A superapp, or ‘everything app’, to borrow from Elon Musk’s lexicon, is an application which houses smaller micro applications, typically focused on serving one core need to gain adoption before scaling to capture all needs. Essentially this means a person can manage their whole life through one overarching application, because other applications have been aggregated together under the superapp umbrella.
From Southeast Asian giants, to China’s WeChat, they have long dominated some major markets. Over the years there’s been a series of faltering conversations about them coming to the West. From Facebook, to Paypal to Uber and beyond, every big application has either touted, or had others tout, their latent ability to become the West’s first super app.
With Elon Musk heralding his new CEO and describing Twitter as the ‘everything app’ are we about to see Twitter take the leap?
“I am excited to welcome Linda Yaccarino as the new CEO of Twitter! @LindaYacc will focus primarily on business operations, while I focus on product design & new technology. Looking forward to working with Linda to transform this platform into X, the everything app.”
What about product market fit?
An insight we uncovered in the past was that superapps work well in some countries, but not others. Some considerations include:
- The importance of latching onto cultural moments early in their genesis that made them sticky, and supercharged adoption such as the giving of Hong Bao (red packets, or envelopes).
- The idea that some countries didn’t experience laptop or desktop computers in the same way with their individual programmes and peculiar icons (save icon anyone?) not being the norm but rather a mobile first approach.
- A focus primarily on payments or a payments gateway is crucial, this facilitates everything.
- The power of the QR code and adoption of it as means to interact and carry out an action.
- Phones may not be Apple or Samsung, lots of different device brands are in circulation and memory and connectivity can vary greatly. This means a series of micro-applications in one more core application which is more light weight and works with the confines of the device.
- The government, for example, with WeChat in China and the relationship and different public and private perceptions and expectations.
- The more packed user interfaces that people expect from the design of digital products, highlighting the non-universality of design.
Given conditions in the West such as a patchy payments ecosystem, a lack of government sponsorship and Apple and regulators standing in the way, it’s easy to see why superapps don’t get out into orbit.
Superapps: the age of influence
With that said, when dealing with Twitter, particularly Twitter owned by Elon Musk, are we talking about something slightly different? Does product market fit matter, if enough of his die-hard loyalists buy into it? Could momentum get going regardless of the barriers noted above?
Promotion of a product is often more than half the battle; inherently bad things go to market all the time with celebrity backers, or better branding and marketing, and outperform more studious competition based on this alone.
Take another digital example, Wrexham FC, fifteen years as fallen from the football league only to be reignited by a celebrity buy out. Now, they have packed grounds and shirt sales galore. With rumoured signings of former championship and premier league stars on the horizon the influence of the owners (love them or hate them) is driving some kind of change.
I’m not Elon Musk so where could superapps work without influence?
We aren’t so sure. Just look at Facebook’s attempts to launch a currency, a marketplace and a video offering. These features remain part of the product, but they haven’t captured the imagination of people using the application in quite the same way as one looking to create a superapp would hope for. Perhaps the vision for the metaverse is still that of a superapp, just differently stated. However, it doesn’t look set to land in the future and the influence of its current users and backers doesn’t appear to be enough to land mass adoption.
A more probable use case appears to be industry-specific applications which aim to capture the whole journey.
For example, the Finding our way podcast discussed the opportunity for booking.com to evolve and become a total journey support from booking to returning and everything in between, including hiring a vehicle, or booking a restaurant.
This seems like something which is inherently more of an option to your everyday product and service provider. A way to capture greater market share, aggregate other experiences by inserting yourself into the currents gaps in meeting user’s needs, the slight frustrations of having to download and navigate to somewhere else.
A blaze of glory
The potential success of Twitter as a superapp will depend on the traction that can be generated with loyalists. Set against a backdrop of an ever bundling and unbundling world, where decentralising technology and everyday things often springs from anti-capitalist sentiment to "stick it to the man", or a desire for a better future, to then fail or be co-opted by the ever expanding clutches of capital. Whereas the tendency to bundle, by keeping more things in one place, springs from a desire for control under a thin veneer of it’s ease.
History, behaviour and experience would seemingly dictate that the rise of the everything app seems unlikely in the West. However, many of the greatest innovations are non-linear. Elon Musk can afford to lose big, really big, and still be a billionaire for the rest of his days. The risks are large but the potential pay-offs are too.