In Defense of Hanping (and Android)

Commenter Mark feels I was a bit unfair to Android phones as a Chinese study tool in my recent post, Back to the iPhone (it’s all about Chinese!).

Mark says:

> Have you tried Hanping Pro? It has far more features than the free version. Also, Hanping in super-fast on Android 2.2. [Note: that link doesn’t work in the PRC]

Mark goes on:

> I think the biggest problem here for John is that he’s comparing free Android apps with paid iPhone apps. Also, the iOS app market is about 1 year more mature than the Android market. Android is catching up fast and I would expect the quality and breadth of apps to catch up over the next year.

> Living in China, you don’t see paid apps in the Android Market. Those are generally much better quality than the free apps – especially in niche areas like Chinese learning.

> If you have an Android device and are living in China then all you need to do is put a US/UK/DE etc sim card in your phone (doesn’t have to be active and can connect to Market over wifi) and then you can see/buy whatever paid apps you want. Once you are done, swap back in your Chinese sim card (i.e. you only need to change the sim card when purchasing paid apps, not using them). This is of course a PITA, but its useful to know until Google comes up with a proper long-term solution.

Mark’s right. It’s not that I’m willing to buy iPhone apps and not Android apps, it’s that I can buy iPhone apps in China, but not Android apps (and I’ve tried). I’m not willing to somehow acquire an overseas SIM card just to buy apps. Sorry.

So it’s true… I might not have come to the same conclusion if I weren’t living in China.

> OCR? Google are rumoured to be bringing out an update to Google Goggles soon which will include multi-lingual OCR support (including Chinese). Use it from within any app (SMS, email, dictionary, flashcard etc) so no need for cumbersome copy/paste like you would need to on the iPhone.

> The vastly superior support on Android for inter-app communication is a big advantage over iOS’s “pasteboard” approach and this is very useful in language-learning where you are often juggling multiple apps. Currently, not too many apps take full advantage of this inter-app functionality but this will improve as the Android Market apps mature.

Like I said, I’m fickle. When Android phones become better than the iPhone, I’ll switch back. In the meantime, I’m just waiting for the competition (inlcuding over OCR) to heat up more. This is a very good thing.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. that SIM issue is a major deal breaker.

  2. I thinks its a little off base (and against the sudo open source nature of Android) to say the paid apps agenerally much better quality than the free apps. By far the best English dictionary,IMO, is the free open source app Colordict. Its my hope that as the Android market expands, the amount and quality or free open source Android apps improves to the point that users don’t need any paid or ad-supported apps on their phone if they choose. Now thats freedom!

  3. I’m not sure how Android is vastly superior in terms of support. The iOS market has about 150Million installbase, and every mobile developer on Earth (even Google and Microsoft)

    The iPhone marketplace basically IS the mobile marketplace when it comes to paid applications. In keeping with the Open and Freedom of Linux (Android), most Android users opt for free stuff. (Android Mrkt accounts for about 2% of Apple’s App Store revenue)

    Here’s what you will be able to do on the iPhone in just a few weeks.

    The current downloadable software is 2.1.2, 2.2 will be a paid version.

    PS I just got back from HK and brought back a brand new iPod touch with camera.. so I look forward to speeding up my study time even more with this great app. If what he says is true (from camera flash right into flash cards), this is looking to be one sick study tool for Chinese.

  4. I was amused by the typical open source fans’ suggestions of horrific workarounds just to get equivalent (at best) features. Don’t get me wrong: I’m an open source fan and I prefer open source when it’s a viable option, but the fact is that free dictionaries are not even close to paid dictionaries in terms of content quality. Sometimes they can compete on features, but CC-EDICT is not, and might never be, capable of meeting all of my dictionary needs. CC-EDICT with the most amazing, feature-full interface in the world is still just CC-EDICT, and I’ll still end up buying the non-free ABC or Longman or whatever.

