The market for apps is becoming in­creasingly crowded, with new mobile applications being created every day, vying for attention on app stores. These apps are beginning to transform into super apps. A super app is an omnichannel digital platform that offers a variety of services and goods through a single interface. Super apps are basically single mobile app­lications that are designed to provide a mul­titude of services under a single, virtual umbrella.

Super apps are gaining popularity am­ong consumers as they eliminate the need to download and maintain numerous different programs, while still providing all functionalities that one may need in a central location. In recent months, there has been a lot of talk around super apps th­at will repla­ce all other apps. All apps, ranging from fintech to grocery, shopping and ride-hailing, are looking at evolving into an all-in-one platform. The idea is to make it convenient for people to use a single login for all possible needs. Across the globe, these platforms are being envisioned as virtual malls.

Market overview

In India, super apps are still at a nascent stage. But across Asia, they are a rage – from China’s WeChat to Vietnam’s fintech firm MoMo to India’s very own Paytm. In fact, Asia could be called the land of super apps in the East.

In contrast to the Silicon Valley model of vertical growth and global expansion, the emerging markets have sought horizontal gr­o­wth to dominate a specific geography. Su­per apps are possible when a service be­comes so embedded in a user’s life that it be­comes a form of operating system with tou­chpoints from one service used in another.

Key features

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 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, super apps enable domestic and foreign retailers to get access to the market. They can serve customers at vario­us touchpoints. For users, a super app shor­tens the route 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.

Adoption trends in India

With the majority of Indians accessing the internet for the first time through their mobile phones, companies are considering developing super applications. Apart from Paytm, app giants like PhonePe and telcos such as Reliance Jio are making efforts to build a super app ecosystem.

The nascent super app ecosystem is evolving rapidly and already witnessing the offshoots of tough competition ahead. JioMart is set to get into the super app bu­si­ness and outmanoeuvre its peers. Face­book, before it rebranded to Meta, invested $5.7 billion in Reliance Jio to acquire a 10 per cent stake in the company. As part of this mega deal, WhatsApp would be the vector for JioMart’s e-commerce ambitions. JioMart is now integrated within WhatsApp for over 530 million users of the messaging app in India. Also, Reliance Jio’s MyJio app now serves as an integrated platform with mobility, fibre services, e-commerce, e-medicine, over-the-top, music, games, bill payments and unified payment interface (UPI). It also connects to Jio­Mart. In addition, it offers chat, conferencing, entertainment and news.

Meanwhile, the Tata Group has pump­ed in around Rs 50.25 billion into its e-commerce platform, Tata Digital, as the conglomerate plans to fulfil its super app ambitions. The company also has a cont­ro­lling stake in e-grocer bigbasket and di­gital health company 1mg, and has also invested $75 million in fitness company CureFit. The Tata Group’s recently laun­ched Tata Neu, an all-in-one app, offers a range of in-house products, from groceries to airline tickets, as it seeks a foothold in the country’s $38 billion e-commerce market. Brands like bigbasket, 1mg, Taj Hot­els, Croma and AirAsia are already av­ai­l­able on the TataNeu app.

Further, fintech giant Paytm is not far behind. It aims to build a platform that can provide different products and services on a single app. With almost 700 developers on its mini app store, Paytm says it is looking to become a super app by the end of the year and hopes to have 2,000-3,000 developers on board.

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. The Flipkart-backed payment app, too, is gearing up to acquire Indus OS, which has built Indus App Bazaar. Thro­ugh this acquisition, it plans to integrate 400,000 localised Indian apps from Indus App Bazaar with its PhonePe Switch, the mini-app store it launched in 2018. Today, Ph­one­Pe can be used to send and receive money, make utility payments, and make investments. It also claims to be accessible at 20 million merchant outlets across 12,000 towns and 4,000 taluks.

Another player in the race is messaging app WhatsApp, which is working towards establishing itself as a super app. The company recently launched its pay­me­nt service, accessible from its messaging app. WhatsApp announced its second big integration in the form of Uber. WhatsApp users can now book Uber rides through the messaging app (they do not need the Uber app for the same). The feature is currently being tested in Lucknow and is expected to be rolled out across the country soon.

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.

Banking super apps taking the lead

Globally, most successful super apps have been built around core services like social messaging, digital payments, food technology, and so on. However, in India, ban­king has taken the lead. The rise of open banking is enabling super apps to use fi­nancial data from multiple sources to target customers’ needs and deliver financial products. This will give the platforms an ev­en greater opportunity to provide a ran­ge of financial services and target the right services to each user. Open banking creates an ecosystem that proactively helps platforms leverage customer data and create truly personalised experiences. Once the super app is able to use open banking data, consumers can make payments, check their account balances, monitor recent transactions and perform other traditional banking operati­ons from the app’s digital wallet, thus re­du­cing the need to access a bank’s own app.

As open banking expands further into open finance and open data, super apps will be able to access and connect with a larger number of partners to provide faster speed to market for new products and an even wider customer base. Some of the UPI-based issuers, too, are fast diversifying into full-fledged financial services like lending. Examples include Paytm, PhonePe, Mobi­Kwik, Google Pay, BharatPe, Pine Labs, RazorPay and CRED. Trends like “buy now, pay later” are offshoots of open banking. Experts believe that financial services were successful because they already had a platform that was solving the core need of a large customer base.

The way forward

As seen in other Asian markets, India, too, is likely to end up with one or two players dominating the space. A report by BofA Securities argues that big tech firms like WhatsApp, with a large user base, are best placed to become super apps. Experts point out that as super apps become popular in India, addressing regulatory concerns arou­nd data privacy and building a robust infrastructure will be key. That said, the success of a super app lies in developing sustainable long-term business partnerships.

Net, net, India is already becoming a thriving market for super apps. Going forward, the country is poised to witness a tra­nsition of more apps into super apps.

Anand Kumar Sah