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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...
2014-06-18 17:30:09

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, anything…

On with the killer apps!


Duomi Yinyue (多米音乐)

Let's start with this free 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 It Is: Duomi lets you stream songs and download them to your iPhone. There's also Xiami and QQ Yinyue, but Duomi has more choices. You can find the extended discographies of pop acts like Lady Gaga and Kanye, rock bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden, and even some low-key offerings like DJ Rashad and the Hyperdub compilation albums.

Ease Of Use: If you know the English names of musicians, you're good. You'll want a wi-fi connection or a generous 3G/4G plan too.

How To Use It:

1. Go to the app store and type "多米音乐" (Duomi Yinyue). Install that.
2. Open the app and click that little magnifying glass in the lower right. Search for an artist, song, or label.
3. Click the artist's name, then you'll get this window in top right picture. Here's what all this means: top left = songs, middle = albums, and right = related artists. You can play individual songs or the whole album by hitting the play button on the top right.

4. If you like a song, just click that little heart button to save it to your favorites list, which you can access from the "我喜欢" ("I Like") list on the "我的音乐" ("My Music") screen that's accessible by clicking the headphone icon on the bottom left.
5. 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, opposite the heart. Important - these songs will only play in Duomi 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 headphone icon on the bottom left, scroll all the way down, and hit the "+" button. Inside the playlist, hit the "+" button in the middle to add songs from your favorites or songs you've previously streamed.

Baidu Maps (百度地图)

What It Is: Will Google Maps work in China when you need it most? Even if Google works, Baidu Maps will run faster, with better access to public transit data. Plus, Baidu Maps is integrated with Dianping, so you can see restaurants and other venues around you with reviews, menu offerings, food pictures, and more.

Ease Of Use: You'll need to read basic Chinese for this one — street names, metro station names, etc.

How To Use It:

1. Search for "百度地图" (Baidu Ditu). Install that badboy.
2. Upon opening, Baidu Maps will display your current location. There's tons you can do from here, but in this tutorial we'll show you how to get directions to a restaurant and how to find info about the bus stations around you.

How To Get To A Restaurant

1. Search for a restaurant name. I chose Kyochon Chicken in Koreatown because they make some damn fine fried chicken.
2. There's more than one location, so in the search results, swipe left to right at the bottom of the screen to find the one you're after, then click the arrow that says "到这去" (dao zhe qu). That means "Go Here."

3. In the next window, you can choose from public transit, car, or by foot. I chose public transit and got several options.
4. The first option, “地铁10号线,” (Metro Line 10) looks like the simplest choice. Click on that to take Metro Line 10 straight to chicken town.
5. Now you're ready to take off. You'll get a map view, just like on Google Maps, that shows you where you're at and what to do.
6. One more thing - you can click "详情" (Details) next to the restaurant/venue name and that will take you to a page where you can see pictures people have posted, reviews people have written on Dianping, and more. The screen shot in the lower right is the details page.

How To Find Nearby Bus Stations

1. Baidu Maps also offers a bunch of location-based services to show you what's around. To access this, click the "附近" ("Nearby") icon in the bottom left corner of the app's home screen.
2. On the next screen, you'll get a bunch of icons for categories like restaurants, KTVs, and banks. Click the one that looks like a bus and says "公交站" ("Bus Stations").

3. This will bring you to a map with icons showing all bus stations in the vicinity, as shown in the top right screen shot. You can swipe left to right at the bottom to get more details about the buses at that station. Number 10, 淮海中路 (Huaihai Zhong Lu), seems to have a lot of buses, so let's look at that.
4. Click on that station below the map and you'll get to a page with all the buses at that station. Click on a bus to see the whole route, including subway stations near any of the bus stops.
5. Click "到这去" (Guide Me There) at the top and the software will guide you to the station.


It's a bad idea to wander around any city while staring at a map on your phone screen. That will let thieves know you're unfamiliar with the area, and that you're distracted. Not to mention cars and other dangers...

