Updated on April 14, 2023
Most mobile users have a dedicated application for a particular service or function. The more services they want to use, the more apps they need to install. No wonder that in 2022 alone there were 255 billion app downloads (iOS App Store, Google Play, and third-party Android stores combined), and the number is always growing.
Is there a way to consolidate a range of functionalities into one application? Yes, there is, and it’s called a super app. Simply put, it’s an integrated ecosystem made of dedicated services called mini apps. And, like so many things in the world, it was made in China.
Table of contents
- What is a super app?
- The rise of the super app model
- Super apps - super opportunities
- Super impact on your organization
- Developing super apps
- Potential challenges with super apps
- Why develop a super app with Callstack?
- Super future
What is a super app?
A super app is a multi-purpose platform that offers a plethora of services through one mobile interface. The user can chat, check the news, make daily purchases, call a taxi, and so on, and they don’t need to have separate apps to do the jobs. This is exactly a super app’s superpower: giving users access to all functions in one place.
The whole concept could be compared to a huge shopping mall that rents its space to interested retailers. When using a super app, you don’t leave the building, you just move around its premises. The “mall” saves your preferences or payment details so each retailer knows how you want to pay and where they should deliver your purchase. Once introduced, all the details are there. That also means fewer registrations, as only one sign-in is required.
Super apps, mini apps, and micro frontends
In the super app model, there is a core app (super app) and it serves as a host to single applications: mini apps, also referred to as mini programs or applets. Internal developers or third-party providers can expand the core app by adding more mini apps for the user to activate when needed. The core app, though, has its own functionality.
How are micro frontends related to all that? A micro frontend is a form of architecture that lets you break large frontend applications into smaller, manageable pieces. It’s typically used in web app development. Within the context of super apps, mini apps can be seen as micro-frontends for mobile apps.
Examples of super apps worldwide
The super app emerged in China. The very first one, WeChat, was initially created as a messaging app (a Chinese counterpart to WhatsApp), and it soon evolved into a marketplace of various services and offerings. Now there are hundreds of public services, mini programs, coupons, bill payment options, etc., available for over a billion WeChat users.
All-in-one applications took the Asian market by storm with apps such as Alipay, Grab, Gojek or Paytm, to name just a few. It soon became an international tech trend and now the key market players are either in the process of implementing a super app, e.g. Uber, or they already upgraded to a super app, e.g. PayPal. In September 2021, PayPal launched a super app with integrated crypto, blockchain, saving, investing, and shopping capabilities. It marked a major shift from being nothing more than a payment utility to being a fleshed-out finance app.
An example of a super app we worked on
The most popular digital wallet in Vietnam, MoMo, improved the performance of their super app and mini apps thanks to using Re.Pack. Our Callstack experts migrated the existing MoMo platform to a separate repository with the help of the Re.Pack library and created a platform for third-party developers to handle mini apps. We share a Momo case study with more details.
The rise of the super app model
Super apps are the most popular in Asia, where they originated. The concept took off in the East for a few reasons. Asian nations are basically mobile-first population who favor easy access over strict regulations. They also have a lot in common in terms of culture, consumer habits, and approach to data privacy. As the super apps born there reflected all this, they naturally gained popularity and attracted investors. Now they often have the support from governments - they finanse the projects, rule out the competition or plan to develop a good state super app for public services, which is the case in Indonesia.
What does it look like in the western landscape? While more and more global companies take to the super app model, the line of thinking is still different in the West. The focus is on specialization and ways to leverage core business. This is reflected in tech designs - a mobile app is a single app that should serve a specific purpose. Another reason why super apps are not popular in developed economies yet is concerns about personal data and privacy.
However, these days businesses everywhere see the potential of running an all-in-one platform. They realize the super app model means opportunity rather than hindrance. A super app’s modular architecture offers a good environment for business growth while minimizing the unnecessary costs and challenges. And that means better development efficiency and sustainability, which can be the key to success in turbulent times. Why not invest in a super app when you can achieve more doing less?
Super apps - super opportunities
There are good reasons why most giants strive to build a one-stop portal. Having a super app comes with a wealth of benefits. It’s convenient for both the user and the business owner. For the former, it means the comfort of downloading one app to access a bunch of services and hit the big market. It also means less registration and login hassle.
For the latter, it means substantial business benefits. The model can positively affect the condition of a company by helping with the following areas.
Since a super app is an ever-evolving marketplace of various products and services, it’s easier to attract an audience that can convert. The super app can address the individual user’s needs - it gives a tailored customer experience.
Offering an expandable range of services in one place is convenient for the user. That immediately translates into higher in-app engagement and, consequently, user retention.
Your users don’t need to “get out” if they want to use a different functionality. As the engagement rate rises and the churn rate reduces, you can see an improvement in the conversion rate.
The host of the super app provides necessary tools and infrastructure and developers can work independently. That means simplified work in smaller product teams, which results in faster releases and fewer code conflicts.
App performance & security
A dynamic super app loads only the necessary elements - loading other pieces is available on demand (so-called lazy loading), which implies better startup performance. Also, the architecture of a super app gives you scope for improved security. You can build an environment where you mock some sensitive parts of your codebase. The environment is more secure for both the app owner and third-party partners.
