The ground is being set for a massive clash of super app platforms vying to dominate consumers’ online life. Super apps are the Swiss Army Knives of consumer tech platforms.
From Tencent’s WeChat in China to Grab in Southeast Asia, these all-in-one apps have evolved to bundle services like messaging, payments, shopping, gaming, and food delivery — creating digital ecosystems that users never need to leave.
According to a new CB Insights report: 11 Tech Trends To Watch Closely in 2023, companies like Meta, Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and Apple are looking to super apps as models to extend their reach with consumers — including in the US and Europe, where super apps have yet to take hold — and drive new sources of revenue.
And they’re not alone: A diverse array of corporate players, from Zillow in housing to Marks & Spencer in retail to PayPal in finance, have recently signalled their intentions to build sector-specific super apps.
Soon, even Western consumers longing for the do-it-all convenience of super apps will be spoiled for choice.
The prize is massive: Any company that can become a go-to combined platform for online activities like search, commerce, and digital identification could gain a wide moat and act as a gateway to the digital economy — with an abundance of monetisation opportunities.
But big tech players’ super app ambitions are not about making a WeChat clone. Instead, these companies are steadily sprawling out to control more aspects of consumers’ online lives across the following areas:
- Discovery (e.g. search, social media)
- Transactions and authentication (e.g. payments, messaging, digital IDs)
- Delivery (directly providing a product or service)
Tech companies’ starting points and advantages here vary, but players are already converging on each other’s territory — giving rise to effective super app-level platforms that will begin to compete more and more directly.
Search is a key battleground
In December 2022, The Information reported that Microsoft is considering building a super app with its Bing search engine as the backbone. The company is looking to integrate features ranging from shopping to news feeds as it seeks to expand further into the consumer market and capture more advertising dollars.
Meanwhile, Google, which currently dominates global search volumes, is enhancing its search and product listing capabilities to keep users within its network.
For example, it recently expanded its partnership with Shopify to YouTube (which it acquired in 2006) to enable merchants to showcase shoppable products directly on their YouTube channels.
US-based creators have the option to enable onsite checkout, which allows viewers who have stumbled across a product video to complete their purchases without leaving YouTube.
Google has also launched features to make its search more visually engaging, such as enriching result previews with images, as it faces down competition from social players.
Roughly 40% of young people in the US are now using TikTok or Meta’s Instagram to find a place for lunch instead of Google Search or Maps, according to comments made by Google SVP Prabhakar Raghavan in July 2022.
Social Media Vs Search
For their part, social media platforms are now layering on commerce features as more consumers use them as de facto search engines.
But even as search evolves, keeping consumers locked in beyond the discovery phase — and taking a bigger piece of the e-commerce pie — will be a key challenge for players with super app ambitions.
For example, Meta’s super app goals may be clearest with WhatsApp, the messaging service it purchased in 2014. In November 2022, the company announced its “vision for bringing the entire shopping experience directly to a WhatsApp chat.”
To start, WhatsApp users in certain countries can now search for businesses within the app, message them directly, and make payments in the chat. Meta is charting a course to handle discovery, messaging, and payments for WhatsApp’s more than 2 billion users globally.
Meanwhile, others are going after payments, a key enabler of super app functions. Apple Pay adoption has taken off in the US, with an estimated 75% of iPhones having the service activated.
In May 2022, Google rolled out its digital wallet app for Android phones, which stores credit cards, transit documents, tickets, and more.
Going a step further in owning the consumer journey end-to-end, Apple is reportedly looking to bring a variety of financial products in-house by developing its own tech for payment processing, fraud analysis, and more in a project dubbed “Breakout.”
Apple and Google are also among the companies eyeing the digital ID market.
Credibly establishing who users are online could be a boon for super app ecosystems as consumers could more seamlessly access sensitive services like banking and healthcare.
These companies would also find themselves at the centre of even more daily interactions in consumers’ lives — both online and offline.
While Google’s ID feature for its Google Wallet is still in the works, Apple’s Wallet IDs are now supported at several TSA checkpoints.
Patent lings recently surfaced by Fintech Business Weekly indicate where Apple may head next with its identity credentials: know-your-customer (KYC) checks, peer-to-peer (P2P) transactions, and possibly voter identity verification.
Even Elon Musk now has super app ambitions. In October 2022, Musk tweeted that “buying Twitter is an accelerant to creating X, the everything app.”
Twitter’s $44 billion price tag could someday look cheap if it is actually transformed into a full-fledged super app — and Musk’s range of other business interests, from satellite-based internet to autonomous vehicles to brain-controlled software, may benefit from a platform that ties them together.
Of course, significant obstacles exist for super app wannabes, such as gaining the consumer trust needed to handle so much digital activity while also benefiting from network effects in a soon-to-be-crowded space.
But the allure of super apps has already taken hold across the tech landscape. Big players are on a super-sized collision course in 2023 and beyond as they compete for increasingly overlapping aspects of consumers’ online lives.