One trend we have witnessed in recent times is how giant technology companies have unbundled some of their services into stand-alone applications. This speaks to the fact that technology changes very quickly, and organisations are all pushing to stay ahead of the curve. However, in certain parts of the world, particularly Asia, super apps have remained popular.
Super apps serve as a platform for a number of activities such as financial services, news, entertainment, ticket sales and lots more. These apps serve as a one-stop-shop to solving the problems of upwardly mobile individuals who rely on them for their daily existence.
So, what exactly is a super app? It is an all-in-one, multipurpose mobile app that has aggregated the services mentioned above on one platform. The uniqueness of super apps includes the integration of multiple services that are designed to save the user time. Considering the potential impact of super apps on the African ecosystem, it is worthy to take a quick look at their effects on the other regions of the world where they have fully taken off.
For the past two decades, the generation of apps springing up has virtually been a single-purpose app. As the name implies, they are designed with an easy-to-navigate user interface as well as solving just one main challenge of their users. These apps were designed with architecture scalable enough for global expansion, such that no changes would be required. However, in the last five years, China has produced super apps for its highly dense population, basically leveraging technology to impact its economy positively.
Coming down to the African continent, I remember that a close friend of mine was appointed the country lead of a popular Chinese super app, and despite all his efforts and push, the product just failed to take off and that lead me to wonder if Africans and possibly Westerners found super apps a little too complicated.
Unlike Asia, the business model on which super apps run has not quite worked in Europe and in the United States. So, Africa is not alone when mentioning continents that have not seen great scale when it comes to super apps.
Africa, however, might be a good fit environment to make the business model. As service delivery on the continent tends to be more mobile-driven and customer-focused, super apps may take over the future in Africa’s digital economy but this might also mean a slightly different approach has to be implemented.
With the population of the continent now over 1.2 billion, Africa appears to be the fastest-developing market for consumers. Reports from Brookings Institution on Africa’s consumer market potential indicate that by 2025, the rate of consumer expenditure would have grown to $2.1tn.
We can as well draw some similarities between Asia and Africa, most importantly a huge population growth, with increased mobile adoption. Africa has a young population that has a high growth rate and is also willing to embrace new technologies.
According to GSMA, sub-Saharan Africa alone will witness a growth of 440 million smartphones in the next eight years. With more phones comes more mobile app downloads and with the integration of many services into one super app platform.
Super apps are supposed to enable an average user to experience the benefits of social and financial inclusion, irrespective of status or physical boundaries. With more than 50 per cent of the continents’ population still unbanked, the integrating function of super apps might just be the ignition needed to turn around the financial inclusion deficit on the continent.
Based on the Silicon Valley model, apps were designed to be of “single-purpose-use”. However, considering Africa, where there is a high proliferation of cheap smartphones, having insufficient storage capacity, smartphone users have thus struggled with deleting existing apps when they are about to install a new one, to access a service, like food delivery, lending service or transport hailing.
Super apps integration platform has solved this challenge, as one app can offer you multiple services. Leveraging on Africa’s large population, super apps may just likely disrupt the way users engage with service providers on their smartphones.
Users would gladly come to terms with platforms that can provide a distinct interface for the services they require. An ecosystem where the users can monopolise their time, giving them the ability to do away with varieties of apps. With an all-in-one app, the tendency for other merchants to show partnership interest increases.
The ability to carry out online shopping and ride-hailing, order food, communicate and execute activities on a one-stop smartphone app for the past five years has become Asia’s defining innovation.
The biggest challenge that I see to the adoption and scale of super apps in Africa is simply user education. I am of the opinion that whoever wants to crack this must invest heavily in user education, in addition to running tons of promos and campaigns.
Let me state clearly that despite the fact that super apps might eventually scale in Africa, I am not just a fan. I don’t use any one of them, and the only one I ever tried was the one my friend was managing when he was country lead. I find super apps confusing and complicated; so, I am all for single-use apps. Well, this is for me, I may not be the true description of the target audience.
Only time will tell whether super apps will become a real thing in Africa or if single-use apps will continue to take the day.
ICT Clinic by CFA is published weekly in the Sunday Punch