The Great Wall of China. For thousands of years it kept invaders out. Today, it still stands as a symbol of the mobile separation between China and the rest of the world. Massive piracy, app store fragmentation, and terrible ARPUs have kept a majority of app developers away from the red giant. But China isn't something that can be ignored any longer. Western developers are salivating at the news that China has just topped the U.S. as the world's largest market for active iOS and Android devices.
The growth curve for China is staggering. On top of the 250+ million active smartphone users there are over 800 million feature phones that are going to eventually be replaced by iOS and Android devices in the next several years. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple Inc., has already publicly stated that China is going to be Apple's largest market very soon. So what can developers do about the challenges of entering the world's largest market? This is the moment where the smart developers separate themselves from the herd to become a first mover.
Know Your Audience
Localization is necessary. 95% of China's mobile subscribers speak mandarin. There are plenty of companies out there that will either take rev share or cash upfront but for the cash strapped developer check out Ackuna. Ackuna is a free mobile app translation platform that crowdsources the translation work for free.
Avoid sensitive topics. Politics, realistic violence, partial nudity, etc. are all part of pop culture in the west but don't forget these things are very taboo and controlled in China. Apple pulled a Dalia Lama quote app back in 2009 and continues to "comply with local laws". Think about it this way - if you can't Google it in China, avoid it.
Focus on great content. period. I've read so many articles all stressing how different asian audiences are and what works here will never work over "there". If all the hype were true then everyone in China would be playing tamagotchi and card trading apps all day. Let me make this clear - what's popular here, is popular there. The number #1 free app in the app store right now is plants vs. zombies. Other apps in the top 100 include Temple Run 2, Gun Bros, and FruitNinja. Check out AppAnnie's free app tracking if you want to dig deeper into app categories. It's not rocket science - if you make a great app in the west, it's going to do well in China as long as you pay attention to my first two points and follow the next piece of advice...
Know The Market
Paid apps don't stand a chance. According to a 2011 study of two Chinese app stores by Lookout Mobile Security, about 17% of apps were pirated or repackaged likely by someone other than the developer. Even if you could stay on top of the hundreds of app stores that contain pirated rips of paid apps, there is an even bigger problem called Cydia. Most nerds are familiar with jailbreaking and Cydia's collection of pirated apps but did you know that according to Umeng "42.4% of mainland China iOS devices are jailbroken"? Like it or not, piracy is a huge part of doing business in China.
There are primarily two app business models in China - ad supported and in-app purchases. In-app purchases work better on iOS because Apple has tied direct carrier billing in for developers but it's still a mess on Android. Unless your app has dozens of pay walls and requires virtual currency to proceed I would strongly discourage in-app purchases. As a developer you're going to be getting a much smaller slice of paying users and the LTV is also 50-80% lower because of economical reasons. That leaves the ad-supported model. You'll want to work with a partner that measures on installs (clicks are easily faked by bots in China). This may sound obvious but make sure the ad network is showing localized ads in mandarin. Clearly, I am biased because I work for AppFlood (http://appflood.com) but if you haven't checked us out already this may be the time. We have a Chinese cost-per-install version that lets developers buy, sell, or exchange users completely commission-free. We're also headquartered in Beijing and have extremely good relationships with carriers and OEMs. Ok, I know, enough shameless plugging.
The Pareto 80/20 principle for Chinese app stores holds true. Rather than uploading your app to hundreds of app stores, focus on the app stores with largest reach and reputation. For iOS, you'll have to use Apple but Android is a different ballgame. Stick with the big three carrier stores - China Mobile, China Telecom, & China Unicom. Here are the backend links to all three: CM:http://dev.10086.cn/ & CT:http://ap.189store.com/ & CU:http://dev.wo.com.cn
China's mobile dominance is already here. The only question you've got to answer is do you want to play?