Unveiling the Decline of Chinese Apps

apps have a short lifespan in mainland China

Within one month, 85% of users delete the apps they downloaded

According to analysts at IResearch Consulting Group, apps have a short lifespan in mainland China, with an average of only ten months. Within one month, 85% of users delete the apps they downloaded, and after five months, the retention rate drops to a mere 5%. This wave of app attrition has dampened the spirits of mobile internet entrepreneurs. What are the underlying factors contributing to this decline?
Recently, iResearch published a report revealing that out of over 4 million applications in the China domestic market, 80% of them are considered zombie apps. These apps have a limited lifespan, with an average of just ten months. Within one month, 85% of users uninstall them, and after five months, the retention rate dwindles to 5%.
Initially, when smartphones gained popularity, users were keen to download various fun and interesting apps to enhance their mobile entertainment. However, as users’ curiosity waned, only valuable apps managed to survive. Simple, crude, uninteresting, and low-quality apps lacked staying power, as they failed to captivate users and were eventually eliminated. Valuable applications are those that offer a poor user experience due to slow updates, excessive advertisements, lack of functionality, and high similarity to other apps.
Moreover, installing numerous applications can slow down a phone’s speed, consume data, and lead to memory issues, including lag and system incompatibility. Consequently, mature smartphone users tend to limit their actively installed apps to around 10-20. While the overall number of apps and their distribution in the market continue to grow significantly, the demographic dividend for app promotion has diminished.
In each field, a few dominant apps have emerged over time, establishing a pattern of popular apps with high stickiness and low-quality apps. For instance, in the weather category, users mostly rely on a single app like Inky Weather. Similarly, apps like WiFi Master Key, Youku, iQiyi, Baidu, WeChat, QQ, and Momo dominate their respective fields. While users have a limited number of installed apps, thousands of similar apps vie for their attention, resulting in a pattern where high-quality apps capture 28% of the market, leaving the remaining 80% of apps competing for the remaining 20% of users.
High promotion costs have become a significant obstacle for small and medium-sized app entrepreneurs. Acquiring users through app promotion can be expensive. While some apps can gain users through low-cost word-of-mouth promotion, most apps struggle to secure good exposure in app stores due to the inability to afford higher promotion fees. Even well-known apps rely on flashing or pre-installation by manufacturers, which comes at a cost ranging from 1.5 to 5 yuan per installation. Startups often find it challenging to afford these costs, hindering their progress.

Another reason for the decline of apps lies in the strategies adopted by major app stores

Many Android app stores have adopted a completely free approach

Another reason for the decline of apps lies in the strategies adopted by major app stores. Many Android app stores have adopted a completely free approach, reducing the costs for users to install and use apps. However, this abundance of choices has diminished the perceived value of apps. Users visit app stores less frequently, with the average daily usage time on Android app stores in China currently at only 1.45 minutes, compared to the much higher usage duration of popular apps like WeChat and Tmall. Consequently, many apps experience shorter user engagement and a higher likelihood of being uninstalled. Surveys have shown that at least 95% of mobile applications on smartphones are never used. Non-essential and uninteresting apps, such as certain tools and entertainment applications, are often the first to be uninstalled by users.
The gaming app sector faces its own challenges, with a staggering 79% zombie rate. While high-quality games may have some user stickiness, the majority of gaming apps struggle to maintain long-term engagement. The mobile gaming market is highly competitive, with thousands of new games being released every month. Users have limited time and attention span, so only a handful of popular and engaging games manage to capture their interest.
Furthermore, the prevalence of in-app purchases and intrusive advertisements in gaming apps has led to user dissatisfaction. Many users find themselves bombarded with ads or pushed to make frequent purchases to progress in the game. This negatively impacts the user experience and contributes to higher uninstall rates.
In addition to these factors, the Chinese government has also played a role in the decline of certain apps. In recent years, the Chinese government has tightened regulations on various aspects of the internet industry, including app content, data privacy, and cybersecurity. This has led to stricter scrutiny and removal of apps that do not comply with the regulations. Apps that are deemed to be in violation of the rules or pose security risks may face removal from app stores or even complete bans. Such actions by the government have resulted in the decline and disappearance of certain apps from the Chinese market.
Overall, the decline of Chinese apps can be attributed to a combination of factors, including the short lifespan of apps, limited user attention, high promotion costs, competition from dominant apps, user dissatisfaction with low-quality apps, and government regulations. As the app market continues to evolve, app developers and entrepreneurs will need to adapt their strategies and focus on creating valuable and engaging experiences to attract and retain users in this highly competitive landscape.