Shanghai's essential apps

The must-have apps for Shanghai living you need to download now

Whether you’re looking for a bus stop or a date, need some language help or want to order take-out, Time Out round up the must-have apps for Shanghai living

Daily essentials

"Baidumaps-crop"Price Free (iPhone, Android)
What is it? China’s version of Google Maps
Use it for Getting around the city
Best feature Street View
Whether you’re walking or in a taxi, a good map in this city is essential – and Google Maps is hardly reliable these days. Baidu Maps offers the most up-to-date solution, with 2D and 3D views, satellite imaging, real-time traffic data, navigation and offline maps. There’s even a version of Google’s Street View, too. The interface is only available in Chinese but the points of interest can all be searched for in English, and the icon-based design makes it easy to operate. With this app in hand you need never be lost down a longtang again.

"Screen shot 2014-10-24 at 下午05.21.02"Price Free (iPhone, Android)
What is it? Metro map
Use it for Making sense of the city’s ever-increasing metro network
Best feature The route planner, with journey times and prices For the metro, the Explore Shanghai app is a real must-have. Not only does it give you the full subway map, it also provides route planning, GPS and maps of the areas around all the stations so that you can find the best exit. The interface is in both English and Chinese and, for a small in-app purchase, you can remove the advertising that pops up plus get train times, tips and offline street maps. If you’re travelling, Explore also provides metro maps for Beijing, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Seoul, Singapore and Taipei.

"Taobao-crop"Price Free (iPhone, Android)
What is it? China’s online marketplace
Use it for Buying things you don’t need
Best feature Instant access to brilliant and bizarre products
It’s been said that if a product exists you’ll find it on Taobao. With this app, your wallet is going to take a further hit as buying stuff gets a whole lot easier once you have Taobao in your pocket. The interface is Chinese-only but navigation is relatively easy if you know your way around the web version. Features such as the barcode scanner and local cinema and KTV information are useful, but the best thing about this app is still buying random stuff that you don’t really need. See how to use Taobao here.

"aqi"Price Free (iPhone, Android)
What is it? A summary of pollution readings
Use it for Finding out just exactly how screwed your lungs are
Best feature Quick-view home screen badge
Though some might think it’s better not to know the state of the air outside, this app gives those curious enough to find out more about the situation an exact reading for all the major cities in China. You can add multiple cities to your list and even have the current AQI level show up as a badge on your home screen for quick reference. The main screen shows readings from the last 24 hours with different coloured line graphs for the various monitoring stations in the city. In the options menu you can change which readings are used for the main figure, including using station averages or maximums, real-time or 24-hour averages, and American or Chinese standards.

Mat Gallagher

"untitled-crop"Time Out's mobile site - Get an indispensable guide to the city on your phone with our brand new mobile site at


"屏幕快照 2014-10-23 下午08.25.36-0"Price Free (iPhone, Android)
What is it? A database of restaurants and more
Use it for Finding food, movies and deals
Best feature User reviews
Like its hugely popular website, the Dianping app offers a local directory of a huge range of services such as restaurants, hotels, KTV joints, films, shops and food delivery options. The app, which is only available in Chinese, covers several major cities in China and uses GPS to allow you to check in and share locations. Though some functions are fairly explanatory, using this app can be trickier than the website if you’re not familiar with the language. With a little knowledge, though, it’s great as a quick reference point.

"JSS Food Delivery-0"Price Free (iPhone, Android)
What is it? Food delivery by Jinshisong
Use it for When you’re too lazy to leave home for a meal
Best feature GPS to find your location
This food delivery app is available in English and Chinese and offers a range of restaurants that bring dishes direct to your door. The list of restaurants is far less extensive than that on Dianping, but this is expected to grow rapidly over the next few months. GPS data allows the app to find your position and nearby restaurants can be listed by delivery time, rating or cuisine type. Log in with your account details and you can have food winging its way to your door in just a few clicks.


