G, we waited for dial up modems to for slow internet connections. Since dial up has been the early internet experience for so many, it’s easy to forget that other parts of the world’s progression to connectivity is happening much faster—and far differently—than mass adoption in the west.

The People’s Republic

Nowhere is this truer than in China. China’s Internet Network Information Center—CNNIC, the government agency responsible for the internet   recently released new figures for the nation’s internet usage.As TechCrunch reported, the figures showed, “As of December, 2016, China had 731 million internet users. That figure represents 53.2 percent of China’s population, meaning that it is almost on par with the population of Europe: 743 million people. But, perhaps more impressively, 95 percent of internet users are on mobile; that’s 695 million in total.”

Taking The Leap

As stunning as these numbers are, perhaps most impressive is the fact that for the first time in history, roughly 50% of China’s massive population (1.4 billion) is using a mobile device to connect to the internet. Many of these new users have essentially leapfrogged, or skipped over, the desktop experience entirely. This means their understanding of the web, how it works, and its capabilities has been shaped entirely by how they use it.

It’s also important to understand that because of the dominance of the mobile experience in the Chinese market, apps like WeChat have tremendous power and influence. Some estimate that up to 80% of all of China’s internet users are using the app. In the US, for example, there is no app that competes with that level of penetration among smartphone users. Though Facebook has 79% penetration among US internet users, many still use the desktop experience and have not transitioned to mobile-only.

Author Marco Gervasi explains why this is significant when comparing west and east connectivity norms. “In the West, when we switch from desktop to mobile, and we are still in the middle of it, you have to unlearn what you learned in the desktop generation, and learn the mobile. In China, the desktop was not so widespread and they have been moved seamlessly toward mobile.”

Mobile First

Though it is a massive market, the west seems to take it for granted that we will always be more advanced than China. However, with the widespread proliferation of mobile-first internet users growing at a rate that exceeds the global average. Western developers and entrepreneurs need to take note. Adoption of the web grew by 6.2% in the last year, according to CNNIC. As that market matures, they could soon find themselves with sophisticated competition coming from homegrown developers in China, who totally understand the need to cater for a mobile-first audience.

As Gervasi puts it, “When you start looking at China and how technology is having an impact, you start seeing trends and patterns that the Western world doesn’t see yet because it is still in transition.”

Indeed, the west will continue to ignore China’s internet growth at its own peril. Though different cultural norms make apps like WeChat very specific to its own market, there is little stopping WeChat’s owners from making tweaks to enter the global market.

If and when they do, they may well possess a better understanding of how to craft a native and intuitive mobile user experience no matter where they live. Watch out for China leapfrogging the West very soon.

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