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Explained | What are super apps, future of platform-based business models?

A handy guide on what it means to use a super app

March 03, 2021 / 04:16 PM IST

Whether you like them or hate them, platform-based all-inclusive services are the future. What does that mean exactly? It means a business model built around offering multiple services through a single platform or in this case, an app.

BlackBerry's one-time CEO and founder Mike Lazaridis put it the best. He called the concept of the super app a "closed ecosystem of many apps" rolled into one that offers users a "seamless and integrated" experience.

Okay, but I still don't quite understand what a super app is?

Maybe it is best to use an example. Remember WeChat? The popular Chinese messaging platform that was banned in India over security concerns? Well it started off as a simple communications app but over time grew to include a variety of services including the ability to hail cabs and pay for them directly from its interface.

For the user, all of this is done seamlessly through the use of a single app cutting down on the time it takes to switch between apps to access various services. This is a 'super app' or a platform that offers multiple services through a single point of interaction for the users.

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Uh-huh but why is it a big deal?

It's a big deal in countries that are mobile first or in other words, countries where smartphones are the primary form of interaction for various services. This is mostly true for developing countries where high costs of living force many people to choose what they buy.

In these areas, smartphones reign supreme because they offer a lot of things packed into one device. You could say that smartphones are "super apps" in themselves for a developing market.

Super apps make it easier for people to access many services on the go and without the need to constantly switch between apps to accomplish tasks.

If we look specifically at India, big players such as Google and Amazon have already begun offering services they don't in any other part of the world.

Amazon has begun testing the waters of India's lucrative EdTech space by offering free access to IIT-JEE courses as part of the Amazon Academy. Google has already established itself as a major player in the UPI payments by offering an all inclusive payment platform Google Pay.

Facebook's WhatsApp isn't far behind either, it has already started offering a UPI payment portal on its chat service for easier transfer of money to groups or people. It also plans to add credit , pension and insurance services to its portal in the future.

India's own super app economy

It isn't just western companies taking a keen interest in India either, there are a ton of Indian companies that are jumping into the fray as well.

The Tata group has already announced plans for a super app that combines all of its consumer business under one platform. Reliance Jio offers a variety of solutions under one umbrella as well.

Paytm is perhaps the biggest example of a super app's success in India. Over the years, the payment platform has grown to offer a variety of everyday services like Paytm Mall all under one umbrella.

There are obviously other major players that have established themselves in this market like Flipkart, Airtel, Zee5 and many more. It's safe to say that super apps are the future for India with many companies already signing up to do their part in making this vision a reality.

There has to be a catch. Come on, out with it!

While it's great that a lot of platforms are branching out to include many services under one umbrella to make it easier for users to get many things done at once, there is also the very real problem of feature bloat.

There has to be a point where you have to ask yourself, how much is too much? I mean do we really need a payment interface on a chat service? or a shopping mall inside a payments app? Is it that hard to minimise an app and open another one to access its services.

Also, a lot of the feature bloat tends to drag the user experience down. I mean, look at Paytm's interface as it is now. The home screen is often sluggish when you scroll through it, filled with deals and other nonsense that you would not give the time of day unless they are shoved in front of your eyes on the home screen.

Worse, it makes the actual experience of paying someone through Paytm slower because the app now lags for just a split second more when you click on pay and expect to see a code scanner. I mean isn't that what the app was designed for in the first place? Does it make any sense to make your primary use of the app a little worse in order to accommodate even more?

While it's great to have many services being offered as part of a single platform, there has to be some restraint shown on the part of the developers as to what actually makes sense for the platform and not try to just stuff everything in.
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Rohith Bhaskar
first published: Mar 3, 2021 04:16 pm
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