You can do everything on a Super App. Super Apps provide an integrated experience to major online hubs, bypassing individual company websites, and is composed of many apps within an umbrella app.
Let’s focus on WeChat, China’s premier Super App. You can order food delivery or book a flight and a doctor’s appointment within the app. You can even pay traffic fines on the app, which is helpful for this guy...
WeChat has over 1 billion monthly active users and their app accounts for 29% of all time spent on mobile devices. 90% of all messaging app users in China use it. Not quite as monopolistic as The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers (FQMSP for future reference) who produces 94% of Canadian maple syrup, but it’s close.
WeChat used some unique marketing strategies to hit those numbers. 700 million people watch the New Year’s Celebration on China’s central TV network, CCTV. WeChat ran commercials that prompted new and current WeChat users to shake their phones to win over $80 million. In one night, over 20 million users shook their phones over 11 billion times. Shake Weight’s attempt at this strategy didn’t go quite as well.
Super Apps are easy. Why try to remember 20 different app passwords that have to contain different uppercase letters, numbers and the astrological sign of your maternal grandmother, when you can just open WeChat?
WeChat, and other Super Apps like Line in Japan, have created a self-sustaining conglomerate with development platforms for mini apps. Those are platforms for web developers to create applications within WeChat's app. Picture Inception for web developers, but it’s legal.
And they are going after the entire value chain, sharing powerful incentives for individual low-income consumers, with free messaging, and for large businesses, who use chat services similar to Slack. This makes these companies difficult to displace.
The rapid adoption of these apps has been on the consumer side. Consumers don’t view smartphones as expensive phones, they see them as cheap computers. And consumers in emerging markets, who typically have lower disposable incomes, are strongly in favor of these no-cost communication options instead of expensive SMS options.
This Super App model doesn’t work everywhere, and most likely will never work in the U.S. Countries like China, Japan and those in the MENA region skipped the PC and went straight to mobile. This encouraged a complete redesign of consumer applications. For consumers in these regions, smartphones and the Internet were, and still are, one and the same experience.
In the U.S. people gradually moved from the Internet browser on desktops to phones, and we expected phones to be a continuation of that experience. The U.S. still isn’t completely comfortable going all in on mobile. According to Euromonitor International, U.S. consumers aren’t expected to make more purchases through mobile phones than through computers until 2021. China crossed that barrier in 2015.
The App Store launched in 2008 with 552 apps. Crazy that only ~10 years ago you couldn’t save eggs from green-colored pigs using flying birds on your smartphone. When the app store launched, the applications were relatively simple and had a single focus. Within a few months after the launch, AIM was the #2 most downloaded app. Unfortunately, using “brb, mom needs computer. HAGS!” as my out of office e-mail for summer vacation wasn’t as well received as it was on AIM.
Unlike early U.S. apps, Super Apps utilize every single aspect of a smartphone. WeChat and Line were designed for messaging first, and they took advantage of the microphone with voice messaging and the accelerometer with things like WeChat’s shaking the phone example above.
Super Apps won’t work in the U.S. for two main reasons. The big guys like Google, Facebook and Apple weren’t designed to go after the market this way from the beginning. By the time these companies had the cash and brand to do it, there were already other companies designed specifically for “finance for clueless millennials” that were quickly gaining market share.
Second, even if those companies figured it out, anti-trust regulations in the U.S. wouldn’t let it happen anyway. In China, antitrust laws were put in place to limit foreign companies’ influence in China, not to promote more competition.
Christopher Chen wrote a good piece on this idea, sharing that instead of Super Apps in the U.S., we will have super-connectors. Tech giants like Airbnb won’t be able to provide the same seamless experience all within their app, but they will link you to the relevant page you are looking for. They started with home sharing, and are now partnered with companies like Resy for restaurant booking and heading towards an all in one trip platform.
Super Apps are an interesting phenomenon that came on the heels of once in a generation technological change. There will continue to be more innovation within these apps, and it will be interesting to see who pops up as the leading players in other developing countries. And tech giants like Amazon and Facebook will continue to be jealous of the monopolistic success of these Super Apps, and look to create a U.S. friendly version of it.
I am a 25 year-old venture capitalist and amateur stand-up comedian living in NYC.