For example, consider Weixin, a social networking app by Tencent, China's leading technology company. Tencent owns QQ, the widely used instant messenger in China.
But Weixin is just a copy of WhatsApp Messenger from WhatsApp Inc, a California-based startup.
Some Chinese app developments shops are battling to change this. Shanghai-based Coconut Island Studio, for example, is getting proactive about innovation.
"Everyone in our studio is encouraged to share his ideas. We also hold an internal design competition regularly to find some great ideas," Chen Wen, co-founder and business development manager at Coconut Island, says.
In January, Coconut Island was also the host of 2011 Global Game Jam, a project by the New Jersey-based International Game Developers Association designed to encourage creativity through a 48-hour design competition. It was also the first time that Global Game Jam came to Shanghai.
"We know that western players, especially American players, are highly sophisticated in choosing games, and it pushes us to meet their criteria through constantly seeking fun, original ideas," says Chen, who had studied in Germany and now frequently flies between Shanghai and Stuttgart.
Coconut Island's push for creativity and quality has already started paying off. Its iDragPaper app, a simple game that asks players to drag paper as fast as they can, has seen over 11 million downloads for its free and paid version, with American players in the lead.
Coconut Island is making a particularly big splash given the small size of the company - just six people, one of whom is a programmer from New Zealand. It was founded in 2009.
Chinese developers are beginning to look at the Android app market as well, but not with the same degree of interest.
Chen says that Coconut Island has released an Android app - 10sec, a simple game that asks players to count 10 seconds -- and is working on other two apps for Android devices, but the iOS platform offers some business advantages.
"Apple App Store is simple, independent and has global reach," he says. "All we have to do is make good apps and send them to Apple."
Astepgame's Tang agrees, adding the payment system of Android Market is immature, a major strike against it for a lot of app developers. And there are other disadvantages.
"Most Android apps are free," he says. "And also, the store doesn't have an efficient marketing system like Apple's."
Due to the fast growing Android device users in China, Tang says his company has started to work on Android apps, "But our focus is still on iOS."
Then there's the fact that the Android Market is actually banned in China, due to the tumultuous relationship between the Chinese government and Google, which operates the market.
Instead, China has its own Android app stores.
There are third-party stores like Hiapk, and stores set up by phone makers such as Lenovo. "There are many Android app stores in China, but none of them can guarantee a marketing system that is efficient enough to attract app developers," says Analysys's Sun. Often, developers still have to work on promotion after paying for the app stores for marketing. "They just think it's not worth it.''
That's true for Coconut Island. "For a small team like us, we really don't have the time and energy to do all the negotiations with these stores, so we are happy to settle down with Apple," says Coconut Island's Chen.
Korolov is a freelance business and technology writer in Massachusetts. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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