Made in China: These apps are killing it on iPhone

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Everywhere you look in China, young people are tapping away at apps.
Everywhere you look in China, young people are tapping away at apps.
Photo: Virginia Werner/Cult of Mac

Made_in_china_bugMainland China is Apple’s second biggest market, and will one day be its first. The company is making a big push on the mainland, opening new stores and investing in home-grown companies. Why the interest? Because China is the new Japan — it’s where the future is happening. All this week we take a look at the cutting-edge apps that define mobile life on the mainland.

SHANGHAI CITY, China — Just like their U.S. counterparts, Chinese youth obsess over their smartphones. But while the phones they use look the same, the apps are quite different: China has its own must-have apps that keep users’ eyes glued to screens at all hours of the day.

Some Chinese apps seem quite similar to their Western counterparts, but others boast innovative and intriguing features. Apple’s clearly interested: While slowing growth in China put a dent in APPL stock, Cupertino recently made a strategic $1 billion investment in Chinese Uber rival Didi Chuxing.

What other apps in China might grab Apple’s attention? Tim Cook could start his due diligence with this list of powerhouse Chinese iPhone apps. The country’s young people use these apps to listen to music, make purchases, get around town, interact with others and maintain their online identities.

These Chinese apps are impressive and convenient, and they are showing us the future of mobile: a world where everything is at our fingertips.

Didi Chuxing is China's answer to Uber, but is much bigger. Apple just made a $1 billion 'strategic' investment in the company.
Didi Chuxing is China’s answer to Uber, but is much bigger. Apple just made a $1 billion ‘strategic’ investment in the company.
Photo: Virginia Werner / Cult of Mac

China’s Uber: Didi Chuxing


App name: Didi Chuxing
What it is: Uber with a twist
Owned by: The two largest Chinese Internet companies, Tencent and Alibaba
What it does: Didi Chuxing literally means “honk honk, commute”
Special sauce: The app hails taxis as well as private cars, and dwarves Uber’s operations in the US

Didi Chuxing
Chinese ride-hailing app Didi Chuxing asks, “Hello, where do you want to go?”
Screenshots: Didi Chuxing

Didi Chuxing is crushing the ride-hailing app game in China. The Chinese ride-hailing company claims to the world’s biggest mobile transportation platform with 99 percent of the market.

To use Didi Chuxing, I simply type in the address of my destination and select whether I want a private car or a taxi. The app then sends out my real-time location to thousands of vehicles all over the city, and the first one to bite will accept my call and arrive in minutes.

It has never taken more than five minutes for my bat signal to get noticed, although I have been ditched by a taxi driver who didn’t spot me immediately. He told me he had money to make, no time to waste, and that he had picked up the first person he saw. I know this, because the app helpfully provided me with his telephone number so I could call him to find out why he hadn’t shown up yet.

Oh well, another car picked up my cry for help and came along within minutes. You can even watch them pull up on Didi Chuxing app’s map by following the little taxi icon.

For some indecipherable reason, private cars cost about the same as taxis (and sometimes are even cheaper). Plus, private cars are usually luxury brands — I have arrived to my destination in style, nestled in the leather seat of Audis, Jaguars and BMWs. Once, I asked my driver about the light-blue seat covers and he told me they were custom. Perhaps the real question I should have been asking was, “What are you doing giving rides to strangers in a Jaguar?”

Up Next: China’s Amazon: Taobao

headshot-80x80Virginia Werner is a freelance writer, photographer and editor from Fremont, California with a B.A. in Journalism and Chinese from the University of Oregon. She currently lives in Shanghai City, China.