As China unseats the US as the largest smartphone market in the world, the proportion of app revenues and free downloads originating from non-English language apps has increased significantly. Of course, other high-growth non-English countries have had an impact on this trend, but Chinese smartphone users remain the most sensitive to app language.
In a Distimo report from September 2012, 73% of free downloads in the top 200 most downloaded free applications in China were those supported by the Chinese language, far outstripping the other language-sensitive markets of Korea and Japan. In fact, China is the only country where local language apps generate more downloads than English apps.
The true case to be made for app localization, however, rests on the fact that revenues from Chinese-language apps far outstrip those from English-language apps in China. Developers can grow their revenues and realize positive returns on investing in translating their app into Chinese language, and optimizing the product feature set for Chinese consumers. China is not the only country where the proportion of app revenues generated from local-language apps are higher than those from English apps; the Korean and Japanese are similar in this respect—though to a lesser degree than China.
The Distimo report only accounts for iOS apps running on relatively expensive devices; the iPhone and iPad. The data reflects a market segment of Chinese consumers characterized by a high level of discretionary spending on consumer goods. This segment is also more likely to have some knowledge of English language, more likely to have exposure to foreign products, and thus less likely to have a strong preference for Chinese-language apps.
In contrast, Android users in China generally represent a market segment which is less likely to have a working knowledge of English or exposure to foreign products, and so more likely to have a strong preference for Chinese language apps. For these reasons, we can expect that the proportion of downloads and revenues generated from Chinese language Android apps in China to be even greater than for iOS apps.