By: Gigaom
December 21, 2011 at 08:52 AM EST
Apple’s App Store made big gains in China in 2011
According to a new report from app market research firm Distimo, the App Store, which has traditionally been dominated by U.S. downloads, is seeing another major driving force on the rise as more and more Chinese shoppers pick up iOS devices.

According to a new report (PDF) from app market research firm Distimo, the App Store, which has traditionally been dominated by U.S. downloads, is seeing another major driving force on the rise as more and more Chinese shoppers pick up iOS devices.

When comparing the two countries, the Chinese App Store for iPhone devices was just 18 percent of download volume vs. the U.S. at the beginning of 2011. By November, that share had climbed to 30 percent, meaning that China jumped from less than a quarter to nearly a third over a 10 month period. The numbers are even more interesting when examining the iPad: China’s take is just south of 50 percent of combined downloads between the two countries.

China had already become the second largest market for Apple’s mobile software marketplace as of June, due in part to strong growth of its download volume but also to a decrease in downloads from western countries. Thanks to strong sales of Apple devices (sales of its physical products increased sixfold in China between 2010 and 2011) and the launch near the end of 2010 of an App Store in simplified Chinese, 2011 as a whole was a period of strong growth in mobile software. But the revenue picture for developers isn’t quite as rosy.

For one, translating App Store success from the U.S. to China isn’t a straightforward task. Localization is very important to Chinese customers, so investments like translation and culture-specific settings, contexts and themes are key to attracting downloads. But according to Distimo, there’s another problem facing developers: namely, Chinese app buyer aren’t as willing to pay for software as their western counterparts. Revenue share from the Chinese App Store is still behind its share of downloads.

Apple only just introduced the ability to pay for App Store purchases in Chinese yuan, however, which could have a considerable effect on the success of paid apps in China. In fact, early data from Distimo suggests things are already changing for the better, with paid app downloads nearly doubling in the first week following the new payment method’s introduction.

In 2012, we’ll probably see this trend continue, and it’s even possible that Apple will draw close to or maybe even surpass the U.S. in terms of App Store downloads during the year. ABIresearch predicts 5.5 billion mobile app downloads in China in 2012, of which Apple’s store will no doubt own a fair percentage.

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