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Chinese Apps For Daily Life

Chinese iPhone apps to hail taxis, stream music, movies, and TV shows for free, and find your way around town. It's the attack of the killer apps...
Last updated: 2015-11-09

Some Chinese iPhone apps can make your life in Shanghai and China much easier, even if you're not a native Chinese speaker. We've scoured cyberspace for some supremely useful Chinese iPhone apps. These are them.

Note: All these apps likely run the same way on Android, Xiaomi, etc. Just hit up your app dealer out in cyberland, man...


Now, these all require some basic Chinese language knowledge, like street names and vocab like "music." If you're living here for a while, you'd do well to learn about 300–500 characters for street names and menus. It's not that hard, and if you need some help, you can download this app. It's invaluable.

Also, many of these apps require Chinese text input, so before you start...

1. Go to Settings → General → Keyboards
2. Select "Add New Keyboard"
3. Choose Chinese – Simplified, Pinyin
4. Now you can switch to Chinese input mode by pressing the little globe next to the space bar. This works in text messaging, Safari searches, and anything...

On with the killer apps!


Wangyiyun Yinyue (网易云音乐)

Let's start with this music app because it doesn't require any Chinese, and if you get frustrated with the other apps, at least you have some jams.

What is it: Wangyiyun Yinyue is a music streaming and downloading app for your phone. In addition, there are also QQ Yinyue and other music apps available, depending on your music preferences. If you enjoy English songs, Wangyiyun Yinyue would be a better choice, but if you're a K-pop fan or interested in exploring Chinese music, downloading QQ Yinyue would be more suitable.

However, a membership fee is typically required to enjoy the music fully. While they do offer some free music, many trending songs often require a membership. Keep reading for more information if you're still keen on trying out Wangyiyun Yinyue.

Ease Of Use: If you know the English names of musicians, you're good. You'll want a Wi-Fi connection or a generous 4G/5G plan too.

How To Use It:

1. Go to the app store and type "网易云音乐" (Wangyiyun Yinyue). Install that.

2. Open the app, and register with your Chinese phone number, WeChat, or other available options.

3. Click on the small search bar located in the upper middle section. From there, you can search for an artist, song, or label.

4. Click on the artist's name, and you'll see a window as shown in the picture. This window consists of four different sections: "主页" for the homepage, "歌曲" for songs, "专辑" for albums, and "视频" for videos. You can play individual songs by selecting the song name or play the entire album by clicking on the play button.

5. If you like a song, click that little heart button to save it to your favorites list, which you can access from the "我喜欢的音乐" ("The Music I Liked") list on the "我的" ("My") screen that's accessible by clicking the note icon on the bottom middle. If you want to download a song to your phone, just hit the button with an arrow facing down. That's on the left side of the song player screen. Important - these songs will only play in Wangyiyun and will disappear if you delete the app.

6. You can also make playlists, as shown in the lower right picture. To do that, click the "+" button on the "我的" ("My")page. Inside the playlist, hit the note button with a "+" to add songs from your favorites or songs you've previously streamed.

Gaode Maps (高德地图)

What It Is: While Google Maps has always been the go-to choice, Gaode Maps takes the lead in popularity in China. Gaode Maps operates more efficiently, offers improved access to public transit data, and has the added benefit of integration with Dianping. With Dianping integration, you can explore restaurants and venues, complete with reviews, menus, food pictures, and more. There are other mapping applications available, such as Baidu Maps, which function in a similar manner.

Ease Of Use: To use Gaode Maps, it's essential to have a basic understanding of Chinese, including street names and metro station names.

How To Use It:

1. Visit the app store and search for "高德地图" (Gaode Ditu). Download it on your phone.

2. Once opened, Gaode Maps will show your current location. There are tons you can do from here. In this tutorial, we will guide you on how to find directions to a restaurant and discover information about nearby metro stations.

How To Get To A Restaurant

1. Begin by searching for the name of the restaurant. In this case, I've chosen Most Izakaya on Julu Lu, known for its amazing sushi.

2. Click on the search results, and then select the blue button labeled "路线" (lu xian), which means "Route."

3. In the following window, you'll have various transportation options to choose from, including self-driving, taxi, public transit, scooter, bike, or walking. For this example, I selected public transit and received several available options. The first option, "地铁2号线" (Metro Line 2), appears to be the most straightforward choice. Click on it to take Metro Line 2 directly to the restaurant.

4. You're now ready to embark on your journey. You'll be presented with a map view, similar to Google Maps, which indicates your current location and provides guidance on what to do next.

How To Find Nearby Bus Stations

1. Gaode Maps also provides a range of location-based services to help you explore your surroundings. To access this feature, simply tap on the "公交地铁" ("Bus and Metro") icon on the home screen.

2. On the next screen, you'll find a collection of icons representing different categories. Select the second icon labeled "地铁图" ("Metro Maps").

3. This will display a map showing all the metro stations in the city. You can tap on each station to set it as your starting point (起点) or destination (终点). Let's consider "南京西路" (Nanjing Xi Lu) as the closest station.