The model is cost-effective as it helps to reduce development and maintenance costs in the long term. You need a smaller team to work on your application and this increases efficiency and minimizes overall expenses.
Opening up your space to various retailers lets you monetize your app easily. You can also set up different payment systems to earn transaction commissions and offer good advertising opportunities.
The biggest selling point though is the all-in-one experience itself. Creating a one-stop shop for all things users need on a daily basis is almost bound to succeed. With a good plan and team of trusted app developers, your success should be just a matter of time.
Super impact on your organization
According to Conway’s Law, a company’s communication structure is reflected in the design they produce. A conglomerate with a stiff structure is very likely to “copy” the structure in their product. That concerns mobile applications too.
To avoid creating a complicated, user-unfriendly design, you can apply the inverse Conway maneuver. This is nothing else but doing the opposite: letting the desired structure of your product “dictate” the structure of your organization. Instead of building the design based on what you know from your business environment, you base it on the user needs. And you engage your teams accordingly.
Working on a super app can be a good example of the inverse Conway maneuver. The development process positively affects the organization in terms of communication and work efficiency. It also determines the choice of technologies - this is another milestone in thinking about super apps.
Developing super apps
Super apps have the potential to reshape the mobile marketing landscape so it’s worth to consider having one. How to get started with a super app?
First of all, your super app still needs to focus on one main service so you need to make sure this is already settled. WeChat did start as a messaging app and over time it did evolve into a super app, but it never moved away from its original purpose. It’s still a communication tool after all - even way more advanced than it used to be.
What do you need to develop a super app, technically speaking? There’s no “one and only” path to doing it right. There are different approaches and solutions, depending on whether you want to go for native or cross-platform development.
Possible solutions you can adopt when designing a super app architecture:
- Native Android application with Feature Delivery
- Native iOS application with WebViews
- Cross-platform React Native application with Metro
- Cross-platform React Native application with Webpack and Re.Pack
Each solution addresses different needs and comes with different benefits. Given our experience, it’s better to adopt cross-platform solutions because native applications not only use different platform languages, but also require radically different architectures.
Only React Native lets us adopt a truly cross-platform code splitting technique which enables super apps’ implementation. Because of Webpack's widely used and battle-tested code splitting, we can easily introduce it into React Native applications with the help of Re.Pack.
Building a super app with Re.Pack
Re.Pack allows for dynamic adaptation of the app content for a given user without the need to include all of the code. When developing a super app with Re.Pack, only the core part of the app is shipped to the user - any mini apps are downloaded on demand. Such a possibility makes your app lighter, which can directly affect your app download numbers and user retention.
What’s more, Re.Pack also contributes to app security. From now on, the bundles produced by Re.Pack are going to be code-signed. Within the context of super apps, this translates into signing mini apps and hence adding a new layer of security. In the process of downloading, Re.Pack verifies if the mini app is properly signed and doesn’t show traces of unauthorized modifications.
Potential challenges with super apps
Although the super app model brings real benefits for business, it’s a solution that comes with certain challenges. In the first place, it raises concerns as to data protection. Super apps collect a massive amount of personal information from a massive number of users, so… yes, any leaks will be on a massive scale too.
Also, the infrastructure allows external providers to publish their apps on your platform and they may have a vague data sharing policy. There were already cases when private data was shared much to the user’s surprise. This is yet another reason take utmost care of app security.
Why develop a super app with Callstack?
Super apps potentially save businesses time and money. In uncertain times, developing a super app can be your best investment! Make sure you choose the right partner to help you with the process.
If you’re looking towards the highest level of expertise, look no more. We are trusted experts and partners (more under this link). We not only have the technical know-how for this kind of project and advanced tools - we created Re.Pack. Super app development with Re.Pack offers much more than other alternative ways.
Only Re.Pack lets you adapt the app content dynamically, reuse one feature in multiple applications, and contribute to your app security. Also, contrary to other options, you can deliver OTA updates in a Re.Pack based solution. We already tested our own solution in a super app development project - see how we worked on a MoMo platform.
The super app quickly went mainstream in Asian countries - with a mobile-first population, homogeneous markets, blocked competition, and huge government support, the evolution of a multi-purpose ecosystem seemed only natural.
Nowadays the model is gaining popularity in and out of Asia. Businesses from almost every market segment take interest in developing a super app. Even though the very definition of a super app may vary from continent to continent, the trend is there. And it’s there to stay!
The worldwide use of super apps is spurring a new era in online shopping, payments and communication. Among the big brands that are planning to jump on the bandwagon are also social media giants such as Facebook or Twitter. That clearly means the super app landscape is going to further evolve.
More and more companies worldwide see the potential of retaining their users within their all-in-one application. Building a super app can give you serious competitive advantages:
- The comfort of using only one place to get things done offers a unique user experience
- The fact you open up your space to different service providers lets you monetize your app easily
- The implementation of super apps gives you a stronger digital presence
If you're looking for a reliable tech partner, contact us, and we'll get back to you to discuss your super app development project.