Tencent Dominates Chinese Mobile App Use as Online Arena Grows

  • WeChat remained the most heavily used app in China in 2016
  • Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent rule Chinese internet industry

Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s messaging services were by far the most popular Chinese mobile apps in 2016, leading steady growth in the world’s largest internet and smartphone market, the government’s online industry overseers said Sunday.

WeChat remained the most heavily used app in the country in 2016, with almost 80 percent of the online population employing the social media service frequently, the China Internet Network Information Center or CNNIC said in its annual report. Tencent’s QQ took second place, while Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s online bazaar Taobao came in third. Baidu Inc.’s mobile app and Alipay, the payments service run by Alibaba-affiliate Ant Financial, rounded out the top five.

The rankings underscore how China’s “BAT” internet triumvirate -- Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent -- dominate the country’s internet industry, which is walled off from the likes of Google, Twitter Inc. and Facebook Inc. Internet users there climbed roughly 6 percent to 731 million -- about twice the population of the U.S. 

The number of people who accessed the Internet through a mobile device surged more than 12 percent to 695 million. China has become a major source of revenue for smartphone industry players from Qualcomm Inc. to Apple Inc., which now counts the greater China region as its biggest international market. But the domestic scene is again lorded over by a clutch of local players, including Oppo, Vivo and Huawei Technologies Co.

One of the fastest-growing areas in 2016 was ride-hailing, according to the CNNIC. That segment is dominated by Didi Chuxing, which drove Uber Technologies Inc. out of the market last year when it bought the San Francisco startup’s local operation. Users of ride-hailing services such as Didi’s leapt 38 percent to 168 million in the second half of 2016, from the first half. There were also 225 million people who used an app to call taxis only.

— With assistance by Yuan Gao, and Haze Fan

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