Earlier this week, I was in Kunshan, China, to attend the 3G Industry Summit [CN], a four-day event that has attracted a few dozen speakers and an audience of over 200 people, making it one of the biggest of its kind in this country. The annual event is organized by the Kunshan government and Mobile 2.0 Forum, a communication platform with more than 1,500 members, almost single-handedly run by industry veteran Leo Wang.
Just a few stats about China’s online landscape:
- world’s largest Internet population: 338 million Chinese are online (US: 220 million)
- most cell phone users in the world (710 million)
- China Mobile, the world’s biggest cell phone carrier, boasts nearly half a billion subscribers (the US as a whole has 271 million)
- China’s telecommunications industry generated $210 billion in revenues between January and July 2009 alone
- China’s mobile phone penetration rate currently stands at just 53.5% (USA: 88%), hinting at room for massive future growth
The smartphone market and 3G are still in their infancy though. Research firm BDA China says just 17.4 million smartphones were sold in China in 2008 (Nokia commands a 67% market share in this segment), with the total likely to hit 36 million units this year before growing to 56 million in 2010. The iPhone will be released in China next week. The number of China Mobile’s 3G subscribers (who use the company’s homegrown 3G standard) currently stands at just 1.33 million, but the country’s three biggest cell phone carriers (China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom) say they’re ready to invest $66 billion in China’s 3G networks over the next two years.
So the 3G Industry Summit in Kunshan probably couldn’t take place at a better time. The program also included a launch pad, which gave a total of 14 companies from China (two were from Japan) the chance to pitch their services onstage to over 200 top-level executives, VCs and entrepreneurs in the country’s mobile tech world.
Here’s a thumbnail sketch of all of these companies. The list is by no means representative of China’s mobile startup scene but should serve as a reasonably large and up-to-date cross section of the industry.
UNOH CEO Shintarou Yamada showed a mobile (and Japan-only) game his Tokyo-based 15-man team launched in May this year. Machitsuku is a geo-aware city-building simulation (the game’s title means “Build a city” in Japanese) with cute graphics, social elements, surprisingly deep gameplay and virtual items users have to pay for (the game itself is free). Yamada said the game will be provided to leading social networks like Mixi (background) and Mobage-town (background) soon, but I am hoping for an iPhone version.
Urbian develops mobile applications for enterprises, but the company also offers a slew of iPhone and Android apps for end consumers. At the summit, CEO Christopher Kahler, an Austrian based in Shanghai, demonstrated a nifty mobile learning application that will be soon launched in China, Japan, the Philippines and other territories (the China version alone will be used by 5,000 schools all over the country). The solution will be available for the iPhone, Android, Symbian and other platforms.
CrossMo intends to solve the fragmentation problem in the mobile space by offering an online data management and synchronization tool for cell phones that’s completely hardware agnostic. The service detects everything on your phone once you connect it to your PC via USB and backs up and synchronizes your ringtones, music files, address book etc. This works even after you replace your cell phone with another model.
CEO Lei Jia said 70% Chinese of consumers download contents from the web to their phone, not over the air. CrossMo looks like a very powerful tool and reminds me of DoubleTwist (concept-wise), so too bad it’s China-only.
MobimTech CTO Yi Liang demonstrated imiChat, which seemed to be a very cool real-time video chatting solution. You can use it to video-chat from cell phone to cell phone but also from the fixed web to cell phones (voice- and text-chatting is also supported). imiChat is free and supports a number of cell phones. It uses GPRS/EDGE networks and doesn’t need to run on 3G (MobimTech actually sells this technology to 2.5G handset makers).
BokanTech CEO Bo Wang presented iBokan, an iPhone app destination site that features an impressive number of hit apps. He highlighted mobile edutainment apps such as Cute Math (apparently the only app that was featured twice in the AppStore as “new and noteworthy”) and Jumbo Book (an interactive book series with 20 episodes so far). BokanTech also plans to soon release a service called Kukapp, which Wang described as “Google Analytics for iPhone and Ovi apps”.
Navteq China Director George Qie focused on how to create an ecosystem based on location-based services (LBS). His main point was that LBS can be used for many applications: navigation, social networking, games, productivity (workforce management, for example), commerce and security. Qie said this versatility is the reason why LBS can be used for the integration of applications of different nature and that the advent of 3G in China will fuel the growth of LBS developed in China.
SocoGame CEO Ye Shen said at $147 million in sales in 2008, the Chinese market for mobile games is still small but will likely balloon to almost $750 million in sales by 2011, with growth expected to accelerate significantly after that year. One major difference to the West: Chinese gamers usually expect a mobile game to be free, but they’re ready to pay later for virtual items, for example, forcing developers to come up with compelling games with long-time appeal.
