New trends in Chinese mobile UIs for 2016

Dan Grover has updated his excellent annual survey of UI trends in Chinese mobile apps with a new installment that covers the t-shirt icon, the happy shopping bag, the moving SEND button, the rise of data-management apps and chatbots, and more.

Some of these conventions entered China from elsewhere in the region — Japan — and some will doubtless enter other countries' mobile ecosystems. China has the largest mobile device user population in the world, and a hyper-competitive — and uniquely regulated — mobile sector trying to serve them. It's a strange hothouse for growing the next generation of mobile conventions.

The section on data-management really caught my eye. China's mobile users are in the unique position of having a large number of very low-income people in a very advanced mobile market, spawning a huge number of sophisticated, advanced techniques for device vendors (who do not have the same interests as the carriers) to get around high-priced mobile bandwidth, arbitraging it for wifi where it is available, and coming up with ingenious ways to make that seamless, even in the presence of China's surveillance-driven "real names" policy for wifi logins.

I mentioned before, too, that most media apps allow downloading content for offline viewing. Thus if I want to binge-watch House of Cards on my next flight home, I can do it with iQIYI, but not Netflix.

Because people don't want to waste data, when WiFi is available, they'll quickly switch to it. All restaurants (except for the lowest-end) provide free wifi to their patrons.

Consequently, there are popular apps for unlocking different networks of hotspots, or for sharing passwords for password-protected hotspots. They even help you guess (hint: it's usually 88888888). Xiaomi wisely turned Chinese users' WiFi reliance into a selling point. Their OS's WiFi connection UI includes badges to tell you which hotspots are known good, free ones, as well as a way to share credentials to a password-protected network with a friend via a QR code. They've even got deals with some hotspots to provide free WiFi to people with their hardware.

Open hotspots in public places like malls and coffee shops present the user with a captive portal page — you know, when the first page you access is redirected to some other site. In China, these gateway pages almost always require entering your phone number, solving a CAPTCHA, and finally entering the verification code they sent you via SMS. This is due to a law requiring users to provide some kind of "real identity" to all apps, ISPs, and hotspots. A verified cell phone number (which now requires handing over one's national ID card to get) is thus the most convenient way to do this. I assume it's so if the Stasi comes to your Starbucks, they can see who's accessing which cat videos. For hotspot providers, this also lets them keep a handle on people casually leeching their bandwidth.

These pages are inconvenient enough, but when combined with the default behavior on iOS, it's particularly infuriating. When connecting to a hotspot with a captive portal, iOS will automatically present a sheet with a mini-browser allowing you to complete whatever actions are required to get access. Switching to the Messages app to see the verification code they sent you dismisses the sheet2, disconnecting you and requiring you to go back into Settings, re-connect, and finally enter the code. Finally, after verifying, the sheet's "Done" button is only enabled via a navigation event, which Javascript-driven portal pages fail to trigger. This is endured daily by hundreds of millions of iPhone users in China who just want their darn WiFi.

More Chinese Mobile UI Trends
[Dan Grover]

(via Dan Hon)