While Chinese Innovation used to be an oxy moron, today it is becoming a reality. Chinese firms that have long simply copied western technologies, are now developing products that cater to the Chinese consumer. Many of these products are imitations of Western product that are simply improved upon. Some examples of the “imitate and innovate” approach that is winning over Chinese consumers are apps such as PaPa and WeChat that grew out of the distinct Chinese environment.
If you’ve ever been on a Chinese train you’ll notice that not having headphones doesn’t stop anyone from watching their favorite movie, or playing video games, at high volume. You’ll also notice that it doesn’t bother anyone other than the scowling westerners whispering “shut up.” The reason for this? It’s a crowded country; with 1.3 billion people you can’t help but get used to the noise and even come to enjoy it. That’s what happened to me, sitting on a train listening to “Angry Birds” being playd used to drive me insane…Now if it’s too quite I’m creeped out. It’s this environment that spawned the addition of voice messages by PaPa to its Instagram like app. It allows users to add voice message to their pictures that sound like anything from animals to aliens! It’s quite the product and distinctly Chinese.
Another cool app, introduced to me by Yang, is called WeChat. This is another “imitate and innovate” type of app based loosely on Viber. Though it offers the same messaging services as Viber, it has several other functions that help distant family members to better stay in touch. A function called “Moments” for example allows users to share photos, and others to then comment on them. Users can also “shake,” which is just what it sounds like. The User shakes the phone, and anyone else in the world who is also shaking their phone will immediately pop up on the screen. I tried this today and was introduced to “The King of Rap” from Oman, 6,981 miles away! Finally it has the “look around” function, which when pressed shows the user everyone who has WeChat near them and approximately how far they are away. This has actually turned into an interesting way for younger Chinese to meet new people…sometimes even dates, which could put the marriage market out of business!
While neither of these two apps has taken off in foreign markets, except within Chinese communities abroad, it is hugely popular with young Chinese and their expat friends. With an online population of 564 million, that’s about the only market you need to capture for success!