Super applications – or one application for everything is the future?
From the Polish perspective, looking for inspiration and trends in technology and mobile, we usually look to the west. This time, however, we should turn our face to… the Far East, where the future is today and where super applications are being developed.
China is not a typical market. Restrictions on access to the world wide web imposed by the government there prevent the average person in the Middle Kingdom from accessing Google, Facebook or YouTube. Instead, local equivalents of these services have emerged, which often surpass the original in terms of scale of operations. And so instead of Google there is Baidu (660 million mobile users per month), Youku replaces YouTube (150 million users per day in 2015), and Weibo is the equivalent of Twitter (340 million users per month, Twitter 330 million). The list, of course, is much longer.
To understand what's happening in China, check out this amazing video made by The New York Times.
WeChat, the super app
Not only the number of users proves the power of these services. Also, how people use the opportunities they are given. 68% of internet users in China pay on mobile, and 1/5 of them go online only via mobile. Looking at Chinese apps, there is a clear trend – they are true Swiss Army Knives, with which you can do virtually anything. The best example is WeChat. It is a huge social platform (980 million monthly users and 902 million daily users) that allows communication, shopping and payment. But one by one.
WeChat Pay – while we're rejoicing that the US has introduced the ability to pay via Messenger, 900 million Chinese app users have this on hand (600 million of whom use it). WeChat Pay creates a customer account that allows both mobile payments and user-to-user payments (B2B and B2C). It is also possible to make group transfers (then the amount is distributed equally between the members of the group) or transfer money from WeChat account to a normal bank account.
In 2015, WeChat offered so-called City Services in dozens of Chinese cities. And so you can use an app to make a doctor's appointment, book a table at a restaurant, order food or pay for electricity.
Heat Map – in the same year as City Services, the Heat Map feature was presented. It allows you to see in real time how crowded, for example, shopping malls or popular tourist sites are.
WeChat Mini Program – the feature shown this year allows for quick payments in the real world. So for example. In the store, you scan the appropriate code at the checkout with the application and WeChat Pay is automatically made payment for purchases. This year the app developers are also working on implementing AR technology into the app, which will also be able to m.in. make it easy to make payments.
With WeChat, the user is able to get through the day without leaving the ecosystem of a single app! In the morning he gets up, opens WeChat and reads the news. Using it, he orders a cab and pays for the ride. At work he communicates using WeChat Enterprise – the equivalent of Facebook Workplace. On a lunch break, it reserves a table in a restaurant, orders and pays for food. In the afternoon he has a doctor's appointment – also using WeChat. In the evening he goes to the cinema, booking and paying for the ticket further in the same app. And before going to bed, he adjusts his phone and electricity bills. It's amazing!
Of course, there are Western apps that are also slowly becoming „conglomerates of services”. The best example is Messenger from Facebook, an application that is already used by more than 1.2 billion people on our globe. Messenger not only allows you to communicate with friends in many different ways – chat, video chat, live streaming, stories, etc. It also allows you to communicate with brands, and thanks to chatbots and AI, there are virtually no limits to integrating other services. Through Messenger, you can already order food, Uber, book a vacation or buy shoes. Thanks to the integration of e.g. with PayPal you can immediately make a payment using it. And with its own system of codes (a'la QR), Messenger allows you to connect the real world with the online world.
Auchan sets an example in retail
Another example, this time coming from the retail sector, is the latest application that French Auchan is building, which combines payment, shopping and even lifestyle functions. According to retailnet.pl thanks to „My Auchan” customers will be able to m.in. The app allows users to pay for online shopping using Lyf Pay mobile payment system, read information on healthy lifestyle in #LaVieEnBleu service, or watch the Christmas catalog of products in augmented reality technology.
That's not all. It allows you to create a digital shopping list by scanning the barcodes placed on individual products, check the availability of a given product range in a selected store, or make use of discount coupons and loyalty program. What's more – you can pick up your ordered purchases in Auchan by yourself in 250 special refrigerated boxes, available all week, from 8.30 to 21.30. It is worth emphasizing that the click service&collect (order online and pick up by yourself) offered by a French network is completely free.
The potential for super apps is enormous…
And the value for the user is invaluable. Thanks to it, you can arrange all your matters and satisfy all your needs in one place. The app provider also wants to connect the user with the app as much as possible. One way to achieve this is to make more and more new features available in a single application.
Super or hyper, it's important to build good and useful apps. On the other side of the barricade, for example, is. Instagram, which admittedly after the acquisition by Facebook is gradually expanding the range of functions, but still has separate applications only to create collages (Layout) or gifs (Boomerang). Just creating an application that will have tons of features is not easy either. The challenge is to design a friendly UX/UI and integrate the app with multiple databases. And as I wrote myself recently, a good application is one that (at least at the beginning) does one thing, and does it well.
While writing about super apps, one can't help but mention the risks. Entrusting a huge amount of data to a single provider certainly raises questions. Oh yes thanks to WeChat the government of the People's Republic of China has access to the perfect tool for surveillance of citizens. It knows what and where they buy, how they transfer money, where they hang out and what they talk about. Features such as Heat Map can be used to control large gatherings of citizens, which can be the seed of protests or demonstrations.
And there's the price of progress and convenience. Either we agree to be tracked, in exchange for services tailored to our needs, or we limit the data we share about ourselves, thus giving up the benefits of new technologies.
But the most important thing about it is that at the end you have the option whether to choose one or the other.