[Ed: China Unicom's App Store, China Mobile's Mobile Market and NetDragon's Panda Space, not-free or free, copyright or pirate, whatever! Where are the developed-in-China applications? Where is the healthy ecosystem?]
Why iPhone is so popular? Thanks to the handset itself which is indeed an amazing gadget and the App Store (be exact to say, it is the ecosystem behind it). It’s probably only two weeks ahead before China Unicom’s iPhone finally hits the ground. How will the local App Store look like? Well, we still have no idea!
Interesting enough. It seems that only experts/geeks/developers/business people/journalists are expecting the app store, and the normal Chinese iPhone users actually don’t really care. Why that? 91.com has been offering a software called 91 Assistant (also called ’91 Helper’), a platform where you can download applications for your mobile phone, for a long time.
Hundreds of latest iPhone applications you can download from 91.com’s iPhone channel, for Free. Obviously, it’s breach of copyright. But, if we could leave this key issue aside (well, I know there is no way we can ignore it), I have to say that 91 Assistant is a super useful and amazing software.
91 Assistant is available on multiple platform (Windows, iPhone, Windows Mobile, Symbian and Android). On the mobile system, 91 Assistant (aka Panda Space) is running just like iPhone’s App Store where you can search for the applications, download, install and even update them straight away. You can also do batch-install which means unlike iPhone app store that automatically quits in order to install only one application, you can pick up multiple applications on Panda Space, keep browsing the library while they are being downloaded and installed in one go. More than that, you can also find Themes, Ringtones, e-Books on Panda Space, and you can also read RSS feeds there.
The desktop version of 91 Assistant offers you the same application library like iTune, but it also provides you with some very handy and better features such as Backup (which allows you to backup the contacts, messages, photos, music etc) and Restore. Its latest version even introduced a new feature which gives you the flexibility to transfer your data (contacts,message etc) across different platforms (Symbian, iPhone and Windows Mobile).
91.com is owned by a Fujian-based company NetDragon Websoft Inc. (0777.HK), a leading online game company in China. It was rumored that NetDragon to operate iPhone App Store, but the cooperation was also denied by NetDragon. Despite its reported profit for the first six months of 2009 of approximately RMB 66.4 million is down roughly 42.4% compared with the corresponding period last year, clearly it made a very smart and healthy decision: targeting at China’s emerging smart-phone industry. With the 91.com becoming the leading portal for mobile application/game and widely installed Panda Space, NetDragon’s future is mobile space is quite promising. For example, some in-house developed mobile software applications, such as “Panda Reader” is now a very popular e-reader on mobile platforms.
Either China Unicom (and China Mobile since it runs Mobile Market) or Apple, I think they have to talk to NetDragon (they might have done it already). If they don’t, there will be a big question mark on how to make $$$ from mobile applications market as they expect.
Copyright is always one of the biggest issue in China, although it has been significantly improved. Enterprise together with government spent lots of effort fighting against pirate computer software, free music download etc, now seriously they have to be ready for a new challenge, the applications for mobile platform.