The proliferation of low-cost smartphones and mobile data in India has helped tens of millions of Indians go online, with mobile as the dominant platform. The number of internet users in India stands at over 700 million today, up from some 350 million in mid-2015.
This growth has strengthened the global position of India, which is the fastest growing internet and smartphone market. As a result, apps are beginning to transform into super apps. A super app is an omni-channel digital platform that offers a variety of services and goods through a single interface. A physical world analogy of a super app would be a mall, which provides retail space to various brands and shops across businesses and verticals. To illustrate super apps, one could give the example of how cable networks such as Fox and Star have built a variety of channels with a wide assortment of programming to keep users engaged.
A super app can include a myriad of functions and features, including social networking, e-commerce, product delivery and financial services. With a single super app, users can quickly communicate with friends, order meals, summon a cab, shop online, receive services, transfer money, and so on. The list of possibilities is endless.
The super app ecosystem in India is being led by Paytm, a homegrown mobile wallet service valued at $18 billion and heavily backed by Alibaba, the e-commerce behemoth. The app plans to launch its super app by the end of 2021. This will allow users to text merchants; book movies, flight and train tickets; and buy shoes, books and just about anything from its e-commerce arm Paytm Mall. It has also added a number of mini-games to the app to improve engagement, which has now reached 30 million users.
Key features and functions
A super app’s advantage lies in its ability to provide a comprehensive solution for different consumer needs, as opposed to a single app that offers just one function in a convenient and intuitive manner. For companies, super apps ensure increased revenue due to the consolidation of services in one place. It provides companies with a large amount of consumer data. The analysis of this data can give insights into a person’s hobbies, intended purchases, dates of salary credit and even time periods of inactivity when a person is less likely to examine the pop-up advertising. Users are destined to fall prey to this accurate advertising because most free apps contain a lot of advertisements for financial objectives. Therefore, super apps work as an effective marketing tool for targeted advertising. In addition, they enable domestic and foreign retailers to easily get access to the market. They have the ability to serve customers at various touchpoints. For users, a super app shortens the way to the desired action. Apart from its diverse services, it provides a uniform and individual user experience. A consistent user experience reduces the cognitive load of relearning app navigation repeatedly. It saves phone memory as opposed to multiple apps.
Despite the obvious ease of super apps, Western democracies are slow to adopt them. The primary concern is the security of personal data. When such apps are hacked, the ins and outs of a user’s life are at risk. Malefactors obtain access to the user’s transaction history, favourite places, contacts and other sensitive information.
Moreover, the sheer idea of companies attempting to retain a client for the majority of services increases the possibility of a monopoly. This is in addition to privacy issues in situations when a super app has partnered with third-party service providers. According to experts, the data acquired by the master app may be used to educate robots and artificial intelligence to anticipate customer behaviour more precisely.
India’s fledgling super app market
India has already become a market, with the bulk of individuals accessing the internet for the first time through their mobile phones. This is one of the primary reasons why Indian firms are considering developing super applications. Apart from Paytm, app giants like PhonePe and telcos like Jio are making efforts to build a super app ecosystem.
Payment app PhonePe, owned by Flipkart, has 150 million users and hosts a variety of mini-apps, including hotel booking service Oyo and travel booking service MakeMyTrip. What works for PhonePe is that its primary business – payments — has gathered a sufficient number of customers. Meanwhile, Microsoft has jumped on to the super app bandwagon as well. It has updated SMS Organiser, an app developed under its Microsoft Garage programme in India, with a host of new capabilities. What began as a messaging software that can screen spam messages and help users keep track of critical SMSs, collaborated with India’s central school board CBSE to send test results of students in the 10th and 12th grades. Under a partnership with Indian Railways, the SMS Organiser app added the ability to follow live train timetables this year, as well as the speech-to-text functionality. It also provides tailored discount coupons from a variety of businesses, incentivising users to use the app more frequently.
Next in line is Ola, a ride-sharing service, which, like Grab and Go-Jek, intends to transition into a super app. The app plans to introduce financial services such as credit on its platform this year. Ola has already expanded beyond transportation, having acquired food delivery company Foodpanda in late 2017, but it has failed to make a significant impact in financial services despite its Ola Money service. The firm positioned Ola Money as a super app, extended its functionality through acquisition and collaboration with other players, and provided discounts and rebates. However, it still lags behind Paytm, PhonePe and Google Pay, all of which provide consumer discounts.
As per industry reports, Reliance Jio is aiming to launch a super app with more than 100 functions. Jio, which virtually single-handedly disrupted the Indian telecom sector with its low-cost data plans and free phone calls, has tens of millions of users for its suite of applications, which are available to Jio members at no additional cost. Besides, MX Player, a video playback app with over 175 million users in India, which was bought by Times Internet for around $140 million last year, has big goals of becoming a super app. It launched a video streaming service to help the app expand beyond its original purpose of being a repository. It has already ordered the creation of a number of original shows. The company has also integrated Gaana, the largest local music streaming app, owned by Times Internet. As per industry sources, MX Player’s parent firm, which competes with Google and Facebook on certain fronts, is looking to add mini-games to expand its reach and appeal.
To be successful, an app must be useful to its users. Every successful super app initially spent years perfecting its user experience in order to solve just one user problem such as chatting, payments, or hailing a ride. These apps were a part of the users’ daily routines. They later built on customer loyalty and engagement to add myriad other services on the same interface.
A radical shift in consumer preferences around the world is another key driving force for super apps. Instead of using multiple apps for chatting, ride sharing and payments they want to use one app. Globally, consumers may not explicitly ask for an app of this magnitude, but convenience and ease certainly matter to them.
Back home in India, the super app revolution is still in its early stages. But as more and more Indians go online, the trend will catch up.
By Anjali Kumbhar