What Is a Superapp?
Superapps are a type of application that serves many diverse use cases, including productivity, finance, travel and retail. Rather than using several distinct apps, this tool consolidates them into one.
The process is similar to how a web browser replaces a number of use cases on desktop machines that might have previously required dedicated applications. But unlike the web, which is built around open standards, superapps are built around the criteria the app owner has defined. In some ways, superapps are both entirely modern and a throwback to the pre-mobile walled-garden experiences of AOL or Yahoo.
The concept originated in China in the early 2010s with the instant messaging application WeChat. The mobile application from Tencent began as a social networking tool, but its increasingly dominant user base in the country allowed it to expand significantly. This made the apps helpful for both personal and professional use.
Gartner has identified superapps as an important trend that IT leaders should watch for. It forecasts that more than half of the world’s population will use multiple superapps daily by 2027. And while it’s hard to predict how superapps will resonate in the Western market, they have a ton of potential.
How Does a Superapp Work?
Superapps are designed with diverse audiences in mind. App developers consider users to have wide-ranging needs and technical skills, and while superapps enable complex interactions, they offer a simple user experience.
Three key elements make superapps widely accessible:
- A simple, easy-to-understand interface
- The flexibility to be used in multiple contexts
- An integrated app ecosystem for third-party tools
As part of a WeChat case study from London Business School, WeChat founder Allen Zhang said the secret to the app’s success is its simplicity.
“Before perceiving WeChat as a commercial product, I’d rather picture it first as an impressive work of art. When I started designing user interactions for Foxmail, I complicated everything. It felt wrong because it no longer looked neat,” Zhang said, according to Harvard Business Review. “For WeChat, I now see the necessity of subtraction — making things simpler — and focusing on the product’s aesthetic quality.”