At Barcelona MWC, we seldom see booths from Chinese companies other than ZTE, Huawei and Lenovo. Aside from these tech giants, few Chinese companies demoed their products at this year’s tech gathering. Of those who did, Meizu, Meitu Phone and LeTV are upstart domestic hardware manufacturers. In the app category, keyboard app TouchPal caught our eye, alongside Cheetah Mobile and App Annie.
TouchPal has been focusing on the overseas market since its establishment, maintaining close cooperation with numerous telecom carriers and smartphone manufacturers. (HTC’s latest flagship product the M9 has TouchPal pre-loaded as the default input method worldwide). Karl Zhang and Susan Li, two of TouchPal’s co-founders, have become frequent visitors to MWC.
The keyboard app has around 250 million users around the world, a figure is expected to hit 400 million this year, covering roughly 18% of overseas Android users (excluding China), Zhang explained. In addition to the U.S., growth is expected to come from the Southeast Asian market, he added.
Boasting excellent features like the Q9 keyboard, mistype correction, and cloud-based buzzword recommendation left little innovation space for mobile input solutions. New features, such as sliding input, have not well received by Chinese users. Meanwhile, the rapid improvement of voice recognition technologies along with the emergence of various smart wearables pose formidable challenges to manual input methods. So what’s the future direction of input companies?
“TouchPal is moving towards entertaining and personalized features. We consider input solutions not just a tool, but also a bridge to connect people. Both domestic and overseas users have demands in this area”, said Zhang.
To explore these areas, TouchPal added a collection of more than 800 emoji characters last year to keep up with the young people’s communication methods, in the hope of bringing more fun to typing. “It is not an easy job. With a global user base, we have to customize emojis for different emotions according to the cultural background of users in each region”, he noted. “We are constructing a user community to understand and collect the latest youth expressions around the world.”
Zhang thinks the domestic keyboard market is mature, making it difficult for startups to compete head on with giant incumbents. TouchPal will continue its overseas focus, but this doesn’t mean they will give up on the Chinese market entirely. The company has launched a voice call app domestically, with more than 100 million registered users, among which over 10 million are daily active users.
Source: Gang Lu
Editing by Mike Cormack (@bucketoftongues)