Home to the world’s leading electronics contract makers, Taiwan has the ingredients to foster a thriving startup ecosystem. But the island has yet to produce a tech startup that’s a household name, and industry insiders have cited many reasons for the situation, such as small market size, insufficient government support, and entrepreneurs’ small-market mentality. The innovation environment of Taiwan was even once lambasted by Kai-fu Lee, ex-Google China chief and current CEO of Innovation Works, as diseased. “Some tough medicine should be taken to cure it”, added Lee.

However, the scene is gradually improving, with Taiwan’s startup ecosystem witnessing changes in the mindset among the entrepreneurial community and venture capitalists, as well as in government attitude and policies. For instance, the government has announced a US$400 million fund to invest in tech startups, Foxconn Technology has expanded beyond its beachhead to invest in local mobile authentication startup AirSig, and a raft of local startups like e-commerce site iFit and fashion curation service Re.Mu also secured capital injections from VCs to expand their businesses overseas. Taiwan’s Tech Minister is poised to increase access to 3D printing for high school students.

Despite having a small population of 23 million people, Taiwan is a thriving tech market ranked #5 on Google Play for worldwide sales while Taiwanese people rank #1 in the world for average daily smartphone use, at nearly 200 minutes (ahead of a 32 nation average of 142 minutes), according to a report released by Tokyo-based app monetization service Metaps.

Manageable market size with active users makes Taiwan a perfect place for foreign companies to test the regional market before going all in on Japan or the Asian markets in general, the report noted.

Want to target Japan? Target Taiwan first

Japan is in many ways the holy grail of app marketing, as Japanese users are accustomed to paying for mobile content and have extremely high average revenue per user (ARPU) in comparison to the rest of the world. However, due to an increase in competition and heavy ad spending by local app developers and publishers, the barrier to entry for the Japanese market is extremely high for most Western developers. Without burst advertising in Japan it is extremely difficult to chart high enough to attain any significant level of organic users, and the minimum spend to do this will easily run into a six digit dollar sum.

Taiwan represents an opportunity for western developers to enter into Asia with a lower budget to test the waters before making end roads into larger regional markets like Japan and South Korea.

A look at the Taiwan Google Play Top Grossing charts from September reveals the strong similarity between Taiwan and Japan, with RPGs the top selling category in both markets, and also sharing nine of the top ten  Google Play categories.


Categories that are particularly strong in both markets are Action (Taiwan #3/Japan #5) and Casual (Taiwan #4/Japan #2).  Categories with a large disparity in popularity are Strategy (Taiwan #2/Japan #9) and Entertainment (Taiwan #25/Japan #10).

Western and Chinese developers succeeding in Taiwan

Metaps analyzed which apps had the sharpest “ranking incline rate” (rate of increase in rank over the course of the month) in the Taiwan Google Play Top Grossing charts for September, revealing that popular communication app LINE had a total of seven titles in the top 40. There are over 17 million LINE users in Taiwan as of Sept 2014, the report added.


A number of games by Western developers are quite popular in Taiwan, including Candy Crush Saga by KING and Clash Of Clans by Supercell.

In September, the Top Grossing chart was dominated by mainland Chinese and Taiwanese games, like DotA Legends by Taiwanese branch of mainland Chinese developer LemonGame, and Castle Clash by IGG. IGG is one of many mainland Chinese developers that have taken an aggressive approach in Taiwan, particularly because there is no Google Play in China so they must look cross-border in order to establish a user base.

RPG is the top genre in Taiwan

The Role Playing category has the strongest presence on the Taiwan Top Grossing charts. For the Top Grossing charts, a total of 86.5% of the apps charting come from one of the top 10 categories. Of the total 44 Google Play app categories, the remaining 34 make up just 13.5% of all apps charting on Top Grossing in Taiwan, indicating that apps which monetize well come from only a select few categories.


On the Google Play Top Free chart, the Tools category came out on top with a category frequency rate (percentage of a chart that is made up by apps of a given category over a specified period of time) of 8.8%.

The Card category ranks high on the Top Grossing chart at #6, and ranks low on Top Free at #21, indicating that there are a smaller number of total users but they have a considerably higher than average ARPUThe Tools category ranks at the top of Top Free at #1, and ranks low on Top Grossing at #21, indicating that there are a larger number of users but they have a considerably lower than average ARPU.


On the Google Play Top New Free chart, the Casual category came out on top with a category frequency rate of 12.9%. Once again we compared these results to the Top Grossing charts results.

The Casino category ranks high on Top Grossing at #5, and ranks low on Top New Free at #14, indicating that fewer developers are targeting casino game users than previously.

The Personalization category ranks at the top of Top Free at #6, and ranks low on Top Grossing at #32, indicating that there are a lot of new apps being released but they have a much lower than average ARPU.


Please join our four-day tour (December 1-4) to Taiwan to take a closer look at its startup scene.

Emma Lee (Li Xin) was TechNode's e-commerce and new retail reporter until June 2022, when she moved to Sixth Tone to cover technology and consumption. Get in touch with her via lixin@sixthtone.com or Twitter.

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