09/20/2023 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 09/21/2023 10:26
If you've ever had the urge to Marie Kondo the untidy mess of apps on your phone, you can see the appeal of a single app that melds a range of functions, from social media and texting to banking and food delivery. In Asia, apps like WeChat, Alipay, GoTo, GoJek and Grab have long been popular. America's tech behemoths want to bring similar functionality stateside, with Elon Musk the latest to announce plans to pursue an "everything app," via X (formerly Twitter) and Mark Zuckerberg taking steps to grow WhatsApp's capabilities by rolling out a business payment feature in Brazil.
It remains to be seen whether so-called super apps will catch on in the U.S., where the average smartphone user has 80 apps installed and interacts with almost 50 per month, according to 2021 data from market research firm Sensor Tower.
Tony Tong (Credit: Cody Johnston/CU Boulder)
CU Boulder Today sat down with Tony Tong, a professor of strategy and entrepreneurship in the Leeds School of Business and chair of the Strategy, Entrepreneurship, and Operations (SEO) Division, to discuss the future of super apps in the U.S.
What problem does a super app solve?
A super app is one app that offers a very large variety of different services, such as financial transactions, electronic commerce, hotel booking, texting and food delivery. It's a platform that hosts other apps or offers its own version of them. For example, it could include its own version of a hotel booking app like Booking.com or it could host Booking.com. Everything is integrated into that one app so that the user doesn't have to download hundreds of different apps. It really makes the lives of consumers easier.
Will U.S. tech companies be able to replicate the success of super apps in Asia?
In Asia, when many people first used the internet, it was on smartphones rather than on personal computers like in the U.S. So here, a lot of companies like Google or Amazon have become very entrenched over time. U.S. tech companies started out by offering focused, specialized services, and people just got used to that. That's one reason why super apps are not as common in the U.S. compared to many other emerging and developing countries.
Also, in my opinion regulation was much looser when super apps like Alipay or WeChat Pay initially started as payment-based services, and over time that evolved to include hundreds and thousands of services in those apps. But today, similar practices will very likely raise antitrust concerns-hence neither WeChat's nor Alipay's early business models would likely work in China today, let alone in other, more regulated markets.
Do you think X could be a successful super app?
It has potential. Elon Musk has stated his ambition to become something like WeChat, but I don't feel that would be the same type of app. It wouldn't have the same amount or diversity of services offered on WeChat.
It will be hard because consumers get used to a lot of specialized apps, and if X is going to offer a clone of those apps, it could take a long time for people to switch over. And then the question becomes how will X get those apps onto its platform. If they're already successful, do they need to be on X's platform? Similar challenges can also be said to face Meta and WhatsApp.
However, if X or Meta can focus on a "smaller" set of markets, either in certain countries (selectively in some countries where they can dominate) or market segments (offering a more limited number of apps or services), they can still be quite successful. Of course, in that case, they will become apps that are more super-ish than truly super.
Are there any concerns around these apps?
Companies have concerns about user experience and technical issues. In the past, many tech leaders have feared feature bloat: a phenomenon in which the addition of too many features makes an app slow to load and introduces frictions that impede user engagement. There can be a concern about monopoly and data privacy, too. Luckily, people are more aware and sensitive to those issues today. Also, we've upped the game in regulation as well.