Super Apps: is it the future of mobile apps?

An increasingly popular model in the Orient bets on multiple service offerings in the same application, reducing the number of installations made by users on their devices, and it starts to become more common also in the Occident

It is not always easy to define a new and innovative digital product. Perhaps the most recent example is the so-called Super Apps, whose concept varies slightly as they spread around the world. In the East, where they have emerged, mainly in the Chinese market, it is an application for mobile devices that brings together different services in the same interface, which do not necessarily have an obvious relationship among them.

In the same application, it is possible to send instant messages, book a hotel room, order food, or buy tickets for the next cinema session, for example. This without the need to switch the app, or even install several of them on the same device.

A classic example is the Chinese WeChat, from the giant Tencent, which started as a messaging app and today aggregates the most diverse services, including games, request taxis rides, e-commerce, virtual wallet and, even remote medical consultations, among others. Such diversity is still uncommon in the West, but it is gradually becoming popular under another philosophy.

It is a concept that goes against that enshrined in the devices carried in Western pockets. Whenever the user wants to use a new service, he looks for a specialized app. In a super app, on the other hand, the idea is to reduce the number of applications installed on smartphones, organizing the services in the same interface and making the user’s life simpler.

“The idea is to go against the micro apps, the screens with multiple applications installed and notifications. They (Tencent, owner of WeChat) argue that this is confusing for the user. In the super app, they offer a unique experience, with centralized control and usability”, explains the developer Erick Zanardo from Dextra/CINQ, an expert in solutions of the kind.


Western market expanding

In the West, the philosophy of the super app is similar, but the services offered, at least for now, do not vary so much in terms of diversity. The best-known app in these regions and under this same concept is Rappi – a Colombian startup whose deliverers can take food, grocery shopping, and even cash – and also iFood (a Brazilian company from the same segment). 

Another example is Facebook, which adds several services besides the timeline with user posts, such as a marketplace and even a game streaming service.

“What we see in the East is not easy to achieve here. I do not think that our super apps will cover all kinds of services, but means of payment, for instance, everyone wants to. More and more applications that started offering just one feature will offer many others”, considers Lima.

For the Dextra/CINQ specialist, South America has great potential for this type of application. Probably the most common resources, in addition to virtual wallets and their own means of payment, should be marketplaces, with space for people and companies to sell products and services directly to users. In addition to delivery companies, which are already deepening in the super apps model, financial institutions are also beginning to converge various services, such as checking accounts, credit card, and rewards programs, for example, previously separated into multiple apps.


Advantages and technological challenges

According to Zanardo, the Dextra/CINQ expert in super apps, the most obvious business benefit of the super apps approach is cross-selling, in which the company can offer the user various services within the same app, with the same experience, and well-adjusted to the profile of each one. There are also advantages for the user since he will receive offers that are better targeted based on the interaction data.

“There is a competition about which companies are going to win this race. They want to expand their business models. And that is where cross-selling comes in because all of these services will be part of the same operation”, he says.

Nevertheless, there is a technical challenge, which is great. As it is a new concept, there is no language or architecture on the market ready for the development of super apps. The way, explains Zanardo, is to opt for technologies that fit the gains expected by the business, that is, there is no ready formula.

“A large business, with very different services, needs to take care not to turn the app into a monster. Excessive size is bad because older phones with less technology will not run”, he says. “Sometimes it is necessary to support different technologies and platforms. I have seen super apps where the base was in a native language and the mini-apps were in HTML5 frameworks or web views.”

For the programmer, this technically hybrid approach is favorable for integrating several services. At the same time, using only native language makes general administration potentially simpler. “It is very difficult to have an ideal solution”, he acknowledges.

Another fundamental point, recalls Luis Lima, is that the chosen architecture allows several teams, each one responsible for a different service, to work in parallel. This can mean one squad responsible for the final app, and others building subsequent services. For him, communication and integration between these fronts is the biggest development challenge.


A practical case

The first super app developed by Dextra/CINQ belongs to a company in the financial sector in Brazil. The main idea during the development of the app was that several teams could work in parallel to offer different services on the same interface. For this, the super app concept was used.

“The architecture is based on a core application, which is the basis of everything, and which provides more complex features, such as access to the smartphone camera, files or, any other native feature of the device. And then we have what the company calls mini-apps, the modules”, explains Zanardo. “Each service, or each product offered, is a mini-app. This means that the developer can work without worrying about others”.

Despite the relatively simple theory, the implementation in practice offered several technical challenges, mainly at the beginning of the development, but which were resolved quickly. After a month and a half of testing, a first version of the application, known as the minimum viable product (MVP) was available at Google Play and Apple Store.

“The biggest initial challenge was the communication and integration between teams. When one of them wanted to deliver a new resource, we had to create ways for it to flow naturally”, explains Lima. “Now everything is automated, and the process has worked better”.

In the coming months and years, the company that owns the super app should implement several new services. There are currently just over 115 thousand registered users on both mobile platforms. The purpose of the super app is to support the company’s rapid growth and provide the basis for creating and integrating services quickly.



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