Imagine opening a single app that allows you to hail a cab, pay your friends, order food, and a million other things. Just about anything you want to do online can be done within this one app. Want a manicure? Go to this app. Craving a burrito? Same app. Need a cab? Open this app.
We’re essentially describing WeChat, the 12-year-old Chinese app that holds a dominant and unparalleled position in the lives of China’s 1.3 billion users.
It’s arguably the biggest mobile software success on the planet.
But in recent years, a slate of new apps—especially across Asia—have been striving to replicate WeChat’s success and build their own all-in-one app universes.
The other Chinese superapp: Alipay
Tycoon Jack Ma founded Alipay as a fintech app affiliated with his massive e-commerce company back in 2004. It later tacked on a slew of services such as selling insurance, booking cabs, and ordering food online.
A giant is born: Indonesia’s GoJek
In Indonesia, GoTo Group, created through a record-setting merger of ride-hailing company GoJek and e-commerce start-up Tokopedia, contributes 2% annually to the country’s GDP through its various business lines, including a powerful superapp. “Hopefully one day, we’ll contribute 5 to 10%,” Tokopedia co-founder and CEO William Tanuwijaya told CNBC.
Grab the opportunity: Singapore’s superapp
Launched in April 2019, Singapore-headquartered Grab is used by over 670 million people across Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Myanmar, Thailand, and Cambodia every day.
The app, which got its start as an on-demand taxi service known as GrabTaxi, expanded to include logistics, hotel booking, food delivery, banking services, grocery shopping, ticket purchase, and an on-demand movie platform, among other things.
Win some, lose some: India’s Hike and Paytm
Hike Messenger was created by Kavin Bharti Mittal, the son of the owner of one of India’s biggest telcos—Airtel, back in 2012. After mild success, it kind of fell apart and eventually disappeared, succumbing to competition from WhatsApp.
Despite comparisons between India and China—homogenous demographics typical of collectivist societies, device literacy in leapfrogging desktops and going straight to smartphones, consumer behavior in terms of low concern about privacy and data sharing, and more—Hike’s failure was testament to the pitfalls of copycat apps.
But Indian companies aren’t throwing in the towel just yet. Paytm, founded by Vijay Shekhar Sharma, has managed to keep its head above water—likely due to guidance from Alibaba. PhonePe is trying to give it stiff competition. Meanwhile, deep-pocketed legacy firm Tata is testing the waters with its new Neu app.
Learn more about superapps
Ananya Bhattacharya talks to host Scott Nover about the West’s impossible superapp dream in episode 3 of the Quartz Obsession podcast, season 5.
🎧 Find it wherever you get your podcasts: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google | Stitcher | YouTube
👀 Or, read the transcript!