Though initially popular for voice messaging, WeChat has rapidly expanded. Perhaps modelling itself after Facebook, its first addition was a news feed with updates from friends. Soon after, it began to include other functions. WeChat Pay, for example, allows users to send money to one another and pay vendors directly from their mobile phones.
WeChat’s newest developments are third-party mini apps that are integrated into, rather than owned by, WeChat. These mini apps eliminate the need to download, or even open, apps outside of the WeChat platform.
The Rise of the Super App
Mini apps are driving users to spend more time in WeChat rather than open additional apps–and user engagement is soaring. Now, 938 million people use the super app–and half of them use it for over 90 minutes a day.
Why, exactly, are super apps such a success?
First, downloading new apps is no longer a novelty, as it was at the beginning of the app era. Users want the service apps to provide more than they want the apps themselves–and the more convenient, the better.
Second, users care more about storage space than they do about new apps. Super apps allow people to use new apps without using up space or cluttering their homescreen.
Third, developers have a problem getting people to download apps, much less use them. If developers integrate their apps onto platforms their users already engage with, their apps will be right in front of people’s faces, ready to use.
WeChat may have just revolutionized the way we think about apps–and some companies are already catching on.
How Facebook and Google Are Following WeChat’s Lead
WeChat’s success in China, of course, is in part because China has banned Facebook and other popular American social platforms. WeChat isn’t likely to overtake Facebook in the US, since Facebook is already so ingrained into American digital culture.
Nonetheless, Facebook is looking at the Chinese super app as a model for its own expansion. With its never-ending flow of new features, the Facebook app may gradually be trying to adopt a one-stop-shop model similar to that of WeChat.
Facebook doesn’t make use of mini apps, but it has already integrated additional app functions into its own platform, like food-ordering capabilities and a digital assistant.
The social media giant has more recently added features to its app that are almost too reminiscent of Snapchat–even adding a “Stories” function and allowing users to send each other pictures that, like the images in Snapchat, eventually disappear.
Google is also onboard with the trend. Google Instant Apps, a service now open for developers, will allow Google to offer users the services apps provide without requiring app downloads.
Developers who’ve used Instant Apps have already seen an increase in user engagement and sales–precisely because they’re finally able to get over the hurdle of apps consuming storage space. Just as mini programs allow users to access all their app needs through WeChat, Instant Apps could eventually allow users to access all their app needs through Google.
Will We Ever Order Food on Facebook?
We might very well be heading toward a future that allows us to fulfill all our needs on just a couple apps or platforms. But is that what we really want?
After all, specificity can sometimes be a good thing. We like specificity when we use an app for something deeply private or personal, like online banking. We like specificity when we choose an app, in part, for the renown and credibility of its brand–like Uber or Duolingo.
Some might argue, too, that using specialized apps–for example, opening up a food-ordering app rather than ordering food within Facebook–is more efficient than going through a broader app platform.
Still, accessing specialized apps through broader platforms may have its advantages. People already spend so much time on Facebook that they might be inclined to perform specialized functions from the same platform rather than move to a different app.
Likewise, while users probably won’t give up one social media platform for a single super platform, they might just opt for in-app navigation between platforms if it means they won’t have to open a separate app.
After all, it isn’t as easy or intuitive to move between different apps on mobile as it is to open up new tabs in a computer browser.
Most of the time we want services without the hassle or clutter of an additional app on our home screen. While we might continue to use our preferred food ordering app three times a week, we’ll readily turn to broader app platforms for services like checking bus arrival times or translating foreign texts.
The success of super capabilities doesn’t require convincing users of their theoretical desirability; instead, it depends more on how well a platform makes these services accessible, satisfying, and reliable.
We don’t want most apps badly enough, and we won’t use them often enough, for them to be worth the hassle and storage space. To this extent, at least, super apps–or, at the minimum, apps with broad and varied functions–will dominate the app market in the next few years.