Purpose: The purpose of this study is to examine students' perception of mobile technology adoption for library service apps as a lens to explore the factors affecting mobile learning in higher education. Design/methodology/approach: With the data collected from university students from Hong Kong and Japan, the authors conducted a comparative study for gaining a better understanding of students' perceptions toward adopting mobile apps as learning tools and other socio-cultural factors affecting such adoption. In particular, the authors derive alternative models from our analysis (benchmarked on technology acceptance model and unified theory of acceptance and use of technology) for a better explanation of the formation of the intentions, and, more importantly, cultural factors would affect such formation, as informed by the Hofstede Cultural Dimensions. Findings: The findings are valuable for enhancing the effectiveness and adoption of mobile services for teaching and learning purposes in the context of higher education, as the focus of promotion of services should be tailored to the different student expectations in different regions, e.g. mainly performance expectancy in Japan versus in Hong Kong facilitating condition, performance expectancy and perceived usefulness altogether. Originality/value: Defined as contributing to the development of learning assistance, mobile technology for library use and information access have become a significant issue raised in many higher educational institutions over the world, as the characteristics of mobile technology, such as portability and mobility, strengthen its possible use in education. However, scant research has been done in understanding the perception of mobile library use and factors affecting the behavioral intentions through the use of mobile technologies in Hong Kong and most Asian countries have not been sufficiently studied. Copyright © 2021 Emerald .