Spiegel Institut has been conducting market research in China for over 10 years. We have made the conclusion that this fast developing country in the east still has so many changes every day and thus deserves a closer look.

We will publish an article about China every month introducing what’s going on in the rapidly developing country, written by our Chinese college Yue Liu who has been living in Germany for 5 years, illustrating the intercultural difference between Germany and China.

Today’s topic is about popular APPs in China.


Entertainment on the smart phone

If you travel to China, you will easily find what’s different in Beijing from Berlin: the buildings, the traffic, the way people are dressed, the food etc. If you observe long enough, you might even discover how behaviors and mindsets are different beneath the surface. There is another world which is totally different between China and Germany, which has a strong impact on people’s daily life. Which cannot be detected easily by a “foreigner” – that’s the world people have in their phones. We will publish several articles about this, please follow us on our homepage or on LinkedIn to keep updated.

In Chinese Apple and Android App stores, games and video apps dominate the ranking list. This is also consistent with the result of our studies researching Chinese consumers’ leisure time activities when they want to relax: sleeping, playing (smart phone) games, and watching (short) videos.


There are two different types of video APPs in China: Long video platforms (similar to Netflix) offering movies and dramas and short video platforms.

Among all short video platforms, Douyi (抖音) is one of the most popular one right now. Douyi is like Instagram, with short videos which feature music in the background. Different editing effects can be added to the videos in order to make them more creative.

From our studies we know that Chinese consumers enjoy watching short videos to relax. For questions like “Why don’t you watch talk shows or some longer funny videos?” we often get the answer: “I just need to get relaxed as soon as possible.” Videos in Douyi last max. 20 seconds. With a talk show, we need to wait much longer to get amused. Also, sometimes you need to follow the actors in order to get their point. “I have done too much thinking during the day, I just need some relax.”

The popular videos on Douyi mostly have funny and/or exciting content, but they are criticized as just aiming to be eye catching without any “nutrition” on it. Also, once people get used to this kind of “quick-amusement”, they start to lose patience for other things for which they need to wait longer.

A very important feature of Douyi to create Users’ Viscosity is called “Douyi assistant / challenge”, it announces specific topics to encourage users to create their own relevant videos and share them. 10,000- 100,000 users will attend these kind of “challenge” activities.  Popular videos also go viral in other social media platforms like Weibo (similar to Twitter) and Wechat moment (similar to Facebook timeline), which encourages even more people to join the challenge.


Smart phone games which are popular in the Chinese market have two key characteristics: short games and multiplayer games. E.g. Honor of Kings (王者荣耀), PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (绝地求生).

Because one round  is less than 20 minutes, one can do it when they have  some fragmented time e.g. waiting in the line, taking subway, waiting food to be delivered, before going to bed etc..  

In my Wechat moment (similar like facebook timeline), I see friends posting “who wanna play a round XXX (game name) now?” all the time, it’s kind of quick and convenient bonding between friends. In a big city like Beijing, it’s normal to drive more than 1.5 hour to meet a friend who also lives in the same city. So, getting together is getting more and more time-consuming. If all your friends are playing it is easier to get together online.

An interesting fact about both kinds of APPs is:  both are designed for short time usage, but people will always spend hours on it. For game apps, it’s because of the “win-lose-lose-win” algorithm which encourages users always to come back after they have lost a battle. For Douyi, it’s partly due to the “unknown recommended list”. In Spotify for example, users can see a complete list of recommended songs in advance. But in Douyi, users will never know what kind of videos will be pushed for the next recommendation. Thus people stay tuned all the time and are curious to find out more by swiping to the next video.

A small group of people start to uninstall those APPs. They have found themselves less excited about new things because they have been used to getting stimulated in the first few seconds while consuming short-length-content. Also they don’t feel satisfied after watching videos or playing games. Instead, they feel “empty” and even more bored afterwards. And this shouldn’t be the purpose of entertainment or relaxation.      


Author: Yue Liu, Spiegel Institut Mannheim

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