There are apps… and there are super-apps

More and more apps are copying China’s WeChat and trying to morph into super-apps, grouping a wide range of services to offer a coherent and convenient all-in-one experience.

WeChat is clearly setting the trend here: the application, created by Tencent, started as an instant messaging tool, but can now be used to buy tickets for shows, pay bills, make calls, place investments, deliver payments, evaluate services, shop within groups and order a taxi, in addition to its social network functions.

In India, applications such as Paytm, Amazon or Truecaller, a Swedish app to identify incoming calls that has India as its main market, are incorporating more and more functions and trying to become super-apps, which makes it easier to garner loyalty among users. Truecaller, which almost a year ago bought the Chillr payment application to strengthen its presence in its most important market, now offers financial services such as payments and loans, as well as recording calls or sending text messages.

Super-apps have their own app store with additional features such as larger archives of symbols or emoticons, as well as apps offering different functions. WeChat, which in China is now an empire its owner says will be a force for good, has a portfolio of one million mini-programs, half the size of the Apple App Store, which are used regularly by some two hundred million people. In China, everything happens through WeChat and living without the application is very uncomfortable. Other super-apps like Meituan, also Chinese; or Grab, popular in Burma, Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand or Vietnam, are growing in popularity.

You don’t have to live in Asia to see the emergence of a super-app strategy: Google Maps, an app about a billion people have installed and regularly use, is following the same route by incorporating more and more functions that go from booking hotels, restaurants and transportation to organizing guided tours. More and more people now use the Explore tab to locate bars, restaurants or attractions near to them, while for any business that relies on traffic, being well referenced and with a complete Google Maps file is essential.

Going from app to super-app or platform requires implementing a hugely ambitious strategy to make yours essential and which can potentially offer great benefits. For a company like Google, it is still a status that sounds familiar. Facebook, for example, went in the opposite decision by giving up the integration of apps like Instagram or WhatsApp beyond simple communication gateways, and even, in 2016, separated Facebook Messenger from the main application, a step it may soon reverse. But as more apps are considering this strategy, we can expect to see similar moves, which will have to be watched closely, especially in terms of adoption, by everybody with interests linked to features.

(En español, aquí)