APUS, an Android launcher by a Chinese team, claims they have gained 30 million installs, with 8 million daily active users, in two months since its launch. A couple of months ago few people knew where it came from and who were behind it. It turns out it’s from a startup founded as recently as in June by Li Tao, former vice president at Qihoo 360 and the lead of Qihoo’s international expansion.
A couple of days ago an anonymous source who claims he/she is former senior exec at Sungy Mobile, the company behind the famous Go Launcher, broke the news through a blog post that APUS is actually venture backed by Qihoo and had poached a senior technical engineer at Sungy Mobile. (post in Chinese)
Update: APUS has posted a statement on Chinese microblogging platform Weibo that reads they’re not venture backed by any domestic internet companies or senior management from those companies. The company has raised RMB100 million (about US$16mn) in funding from top global VC firms in June, according to the statement.
Qihoo announced a strategic partnership with Sungy Mobile three month ago. The aforementioned post claims Qihoo dumped the partnership that hadn’t made the strategic investment as promised and unilaterally halted marketing campaigns on Sungy products saying the return on investment was low.
If all the rumors are true, the story is Qihoo signed strategic partnership in late April, Mr. Li left Qihoo in May and pulled together APUS team in June, and APUS was launched in July and would announce 30 million installs about two months later. According to some industry insiders, APUS has been spending heavily acquiring users. (Update: APUS has confirmed the startup was founded in June but denied relationship with Qihoo.)
We’ve told you, the Android launchers developed by Chinese are not aiming for customizing Android experience but grabbing land in the Mobile Internet, as the Chinese developers figured out that the launcher could be an entry-point product. As the China mobile market has been dominated by a few Chinese players, including Qihoo, Baidu and Tencent, Chinese Android launchers have been eyeing overseas markets.
Like on a web browser, a variety of ad placements or ways of marketing can be created on an Android launcher. Qihoo knows better than most others. The company managed to figure out a business model based on the Qihoo browsers most Chinese users have been using. It started from making money through ad placements on the landing page of the browsers and revenue shares from third-party web games (or browser games) on the gaming channel; from last year the company began making money from search marketing as it replaced the default search service on the browsers with its own.
Although Zhou Hongyi, CEO of Qihoo, has said in public that he didn’t think the same business model would work in overseas markets, it’s unknown whether he really thought so. What I know is some app distributors or advertising services from China or overseas are buying traffic or users from some Chinese apps, including launchers, that have a large number of users.
Of course currently what is more important for companies like Qihoo is still about land grabbing. For Qihoo, the launcher doesn’t only mean more users of its existing mobile offerings but also a weapon to fight against competitors. The APUS launcher now is featuring two apps, named Battery Saver (our translation) and APUS Booster. The apps seem to be developed by APUS but, so far, are not available on Google Play for download (Update: Those apps are indeed by APUS. The company has also developed APUS Market and APUS notification.). It is believed the two apps are aimed at the DU Battery Saver of Baidu and the Clean Master of Cheetah Mobile, with which the two Chinese companies have gained a considerable users outside China. Both Baidu and Cheetah Mobile are Qihoo’s direct competitors.