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This article was published on October 31, 2013

This Chinese photo app has gone viral worldwide: A sign of the future or foul play?

This Chinese photo app has gone viral worldwide: A sign of the future or foul play?
Jon Russell and Kaylene Hong
Story by

Jon Russell and Kaylene Hong

Jon Russell and Kaylene Hong are The Next Web's Asia reporters. Jon Russell and Kaylene Hong are The Next Web's Asia reporters.

Halloween is here and that means a big retail push for all things scary. Technology is no stranger to this consumer dynamic, but there’s a little something spooky in the App Store right now, where Chinese app Mo Man Xiang Ji (translated as Magic Camera App) is rapidly rising up the charts worldwide.

Mo Man Xiang Ji is a photo-taking and editing app produced by China’s Hightalk Software. It comes with a range of customization options to transform your photo into a cute cartoon character, with some special Halloween-themed options. (Here are some posted to Twitter.)


It’s understandable that it has taken the number one overall app spot in the Chinese App Store and some parts of Asia — where it has caught the attention of media and celebrities — but it is remarkable to see it hold lofty positions in western markets where almost all users are unable to understand the instructions.

It is currently ranked sixth in the overall free apps chart in the US (and is top for photo and video apps), while it is second overall in Australia and rising quickly in the UK, Canada and Germany — as data from AppsFire shows (see the full chart at the bottom for more):


Data from App Annie shows that the app has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the US this week:


We’ve noticed photos from the app being posted across social media in both Asia, Europe and the US — predominantly from Asian users — but explosive growth like this always triggers suspicion, particularly as this particular app is not available in English.

Chinese culture is hugely influential worldwide so it could be that this app is simply a sign of the future in being the first Chinese language app to become a global craze? Or is there a less positive conclusion: foul play?

The progress of the app has stumped Ouriel Ohayon, co-founder of AppsFire, who admits he’s never seen anything like it before:

Either there is something I am missing or they are using fishy marketing techniques to grow and get positive reviews — the reviews in the US App Stores all look strange. I can understand why it is successful in China or Asia, but its ranking in the US doesn’t make sense.

Additionally, we’ve yet to see the app officially rank in Google Play. So what do you think: A sign of the influence of Chinese culture, or is the company simply gaming the App Store to get noticed?

What does it actually do?

Since it is such a hit and not in English, here’s a quick guide to get you through it.

Opening the app prompts you to take a selfie. Once done, some ‘magic dust’ is scattered on your face, and then you are directed to a page where your face is planted on some random cartoon character. (Warning: you may be shocked — or perhaps pleasantly surprised — at how much you don’t look like yourself.)


To access the customization options, there’s a series of four buttons toward the bottom of the screen.

The one on the left (with the icon of a very pretty eye) lets you select your face shape, change your hairstyle, put on some glasses, and tweak the shape of your eyebrows.


The second icon from the left is where the magic comes in — you get a whole load of options to select which cartoon character your face gets planted on, and in turn what kind of background your character gets placed in. You can be a witch for Halloween, go back into ancient times as a Chinese goddess for the moon for Mid-Autumn Festival, and even get a (fake) boyfriend for Chinese Valentine’s Day.

After all that’s done, the third icon from the left lets you autograph your masterpiece, and the last icon lets you share to social channels. For now only Chinese social networks are supported, though you share it manually after tapping the button on the top right to save the image to your phone.

Here’s the full chart from AppsFire. This was accurate as of 10:30 PDT, though the ranking are always changing:


➤ Appstatics by AppsFire [iOS]

Headline image via Thinkstock

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