4. Suppose you need to travel to "上海火车站" (Shanghai Railway Station). After setting both the starting point and destination, you can tap on the "详情" (Details) option in the lower right corner to get the complete route information.

5. Click on the blue button in the lower right corner that reads "开始导航" (Start Navigation), and the app will guide you to your destination.


It is not advisable to wander around any city while constantly looking at a map on your phone screen. This can pose risks such as being unaware of vehicular traffic and other potential dangers.

Didi Chuxing (滴滴出行)

What It Is: This is how people find cabs when there are no cabs, and why some cabs won't stop for you - they're going to pick up people using this app. This is perfect for Friday nights or rainy days when you simply cannot find a taxi. You can still pay in cash. You do not have to tip, but you can offer tips in increments of 5rmb if no one is responding to your taxi requests.

Ease Of Use: Basic oral Chinese is necessary for talking to the driver. For example, "Shifu wo yao qu Pudong Jichang" ("Driver, I want to go to Pudong Airport") is enough. Once you confirm a taxi, the app will send you the driver's phone number so you can just give them a call if there's any problem. The driver will probably call you if you're not outside when they arrive.

How To Use It:

1. Search for "滴滴出行"(Didi Chuxing) in the app store and install that.

2. Before you can book a cab, you will need to register using your phone number. Once you have successfully logged in, you are good to go.

3. On the home screen, the starting point (indicated by the green dot) is typically your current location. You can click on it to change it to a different address. the destination (represented by the orange dot) is the same. It's important to have the right pick-up location so your driver doesn't get confused.

4. Once you have entered both the starting point and destination, the app will automatically proceed to the next step. At this stage, you will have several car options to choose from. These options include "特惠快车" (te hui kuai che), "快车" (kuai che), "滴滴特快" (di di te kuai), "优享" (you xiang), and "专车" (zhuan che). The last two options are more luxurious, while the others are relatively similar. However, please note that if you prefer not to share the ride with strangers, avoid selecting "极速拼车" (ji su pin che). You have the option to select from various car types. Simply click on the button at the bottom that reads "确认呼叫" (Confirm to call a cab).

5. It may take a minute, but a driver will probably respond to your request pretty quickly. Then you'll get a screen with the driver's name, a phone icon that you can click to call the driver, a message icon to text the driver, and the cab's license plate number.

6. That's it. Go outside if you're not outside yet – the driver will get pissed and start calling if they have to wait.


Didi Chuxing keeps a record of recent cabs you've taken, with times, license plate numbers, and your drivers' phone numbers. Obviously, this is useful if you leave some important shit in the cab.

Also, much like Dianping, you can leave a review and star rating for drivers. One of the drivers I met with this app was a serious douche. He ran through a red light and basically told me to shut up when I complained. I dropped a one-star rating on him. Drivers can complain about you too, so don't order a cab and then disappear.

Baidu Translate (百度翻译)

What It Is: Baidu Translate can translate full sentences, give you the pinyin for Chinese characters, and speak Chinese sentences out loud. This is useful because Google Translate might be blocked.

Ease Of Use: If you can read, you can use this.

How To Use It:

1. Search for "百度翻译" (Baidu Fanyi) in the App Store and install it.

2. This one is simple, and works almost exactly like Google Translate, albeit with arguably poorer translation results, and no pinyin output. Still useful though. Choose your input and output language by clicking on the search bar on top, and you're good to go.

3. If you need a translation of someone's speech, simply tap on the "对话翻译" (Translate conversations) option located on the home screen. On the following screen, you'll find a blue button for translating Chinese and a red button for translating English. If you want to switch to other languages, just press the button in the top center. Currently, the available options include Chinese, English, Japanese, Korean, and a few others.

4. You can also save your favorite translations, so if there's something you need to say often, like "I'm allergic to seafood," just translate that and hit the star button. Now that sentence is in your favorites. To access your saved sentences and words, tap on the second button located on the home screen.

IQiyi (爱奇艺)

What It Is: IQiyi lets you stream movies and TV shows on your iPhone or iPad, which you also watch on your TV. If you don't have a membership, you'll need to watch a few minutes-long ads before you can enjoy your show. Some shows may require a membership for viewing.

Ease Of Use: There is a vast collection of movies and TV shows available here, but you'll need the Chinese names to search for the shows you want to watch. To do so, simply visit Baidu Translate and search for the English name. If it's not listed there, try visiting the Baidu website, and searching for the movie title in English. Then, copy and paste the name next to the movie poster. This method works about 60% of the time. Please note that they do not have everything, and most of the content is Chinese TV shows or movies. However, you might still find something you like.

How To Use It:

1. This one is simple, go to the app store and search for "爱奇艺"(ai qi yi). Install that and you're good to go.

2. Launch the app and sign in using your Chinese phone number.

3. Search for the Chinese name of the shows you want to watch. For instance, I looked up "老友记" (Friends), and this classic TV show is available.


Many movies are censored, some more subtly than others.


Enjoy, but don't spend too much time looking at your phone - you'll ruin your eyes. And don't be that girl who crosses Yan'an Lu at rush hour while watching a Korean drama.