Ni Hao Flipboard: Reading App Takes The Bilingual Approach In China To Attract Local Consumers

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Another step for Flipboard today as it continues to prove that it is the mobile reading app to beat: it has expanded its offerings for China, a fast-growing mobile market that this year is set to overtake the U.S. as the worldwide leader in smartphone sales.

Flipboard is taking a double-approach to target Chinese users: there is now a native-language iPhone app (in addition to its existing Chinese iPad app). And Flipboard is also taking steps to make its main, English app more friendly to Chinese users by integrating two popular Chinese social networks into it.

The big question now is whether Palo Alto-based Flipboard, equipped with all this local customization, will be able to succeed in a market where other U.S. Internet players like Twitter, Facebook, and Google have not managed to make a dent against very strong domestic rivals.

This is a significant, and essential, move for Flipboard as it continues to grow because China, in a sense, represents the future of the mass market for mobile devices and services. IDC projects that China will overtake the U.S. this year in terms of smartphone shipments, accounting for 20.7 percent compared to 20.6 percent for the U.S., with that gap widening in the years ahead.

And just yesterday, the mobile analytics company Flurry noted that China now leads the world in iOS and Android activations — meaning that those shipments are actually also translating into a whole lot of usage.

The new social network integration will see Sina Weibo and Renren, two of the most popular social networks in China (far exceeding Western services like Facebook and Twitter in their usage), added to the list of networks Flipboard supports.

Now, users with Weibo and Renren accounts will be able to log in to Flipboard’s iPad or iPhone apps, and see updates, posts and photos from people they follow on those networks. They will be available on Flipboard’s main English-language apps, used worldwide, and take the total number of social networks supported by Flipboard up to 10.

Incorporating local networks is a growing trend among Western companies looking for more traction in China.

Instagram also offers Sina Weibo as an exporting option on its service in the country. And similarly, when Apple launched its latest OS, Snow Leopard, it made Baidu a built-in search option in Safari; video services Tudou and Youku for instant video posting; messaging services QQ, 163 and 126 for Mail, Contacts and Calendar; and Sina Weibo for instant “tweeting” (or weiboing as the case may be).

At the same time, Flipboard is adding more navigation features for Chinese readers in the form of a Chinese Content Guide — again available in Flipboard’s main English app.

This will help users find Chinese language content and offer content recommendations from a list of partners including Chinese Vogue, Chinese Esquire and Cosmopolitan China, as well as the video network Youku and Douban, another social network dedicated to book, movie and music recommendations.

Along with Flipboard’s launch of its Chinese iPhone/iPod Touch app today, it is also introducing Cover Stories to the market as well. Like the Content Guide, Cover Stories is a single-view format introduced by Flipboard last month that aggregates some of the most popular news and photos being shared at the moment by other Flipboard users.

It will be interesting to see whether Flipboard’s introduction of the iPhone app will have the same effect in China as it did in the U.S.

There, when the app launched last year after an already-successful run on the iPad tablet, it saw one million downloads in its first week alone — a testament to some pent-up demand for the product among users who have wedded themselves to Apple’s smartphone but perhaps haven’t done the same with its tablet, or simply want the ability to use the app in both places.