The Race to the Next Platform in APAC: The Super App
One of the biggest platform phenomena to emerge from APAC in recent years has to be the super app. What is a super app? It is many apps within an umbrella app, or perhaps it is actually not really an app as much as an operating system for smartphones.
Now, mention the word ‘super app’ and WeChat immediately comes to mind. While some might argue that the super app concept already existed before WeChat did, there is no denying that this super app reigns as king, particularly in China.
WeChat now counts over a billion users with more than two-thirds of the Chinese population using it for an average of several hours a day, and more than a hundred million Chinese citizens using the app outside of the country’s borders.
Its usage ranges from media sharing to social media posting, movie bookings, taxi-hailing, payments, video calls, commerce and more. And when WeChat launched its mini program a few years ago, it further stretched the functions of the platform since the last big addition of WeChat Pay in 2013, which sparked China’s cashless revolution then.
China leading the way
China is clearly the region’s leader in platform development and many of the Chinese technology companies like Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent and Bytedance have not only been advancing their platforms but also going beyond, building out ecosystems of connected communities, seamless services and new tech-powered interfaces.
Alibaba, as we all know, has completely reinvented China’s retail sector, by integrating their eCommerce platform, Tmall, to their offline supermarket, Hema, and tapping into their logistics company, Cainiao, and food delivery unit, Ele.me, for fulfillment.
Today, Alibaba continues to support the evolution of their ecosystem by harnessing the power of cloud computing and artificial intelligence to enable businesses, whilst also penetrating into the connected home and connected car markets through their voice tech, Tmall Genie.
“With APAC consumers primarily accessing the internet through their smartphones, it is of no surprise that they have easily accustomed themselves to doing multiple, often seemingly unrelated functions, with just a single app.”
Many others in the region have also jumped onto the bandwagon. Much like WeChat in China, LINE, the mobile platform ubiquitous in Japan, Korea, and Thailand, has also grown from a messaging app into a lifestyle ecosystem with features such as service bots, games, payment, group video, hardware digital assistants, taxi and delivery services. Last year, LINE announced the launch of its eCommerce platform, LINE Shopping, that provides a wide assortment of items from 15 online marketplaces.
Other notable platforms that have emerged from the region has been Indonesia’s Go-Jek and Singapore’s Grab, two of South East Asia’s biggest startups, both having developed their own services and packaging all of them into a single super app. Initially starting as ride-hailing apps, they now offer a broad spectrum of services — Go-Send, Go-Massage and Go-Pay for Go-Jek; Grab Food, Grab Pet and Grab Pay for Grab. In fact, Go-Jek has recently launched Go-Play, a video streaming service, further extending their multi-service technology platform.
With APAC consumers primarily accessing the internet through their smartphones, it is of no surprise that they have easily accustomed themselves to doing multiple, often seemingly unrelated functions, with just a single app. Our smartphones have literally become an extension of our body and it is inconceivable to think that this device could one day be displaced.
“We see the adoption of new technology in the APAC region continually surpass other regions. According to Global Web Index, there are roughly 313 million people in APAC who own wearables — either a smartwatch or a smart wristband.”
At the same time, we see the adoption of new technology in the APAC region continually surpass other regions. According to Global Web Index, there are roughly 313 million people in APAC who own wearables — either a smartwatch or a smart wristband.
In a report released by idstats in 2018, it was found that close to two-thirds of APAC consumers have used or are using voice technology. And as compared to other regions that have not experienced the same uptake, APAC’s AR and VR markets are on the contrary expected to grow at 38.4% CAGR during 2019–2026. The deployment and adoption of 5G in markets like China and Korea have been rapid too with the latter already reporting 3.98 million subscribers to their 5G networks as of October 2019.
Certainly, the jury is out as to whether we will see a true platform revolution or mobile will just continue to be supercharged. Or perhaps it could be that the next revolution may not manifest itself in a single platform but in combination as an ecosystem powered by artificial intelligence and data. And who — be it a market or a company — will be the front runner in this global race?
What we do know is that the evolution will continue to play out differently in each market based on how deeply existing platforms and ecosystems have taken hold and ingrained themselves in consumers’ lives. As APAC consumers start to become more aware of their value in giving out data to these platforms and ecosystems, they would expect to trade up on their current lifestyle needs and wants, balancing these with privacy and security as well as trust in the platforms and ecosystems.
This is the first of a five-part series written by Sharon Soh, Head Of Strategy APAC at IPG Mediabrand’s UM, that delves into how platform development will shape the way brands connect with consumers across Asia over the next decade.