Get to know about super apps before you stay behind

A Super App is many apps within an umbrella app. It’s the portal to the Internet for a all mobile-first generation. Seems to be that the biggest online networks are aiming to gather us all in one place like Asia is today pioneering.

Soon, we will likely be operating at the intersection of logistics/delivery, commerce, payments and social. To become a Super App, you, as the platform development company need at least two of these functions while the idea is to scale fast once you have a user’s buy-in and add multiple services to gain loyalty.

Once you have direct offerings, the next logical step is to open the app up to third-party companies to build on a loyal user base. Now, you don’t build separate apps. Instead, you can host your offerings on a single Super App. Step-by-step; the Super App becomes the OS.

In that context, there are rarely few who have what it takes to build a new-age, mobile-first OS that can be categorized as a Super App. A Statista report shows that there are over four million apps available between just the Google Play store and the Apple App Store, and it is painful for countries with limited smartphone memory and saturated markets.

It sits on top of a mobile OS by lowering the time to complete a specific task and in turn, increases productivity. The ability to communicate, shop online, order rides, read books, play games, get food delivery and pay for anything within a single, unified smartphone app is actually Asia’s defining innovation.

WeChat, Grab and Go-Jek are prime examples of a breed of software called the Super App. In the U.S. and Europe, such services are offered separately for iPhone and Android users. That’s not the case in China and Southeast Asia, where the apps open the door for big changes to how people live and do business, according to Southeast Asia’s two most valuable startups, Grab and Go-Jek.

Companies like WeChat and Bytedance are leading the way with these new concepts like “super app” and “social+”, which refers to group buying and video streaming in e-commerce. In the US, Amazon has launched Amazon Live, its own version of livestreaming along with kindle for readers and publishers and self-published, formatting and selling. while Facebook has come up with Lasso, a short-video app inspired by Bytedance’s TikTok.

With more than 1 billion people using it at least once a month, Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s WeChat is the king of Super Apps. I invite to deepen in what they do because following their example, Grab and Go-Jek began as ride-hailing platforms swiftly evolving into apps offering other services centered on payments. By harnessing the data generated by users of multifunctional apps, these providers can gain more insight into their daily behavior and deploy that information to offer new products and services. And that is how the magic is happening.

The era of super apps has just begun and more single apps are starting to prepare for their transformation into something bigger.

We will leave out of this region Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines as their populations in these three countries are primarily English-speaking oriented, users consume global English media excluding themselves from what the rest of emerging southeast Asia is doing with this unified online systems. For this, companies in these markets have access only to ad networks and distribution channels that reach a global, English-speaking audience. Singapore also developed much earlier connecting with the west and is an outlier in many ways in Southeast Asia, so there are no decent ad networks. Local portals are combined with Facebook and Google dominating online media. But the real emerging Southeast Asia is kind of the new China.

Therefore, super apps like Grab and Go-jek, the royal apps of the emerging southeast Asia are replicating the Chinese super app strategy, building out their own customer acquisition channels.

That said, this is only part of the story. With Uber and Lyft’s struggles in post-initial public offering, the likes of Grab and Go-jek have been pivoting towards the super app narrative as they prepare for their eventual IPOs (Initial public offering).

More industries should and are tending to consider super apps formating.

What does the emergence of super apps mean for companies developing apps and working towards increased knowledge, penetration, downloads, use frequency and recommendations?. Well, as more open competition develops and boundaries between traditional industries are broken down, we experience an increased interest in creating some sort of super app that will collect services across markets, industries and borders.

Utility apps, like banking, weather or transport services are especially suitable, but there are also opportunities within gaming, lifestyle, loyalty, content and media.

Others have already taken some sort of that direction by taking advantage of other pseudo super apps ( or super apps in the making), like Facebook-Messenger and use them as a platform for displaying their own content or services for instance.

With super apps allegedly being pioneered in China, I’ve been trying to understand if this was another case of unique local Chinese user behavior.

Back in the mid-2000s, there was always this discussion about Chinese internet users being different. Just a quick comparison of Chinese and US websites from back in the days would make one think there was some difference in user behavior. But there wasn't . It only appears they do because markets are at different stages of development.

Chinese and western website designs eventually converged because deep down, fundamental user behavior isn’t much different across cultures or markets. Regardless of origin, users want to find information easily and quickly and they look for social proof and websites and apps that load quickly, among others.

Company A. An online service from 1984 to 2001 that offered its subscribers access to a broad range of networked services, including news, weather, shopping, bulletin boards, games, polls, expert columns, banking, stocks, travel, and a variety of other features.

Company B. Offers products like mobile internet (distinct from wireless internet). Unlike wireless application protocol, Company B’s product encompasses a wider variety of internet standards, including web access, email, and the packet-switched network that delivers the data. Company B’s users have access to various services such as email, sports results, weather forecast, games, financial services, and ticket booking. Content is provided by specialized services, typically from the mobile carrier, which allows them to have tighter control over billing.

Company C provides or provided a web portal, search engine, and related services, including a directory, email, news, financial services, group discussions, questions and answers, advertising, online mapping, video sharing, fantasy sports, and a social media website. At its height, it was one of the most popular type of sites in the United States.

By reading these descriptions, all three sound like your typical super app. And the truth is, they are. Super apps have been around for ages because they are nothing but an old trick out of the business strategy playbook.

There’s a good reason why portals like Yahoo and AOL eventually got unbundled into vertical media, and it’s the same reason why the famous Craigslist unbundling chart exists. It’s difficult to try to do so many things and still be able to provide the best and consistent user experience across all products and services.

Alibaba’s Taobao was the original ecommerce super app, yet it had to unbundle itself by splitting up and forming Tmall so Taobao could focus on a more premium audience.

In the last few years, both Taobao and Tmall have lost ground to the likes of Xiaohongshu (targets premium, female users) and Pinduoduo (targets lower-end, bargain hunters). The two start-ups have been able to win by focusing on doing a few targeted things very well.

And the race on how this will be presented today has no end. In this fast paced era, the services we receive today maybe way different and largely improved tomorrow. I am just starting to understand about this subject and it has me fascinated. I hope this was a bit of an introduction for those, not so techy but interested in how the world digitalizes our everyday and all we do little by little.

Business legal advisor and operations counselor. Writer by passion.