Elon Musk has officially renamed Twitter to X to push forward his plan of creating an everything app. It isn’t the first time that firms have expressed their ambitions to create a super app. However, super apps are a dream for most and a reality for few. Our latest report, The Super App Window Has Closed, finds that super apps like WeChat exploited first-mover advantages in a unique market and delivered the right utility at the right time to a trusting audience in need, but those conditions are absent today. Firms should steer away from building a super app and instead invest in creating a robust mobile strategy.
Forrester defines a super app as a platform that manifests as a mobile app and offers multiple core services including but not limited to payments, messaging, e-commerce, and social media functionality. A super app platform hosts third-party microservices or apps in its own mobile app container. Third-party brands can place services or content on the platform for consumers to discover organically or through advertisements.
While super apps like WeChat have flourished in Asia, there are none in the West today. Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta, Elon Musk’s X, and others aspire to become super apps but face a steep uphill climb because:
- There’s no compelling consumer need for a super app. Apple’s and Google’s mobile operating systems deliver super app-equivalent functionality and more to billions of consumers. And while iOS and Android both offer brands mini-apps such as widgets and instant apps, brands have yet to show much interest.
- Consumer trust is lower in the West than in China. WeChat’s success is based on a high degree of consumer trust. In Forrester’s Media And Marketing Benchmark Recontact Survey, 2022, 58% of online adults in metro China said that they trust the content that brands post on social media, compared with just 20% in the US. It would be much more difficult for Western apps to build the same level of trust and create a fully functional business ecosystem on the platform.
- There’s more competition for additional app services. When WeChat first extended services beyond social, there were few established competitors in related businesses. In the US, the presence of multiple established players — including Apple Pay, Google Pay, PayPal, payWave, and Venmo — has made it difficult for Meta Pay to break through.
- The regulatory environment is more stringent. WeChat benefited from the more flexible regulatory environment that prevailed in China at the time and extended to a wide range of businesses. It would be much more difficult to do this now given the stricter antimonopoly regulations in China — and it would certainly be harder for US tech giants.
Many large firms including banks, telcos, and airlines claim that they are building super apps today. But in reality, these apps aren’t true super apps like WeChat because they’re either unable to host third-party services at all or do so on a very limited scale. You won’t succeed in building a super app, but you can:
- Learn from super apps’ key success factors. A successful enterprise app need not be as comprehensive as super apps, but it can be improved by learning from them and providing a simple, light, and easy-to-use experience, earning trust through convenience, rewards, and time and building an open ecosystem beyond rich features.
- Get the technical attributes ready for future digital experiences. Super apps gave consumers quick and easy access to only the services they wanted without the weight of a website or heavy app. Consumer brands today should learn from this approach and adopt tactics such as dynamically composing experiences in real time and delivering them in small packages.
- Understand that mobile apps will play a role in future experiences but not the lead role. Apps as we know them today will continue to play a core role in consumers’ mobile experiences, but the nature of that role will evolve and apps will become less important. Forrester believes that consumer digital experiences will become both invisible and more immersive.
To learn more about why super apps aren’t the answer and how to fix your mobile strategy instead, Forrester clients can read the full report.