Super apps: What you should know about the app giants


Super apps are synonymous with the growing number of Chinese super products – known by name as WeChat and Alipay. Originally, the term "super app" was introduced by BlackBerry founder Mike Lazaridis in 2010. He defined it as "a closed ecosystem of many apps that people would use every day because they provide such a seamless, integrated and efficient experience."

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Christoph Kappler

Marketing Manager & Product Owner
4 min read24 Nov 2021

What is a super app?

In a nutshell, a super app is a marketplace of services and offerings delivered through proprietary technologies and third-party integrations.

The super app par excellence is WeChat. When the Chinese messaging app launched in 2011, it basically functioned similarly to WhatsApp. A decade later, the invention has evolved into an ecosystem with countless "mini-apps." With these, users can do a variety of things - such as apply for a loan, order a cab, or conduct business with local companies. All of these transactions take place exclusively within the WeChat ecosystem.

In addition to WeChat, Alipay, a Chinese online payment system owned by Alibaba Group, also has a similar, even more tightly linked ecosystem of services. First, Alipay is the primary payment method on popular e-commerce platforms Taobao and Tmall (both owned by Alibaba). 

Alipay collects social and transaction data with these two services and sends it to Ant Financial, Alibaba Group's subsidiary. Ant Financial uses this data to build a credit score for merchants and consumers and extend personal and business credit. The secured financing then flows back to one of Alibaba's e-commerce platforms as merchants purchase more goods.

The benefits of the super app approach for businesses

Following the immense success of super apps in China, the question arises as to whether super apps are also an option for companies in Switzerland. In any case, some advantages speak in favor of it:

  • Faster and less risky product launches: With super apps, companies benefit from an existing user base and a lot of data to help them get the right offer to the right people at the right time.

  • Ease of data collection: As all consumer behavior moves through a single app, collecting data, such as individual behavior and group trends, is more possible than ever. This could help identify a user's behavior based on multiple factors across multiple domains and tailor even more appropriate recommendations to that person than is already the case. Given the amount of user information super apps collect, advertising is a profitable revenue stream.

  • Lower costs: Most of the "mini-apps" on WeChat were developed by third-party developers and integrated into the super app after the fact. This saves costs for both sides: WeChat does not have to develop itself and third-party providers benefit from WeChat's immense user base when managing their app.

What speaks against the gigantic apps

As great as it all sounds, the super apps approach unfortunately comes with its drawbacks:

  • Cluttered designs: To fit all these mini-apps in one app, it takes a lot of "space". Numerous tabs, cards, headings and endless swiping to navigate from one area to the next. This quickly leads to a cluttered user experience. 

  • Monopolies: The free market encourages innovation. However, with existing super apps as competitors, it is visibly difficult for companies to enter the market, and monopolies of the giants could eventually result. With regard to WeChat and Alipay, a trend in this direction is already emerging. Their enormous size depresses competition, since most companies that want to offer a new service do so from the outset via one of these apps, thus making them even bigger.

  • Privacy: Privacy is also a big issue with super apps, because the more things users can do in just one app, the more that app can learn about them.

Are there examples of super apps in Europe as well?

A classic super app like the Chinese giants WeChat and Alipay has not yet established itself in Europe, but there are numerous efforts to expand existing apps here as well due to the advantages. Instagram Shopping, Facebook Marketplace, Uber, the Gmail app, and many more apps are becoming super apps in the Western market.

An example that Mindnow has developed itself would be the SAUSALITOS app. While the German restaurant chain has not integrated any third-party services, unlike the classic super app, it is certainly an ecosystem with a seamless user experience. The SAUSALITOS app is a digital menu for in-restaurant as well as home orders, a live auction platform, a trading playground for two in-house cryptocurrencies, and a dating app or store finder all in one. With all the different features, it still stands out for its user-friendliness with a sophisticated UX and UI design.

Conclusion: Approach good, user experience difficult

Life is shifting more and more into the digital realm and providers naturally want to make it as easy as possible for their users to use their services. The super-app approach with its many different offers, features and services is extremely convenient for users: There is no need to search for and download incoherent and possibly unsuitable apps, and the personal data is all already there. In addition, the giants simplify the development and management of apps for companies....

I don't see much danger for monopolies in Europe or Switzerland, but a cluttered and confusing design can quickly become a problem even in this country. Developing an app with many different features that is also easy to use requires a mature plan and a lot of flair when it comes to UX design.


Involved Minds:
Carina Glinik
Senior UX WriterInvolved as:Editor