Super Apps: Mobile Innovation Or Digital Threat?
Mobile telephony and apps have reinvented the way we carry out everyday tasks. From internet payments, communication with friends, hotel reservations, ordering a taxi or even ordering food at home; everything can be done thanks to a large number of digital applications. In most cases, the applications are designed to offer a specific service, PayPal offers payments, Uber transport and Instagram a social network; but in the Asian market, a new business model known as Super Apps has been developed; applications with multiple services. For some startups and companies, this model represents the future of applications; where the integration of services offers an innovative proposal, but for experts and activists, it represents a latent threat to competition and privacy.
This digital phenomenon began in 2011, when the technology company Tencent developed a platform similar to WhatsApp called WeChat. This app became the most important messaging application in China after they began to include additional services that little by little gave it a great competitive advantage. The application currently, in addition to instant messaging, offers banking services, video games, newscasts, making appointments with doctors, paying bills and even renting bicycles.
Although WeChat does not own all the services it offers, since it makes agreements with other companies for certain products, the application allows the consumer to have a wide variety of options and services at hand without having to download a number of applications.
This new model is beginning to transform the application development industry and the way companies offer their services to their clients. Anthony Tan, founder of Grab commented at Bloomberg’s New Economy Forum “ We see that the price of smartphones and data has fallen, we see the democratization of technology. We see the rise of the world of Millennials; and they want everything now and they want it immediately .” The new standards that the new generations have created require startups to innovate and offer the greatest number of services quickly and efficiently.
However, these innovations in the field of technology and services have privacy and fair competition experts and activists concerned. The main criticism leveled at super apps such as WeChat, Grab or Go-Jek is the accumulation and monopolization of services that they may have, discouraging competition; and the collection of information on the daily life of users.
Privacy International, a charity that fights for privacy rights, mentions that as these apps adopt new technologies such as the Internet of Things, “the result will be that every phase of our daily lives will be expressed in data and collected” by apps like Wechat.
WeChat currently collects biometric information (voice or fingerprints), contact lists, location history, financial and banking information, social media history. In addition, the control that the Chinese government has over the population and companies in the country makes it easier for the information to be used for espionage and surveillance of users. Although this concern is not as latent in other countries, the Super Apps demonstrate the amount of information that these companies can collect, which can be mismanaged or stolen by hackers, endangering their consumers around the world.
In addition, the accumulation of functions and services facilitates monopolization in the market and makes it difficult for new projects to compete fairly. According to the latest statistics , WeChat has one billion users, accounting for 72% of the entire Chinese population. Market accumulation is a threat not only to other companies or startups, but also to consumers, since innovation is discouraged if there is no space for new proposals.
There is no general consensus on the role that these applications will have in the future. The fact that they are successful in the Asian market does not guarantee that the rest of the world will be the same. Depending on the innovations and proposals that this new model manages to offer to the markets, the future of Super Apps and the role they will have in the lives of consumers and companies will be determined.
Digital innovations are constantly changing how we relate to technology every day. That is why it is important to be aware of the new trends that arise in the market and the virtual industry.