Super Apps – where is the real opportunity?

Super apps are defined as mobile applications which include an ecosystem of services in the form of “mini apps”, contained within a single interface.

Super apps such as WeChat, AliPay and Grab have been on the rise for some time and have been immensely successful. But, as the prospect of super apps appearing more widely across the globe grows, where should businesses be focusing their efforts?

The Evolution

The largest of these, WeChat, was created back in 2011 as an instant messaging application and has since grown into the 6th largest social media platform in the world, boasting over 1 billion active monthly users.

2017 saw the dawn of its transformation into a super app when they launched their mini programs platform, enabling third-party developers to create lightweight mini-apps within the main WeChat application.

It has continued to grow exponentially into an eco-system containing over 3 million mini-apps, providing an exceptionally wide array of services. Including, everything you need to manage and enhance both your work and personal life, from booking a taxi, ordering a pizza through to managing your finances and making conference calls.

Why so popular in Asia?

To date, super apps have almost solely existed in the Asian markets and there are a few reasons why they have grown in scale and popularity there:

  1. Digitally native users - users in many of the emerging markets skipped interacting with these services in an offline environment and with no strong affiliations with any specific brands or businesses they instead rapidly adopted them first, digitally though smart phones.
  2. Limited device storage – the low cost of devices, made ownership affordable and accelerated their ubiquity however the available storage on them was also low. As a result, users avoided installing multiple apps to save valuable space and gravitated towards single apps that provided multiple services “under one roof”.
  3. Localised consumer behaviour - driven by cultural differences in some of these eastern countries, apps were created to align with the inherent variances in regional digital consumer behavioural trends.

Can they be successful in the west?

Assuming that businesses in the west will be able to navigate their way around market specific regulatory compliance then there is huge opportunity for them to develop their own super apps.

This could largely be out of necessity, as it becomes tougher to share data between third-party applications as the likes of Apple and Google tighten up their rules and new regulatory laws are introduced. As a result, the need to harvest first-party user behavioural data will become increasingly important. This type of data fuels the growth of many businesses and enables them to provide targeted and optimised personalised experiences to their customers. So, owning the ecosystem, means owning that data and is therefore an attractive proposition.

There are also many reasons why these apps would now be successful: The adoption of online services is higher than ever, younger generations are embracing services digitally-first without any historic offline affiliations to retailers/banks and consumer behaviour increasingly continues to be driven by convenience.

However, to match the high expectations of consumers, the emphasis needs to be on creating a smaller number of exceptional, seamlessly integrated services rather than a high number of potentially average ones.

New super apps will likely be developed by the big tech giants with established platforms and user bases and we are already starting to see some movement. PayPal, are rolling out its “super app” in the US and includes several financial related services (e.g., making purchases, redeeming rewards, making charitable donations, peer-to-peer transactions and trading in cryptocurrency) and European fintech giant Revolut started to extend into the travel sector last year by adding travel booking into their platform to challenge the likes of Expedia.

Where is the real opportunity?

There is a sense of inevitability that we will see more of these types of apps appear, but the real opportunity for the most businesses is not in the creation of their own but integrating with others.

This could come by way of forming partnerships with companies who provide other best-in-class services, that when combined with their own can provide an enhanced experience. A great example of this is the recent announcement by Uber who are planning the creation of a new service, which will enable users (in India initially) to book a taxi through the WhatsApp interface. Whilst both Uber and Meta may have plans for super apps of their own, this agreement is a great illustration of where Uber will provide a more convenient way for consumers to interact with their service with the added benefit for Meta being users will spend more time in WhatsApp.

However, the primary focus for business should be preparing their services and mobile applications for the future by ensuring the technical architecture is designed and built to be secure, scalable, extensible, modular and performance optimised. For example, considering the use of open APIs, standards and data architecture principles, utilising scalable cloud services and avoiding the use of proprietary frameworks, instead opting for flexible, contemporary, cross-platform, user interface libraries.

By engineering these technical foundations in the right way, it will minimise ongoing development costs and provide the ability to rapidly adapt and implement new features and services in response to changes to user expectations, business and regulatory requirements and more specifically in this case integrate with super apps of the future.

If you would like to speak to one of our technical consultants on how you could optimise the architecture of your mobile applications, then please drop us a line.

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