Americans get the best new handsets from Apple first. But in China, there are ways of living your life through a smartphone that left us jealous. China has even figured out a business model to legitimately stream the current season "Game of Thrones" on your phone, free.
What's China's edge? Technology is often just cheaper, allowing for more frequent phone swaps. Then there's the world's largest Internet culture—some 649 million wired people, 86% on phones—who make an incredible test base for new ideas.
Here are five lessons the Chinese can teach Americans about smartphones:
1. Messaging apps as operating systems
In China, a messaging app is much more than a way to text someone that you're running late for a meeting. It's a social network for keeping up with friends and celebrities.
But it isn't just social. It taps into your phone's GPS, microphone and camera to let you play games, check in to a flight, identify a song, book an appointment, call a cab, pay bills, you name it.
2. Phones really are wallets
In China, the tech elite are much more likely to pay for goods and services with their phones because it's widely accepted, and doesn't rely on merchants updating clunky old terminals with special technology like Apple Pay.
3. A new phone without waiting
Forget not upgrading until your contract is up, or worse, until your phone is broken or on its last legs. The tech savvy in greater China get a new phone nearly every year. Cheaper Android handsets from Xiaomi, Huawei and LeTV combined with contract-free mobile service enable people to always have the latest technology—better screens, processors and cameras.
4. The operating system gets better, faster
You don't have to wait around for the latest software in China, either.
In the U.S., updates to Android phones like the Samsung Galaxy can come as a trickle because the phone maker has to push them first to carriers. In China, Samsung rival Xiaomi bypasses the carrier and pushes out free updates to its MIUI flavor of Android as often as once a week. Avid fans sign up for these frequent updates, beta software that they happily test for Xiaomi.
5. Phones are TVs
In China, phones aren't second-class citizens when it comes to watching shows and movies.
The best stuff is mostly available to stream online. Services like Youku Tudou, iQiyi and Tencent Video convinced many piracy-stricken content owners to join, rather than fight, the demand for online video by making it legitimate and getting paid for it through video advertisements. If you pay, you watch without ads.