Silicon Valley’s “single purpose” application model has dominated our lives for the previous two decades. Yet, in China and Southeast Asia, the “super app” has become extremely popular. It has de facto a monopoly on the market when at the same time super apps are practically unknown among Western users. 

What this article focuses on is:

  • what characterizes super apps strategy,
  • why are they so popular in the Eastern world,
  • how it influences the future of finance,
  • the major players of super applications,
  • and why are we not seeing them yet in our lives.

A new approach to digital product

The mobile app market is continuously growing with a reach of 218 billion downloads in the past year. Nowadays one of the most important estates has become a pocket. It’s not just a fun way to kill time; it’s also huge money. According to the iResearch Industry Overview, worldwide mobile apps are expected to achieve more than 935 billion US dollars in revenue by 2023. Not without a reason the biggest IT giants and market leaders are having a hot spot for digital front doors that are called super or mega applications.

What are super apps?

As Mike Lizardis (BlackBerry founder) defines, super apps are “a closed ecosystem of many apps that people would use every day because they offer such a seamless, integrated, contextualized, and efficient experience”. The concept of them has been around for a long time as this definition was mentioned back in 2010.

Super applications integrate multiple services and attempt to address every problem that a consumer may have. This type of software can include features such as messaging, social network, gaming, dating, money transactions, insurance, shopping, food delivery, taxi – among many others. As complex as it may sound, it functions as a one-stop, allowing customers to access many services from one place. Mega apps are essentially an all-in-one user experience for practically anything a potential client may desire or require, becoming a massive marketplace.

Why going with the mega app route?

We are used to applications that serve a single purpose. When at Applover we develop for our clients’ applications like Steppie that gives an insurance policy or eCommerce Mobile App for Restaurants to fight food waste, it’s a straight solution for a given problem. This is still something that fulfills users’ needs and what startups are all about. But as we know, the super app model is a combination of much more technologies.

Aside from that, the advantages for tech companies going “super” are as follows:

  • Users’ big data is a technological golden goose. Not only do super apps have unlimited access to client data but they also know how to provide a great user experience. The gathered information enhances operations and may be used seamlessly. It’s also possible to use the information in a variety of ways by implementing many needed features.
  • When additional brands are added to the main service, it strengthens the main brand presence and may attract more customers. More downloads mean more traffic that retains the customer relationship and experience. Additionally, when launching a new product, you already have a market audience to offer it for.
  • Such applications are usually available on most devices: desktop, tablet, mobile phones (Android and iOS). Behind the scenes, they are often Progressive Web Apps. Because the purpose of this ecosystem is to be used all the time, it may be accessed regardless of where the user is. With a high appeal, the marketplace is more efficient.

Most of the ‘super app’ products also to scale are using a platform-based strategy. Developing by outsourcing smaller applications to external companies is lowering development costs and gives an opportunity to work with a massive user base. That’s something that WeChat takes advantage of.

Real-life examples of successful super apps

Usually, visitors in China are astonished by the depth and reality of service integration, which allows every user to do several tasks on one platform. Many great applications started with a single function, grew in popularity, and then started adding other features. The truth is that they’re slowly popping up everywhere across the world right now. Across major players, we could distinguish case studies of WeChat, Alipay, Paytm, or Gojek.

Tencent’s WeChat

WeChat began as a chat app in 2011. Since then it has evolved into an ecosystem with 1 million mini-apps that perform a variety of activities like order food or a cab, applying for a loan, transacting, or doing government services. With over 1 billion monthly active users, it was named the world’s largest standalone mobile app. What’s even more impressive, to estimates by Nomura WeChat can earn a $7 average income per user.

Ant Group’s Alipay

Back in 2004, Alibaba Group launched Alipay, a third-party mobile and online payments platform. To begin with, now it has become the primary choice of the payment system on major e-commerce sites. In 2013, it surpassed Paypal as the world’s largest platform with over 870 million users and currently marks as the world’s leading mobile payment service provider. It also leads the way in the FinTech industry. Alipay gathers social and transactional data from platforms and utilizes it to create a credit-rating system. As it claims, this app works with over 65 different financial institutions including Visa or MasterCard.

Indian Paytm

Not every mega app like WeChat comes from China. Paytm is available in India and provides online services such as in-store payments via the QR code, mobile recharges, travel, booking, or utility bill payments. Founded in 2010, but now according to the business, over 20 million retailers in India utilize its QR code system to take payments straight from bank accounts. It was awarded at Forbes as Outstanding Startup of the Year in 2016.

Indonesian Gojek

Gojek is a single app that can be used to order meals, commute, use a digital wallet, shop, receive the delivery, get a massage, or access a variety of other services. It’s the first and fastest-growing Indonesian unicorn company (privately held startup with a valuation of more than $1 billion). It has over 125 million app downloads and each year the business increases with overall order volumes increasing 6600x in 36 months. This also makes it the world’s only hyper-growth startup from a poor country.

Why don’t super apps exist in the Western world?

The truth is that the West wants to go in the same direction, but is at a far slower rate. Part of the reason for the trend toward all-in-one applications is competition. Companies in nearly every industry are considering how they might become the equivalent of super apps also like WeChat or Alipay. 

Is it simple? For almost two years, Facebook Messenger attempted to develop the WeChat of the West but failed. Currently, besides the core functionality of Messenger, we can see the implementation of many new features like Facebook Marketplace, Gaming, Dating, or Pay. A trend toward super applications is also being driven by a shift in customer tastes. Users may not want mega applications precisely, but they do desire the efficiency and convenience that an app like that may provide.

PayPal has also been talking about its “super app” intentions for a while, recently telling investors that its future payments app has been given the green light to debut. Recently marked the formal launch of the first edition of that app, which includes a variety of financial features such as direct deposit, bill pay, shopping, crypto capabilities, and more. Without a doubt, we can see the trend and try towards all-in-one apps that are evolving in the West but the question is whether it’s going to deliver value in our digital world.


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Are super apps the future?

Super apps will be a topic gaining more and more publicity with the biggest companies trying to take the lead. Start-ups must continually watch market developments and pursue a sensible collaboration and investment strategy. The idea is to think beyond of main rivals. Software testing is going to become more important than ever to guarantee that all of the parts of such a big app will work together. And as customer preferences show, there’s still a big market for simple, one-purpose applications.