FlipBoard, the iPad reading experience reinventor last year stepped its toes into China in an effort to tap into the second largest market for Apple where people are scrambling to buy Apple’s iDevices such as iPhone, iPad and iPod. With a huge market to build with and a hordes of similar apps to rival against, Flipboard is destined to engage all the opportunities while confront the challenges during its bumpy ride in China’s e-reading market.
The iPad App of the Year, typified by its ‘revolutionary’ tablet reading experience, was originally aiming at turning your social networking contents (Twitter feeds or Facebook status updates) into a personalised digital magazine. You can read it by flipping through pages with right-to-left swipes which gives you the illusion that you’re turning book pages. The personal social magazine also got many prominent traditional publishers on board, including publishing conglomerate Conde Nast and its New Yorker, Wired, travel publication Lonely Planet and so forth.
Teaming up with two popular Chinese social networkings, Renren (China’s Facebook) and Sina Weibo (Twitter-like service), Flipboard debuted a Chinese version of the app on December 6 of last year. Alvin Tse, head of Flipboard China was reportedly expecting a 5 million download mark for iPad Chinese version by year-end.
Currently staffed by 55 employees, the Alto-based company raised US$ 60.5 million in its fundings.
Being not only the new comer to China’s mobile sector but also the inspiration for a clutch of Chinese Flipboard-like apps such as – to name a few – Xianguo Lianbo, Zaker, NetEase Reading and Tencent iCare, Flipboard is confronting fierce competition the first day it set foot on China.
Firstly, what sit at the core of Flipboard – its disruption of elegant magazine-style e-reading experience and concept of personalised social magazine – have all been copied by its Chinese clones. On that front, they’re standing on the same starting line. Meanwhile, these local players with their first mover advantage have signed up a great quantity of local publications to provide quality content for users for free. Apparently it’ll take Flipboard some time to catch up with them on that front. Plus, almost all its Chinese rivals support both iOS and Android platform, which help them reach out to a broader audience.
“We’re the leader in the U.S. market, but we’re kinda like a rookie in China”, said Alvin. Speaking of the differences between Chinese and American reading apps, he thought that “in the States each app has its own uniqueness, while in China there’re so many clones. Some even totally ripping off our source code. We’re considering filing a report with Apple on that matter.”
He went on to note that one edge of local players is faster connection due to their China-based servers, and it would be a large investment if they do the same thing. So there’s no imminent plan to move some of Flipboard’s servers to China. As for content, he believed that even though their Chinese rivals have so much more content, that doesn’t mean the quality is as good as Flipboard China’s. They’re putting more focus on the quality of content.
Alvin also noted that currently there’s no revenue plan for Flipboard’s China operation, the company will try to craft a nice product with excellent user experience for the competitive and challenging market before considering making profit in China. There’re too many challenges in China, but it also has fruitful opportunities.