The pandemic significantly increased consumer usage of internet digital channels. In 2021, people spent an average of 4.8 hours per day on mobile phones, up 30% year-on-year from 2019. By now, there are over 435,000 app downloads per minute for a total of 230 billion per year.
In this context, super apps have become a popular topic, and have been named one of Gartner Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2023. But are super apps really a global trend? Let’s take a look at the emerging and developed markets respectively.
What are super apps?
The concept of super apps was introduced in 2010 by BlackBerry founder Mike Laraidis: “Super Apps are the kinds of apps that people love, that they use every day because they offer such a seamless, integrated, contextualized and efficient experience.”
Super apps are more than a one-stop platform composed of numerous services on a single app. As defined by Gartner, they also operate as a frontend platform where internal developers and third-party providers can publish microapps (or mini-programs), and users can activate microapps.
Super apps in emerging markets
For years, China has had mature super app ecosystems. The most successful one is Wechat, which has 1.26 billion active users (almost 90% of China's total population), 3.5 million mini-programs in its platform, and covers nearly every aspect of daily life.
Super apps are also becoming increasingly popular in other emerging markets. Here are a few examples:
Paytm, with 330 million users, offers integrated recharge, ticketing, life insurance, and other services, primarily in the Indian market.
Grab and Gojek, with 180 million and 40 million users respectively, are competing superapps that started with ride-hailing and have since expanded to several Southeast Asian countries.
Movile, with over 150 million users, primarily in Brazil, Mexico, and other Latin American countries, offers food ordering, delivery, ticketing, logistics, etc.
Yalla, with 30 million users, combines payment collection, online and offline mobile phone payment services, and is currently serving Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, with plans to expand to other Middle Eastern countries.
Jumia, with 7 million users, combines online shopping, logistics, and other services, primarily in Egypt, Nigeria, and other African countries.
After we investigated the market, we found a number of factors that contributed to the quick rise of such apps.
The popularity of mobile internet and smartphones
Mobile networks are developing rapidly. Global 5G coverage reached 25% in 2021, and 4G coverage reached 85%, covering the vast majority of the planet. Additionally, 75% of the world is covered by mobile phones, with 97% coverage in Asia Pacific at the end of 2021, up 55% from 2016. This is due to the availability of low-cost smartphones and cheaper data plans.
A sizable portion of the population now forgoes computers and instead accesses the internet solely through mobile phones. Because of the limited storage of low-end phones, users prefer easy-to-use super apps that integrate several services over installing multiple apps.
High percentage of unbanked population
Globally, 25% of the global population does not have access to a bank account. In some regions, that number can reach 70%. Super apps frequently provide e-wallet and online payment features, combining online and offline services to give these user groups easy access to online spending.
Horizontal market potential
Demand for digital services in channels like payment, travel, and food delivery is high. However, these developing markets are still in their infancy, so there is no clear winner in each vertical yet. As a result, there are numerous potential opportunities for businesses to combine user needs and pain points, expand their operations horizontally, integrate services across industries, and create super apps.
Regulators' active participation
Some regulators are supportive of this business expansion. For instance, in 2019 the Indonesian government and companies like Gojek, Grab, etc. inked a contract to work together to develop smart cities. When the Jakarta government introduced a policy to ban motorcycles to address traffic congestion, Gojek showed the government data on how many businesses use Gojek and how many people rely on motorcycles for their livelihoods, and the government eventually made an exception for motorcycles in its transportation policy.
Super apps in developed markets
Super apps have been similarly in demand in developed markets, but have not observed the same rapid growth.
Inherent market distinctions
In almost every vertical, there are winners. For instance, the U.S. has a fairly developed financial system and applications, and you can shop on Amazon, use Uber to call a ride, and pay with Paypal.
Users will be very concerned with data security and privacy. The protection of private user data is also governed by numerous national and international laws and regulations, like GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) in the EU, CDR (Consumer Data Rights) in Australia, etc.
The government's regulatory structure is rigorous. It limits the exchange of customer information between businesses and imposes antitrust laws and other restrictions on competition.
Increasing market demand
We’ve observed the following changes as consumer behavior increasingly switches online:
Super app demand from users: 70% of US adults currently order takeaway online, and 67% of customers say they want a single platform that unifies all of their everyday activities.
The Australian government passed open data legislation under CDR in 2021, which permits limited data exchange between firms with customer consent in terms of privacy and regulation. The law is already in effect in the banking industry and will subsequently be implemented in a variety of industries, including energy, telecom and insurance, providing greater opportunities for businesses to integrate customer data across various services.
The market already has examples of super apps exploration. For example, Facebook is expanding beyond social media and entering the dating and recruiting markets, and Uber has begun to offer medicine delivery and travel in addition to food delivery. Klana from Sweden offers users a ‘buy now pay later’ service with extra features like shopping, budget management, etc., that spans both Europe and the US, covering 150 million users across 16 countries.
Super apps are a rapidly evolving strategy that have already been validated in emerging markets, and are continuing to grow in developed markets.
Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.