Chinese developer Meitu has apps in 510 million mobile devices and 800 million registered users (with 180 million monthly active users) of whom 70% are young women as of January 2015. Available in more than two dozens languages, around 10% of Meitu’s users are from outside mainland China, including Greater China, Europe and the Americas, according to Wu Hongxing, Meitu founder and CEO.
Starting off with a PC-based professional photo editing tool, Meitu got traction on mobile with its flagship photo editing and sharing app Meitu Pic (Meitu Xiuxiu in Chinese). This now has over 400 million users, and is one of if not the most popular photo editing apps in China. Competitors including Camera360 (with over 400 million users) and Baidu Motu, an app from the Innovation Works’ incubation program which Baidu acquired in 2011.
Other photo-related apps by Meitu, such as Beauty Camera (for selfies, with over 90% of users being female), POMELO (photo effects and filters) and PosterLabs (creating posters from photos), are also widely popular in China.
Since 2013 the company has rolled out four MeituKiss Android phones equipped with high-end front-facing cameras and a high-performance GPU for selfie fanatics. MeituKiss was inspired by the popularity of a Casio self-portrait camera amongst Chinese users.
Meitu phones are sold from RMB1399 to RMB2399 (about US$230-390), significantly cheaper than Casio’s camera.
Like other new Chinese Android phone makers, MeituKiss phones are loaded with a customized operating system, named MEIOS. Besides apps or tools by the Meitu, MEIOS also has functions and features which most other Chinese Android phone brands have developed, such as mobile security and caller identification.
Adopting high-end front-facing cameras or GPU is of little difficulty to smartphone manufacturers and many have done so. But Meitu believe they already have a number of loyal phone users. It is reported that a new hardware product, possibly a camera, is under development.
The company expanded to video clip capturing and editing with Meipai. Eight months after launch, Meipai announced 100 million users in January 2015, with 30 million monthly active and 5 million daily active. Over 200 million videos had been uploaded as of January 2015, with an average of 950,000 being added daily. About 70% of users are female.
Meitu saw short video capturing and sharing exploding in China in 2014. Meipai’s direct competitors include Tencent’s WeShow, or Weishi, and Weibo’s Miaopai. It is believed WeShow also has a considerable number of users, channeled from its QQ platform which has over 800 million monthly active users.
WeChat, the most popular mobile messaging app in China, also added a short video feature in 2014, though it lacks editing features. Wanpai, developed by the Chinese branch of the startup by YouTube’s founders, and one of the first Vine clones in China, has shut down.
Similar to the company’s other apps, the short video app provides effects and supports sharing to Weibo and WeChat. The app also can create videos from imported images. Meipai at first only allowed up to ten seconds for a video, later extended to 60 seconds.
With the latest 3.0 version, users are able to attach voice messages. The new version also makes personalised recommendations. More social features added have enabled users to see other users nearby and chat with any of them. A web version has also recently been released for users to watch uploaded videos.
Meitu set up an office in Los Angeles last month and plans to open another one in Tokyo, saying overseas expansion is a main task for this year.
Although most of the existing apps have multi-language versions, the company has been developing tailored apps for markets like the U.S. Beauty Plus, launched last year and currently available in English and Japanese, is for Asian users.
Photo editing apps are thought to be one of the categories, apart from gaming and utilities, Chinese developers are confident to export. Camera 360 has a large number of users overseas especially in Asian markets such as Thailand.
Like most Chinese mobile apps, Meitu’s are for free on both Android and iOS. It generated revenues mainly from in-app advertising and hardware sales, with the greater part from the latter.
Only the Chinese version of Meitu Pic and Beauty Camera feature banner ads. The company has begun helping brands and movies with marketing campaigns. Some analysts expect photo sharing app Instagram to generate US$340 million, mainly from advertising, in 2014 from over 300 million monthly active users.
Founded in 2008, Meitu is backed by Chinese legendary angel investor Cai Wensheng, who became Meitu’s chairman in 2013 and is now the largest shareholder in it. Before Meitu Mr. Cai served as chairman at 4399, a casual game platform he invested in.
The average age of Meitu’s 400+ employees is just 24, with 45% of them engineers.
Meitu’s management confirmed the rumored IPO plan last month, though adding it may not happen any time soon.
Editing by Mike Cormack (@bucketoftongues)