Super Apps : The Case for India

Entrepreneurs across the globe and especially in India, have long harbored a dream of creating a super app. An all-inclusive application which empowers the user to do everything inside its ecosystem has been the buzz among India’s internet entrepreneurs since 2019; however, to date, there have been few and far manifestations of this dream into reality.

To understand the ground reality of this predicament, let’s focus our attention on the most popular fintech application in India, PayTm. Started in 2010 by Vijay Shekhar Sharma, PayTm boasts of an active monthly user base of over 350 million, and since its inception as a peer to peer money transfer application, the architects have introduced an array of products and services, both financial and non-financial, to nurture an ecosystem similar to WeChat in China.

Although the hype of PayTm becoming a super-app has existed in the market since early 2018, there has been negligible manifestation of the same in reality in terms of customer adoption.

So why is it so difficult to concote a super app for India’s 650 million (and growing) netizens?

Let’s find out.

The WeChat Babalaas

To put our investigation in perspective, let’s focus our attention on the success of WeChat. Launched in 2010, after Google’s historic withdrawal from China, Tencent (the pioneer behind WeChat) started as a peer to peer messaging service; however, the architects quickly realized that a simple messaging service wouldn’t garner much traction, and thus the team continued to introduce a “shake to friend” and a wallet feature in the upcoming years, which significantly contributed to their first 100 million users.

By 2018, when the super app forayed itself onto the global spotlight, it already boasted of a billion monthly active users, and the team had successfully nurtured an ecosystem, which empowered the user to do everything right from messaging their friends to scrolling social media and paying for offline and online purchases to booking doctor and visa appointments.

Essentially, Tencent had successfully created a super-app for the Xi Jinping-led nation of 140 crore.

A Failed Execution

Although the idea of creating a super app for India sounds incredible and novel, however as we pointed out in the initial paragraphs, most efforts to date have failed at manifesting the idea into a reality. But what are the exact proponents of this failure?

Our research points at three

1. A Nation of Technophobic

Looking at the internet boom India experienced in 2018, it might appear that we are a nation of early adopters; however, the ground reality could not be further from the truth. To understand this better, take the example of Hike. A messenger launched by Kavin Bharti Mittal in 2012, Hike aimed at offering users a bundled experience, well before the super app frenzy existed.

Right from letting users send and receive money to booking movie tickets, Hike wanted to become India’s first super app and, at its peak, was debuting one new feature every quarter. While this might sound purposeful, in reality, users panicked and quickly started jumping off the bandwagon to competitor WhatsApp, who had a much simpler offering.

2. Divided by Dialects

In contrast to China, where over 80% of the population speak Mandarin as their natal tongue, India is home to more than 22 constitutionally recognized languages and more than 19,500 dialects. In a country which is as diverse as our imagination, a super app which arrives in one or at most two languages is almost sure to generate very little traction. And not only language but India is also divided culturally, as the needs of geographies differ, especially in terms of their finances.

While to the outlier, it might appear that the sentiments of 137 crore individuals are one, but the reality could not be further.

Each of India’s 29 states and their millions of inhabitants share a varied set of interests, and while some of them might be mutual, in reality, most of them are unique.

3. A Country of Limited Bandwidth

The smartphone revolution materialized in India in 2017, with the emergence of brands like Xiaomi and RealMe. However, although it might appear to the average observer that the country is now host to a smartphone powerhouse, however, in reality, the average Indian owns a smartphone which costs ₹7000, arrives with 8 GB to 16 GB of storage, and 2 GB of processing memory. Due to the limited functionality offered by these smartphones in comparison to global counterparts, most applications which consume a higher bandwidth are often inaccessible, and super apps are no different.

Since most super apps consume a higher space in the user’s device, which is mostly unavailable, to begin with, architects are often forced to make a conscious decision on the programs they want to offer in their super app ecosystem, which ultimately hinders creativity, innovation, and accessibility.

The Case for India

Experts and observers from the Indian fintech industry note that the market at home is not yet mature to foster the growth of a financial super app, however in parallel, many argue that addressing the pain points we shared earlier might just lead to the incubation of the super app India requires.

In an effort to address these challenges, some possible solutions are as discussed below.

1. Simpler Offering

Instead of aiming for the stars right from the beginning and wanting to offer a “have it all” solution, if creators focused their efforts on developing a niche and then expanding its horizons, the results might be more favorable.

2. Speak Their Language

Instead of restricting our innovations to colonizer’s English, if we can foray our imagination to accommodate the different languages spoken by millions of Indians, I feel there would be a better chance of us succeeding at creating a super app.

3. Lighter at Heart

Instead of making our applications heavyweights, if we shift our attention to lighter at heart applications with more focused offerings, I think users will be more welcoming towards a faster and more rapid adoption.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Reference[s]

  1. Super apps may have worked in China. But will they work in India’s complex market? [Link]
  2. Will super apps become as popular in India as they have in Southeast Asia? [Link]
  3. India’s search for Super App [Link]
  4. India on the Cusp for the age of Super Apps [Link]
  5. Will 2021 be the year of super apps? [Link]
  6. Super Apps in India [Link]
  7. What Happened to Hike Messenger? [Link]
  8. Rise of the Super App: Mobile-First Product Ideas from China [Link]
  9. Super App as the Future of FinTech: Become a Platform, Not a Solution [Link]
  10. How the digital surge will reshape finance [Link]
  11. Digital payments user base in India in 2018, by company by Statista [Link]

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