"bottlesXO-crop"Price Free (iPhone, Android)
What is it? Wine delivery and information
Use it for When you want a bottle of wine in a hurry
Best feature The app promises under-an-hour delivery time 
This Shanghai-based start-up promises to deliver you a bottle of wine at a drinkable temperature direct to your door within one hour. With glasses and a bottle opener delivered as part of the package, you need never run dry at a picnic ever again. Users can scroll through the curated wine lists by type or by price and each option is accompanied by photos of suggested pairings. Select a bottle and you’ll get tasting notes, the ideal serving temperature plus the personal stories of the people behind the vineyard.


"u=4211791075,3916776640&fm=23&gp=0"Price Free (iPhone, Android)
What is it? China’s answer to YouTube
Use it for Video content
Best feature Licensed content
Alongside user-generated content, Youku provides licensed content from TV stations, distributors and movie companies, which means a wide range of Chinese shows as well as some Western series, and a full range of Hollywood blockbusters if you sign up to its premium service or opt for pay-per-view. The app is only available in Chinese but is very easy to navigate, thanks to the icon-based menus. Plus, searches in English will generally yield results.


"mzl.rcwjgfgu.175x175-75"Price 0.99USD (iPhone)
What is it? Bus maps for the city
Use it for Getting to grips with Shanghai’s myriad bus routes
Best feature Prices and bus running times
Presented fully in English, this app allows you to search by stop, by bus or find your position on the map and discover your closest stops. The main problem here is that the app currently relies on Google for its maps and this can leave you with a big question mark over your head. Despite this, the app still has its uses, as you can manually search for locations and bus numbers. When you choose a route, the app provides you with a list of stops as well as prices and running times. If this app could be adapted to use Baidu maps, it would be a big success. 

"didi-0"Price Free (iPhone, Android)
What is it? The ultimate Shanghai taxi app
Use it for Hailing a cab
Best feature Taxi proximity map
While Kuaidi Dache used to rule the taxi app roost in Shanghai, ever since Didi Dache became embedded in WeChat, there’s been little need to use anything else. Covering 300 cities and with over 500,000 taxis (so claims the blurb), the app allows you to request a cab from any location. It’s in Chinese but is pretty straightforward to work out, though the app requires you to text or speak your destination to the driver, rather than plot on a map, and for this you’ll need basic taxi vocab. Of course, if you’ve already got WeChat (and thus Didi Dache in your ‘Wallet’ section), you may find the stand alone app superfluous.


"Pleco-crop"Price Free (iPhone, Android)
What is it? The ultimate Chinese dictionary
Use it for Translation
Best feature Add-ons
There are plenty of Chinese translation options on your phone but Pleco offers a proper dictionary, allowing you to search for words in English and Chinese, look up the different meanings and truly learn the language. The interface is in English but you can input using the keyboard or by building up radicals. The dictionary is extensive, especially so when considering that this is a free app, and is great for reference. But if you’re looking for more, there are in-app purchases to make it even better, including optical character recognition (though the free trial version is pretty effective too), full-screen handwriting and audio packages.

"waygo"Price Free (iPhone, Android)
What is it? A handy visual translation tool
Use it for Turning Chinese text into English through your screen
Best feature Offline translation
This app is less about learning and more about pure convenience. Designed to help you quickly read menus, signs and notices, Waygo uses your phone’s camera to recognise both Chinese and Japanese characters and instantly translate them. A resizable box allows you to focus in on the characters you want to translate, with the option to turn on the phone’s flashlight if needed. Plus by tilting the phone you can translate multiple lines of text at once. The good news is that it translates without needing a constant internet connection; the bad news is you only get ten free translates per day. If you want more than that you’ll need to upgrade to a paid package (6.99USD for lifetime use).


Number of users 16.5 Million in China

What is it? Tantan saves you the hassle of having to read dating profiles and lets you judge a fellow human being based purely on a photo. Potential dates appear based on location searches, using your phone’s GPS, but you can only start a conversation if you both like each other’s pic. To say this app is similar to Tinder is an understatement, though to sign up, all you’ll need is a Chinese mobile number. 

