SECURITY

What is a Super App?

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Apps. What would we do without them? Not much, that's what. They're the tools for maximizing the functions of our devices, but at some point, there's such a thing as too many apps.

So what if you could have one app that does the job of ten? A single app that allows you to do almost everything, from ride-hailing to grocery shopping to money transfers, easily. Well, you can. These all-inclusive apps are called "super apps."

In this article, we'll check out the true capabilities of these apps and the requirements for existing apps to qualify as super apps.

What Is a Super App?

Apps-on-iPhone-home-screen

As a summary, here's a hint. A hero does awesome, noble stuff. A "superhero" does all that but probably flies and can melt metal as well. It's the same for super apps. They are apps with superpowers. Now let's get into the technical details.

A super app is a mobile application that provides a variety of seemingly unrelated services via a single mobile interface. Rather than having multiple apps for different services, a super app aims to provide users with access to multiple services in a single location. For example, in one app, users can chat, shop, order rides, apply for a bank loan, and do a variety of other things. Super apps are convenient, and they save users the storage they'd otherwise have to use for individual apps.

The term "super app" came about thanks to Mike Lazaridis, founder of Research in Motion (RIM), the company that developed and manufactured Blackberry devices. Back in 2010, he defined them as "a closed ecosystem of many apps that people would use every day because they offer such a seamless, integrated, contextualized and efficient experience." Talk about futuristic thinking.

Apps like these are frequently created by companies that offer more than one product or service. They typically begin with a single basic function, then gradually pile on adjacent solutions and services from their community of applications.

Tencent, the massive Chinese tech conglomerate, transformed its WeChat app into a super app. What began as a messaging app morphed into an ecosystem of services, including taxi rides, virtual wallets, hotel reservations, medical consultations, and more. Other examples of super apps are Alipay, Grab, and Gojek.

What Does It Take To Be a Super App?

a person using a smartphone with multiple apps
Free Stock photos by Vecteezy

So what is a super app's superpower? Actually, that's kind of difficult to specify. Just as we cannot demand that all superheroes must fly, we cannot define super apps by a particular set of functionalities.

It's easier to say what super apps have in common. They aggregate services that you would otherwise need a community of several apps to carry out. And that's the selling point. After all, why keep all those separate passwords and switch through a library of apps (that must be constantly updated) to find the one that does a specific task when you can have one app that does it all?

This is precisely what is driving large corporations to design all-in-one apps: the opportunity to build a bigger consumer base and subsequently allow them a larger slice of potential users' wallets.

Generally speaking, for an app to be considered a super app, it has to offer most of the following services:

1. Social Platform

A super app should have a messaging platform to chat, share, and interact with other users. This feature helps build a community around the app.

2. E-Commerce Services

The majority of modern shopping is done online, so a thriving e-commerce service is a must-have feature of any super app. Super apps include a mobile marketplace where users can not only buy but also sell goods and services.

3. Transportation Services

Getting from one location to another, particularly in large cities, typically involves the use of ride-hailing services. Super apps should include ride-hailing, bike, and car-sharing services, which provide users with yet another useful feature.

4. Financial Services

From online transfers to financial payments, a banking feature is essential for a super app. In addition, super apps should include built-in financial services that allow users to pay for all available services without leaving the app.

5. Food Delivery

Food is a necessity, and super apps should include meal delivery and online grocery shopping functionality.

6. Bill and Utility Payment

Another feature that deepens engagement in super apps is the ability to pay all of your bills in one place.

7. Health and Insurance Services

Users can easily access health and insurance features in super apps, including health services such as telehealth and ask-a-nurse. Also, because super apps constantly analyze user data in bulk, they should also suggest optimal insurance coverage options.

Why Isn't Facebook A Super App?

laptop with facebook icon on screen

Of course, it's reasonable to wonder why Facebook hasn't yet achieved "super app status." The social media behemoth is the closest Western company that possesses the necessary tools to create a super app, but it has yet to do so.

This is due to three major factors.

1. The Financial Gap

You may have noticed that one major feature that all super apps have in common is that they all provide financial services, which Facebook does not. This is because, in contrast to China and Southeast Asia, Western governments have fairly strict financial services regulations. The legal stumbling blocks that the company would have to overcome to offer financial features on its platforms would be massive. Facebook must include financial services as a core feature in its app to achieve super app status.

2. Privacy Regulations

Companies that own super apps harvest a large amount of personal user data to tailor services to users. Western countries impose stringent restrictions on the amount of consumer data that companies can access. These restrictions will limit Facebook's ability to collect relevant data on users to meet their needs.

Facebook is constantly under scrutiny for its privacy policies and data breaches, so it is not exactly the best candidate for the super app poster child of the West.

3. Third-Party Integrations

The willingness of super apps to accept third-party integrations contributes to their increased features. Third-party developers, for example, can create mini-apps that are then added to WeChat's ecosystem.

Facebook is extremely hostile to third-party integrations in any of its apps, limiting the types of services that can be provided. Facebook's video service was built without input from YouTube, just as their dating service was built without input from Tinder. While this approach works for Facebook, it is a limitation when going the super app route.

The Future Is Super

Super apps are the next rung in the evolutionary ladder of mobile apps. The western-based company that finally gets the right balance and makes a functional super app is in for a big payday. While there are still concerns about privacy and the formation of monopolies, the benefits of tailored services for users are significant.

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