It’s not terribly difficult to paint a scenario where a super app could make your life easier. But I’m still going to borrow one from someone else. The writer Alex Health lays one out in The Verge. He contends we’re on the verge (pun intended) of a super app revolution.
Say you want to see Japanese Breakfast play in Sacramento next week with a couple of friends. The process of going requires jumping between at least a few apps — you might coordinate plans on WhatsApp, buy your tickets from Ticketmaster, book a ride through Uber, and pay each other back for drinks over Venmo. But what if all that activity happened in one app on your phone?
Good question Alex. There’s no shortage of platforms looking to deliver the answer. In case Heath’s illustration isn’t clear (or if you reside under a rock), what’s a super app? It’s an app that does more than one or two things. The more things, the more super. Social sharing plus messaging? Meh. Add shopping, ride-hailing, payments, etc. Now you’re talking super app.
Of course, anyone who assembles a proper super app has a massive opportunity to monetize engagement. And to do so with a far lower reliance on advertising than most social media apps currently face. Super apps can generate massive revenues from subscriptions and transactions fees before they have to think about advertising. And that’s an attractive proposition in an era where Apple and Google are tightening the screws on third-party data.
Of course, China’s WeChat is the OG super app. In Beijing, all you need when you walk outside is your phone and WeChat. It covers everything from ordering and paying for dinner to unlocking your front door to swiping for a late-night hookup (good luck, buddy).
The Super App Sweepstakes
Facebook (Ok, Meta) CEO Mark Zuckerberg is a WeChat admirer. And at least one of Zuck’s holdings (WhatsApp) is in the running for the world’s next super app. Let’s look at some of the candidates. And some of their recent super-appy moves. Generally, the contenders for super-app-hood start from one of two places. Messaging or payments.
With 2 billion global users, WeChat is well-positioned to spread its wings and become an indispensable super app. It has made a number of moves worldwide since Facebook (sorry, Meta) acquired it in 2014 designed to improve its monetization. And with 50 million small businesses using WhatsApp, it has become an important commerce platform, particularly for micro-businesses in emerging markets.
A couple of recent moves show how WhatsApp is looking to become a little WeChat-like. For example, as Heath points out in The Verge, WhatsApp has added a small business directory to the app in South America. And in India, WhatsApp is integrating ride-hailing into the app via Uber.
Many regard Snapchat as the best positioned social media platform to become a super app. And it may also have the most incentive. Apple’s new restrictions on third-party tracking took hit Snap hard. And was likely a wake-up call to become less dependent on ad revenue.
Evocalize CEO Matthew Marx said as much in a recent interview with Localogy Insider.
“You know, I think they have a following out there,” Marx told us. “But the iOS 14 change from Apple around tracking to us feels like it’s impacted Snap more than anyone.”
So what has Snapchat been doing in the super app lane? A couple of things. The big one is mini-apps, as Heath points out in his recent article.
A few years ago, it introduced mini-apps by other developers that let people do things like play games together, mediate, or book movie tickets — all without leaving the app. There are now more than two-dozen mini-apps in Snapchat, though the company hasn’t disclosed overall usage of them yet.
It’s not so much the moves Square has made recently that place it at the center of the super app speculation sweepstakes. It’s the opportunity it has. Square already has a number of pieces in place. B2C and B2B payments. Banking. eCommerce. Plus it shares a CEO (@Jack) with a likely target that could complete the super app. Twitter, of course. Twitter adds social media, messaging, content creation, and other pieces of the super app puzzle.
So I can’t go more than a few weeks without quoting Prof. Scott Galloway. A frequent Jack Dorsey critic, Galloway has also been predicting on all his podcasts that super apps will be the next big thing in tech. And he predicts that Twitter will essentially tank its earnings in order to drive its share price down. This of course will enable its cousin (sibling?) Square to swoop in and buy it on the cheap. Then, presto, instant super app.
PayPal is another potential super app player. However, its recent decision to pass on acquiring Pinterest dampened expectations that it would be a player in the super app race.