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China's next hot app: year-old Apus aims for 300 million users

[HONG KONG] Barely a year after Apus debuted for Android smartphones, the Chinese company that developed the popular app organiser is hoping for user numbers resembling those of Twitter Inc. and Facebook Inc.

The Beijing-based company believes the additions of a browser and new search functions will help double its user numbers to 300 million this year, with a goal of 1 billion in three years, founder and Chief Executive Officer Li Tao said in an interview.

Apus has become one of the most-downloaded services to help users of cheaper phones with Google Inc's Android software reduce battery consumption and switch quickly between favored apps.

A so-called app launcher, it allows users to customize the look and features of their home screen, circumventing the usual interfaces installed by Android phonemakers.

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Unlike operating systems developed by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd and Tencent Holdings Ltd, it sits atop the phone's underlying system, letting users create folders to keep apps together and perform searches directly off home screens.

"What we do is to help Android users get the best experience by helping them manage their contact list, apps and services on their phones," Mr Li said.

Apus, owned by Beijing Qi Lin He Sheng Technology Co, has raised US$116 million from investors, including Qiming Venture Partners and Susquehanna International Group. Its most recent round of funding valued the company at about US$1 billion, according to Mr Li. It holds US$100 million in cash.

Apus, which can run on any Android phone and takes up about 1 megabyte of memory, has intentionally drawn most of its users from outside China, designing its app in English and targeting regions where smartphone user growth is fastest.

About 32 per cent of its users are in Southeast Asia, 17 per cent in the Middle East, and about 9 per cent in North America.

The 11-month-old company's launcher became the No. 7 most- popular app on Google Play in April, according to market researcher App Annie.

"The market could be pretty big," said Stephen Yang, an analyst at brokerage Sun Hung Kai Financial Ltd in Hong Kong.

Apus "could potentially be bought out by a phone maker who doesn't have a user interface and help customers to differentiate between their products." Apus will now try to build a user community similar to the model that helped fuel smartphone maker Xiaomi Corp's initial growth, Mr Li said, without elaborating.

"When we have 1 billion people using our system and download apps and games through us, then our value will truly show," Mr Li said in a May 15 interview.