When it comes to removing apps, Apple’s China App Store seems more resistant to state criticism than Android stores, but this might be just for now as more compliance with local rules is expected.
In China’s recent move to “clean the internet”, apps ordered to be taken down from app stores disappeared quickly from domestic Android stores. Their iOS versions, however, stayed up past the deadline and some still remain.
Authorities ordered online app stores to take down four news apps by 3 p.m. Monday, including Jinri Toutiao (今日头条), the flagship product of the unicorn startup ByteDance Inc., and Tiantian Kuaibao (天天快报) owned by Tencent Holdings, China’s most valuable tech giant. The apps disappeared in different Android stores by the deadline but were still available in Apple’s App Store until Tuesday.
The domestic Android platforms respond faster because they are under stricter scrutiny and hold greater responsibility for the apps to authorities than Apple, according to Songlin Li, an analyst at iiMedia Research, a consulting firm focusing on the new economy.
Similar things had happened a week ago when China’s media regulator, the State Administration of Radio and Television and China Central Television criticized two short videos apps, Huoshan Short Video (火山小视频) and Kuaishou (快手), for displaying vulgar content. These apps disappeared in Android stores the following day but remain accessible in the Apple App Store even now.
“Local third-party Android stores comply with government regulation changes quickly and more thoroughly, as Android competition is fierce and compliance potentially can help an app store gain an advantage over their rivals,” says Antony Chang, marketing manager at AppInChina, a mobile service company that helps foreign apps enter China.
“Even though Kuaishou and Huoshan are still available on the App Store, expect them to be removed in the near future or similar cases to be resolved differently in the near future,” Chang said.
The Chinese Android app market is divided by multiple players, most of whom are backed by local tech giants. Qihoo360 took up 26 percent in 2017, Tencent 21 percent, Huawei Technologies 12 percent, and Baidu 12 percent, according to ZesMob, a local app marketing agency.
Apple’s App Store, on the other hand, doesn’t have any direct competitors and faced less pressure from local authorities and “has been very strategic and more reluctant to act in certain cases”, said Chang.
However, the resistant Apple has been changing. Last July, their China App Store removed a group of VPNs. ExpressVPN, one of the service providers, had received a notice from Apple that the application was to be removed due to a violation of local laws. In late March, Apple “improved and complied with Chinese regulations” by handing the country’s iCloud services to Guizhou on the Cloud Big Data Industrial Development Co., a local internet services company.
The change came with Apple’s declining sales amid market share gains from local brands such as Huawei and Oppo. Before the launch of iPhone 8 last year, Apple’s sales in China had been declining for 18 months, and even with the spikes from the new iPhones, analysts remained suspicious about whether growth could continue.
In the fourth quarter of 2017, Huawei took the biggest 19 percent of China’s smartphone market share, followed by Oppo’s 17 percent, Vivo’s 15 percent, and Apple’s 15 percent, according to Counterpoint Research.
Despite intensifying local competition, an analyst who closely follows Apple warned that China’s Oppo has been keeping up with the augmented reality technology that Apple’s CEO Tim Cook once referred to as “profound.”