China's mobile market hosts some of the highest-growth apps in the world. However, it's also a rapidly evolving landscape that can be confusing for American investors to follow. So today I'll highlight seven of the most popular mobile apps in China.
To compile this list, I used data from QuestMobile, market share figures from other sources, and updated active user counts with official numbers (if available). You'll notice that four companies clearly dominate this market: Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU), Tencent (NASDAQOTH:TCEHY), Weibo (NASDAQ:WB), and Alibaba (NYSE:BABA).
Mobile search: Mobile Baidu
Baidu's mobile app had 436 million monthly active users (MAUs), according to QuestMobile, making it the top mobile search engine in China. That wasn't surprising since Baidu is the country's largest search provider, but it indicates that the tech giant successfully transitioned from PCs to mobile devices.
Last quarter, 78% of Baidu's revenue came from mobile devices, up from 70% in the prior year quarter. Baidu controlled 82% of China's mobile search market in April, according to StatCounter. Its closest rival, Alibaba's Shenma, held a 12% share.
Mobile messaging: WeChat
Tencent's WeChat, also known as Weixin, is the top mobile messaging app in China with 989 million MAUs. Over the past few years, Tencent expanded WeChat into an all-in-one platform for various services, including mobile payments, games, delivery services, ride hailing services, e-commerce, social networking, and online search.
That expansion widens Tencent's moat against its top ecosystem rivals, Baidu and e-commerce giant Alibaba (NYSE:BABA). Many smaller companies are now feeling the pressure to partner with one of these tech giants to remain relevant in China's digital market.
Social network: Weibo
WeChat is often considered China's biggest social network, but the biggest stand-alone social network is actually Weibo, which grew its MAUs by 21% annually to 411 million last quarter. Its daily active users (DAUs) also rose 19% to 184 million.
Weibo is often called "China's Twitter", but it could more accurately be described as a combination of Twitter's microblogs, Facebook's social networking connections, Reddit's portal-like discussion forums, and Yahoo's news portals.
Streaming video: iQiyi
It didn't update its MAU count during its first quarter report in late April, but QuestMobile estimates that it now has 463 million mobile MAUs. The platform's closest rivals are Tencent Video and Alibaba's Youku Tudou. All three platforms run on a freemium model.
Streaming music: Kugou
QuestMobile claims that Tencent's Kugou Music is the largest mobile streaming music platform in China with 230 million MAUs. However, Kugou is notably just one of Tencent Music's three main streaming music apps, which also include QQ Music and Kuwo.
Together, those three apps control over three-quarters of China's online music market, according to research firm DCCI. Tencent's closest competitor in this market is NetEase's Cloud Music.
Alipay, which is run by Alibaba's affiliate Ant Financial, is the most popular mobile payments platform in China. QuestMobile estimates that the platform has 530 million MAUs, and research firm Analysys claims that it controls 54% of the overall market.
Its closest rival, Tencent's WeChat Pay, controls 40% of the market. In other words, Alibaba and Tencent hold a duopoly on the lucrative mobile payments market, which makes it nearly impossible for rivals to gain much traction.
Alibaba's Mobile Taobao has 527 million MAUs according to QuestMobile. Last quarter, Alibaba reported that its total mobile MAUs across all its marketplaces (including Tmall) rose 6% sequentially to 617 million.
Those figures aren't surprising, since Alibaba is the 800-pound gorilla of China's e-commerce market. However, that dominance is causing many smaller retailers and tech companies to join a rival alliance led by Tencent and Alibaba's biggest competitor JD.com.
The key takeaways
Owning a popular app doesn't guarantee success, but having hundreds of millions of users to monetize gives companies like Baidu, Tencent, Alibaba, and Weibo plenty of opportunities for growth. These four companies will likely dominate the mobile market for the foreseeable future, even as new high-growth apps enter the picture.