Shanghai-based SocoGame itself is a major player in China’s mobile gaming sector. The company produced more than 100 mobile games for a number of different markets so far, i.e. Monkey King (specifically designed for Asia) or Jewel Quest Deluxe (specifically designed for markets in North America and Europe).
LEG3s is an award-winning mobile job hunting service specifically targeted at China’s 200 million migrant workers. The service informs those people about open positions, salary levels, the current situation in the job market etc. in over 100 cities in China. LEG3s has so far attracted 3 million end users who have to pay reasonable fees and can access the service through low-end mobile phones (LEG3s is pre-installed on some of those). CEO Jason Liu expects the user base to grow to 5 million by year-end.
TrustMobi is a Beijing-based startup that operates in an often overlooked field: cell phone security. CEO Bing Song expects that the mobile web will grow significantly in the near future and that zombie computers might soon be joined by zombie cell phones. His company offers an integrated security solution that can handle file recovery, virus detection, firewalls for mobile emails, SMS and MMS protection, file encryption etc. for a number of different handsets. TrustMobi was responsible for mobile phone security during the Beijing Olympics last year.
I had trouble keeping up with this presentation due to the slides that were available only in Chinese and the deep technical details CEO James Gao presented on his company’s optical navigation solutions. Check out Apexone’s excellent English web site if you’re interested in this field.
This Tianjin-based company has so far developed over 50 smartphone games, which are being sold in more than 20 countries and regions. CEO Zhen Su demonstrated what he called a “convenience store for mobile apps”, consisting of an IM client, various games and a virtual pet simulation. The company provides an API for other game developers who can sell their content on Playing.com.cn’s web site.
MTrend Group Founding Partner Mano Wang shared interesting information from a recent analysis on mobile web usage in China. Here are some findings from the mobile web user panel Wang quoted from:
- 22.6% of China Mobile users born after 1990 used the mobile web in 2009 for the first time (this is vastly different from Japan, for example, where users start much earlier).
- 63.9% of mobile gamers play between 10 and 30 minutes per day.
- 57.1% of China Mobile subscribers say they’ve already read a newspaper on a mobile device.
- 38.8% are starting to switch to non-pirated music on their cell phones. 13.2% listen to pirated music only, while 26.1% buy all the songs they store on their cell phones.
- The three hottest mobile apps among Chinese university students using China Mobile are Mobile Baidu ( China’s largest search engine), Mobile QQ (China’s No. 1 social network) and 12530 (China Mobile’s music Wap portal).
Note: MTrend is China Mobile‘s main brand for data monitoring so these data points aren’t representative for all of China.
Tokyo-based Panda is currently preparing a 3D treasure hunting game with very cool graphics designed specifically for smartphones, i.e. the iPhone. The two demo videos Panda Director Issei Matsui showed during the presentation were pretty cool. I’ll add them here once I get my hands on them.
The app is an interactive comic/game with some awesome graphics and funny gameplay. It’s called Makibishi Comic and is available in English for $0.99 in the App Store. The app’s official English site can be found here.
Ex-Googler and CEO Ken Law said his Hong Kong-based company’s main mission is to solve the platform fragmentation problem in the mobile space for developers by offering three solutions: Generator lets you create native apps for the iPhone, Android, Windows Mobile and Blackberry simply through using MotherApp Language (a restricted set of HTML with special markups), which sounds like a powerful solution to me. MotherBlog converts a blog or your Twitter into a native iPhone app – without any coding. The company also supports other companies in making a given mobile app compatible with all major platforms (showcases), claiming tailor-made end-to-end development takes about 9 weeks.
Why trying to set up yet another mobile social network when you (kind of) carried one in your pocket all along? That’s what Hozom CEO Ziyang Liu asked himself and tries to add social components to a form of network you already have in your cell phone, namely the contact list. The idea is to connect entries in your phone’s address book with services like Twitter, QQ, IM etc. in addition to integrating social gaming and geo-location elements using your friends’ contact data. Another selling point is Hozom’s slick design and elegant UI.
MoTech offers a mobile travel assistant for the millions of foreigners visiting China every year. The app comes with a set of around 1,000 different phrases the average tourist needs to feel comfortable in China (transportation, emergency situations, shopping etc.). Choose the sentence and let your mobile phone speak it out loud in Mandarin Chinese (the app also lists points of interests and the names of restaurants). In his presentation, Motech CEO Austin Xie also touched upon the slew of other interesting products and solutions for Non-Chinese speaking people his company provides.