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Last update: February 2021

5 mins to read - 2021/02/08

Accessing China’s Mobile App Market: Overcoming the FCM Firewall

The thought of expanding into the Chinese market can be daunting to many mobile app developers in the West. Although the market is robust, it’s also highly saturated. It may be difficult for newcomers to gain a foothold in the face of so many local competitors. What’s more, China’s market is highly regulated by the government. Developers will encounter many rules and restrictions they are unused to dealing with. The so-called “Great Firewall” that restricts the internet in China can affect marketing, engagement, and monetization of your mobile app in unforeseen ways. Here is a quick look at some of the main challenges developers face when entering China’s mobile app market. And a look at how OpenBack can help you bypass the firewall blocking Google and their Firebase Cloud Messaging (FCM).

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china mobile app market great wall

Do You Even Want to Expand Into China’s Mobile App Market?

In one word: yes. China is home to 1.4 billion people, and a recent study showed that 86% of their population uses mobile devices. Moreover, with a maturing 5G infrastructure and booming middle class, China is experiencing something of a mobile renaissance. The time smartphone users spend on their devices is constantly increasing, and the average Chinese user has 56 mobile apps downloaded on their device.

Plus, as the home of thriving tech giants such as Baidu, Alibaba, WeChat, and more, China is ahead of the curve when it comes to embracing technological innovations. Smartphone users spend 4.7 hours per day on mobile apps. In-app purchases are also on the rise, with China making up half of the global market for mobile app revenues.

Clearly, it’s a highly lucrative market filled with opportunities, and the potential for enormous growth. But as a mobile app developer, you will have to be adaptive when it comes to meeting China’s unique challenges.

China’s “Great Firewall” and Ban on Google Products

China is notorious for its severe internet censorship. This is commonly known as the “Great Firewall.” There are steps toward complying, but it also causes complications for mobile app developers. And on more front than one. The Chinese government’s monopoly over the internet means developers have to cut through a lot of red tape if they want to reach device users.

Mobile Apps and Games Must Register With China’s Government to Access Market

In 2016, China passed a law stating that all mobile apps and mobile games or mobile games have to register with a governmental body – the National Press and Publication Administration – to apply for an ISBN number. On the surface, this is for identity verification and protection of intellectual property, as well as to safeguard users’ personal identifiable information (PII). It is also to ensure that the Chinese government maintains control over mobile apps’ content within its borders. Developers’ failure to comply with this regulation led to Apple banning 39,000 mobile games from their App Store in China.

china android mobile app market
Image Source: https://www.appsflyer.com/blog/apps-entering-china-challenges/

Ban on Google Play Store and Firebase Cloud Messaging (FCM)

Another difficulty developers will encounter is the nonexistence of all Google products in China. This means there is no access to the Google Play store. In China, in order to reach users of Android devices, developers must list their app on dozens of smaller mobile app stores.

While this is a nuisance more than anything, more difficulties arise when it comes to sending push notifications. Sending notifications via traditional push technology structure means user data travels on a 3-prong journey:

  • From device to mobile’s app backend
  • From app backend to a cloud server (either Apple’s APNS or Google Firebase)
  • From the cloud back to the device, in the form of a notification

However, with FCM cut off by the firewall, notifications sent by standard push SDKs will fail to deliver to Android devices. With China refusing to budge on their stance on Google products, it becomes necessary to think outside of the box. OpenBack provides a push notification SDK that doesn’t rely on sending user data to the cloud server at all. (More on that below.)

Transferring Data Outside of China

China also has strict laws on the processing of user data generated within Chinese borders. User data cannot be stored in servers overseas, ostensibly for data privacy concerns. To get around this, Apple sends all user data from its iCloud service for processing in a server within the country, under complete government oversight.

There is also a considerable amount of bureaucracy tying up the transfer of personal data outside of the country. All mobile apps need to pass a data security assessment by several government bodies. However, OpenBack make it possible to opt out of transferring data at all, which is both safer for your users’ data and automatically compliant with China’s regulation.

OpenBack Lets You Send Push Notifications Reliably to Mobile Apps in China

OpenBack’s unique take on push technology architecture solves many of the above problems. Our patented hybrid platform allows you to switch off the option to send user data to the APNS or FCM cloud server. Utilizing edge computing and machine learning, our platform leverages user data directly on the device, meaning it only ever travels between the device and the app’s backend.

Not only does this comply by default with China’s firewall and their data privacy stipulations, meaning you can reliably reach app users in China. It also means OpenBack sets the bar in terms of both personalization and reliability for the push notification industry. Our streamlined push notification solution means mobile apps can send notifications in true real-time, customized according to user decisions, behaviors, and conditions on the device’s end. This means you can be confident that your notifications will deliver at the exact moment that’s best for the user. Our focus on UX also means that we can boost your click-through rate at least 4x from the industry average.

Learn more about how OpenBack can help you optimize your mobile engagement campaign by getting in touch with one of our experts.

Or check out our blog post: Send Push Notifications to Apps in China With OpenBack

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