Best feature One neat little addition that Tantan has is the ability to add videos to your profile – queue hundreds of awkward or hilarious performances from random strangers.

Get it (iPhone, Android)

Number of users 180 million registered users in China

What is it? Though previously available in both English and Chinese, the English version of this app was discontinued earlier this year with promises of a new, better version soon to come. For now, Momo’s Chinese app combines the traits of a traditional dating website, complete with profiles and images, with location-based data to find users near you. For better or worse, Momo has gained a reputation as being a hook-up app, so don’t be surprised if you get hit on several times a day. 

Best feature Groups with shared interests help you meet people who are looking for more.

Get it (iPhone, Android, Windows)

Number of users Approximately 22-24 million users worldwide

What is it? One of the most popular dating apps among Western audiences, Tinder has a simple structure, allowing users to swipe right to like, or left to reject, potential dates. When your choices match you can start a conversation and take it from there. Logging in uses your Facebook account so you’ll need a VPN to get going but after that you can swipe till your heart’s content. 

Best feature The Tinder Moments feature lets you add and share pictures with your matches, which then disappear after 24 hours.

Get it (iPhone, Android)

Number of users 70,000 across Asia.

What is it? Bears, otters, wolves, cubs, pups, bulls, gym rats – there’s a veritable zoo of subcultures in the gay community, which 9Monsters’ premise is built upon. The Japanese software is to all intents and purposes a ‘concept’ app, which relies on our willingness to buy into such labels: upon registration, you must categorise yourself as either a Muscle Wolf, Lovely Dog, Slim Cat, Cool Monkey, Sporty Panther, Chubby Piggy, Wild Bear, Bulky Bison, or Athlete Kong. Yes, really.

9Monsters is part dating app, part game. After you’ve chosen what sort of monster you reckon you are, you start off as an egg, and you wait, Tamagotchi-style. From here, it all revolves around the sinister-sounding ‘breeding’. Once you’ve bred with someone, you can’t un-breed, and you’ll start to get an indication of what your type is. There’s a twist in that users categorise each other, so while you might think you’re a Cool Monkey, you’re actually a Chubby Piggy – so if you take a moment to suspend your disbelief at such a quite-frankly-insane-sounding way of finding a boyfriend, it certainly says something interesting about your own self-perception versus other people’s.

Best feature Messages are automatically translated, meaning that you don’t have to worry about the language barrier. Until you meet up, that is, which we imagine would be much trickier. You can also ‘howl’ to get users to notice you.

Get it (iPhone, Android)

Number of users 15 million worldwide.

What is it? We don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that Blued changed everything for gay men in China, offering individuals in small towns and rural areas the opportunity to connect. The app recently made international press due to a 30 million USD investment, and its userbase surpasses that of Grindr, making it the biggest in the world – which founder Geng Le expects to double this year. Logging on, it’s certainly apparent that Blued is hugely active – we received over 30 messages in the first couple of hours and our profile picture didn’t even show our face.

Blued is in Chinese only. Somebody helped us get registered and after that pressing buttons was pure guesswork, although it’s all pretty intuitive. Now that they’ve got the megabucks, foreign-language versions are expected to roll out. There’s also a lesbian version in the works – Pinked. See what they did there?

Best feature Many dating apps have evolved to incorporate elements of social media, which gives users the reassuring sense that people’s online profiles aren’t totally divorced from reality. Feeding into WeChat and Weibo, Blued is one of these apps with a WeChat Moments-style function to show whatever you feel like – we scrolled through everything from biceps and bums to pizzas and Japanese manga porn. You can also upload a gallery of images on your static profile, so really you get much more of a feel for the other person than from just a cock-shot on Grindr.

Get it (iPhone, Android, Windows)

Number of users As yet undisclosed.

What is it? Brenda, Wing Ma’am, Laven – there’s a number of lesbian apps on the market, but none of them have quite taken off, not least because users often report finding themselves fending off the advances of straight men wanting threesomes. The other big problem is that all of them simply mimick gay men apps. But now, Danish entrepreneur Robyn Sexton has introduced the most exciting dating app to emerge since Tinder. Dattch, a portmanteau of ‘date’ and ‘catch’, hasn’t officially launched yet in China, but Exton hopes it will this year. ‘We’ve had a huge amount of interest from the Chinese market, and we think it’s going to be one the most exciting territories to enter,’ she tells us, adding that Shanghai and Beijing will be their first targets.