Didi Dache (滴滴打车)

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 "滴滴打车" (Didi Dache) in the app store and install that.
2. Before you can call cabs, you'll need to enter your phone number then receive and input a confirmation code. To do that, click the lines in the top left and a keypad window will appear, as shown in the top left screen shot. After you get a text message with your confirmation code, input that in the space just below where you entered your phone number then hit "开始" ("Begin"). Now you're good to go.

3. The home screen looks a lot like Baidu Maps, except you can see a bunch of car icons; those are the taxis in your area.
4. Your location is in the middle of the screen. If the address is incorrect, click on the text that starts with "我在..." ("I'm at..."), then you can choose from more addresses/buildings. It's important to have the right pick-up location so your driver doesn't get confused.
5. Now you're ready to call a cab. Just hold down the orange button at the bottom of the screen and say where you want to go, for example "Shifu ni hao, wo yao qu Zhongshan Gongyuan", which basically means "Hello, Driver. Please take me to Zhongshan Park." Release the button when you are done speaking.
6. It may take a minute, but a driver will probably respond to your request pretty quickly. Then you'll get a screen with the name of the driver, a phone icon that you can click to call the driver, and the license plate number of the cab.
7. If no one responds to your requests, you can adjust the tip slider at the bottom of the screen. Five kuai might not do much, but if it's an emergency and you don't mind adding 20rmb, that should do the trick.
8. That's it. Go outside if you're not outside yet – the driver will get pissed and start calling if they have to wait.
9. You can also schedule a cab to pick you up at a certain time, as shown in the bottom right screen shot. You may need to add a tip for this, but maybe not if you're going to the airport because a lot of drivers like to hang out and rest there.


Didi Dache 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 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. This one is simple, and works almost exactly like Google Translate, albeit with far fewer language choices, arguably poorer translation results, and no pinyin output. Still useful though. Choose your input and output language and you're good to go.

2. If you need to translate what someone is saying, you can have them speak into the microphone and a silicon voice will spit out the translation in your language almost instantly. It's about 70% accurate with my laowai Chinese.
3. Baidu Translate also offers a list of useful and not-so-useful expressions in categories like "Car Rental," "Hotels," and "Dining."
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.


Baidu Translate also has a camera function, where supposedly you can take a picture of something, circle it, and get a translation. Cool concept that unfortunately does not work. At all. In our tests, this function failed to identify/translate what is obviously a **DOG** in our office, as circled above, and the character 我 ("me") on a coffee mug.


What It Is: PPTV let's you stream movies and TV shows on your iPhone or iPad, which you also watch on your TV by using an adapter. It's free. Half the cell phone zombies you encounter on your morning commute are watching PPTV.

Ease Of Use: There's a ton of movies and TV shows on here, but sometimes you have to search by using their Chinese name. To do that, just go to Baidu Translate and search for the English name. If it's not on there, try going to the Baidu website, search for the movie title in English, then copy and paste the name next to the movie poster. That will work about 60% of the time. They don't have everything, but you'll be surprised at what they do have, like David Lynch's Wild At Heart. Occasionally just searching for the English name, like The Terminator, will work, but 95% of the time you'll need the Chinese name.

How To Use It:

1. This one is simple, just go to the app store and search for "PPTV." It's the first thing that comes up. Install that and you're good to go.
2. Open up the app and click on "频道分类" (channel) in the top left. This will bring you to a screen of icons for "电影" (movies), "电视剧" (TV series), and more. Click on any of those icons.

3. The next page will show a huge list of movie/TV series posters. By default this is set to "全部" (everything), but the icons next to that let you pick genres by scrolling left and right.
4. Above the line that starts with "全部," in the top right, you can also narrow your selections by "最受好评" (highest rated), "最高人气" (most popular), and "最新更新" (newest).
5. Once you find something you like, click the picture, then click the orange button that says "播放" (play). That's it.


Many movies are censored, some more subtly than others. For example, the subtitles in Half Baked refer to everything in that movie as "tobacco".

Also, PPTV has pretty much every episode of 机器猫 (Doraemon), that ubiquitous blue cat with no ears. That's a great cartoon for learning Chinese.


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.