Mobile applications are all the rage in China amid efforts by the mainland's three telecommunications operators to build online stores where users can browse and download software and various digital content. These carrier-led initiatives, however, face competition from a growing number of branded third-party mobile application platforms, all of which are keen to emulate the success of Apple's pioneering online Apps Store. Analysts view the increasingly crowded domestic market for mobile application stores as confusing for local consumers and the software developers who create the programs. That situation could hurt the progress of China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom's online stores. 'Almost anything goes, but there is really no right or wrong way [in the mobile applications space],' said John Hoffmann, the chief executive at GSMA, the organiser of last week's Mobile Asia Congress event in Hong Kong. 'It's now all about customisation; how much consumers can personalise their devices, whether it's a smartphone or a media tablet,' Hoffman said. He noted that there are already 'hundreds of thousands of mobile applications available in more than 50 app stores worldwide, including many in China'. The growing use of these applications on the mainland is attributed to the nationwide development of high-speed 3G mobile networks, rising subscription to operators' mobile broadband services, and the increased proliferation of internet-ready smartphones from various brands and media tablets such as Apple's iPad. China Mobile's online Mobile Market, which was pre-launched in August last year, has an estimated 41,072 applications. These include games, productivity software and themes for mobile devices. The mainland's No 2 wireless network operator, China Unicom, had 2,612 applications when it formally launched its WoStore about two weeks ago. Its offerings include games, themes, e-books and other reading materials, productivity tools, lifestyle content, and various entertainment programs. China Telecom Corp, the smallest of the mainland's three wireless carriers, continues to trial its eStore, which has games, reading, productivity tools, themes and entertainment content. Apple, however, can claim to have the mobile application store with the most to offer mainland consumers, specifically those who use its iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch devices. The simplified Chinese version of its App Store was launched in October, featuring localised applications among more than 300,000 free and paid software and content. Other application stores operating on the mainland include those run by Nokia, Samsung Electronics, Lenovo Group, Motorola, LG Electronics, Coolpad, semiconductor firm MediaTek, Alibaba Group's Taobao online shopping portal, and Sina Corp's Twitter-like micro-blogging service, Weibo. Michael Clendenin, the managing director at research and consultancy firm RedTech Advisors, said in a report: 'A hodge-podge of app offerings is crowding and confusing the app eco-system in China, leaving little room for the [three major wireless network] operators to get traction [for their early initiatives].' Clendenin said the situation was 'choking the efforts of operators to win loyalty through online stores'. It also means the telecommunications network operators would find little revenue-generating contribution from their application stores. Lisa Soh, an analyst for Macquarie Securities, said the three mainland mobile network operators' turnover from mobile application stores would 'account for less than 5 per cent of their [respective total] revenue this year and next year', adding that the potential for apps stores 'also depends on handset take-up'. Lenovo, which is the largest domestic-brand smartphone maker, has unveiled an initial 100 million yuan (HK$116 million) investment in a fund to provide seed money to mainland developers who build programs for its LeGarden mobile applications store.