Super Apps Aren’t So Super. Here’s Why
Publisher: Business Tech Review
Unsurprisingly, app downloads in the MENA region are on the rise as society continues its journey of digitization. In fact, between 2019 and 2021, app downloads increased by 53 per cent, according to data released by app intelligence firm data.ai.
The early days of COVID-19 saw app usage spike as consumers used digital platforms to fulfill a whole host of previously in-person needs – from banking to attending virtual school events and of course, ordering groceries online. Many of these newly digitized habits have remained as the pandemic became ‘the new normal’, raising the stakes among competing developers.
Maintaining, and ideally, extending the time spent on a platform, is crucial for super app developers as they cultivate a strategy to be the dominant provider with a core offering complemented by semi-related services.
What’s interesting is how super apps want to achieve consolidation. As Forbes puts it, such platforms aim to be “one of the 30 apps that live in the prime real estate of a smartphone’s home screen.” And many have enjoyed success, especially in the Asian market with apps such as China’s WeChat. Expanding from a messaging app to an ecommerce platform, WeChat users can today apply for loans, transfer money, and even file for divorce through a single app. US and European markets are aiming to follow suit with Facebook introducing shopping capabilities so users can make transactions while they socialize and browse news.
Yet despite these individual successes, the bigger picture is not so rosy. I have observed through my time spent developing disruptive consumer-facing digital platforms that, in general, users find the super app concept to be at best tolerable and at worst, downright frustrating.
In fact, as a technology entrepreneur who recognizes how essential it is to provide a seamless, secure and simplified user experience, I believe super apps have not met their full potential. There are two main reasons why.
More services can mean more frustration
The first relates to the performance of super apps. In short, combining multiple semi-related services into one app can throttle its operational speed. This is a problem when we consider the short attention span of today’s users — a consequence of the immediacy they have been conditioned to expect from digital platforms.
App responsiveness could therefore cost providers more than they realize, including once-loyal users who are driven to a competing platform for better performance. Super app developers must balance the desire to include complementary services with the operational burden this can place on app performance. More services and greater functionality threaten to hold back a platform if the back end is not developed carefully. Here, less really can be more.
The rise in ‘platform fatigue’
The second reason is what I call ‘platform fatigue’. According to Colombia Business School, the very sight of having a mix of five to six semi-related services from strikingly different sectors on an app can create a feeling of exhaustion among users.
For instance, in a courier platform, how many users realistically want to perform banking services? A very small percentage. Smart apps call the inclusion of semi-related services a ‘super capability’. However, I believe these ‘super capabilities’ are diluting the strength of an app’s core offering — forming a feeling of exhaustion. What’s more, these super apps are inorganically attempting to alter behavior by pushing users to consume other services that may not be relevant or in the worst-case scenario, downright disliked. That only adds to the feelings of fatigue as users attempt to navigate a maze of options to access what they really want.
Additionally, many super app developers have failed to realize that humans possess a limited learning capacity, which is especially true when it comes to making sense of new smartphone applications.
Reflecting on the above, it’s clear that too many of today’s super apps do not deliver a fatigue-free user experience that is simple and, more helpfully, familiar.
Addressing this challenge has been on my radar for a long time. If technology doesn’t make our lives easier, what is it for exactly? I see a better approach to the modern super app.
The building of an ultra-platform
With too many super apps missing the mark in providing a seamless user journey and instead causing platform fatigue, I’m on a journey to produce an ultra-platform that delivers.
An upgrade of the super app model, the ultra-platform that Astra Tech has in the works provides what users want the most in an application: a simplified, friction-less user experience that is unique, yet somehow familiar.
Typically, super apps force users to familiarize themselves with services that are unrelated to the app’s core offering through a single interface — with a single user experience. An ultra-platform, meanwhile, will bring together well-established mainstream services that users know and expect into one place while retaining the functionality users are already familiar with, hence simplifying their journey. So, through the platform, while the user experience is unique in terms of the simple accessibility of services, navigating the services themselves remains unchanged.
Super apps will no doubt continue to live on in smartphones for the medium-term as users adjust and tolerate the experience provided. But I see a better way that stays true to core benefit of technology — making our lives easier, which could, eventually, spell their end.
Find out more about Astra Tech here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/abdallahabusheikh/.
United Arab Emirates