Like Tinder, Dattch is hooked into your Facebook profile, meaning only those who identify as female can register. Users can, however, still register even if they aren’t on Facebook simply by emailing some personal information to the Dattch team. From here, the app’s functions very much cater for the way women behave online – for instance, the fact that users can save profiles easily on a ‘Wishlist’. Those looking for a quick match, however, can play the ‘Would You Rather’ game.

Best feature Dattch has taken a lot of its inspiration from Pinterest, and as such user profiles are very image-focused – not just selfies, but anything they like, creating ‘mood boards’ to reflect their personalities.

Get it (iPhone, Android)

Number of users 3 million worldwide.

What is it? If other apps feel seedy to you, then Hornet might be a good option, since it’s marketed as something altogether more conscientious for the gay community. The app also delivers on the tech front, packing in a number of interesting features with a pleasing, glossy design to match.

Safety and security are two big buzzwords in the Hornet hive, and not just when it comes to sexual health (see below). Hornet operates using an HTTPS connection and SSL certificates, which are the same ones that online banking services use. Users also have full control of a private portion of their image uploads, meaning you can keep a degree of anonymity. Otherwise there’s a Tinder-style ‘swipe’ function to help you sort the hogs from the hotties, you can forward profiles to friends, and change your location if you’re travelling somewhere and want to browse ahead. Unfortunately you can’t see who’s checked you out, although that means you can perv freely on people without getting busted.

Best feature Hornet works hard to integrate social issues into the user experience. There’s a ‘Know Your Status’ option which allows you to display your HIV status and the app even supplies regular reminders to get tested.

Get it (iPhone, Android, Kindle Fire)

Number of users 7 million worldwide.

What is it? ‘Hairy is a plus’; ‘Love beards’; ‘Not into smooth’: gays go gaga for body hair, and that’s exactly why Scruff exists. Since Chinese men aren’t exactly known for their hirsute-ness, the term ‘bear’ here tends to account for size more than anything else, but Scruff is an active app here in Shanghai nonetheless. Then again, its global userbase these days comprises a pretty broad spectrum of body types, so it’s not all that different from Grindr – in fact it’s better, because you don’t need a VPN to use it.

Users can group themselves in a ‘community’ – with labels such as ‘twink’, ‘military’, ‘leather’, ‘trans’ and, of course, ‘bear’ – and use a filter function to search specifically through their desired group. Like the look of someone but not sure what to say? Use the ‘woof’ function. Quite a few people seem to be more verbose than they are hairy – unlike many apps, there’s no limit to how much you can write about yourself.

Best feature If you’re not sure whether to send a message or not, you can scroll through a person’s ‘Insights’, a collection of neat infographics illustrating how often somebody responds to messages; which communities they frequently exchange messages with; age group; and body hair.

Get it (iPhone, Android, Windows)

Mat Gallagher and John Ovans

Quancheng Relian (全城热练)

"全城热炼icon-0"Price Free download, then 99RMB a month
What is it? Gym membership app equivalent
Use it for Booking a class at a range of gyms without being a member
Best feature Finding gyms nearby

Rather than forking out at least 3,000RMB a year for something that, let’s face it, you’re rarely going to use, you can now pay just 99RMB a month and pick as many individual classes at gyms throughout the city as you like. The only slight catch is that you can only go to three classes at any one gym in a month. This app therefore allows you to try sessions of yoga, pilates, various types of dance, fitness training and spin classes without the hefty fees and long-term commitment. There’s an unexpected motivational factor too: cancel more than three times in a month and, unlike your gym who secretly don’t want you there sweating on their cross-trainers, the app will freeze your account. You can book right up to the last minute, and by using the map feature you can easily find a class near you and just head on over.