  5. I actually agree with the earlier post that android is a bit lacking in Chinese support, especially for the language learner, but I prefer android anyway. Also, there is a vibrant Chinese android modder community, which is pumping out China-optimized versions of just about every android ROM.

    A much easier workaround for paid apps is to install ‘paid apps enabler’. You need root, but set it up once, and you’ve got paid app access anywhere in the world. Yes, google should get off their butts and fix this. But keep in mind that it’s a legal issue, not a tech one. Ever try to pay for an app or album at itunes with your Chinese bank card? Didn’t think so.

    Some of the problems you pointed out in your previous post are being addressed. Google Pinyin now has predictive English typing (for devices on 2.0 and up), so you don’t need to long press to switch back and forth. Pleco is apparently developing a version for android as we speak. It will, of course, take a while, but it’s a good sign.

    Also, with HTC jumping into the China market, I expect an explosion of China/bilingual functions just around the corner.

    On the other hand, I also use an ipod touch, mostly for Pleco, music and games. It’s a great device, buy I wouldn’t want it as my phone. A lot of people say, “I want one device that can do it all”. When we see some real innovation in battery technology, so will I.

    And as for paid apps on open source, well, the saying goes: “free as in free speech, not free beer”.

  6. there’s a Market Enabler that would make you see all the apps on market, just google it and youll see

  7. Thanks for the follow-up!

    Yes, Market Enabler is probably a better option if you buy more than a few paid apps. But if you’re only talking about one or two paid apps then its not that difficult to spend a few mins on the sim card trick to make the purchase. It’s a one-time PITA. Most laowai have a old sim card from back home (or from a friend) they can use.

    Either way, its really not a big deal. Its not perfect but the effort is still much less than, say, the effort of finding/purchasing a new phone.

    It’s probably worth mentioning that there are other market apps out there where you can buy paid Android apps within China. Also, Google will be releasing a web version of Android Market soon so that you can browse for and buy paid apps on your PC (automatically installed on your phone). This may be their way of opening up paid apps to the whole world. We’ll have to wait and see…

    But really John, I think you didn’t properly explore Android’s Chinese-learning possibilities before ditching it. Why were you not using PenPower or HanWriting? Why were you using nciku’s mobile website (!) instead of Hanping (which is just as good as any of the free iPhone offerings)? Why did you not explore the possibilities for accessing paid apps?

    • Never underestimate the power of an integrated package – before Pleco’s first product appeared on Palm OS in 2001, you could buy a separate Chinese enabler, handwriting recognizer, dictionary engine (the legendary KDIC, for which a number of perfectly-decent Chinese dictionaries were available), and Chinese-compatible flashcard system and put them together much as you describe but people were still wiling to shell out for our product because we gave you all of those things together and guaranteed they’d actually work with each other (or that we’d fix it if they didn’t).

      I think inter-app communication can enable some lovely things on Android, and we certainly plan to make some use of it in the Pleco Android app (not necessarily as an IME, for reasons I’ve explained in PlecoForums, but at least for things like cross-referencing and vocabulary list sharing) – we should talk about whether we can work out a way to link up our handwriting / OCR to your new translator app, actually – but it’s not a silver bullet; sharing data between different products is very challenging, committees spend years hashing out specs for these kinds of things only to find out that nobody actually quite follows them correctly.

  8. Andrew Cockerham Says: September 18, 2010 at 9:10 am

    I use a Market Access app to get paid apps in China. Its a breeze, and no need to change SIM cards. I agree that the tools for the iPhone may be a bit better at the moment. But given the iPhone’s 1 year head start, that is to be expected. But given HTC and Android’s growing popularity in China, equally good tools for Android will follow soon, no doubt.

  9. Like another commenter said, the mobile app market basically IS the Apple App Store. Paid apps are almost always (90% of time or more in my experience) superior to free versions and Android just cannot compete with the quality and variety of apps available on iPhone / iPod.

  10. I use a Tmobile Pulse from the UK, I can still see the paid apps in the Android Market. Am I doing it wrong?

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