The State of Super apps in Africa
The Super app plays in Africa are still a long way from being successful.
Apple had the iPhone, Windows had Office. Google had Search, Amazon had retail and WeChat had instant messaging. The Big tech gang (FAANG) and other successful super apps grew by homing in on an initial killer core product. Thus, we saw the “app of apps” concept born and evangelised.
The history of super apps goes farther back in Asia with WeChat, a viral Chinese instant messaging service that morphed into an OG multipurpose app. Its users can communicate and socialize. They can order lunch and groceries. Order Consumer goods as they consume content, that’s pretty much how they’re hooked. They can perform financial transactions, participate in online gaming and even access public and third party services. Quite the swiss knife of service offerings.
Other success stories like Southeast Asia’s Gojek and Grab soon followed by weaponizing the mammoth killer core product template; ride-hailing. Several other far Eastern examples have included Alipay, Zalo and Line from Japan.
Now because of this Asian success, there have been attempts to replicate the super app model in Africa, India and South America. From Colombia’s Rappi to India’s Jio Platforms and Paytm to Africa’s Jumia One and Opera, popularly called Opay.
Unlike their Asian forerunners, Africa’s current super apps have struggled to replicate the initial killer core product template. Instead, they are trying to capture as much spread across different multiple products all at the same time.
What makes an app “super”?
Super apps have been defined in a bunch of ways. An App of Apps. The “everything app”. A bundle of apps. However, the main point to consider is this; a super app is a single app for accessing a host of services and functions that you would have otherwise accessed with separate independent apps.
A super app is like Google’s Play Store or Apple’s App Store, only you don't have to download multiple apps or create multiple log-ins and profiles to access different services and functions. A single profile and login are all you need and voila, you have access.
Let’s say you want to make an online payment, order some food, request a ride or even apply for a visa. You'll normally have to do each of this from different apps or from an office. Super apps have altered the process by providing a functional and friction-free entry point for accessing a group of services. This has now opened a world where users can have a convenient multifaceted experience.
In today's landscape of living through apps. A super app leverages its market share from its killer core product and its understanding of the customer. This ability to anticipate and understand user behaviour allows them to extend revenue streams by creating unique products and offerings.
Even Though there isn't an official number of services that need to exist on an app for it to qualify it as a super app. They tend to be underpinned by social networking, logistics (ride-hailing & delivery) and payment services. Forming the foundation for bundling up other services.
The WeChat ecosystem is perfectly run with its Mini Programs feature that allows other third-party apps to run within the app. It is very similar to how Open APIs work. The difference is that the super app controls all the data, content and user flows. Unlike Open APIs where everybody shares the data.
In 2019, people spent more time on their cell phones than they did watching TV. Think about it. There is a 53% chance you’re reading this on your phone. Specifically, 90% of mobile phone usage in the past 18 months has been spent within apps, with little time spent in the mobile browser.
If most people download zero apps per month and spend their time in the same handful of apps, it is obvious that their mobile needs can be met in a finite number of ways. This single argument is a testament to why super apps might be the future and why almost everyone might be aiming to build the next one.
Are super apps a right fit for Africa?
For an emerging market like Africa, where internet access is costly and the bulk of the population uses low-end smartphones, super apps eliminate the cost of downloading and keeping more apps on these devices.
An ongoing conversation centres on Africa’s ability to engineer business models that are suitable for its nascent ecosystems. The reality is that the continent continues to struggle as a result of trying to co-opt those models that have thrived elsewhere.
From trying to build an African Amazon, an African Uber and now an African Wechat there’s a quixotic quest to clone success. How can we assume that these business models can be successfully replicated in Africa, or even its individual countries? Does the continent need to reinvent the wheel or continue to try to optimize successful models for its reality?
A simple answer would be to figure out the needs on the ground first.
African super apps and several bites of the cherry
Bike ride-hailing, payments and e-commerce have been popular entry points for super apps in Africa. Transportation and trade essentially represent a big part of the basic daily needs of the continent.
The first app on the continent to deploy a bundle of different services was Jumia One but it wasn't till Opera came along with its Nigerian Opay/Oride/Omall app that the term “super app” began to be bandied around the continent.
Jumia One has since rebranded to JumiaPay, offering a group of services that includes personal loans, payment services, flight & hotel reservations, movie & event ticketing and food ordering. You can even book an Uber from within the app.
Like its predecessor, Opay also offers a personal loan service. This is an addition to an investment service, bike ride-hailing, food ordering and online shopping.
The demise of the bike ride-hailing arms race market in Lagos dealt quite a blow to Opera’s bid to dominate the arena, opening the door to other continental options.
Enter the North African candidate, Careem, a ride-hailing app founded in the UAE and acquired by Uber for $3.1 billion in 2019. Careem is looking to launch a mobile digital wallet, Careem PAY, to firm up its super app foundation. This decision came after the company noticed a shift in its users’ behaviour from completely cash-based to digital transactions.
Like Careem, Gozem, another ride-hailing app popular in Francophone West and Central Africa also has its own grand designs. It is throwing its hat in the ring via plans to launch its own digital wallet.
There have also been whispers about a startup called Eden in Nigeria. Theoretically, it has the potential to become the one true super app for Nigeria. However, it has chosen quite the peculiar killer use case: automated house chores. From House cleaning to laundry, to meals and even equipment maintenance, Eden is looking to approach super app status from the home.
The continued wait
None of Africa’s super app attempts has gained enough traction or bundled up enough services for users. Even onboarding third-party services seems to be an even taller order. For now, this Puts the dream of digital consumer ecosystems in Africa on hold.
The possibilities with super apps present in Africa are endless. Still there are several misgivings regarding the tech involved. Data privacy and security concerns are valid seeing how WeChat is used for mass surveillance in China and how it also censors politically sensitive topics. However, this is a bug that every big Chinese company seems to have (hi TikTok).
If the misinformation wars that heralded the arrival of 5G in Africa at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic are anything to go by, we might have a huge struggle on our hands whenever a super app makes landfall.. The can of worms seems finely poised to be open with a variety of data privacy and security concerns to navigate.
In the end, the proposition of a successful African super app is enticing. Still, Africa's pressing need are solutions that touch the unsolved pain points of its diverse continental consumers. Solutions that bridge the underdevelopment ravaging the continent. Right now, it doesnt matter if its in the form of an app or a super app.
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