Friday, August 23, 2019

Publishing an Android app in China

Thinking about publishing your Android app in China? Just add half a dozen of questionable permissions and you're good to go!

For the last five months I've been trying to work with a service called AppTutti to publish my Android app in China. Due to some very unique approach of the Chinese government, developers are not (easily) able to publish their app for the Chinese market themselves. Instead you can work with third-party services to get your app published. I chose AppTutti for the reason that it seemed more or less legit and offered to do at least the basics without paying any money upfront (instead they would take a cut in revenue). That approach seemed appropriate for my situation, as I was not sure if there is a big market for my niche in China anyway.

The good

The good news is that AppTutti translated my app to Chinese for no charge. As far as I can tell the quality of the translation is decent.

The bad

As mentioned before, the basic service provided is free of charge due to revenue sharing. In order to generate any revenue at all, you have to add monetization libraries to your app that are specialized for the Chinese market. So far so good, but you don't receive any information about what those libraries do exactly. Worse, those libraries seem to be a data mining hell come true:
  • WRITE_EXTERNAL_STORAGE to read all your local data? Hm...
  • ACCESS_FINE_LOCATION to get your exact position? Of course!
  • GET_TASKS to get other apps running on your phone? Hell yeah.
There's also some code that is meant to download *something* in the background. You can find all necessary changes here:

Despite a good amount of skepticism I went ahead to see what comes next. Integration was fairly easy since most of the code just had to be copy-pasted into my project. However, for some reason the integration did not work despite doing exactly what the provided documentation (given in form of a docx) suggested. Overall it took their support 1-2 months to figure out what went wrong. Eventually I did not have to make any changes on my side, so it must have been something on their side.

Finally, Chinese market here we come!? No. "Your App File has been found at local Chinese Stores! Please provide your Authorisation Letter and ORDER our IP Certificate Services to upgrade to RSPP Plus service for Reclaiming Process (from the stores).".

... 🤔

Turns out a very old version of my app was published without authorization before. The only way to reclaim ownership was to pay 200$ to AppTutti so they can start the process to reclaim the app. Admittedly, 200$ is not so bad, but it has a bitter taste if you ask me: free service, but since some companies seem to publish apps in China without permission you have to pay anyway. :)

If one window closes another one opens - or so - and I figured it's not worth spending any more time on publishing my app in China anyway. The rogue copy of my app that is already available there only accumulated a few thousand installs so far! Not worth the hours I have wasted on this odyssey so far and not worth another hour for sure.

TLDR; check download stats of similar apps before attempting to publish your app in China.

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