China doesn't have Google. I'm sure that's not a shock for most of you, but there are still plenty of people that can't quite comprehend going to China and being completely unable to watch YouTube. Madness, I know, especially since the Android platform is by far China's biggest mobile OS.
But just because Android is synonymous with the Google Play Store and Google in general, that doesn't mean that China likes Google or needs Google. Long ago they pulled an Epic and said; "no, forget that, we're going to make our own storefronts."
China has a variety of Chinese-specific apps and storefronts, such as QQ and WeChat for instant messaging, AliPay for payments, and of course TapTap for downloading brand new apps and games. Who needs Google and Western monopolies, eh? Well, China doesn't, and if you're interested in seeing what mobile gaming life is like without Google, TapTap is a good place to start.
So, what happens if you turn your back on Google and go to use TapTap from now on? I've investigated, and the tale of my struggle is real…
Just the act of downloading TapTap is going to be more complicated than what you're used to coming off of Google Play. For one, TapTap isn't available on Google Play, you will need to find a .apk from elsewhere. We're already in slightly questionable territory here.
So, I Google TapTap. I know, I know, if I were in China I wouldn't be able to do this, but give me a break, I'm not exactly going to trust Bing with this.
The first result is TapTap.com, which seems promising, and right at the top of the screen there's a prompt to download the app. Not bad at all. That is immediately followed by Chrome flashing a red screen and warning me that I'm about to harm my device. The URL the .apk wanted to download from didn't look as familiar as I'd like, so I trust Chrome on this one and back out.
So I end up downloading the TapTap app from UpToDown, which is another third party app storefront, I suppose? Honestly, I'm not used to jumping through this many hoops to download an app, even when it's region locked.
But eventually, I get through, I download TapTap, and when I open the app it works. Success, I suppose.
I expected a lot of things from TapTap. A whole bunch of apps I had never heard of, a few more Chinese characters than I could possibly understand, an initially confusing interface - usual first-time app use stuff. What I didn't expect to see from TapTap were some social functions that I would welcome on any other platform.
Click through to any game on the store and you'll be able to see videos of gameplay and images uploaded by the TapTap community, sharing their gameplay and their achievements, much like they do with the Share functions on modern consoles before posting to Twitter or YouTube. I've not seen this on mobile before, and frankly, it's nice.
It's very similar to the What's New tab on the PS4 home screen, except works quickly and frankly is a nicer user experience than what Sony has delivered. There's a mild problem with this, that being that most Android devices do not allow you to record the device's audio, meaning these clips often had generic stock music or were accompanied by complete silence, but it's a surprisingly nice experience.
But then I came across an issue. You see, I downloaded TapTap for a specific reason, other than trying to see what life was like outside of the Google ecosystem. I specifically went to TapTap to redeem a code for a game, and despite multiple attempts on my own devices and another, nothing worked. The code could not redeem, and the error message was illegible thanks to being in Chinese.
And no, changing your language settings doesn't help that issue. Coming across an error is frustrating, but being unable to diagnose what is going wrong is much worse. Right now, TapTap just isn't optimised for those living outside of China who aren't able to speak and read the language.
But despite the issues, TapTap does manage to make a good argument for itself. The Google Play Store can be restrictive for some developers and publishers, and TapTap opens developers up to a whole new audience.
Not only that, but the smaller features are lovely. If I were getting really into a game, I wouldn't need to go join a community Discord or fumble with a game's built-in chat and community settings, I would just jump onto TapTap, look at my most recent apps, upload videos, screenshots, and chat easily - a lot like Miiverse, in fact.
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But then there's that language barrier. The fact is even if you have your app set to English, we've mentioned that you'll see a lot of Chinese characters. But it's not just those error and system messages, a vast majority of the community is, of course, Chinese, and many of the comments you'll see will be in Chinese.
Now, this could be an excellent tool to learn the language. If you are already learning and need some practical reading experience, TapTap's community is one of the few places that you can easily access along with a massive online Chinese community. You won't see the same people on Twitter, YouTube, or Facebook.
But that's a fringe scenario, and if you're just looking for an easy place to download games, it's not ideal for non-Chinese speakers. Storefronts like TapTap offer a fascinating and potentially wonderful community experience to go along with your games, but unless you can easily join in and interact with that community, it's all for naught.