Web development is an evolving industry with a singular goal: create a seamless web experience. Current web design trends gravitate towards this notion – developers are embracing the use of HTML5 and CSS3 to design fast-loading responsive websites without compromising their quality.
While China shares the same goal, their approach is different.
There is a pervading culture of mobile-centrism in China that no other country can match. Westerners approach web development with a design so websites can be viewed using any device – desktop, mobile, or tablet. But China completely foregoes the desktop experience and goes straight to mobile development.
In this compelling article at Smashing Magazine, Kendra Schaefer further delves into the mobile-centrism that pervade China. Based on her experience in living there, she explains why mobile usage has dictated how web is consumed by people there.
This gives way to a unique digital experience absent from western countries. One of these innovations is the light app.
What is light app development?
Light apps are hyper-targeted one pagers built and animated using HTML5. These contain a single message, have a dedicated URL, and are meant to be passed on to your friends like a flyer or brochure.
Since China’s web experience is mobile-based, viewing light apps using a desktop can be troublesome. These one pagers require swiping from your touchscreen to make them work. Almost all computers don’t have that function. Also, the orientation of the screen can make light apps problematic when loaded on a desktop – since most mobile phones are used vertically, so does viewing light apps.
The “unconventional” way of opening light apps is copying the URL and pasting it on your browser to be able to view it. How Chinese normally open light apps are by scanning the QR codes (which is finding a second lease in life in the country after most people have considered QR codes dead in most countries).
To understand how light apps work, below are examples on how businesses use them.
Baidu, China’s premier search engine, releases a Cosmetics Industry Semi-Annual Report in the first half of 2014 by way of a light app. It details the type of beauty and skincare products and services searched by Chinese using Baidu. Click here to scan the QR code and view the entire report.
China Resources Land shares the results of their developmental strategies in this nifty light app. Click here to scan the QR code and view the entire light app.
As Coca-Cola celebrated its 128th anniversary this past Thanksgiving, they released this light app that visualizes the brand’s history and cultural impact. Click here to scan the QR code and view the entire light app.
Culture of sharing
The calls to action on light apps encourage users to share them to their friends, similar to web properties built and developed by westerners. But this is where the similarities end.
One thing separating how businesses in China approach web properties is that they do not use light apps as an avenue to make money. If light apps were a thing in western countries, expect “Buy Now!” and countless ads popping up from the app.
Also, instead of sharing it using Facebook and Twitter – neither of which are popular in china to begin with – light apps are shared using WeChat, the country’s most used social messaging app with more than 355 million users since Q4 of 2013.
Due to the WeChat as their primary platform online communications, most light apps are developed specifically for sharing on WeChat’s native browser, which offers API development.
Sharing is made more convenient using Wechat because of Moments. Similar to Facebook feed and timeline or Twitter stream, most of the user’s online activities including light apps are shared through this feature.
Will we see light apps cross the border?
As of the moment, light apps won’t be making any transition into the western market anytime soon. China has found an effective use for QR codes that are used to access the light apps. As mentioned, use of QR codes have cooled down outside of China, and chances of it being used effectively are slim to none.
The closest counterpart of light apps in the west are landing or splash pages. While the latter is not as quick to load and normally contains a sales-y call to action, the principles are the same: share ideas and information relevant to its target market.
What does this mean?
Since light apps are very secular in that they operate best within the confines of the Chinese web experience, it only makes the developments in the country’s online activity even more intriguing.
Ever since the Great Firewall of China has been activated in 2003, blocking its netizens from using Facebook, Twitter, and Google, among some of the most ubiquitous web services, China’s web usage is bound to become different.
But this is not to say that China’s online market is put at a disadvantage. In fact, it helps Chinese netizens to harness an online culture that is drastically different than anything else the world has seen. Due to the firewall, their web development philosophy is different as well. Given the restriction, they are forced to do things their way.
So for WeChat to amass that much users, not to mention Baidu dominating the country’s search engine market, their brand loyalty is no surprise to anyone.
This is the reason why light apps are indicative of China’s unique online habitat. These Chinese online innovations appear to be alien concepts when explained to a westerner or those familiar with non-Chinese web consumption. But it is the very reason that makes the developments in Chinese online activity very special.
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