Dan Grover, a product manager on WeChat, takes a look at home-grown Chinese apps differ from those used in the West.  Here is a VERy basic summary, see the article in full on his blog here.

Input: The Chinese language is not easily adapted to phones with it’s thousands of unique characters. Many local apps accept Latin characters as search terms and resolve them to Chinese-language results — independent of your operating system. Voice search and QR codes are also often used.


Security: US sites and apps typically allow two methods of logging– either a traditional password or third-party authentication through Facebook or Google. But Chinese apps mostly use a phone number– you key in your number and receive a confirmation code via SMS- or QR Code -a QR code is an expiring session identifier that, once read by the mobile app, associates that browser session with the logged-in account.

Official Accounts: WeChat has popularized the concept of “official accounts” for brands and public figures. You can send any kind of message (text, image, voice, etc), and they’ll reply, either in an automated fashion or by routing it to a human somewhere. The interface is exactly the same as for chatting with your friends, save for one difference: it has menus at the bottom with shortcuts to the main features of the account (though it can be toggled away to reveal the normal text field).

Purchasing: Now many mobile apps can link with your bank account and be used as an intermediary for other apps, freeing you of going through the onerous binding process in yet another app. Also, every app has a “wallet” allowing you to buy things in the app, in real life, send payments to friends, pay utility or phone bills…. just about anything.

Location, Location: Almost all apps in China have built in location tracking. Specicially, many apps have a purpose of using your location to identify things around– most recently Momo has taken storm, identifying other people on the service nearby.

Downloading: Every app centered around any kind of media allows you to download things for offline consumption. This includes the music apps (QQ Music, Duomi, Baidu Music, etc) and the TV/movie apps (iQIYI, PPTV, Tencent Video, Baidu Video). You’re guaranteed on any subway ride to see at least a dozen people zoned out, catching up on their shows during a commute, something I’d never seen in the US, likely because of users’ ability to download shows in China.

Moments: It’s worth breaking from general trends to call special attention to the design of WeChat’s “Moments” or “Friend Circle” feature. It has no filtering, only shows posts to friends and their friends, has no business’ posts. As a result of these design decisions, and the way it’s sewn into the parent app, people here are addicted to checking this feed, more than any other.

Cute Mascots: It’s a thing in China. Get one.