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super app

What is a super app?

A super app is a mobile or web application that combines multiple services into one platform -- sometimes called multi-service tech platforms.

The term super app has been credited to Blackberry founder Mike Lazardis. Super apps have set of core features and independent mini apps that users can access within them.

For example, a super app might include social networking, e-commerce, banking, messaging, food delivery, transportation features or mini apps that users can activate as needed. In addition to the functionality of each modular mini app or micro app, the super app has a functionality of its own.

Users can perform multiple disparate tasks in one app instead of using multiple separate apps. Each modular feature in a super app could stand alone as its own single-purpose application.

Why are super apps important?

There are approximately 6.84 billion smartphones worldwide according to ExplodingTopics.com. About 1.2 billion of them use the super app WeChat, according to Statista. More than 50% of the world's population will be active daily users of super apps by 2027, according to a Gartner prediction in 2022.

Super apps are currently popular in Asia, Africa and Central America but haven't been adopted in North America. One reason for this is because services such as Amazon, Facebook and Google became popular before the widespread use of smartphones as web-only services. North American tech giants later developed mobile apps but kept their functionality limited in keeping with their original web-only service offerings.

In markets where super apps have taken off, many consumers' first experience with the internet is through smartphones, using apps designed to be super apps from the start. This worked because they weren't transitioning from disparate web-based services that they were already locked into. North American companies resisted changing their apps into super apps because tacking on more features degrades app performance and harms user engagement.

Super apps are generally popular with users and businesses because of the service integration, convenience and cost-effectiveness they provide.

Super apps can acquire large user bases by localizing their service. For example, Gojek -- an app that provides several services, including transport, payments, food delivery and logistics -- became popular in Indonesia by offering loans to buy smartphones so people could access the app to be drivers for the company.

In countries where influential single-purpose apps' services are restricted, super apps have more room to develop and succeed.

How do super apps work?

Super apps usually start as one service before evolving to include several mini services. For example, Gojek started as a motorcycle ridesharing app before evolving to include more than 20 different services, including shopping and delivery.

Super apps are the front-end of a platform that both internal and external developers publish mini apps to.

Examples of super apps

Gojek is just one example of a super app. There are many others:

  • Alipay. Alipay is a mobile payment platform that also offers financial management services such as credit scoring and loan issuing, food delivery, ticket booking, and ridesharing.
  • AirAsia. AirAsia is an airline app that also offers hotel booking and food delivery features.
  • Amap. Amap is a navigation service that also has ride-hailing, online payment and social networking features.
  • Careem. Careem offers transportation, food, deliveries and payments.
  • Grab. Grab is a mobile food delivery, package delivery, transportation, messaging and digital payments service.
  • Kakao. Kakao offers mobile messaging, social networking, media streaming and voice calling applications.
  • Taobao. Taobao was originally launched as a consumer-to-consumer shopping platform such as eBay but has evolved to offer business-to-consumer and consumer-to-business services as well. It also has its own logistics and online payments system.
  • Tata Neu. Tata Neu offers shopping, travel booking, bill payments and financial services.
  • Paytm. Paytm, which stands for "pay through mobile," is a mobile payments and financial app that offers many services, including mobile payments, digital wallets, banking services, mutual funds and insurance.
  • WeChat. WeChat is a multipurpose messaging app that also has social media, voice and video, and digital wallet features.
  • Zalo. Zalo is a messaging app that also has payment features and music offerings.

While there are no super apps in North America, Elon Musk expressed interest in turning Twitter into a super app named X.

How are super apps used?

In places where super apps are popular, many of the utilities of day-to-day life are handled through the app. They consolidate the functions of many apps into one. Common uses for super apps include the following:

  • Communication. Super apps commonly have calling, messaging, video chat and social media functions.
  • Media. Some super apps offer access to music and video entertainment as well as news content.
  • Financial services. Mobile payments, investment features, insurance, credit scoring and loan services are all commonly offered through super apps.
  • Transportation. Super apps are used for ridesharing as well as food and package delivery.
  • Retail. Hotel bookings, event ticket bookings, e-commerce and e-pharmacies can all be part of super apps.
  • Lifestyle. Job searching, real estate and rental services can be offered through super apps.

Benefits of super apps

Super apps are popular with consumers and businesses for several reasons:

  • Customer satisfaction. Super apps have a significant effect on user experience by combining experiences that were previously disparate. For example, a user can book a vacation to a tropical locale, post about it on Facebook and book a ride to the airport all in one application. This is beneficial for users because it adds convenience, creating a more fluid integrated experience. This improves customer satisfaction and customer loyalty overall.
  • Data sharing. Super apps are beneficial to app providers because they keep users in the app for longer periods of time, creating a cohesive picture of user behavior. Super app providers can share data easily between mini apps and track user preferences or app usage.
  • Customization. Users can customize their experience by adding or subtracting mini apps from the super app.
  • User base. Super apps have the potential to attract a wider user base and more investors because they offer a wider breadth of functionality.

Challenges of super apps

Super app adoption and development comes with its own unique challenges and obstacles to adoption:

  • Regulation. Regulation surrounding data protection and privacy could pose a potential block to super apps. One example is the General Data Protection Regulation, which makes a super app more difficult to popularize because it heavily regulates what data apps can collect and share.
  • Market dynamic. Intense competition between single-purpose app providers can prevent any one single-purpose app provider from growing into a super app because they all focus on providing a slightly different service to the user. There must also be an appetite for super apps. If users are already accustomed to using single-purpose apps, it might be difficult or just less appealing for them to transition away from.
  • User preference. Everybody uses apps differently. Introducing a one-size-fits-all app to a large user base with a variety of individual preferences may limit user adoption and retention.
This was last updated in June 2023

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