The super app concept originated in Asia, but a growing number of Western companies aim to emulate these all-in-one mobile powerhouses. Apps like WeChat and AliPay in China, Grab (Singapore), PayTM (India), GoTo (Indonesia), Kakao (South Korea) and AirAsia (Malaysia) have all built addictive multi-service apps that offer practically all the digital services one could need on a daily basis and dominate their respective markets. Now companies like Google, Meta, Twitter, PayPal, Hopper, Booking.com and Uber are seeking to replicate the level of super app success seen in Asia (and more recently, in Africa and Latin America) in Western markets like the U.S. and Europe.
It remains to be seen whether these – or other competitors – can achieve similar adoption. But companies may not need to build a full-fledged unicorn super app to capture some of the benefits that have made these platforms an essential part of daily life for Asian consumers.
Super apps typically share a common set of features and functionality. But discussion of these features often skims over their significance within the business model. It is this deeper layer that speaks to both what makes super apps so effective – and why they will likely work somewhat differently in the West. Below is a preview of the discussion of some of the key ingredients of successful super apps.
Mini programs are a key feature for many super apps, providing a way for third-party developers to become part of the ecosystem. They are lightweight mini-applications that are housed inside the super app, making it easy for users to add or remove functionality as needed.
In the meantime, there is a push to create pseudo-super apps, with travel, social media and tech companies looking for ways to add additional services, along with more of the secret sauce that has fueled the growth of WeChat and others.
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