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Apps on parade

By Li Qiaoyi Source:Global Times Published: 2013-3-28 22:43:00

 

Cooliris' headquarter in Palo Alto Photo: Courtesy of Cooliris
Cooliris' headquarter in Palo Alto Photo: Courtesy of Cooliris


There has hardly ever been a market with more striking attractions than the Chinese market of today, where a growing population of affluent consumers give off an intoxicating aura of appeal for investors around the globe.

This is becoming more obvious with the advent of the mobile Internet era in the country, which has sparked even more passion among overseas firms eyeing a venture into the world's most populous market.

"If (the current) growth momentum continues in China, it will become at least the No.2 market (for us) in terms of user base this year," Soujanya Bhumkar, chief executive of Cooliris Inc, said Monday in an exclusive interview with the Global Times at the Opposite House in Beijing, a building known for its hip design by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma.

Palo Alto-headquartered Cooliris, founded in 2006, has quickly risen to prominence over the past few years, with its offering of 3D-like media browsing experiences. After gaining fame for launching a photo sharing and experiencing app for Apple's iPad and iPhone in July 2012, Cooliris has made its way into the impossible-to-ignore mobile boom, in the United States - its home market in particular.

Aiming for a global expansion, especially into the Asian markets, it could not be more natural for the Silicon Valley startup to consider a foray into China's market. It didn't take too long for that to happen.

In December, Cooliris inked a partnership with Renren Inc, China's equivalent of Facebook, and launched its first localized app that is tailored for the Chinese market.

With the partnership, which adds Renren to Cooliris's existing photo sources, joining others like Facebook, Twitter, Picasa, Instagram and Google, Bhumkar's company is quickly seeing its users in China rising to the second largest in terms of new users coming in, nonetheless among the top five markets by user base. The US is the company's biggest market by both measures.

Cooliris' co-op with New York Stock Exchange-listed Renren only marks the start of its China ambitions, and Sina Weibo, China's most beloved microblogging platform, is most likely to be its next partner in the country.

"It will be something we're probably implicating in our next version (of the app)," Bhumkar revealed, "expected in the next month."

He anticipates more partnership later on this year, which "depends on complementary interests and value propositions."

The lure of the Far East

For Bhumkar, who was born in Mumbai and graduated from the University of Chicago with an MBA before co-founding Cooliris, his third startup, with former computer software engineer at Apple Austin Shoemaker, the China market means more opportunities than ever before, especially when it comes to the photo sharing segment.

"Chinese users are spending a lot of time doing private chatting, which is actually two to three times higher than what we see in other Asian countries," Bhumkar said, pointing to titanic growth potential for social networking apps in the market as well as a lack of photo sharing experiences in China compared to other markets.  

The experienced startup entrepreneur could be a conspicuous example of how business leaders in the mobile app field from overseas are lured in by the Chinese market.

Even in the more fiercely competitive area of mobile gaming apps, China remains one of the most sought-after markets for early success winners - such as Rovio Entertainment, the Finnish game developer behind the popular app Angry Birds.

In addition to the launch of an Angry Birds theme park in China, the Finnish outfit launched an Angry Birds cartoon for Chinese users in the middle of the month, as part of its continuous China expansion moves.

What's more, it is reported that Rovio is also considering publishing 10 Chinese language books by the year-end in cooperation with local partners, furthering the Angry Birds hype in the nation.

In fact, a growing number of app developers, devoted to all aspects of life, have shown interest in the country, following a slew of statistics offering evidence in support of China's almost immeasurable market potential, the most alluring of which is winning its crown as the world's biggest marketplace for smartphones in the third quarter of 2011, according to market research firm Strategy Analytics.

How risky is China?

While Rovio has shown its ability to expand into various segments of the Chinese market, venturing into China for many other app developers is more likely to be coupled with rosy prospects and lingering challenges.

"It's not easy to expect real benefits in terms of earnings in the mobile app arena," Kevin Wang, Shanghai-based director of China research at market research firm IHS iSuppli, said in a phone interview with the Global Times on Tuesday.

For a huge market that has proved to be a hard nut to crack for even giant Internet firms such as Yahoo, eBay and Groupon, it appears to be too early for most to arrive at any certain conclusion.

In the mobile app field, where Chinese users have contributed to huge downloads, revenues gained from the nation's users remain at a low level.

Revenues from Chinese users accounted for a mere 3 percent of Apple's App Store across the world during the second quarter of 2012, according to data from the consultancy Stenvall Skoeld & Company. In contrast with the No.2 ranking of downloads from the App Store, China was only ranked the sixth by revenue contribution, according to App Annie, a global app ranking data provider.

Wang stressed, however, that in spite of all possible risks, a foray into China's market is still of vital importance for overseas app developers.

"They must set foot in this market with tremendous growth potential, while pondering earnings might be the next move," he remarked.

Echoing the analyst's view, Bhumkar stressed that Silicon Valley companies have long shown interest in the Chinese market, while what has emerged as a new trend is a mutually beneficial relationship between the likes of Silicon Valley startups, which continue to be impressed by China's market, and Chinese companies taking aim at overseas expansion as well.

"If they (Chinese companies) are interested in targeting some countries where we have a good user base, we could help promote their services. It's a nice give and take," Bhumkar said, adding that he believes this is something he has learned from a number of startups.

"Everybody gets attracted to China, but not everybody does well," concluded the entrepreneur, who leads the startup of only 14 people.

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