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China Is Now Leading Innovation in Mobile App Development

For some years, it was assumed—and even proven—that the United States was ahead of China in technology and tech development. The argument was that China had to fight through government bureaucracy and censorship to get things done, while the “gurus” in the United States have much more freedom to pursue their own ideas with no concerns about government intrusion. 

Those days of Chinese tech developers taking a back seat and falling behind their counterparts in the United States and Canada are in the past. Many changes in websites and apps that have appeared in the United States in the past year or two have also come from ideas that originated in China. There is more live-streaming on social networks, there are QR codes that allow users to transfer money and pay for things, and all of these ideas originated in China.

In the recent past, it seemed that everything China developed was some sort of copy of what Western countries had done first. Now, some tech leaders in Western nations state that China is ahead. A man who works a Kik, a tech firm located in Ontario, stated that their company views China as being ahead of the rest of the world in many tech related fields.

Examples of areas that China has led include Momo, a dating app for singles. The Western version of that is Tinder, but Momo came first.

When he was on the television program 60 Minutes, Jeff Bezos of Amazon talked about using drones to deliver products to consumers. S.F. Express, a Chinese delivery company was testing out drone technology first. 

In the United States, Venmo allows people to transfer their money around with Venmo’s app. China has been using virtual wallets to pay individuals money, to purchase products from both online and brick and mortar stores and more; all well before anyone had heard of Venmo.

In 2015, China became the country that used mobile payments the most. More people in China are also using smartphones to order services, pay friends and do other things with their money. China also made it possible to film video, similar to the way the Facebook works now, but China made that change in their app much more quickly than the United States.

One difference in how the United States and China approach app design is that for the United States, simplicity is important. An app is likely to focus on one or two tasks, and that seems to be the way that most users like their apps.

In China, they seem to take the opposite approach. One app will likely have several different functions to serve different desires of the users. From a single app, a person might be able to order food, order car rides, shop, secure tickets to events or a place to stay. Chinese technology businesses also allow other companies to add or possibly improve an app.

Using Apps to Make Payments

In China, the use of credit cards is limited, but the use of mobile payment, similar to PayPal or Apple Pay is not. Imagine 1.5 billion people who cannot use a credit card, but who may not always find using cash possible or convenient. What will those people do? Many of them will use Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. Alipay saw their market in mobile pay in 2015 rise to $235 billion. The United States had $231 billion during the same time. The market in both companies is growing.

Part of the reason why companies like Alipay are growing so quickly is that in 2015, 80% of all Chinese citizens used an app to pay for something, and by the end of the year, at least 20% of the population had a smart phone. Just a few years ago, businesses were concerned that people wouldn’t use smartphones to shop with. Now, businesses are bending over backward to try to find apps that are convenient and that consumers are willing to try.

Although China has made great strides in technology innovation, there are some things that hold their software and app developers back. When developers work, they usually have to use American technology, such as American servers. China is also behind America in the development of driverless automobiles, and while some products that are made in China work fine, they might be a little rougher around the edges than many products developed in the West.

China never had personal computers in the home the way that most Western countries did. Now there are literally hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens with smartphones in their pocket, and these people want apps that will improve their lives. The opportunity to develop an ad like WeChat that earned $7 in profit for every user in 2015, and the app had more than 700 million users ($4.9 billion).

That might be incentive enough to make those in the technology industry more innovative!