Since the early 2010s, the smartphone has been hailed as the Swiss army knife of the digital age. It is a multipurpose tool that replaces cameras, watches, maps, torchlights, and books. Thanks to a plethora of readily downloadable apps, we have come to rely on them for everything from social media and messaging to shopping and making payments. In short, there is an app for everything.
This has, however, given rise to a new problem: app overload. Every little thing from waiting in line to booking a haircut now demands its own app. The result? A less-than-ideal user experience with customers caught in an unending cycle of downloading, setting up, learning, using and updating countless apps. To put some perspective, Statista reported that a whopping 255 billion mobile apps were downloaded in 2022 by 5.01 billion smartphone users. That’s nearly 50 apps per person!
Nowadays, Superapps are becoming increasingly popular, thanks to the convenience and efficiency they afford users looking to access various services. Their versatility consolidate services, features and functions of multiple mobile apps into a single platform using component tools or miniapps. Users can easily add or remove these miniapps, eliminating the need to have a separate e-store or marketplace for them.
For businesses, Superapps are a game-changer. They not only amp up the user experience for customers and employees but support a composable business model as well. But, why is this a big deal? Well, it creates an agile, flexible and resilient organization that allows businesses to build and tweak their processes, services, and resources on the fly. The Superapp is the secret sauce—its fluidity encourages reuse, augmented connectivity, and transparency across the enterprise. Plus, it enables scalability and creates opportunities even in the face of market and digital disruptions.
One of its many allures is data sharing. When users interact with multiple miniapps, the Superapp paints an elaborate picture of their behavior. By tracking user preferences and app usage, businesses gain access to a treasure trove of data—all gathered within the Superapp’s walled garden. This invaluable data resource can then be scrutinized by advanced analytics to triangulate customer habits, enabling businesses to tailor target ads, create individualized recommendations, extend exclusive promotions, and facilitate cross-selling opportunities with laser-guided precision.
Furthermore, by having everything under one digital roof, users are more likely to spend more time using the Superapp. This, in turn, has the potential to boost engagement, setting the stage for increased retention and loyalty as users are more compelled to continue their Superapp usage. On top of that, businesses can further monetize this sustained engagement by introducing in-app advertisements to their already engaged users. With a greater reach, this move will incentivize customers to explore and try out new offerings, opening up new revenue streams for businesses seeking to diversify.
For users, Superapps simplify the user experience. With features like single sign-on, Superapps usher in a more streamlined and integrated user experience, uniting those that were once disparate. Gone are the days of tedious navigation between multiple apps. Users can easily switch between services within the same Superapp. This modularity grants users the freedom to personalize their interaction with the ecosystem by adding, keeping, and removing different services at their discretion.
In recent years, Superapps have swept across Asia. Indonesia has Gojek, India has Tata Neu, South Korea has KakaoTalk, Japan has LINE, and Vietnam has Zalo. As for the master of this realm, China, there are several Superapp heavyweights, with WeChat taking the lead. This true juggernaut offers a staggering array of services ranging from messaging and search engines to social media, news feeds, e-commerce, and mobile payments. Alipay is another formidable titan. Initially starting off as a fintech platform, it has tacked on a slew of services, now spanning insurance, ride-hailing, and online food ordering. Finally, Meituan, which began as an on-demand food delivery service, now recording one of the fastest growths with the inclusion of tourism, ticketing, digital media and gaming into its portfolio.
Outside of Asia, there are no true Superapps for the US, only “super-ish” ones with players like Amazon and Walmart. The latest Superapp venture came from none other than Elon Musk, who boldly announced that Twitter, now rebranded as “X” will be the “everything app”. In contrast, Europe is playing catch up with fintech companies like Revolut, Klarna and Lydia adopting the Superapp model to offer a wide array of financial services.
This divergence stems from different growth trajectories as Western tech companies started off on PCs before moving to smartphones. Companies like Alphabet, Meta and Amazon began by offering software before venturing into developing apps for their mobile counterparts. However, their apps remain as separate entities, driven by fears that merging them may cannibalize their own ad revenue. Moreover, US consumers tend to harbor greater suspicions towards large corporations, leading to widespread trust issues and increased demand for more privacy safeguards.
But there is a silver lining. Stricter privacy laws in both the US and EU could fuel the Superapp development. With regulations making it difficult to monetize user data, Apple and Google have tightened the reins on app developers, making it more challenging to share data mined with other companies. As a result, businesses may be forced to consolidate their apps to retain user data within their own proprietary digital ecosystem. On top of that, crackdowns on anti-competitive practices in the US may push large conglomerates to invest in “multi-app” services to lock in customers.
The bottom line is that Superapps are a global phenomenon, and they’re not going anywhere. Businesses can ill afford to overlook their potential as consumers, especially digital natives, are increasingly clamoring for more convenience and simplicity in their apps. Superapps are melding experiences previously treated as distinct. They are not mere apps but an entire ecosystem that empowers businesses to expand beyond their original scope and shatter the barriers between industries.
It is important to understand that Superapps are not on a crusade to replace every single app on your phone. Instead, they are poised to transform the mobile experience and become an integral part of our daily lives. Whether you’re a code-wielding maven looking to create the next big Superapp, an enterprising venturist eager to carve out your own space of economic opportunity, or a savvy user savoring the thrill of boundless possibilities, Superapps are the quills of our innovation in our digital age—set to rewrite the very script of our technological odyssey.